Bati Bleki Weekly Recap June 26th, 2016

The world looks to S&P Global for essential intelligence; let’s hear what they have to say about us!

This is what Standard & Poor analysts actually said about the refinery deal, and I am quoting, more or less, consider this a bad movie with subtitles:

Relax, don’t party yet, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, an opaque agreement between CITGO Aruba and the Aruba Government to reopen the refinery in San Nicholas was indeed signed in Caracas. That agreement says S&P report, could improve Aruba’s growth however, uncertainty remains about the investment. The reopening of the refinery could result in higher economic growth, but let’s not forget that Venezuela is very sick, practically at the intensive care unit with one foot in the coffin and the other on a banana peel, so hold off on the fireworks.

Ok, on June 6, 2016, S&P analysts revised their global outlook on Aruba from stable to positive.

Why? Because the revision reflects the agreement to reopen Aruba’s refinery, BUT “uncertainty about CITGO’s capacity to have the refinery working in the planned timeframe weighs on their analysis,” notice the if, “if the agreement is implemented, S&P would expect to see more investment and stronger GDP growth. “ Note how careful and diplomatic, the S&P writers are, they don’t take anything for granted.

Bottom line, another if: If we see faster growth, and stick to Aruba’s fiscal agreement with the Netherlands, this could result in fiscal consolidation and debt decreasing faster than expected. Could. Should.

The report goes on to say that the positive ratings of Aruba reflect its stable political system based on parliamentary democracy, its status as a member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and its relatively high $25,000 per capita GDP. These are all strengths. Good. They also reflect its narrow, open economy, which is highly dependent on tourism, and its limited monetary flexibility due to its fixed exchange rate. These are all challenges. Not good.

So what’s in the agreement according to S&P: CITGO will run the refinery under a 15-year lease agreement (with a 10-year extension option), and they expect it to invest around $1 billion on upgrading works — the Venezuelans quote a much-much lower figure — and blend around 235,000 barrels per day of heavy Venezuelan oil. According to the plan, if everything goes well, and everyone cooperates the refinery will be operating in 2018. That’s in two years. That’s a very long time down the road.

ATOMIC BOMB: The agreement also involves the refinery’s former operator Valero Energy Group, a U.S. oil company, which transferred the facility and gasoline stations assets to the Aruban government in exchange for a relief in its contractual obligations regarding environmental contingencies and the dismantling of the refinery.

Make a short pause to reread the last sentence, and then cry big tears: The agreement signed this week released Valero from all environmental obligations for the clean up! Also think about it, we are very dependent on Valero to supply us with jet fuel and gas for our cars, what will happen if that responsibility to keep the island ticking, and consequently in constant supply of tourists, is transferred to CITGO, that might be sold by PDVSA in order to raise money, see below. What will happen to us if our stable supply of jet fuel is compromised??

P.S. Valero is planning to ship out of here anyway in 2017.

S&P continues to state that the sizable investment in the refinery, which is equivalent to 40% of the Aruba GDP, and the subsequent refining operations, should bolster our GDP growth, and gradually improve our external position, and potentially strengthen fiscal revenues. Pay attention to the careful language. Should bolster. Potentially strengthen. Adding, that the new fiscal framework will be discussed in parliament, which means it’s a SPECULATION not a done deal, it’s still in the pipeline.

FINAL BLOW: There is uncertainty about the timely execution of the agreement, says S&P. We believe the possibility of CITGO being drawn into a potential PDVSA bankruptcy is low, but the company’s highly leveraged profile might limit its capital expenditure capacity. They are broke. Moreover, the report continues, we cannot rule out the possibility of PDVSA selling assets abroad, which could include CITGO, to generate additional foreign currency funding to make timely payments on its external debt. Maduro owes money, she he may consider to sell a chunk of his assets off. This could result in a significant delay of the planned reopening, and it’s the main reason we don’t include this operation in our base-case forecast.

So, relax, don’t party yet, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, best case scenario, they will be running something in San Nicholas in 2018, but the road is still long and winding.

Having been closed since 2012, the Hyatt’s popular Italian restaurant reopens

The Hyatt Regency invited press members for the informal reopening of Café Piccolo. The restaurant appeared on the scene 25 years ago, with the opening of the resort as one of the in-house dining options.

Guests responded favorably and couldn’t get enough of its authentic Italian dishes, wood-fired brick-oven pizza, and yummy desserts.

As the Food & Beverage options at the resort were refreshed in 2012, Café Piccolo gave way to a bigger Ruinas del Mar and a new Mexicado. But cravings for pasta persisted, and the decision was made to revive the restaurant and let it reclaim its rightful place as the premier Italian kitchen on island.

General Manager Joel Bunde, was on hand to meet and mingle with guests at the informal opening, as the Café Piccolo sign was reveals by enthusiastic staffers. “Guests,” he says, “have been asking for it for years, so we’re reintroducing the restaurant, as the pet project of chef Vincent Pellegrini,” and with a name like that, you know where the Chef’s culinary heritage is from!

I asked Chef Pellegrini for his recommendations and he rattled off a long list of entrees such as Saltimbocca Alla Romana, with genuine Parma ham, Salmone Alla Salsa Fiorentina, with artichoke and asparagus, on spinach & cream bed, and the house specialty, baked in the exhibition kitchen, Arugula Pizzetta! All of the chef signature’s dishes from risotto ai funghi porcini  to giant Lobster Ravioli, reflect his passion for carefully sourced food, and the freshest seasonal ingredient.

The wines at Café Piccolo are carefully curated and I couldn’t resist the Italian white house blend, made with as many as five grape varieties, and artfully married. That’s of course a new trend, blended wines, not based upon traditional regional compositions, but based upon personal preference of the client or the wine maker.

Café Piccolo offers indoor and outdoor seating for 80 guests in a truly romantic setting, with dancing flames, waterfalls, fountains, and tropical vegetation al fresco, or in air conditioned elegance, in full view of the kitchen inside.

Beautiful Carolina Merryweather, a PR diva, partnered with Zyndra de Jongh of Gerira Marketing, and gathered an impressive number of press people for the informal opening. We had fun!

For reservations call 297-586-1234. Café Piccolo is open nightly from 6:00pm to 10:30pm, except for Wednesday.

Impressive BOB Foundation

Apparently there are 22,000 women on the island between the age of 45 and 75 that could benefit from routine breast cancer screening. If you catch the lump on time, says Enrita Werleman, you might be able to skip the awful chemo treatments and manage to arrest the disease with just surgery and radiation. Enrita set up the foundation’s program, in which each member of the target population will receive an automatic appointment for screening every two years, in a friendly and centrally located clinic in Eagle, away from the hospital, in a fast, efficient and money saving preventive measure. The new digital mammogram machine, courtesy of banker and philanthropist Lio Capriles, from Curacao, only takes fifteen minutes to process a breast exam, and promises to reduce the stress of waiting for results. The initial funds to jump-start the project were generated at Cas Di Glas, in a two-year Peter Balliere initiative. Capriles came up with the rest. Jairo Boekhoudt design the ad campaign, with Celia Nagtegaal, urging women to show up, and do themselves the favor by saving their own lives. Radiologist Vanessa Williams and surgeon Dr. Deepu Darynani are on board, also a number of trained technicians, all working to reduce the impact of cancer and improve survival rates. Check Stichting BOB Aruba out on Facebook.

I wrote the above blurb in March 2015, and forgot about it, then over lunch my girlfriend Carla told me one day how much she enjoyed the short and pleasant visit at BOB, in the IBISA building. Would you believe that I went home after that lunch and found the letter in my mail box inviting me to come for a visit at BOB. I did. A sweet technician by the name of Marlene was polite and respectful, her hands were warm, she squeezed my boobs 4 times, vertically and horizontally, and told the results would be sent to my house doctors, in a few days, the whole thing took fifteen minutes.

We are deeply impressed with the set up and the process of routine breast cancer screening, wow, I was treated like a client not a patient, and enjoyed the exchange with Enrita & Marlene. Enrita asked me to encourage my friends to show up when summoned, because fifteen minutes could save your life!

Stichting BOB Aruba, was founded in October 12, 2012. The foundation’s goal is to promote early detection of breast cancer by screening healthy women between 45-75 years.

Standing Up for Democracy in Venezuela. ( From Times Digest 21 – 6 – 2016 )

As growing lawlessness, looting and hunger threaten to plunge Venezuela into a state of anarchy, its neighbors remain strikingly reluctant to confront President Nicolás Maduro. There have been unabashed enablers, a shrinking but resolute camp of left-wing governments that have served as apologists for the despotic president. There are the co-opted, a pack of Caribbean and Central American nations that have turned a blind eye to Maduro’s abuses in exchange for subsidized oil. And there are the ambivalent, a large and powerful group of nations that only gently criticize the government of Venezuela, if at all, for its mounting human rights violations. On Thursday, diplomats from across the hemisphere are scheduled to convene in Washington at the request of Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, to discuss Venezuela’s descent into chaos. Key members of this organization should demand that the Venezuelan government start allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid and permit the opposition to hold a referendum on whether Maduro’s term should end early. Clearly, the Maduro government has failed to govern democratically, a commitment required of all O.A.S. member nations. The calamity in Venezuela is multipronged and won’t be solved without comprehensive reforms, which the Maduro regime has been unwilling to contemplate. The government has been refusing offers of humanitarian aid, even as Venezuelans perish in growing numbers because hospitals have run out of medicine. In the long run, Venezuela will most likely need help from international financial institutions to start addressing its runaway inflation, avoid defaulting on its loans and diversify an economy that has been perilously dependent on oil and vulnerable to its price fluctuations. None of this is likely to happen unless the political opposition succeeds in its push to oust Maduro through constitutional means. But without firm international pressure, Maduro may find a way to sabotage the recall vote. If regional leaders fail to take a strong and united stand against Maduro, Venezuela’s crisis can only be expected to grow. That would lead to more violent political confrontations and, quite likely, an exodus into neighboring countries. Leaders in those nations should realize that this disaster is now very close to becoming their problem.

I need $500 million dollars and I need it today!!

Pappy: Will we be saved by the famous gas in our territories?

Excellent question, my dear child!

However, the problem is that the natural gas is priced and traded internationally in close relationship to the price of crude oil, which has been as low as $25 a barrel earlier this year but fortunately has crept back up to around $50 earlier this week.

For example, less than 75 kilometers from Aruba’s maritime border with Venezuela there is the giant Perla natural gas field discovered around 2009 by Repsol and ENI, which by the way was the largest single natural gas field discovery in the Western Hemisphere!! This project has finally started to produce large volumes of natural gas earlier this year but most of the output is actually sold directly to PdVSA who uses it for their domestic consumption in Venezuela. The Perla natural gas project is the only energy related commercial venture in Venezuela that is 100% owned by foreign interests, coincidentally.

But as usual all is not roses for Repsol and ENI because so far PdVSA hasn’t paid these guys a red cent for this gas with an average production price of around $5 million dollars per day since they started to produce in volume late last year.

As far as Aruba is concerned, whilst it’s true that Repsol up until very recently was very optimistic about Aruba’s offshore oil/gas potential, because of the lower oil price that interest has now all but evaporated. In fact, the SHELL/BG Group recently decided to back out of the project altogether which means that now it’s just Repsol and Total of France. It was agreed that they would make a final, final, decision on whether or not to proceed with the drilling of a few exploratory wells by the end of May, but it appears that they have asked CAP for yet another extension to December 31st.

Look, the reason for all of this ‘foot dragging’ is actually purely an economic issue. With the price of crude oil around $100 the economics and potential commercial payback for doing a full-blown oil/gas exploration/production program offshore Aruba are actually quite good, but with oil at $50 per barrel, not so much, unfortunately.

By way of example, you may recall that in the late 1980’s Aruba entered into exploration agreements with a few international oil companies and they actually drilled a total of five (5) exploratory wells at collective total cost of around $25 million dollars.

Repsol has estimated that in order to drill about five offshore new exploratory wells in totally different areas in Aruba’s territorial waters will cost around $500 million dollars in today’s money.

So, all we need is for the old price to go back to around $80-100 dollars and we will be ready to go, I guess!

One more thought: If we find commercial quantities of light sweet crude oil than Aruba’s financial problems will indeed be solved, I would venture to say.

But offshore natural gas is actually quite a tricky proposition because unless you are located in relatively close proximity to a large consuming market so that you can transport it by pipeline, you have to invest in what are called ‘liquefaction plants’ in order to compress and liquefy the natural gas into a product that can easily be loaded and shipped into specialized vessels (you may have seen pictures of these large tankers with huge spherical domes on the decks…).

These liquefaction plants are actually quite specialized facilities that can compress natural gas by a factor of around 200 and in the process make it liquid provided that you can keep it cooled to around -200 degrees Celsius (think of hairspray in a can…..).

Problem with these beautiful liquefaction plants is that they will run you around $5-6 billion dollars each…..!

Alternatively we could build a pipeline and ship the gas to Colombia, provided they don’t turn out to be ‘deadbeats’ like the Venezuelans….

The Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association issues a motion of no confidence

According to my sources the chairman of the joint board ATA/AHATA was given indication that the poop would hit the fan.

For the benefit of my uninformed readers, yes, there is such a thing, a private and public sector board that is in principle in charge of the Aruba Tourism Authority purse-string.

When the Aruba Tourism Authority was privatized, in 2012, a joint board was created to supervise expenditure, with 3 ATA members, 3 AHATA members and one lucky chairperson, the lovable-huggable Jossy Lacle.

The AHATA members Joe Najjar, a hotelier, Jim Hepple, a technocrat, and Javier Wolter, a banker, represent the interests of the private sector, and recently they have been feeling no love, and no support from the public sector. So they decided to resign from the board, which in fact pulled the plug on any significant ATA marketing spending.

The issue of contention: The MinTour’s famous urgent insistence on changing the law governing the way hotels are licensed. He is in a rush, while they say slow down; let’s stew on it a bit longer. He says what do you mean longer? You’ve had time enough to think about it since May! They say let ATA stay out of the melee, but the MinTour makes sure ATA is in full alignment with government policy. They say, you cannot change the rules mid-game, leave us along, regulate any new hotel developers when they come along, and he says, I have already sent the law change proposal to Parliament for approval. And that is how they locked heads.

According to the MinTour the island is in imminent danger, our livelihood compromised, in view of the fact that a number of hotel properties are said to be converting to All-Inclusives. He is pushing to control and restrict that by law.

The hoteliers suggest a cooling off period to study the situation and commit to the status-quo, namely no All-Inclusive conversions for one year.

There were a number of meetings between the rival factions in past weeks; the last one that broke the camel’s back went as expected. The MinTour managed to get himself all worked up, ranting and raving, demanding compliance. (He is like that, a bull in a China store, but I’m coming to his defense further down the column.)

Then AHATA gave him, in writing, a letter that was signed by most of the hotel owners giving him assurances they will not convert nor sell to an All-Inclusive hotel for the next 12 months provided he agrees to a cooling off period to allow further introspection. It was what he challenged AHATA with at a previous meeting. So they delivered the assurance and he turned it down, impatient, with clearly no intention of follow up on that suggestion.

I have been writing about tourism for almost 25 years and never experienced a stalemate like that. The MinTour got himself into a very tight spot; it’s his way or the highway! I don’t ever remember such a divided field, not under Minister Tico Croes, not under Minister Lily Beke, and of course not under Minister Edison Briesen, who cleverly always got out of the way!

In defense of the MinTour: The man is a workhorse, and an important vote-getter. His fans are many and loyal. As a populist leader he would like to legislate the number of All-Inclusive resorts on the island so that guests aren’t imprisoned in their hotels, but get to roam the island to explore restaurants and attractions, renting cars and taking taxis. I totally agree that Aruba is not a typical All-Inclusive Island, and doesn’t “need” it, but the product is in customer demand and should be offered, as long as it is trending. One of my friends, a man whose opinions I respect told me: You are in agreement that the MinTour should regulate the AirBnB market segment and the Venezuelan market segment, then why not the All-Inclusive market segment? No law can ever be written without loop holes. AHATA should look at the legislation, tweak and request some changes, then exploit every loophole in the language of the law to their benefit, and continue to use All-Inclusive as a marketing tool at their discretion. His advice: Play nice with the MinTour he might be MinPres one day!

Retailer Michael Wulfsen open letter to main street merchants

Subject: RE: Situacion deplorabel di nos Caya Betico Croes

Dear Colleagues,

A very good initiative has been made with this letter and this “cry for action”. We share the concern about all the negative developments in our street. Turnovers are very heavy under pressure and the calmness in the street (also on Saturdays) since the introduction of the parking meters is very worrying. Big changes are necessary and the government should recognize that changes must be made. As individual companies we all try to respond to the changed situation. But we cannot change the bigger issues by ourselves. That is why it is good to point out views as a whole street. With collectively we can achieve a lot. And changes are desperately needed.

In order to make future communication easier for everyone and to avoid any misunderstanding we propose to communicate in English. Is that okay?

Regarding all the proposals made in this letter we herewith respond with our feedback.

To open the Mainstreet for traffic again during special hours of the day seems a good idea. The suggested times (Monday – Saturday from 17:00 to 09:00, and all day Sunday) is okay for us. The Tram is not affected and the street offers an additional option to the public.

To shutdown the parking meters until December 31st is very much hoped-for. Evaluation after that is definitely a good thing. We only ask ourselves whether this is feasible (employed parking attendants?). But the parking problem is the core of our problem. So therefore it is a good proposal. Until the end of the year could be worked on possible alternatives.

We propose to improve the parking problem as follows:

Create some free parking spaces in- and around the downtown area where up to 4 hours can be parked free of charge. Full is full… and only then visitors / customers should look for other paid parking spaces. These free car park-areas are not meant for the people who are working downtown. So that is why only up to max. 4 hours free parking is possible. The car park-areas are meant for visitors / customers. Under some parking areas that could be eligible:

Land at Royal Plaza (behind bus station)

Land for Island Finance

Land next to La Linda

Land at Interbank

With the owners of these areas, the government will have to go into dialogue in order to achieve these possibilities. Also, the capacity of some areas could then be increased (double layer?)

Where are the promised parking garages? Making the entire city paid parking and offering insufficient parking capacity at central locations, is asking for trouble. The introduction of the paid parking-system has been done far too rigorously. Was every single street necessary? Maybe a more refined plan would have made the difference. Offering sufficient alternatives or fewer streets with paid parking.

Make it possible that the first two hours of parking are free of charge (the entire city / all parking meters). Technically, this is possible. No issue. Research in cities abroad where similar systems are operational is necessary.

Abolish 3.5% Tax for our street only seems not realistic to us.

Free Wife in the street is a nice additional service. Every little thing helps.

Every Sunday open is only possible if all the shops participate consistently. That, however, is questionable. Not every business owner is willing, or able, to open on Sundays. Only if we have a commitment from everyone it will make sense. Opening than from 10:00 to 14:00?

But it may be better to extend the shopping times on normal shopping days. For example from Monday – Friday, until 19:00! That seems realistic to us. We offer an extra hour for the people who come from the office. An additional opportunity for shopping after work.

We also see a number of other improvements, for example:

Place a signing at every tram-stop and at the departure point near the cruise ships mentioning that the trams will depart every 10 minutes (a timetable) and that stepping on- and off on the entire route is possible. Now tourists tend to stay on the tram the whole ride! Probably afraid that otherwise they would not come back to the boats again. With this we miss opportunities. It should commercially give us an extra opportunity instead of sightseeing tour alone..

The kiosk in the street should be opened as soon as possible (never been opened). That gives necessary additional fuss. People like to eat a snack or have a drink. This is an essential addition to the street. So an operator must be found ASAP for this kiosk.

An independent association of retailers should be installed / founded again. A new kind of “Mambo”. It is necessary that an independent union should represent all our collective thoughts of the street.

We are very much pleased that someone has taken the initiative to point out all our worries of the street. I therefore really hope that many of us will support this initiative. Organizing a press conference is obviously a very clear signal. But we should also form a small committee and bring forward all these issues to the relevant governors. We collectively need to present our recommendations formed.

Let’s do this. No time to waste…

For questions or further deliberations, I am of course available. However not often on the Island though. I am based on Curacao and travelling for business often into The Netherlands.

Looking forward to the next step.

With kind regards,

Your fellow retailer.

Michael Wulfsen

e: mwulfsen@wulfsen-wulfsen.com

skype: mwulfsen > Voorburg (NL) / Willemstad (Cur)

t: +5999 7372922 (office Curacao)

m: +5999 5185778 (cellphone Curacao)

m: +31 6 55828992 (cellphone NL)

 

Retailer Tatiana Eman-Mallarino open letter to main street merchants

Apreciabel Coleganan,

Manera nos tur sa Caya Betico Croes tabata un pilar di nos economia.  Nos Caya Grandi cu su florecemento tabata un icono di nos stabilidad y fortalesa.

Nos tur a disfruta for di chikito cu un caya atractivo, cu yen di tienda cu tabata ofrece diferente alternativa.  Ainda nos tur por corda, ora nos tabata pasa oranan ta cana ariba abou; mirando showcase, topando amigo y cumprando algun cos.  Ken por lubida e tipico ronchinan anochi caminda bo por actualisa bo mes y prepara pa bo siguiente compra? Cana den Caya Grandi den dia y core den Caya Grandi anochi tabata algo cu nos tur tabata disfruta masha hopi mes. Algo cu awendia nos tur ta anhela.

E tempo aya, tur e comerciantenan a gosa di un epoca exitoso, sigur cu su ‘ups and downs’.  Gobierno a haya su contribucionan manera mester.  Local y turista tabata sa cu Caya Grandi tabata e luga pa frecuenta, disfrutando di un comercio dinamico y atractivo.

Tur esey a caba for di dia cu a cuminsa cu e construccion pa e tram core, tur comerciante mester a soporta e inconveniencianan cu ela trece cun’e.  Y despues di hopi aña di spera, keriendo cu e proyecto aki lo contribui den e progreso di nos tur, mester realisa cu e tabata un fiasco y e ta cabando cu nos tur.

Lamentablemente, e situacion a bira mas dificil cu e implementacion di e parking meters.  Mi ta kere cu ta tempo pa nos tur uni y haci algo. Nos mester lanta nos stem y resisti na morto di Caya Grandi.  Nos no por keda keto mas y tampoco por keda actua di manera aisla. UNION TA HACI FORSA, nos mester uni!

Nos mester corda gobierno ariba e importancia di nos tur, sin nos aportenan, e crisis financiero di Aruba lo empeora.  Nos ta aporta cu empleo, AZV, SVB, belasting y un sin numero di punto mas.  Nos a keda keto mucho largo, ban expresa nos descontento y exigi cambio ariba e maneho actual.

Mi propuesta ta pa pidi gobierno:

Habri caya pa trafico di auto for di 5pm te cu 9am, for di Dialuna te Diasabra; y habri’e full dia Diadomingo, excluyendo truck pa no daña e pavers.

Kita parking meters te cu December 31 (Fecha cu nos lo por evalua mas mihor e situacion).

Elimina BBO pa e comerciantenan den Caya Grandi te cu December 31 tambe, asina e ciudadanonan lo por spaar e 3.5% ey y wak esey como un incentivo pa bishita nos.

Pone wifi gratis den caya.

Fomenta pa tur tienda habri te cu 8pm y ariba tur Diadomingo.

Por favor, duna mi boso feedback, dependiendo ariba esaki, mi sa con pa procede. Si nos tur, of hopi di nos, ta uni mi por organisa un press conference den Caya Grandi y cuminsa un proceso pa pone presion ariba gobierno pa bin cu cambio cu ta yuda nos sigui pa’adilanti.

Boso accion ta wordo rekeri pa salba nos negoshinan, no keda keto…BAN UNI! Mi ta keda pendiente…

(Esaki ta e lista di comerciante cu mi tin, si bo tin otro amigo cu por a keda afo, please forward esaki y CC ami, pa mi añadi’e na mi lista. Masha danki!)

Sinceramente,

Tatiana Eman-Mallarino

Keshet Alliance N.V.

Store Caya G.F. Betico Croes 22 ● Tel. (297) 582 0232

Store Palm Beach Plaza ● Tel. (297) 586 0243

  1. Box 653 ● Oranjestad, ARUBA

Discover Arkansas

Last week we skedaddled from Miami to Arkansas, pronounced Arkansaw, and nicknamed the Natural State, or the State of Opportunity.

Why would you do that, you’re asking? Why would you go to the most rural part of the USA for the weekend? Why not NY?  Because Arkansas is the new place of residence of Ann & David Brown, they moved there from Houston, Texas, a while ago, and undertook the renovation of a home on the banks of the Dardanelle River, in Yell County, population 4,745. The house is not just any old house. It stands on the once magnificent, now 4sale, John Daly’s Lion’s Den golf course, and it was designed by American architect, E. Fay Jones, a famed Arkansas University professor and apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright during his professional career.

It was in disrepair when the Browns made the purchase, prompting them to undertake its restoration to its former glory, by themselves, as in by their own four hands. So, that’s why we skedaddled there for the weekend, to check if indeed they did a good job.

The answer is wow.

They did. The house and the garden look lovely.

While we were in the area we visited with the neighbors from across the winding country road, Francine, Tony, Bobby & Stacy, drank wine and ate home-churned vanilla ice cream. We admired their horses, cooling off their ankles in the lake-size backyard pond.

Back at the house we watched the squirrels flap their bushy tails feeding on bird seed and Ann’s raccoon, Rocky, came in for his nightly treat on the pool deck. We learned he favors sweet corn on the cob. We saw deer, not one but many, ruminating in the breeze, listening to the hum of the universe, and birds, they were everywhere, in every size and color, in the tall trees, the primary trees, a virgin forest, with ferns and bugs as far as the eye can see.

The country-side in Arkansas is poetic.

Ann & David treated us like precious, soft-boiled eggs; they drove us to the top of Magazine Mountain, 2,753m, for coffee, and toured us through Paris and London, Arkansas, to Eureka Springs, population 2,086, on the National Register of Historic Places. A distinctive tourist destination, Eureka Springs, is referred to as Little Switzerland of America, because of its green mountains, and up-and-down roads, and up-and-down charming streets and walkways, filled with small cottages and artisan shops of jewelry and artwork. We bought a big box of fudge at the Two Dumb Dames factory, in that historic enclave, and shared burgers at the New Delhi Cafe, the only one still open for lunch at 3pm, where the owner’s black & white Indian wedding pictures, were fading on the walls since 1965. On our drive out we also visited the neighboring Thorncrown Chapel, one of the most beautiful glass chapels I have ever seen, standing in the Ozark woodlands, surrounded by evergreen trees, rising 48 feet into the sky. The chapel incidentally, was also designed by architect E. Fay Jones; you already know who he is. Somewhere along the way we stopped at Osage Clayworks and admired the local potter’s production. It looked like Meryl Streep could tumble into that farmhouse with a cigarette and a martini, at any given minute.

The following day, we drove up an 18% incline to Mount Nebo, 1,350, for a 360% panorama of the valley, Russellville, Dardanelle and the mighty river!

People are super friendly in Arkansas, no wonder; the state population is just 3million, so it’s always nice and spacious. Would you believe that the density of the population is just 22/KM2? You can drive for miles without even seeing an electric pole. On the downside, they are sometimes stereotyped as “poor, banjo-picking hillbillies,” a description that follows them since the frontier days, in the 1800s! Ann says that Arkansas is among the poorest states, I checked, she’s right, the median household income is $40,000 a year, so they shop at Wal-Mart which is a local store, considering that the Waltons who conceived it, are from there. The irony is that some of the richest people in America come from one of the poorest states.

Food? Wow. If I lived in Arkansas I’d look like a bus. It’s simply delicious, classic American decadence. We wolfed down burgers at C-J’s Butcher Boy Burgers, butcher shop fresh; At the Old South Restaurant, in Russellville, it first opened in 1942, we sat in a shiny aluminum walled diner, with vintage red vinyl upholstery. They were making Moon Pie, with alternate layers of Graham Crackers and Marshmallows coating the top with Cool Whip, and chocolate drizzled. I tried fried okra for the first time, for breakfast, while the rest of the gang had 2 eggs served with oatmeal or grits or hash browns with biscuits, ham or sausage or Petit Jean Bologna for $5.79. I learned from Ann that there is such a thing as Chocolate Gravy and it goes well with biscuits, and everything can be deep fried including pickles.

I notice a crazy cartoon of a gnarling razor-backed pig everywhere and David explained that Arkansas worshipped Razorback football, and that’s why I was seeing pigs everywhere.

Home cooking? David also orchestrated a BBQ and cooked Salmon and chicken to perfection. The sweet Southern baked beans, by Bobby, were to live for.

We left the happy state of Arkansas from Fort Smit from an airport that looks like a Marriott Hotel lobby. Quaint, and comfortable.

So what is Arkansas’ claim to fame? The Clintons, and the Bill Clinton Library in Little Rock we saw it from the distance while we were driving away from the Little Rock airport, as we arrived. He is said to visit once a month for a course he is giving in American government and while there he lives in the penthouse perched on the library’s roof.

http://www.pga.com/golf-courses/golf-buzz/john-daly-sell-or-close-lions-den-golf-club-in-arkansas