Saturday, October 6, 2012

Summer of 2012

Welcome back to perhaps the worst blog on El Salvador ... since very little seems to be about this country. I have been traveling a bit and Malta was nice. 
Chris and Tracey enjoying the deck at the Blacksheep in Wakefield Quebec

Then to Toronto where Fatima joined me and we did Ottawa to visit Tracey and Chris, Owen Sound, and the Kawarthas to the cottage.

Had another Zakuski. Note the pickled Russian garlic!

YS holding court at Sushimoto. Did we eat two sushi boats?

With Chris and Janet at Congee Queen

 For me, nothing beats summer in Canada. Probably because the winters are so long and horrible that everyone and everything comes alive in the spring and summer. Lots of shopping, lots of dinners at Sushi Moto, lunches at Congee Queen, and lots of visitin.

No way can you fit that whole thing in your mouth Tracey.

Made it up to Jeff and Kath’s cottage a few times for some really hot and sunny days. 

Jenny and Noel in the canoe.
Back on dry land.

Lots of time in the lake and lots of time cooking and eating. Noelski who is working and studying in Ecuador came up with his lovely girlfriend Jenny. Lots of cigars on the deck.
Usain Bolt winning the 100 m gold in London. Watched over a combo iPad cell hub thingee.

Foodies start their young ... young. Lily mixing a salad she helped make.

Then back to San Salvador and off quickly to Havana for business. As usual, Matt and Jana were kind enough to host Fatima and myself. We did the usual but the usual is actually quite a lot of fun. 
My table setting at Atelier

At Atelier with the Havana gang.

We had a big dinner party at Atelier Then went to hip lounge bar on 1ra around 42 in Miramar called Melen. The great thing about these hip bars is, you can go in and have like 20 drinks and the tab will be $50. Then the lads tried to execute the rest of the very poorly planned “boys night out” by heading to the den of inequity that is Don Cangrejo, a former seafood restaurant turned into a giant outdoor rave-like nightclub.

In Barrio Chino with Hetor, Delia, Jacqueline, Jose and some random CD vendor.

We also made it to Tien Tan for some excellent Chinese food. It was very very slow so the chef was outside smoking so I had a chat with him and asked him to send out 8 dishes of his choice. Got some really nice ones like lamb with cumin and great breaded shrimps. Also made it to Carboncita on 3ra and 38 a few times for the excellent pizza (although he was out of prosciutto and good salami) but the grilled octopus was great as was the porchetta (although it was hard ordering it from the ladies as I kept saying porchetta instead of porketta). 

Having lunch with Chukin at Dona Eutimia.

Made it to Habana Vieja for a meeting and then called Matt of Cuba Absolutely for a last minute recommendation and he told us to go to Dona Eutimia off of the Plaza de Cathedral which we barely found as I heard it with Matt’s English accent off a bad cell connection so I kept asking for Dona Udania. Anyways, I have known about that paladar for maybe a decade but never bothered going in figuring it was a tourist trap with crappy food. Wrong! It had great Cuban food in a beautifully and tastefully decorated little dining room at the front of big old airy house.

Crab, lobster and octopus served in crispy boniato cups with cold Cristals.

Went to a very interesting lunch meeting of a group of young Cuban entrepreneurs. They meet once a week at one guy’s place who is busily converting his house to a paladar including a huge multi burner range, stainless steel counters and a gas burning paella pan 4’ in diameter. You have to hand it to Cubans – this guy hired a designer who put together a 100 page book of designs for all the rooms, furniture and fixtures. He found out that I was a foodie so sat in the kitchen with him and some of the other early birds to talk food and watch him cook. He made a great garbanzo lobster dish with curry flavours, a crab salad, a cole slaw (in Cuba, cabbage is lettuce), and a delicious lobster salad with enough garlic to surprise this garlic eating Korean. He came up with an idea of making boniato (white sweet potato) cups, freezing and then deep frying them to make a serving platform. Delicious. I hope his paladar is open when I go back. I plan to bring him some nice food ingredients like good wasabi, paresan cheese, and truffle oil.

Jose and Claudio getting ready to eat 10 tacos each.

Also did a taco and domino night at Delia’s, went to visit Hanoi at the Hotel Raquel, went to visit an artist and a gallery. Ended up buying three paintings from Jurgen this time but his agent was off in Barcelona so her assistant was in charge of the visits and then the paperwork which got really screwed up the next day. I was supposed to have the paintings delivered to Matt’s place at 2:00 pm, an hour before my departure for the airport, with the export seals and papers. Instead, I get a call from Jurgen at 1:00 saying that they couldn’t get the paperwork done and asked if I could come pick him up. I told him that I had no car and no time and he had to take care of it. Now he is an excellent painter but his agent is supposed to handle the paperwork. He ended up getting his Dad (nice guy) to drive him, carrying the paintings in a 1.9m tube, on the back of a motorcycle to the airport where he waited for me. Had to speak to two different customs offices before I found Gustavo at Taca who was willing to go through the immigration area to the customs/patrimony people to see if they could come out to pre-authorize the paintings before I took the risk of walking through and running into problems. 

Drinking beers with Jurgen at the airport, waiting for something to happen.
So the right woman was found but she was at a different terminal so we had some beers while waiting for her. She shows up and luckily she knows the artist so she says no problems and I pay the balance of the monies to Jurgen and take this giant tube through. Happily they didn’t make me pull it out onto the floor and I helped the woman talk with some German girls who were carrying paintings without a seal (they were told they didn’t need them – wrong. Always a good idea to get the seal put onto the painting at the market which will save you time and money). I think I paid $21 for the three paintings and Gustavo let me board with this giant tube instead of paying the $100 or whatever for oversized baggage.
The painting we bought "Amelia" (I call it Fat Uma)

We are only keeping one and two are for a friend in Toronto who has very large empty walls. I had one of them framed out (just blocked onto wood) and it barely fit into the back of my Honda Pilot which I thought would fit anything. It was so tight that the frame had to be twisted to get in. Now it is on the wall of my dining room and it looks great and gives the room a nice pop-arty feeling. I’d like to help out Jurgen by selling some more of his work so let me know if you are interested. You can see more examples at and he works off of photographs and I think he will take commissions

Trip was great even though there was dengue everywhere. Three friends of mine got it (all survived after a few weeks of pain and discomfort) and it was all over the city. We were very careful about not getting bit and left without a problem. On the upside, the avocados are great this year.

Avocado salesman in Habana Vieja

Okay, back in San Salvador and it is the tail end of the rainy season. It has been very light and I hope it continues like this for the rest of the year. We were almost out of it last year when that weird storm hit and we had a week of continuous rain which took out 57 bridges. There are Japanese engineers here who are rebuilding a bunch of them and they are doing a good job although the job is far from being finished – come on, 57 bridges is a lot. No one seems to be able to understand them but no one is disagreeing with their engineering decisions.

The golf course at Veraneras survived the season beautifully. In past years, they have had a foot of rain sitting on top of the greens for weeks making it impossible to play and impossible to groom. This year, not one day of closure and when I played in the past few weeks, not even any mud on the ground. I have also heard that the new Dye designed course, El Encanto, is going to open 9 holes in February. We are all excited about that. Heard that Dye wasn’t going to make it as hard as El Reunion in Guatemala which is crazy hilly and hard. Also heard that they were going to make the fees more affordable to the middle class (like me!) by dropping initiation from $25K to $10K.

One reason why I had to come back at this time was because I was at the end of my 90 day provisional temporary residency card. If I spent 90 days abroad, I would have to reapply which would mean that I would lose credit for the previous 4 years and you need 5 years total to apply for permanent residency. So I get back before the deadline and have my lawyer call them to see if my regular temporary residency card is ready and she is told to check back in a month but they may be up to two months behind due to a large number of applications being submitted in May. So just like Canada, they are way behind! Movin’ on up to developed country levels.

Things are pretty quiet and peaceful here. The city is dressing up the Zona Rosa with a median barrier with surprising large palm trees (how did they get those in there?) and lights. Amazingly not interfering with traffic – unlike the 6 month plan to resurface the highway down the hill at Los Chorros. You can get details at the Public Works Ministry website that is stressing transparency of governance which is a great step to reducing corruption and encouraging accountability. Oh, they almost have the other highway bypassing Santa Tecla completed to hook up with Blvd Jerusalem and then into the city. Salvadorans are amazingly quick and good road builders and I think we continue to have the best roads in Central America.

Hmm, traffic was also crazy bad last week when we had two demonstrations on the same day and they had to close the road in front of the presidential palace and the highway going past Gran Via. I was driving out to the airport highway and it took half an hour to clear the zone. Amazingly, I saw some cops trying to direct traffic but they didn’t really seem to know how to do it. Traffic jams like this produce incredibly selfish acts of gridlock. Like cars filling intersections blocking cars and not being to clear the intersection for two cycles of the lights. All this because people are trying to make left hand turns through the traffic further along and no one letting them in. On the positive side, having traffic jams like this makes the regular rush hour look not so bad.

Paseo del Carmen continues to flourish with lots of people and live music. Fatima’s friend opened up a place called La Brújula  which means “compass” in Spanish. She studied in NYC hence all the Brooklyn stuff around. They have an okay taster combo plate of Arabic food but their pizzas are quite good. Get the spinach mushroom pizza but ask for an extra thin crust and baked longer to get it crispy.

Have also eaten at the Faisca do Brasil Churrascarria at the Intercontinetal, Pabelion Coreano in Merliot, and Paradise which has a menu and chef for excellent appetizers that is cheaper and much better than the packaged crap at Chilli’s and Bennigans. They have good sliders and wings and excellent onion rings and popcorn shrimp. Their full on gourmet menu is also good with lots of steaks (I think they grow and age their own beef), lobsters and some old school classics like wedge salads.

Oh, one weird thing I heard is about some other former bloggers in El Salvador. There was a Korean American ex-punk rocker from Jersey who opened a cafe on the beach. I may or may not have sent her a message saying she shouldn’t put too much private stuff on her blog as that would give potential bad guys information to extort her – like we know your kid’s name and where they go to school.  Her blog just stopped one day and I wondered what had happened to her. Then another blogger opened a business nearby there and was commenting about the gangs and extortion demands being made of small businesses. Then very surprisingly, someone commented and said that the area had some prominent business people and if they didn’t think the new business was good for the community, they would have someone call and make a fake extortion play. Faced with violence, a lot of small businesses would prefer to close and move elsewhere. Now if this is true, this portends very badly for the future of this country. Extortion by gangs are really hurting the safety and commerce of this country and if wealthy business owners are using the same tools to fight competition, this country will never be able to turn itself around. I hope that I am wrong or these people stop this behaviour!

Hmm, no photos of San Salvador. Will try to take some to post. See you back here soon, I hope.