Monday, December 23, 2013

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…"

New York at Christmas time is just great.  The stores are all decked out in their Christmas finery and people are in holiday mood.  The Rockefeller Centre's ice rink is full, there's Christmas activities going on all over.  And as for us, Viv had organised our seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in their Christmas spectacular.

Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree

It was a business trip for me but business would last only a morning so I'd asked Viv to accompany me for the weekend.  We wanted to shop, watch movies, go to shows, shop, eat and socialize. Not necessarily in that order but that was just about the plan.

We stayed at the Langham Place Hotel on Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building in mid-town where the bellhop told us that every store was on sale -- the hangover from the Thanksgiving Sales and the current pre-Christmas sales.

Sales used to be after Christmas and the January sales, nowadays its constant. This isn't good.  Trouble is that the US recovery has been relatively jobless -- at the end of 2012, 75% of US output had been recovered but only 21% of the jobs.  Companies simply aren't hiring enough people and those that are hired are substantially under-employed or on contract.  The headline rate may have declined to 7% but factoring in under-employed and those that have given up looking doubles it -- this is why the discount stores and dollar shops are doing so well.  And why even big name stores are on forever sale.

First thing though was another subway trip to Chelsea Market in the Meat Packing District to eat lobster with Viv and again just like last time it was great… once I'd walked Viv around the block a few times to get my bearings, that is!

Trouble with eating a late lunch like that though was that it pretty much killed any appetite we had for later on.  Still we were able to hit a past favourite restaurant Carmine's at Time Square for a cocktail and appetizer and finish off with some ramen noodles at a place called Sapporo.

So we're ticking all the 'eating' boxes then!

Next day was my meeting just off Wall Street.  It's always a great feeling to be where the action is.  Trouble is after 9-11 most of the big finance firms moved their main offices to mid-town so these days there's a few rep offices on Wall Street as well as the NY Fed and NY Stock Exchange, but that's pretty much it.  Goldman Sachs as usual bucked the trend and built a new building further down Broad Street beyond where my meeting was, but everyone else was in mid-town.

Outside the NYSE with my business partner, Robert

After the meeting we went for lunch to a terrific chop house called Harry's on Pearl Street, all wood panels, starched table cloths and waiters in aprons.  Americans do chop and steak houses really well I think.  Far better than we in Britain but that may be because of the cuts of meat they work with -- particularly steaks -- but also because they give you very large chunks of meat too!

Still ticking the 'eating' box!

But the real excitement was when I discovered that Delmonico's Restaurant was just round the corner.  It may not mean much to some but if you read stories of old NY or watch movies depicting that era, the bigshots always end up in Delmonico's to eat.  I thought the place had closed long ago but no, it had reopened within the last 10 years and was trying to recover its place as the premier fine dining restaurant in NYC and the entire US -- for Delmonico's was the first fine dining restaurant in the US when it opened its doors in 1837.

Be that as it may, the rest of Viv's and my day was elsewhere -- in fact shopping and the crowds, most of whom so it seemed like London were speaking a language other than English. It seems that the great big cities of the developed world have become more and more cosmopolitan.

But first thing first.  It was cocktail time!  After yesterday's debacle when we walked around looking for cocktail bars recommended by the Concierge without luck, we decided to stroll up 5th Avenue as the snow was filtering down and arrived at the Peninsular Hotel where we decided the Roof Terrace was the place for us!  It was freezing however the hotel had set up heat lamps and provided blankets for the hardy cocktail bunch, us included.  The ice in our Negronis did not melt!

The forecast for Saturday was a blizzard and as we woke up we discovered that 'they' had got it dead right.  Blizzard it was!

This was shop till we drop day and we gave it our all to shop at all the big stores -- most if not all were on sale.  Macy's were 50% off with another 20-50% more off at the till.  We did a lousy job though as the crowds were immense and whilst we did buy some things, it was nowhere near what we'd thought.  But we did get to walk in the snow through Bryant Park where a winter Christmas village had been set up.

Very lovely it was too with people skating, strolling and generally getting in the mood.  There was a big Christmas tree too of course.

Bryant Square

The key event of the day though was the theatre, namely a show called A Prairie Home Companion which was the showcase of Garrison Keilor.

Viv's dad loved Garrison Keilor's Tales from Lake Woebegone, an imaginary country town with stories rambling along endlessly but entertainingly.  Viv saw the show advertised so that was it.

The Town Hall Theatre set up for the radio broadcast.

Now we hadn't realised this was to be a recorded live radio broadcast for PBS stations and the US Overseas Armed Forces Network.  The 1,377th such weekly show in fact!  Our first such live broadcast. It was a fabulous show even though choreographed into 2 one-hour blocks.  There were singers, great music and musicians, an opera singer, comedy skits and of course Garrison Keilor's weekly update from Lake Woebegone.  Great stuff!

As the show started at 5.45 pm to be ready for the 6 pm live broadcast, it was over by 8 pm so I'd booked a table at Delmonico's for 8.30 pm.  Being so far downtown, this meant a long subway ride but we made it although the snow was immense.

Great steak too but as we came out, the snow had ended as the temperature had gone up 10 degrees so it was now hammering down with rain!  Talk about getting wet!  But what a great day.

Our final day was all around the Rockettes at Radio City.

Viv had booked the 11.30 am show -- they do 5 each day!  My goodness they have to be fit… or have 2 sets of Rockettes.  Located near Rockefeller Centre, Radio City is yet another magnificent piece of 1930's art deco Americana.  It looks nothing much from outside alongside the other skyscrapers but when you get inside it is immense!

These days everything's in 3D
If you like singing and dancing and lots of fun, you'll love the Rockettes.  It is a real institution as our show was jammed like all the others Viv had tried to book us into and everyone in the audience was really into it.  Great stuff again.

The wurlitzer guy in Radio City

As our flight was at 5 pm, we only had time for lunch at Cipriani's in Grand Central Station before heading for the airport and home.

Grand Central Station from Cipriani's on the balcony

Wonderful time.  Merry Christmas New York!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Undiscovered Cayman

When people come to Cayman they think golden sands and Seven Mile Beach.  Well OK, that's a fair comment as both are pretty nice on SMB but really there is more to Cayman than just this.  Thankfully.

The Seven Mile Beach corridor with its condo on the beach developments and attractions is admittedly the big draw, but there is more out east where the swamps and mosquitos and the deadly diseases used to be... but that was years ago.  Things have moved on and with regular aerial spraying, the bugs have largely gone.  Well at least those with deadly diseases have.  So that leaves the largest chunk of the island available for use.

Grand Cayman. To the left is the Seven Mile Beach Corridor. To the right the large chunk of land is the formerly malarial east end -- now site of the Shetty Hospital.  At the top right is the magnificent Queens Highway.
Topographically Cayman is or are the 3 tips of a huge undersea mountain so there are massive trenches just offshore which make it a fabulous diving location.  But onshore realistically the largely undeveloped east end is what is called here 'iron shore' except that it's inland dividing large areas of mangrove swamp, small lakes and the odd fertile field where crops are grown and livestock raised.  To develop this area, you have to both want to and have to know what you're doing.

So it was really nice to see that something that had long been talked about was actually happening and actually happening really soon.  This is the new Health City or to be precise the Shetty Hospital complex out in the east end.

I'd been here before and seen the signs -- the ones that say "Site of the Future Health City" -- and rolled my eyes.  So much talk, so little action but this time on the advice of a government surveyor I'd played tennis with I drove off the beaten track, up the hill and over the top and there it was in almost its complete glory -- the new Shetty Hospital.

And very impressive it was.

I was stopped at the gate by 'Panama' the security guard who said I couldn't go further but was happy to chat and tell me the story.  The hospital is 170 beds and is phase 1 of the development (apparently phase 2 won't be built until government lengthens the runway and upgrades the airport) and is built of cork with poured concrete supporting it. As the building is on top of a small hill I suppose it's clear of storm surge like the island suffered during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Panama waxing lyrical

Panama waxed lyrical about the fact that the workers on the site were mainly ex-cons who couldn't otherwise find work and that the entire crew plus contractors and sub-contractors had been hired by the Imperato family who were going to build a 10-story hotel on top of the hill just outside the hospital for patients' families.  He showed me the dividing line of the property between hospital land (owned by the Thompson family) and the Imperato land.  Apparently on February 14th 2014 once the hospital opened for business the crews would be working full time on the new hotel project.  Certainly a lot of land had been cleared and graded ready for work proper to start.

This is an amazing positive for the island's economy.  Better known for its financial services background, what the island needs (as does Bermuda) are big infrastructure projects that employ hundreds of non-financial people and with this they have them.

Seeing projects like this (and of course the many Dart family projects that are ongoing in the SMB corridor) convinces me that Cayman has seen the toughest of its days post Ivan and the follow-up Great Recession which decimated the funds industry, a cornerstone of the Cayman economy.  Brighter things lay ahead.


I really like the north shore.

OK its a bit cheesy but anyone that calls the road the 'Queen's Highway' has me won over.  What I like about it is that it isn't anything like the SMB corridor.

The road is empty, the beaches lead onto iron shore for the most part, swimming is all reef and rock and there's pretty much nothing there on the other side of the street except well ... nothing.

The heritage people have done a fine job since I've been coming to Cayman by putting up information signs all over the place.  Great idea.  They add loads of local color to what could be thought of as boring swamp or endless iron shore and scrub.  The Mastic Trail sign for example is fascinating.

There's no fields like you understand fields.  Just swamp and scrub.  But between them are bits, small bits admittedly of fertile ground that can be cultivated.  And the farmers of old got there by cutting down trees and laying them laterally across the swamp/scrub to make a footpath they could then take into and out of the fields.

What the sign doesn't say of course is how hard this must have all been and how little they could actually produce from inefficient scraps of land.  But still an eye into the past and a fascinating one at that.

This said though walking along Seven Mile Beach doesn't make you a bad person!