Jamaica Jaunt

March 10th, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Dunn's River FallsBeat the cold New York weather by heading to Ocho Rios, where you can relax on the beach, climb a waterfall and check out live reggae. This north-coast Jamaican paradise is just a four-hour flight from JFK Airport and then a 90-minute drive east of Montego Bay.

It’s name is Spanish for “eight rivers,” but the city doesn’t actually have eight rivers. Ocho Rios is best known for Dunn’s River Falls, a 600-foot limestone staircase of lagoons and spring-water cascades.

This is not a natural wonder simply to be admired. Bring your swimsuit and jump right in. Tours are available, in which guides lead you up the falls, telling stories and pointing out the local vegetation, and even filming the ascent to edit into a DVD within the hour (if you want to hand over $40 for a copy). It’s an amazing experience to interact with such an awesome spectacle.

The falls end near James Bond Beach — in the nearby town of Oracabessa — where scenes from the 1962 film “Dr. No” were filmed. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels that inspired the movies, loved Jamaica. His old estate, Goldeneye, is now an exclusive resort in Oracabessa.

Just a short drive from James Bond Beach (about 25 minutes) is Dolphin Cove (, which offers the chance to swim with dolphins and interact with exotic birds and iguanas. Visitors who don’t have a car can get there by taxi; they are affordable and responsive and can be called by most hotel front desks.

Read the rest at the New York Daily News.

Touring Queens’ Christmas Past

December 23rd, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

flushingtownhallhistory_all_2012_08_09_q9_courtesyflushingtownhall_iLast weekend, many Queens residents took a step back in time by joining in the Queens Historical Society’s 26th annual Holiday Historic House Tour.

The tour, which took place Dec. 8, gave participants a chance to visit seven different historic sites in the borough, which showcased a wide range of previous eras and cultures, from the 17th century to the early 20th.

While the tour has been running for a quarter century, this year was the first time the Louis Armstrong House Museum was included as a stop. The Corona landmark was purchased by the music legend and his wife in 1943. Visitors had a chance to not only learn about the site, but hear some holiday gems from Armstrong as well.

“We had a great response from our visitors,” said Jennifer Walden, director of marketing for the Armstrong museum. “Most of our visitors were first-time guests. They had heard about the house but had not had a chance to visit yet.”

Those who dropped in heard rare recordings of Armstrong reading “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and other Christmas pieces, and also got to sample some complimentary sweets.

Dating even further back is Flushing Town Hall. The 1862 building was once the political center of Flushing, and its rich history was celebrated as part of the historic house tour. Now serving primarily as a performance space, the Town Hall delighted guests with a program of classical music. The Balsam Trio — Alex Hu, Sverre Bauge, and Pei-Hsuan Tsai — from Queens College’s Aaron Copland School of Music, performed pieces from Beethoven and Brahms, accompanied by guest artists Abram Korsunsky and Gloria Shih of the Gracieux Piano Trio.

Read the full story at the Queens Times Ledger.

Scintillating Seattle

December 20th, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

IMG_2670Sure, Seattle’s weather tends to be gray and somber, but that’s true of little else here.

The Washington city boasts a flashy new exhibit, innovative food and beverage options, and blossoming artsy neighborhoods.

For a colorful cultural experience, check out the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit ( at the Seattle Center. This indoor-outdoor exhibition showcases the elaborate glass sculptures of Washington artist Dale Chihuly, whose work has been shown throughout the world, including current pieces at the Borgata in Atlantic City and the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Among the many room-size pieces on display are Mille Fiori (Italian for “a thousand flowers”), which looks like Willy Wonka’s factory rendered in glass instead of chocolate; the psychedelic Persian Ceiling; and the Sealife Room, where a massive ocean-blue glass tower imitates a swirling tide of starfish, conch shells and urchins.

In the outdoor garden, the sculptor’s multicolored glass flowers and plants sit among real flora in the shadow of the Space Needle (, which continues to command the city skyline. A trip to the top of the 605-foot landmark costs $21 for adults and $12 for kids under 13 (with discounts during later hours). It’s worth the price for travelers looking to get oriented in the city.

In addition to wine, snacks and interactive displays — with new enhancements slated for next summer — the Needle’s rotating SkyCity Restaurant offers locally sourced seafood and entrees that are worthy of the awesome view.

Read the full story at the New York Daily News.

Inside the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis

December 11th, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

TBoneOver four decades in the recording biz, he’s produced albums for Roy Orbison and Elton John, toured with Bob Dylan and won an Oscar and an incredible 13 Grammys, the latest for a song he cowrote with Taylor Swift. And now, for his latest trick—having apparently conquered the present—T Bone Burnett will travel back in time.

Sort of. As executive music producer for Joel and Ethan Coen’s new film, Inside Llewyn Davis, Burnett’s mission was to reproduce the sound of Greenwich Village circa 1961, just about the time Dylan came on the scene and folk music blew up. The film follows a struggling singer-songwriter (Oscar Isaac) through a week of emotional and professional ups and—mostly—downs. In his own words, here’s how Burnett did it.

It’s called Travis guitar style. It comes from Merle Travis and has to do with using your thumb for alternating bass patterns while playing melodies with your fingers at the same time. It’s a feel thing, and one should really have to do it over a certain amount of time to gain mastery of it—but this is something Oscar just got.

It’s a different process. With a singer, you might say, “Sing louder” or “use vibrato,” but with an actor you’d say, “Sing like you’ve got a hangover.”

Read the full Q&A at Rhapsody magazine.

Thoughtful Bubbles

December 11th, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »


RichardJuhlinI had a chance to interview Richard Juhlin, arguably the world’s top champagne expert, for United Airlines’ new Rhapsody magazine. He has a new book out, Scent of Champagne, in which he tastes and offers notes on 8,000 (!) different champagnes — a world record. While his superhuman sense memory would make a fascinating story in itself, we were focusing on how to enjoy bubbly during the new year:

“Champagne can suffer from its association as a celebration drink,” he says. “When people think, ‘it tastes good, it’s fun,’ they forget about its many other qualities.”

That’s not to say revelers should be spending New Year’s Eve scrutinizing their glasses. But an evening can be elevated by short “technical tastings,” along with a brief discussion about each selection’s attributes. This incudes the champagne’s appearance (a lemon-yellow hue for chardonnay grapes, more reddish for pinot), scent (identifying aromas of flowers, fruits, and even pastries with a touch of chalk or minerals from the soil), and flavor (including density and aftertaste). Juhlin calls this “really listening to the music that the champagne is playing.”

So how best to hear? Surprisingly, bigger is better. A wine matures more slowly in a larger bottle since the proportion of air between the cork and liquid is smaller, so Juhlin urges reaching for magnum sizes (1.5 liters) rather than standards (0.75 liters) for a more refined, less oxidized flavor. Not only does the bottle look more impressive, the drink inside tastes better.

Though there was not enough space for it, Richard also provided me with a suggested four-course menu along with wine pairings that would make for an ideal New Year’s Eve feast with friends.

  • Caviar; paired with Henriot blanc de blancs, Comtes de Champagne or Billecart blanc de blancs
  • Lobster or salad; paired with Leclapart Amateur, Agrapart Venus or Selosse
  • Sole or turbot; paired with Dom Pérignon, R. Lalou, La Grande Dame or Cristal
  • Game or venison; paired with Egly-Ouriet, Bollinger or a Clos des Goisses

Read the piece in this month’s Rhapsody here.

Virginia is for Vineyards

December 2nd, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

IMG_3919Virginia is well-known for its wealth of U.S. history, but the reds and whites attracting travelers to the state these days have nothing to do with the American flag.

After years of failed efforts to make the area a wine destination, the industry is now flourishing there.

In just the last five years, Virginia has seen an explosion in new vineyards. There are now more than 230 wineries in nine distinct regions in an area where there were only a few dozen. They boast prominent names from Dave Matthews to Donald Trump buying their own operations. Visitors to the state can create a packed schedule of vineyard tours and topnotch restaurants at which to pair the drinks with local food.

This is all good news for New York City oenophiles, who have a new destination to consider when looking for a getaway around wine drinking.

And just because these wineries are only a few years old doesn’t mean they lack history or expertise. Take New Kent Winery, just east of Richmond. Though they only launched in 2008, the winery itself is constructed from 80% reclaimed antique building material, including pre-Civil War brick and handmade nails. The tasting room even houses a 160-year-old scale used for measuring wine.

New Kent also draws on the 27 years of winemaking experience of Tom Payette, who oversees production and can host tours and group blending sessions — and who helped guide the vineyard to a Governor’s Cup award for its 2009 Reserve Chardonnay. Payette and other independent wine consultants like him offer their knowledge and training to numerous wineries in the region and have helped move Virginia winemaking from the activity of hobbyists to a fully matured industry.

Read the full story at New York Daily News.

Adventure Made Easy

November 16th, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

Stopping for Beverages at the reserveCoca-Cola is the largest employer in the continent of Africa, making it a major region of interest for the company. But traditionally, when visiting the continent, groups from the company have held most of their events in South Africa thanks to its wealth of meetings-ready properties and venues.

A few years ago, the beverage giant opted to mix things up by holding a major training event in Ghana. For Sarah Hunter, a creative director for Coca-Cola and executive producer for marketing agency Switch, this required going a few steps outside her traditional comfort zone as an event planner.

“I’ve gone around the world a couple times with Coke,” she says. “But this was a first.”

Eschewing massive international conferences, Coke opts for a more localized approach to its gatherings that target specific roles for the company and their respective regions. In Ghana, the company brought together members of the corporate leadership from Atlanta, workers from several Coca-Cola offices throughout Africa, and their bottling factory partners.

Hunter was charged with helping to train the local communications and public affairs teams to create consistency of brand message across the disparate parts of the organization.

Since Ghana offered a destination off the beaten path for many attendees, this created both benefits and challenges for attendees. But with careful planning, and a few moments of quick decision making, Hunter was able to make the event succeed.

Read the full story at Successful Meetings.

Want to Self-Publish Your eBook? Here’s How

October 16th, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

snoopy_writingA self-publisher has a growing number of options for how to get his or her book out to the public, but that can present its own challenges. With so many e-book platforms—old, new, and updated—to choose from, which is the right fit? Here is a roundup of the major e-book platforms that are available, and what they have to offer self-publishers.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) — Amazon’s e-book publishing platform offers a royalty rate of 70% of list price minus delivery costs, with a few exceptions. One of the chief advantages of working with Amazon is the incentives it offers to authors through its KDP Select program. Authors who offer their books exclusively through KDP can have them included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (earning money every time their book is borrowed), and get access to promotional tools such as free copies for readers during specific periods. The disadvantage of this is that the author is limiting his or her discoverability by only offering the book through one platform.

Smashwords — The largest distributor of indie e-books in the world now carries more than 180,000 titles in its catalog. Through the company’s free “Meatgrinder” program, authors can convert their Word document into any of nine e-book formats to transfer into any of the major e-bookstores. Authors receive 85% of net sales made directly through Smashwords, and 70.5% through affiliate sales to retailers like Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo (full distribution details here). It also offers authors a helpful, free book-marketing guide that is worth a read.

NOOK Press — The recently rebranded version of PubIt!, this platform from Barnes & Noble distributes books through the NOOK Bookstore, so it is more limited in distribution than platforms like KDP or Smashwords. It varies its royalty rates by the price of the book, offering 65% royalty for titles priced between $2.99 and $10, but just 40% for those priced below $2.99 or above $10. The new interface makes it simple for authors to convert, upload, and edit their work, plus it has now added the ability to collaborate with other writers, sharing their work through a new Web-based authoring tool.

Read the full story at Publishers Weekly.

Macau’s a Solid Bet

August 30th, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

IMG_0556James Bond fans know Macau as the setting for “Skyfall,” where Bond encountered lethal komodo dragons at the Golden Dragon Casino. Turns out there’s no such casino in this administrative region on China’s southern coast. Nor are homicidal reptiles employed at any other casino here. But I did find other killer creatures on my recent trip there: past champions of Macau’s cricket fights — insects groomed and trained to battle each other while humans bet big money on the outcome. Some of the toughest champions remain preserved in tiny jars, a popular attraction at the Museum of Macau.

And beyond the interesting creatures (adorable pandas are nearby, too), the territory is also packed with casinos, culture and tasty food. A 16-hour flight from JFK to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, and a 45-minute ferry ride from the Hong Kong International Airport, Macau is sometimes called “Asia’s Las Vegas.”

For one thing, Macau is much more Vegas than Vegas. A Portuguese colony until it was returned to Chinese control in 1999, Macau ended the STDM syndicate’s monopoly on the region’s gambling in 2002. This kicked off a massive casino build that has intensified each year. It is now home to the largest casino in the world (the 10.5-million-square-foot Venetian Macau); a new Sands Cotai Central complex that contains the largest Conrad, Sheraton and Holiday Inn hotels in the world; and it has bragging rights to being the biggest gaming market on the planet.

Shopping and hotel accommodations are also impressive. A standout is the Mandarin Oriental Macau, which overlooks the waterfront on the territory’s southern coast, with 186 huge rooms, a luxurious spa and the gourmet Asian fusion restaurant Vida Rica.

Read the rest at New York Daily News.


Writer on the Storm

August 24th, 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

john-densmore-the-doors-unhinged-jim-morrison-L-xkjsIMIt is probably hard for most people to imagine turning down several million dollars for just signing one’s name. But that is what John Densmore, drummer for the Doors, did in 2004, when Cadillac offered $15 million to use the band’s hit “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” in a car commercial—a record-breaking sum for a licensing fee. His refusal, and the hard-fought and emotional legal battle with his bandmates over their use of the band’s name, forms the narrative of Densmore’s new book, The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial.

The book offers rock ’n’ roll intrigue as well as the drummer’s full explanation for why he had to put his foot down about how the band’s music and name were used. But while Densmore’s writing in Unhinged outlines his philosophy of artistic integrity, the actions he took in self-publishing and marketing the book provide their own lesson in creating a product that sells, but on the creator’s terms.

When a major New York publishing house learned that Densmore was writing a follow-up to his first memoir, 1990’s Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors, they jumped at the opportunity to acquire it. Published by Delacorte and offering up gritty behind-the-music details about the band’s rise to fame and the Lizard King’s genius and self-destruction, Densmore’s first book had been a New York Times bestseller.

The publisher interested in the second book offered a “moderate advance” according to Densmore and things were moving forward much as they had for his first book. But then it started to become clear that he and the publisher were not on the same page.

“They started telling me to write more about Jim,” says Densmore. “I said, ‘I already did that—it was a bestseller, pick it up.’ They said, No there’s got to be more stories.

Densmore wanted to tell a different kind of music-industry story about the life of a legendary band long after it ceased releasing new albums. At Morrison’s urging, the Doors members had made an unusual agreement in its early days to give each of the four founding members an equal cut of the band’s earnings as well as veto power over any major decision.

This meant that when the Cadillac offer came, even with the enthusiastic support of two of the three living members of the band—keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger— the deal couldn’t go through without Densmore’s okay. When Manzarek and Krieger began touring as a new version of the Doors, with the Cult’s Ian Astbury as singer and the Police’s Steward Copeland on drums, using the band’s name and its logo, Densmore likewise felt it went against Morrison’s vision for the band. With the support of Morrison’s estate, he sued his former bandmates to keep them from touring under the band’s famous name.

“When I initiated the legal proceedings, some hardcore fans thought I was destroying the band,” says Densmore. “But if you read this thing, you see that I was trying to save the band and save the legacy.”

Read the rest at Publishers Weekly.