Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE

The Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai has got to be one of the most spectacular buildings on the planet. When it opened in 1999, it was the tallest hotel in the world. "Burj" is arabic for tower. Set out on the water via a causeway, it resembles an arab dhow, rising nearly 1,000 ft in the air, yet it's 202 rooms span only 29 stories. James Bennet wrote for the New York Times (2.15.04) that entering the lobby leads one to believe that the interior decorator and the designer never met. I concur. The exterior is cool and elegant, while the lobby is filled with color and ever so busy. All the suites are duplex, with winding marble staircases rising out of the living area to bed and bath above. Each arriving guest is checked in at their own floor, no waits in the lobby.

This area of Dubai, 30 mins from downtown is filled with world class resort hotels. One of the best, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel is adjacent (see photo).

As if this all wasn't overwhelming enough, as I was walking around the hotel perimeter I spotted a "Roger Federer look-alike" speaking German with friends in a lounge chair watching the oncoming sunset. I thought "naw, it just couldn't be." Minutes later, I saw his wife Mirka and baby in tow with mother-in-law, approaching and figured it was just too bizarre to be true (foreground photo of hotel captures his duaghter and mother-in-law).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Flatbush, Brooklyn

Who'd a thunk that deep in the bowels of Brooklyn such a jewel of a "suburban" enclave is hidden to most of the world ? It all has to do with the historical development of this area and it's proximity to Prospect Park. Many of the large mansions on Albemarle, Argyle, Buckingham, Marlborough, and Rugby Streets occupy the northern edge of Flatbush and are considered Prospect Park South. They are a product of a retail manufacturing industry endemic to Brooklyn, where huge sums of money were made selling retail products like Chiclets, Fruit of the Loom, Ex-Lax, and Gillette razor blades. Flatbush was an independent municipality, take a look at Town Hall built in 1875. The most spectacular house is the Japanese pagoda style home at 131 Buckingham Rd. built for Frederick Strange Kolle in 1902, a german physician and inventor of the X-ray.

I took a long walk in the neighborhood in November and caught the Fall colors on a crisp sunny day. Brooklyn College has a huge green quad and stately Georgian library - this school, dubbed the poor man's Harvard, was a WPA project built in 1937 with New Deal funds. Famous alums include Irwin Shaw, Paul Mazursky, Alan Dershowitz, Barbara Boxer, Frank McCourt, and Jimmy Smits.

More fascinating than that is Erasmus Hall on Flatbush Ave, this imposing edifice rises above the street level shopping chaos. Founded in 1787, this is the second oldest high school in the country. Mae West, Barbara Stanwyck, Eli Wallach, Lainie Kazan, Arthur Frommer, Mickey Spillane, Neil Diamond, and Barbara Steisand are among the quarter million graduates in the last two centuries

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fuzhou (Beijing return), China

In June, I made my 12th trip to China since 1998 and my first visit to Fujian Province. It started out with a surprise in view of the Chinese' concern for swine flu virus transmission by incoming visitors. As soon as we landed in Beijing, a paramedic SWAT team (see photo) stormed the plane and zapped us all with forehead IR thermometers that looked like stun guns. Of course, they were doing fever screening for swine flu. It was a bizarre scene and at first I thought I was witnessing my first terrorist attack.

Fuzhou in June is expectedly hot and humid. We were attending The 7th China Cross Straits Technology and Projects Fair as this region lies directly across the China Sea from Taiwan and is viewed as the next fast growth area in China in anticipation of Taiwan rejoining the mainland - it'll take a decade or two. At the Gala Dinner, I did finally get a chance to sample real abalone and shark's fin soup, high mercury content be damned. The festivity was at the Shangri-la Hotel Banquet Center in downtown Fuzhou - looked to me like best hotel in the city.

The layover in Beijing on the return allowed us to stay at the Regency Beijing, a beautiful hotel near Tiananmen Square. Summer rates are very cheap as tourists know better than to visit Beijing in the heat of summer and there is also huge excess capacity from last year's Olympics overbuilding. I was thrilled that a new Lamborghini store was attached to the hotel. There was a silver and also a yellow Gallardo in the show room (see photo). Now this made the trip !
I got a chance to take the subway up to the Olympic site and visited the Aquatic Centre ("Water Cube") and the Olympic Stadium ("Bird's Nest"). The scale of the grounds and buildings is tremendous. It is interesting to note that one thing the architects failed to consider with all the twisted beams in the stadium is how to clean them. Looked like half the sands of the Gobi desert were caked on - a cleaning nightmare. On way to airport, taxi driver was kind enough to take us by the fabulous architectural wonder that is the Beijing TV Centre, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. This could never have been built before the days of CADCAM design.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shelburne Farms, Vermont

This weekend we attended the 1st Annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival ( held at the uncannily beautiful Shelburne Farms Coach Barn on the shores of Lake Champlain. This improbable daycation was a result of an invitation from my sister Allison Hooper, who is cofounder of Vermont Butter & Cheese Company in Barre. The venue was nothing short of spectacular, the landscaping was one of Frederick Law Olmsted's commissions in 1902. Olmsted is best known for Manhattan's Central Park, but amazingly, he also did landscapes in Connecticut, including Bristol's Rockwell Park. I've included a photo of the The Inn, which is situated on a hillside overlooking the Lake.

Allison was signing her new book In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen, soon to be available in November. She is a pioneer in America for Artisanal cheesemaking. Steve Jenkins, Master Cheesemonger at Fairway Market (, posits that superb American artisanal cheesemakers now rival and surpass their European counterparts. VBC won the "Oscar" of the food world at the 2008 Fancy Food Show by winning the Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation ("SOFI") for Outstanding Product Line picked from 5,000 entries.

VBC has offerings in both goat milk cheese (chevre, feta, crottin, bonne bouche, bijou,and coupole) as well as cow milk butter, cream, and cheese (cultured butter, creme fraiche, fromage blanc, quark, and mascarpone). Visit VBC at