Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, November 30th, 2015

OPPOSITES ATTRACT. Dutch fashion designer turned teacher Mirte Engelhard, gave a six-week long course on the island at Atelier 89, in Oranjestad. As the finale of her couture experience here Elvis Lopez, the creative genius at the head of Atelier 89, decided to recruit support for his idea of producing a runway show in San Nicholas, in the street, under the stars, at the foot of an historical building, now under renovation by the Monument Fund. Elvis made it happen with the help of Maria Silva of Vibrations PR and many other culture and art related icons, including the Minister of Tourism, who helped bring the spectacular show to the too-quiet, nothing-ever-happening town. The show opened with beautiful singer Raphaela known from her role in the short local film Abo So. As she sang Mirte showed off her own collection, for the hip professional business woman, designed in dark city colors, with many surprising, sexy elements. Following Mirte’s collection, her students introduced their creations, each of them showing off from 4 to 15 pieces, and we were totally impressed by the fashion-forward ideas and the perfect execution of the garments, all true to the “Opposites Attract” theme.  Fresh fashion designers included Jamilla Phillip, with a sporty collection titled Flumes; Maureen Tjon Sie Kie, with a collection titled Always a Match, pairing Eastern and Western elements; Diva Candice Richardson, showed a fun frilly Creative collection; Velvet Zoe Ramos presented a Semblance of Chaos, and after the break Caithlin Chong, with her collection I am no Nedd, featuring recycled jeans fabric; Mena Dirksz explored the Young in Every Age, and Ligia Violenus, revealed Design Within, just before the Greek inspired  Tharros collection by Charlene Croes. The finale with designer Darwin Winklaar, presented 15 models on stage, with styles dedicated to his mom, and inspired by Coco Chanel. Back To Violeta was a complex and sophisticated masterpiece and surprised audiences with its freshness and originality. Champagne during the show was yummy. Elvis and Maria thought about everything. FINALLY, we shouldn’t have gone to Saco Di Felipe after the event. It was greasy and sinful, it weighted heavily on our conscience, all night. And crabby Bobby who runs the place wouldn’t let us use his bathroom. What kind of San Nicholas hospitality is that? But overall we had a great time!!

DINNER AT L.G. SMITH’s STEAK & CHOP HOUSE. Zugheila Lindborg invited us for dinner recently. It was a surprise. We thought it will be an introduction to chef Augusto Riofrio Mapelil and a consequent tasting. As it turned out it was a private press dinner. We sat around, talked and chewed, drank quite a bit too. So what does the press talk about when no one is watching? Tito Lacle bragged about Noticia Cla and its 7,000 daily users. He seems happy to be doing what he does. Nelson Speed Andrade reflected on the reopening of the refinery, expressing his full support in the event the government found a buyer. Some other conversations, I missed, having to run back down into the street when I realized I paid for parking of the wrong car. Duh. Anyway, Lady Z. was the perfect hostess, she agreed to share the CAB ® Steak & Blue Cheese Bruschetta with onion, roasted tomato jam, spinach, and Kalamata olives with me, then we split that day’s special, slow cooked, juicy, tender short ribs. Chef Mapelli came around to introduce himself to press members. The recently arrived Peruvian-born culinary wizard talked about his plans to tweak the L.G. Smith’s Steak & Chop House menu and continue offering top Certified Angus Beef cuts, tasty sides, super-delicious starters and sinful desserts. Mapelli, a personal friend of Aruba’s Iron Chef Teddy Bouroncle, Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino, worked in various countries in South America for the Renaissance and the Starwood brands, but when he heard about the island from his fellow-Peruvian friend, he responded favorably to the Aruba Renaissance offer to come live here and contribute his talent to the stylish restaurant which recently underwent a facelift, with new China and refreshed decor. Peruvian cuisine is among the most varied and best in the world, and I say, if the Chef hails from Peru, you can bet on it, that he can cook!! L.G. STEAK & Chop House: 523 6195.

ARUBA TOURISM AUTHORITY FETES THE CONVENTION BUREAU. A fun One Happy Celebration, at the Hyatt Regency brought ATA personalities and key-players of Aruba’s MICE market together for one entertaining afternoon. Our local Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions specialists, the good folks who host the island’s group business, celebrated 20 years of success, with a content-packed agenda. The MICE market is a lucrative one because the promise of an all expenses paid trip to Aruba serves as a motivational tool, in sales, and group members who come here get wined and dined because they performed above and beyond, helping make their employers rich. So, basically the premise of the MICE theory is: If you bust your ass for us, we’ll blow you away with deluxe arrangements and amazing events on the island. Sounds good, and it works. Among the afternoon’s highlights, speaker Luis Pineda, a Mexican-born corporate trainer with a very long resume, who examined the concept of HAPPINESS, as in One Happy Island. Happiness, he explained was a strategic tool designed to improve performance in the workplace with the implementation of positive-psychology principles. He called that tool PERMA, and outlined each component, starting with Positive Emotions, then adding Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments. So basically you will be truly happy if you think fondly about your profession, are fully involved and focused, have solid, reliable relationships, infused with meaningful activities, and blessed with accomplishments. And you gotta have all five in order to be veritably content!  The evening also included a panel discussion with some of the titans of the MICE industry, Wichita Villacres, a tiger, not a mouse, Geraldine Coutinho, the quiet voice of experience, Lisette Malmberg, the reformer of nations, Myrna Jansen,  the elder statesman, and Jerusha Rasmijn, the lovely diva, at the head of the Convention Bureau. Lisette talked a bit too long, but I think it only seemed that way because the other speakers were so short and snappy, and Wichita kept is real, stating how penny-conscious clients have become, and that it is increasingly tough to make a living. Kudos to Sanju Luidens Daryanani for an excellent historical overview of this island’s love affair with group marketing! Congratulations to the amazing Myrna Jansen for her well-deserved, Visionary Excellence Award. And it’s always nice to remember Simon Oduber who believed in group business to the island.

LITTLE SWITZERLAND IN THE NEWS. Following a 10-week radical transformation, the Little Switzerland flagship store at Royal Plaza is ready for the gift-buying season and the holidays. The store conducted a press conference this week to announce its November 28th all day party, with a Christmas Stocking Promotion. The general public is invited. The store now boasts numerous boutiques within the store as each brand got its own space, and its distinctly different presentation. World class watches such as Carl F. Bucherer, Omega and Breitling, enjoy their unique identity, in a premium store location, opposite watch collections by Federique Constant, Movado, Blume & Mercier, Michael Kors and the super popular Swiss made TAG Heuer, with its Don’t Crack Under Pressure ambassadors, Tom Brady and Cara Delevingne.  World famous jewelry lines by Roberto Coin, Swarovski, Lagos, John Hardy, Marco Bicego, and Rebecca display their beautiful wares from nicely lit and beautifully crafted showcases, while the heart of the store is occupied by a Diamond Bar, no explanation required, you know what to do, when the time come!  Celebrating its 60th anniversary, with thirty-four stores around the globe Little Switzerland stocks many temptations, all hard to resist.

SCREAMING EAGLE SCORES. Congratulations Screaming Eagle on a well-deserved top placement in the Best 50 Restaurants in the Caribbean. The article published in Caribbean Journal goes on to explain that we travel to understand places, and one of the best ways to gain insight into cultures from around the globe is via food. True, meals are part of every trip, and meals come in many shapes and sizes, but there are three constants which make a meal great: The taste and quality of the food, the level of service and the restaurant’s décor and ambience. As Caribbean Journal found out, and we totally agree, Screaming Eagle scores highly in all three categories, earning the first place in the online magazine’s third annual 50 Best Caribbean restaurants listing, which reveals all names of all winners from across the region. Opened in 2007, and dedicated to the innovative French-Fusion cuisine by Chef Erwin Husken, who is a co-proprietor of the restaurant, Screaming Eagle features bi-weekly changing specials with seasonal fresh and popular items next to its already super appealing a la carte menu. As the perfect pairing with its outstanding dishes, the restaurant aims at featuring the most exclusive wine list in Aruba, and in the Caribbean. So what is Chef Husken’s secret to success? Yes, he can cook. And he is fearless. Unbound and uninhibited by traditions and conventions, chef Erwin feels free to explore tastes and textures to the total delight of the restaurant’ many local and international fans. He makes ceviche like a Peruvian, and handles sashimi like a Japanese chef, he tackled Hungarian duck liver, Jamon Iberico,  soft shell crabs, escargots, USDA steaks, New Zealand lamb, no food is too exotic, too expensive, two finicky, or too much trouble. Chef Erwin always grabs the bull by its horns, facing the culinary challenge head on, going for the boldly conceived unusual combinations, and coming up with never-before interesting pairings. And patrons respond with great enthusiasm, appreciating the elements of surprise in every item on the menu. As the article states: Chef Erwin Husken, hasn’t just created the signature eatery in Aruba — he’s developed what is the best restaurant in the Caribbean in 2015. This is a cutting-edge, chic restaurant where the food just keeps getting more creative! The chef’s support staff in the kitchen, bar and dining room, shares the accolades for truly providing caring and professional service, contributing to many memorable dining experiences. The restaurant’s trendy, edgy interior design, including the comfortable lounge beds and ‘Dinner in Bed’ option, serves as the perfect stage for Chef Erwin’s culinary wizardry. Locals are urged to remember Wine Monday at Screaming Eagle with all wine and champagne by the bottle available at florin pricing instead of dollars.

THE ABB SAGA CONTINUES. I get regular updates from the MinTou including pictures, on a daily basis. That means two to three different articles every day, describing the activities of the minister, and I can tell you with great certainty that he is a busy man, he is a hard worker. I also get regular updates from the MinEd, at least twice a week I hear about a renovated school or a teachers’ conference, in short, we know exactly-approximately what he and she are doing. We never get any mail from the MinInfra, but with him it’s easy. The proof is in the pudding.  If highway construction takes place or a bridge materializes, you know the MinInfra is involved. In my neighborhood for example, they have been building a restaurant and a party venue, and while the minister did not send me a press release about his plans to rattle my sleepy residential neighborhood, I know for a fact that he must have been involved in one form or the other, only he is not in the habit of informing me. So now that I set it all up nicely, I can tell you that we hardly hear anything from the MinFin, and last week we heard from him a number of decisive times, describing his plans for fiscal reform, a taxation overhaul and a new license plate procedure. It sounded excellent. Like a done deal. Then yesterday I hear from a MinPres advisor that the MinFin spoke prematurely. It was not a done deal. It was not even a plan. It was wishful thinking. It was what he as a smart businessman would do, if he were running this country. But, alas, we know he ain’t. So settle down children, those pro and those con. Our taxation overhaul and fiscal rehab are just a twinkle in the minister eye. There is still a long way to go before anything changes. So why did he come out slugging, with such great confidence. My sources, political consultants Michelle Osborne and Lissy Lampe, suggested because his you-know-what was on fire. The government invited him over from Bonaire, to help fix our accounting. He was fishing, sunning, minding his own business, playing his maracas when he got the call: Your country needs you. So he packed his instruments and showed up for work. He worked, and worked, and worked, came up with a beautiful symphonic piece, only now the conductor of the orchestra doesn’t likes his music anymore. While before they were crazy about his harmonies, they now think he is out of tune. So the MinFin decided to have a public concert, see if the masses liked it. Some did, some did not, but I was happy that at least someone smart and educated is checking things out. Back to square one. Nothing’s happening.

TRANSITIONS. The General Manager of the Playa Linda Beach Resort, Steven Marra, resigned his post at the hotel, following a mutual agreement to move on with his career. Now you know that this is too good to be true, right? Why would he move on with his career, where would he go, he was perfectly content at Playa Linda lifting and pushing, renovating here and there and signing up new tenants. So, what happened? Insiders report they suspected tension between the GM and board members but underestimated it, did not think it would come to that. Others say they saw it coming a mile away, with considerable differences of temperament and a whole bunch of sensitivities on either sides. While Marra could not hold on to his post, at the neighboring property, the Holiday Inn, General Manager Jorge Landa seems incapable of holding on to his people. After Ann Brinkman relocated to Playa Linda, that was a while ago, and Christina Galindo joined Caribbean Palm Village Resort, Shirley Geerman’s position as Director of Marketing & Sales was recently eliminated. The GM has been here since 2003 and the only time I hear his name mentioned is when he lets go of one of his long time local employees in favor of some new arrival. The Holiday Inn resort, lest you forget, is owned by Pristine Real Estate, and the Lowenstein family, and managed by IHG, InterContinental Hotel group. Another entity incapable of holding on to its people is the Aruba Tourism Authority Advisory Board. Award winning hotelier Ewald Biemans recently retired his seat on the board. He reports frustration with the way tourism funds are handled, often funneled into secondary projects instead of pure marketing. Hotelier Joe Najjar, a trustworthy steward of hospitality, will be taking his place. Local businessman Harry Koeman will be resigning his seat soon, or perhaps he already did. He didn’t want to say anything about it but I suspect he too is dissatisfied with the way things roll. Example? The Beach Policy. The document has been concluded, readied for implementation, yet the legislation and execution of the plan is dragging its feet. If there’s anything Harry resents, it’s a pair of dragging feet!  So yes, where is the Beach Policy?  The island’s number #1 asset should be governed by it. Where’s the hold up??

THANK YOU IMELDAHOF. Last weekend’s 7.5km walk was a lot of fun with 200 walkers showing up at the crack of dawn to sign up and receive a tee-shirt, Take Action, Stop Abuse, advocating children’s rights. It rained cats and dogs at 6am as we started walking, and it only cleared half way through the Alto Vista neighborhood. Altagracia Lampe, who did not want to get her hair wet, for fear of curls, used the tee shirt as a turban! I noticed there were LESS street dogs roaming the streets. All of Noord’s four legged canines were securely barking at us from behind their respective fences. After the Wet Tee-Shirt walk we received a sumptuous breakfast cooked by volunteers and Imeldahof’s staff members, replacing all calories we burned while walking. Thank you Louella Brezovar for recruiting me for the 12th edition of the walk, sign me up for next year.

HOTELIER ANDY OSBORNE REPORTS. Every once in a while a reader tells me something I did not know. Love it. Last week, Andy told me about a restaurant I have never heard of, called Cos Bon So, serving typically criollo dishes, in Jaburibari 26a, Tel. 582 1553, according to a flyer he found, then he added: “I am not sure if I would make a journalist, but I could try, as long as it is fun which for me is non-negotiable!” So here is Andy’s authentic experience description. Cos Bon is cozy and genial, only 10 table and seating for about 24 at a time. An additional indoor section will be opened in early December 2015. As for the food, the pan bati was the best I have ever had in Aruba – nice and fluffy; The soups were to die for – soppi carni and soppi banana – or plantain, the best; I had a Pisca Cora henter – the whole red snapper and it was delicious. Michele, that’s Andy’s wife, had the Carne Stoba….. both again to die for. The place was spotless – including the bathrooms – and the background music was at a level which allowed conversation at the table…. great for us old folks who do not take iPod or smart phones / tablets to the dinner table for texting and other messaging purposes rather than meaningful conversation. Table service was expertly supplied by Rocky whom I remember from back in the days when we called him Rochi, and he worked at the Divi Divi and/or Alhambra Casino, as F&B manager. Excellent lighting and parking and good local customs; The price / value was outstanding and we did not need to apply for a mortgage to pay the bill which for the two of us including 2 beverages each was less that Afls 80. All in all – a most pleasurable experience which we have vowed to add to our monthly list of visitation. Hope this helps and you should visit at some point. Wow, Andy that was a satisfying read, you are an observant individual and as such qualify for a writing career.

THE SPA AT THE RITZ CARLTON. We went to the spa at the Ritz Carlton on a recent Sunday and had a great time treated to manicures, pedicures and reflexology at local prices. My therapist Annuska offered plenty of good advice on how to improve the pathetic condition of my nails. “Don’t let them cut your cuticles anymore,” she said, “just oil them and push back gently.”  Then on the even more dire condition of my feet she said I gotta cream my soles every night, and go to bed with socks on. “A banana peel is good too,” she added “but eat the banana first, then stick the peel into your socks and go to sleep, you’d be amazed at the results in the morning.” The tuti guy at the reception, Stefano Nicita served us some bubbly while we were pampered in the oversized pedicure massage chairs, whirring and humming while working on my back. Next time, I should bring my bathing suit, to take a dip in the Jacuzzi, after the sauna, before treatment begins.

 JOIN THE VIXEN. Visit the Vintage X Mas Bazaar, at Carpe Diem, Oranjestad, on Saturday, 28th, with Lara Kuiperi & Lavina Khemlani, who offer a pop up store for vintage and second hand clothing from 6pm to 11pm. I got a beautiful retro bracelet and bag last time, and I intend to visit them again.

WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE CHEF? Check out, for Thanksgiving recipes which are also delicious post-thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving campaign for local chefs’ recipes is offered by CaribMedia and it features some amazing dishes: Caribbean turkey breast in banana leaves by Ronald Bossong from Taste of Belgium; Sausage, apple and cranberry stuffing by Aldwin Donata from Las Ramblas; Ballotine of turkey with spinach by Kurt Hoffmann from Elements Restaurant; Country style ham ravioli & braised turkey by chef Augusto Riofrio from L.G Smith’s Steak & Chop House; Glazed whole turkey By chef Harmen Gieske from Holiday Inn; Sausage and sage stuffing by Hector Espinoza from Hilton Aruba Caribbean Hotel & Casino. Vote for your favorite, you have until December 1st. So far chef Harmen Gieske is smoking the competition….

COLOMBIAN EMERALDS INTERNATIONAL HOSTS A PARTY. Nice party at CEI, in celebration of the season and in honor of their regional boss, Keith Mylrea, who dropped in to rub shoulders with invited guests and spend quality time with Virginia Silva and Carmen Geerman. Incidentally, Marny Wever should be happy. Carmen was wearing a striking Uno de 50 piece of jewelry, now also available at CEI in addition to Rage Silver. Mylrea told me that as a watch aficionado he is a TagHeuer fan and that the latest TagHeuer ambassador, English fashion supermodel Cara Delevingne, got her lucrative contract with the watchmaker not just thanks to her particular looks, but also thanks to the fact that she hangs out with the Kardashian sisters. It’s not what you know, but who you know. We noticed some serious shopping going on during the party. Mission accomplished.

BLACK FRIDAY. Retail on the island is reeling from the big drop in sales, as the island’s best shoppers, the well to do Venezuelans disappeared without a trace, having been replaced by poor and struggling, beer-peddling cousins. The merchants are also suffering from the proliferation of kiosks and pop-up stores, which have become our new retail reality. I heard from Mango, Havaianas, Eva Boutique, Boolchand’s, Baci Da Roma, Pandora, Maggy’s and more, about great savings, no lines. I think it’s the first time Black Friday was embraced by commerce here, and I noticed the sidewalk in front of Sam’s in town lined up with TVs, ready to go. So while Black Friday is not a local or Caribbean tradition, it was adopted wholeheartedly, to weather the latest business downturn.

DIMAS ON A FRIDAY. I visited DIMAS on a Friday following up on a friend’s paperwork and found a modernized version of the old establishment. Good parking, comfortable seating, the airco works. Some things however never change in spite of the new jacket we still lined up for the small green ticket, #64, waiting for one of the three available agents to handle our case. It went fast, we were lucky, they all showed up for work, we hear some days they simply don’t, and we were happy campers. On the way out I noticed a new business across the way, a photocopy center. Then another one, across the street. Very smart. Some entrepreneur saw the opportunity and created a business to help fill forms and facilitate Dimas voracious appetite for photocopies. I also saw some Immigration Consultancies that have established themselves in the area. I can recommend ASBA. Tracey v/d Linden supports clients with compassion and integrity. The office is customer-friendly and staffed with very helpful people.