Bati Bleki weekly Recap, March 20th, 2016

Guardians of our Past

The Hilton Aruba Caribbean Hotel & Casino announced a historic photo contest and off I went to the archives. There are two guardians of past memories on the island, ANA, the Archivo Nacional not far from the airport and the Biblioteca Nacional Aruba, Department Arubiana / Caribiana, on Bachstraat 5.

Bibi Bikker at ANA is always very helpful and knowledgeable, I managed to get about 90 old pictures from him, not all great, but any picture documenting our past is welcome, and precious. What do I mean by that? The images are often saved in low-resolution, they are grainy and un-named, letting us guess what year they were taken. ANA is often visited by students in search of materials for school projects, and on the three trips I took to ANA last week, I met quite a few working on a Lago Refinery report.

Then I went to Biblioteca Nacional Aruba, Department Arubiana / Caribiana, on Bachstraat 5, and the only reason I visited them, is that Jossy Lacle insisted. He dropped in ahead of me and pre-screened lots of materials, which surprised me at how well it was organized, systematic, catalogued, scanned and dated. Biblioteca Arubiana, is an unbelievable resource which we should all be proud of. The place is a treasure trove of images, newspapers and articles. Aruba Esso News, Beurs en Nieuwsberichten, Amigoe Di Curacao, just state what you need and Graciela Nedd, Librarian / Documentalist, will find it for you. The department safeguards the personal collected by the historian J. Hartog who created a number of picture albums from Aruba from 1962. For lack of professional photography, he bought De Witt postcard and arranged them in albums with careful annotations and explanations.

Astrid Britten runs a tight ship at the two library locations, with the recently installed Peter Scholing, as Advisor. It is what you expect of a university, or a big city archive, but in Aruba, where they are always short on resources, what Biblioteca Nacional has is very impressive. They are busy at the moment documenting the career of the Island’s governor, before he finishes his term and they are completing their file about Padu Del Caribe.

Bottom line, don’t throw away any documents, or pictures, even post cards turn into treasures with the passage of time.

One word to define Peruvian cooking, AWESOME!

Peruvian cuisine has been talked about and written about in the past decade, perhaps because the country’s chefs started travelling and working around the world. Of course chef Nobu’s cook book published in 2001 contributed to the recognition of that kitchen, and the amazing success of his restaurants further introduced Peruvian elements to our culinary dictionary.  When I was in London almost two years ago, the must visit list included a restaurant by the name of Lima, became it became the first Peruvian restaurant to win a Michelin star. But I didn’t have to go as far as London or Lima to enjoy the culinary specialties of the land of the Incas, I just had to get invited to a recent birthday party where Iron Chef Teddy Bouroncle orchestrated the spectacular culinary fireworks.

I bet you’re living to know what we had!?

Our hosts served Pisco Sours, a cocktail I am told originated in Lima, invented by an American bartender in the early 1920s. The cocktail combines Pisco liquor, key lime juice, simple syrup, ice, egg white and Angostura bitters. It’s greenish-yellow, with a pretty frothy head, and it tastes like it’s going to be a party.

We started with different kinds of sushi because Peru is recognized world over for its sushi, thanks to a wave of Japanese immigrants who crossed the pacific with their culinary heritage in tow. Example? Chef Nobu, who came to Peru as a kitchen apprentice. But, the sauces make a difference, and I learned that Peruvians love those, especially the peppery Rocoto, that goes with everything. They also sprinkle Ceviche juice on their bite size sushi wonders, infusing them with more zesty flavors.

Two different, equally delicious appetizers followed: The traditional Peruvian ceviche featuring a combination of fish, nicely balanced between the sour and the salty, with the zippy taste of cilantro and marinated onions.  The individually served ceviche, in a glass jar, with a sweet potato bottom, was escorted by the crunch of toasted corn!

A medley of boiled Peruvian potatoes followed, a kind of de-constructed Causa, each tuber crowned by a flavorful concoction of lobster and apple or tuna tartar, with matching creamy sauces, each tasting differently, all zesty and alive. Causa is potato salad, but somehow deconstructed and beautifully plated it enjoys an unexpected upgrade.

Then the elegantly set table was loaded with large pots, hot off the stove, no, not clay pots, just heavy-bottomed ones, featuring an incredible lineup of divine dishes.

Lomo Saltado, a hearty steak dish, starring tenderloin, stir-fried with red onions, tomatoes, yellow Peruvian chillies – you’ll find the famous aji Amarillo in almost every dish, soy sauce, vinegar and cilantro mixed with fat French Fries, served on a bed of white rice. The lomo was incredible the next day. Yes, I took a doggie bag.

We also had Aji de Gallina, a spicy stew, made with chicken strips cooked in a creamy yellow/pink sauce made of milk, soaked and practically disintegrated bread, parmesan cheese, aji Amarillo, garlic, and finely milled walnuts.  The Aji de Gallina was incredible the next day. Yes, I took a doggie bag.

Lifting the lid off the third pot revealed a rich Lamb Stew, which the chef says was cooked in black beer, Malta, with an irresistible sauce of the usual suspects, red onions, tomato, garlic, aji Amarillo cilantro and cumin.

The usual suspects are the basis of all Peruvian cooking, like the sofrito in Puerto Rico, or the Cajun Holy Trinity in Louisiana, Aderezo in Peru is the point of departure and all dishes take off from that fragrant combination of simmered red onion, garlic and aji Amarillo.

No meal would be complete without beans? Right? We had a giant pot of those, mild and creamy frijol Panamito, cooked with pork ribs for extra flavor. Rest assured the beans were started with a generous portion of Aderezo, laced in aji Amarillo. I confess, the Panamito beans were incredible the next day. Yes, I took a doggie bag

Then there was also a huge seafood stew pot, with shrimp and fish and octopus…

How did we get to dessert? I don’t know, but we did, and I polished my plate as expected. We each got a combo platter with a modified Dolce de Leche called Suspido de Lucuma, my favorite dessert of all times, then a duo symbolizing two rival soccer teams,  Mazamorra Morada, a purple corn pudding, with pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and apples, cohabitating with Aroz con Leche Clasico. The Crocante made of egg white and fresh fruit sealed my fate. I was not getting up at 6am the following morning to exercise. And then they served Alfajores, cookies bursting dulce de leche. . . .

It was a memorable evening, a culinary trip from the Amazon rain forests and jungles to the snow capped Andean highlands, then down to the abundant ocean and coastal areas, the recipes, I am told, incorporated many influences, including Pre-Inca and Inca staples and food inspired by the Spanish, Basque, African, Asian and French, Italian and British.

Where do we stand on the Prosperity Index??

Mail from readers: We noticed another substantial piece of land cleaned in front of Divi Phoenix Beach Resort for future hotel development. We have to admit that between the former MinInfra and the current MinInfra, they did a pretty good job of dividing all available terrain among their financial supporters during the last 10 years.  Word is that the land just cleaned in front of Divi Phoenix will host an Embassy Suites type of resort with 330 rooms, with some beach across the street, consequently not a five star, a joint venture between a Venezuelan investor and the Neme brothers who previously thought of opening a small condo project in that same area, Natura, but changed gears when the other investors came along. Further down on that same coastline you will find Azure condominiums, and the adjacent Las Olas condominiums.  Le Vent Condominiums at the back of Chalet Suisse plans on opening at the end of the year, and more toward the hospital O Condominiums are now under construction.  The group that developed Palm Aruba, is talking about Marriott Residences, to be introduced in Bubali. Divi Phoenix may expand with a tower or two towards their tennis courts and by the year 2020 when Aruba has over 10,000 rooms we are going to ask ourselves the question: “Why, and what for, did we do all this”? The term moratorium will come up again, due to the absence of one.

This question “why are we doing this” was recently answered by economist Arjen Alberts who has dedicated an extensive study to economic development in Aruba and St. Maarten with the question how well we have prospered from tourism. His conclusion was published in an article recently headlined in Amigo di Aruba, and that in a nutshell said:  ”The fact that each year more tourists are coming to Aruba does not signify that prosperity is on the rise”. On the contrary, the prosperity index has been the same for the last 25 years. Our GDP rises each year but that does not mean, according to Alberts, that prosperity is on the rise as well. His shocking conclusion is that Aruba has not prospered from tourism these past two or three decades. When our GDP grew so did our population and it was mostly foreign labor who went on to fill the vacancies created by new hotel development. The cake as he explains indeed got bigger but so did the number of slices, as the cake got cut into many more pieces. Alberts even speculates that our prosperity may further decrease in the future or stay the same. The bottleneck according to him is the lack of space. The island is filing up. We ran hard but did not advance. The only solution according to the economist who lives in St. Maarten is to focus on the tourist experience, welcome less tourists who spend more.

That brings us to the questions of where is the famous moratorium? Albert’s vision of less tourists spending more money is self evident. And we would vote for a politician that publicly declares that it’s not about money, and the marketing awards, but about Quality of Life. And I would welcome an opposition party that objects to continuous development in the race for more accolades. Aruba must focus on improving its product and attracting bigger spenders. At the current level of service, the big spender ain’t coming, so STOP before we reach the level of 150,000 residents with an inadequate infrastructure incapable of handling a densely populated island. The solution: Introduce that much talked about moratorium on construction, then go to work to improve our Quality of Life, because it’s true, if we’re happy, the tourists will be happy!

Aruba Dushi Tera and Speculations on the Identity of the Next Island Governor

Last night at the historic, 218 year old, Fort Zoutman, at the big reveal of Aruba Dushi Tera, the symphonic new version of the island’s anthem, the Governor spoke. As the island’s representative of the Dutch King Willem Alexander the Governor never ad-libs in public, he occasionally reads solemn speeches in Parliament, and he publishes seasonal messages in press releases but he rarely addresses the community in an informal manner, and it happened last night, before the much-loved anthem was played and after a moving tribute to an island musical legend who passed way, Hildward Croes.

The Governor spoke in a measured, deliberate, fatherly manner, expressing his gratitude for the new contemporary and ear-pleasing version of the anthem, recorded with a symphonic orchestra in NY by 40 of the island’s top musicians. He thanked producer Jonathan Vieira expressly, for his creative talents and for the bold initiative. Jonathan, who is the island’s modified version of the prodigal son, was very emotional, fighting back tears as he described the process of putting the recording together with funds raised from private patriotic donors. The elegant crowd was equally moved and thrilled about the musical outcome. Standing side by side in the old courtyard were dignitaries, the Prime Minister, various government ministers, press members, musicians, and the frail but nevertheless responsive to the music Father of Aruba’s Culture Padu Del Caribe, the co-writer of the anthem.

Hearing the governor speak, about giving people a second chance, and standing by our creative talents in good and bad times, the only thought that came to my head was the realization that everyone needs a father, no matter what age or stage in life, it was great to hear a temperate, compassionate and humane voice of the former teacher, turned our Governor, asking us all to believe in the young generation, and allow it room to sometimes err.

The question who will succeed the popular Fredis Refunjol was on everyone’s mind this week. A few names were bounced around. He or she, we heard a rumor the Kingdom would welcome a woman, cannot be too young, perhaps mid-fifties so that the Governor’s position would be his last assignment, and he could retire having concluded his six year term, which can be extended for another six. As far as qualifications he/she must have an impressive resume, integrity, intelligence, and solid knowledge and wisdom in many areas. Most importantly he/she must assume a neutral position, representing clients, the Island Government and the Kingdom. One of my smart friends summed it up as: What’s right for the community should be his/her first priority.

While looking for that superman, Refunjol who was scheduled to retire, agreed to stay on longer, until the Kingdom and the Aruba Government reach a consensus as to who will be his successor.

Here on planet earth, Aruba’s MinPres is eager to find a man not easily impressed and swayed by the Kingdom. The Kingdom on the other hand is eager to find an easy to get along with partner in the tropics, a person who could follow instructions and perhaps not display too much of a mind on his/her own.

Wikipedia says that the governor’s duties are twofold: he/she represents and guards the general interests of the Kingdom and is head of the Aruban Government, accountable to the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherland. That said, the Governor does not have political responsibilities and is not part of the cabinet, but he plays a major role during the formation of a cabinet. Incidentally, the Governor, and his secretariat, his support team, are paid for by the Kingdom, not the island’s treasury!

So midweek, the MinFin whose name was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Governor’s position confirmed he was asked, and then publicly accepted his candidacy. A small flurry of press releases and statements followed because he jumped the gun, the process of electing the Governor is supposed to be secret, first the Island’s Government checks around for suitable candidates, then the list is presented to the Kingdom, then the Kingdom makes a decision, but the MinFin who was recruited as a professional, not a politician, was presumably eager to ditch his finance portfolio and move on to a better job. P.S. At the time he confirmed he was asked, and then publicly accepted his candidacy, he was shopping for 100 million dollar loan, making the rounds of financial institutions in the US.

I cannot blame him. The job of straightening out the island’s finances is a mammoth undertaking. One of my friends weighed in on the conversation saying: I’m not so concerned about Angel Bermudez becoming the next Governor, he is smart, has work experience, which most don’t, and given his background he knows more about numbers than most, I’m more concerned who will become the next Minister of Finance. This will be the 4th Minister of Finance in two election terms for Mike Eman. Mike De Meza, Juan David Yrausquin, Angel Bermudez, and who’s next?? Besides, Bermudez might not be acceptable to the Dutchies, because he has too much of a mind of his own…..

Back to the island’s finances, courtesy of another smart friend: Some time ago someone posted the US government budget/spending and reduced the sum to a simple household budget/ income / spending scenario. The results were scary. Here is the same exercise as it applied to Aruba’s finances:

2014 Numbers from Central Bank

Total Government Revenue: Awg 1,118,000,000
Total Government Expenditures: Awg 1,490,400,000
New Debt: Awg 372,400,000
National Debt by the end of 2014: Awg 3,882,000,000, it’s much higher in 2016.

Remove five zeros:
Household Income: Awg 11,180
Household Spending: Awg 14,904
New debt on Credit Card: Awg 3,724
Total debt on Credit Card, by end of 2014: Awg 38,820

Hmm – and the party still goes on!! The question to ask ourselves, how can we sustain such overspending without serious consequences? This is without 2015 results.

Batten down the hatches, rough weather expected!

But we have a freshly recorded National Anthem, and today at 12noon, the eighteen years old beautiful version of the song by singer C-Zar Olarte, will be replaced on Magic 96.5FM with the version recorded recently by 40 of the island’s best voices, celebrating the Anthem’s 40th birthday.

Between Patriotism and Nationalism

I visited Marie Stella on Thursday, to look at a project on director Flora De Bie’s wish list. She wants to have a Living Kitchen for her thirty-three clients who suffer from dementia, a place they can come and hang out at while food is being prepared. Ordinarily, food is cooked in a central kitchen. And by the time it gets to the dining room it has cooled off. By creating a Living Kitchen, a cross between a dining room and a kitchen Flora’s clients could sit around while the pancakes fry; they can smell the bacon and the coffee and their food will reach them while still warm. Great idea. But where will she get the money to make it happen?

I promise to call some people to see where I can get help. “Crown” for a stove?! Arugas already said “yes” to a free gas installation. “Kooyman” for kitchen cabinets? If you have any ideas, they are welcome, I really want to make it happen for the SABA home in Savaneta.

While there I met Filomena Wong. Yes, the poet, who lives in one of the casitas on the property. “Don’t you think,” she asked, “we are crossing the line a bit with these over the top 18th of March celebrations?” I had to agree with her. “It was never like that before,” said Filomena. “It is now taking a turn to the show off and the bombastic,” she stated. “Even as a school teacher I said NO when the kids in my class had to go outside and salute the flag. I said No. Our job is the teach them, reading, writing and math and not waste their time standing in the school parking lot, looking at a flag pole.”

“You are a rebel,” I said to Filomena. Once a rebel, always a rebel, and Flora agreed, Filomena is the rebel of Marie Stella, she admitted.

At home I opened the dictionary checking Patriotism, the good guy, vs. Nationalism, the bad guy and read the following:

Patriotism: The passion which inspires one to serve one’s country

Nationalism: The political doctrine that your national culture and interests are superior to any other OR an exaggerated or excessive form of patriotism

So wave your flag, but don’t wave it too much. Know there is a flip side to waving flags all over the place.

At Fort Zoutman, during the ADT, Aruba Dushi Tera recording handover ceremony with the Island’s musicians and the Governor, I got an earful from two of my favorite musicians, Etty Toppenberg, a troubadour and folk artist and Antoni Gario, a wonderful band leader and a part-time politician, full time trouble maker. Both told me I will not see flags in San Nicholas, where Gario is from, because they did not belong to “the process.” Having been born with a shade darker skin, as children of immigrants, they were never raised Aruban, and were not “accepted” as Arubans, having suffered discrimination all along, they do not “feel” March 18th as their holiday. I call bullshit on that. In my world, no one is more Aruban than Etty and Gario. The fact that there are no flags in San Nicholas is because flags are expensive and the residents of Chocolate City have no money to spare on decorative frills. True, if the government decided to overrun Oranjestad with flags, San Nicholas should also get some. But that bullshit of not being accepted is ridiculous. If you live here, will walk a mile for a pastechi, and you get teary eyed every time A Bo So is being played, AND you are capable of spending a full night gluing Swarovski to your carnival costume, you are Aruban, and March 18th is your national holiday, and no person can possibly make you feel differently about how you feel and who you are!

P.S. Gario your new girlfriend is shockingly young!

Have you ever thought about touring WEB?

Mariza Garcia thought about it, and called to sign us up for a tour of the water plant.

We showed up on a Thursday morning at 9:20am with closed-toe shoes, long sleeves and long pants and joined two tourist couples on a tour with the fearless Waldo Simpson as our guide.

Water is the most important resource in the world. I recently saw a VICE episode on HBO about the scarcity of water in São Paulo, Brazil and it was scary, because where there is no water, there is no life.

So Waldo, otherwise known for his smooth salsa moves, and cropped short dreadlocks, elaborated on the production of water and showed us the state of the art control room; he also elaborated on the production of electricity and escorted us into that state of the art control room.

Walking up the steel stairs on the grating threads, I had a little case of vertigo; further into that huge hangar of a building I was careful not to walk on the grates for fear my knees will melt. The old Westinghouse turbines are noisy, and we dutifully wore ear plugs for protection.

WEB has been desalinating water and producing electricity since 1932. The company changed technology over time to become more efficient, reducing its consumption of fossil fuel by 50%.

Impressed? I was.

I am not going to bore you by numbers, Waldo did shower us with many, I am only going to mention this: We required 34 million liters of clean, fresh and safe tap water every day. That’s 6 zeros. And the plant has been keeping up with the island’s growth, so far successfully.

As far as electricity is concerned the newer reciprocal engines made a difference, reducing the plant’s dependence on fossil fuel. The island’s experiment with green energy worked out well: The Windmill park at Vaderpiet is working satisfactorily, and so is the airport solar panel project. Then Elmar does the rest and distributes the current into our homes and businesses.

The two tourist couples in our group were obviously more interested in our desalinated water, and that incredible reverse osmosis process that converts sea water into delicious drinking water. They couldn’t figure out why water was sold in bottles on the island why people are buying it.

Good question. Perhaps we should consider an island wide ban.

Anyway, We learned that our water in siphoned in from a well on the bottom of the sea, right across De Palm Island, it is then filtered to remove assorted organisms, and filtered further and further to remove its salinity. It’s then mineralize to improve its taste, then some phosphates are added to the almost finished product to prevent the pipes from corroding, and the whole shebang is UV radiated to kill bacteria, Tada, ready to be pushed to one of seven holding tanks, and from there home, at an appropriate 8.5PH.

No, they do not chlorinate the water but some hotels do for added protection. And you should know that it is scientifically tested every step of the way!

The plant is organized, and the WEB people in their blue coveralls and hard hats go about their business diligently. Just before we left an evacuation drill tested how fast they can haul their butts out the gate in case of emergency.

I found some good clips, show them to your kids.

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March 20, 2016
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster