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The Journey Begins

For quite sometime now, I’ve nursed a dream to return to Jamaica, the place I was born. It wasn’t one I shared easily as many people, my family included, worried. They questioned how I’d manage, how I’d deal with a place I haven’t lived in for more than 30 years. But I knew it was something I had to do. I knew Jamaica was somewhere in my future. That future is now.

Like me, Jamaica has changed but not always for the better. With a population of nearly 3 million, its rate of economic growth is estimated at only about 2.5%, inflation just under 12% and unemployment stands at nearly 12%. And though it recorded its lowest crime rate since 2003, it is still at worrisome levels.

One doesn’t need an advanced degree in sociology or economics to explain why this is. Whenever the gap between those who have and those who don’t becomes an ever widening chasm, there will be consequences.

Fishing boats at Little Ochie, St. Elizabeth
Fishing boats at Little Ochie, St. Elizabeth

The reality is that the Jamaica that a visitor sees is not the one I will live in. But reality becomes secondary to what the soul wants.

What I know is that Jamaica is the only place on earth that grounds me, makes my heart sing and makes me feel whole. It grabs my heart, infuriates me and makes me scream sometimes. But it is where I feel I have a voice. I can’t easily ignore the problems without wanting to do something about it, though I have no idea what.

As I wrote on my About page, I’ve longed to explore this place, touch its heart and find its soul. So for the next few months, I’ll be writing almost exclusively about Jamaica and sharing my experiences with you.

On August 6th next year, Jamaica will celebrate 50 years of Independence from Britain. I mourn what we’ve lost but I’m curious to see how we’ve grown, what we’ve accomplished, what we’re proud of. Most importantly, I want to be there to breathe it, to see and hear it, because Jamaica is more than a country, it’s a clash of contrasts. It’s an experience.

Travel Photo Thursday – Table Mountain’s ‘Tablecloth’

Table Mountain
Table Mountain

The day after we arrived in Cape Town, a spectacularly beautiful day, with few clouds, our guide, Ian, insisted that we visit Table Mountain. We had other ideas but eventually decided to follow his advice.

The following day, the day we wanted to go, puffy, white clouds blanketed the mountain. Ian said it was its Tablecloth.

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website!

10 Places to Eat Near Times Square

I’ve created several lists to help Tony plan his trip to New York City this fall but I hadn’t come up with recommendations for places to eat until today.

Since Tony plans to return to the same Times Square area hotel he stayed at before, I’ll focus on the restaurants in the 9th Avenue corridor, arguably one of the best areas to dine in the city.

What I love about this area is that the ethnic diversity of New York City is reflected there. There’s Italian, South African, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Caribbean, American, Middle Eastern, African – you get the drift.

Another thing I also love is that you can have a delicious meal for under $20 per person. And if you only want to have a drink, you have a choice of bars and pubs there as well. So, if you’re in the Times Square/Port Authority area, the only reason for you to be hungry is if you’ve run out of money.


  • Five Napkin Burger: It’s no joke, you will need five (or more) napkins to wipe your face and hands while you eat at Five Napkin Burger. The restaurant is always full so make reservations or try to get there outside of dinner and lunch hours. 630 9th Ave, 212-757-2277
  • Ollies: Ollies (Sichuan) has another location near Lincoln Center which I used to go to before I went to this one. I feel the food’s better here. 411 W 42nd Street, 868-6588
  • Chenab Indian & Pakistani*: London is well known for its Indian restaurants. I’d love to hear what Tony thinks of Chenab. 540 9th Ave, 212-947-3282
  • Sergimmo Salumeria*: I rarely order lasagna when I go to an Italian restaurant but I did here and loved it. 456 9th Ave, 212-967-4212
  • Tehuitzingo Deli & Grocery*: Ignore the set-up and just go to the back and order your tacos. You won’t be disappointed. 695 10th Ave, 212-397-5956
  • Thai Select*: There are several good choices on their menu but if you want to stick with the usual, they make a good pad thai. 472 9th Ave, 212-695-9920
  • Meskerem 47*: Ethiopian – Any of their stews, some couscous and injera will be enough to fill you up. No utensils needed. 468 W 47th St, 664-0520
  • El Papasito*: Dominican – I was introduced to this restaurant by a Dominican colleague and have been going there for over 10 years now. The food is tasty, fresh and filling. Love their chicharron de pollo (fried chicken), mofongo (mashed plantains), tripe soup and lemonade – 346 W 53rd Street, btw 8th & 9th Avenues, 212-265-2225.
  • Churrascaria Plataforma: Because I don’t buy or eat much beef, I’m always surprised to see beef so proudly displayed, as you’ll notice at this Brazilian all-you-can-eat steakhouse. Thankfully, beef isn’t the only thing on the menu. It’s a little pricier than the restaurants I’ve listed above but it’s worth experiencing. 316 W 49th Street, btw 8th & 9th Avenues.
  • McQuaids: My pub experience in London didn’t leave me very impressed so I’m introducing Tony to a New York pub. I’ve not been to McQuaids but two friends have recommended it. I hope Tony’s able to go and tell me what he thinks. 589 11th Ave, 582-6359

* $10 Entrees available.

Bon Appetit!

5 Off-Broadway Plays Worth Seeing

In continuing to help Tony, my blog buddy, plan his fall trip to New York City, I promised to suggest 5 Off-Broadway plays that I think he should consider seeing.

As we no doubt know already, New York has no shortage of venues to watch good quality theater productions. Personally, I love supporting Off- and Off-Off-Broadway shows. For one thing, you never know whom you’ll see on stage. I’ve recognized many television and movie actors, usually playing against type, and watched plays written by several as yet undiscovered playwrights. Another thing is that the price is usually not as high as what you’d pay on Broadway.

Blue Man Group, photo courtesy
Blue Man Group

So here are 5 suggestions for that Tony and his teenage kids can check out when they’re in New York City.

  • Blue Man Group – A crowd favorite. This three-man performance art group which combines music, comedy and multimedia. Oh, and they’re dressed head to toe in blue.
  • Love, Loss and What I Wore – If clothes could talk, my, the stories they’d tell. Love, Loss explores the memories that are triggered by clothing and accessories.
  • Lost in Yonkers – Following their mother’s death, two young boys go to live with their stern grandmother in Yonkers. Written by Neil Simon
  • The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs – The CEO of Apple brings us irresistible gadgets that we can’t stop buying. This one-man performance examines the man, the products and how they’re made.
  • Sons of the Prophet, A Lebanese family in Pennsylvania deals with family crises with a sense of humor.

Tickets to Broadway shows can be pretty pricey but there’s one place I know that you can always score up to 50% discounted tickets on the day of the performance and that’s at the Theater Development Fund’s kiosk in Times Square.

Matinee tickets are sold the day before at their South Street and Brooklyn locations. They accept major credit cards, cash and travelers checks.



Soulful Sundays – Regina Carter

Jazz violinist and MacArthur Fellow Regina Carter began taking piano lessons at age two after playing by air a melody for her brother’s piano teacher. At four, she was enrolled at the Detroit Community Music School. She played with Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Division, took master classes with Itzak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin.

Carter began studying classical violin at New England Conservatory of Music, then switched to jazz and Oakland University in Michigan as the Conservatory did not have a jazz program.

Regina Carter, photo
Regina Carter, photo stitoday

She’s played with Straight Ahead, accompanied Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Billy Joel, Mary J. Blige and Dolly Parton, played with Max Roach and toured with Wynton Marsalis. Currently, she performs as the head of a quintet. Carter, who was born in Detroit on August 6, 1966 is the cousin of jazz saxophonist, James Carter. She has 7 solo CDs to her credit.

Here’s Carter’s Pavane from her CD, Paganini: After a Dream. If you like what you hear, go here for a free download of Artistiya from her latest album, Reverse Thread.


5 Must See Broadway Shows

This series of posts about New York City is intended to help my blog buddy, Tony Newboult, and anyone else, plan a visit to the Big Apple. This fall, Tony will make a return visit with his two teenage children.

Since seeing a Broadway show is usually a top priority on most people’s list, I’ve decided to make a few suggestions for Tony.

For the last few years, it seems as if all the productions that make it to Broadway are musicals. Musicals are fun ways to draw the audience into a story. They also send them home with a song on their lips and leave them in an upbeat mood even when the story has a not-so-happy ending.

Since Tony’s a music lover, I’m guessing he and his children might appreciate seeing one of the following shows. I haven’t seen all of the ones I mention below so, unfortunately, I can’t offer any personal comments. But they’ve gotten rave reviews and some have won a few Tony Awards:

Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark – This big box production created quite a stir when several actors were injured during rehearsals and had several problems with the original staging. The revamped production has been getting good reviews.

Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, Times Square

The Book of Mormon – The big winner with nine Tony Awards, this religious musical satirizes the story of two Mormon missionaries in Uganda.

The Lion King – I saw this one a few years ago and I really loved it. The energy, the costumes and the story make The Lion King a must see. It’s won six Tony Awards, including for Best Musical.

War Horse – This production uses puppetry to tell the story of Joey, a beloved horse that was sold to the cavalry during World War I.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Three drag queens in the Australian Outback. If this production stays true to the movie, it should be make for good fun. Won Tony for Best Costume.

For Monday, I’ll post my pick of 5 Off Broadway shows Tony should check out.


Six Must See New York City Landmarks

As promised in my earlier post, here are a few more New York City landmarks that my blog buddy, Tony, who’s planning an upcoming trip to Big Apple, can add to his list.

Bell Laboratories, 463 West Street – The original home of Bell Laboratories (1925-1960s) and of numerous inventions including the first experimental talking movies, black and white and color television, video telephone, the first commercial broadcast of the New York Philharmonic with Toscanini and a baseball game. Now home to the Westbeth art collective, it is on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark.

African Burial Ground, Duane and African Burial Ground Way (Elk Street) – During excavation at the site of the Foley Square Federal Office Building in 1991, remains were found and the location was later identified as a cemetery for African slaves. Although only 400 remains were discovered, it was determined that between 15-20,000 people were buried there from the 17th century to its closure in 1812. The site has been declared a U.S. National Monument, a U.S. National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. A visitor center is located at 290 Broadway.

Rose Reading Room, Main Branch, NYPL - photo courtesy of
Rose Reading Room, NYPL - photo from

New York Public Library, 42nd Street & Fifth Avenue – One of the best known Beaux-Arts buildings in New York City, the main branch of the New York Public library housed over a million books on 75 miles of shelves when it opened in 1911. It’s also home to Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, Columbus’ letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and Virginia Woolf’s diaries. Tour hours: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Tuesdays to Saturdays. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Andrew Carnegie Mansion, 2 E 91st Street at Fifth Avenue, former home of Andrew Carnegie who built it in 1903 and lived there with his wife until his death in 1919. She died there in 1946. Currently, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the mansion is on the NY List of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, it is closed for renovation until 2013.

Chamber of Commerce Building, 65 Liberty Street – This Beaux-Arts marble building was constructed in 1901 for the Chamber of Commerce for the State of New York. It became the home for the International Commercial Bank of China after the Chamber moved in the 1980s. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, a National Historic Landmark and a NYC Landmark.

Church of the Ascension, 36-38 Fifth Avenue at 10th Street – This Gothic Revival church is well known for its valuable interior artwork. Its architectural design, sculpture, stained glass and artwork landed it on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also a National Historic Landmark.

Will add to this list as I find more.


Travel Photo Thursday – Bath Sandwich Board

Keep Calm and Carry On, Bath, England
Keep Calm and Carry On in Bath, England

I was drawn to this sandwich board sign outside of a store in Bath, England because of the juxtaposition of some quintessentially British iconic images against an unmistakable German one.

The ‘centerpiece’ of the board, the thing that really captured me was the slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” It was created in 1939 during World War II and was part of a three-poster set intended to boost the morale of the British people in the event of a wartime disaster. The other two reminded that “Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might” and Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.” The latter was the first to go up and became the most popular.

The Keep Calm poster was discovered in 2000 in a second-hand bookstore. It has since been reissued and used on a variety of products.

The VW Beetle was created in Germany in 1938. Following the war, the VW factory was handed over by the Americans to the British in 1945 to be dismantled and shipped to Britain. However, British car manufacturers weren’t interested, citing the car’s unattractiveness and the fact that, in their opinions, didn’t “meet the fundamental technical requirements of a motor car.” The factory survived, however, after the British Army was persuaded to order cars 20,000 cars. The VW was introduced in the UK in 1953.

The other images I recognize: the Royal Horse Guard and the old photo of Bath. I feel like I should know the other image – I just can’t recall what it is or where I’ve seen it before. Do you recognize it? Can you shed some light? Would love to hear from you.

Bath is located in Somerset county, southwest England, about 100 miles from London. It is the home of the Roman Baths, the Bath Abbey, the Circus houses designed by architect John Wood.

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website!

11 Places to Listen to Live Music in New York City

Music symbol from the InternetAs I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m helping my blog buddy Tony plan his latest trip to New York City in the fall. Since Tony’s a music lover, I know he’d want to check out some live performances while he’s in the city. The Lower East Side is a great place for him to start.

Here are a few places Tony can go. Unfortunately, he’ll have to leave his kids with a sitter as patrons have to be 21 and over to attend.

  • Café Wha, 115 MacDougal Street, 212-254-3706 – a New York hotspot since the 1950s. At Café Wha, you can expect to hear all kinds of music, from Reggae, R&B, Classic, Brazilian, Rock.
  • Fat Baby, 112 Rivington Street 212-533-1883 – Two floors, live bands
  • Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, 212-675-6056 – Live music nightly
  • Kenny’s Castaways, 157 Bleecker Street, has been a fixture on the New York music scene since the 1960s.
  • The Mercury Lounge, 217 E Houston Street 212-477-4155 (in NYC, Houston Street is pronounced Howston)
  • Pianos, 158 Ludlow Street, 212-505-3733
  • The Bitter End, 149 Bleecker Street, 212-673-7030 – Since 1960, one of the oldest rock clubs in New York City.
  • The Delancey, 168 Delancey Street, 212-675-9920 – Funk, R&B, Soul, Jazz
  • The Living Room, 154 Ludlow Street, 212-533-7235 – Best NYC club for singer/songwriters.
  • SOB’s, short for Sounds of Brazil, 204 Varick Street, 212-243-4940 – International music.
  • Zinc Bar, 82 West 3rd Street, 212-477-9462 – Jazz, Rock, World Music