Filed under: Reviews

My Saddest Day as a New Yorker. Grays Papaya in the Village is no more . . .

Truly a sad, sad day. The cultural and gastronomical landmark Gray’s Papaya in the Village is no more.

grayspapaya

  • No more of my favorite guilty pleasure.
  • No more burning the roof of your mouth with steaming hot doggy wonderfulness, only to cool it seconds later with the cool sweet rush of yummy papaya juice from a plain styrofoam cup.
  • No more “snappy” service.
  • No more feeling superior to tourists who don’t know how to order.
  • No more positioning yourself at just the right angle so as to have your own private counter space no matter how crowded.
  • No more catching the flipped nickel from the cashier after getting the “Recession Special” and paying with a five.
  • No more scowling at the horrid people who put ketchup on a hot dog.
  • grays-papaya

    Go on my old friend! Viva Gray’s Papaya! You will live forever in our hearts . . .

    Leave a Comment January 8, 2014

    Politicians doing a good job? Rare, but true . . .

    I felt the need to write a note to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie over in NJ. These guys have done a great job so far.

    Be safe, keep dry and help each other where you can . . .

    Vinny (~~)

    Leave a Comment November 1, 2012

    Vinny’s Oscar Predictions – 2011

    Many of you have no idea that I am a world-class film guru. Well, I am, and here are my 2011 Oscar Picks and Predictions:

    Best Documentary: Feature

    Restrepo - I haven’t seen this one, but I still think it should win. I don’t care if you’re pro-war, or anti-war. Get over yourself. The men fighting at fire base Restrepo didn’t have the luxury of your bougie opinions.

    Best Music: Original Score

    Hans Zimmer should win for Inception but the Nine-Inch Nails dude will win for The Social Network however undeserved.

    Best Achievement in Costume Design

    Who really cares, really?

    Best Art Direction

    The King’s Speech – I don’t know much about art design, but I know what I like, and The King’s Speech is beautiful in every detail.

    Best Achievement in Cinematography

    Another subject where I’m in the dark technically, but I liked True Grit. I loved the wide-rangey range shots. I’m a sucker for the wide-open west from my travels as a kid. Inception looked great too but it was too techy for awards.

    Best Adapted Screenplay

    The Social Network will win. The book, which I liked, read thin and linear like a screenplay, but since Sorkin is everyone’s favorite quazi-political screenwriter it’s all him.

    Best Original Screenplay

    The King’s Speech – See a pattern yet? I loved the story of how a little West End play can make it through the gauntlet to become a major motion picture. It reminded me of the little train that c-co-could.

    Best Director

    Aronofsky should win for Black Swan, but Fincher will win for The Social Network. I didn’t get a vote, but everyone is on Facebook and for some reason that seems to matter.

    Best Supporting Actress

    No idea on this one. I think Amy Adams could win, she’s kind of hot, and she’s a good solid actor, but I’m afraid the kid, Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit is the sentimental Jody Foster, Tatum O’Neil favorite. By the way, if Hailee does win someone needs to keep poor Dakota Fanning from slitting her damn wrists!

    Best Supporting Actor

    Everyone is saying this is between Christian Bale and Geoffrey Rush for The Fighter and The King’s Speech respectively, but my pick is Jeremy Renner from The Town. The guy was terrifying as the menacing best pal of Afleck’s lead.

    Best Actress

    Natalie Portman – But watch-out for Michelle Williams, everyone knows she got screwed not winning for Brokeback Mountain. Rachel Weisz really? I say no.

    Best Actor

    Colin Firth – He was great in The King’s Speech. I’d like to say it’s rare that I tear up in a movie, but I got misty watching Free Willy. Colin Firth’s performance was heartbreaking, subtle and powerful all at once. This is a must-see.

    Best Picture

    The winner is … wait for it … The King’s Speech!

    I may have tipped my hand earlier, but I loved this movie on every movie loving level. It looked great, it was well shot, well paced, and had really special performances all around. Of course the leads were great, but the drunken-fat-pirate-dude from The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was an excellent Churchill. A deadly serious role but he somehow lightened every scene he was in. It was nice to see Helena Bonham Carter in a movie without a screwy get-up or any CGI appliances.

    The simple story of a guy learning to move forward in life by dealing with that one thing that had held him back. This was no superhero story, nothing miraculous happens, he simply presses on. It was a beautiful story even if he was regular guy with regular problems, but the fact he was British royalty thrust into the limelight during the opening moves of World War II makes it a magnificent story.

    Peace,

    Vinny (~~)

    Leave a Comment February 25, 2011

    A letter to the editor . . .

    I wanted to share this note from Joe & Laura:

    Hi Vinny!

    I can’t tell you how much I have, and am currently, enjoying reading your Negril exploits! Too funny, way insightful and very informative. Thanks for all the vivid descriptions of a lot of the places I’ve been reading about for the last year in anticipation of our trip to Negril.

    I’m writing to tell you that my wife and I are flying into MoBay on November 20th for a 10 day trip to Negril for our 3rd wedding anniversary. It is the first time in Jamaica for both of us, and after reading most of your articles I am thrilled that we picked Negril for the whole trip. We have a car rented through EFAY car rental that we will pick up at the airport and then we will hit the “Road to Negril.” We are staying at the Charela Inn the entire time. Do you know anything about the Charela Inn and did we make a good choice? We will have a Junior Sea View Suite on the second floor.

    The only thing we really have planned is our anniversary dinner on 11/24 at Rockhouse and a Wild Thing Cruise/Snorkel/Horse ride trip. We definitely plan on eating at Selina’s, 3 Dives, Kuyaba and Best in the West. We also want to eat at Xtabi and check out the snorkeling from their cliffs.

    If we have time we hope to drive to the Black River and check out Rasta George.

    I’ve got your packing list printed out and will take your advice on the Wet One’s! Any other advice about where to get some good local flavor would be greatly appreciated, but we can’t wait to have a Red Stripe in our hand, and our toes in the sand. You’re not going to be there from 11/20 -11/30 are you?

    Thanks again for the great reading. We both hope to become one with Negril and its people.

    “A phattie the size of a baby’s arm” OMG, LOL! When I read this I immediately fell off my chair and rolled around laughing with tears streaming down my face. Nice work!

    Cheers,
    Joe & Laura

    Wow! Thanks Joe & Laura,

    It never ceases to amaze me that people are helped by my ramblings.

    First off, Negril is a great choice! People are always asking me, “Why do you go there?” Soon you will know the answer. You also picked a great time to go, I’ve done the late fall trip. The place is getting ready for the high season so things look great and the businesses are up ready to go.

    Charela is very nice, I have friends who’ve been spending two weeks there each summer for more than twenty years. I’ve gone for dinner and drinks, and you can’t beat the location right in the center of all the beach action. I like taking a private water trip with Famous Vincent, or one of the many glass-bottomed boat guys up and down the beach, but The Wild Thing is also a great time. As you may have gleaned, I stay at The Blue Cave Castle and every afternoon the Wild Thing takes a slow cruise right by, when, on occasion, I’ve been known to moon them.

    Please remember, you don’t have to go totally native on your first trip to have the time of your life! If you get one thing from this note, please get that. My first two trips were to an all-inclusive, but luckily a buddy told me to get out and see a little of the real thing which I did. On both of those trips I spent a fortune for all the things you go to an all-inclusive for and I totally loved both Hedonism and Sandals. I often give first timers the same advise I received. Go AI but get a little taste of The Real Negril!

    For me, it wasn’t till my third reach when I needed a cheap trip that I totally immersed myself. I paid $25 a night at The Yoga Centre, foraged for food at small local places, drank in little hole in the wall bars, and really fell in love with Negril.

    All your choices sound great. I suggest a stop into the The Blue Cave Castle up in the cliffs for one of Teddy’s sunset meals. He is an inspired chef and there is simply no better view, period. Also, don’t miss Rick’s Cafe! Some of my friends consider it too touristy, and even though I agree to some extent, its sheer awesomeness overshadows the commercialism.

    The only thing I’d warn you about is the car rental. Getting around is very cheap and easy via route taxi’s and tour bus. I like to use Kenny 876-384-1371, and most of the better restaurants will send a car for free. I’ve heard many a story where the stress of dealing with a car in a third world country had buzz-killing results. Hey, maybe you guys are seasoned world travelers so this is a moot point. As for me, I’m usually too wasted to even chance a bike ride :)

    Happy Anniversary! Have a great time! And please let me know how it turned out.

    Peace and gassho,

    Your Pal Vinny (~~)

    Leave a Comment November 10, 2009

    The Worst Restaurant in Brooklyn

    I should know better. Tuesday is the worst night to walk into a restaurant in Brooklyn, or anywhere else for that matter. But my schedule has been so screwy lately I didn’t think about what day it was until after I was committed.

    The St. Claire Restaurant, is a diner on the corner of Smith and Atlantic in what I guess is technically still Boreum Hill though I think the trendy realtors like to call it BoCoCa (I’m not even going in to it.) I’d been by it a hundred times, it always looked clean, well lit, and as I reflect in this moment; empty.

    I was on an aimless journey, I’d missed the early start time for a film I’d only marginally wanted to see and I hadn’t eaten, so I hopped off the bus and wandered into the St. Claire. My goal was to get my standard grilled chicken over a salad, though splurging on the special was a possibility.

    Completely empty at 6:45PM. I must be an idiot, but still I nodded blankly as the busdude waved his arm expansively saying, “Anywhere you’d like sir.” I took aim on a booth opposite the counter, plopped down and reached for my book. It took several seconds to realize my ass was wet, then my arms, then slowly I awakened to the fact that this clue-dog let me sit at the one seat in the entire empty damned restaurant with the AC vent leaking on it.

    Over in the next booth now, the menu and the iced tea came out without incident. To be completely honest it was pretty damned good iced tea. It hit that iced tea sweet spot, not too icy, not too tea-y. I forewent my usual salad mainly because they all had stupid names and I wasn’t in the mood to decipher the Smith Street Special or the Brooklyn Classic’s ingredients. I ordered the meatloaf special. It’s a diner, I’m from Jersey, and the Tuesday Night Special is Meatloaf served with soup or salad, potato and vegetable, how could I go wrong?

    The salad came out promptly. Upon serving the salad, my friendly, yet strangely stand-offish server asked what kind of dressing I wanted. I asked for italian. She said, “Creamy Italian?” and I wasn’t sure whether she was asking if that was OK, or if she was trying to warn me off. I smiled and nodded. I’ve spent most of my adult life smiling and nodding at attractive women I don’t understand, so I went with what works.

    As soon as it hit the table I realized I’d made a poor dressing choice. The texture was off, different than any other salad dressing I’d here-to-fore encountered. A heaping jiggly blob of creamy detritus that seemed to be plotting an escape from the all too confining monkey dish. I approached with due caution. It was a slightly flavored mayonnaise with chunks of odd chunkiness throughout, confused and a little disturbed, I asked for oil and vinegar.

    I pushed my empty salad bowl, dressing dish, and oil and vinegar caddy to the corner of the table when I was finished, where it sat.

    My main course came out on two plates, steamy meatloaf slathered in gravy on the big one, and steamed broccoli and green beans on the other also hot and steamy. I was psyched to dig in, “they can’t screw up everything?” I thought. Oh naiveté.

    I’ll start with the veggies. The broccoli was sitting somewhere dying before being conscripted for my order. It wasn’t terrible, but more Denny’s than I’m used to. To stay on the Denny’s kick, the green beans were standard Jolly Green Giant frozen flavorless. At least Denny’s used to soak them for days in some greasy sort of salty brine which was a flavor sensation all its own.

    Now for the thick meat flavored substance they were pawning off as Meatloaf. Back in the day, and when I was a kid, and when I made Meatloaf in a diner, it was a signature dish. It is deceptively tough to create and sell a dish so common as the lowly meatloaf, because everyone’s Mom makes the best meatloaf ever! So it needs to be of quality and high standard, but with that something extra that makes it great without threatening anyone’s notion of mom’s pièce d’ résistance. A true balancing act.

    Don’t worry, your Mothers have nothing to fear from The St. Claire. This meatloaf-ian mystery meat was almost worth eating just to discern what the hell it was, but between the grease, the furiously salty gelatinous glop that passed for gravy, and the hard bits, I was at a loss.

    Dizzy with the MSG rush from the canned gravy-like substance, I stacked and pushed my plates next to the still there plates from the salad course, the empty water glass (plastic glass), the empty iced-tea glass (ditto plastic), and my flatware with my uncharacteristically linen napkin folded neatly atop the pile.

    Finally after several bouts of the “obviously looking around for my server” head movements, she finally appeared from the one direction I wasn’t looking and startled the shit out of me. I asked for a refill on the iced tea. “How was it?” she asked with an accent of Ukrainian origin. I smiled and said, “The iced tea was great.”

    After ten or fifteen minutes of relaxing, reading my book, and recovering from the salt shock, I got up to pay my bill. I was still the only person on the restaurant, though by then I knew why. I perused the bill as I walked to the very uninterested gum-chewing-reading-glasses-on-a-chain cashier, and laughed aloud as I saw that they charged me for the iced tea refill. My first instinct was to be annoyed but the iced tea was the only part of the meal that was worth paying for.

    “How was everything Sir?” the very uninterested gum-chewing-reading-glasses-on-a-chain cashier asked in her droning way.

    “Pretty terrible actually,” I said with a smile.

    “Thank You.” she said not even registering my comment, or so cool that she didn’t want to give me an inch. I just kept smiling, by this time amused by the whole situation.

    I walked over to the table and put my 20% tip on the table next to the festering pile of dirty dishes. It’s not her fault she works in the worst restaurant in Brooklyn, and I’m not the type to hold a grudge.

    Peace,
    Vinny (~~)

    Leave a Comment August 11, 2009

    A little Jamaica in Brooklyn…

    I can’t believe I missed the West Indian Day Parade last year! I don’t remember what I did instead, but if I’d gone I would have remembered what I did, since I did this, and it would have been awesome, but then I’d be comparing this year to last year which may or may not have impacted what a wonderful time I had today. But I digress…

    I’ve been living in Brooklyn a little over a year now, and in that time I’ve taken two trips to Negril. Today at the West Indian Day Parade I felt like I’d taken trip number three.

    All along Eastern Parkway stretching eastward from Prospect Park’s Grand Army Plaza to Utica Avenue deep in the heart of Crown Heights Brooklyn, a stronghold of Caribbean culture since the 60′s, the massive parade and street fair held sway. It was as much Carnivale as a NYC Parade, hundreds of food stalls, craft booths and t-shirt sellers lined both sides of the two-mile long route.

    I hopped a #3 train from Atlantic Ave to the Franklin Ave. As soon as the train doors opened the sweet smell of food on the grill hit me, so I followed my nose. I went right for the first Jerk Chicken stand I saw, the old woman’s lilting Jamaica patois like music drew me in. I ordered a small portion of well prepared nicely spiced Jerk Chicken. I forwent the extra packaging, I knew it wasn’t going to last long, and the lid, fork and bag would just be a waste.

    I began walking through the crowd eating my chicken, the spice cleared my head and I began to realize the enormity of this event. As far as I could see a sea of people, food being served and eaten, thousands of colorful flags from all the West Indian countries fluttered in the soft breeze of this perfect sunny day.

    I may not be the most objective correspondent but the crowd seemed to be at least half Jamaican, or at least dressed in Jamaican flags and Jamaican colors. There was a good contingent of Haitians, and Trinis as well as Guyanans, Barbatons, and Grenadans. The food was amazing, everything you could think of. Some from organized food trucks run by the myriad local Caribbean restaurants in the area, to small family-run concerns with Grandma doing the cooking and the kids higgling for customers.

    I had my main lunch, after the above mentioned Jerk Chicken, a Curry Chicken Patty, and a half frozen bottle of water, at rough looking food stand run by a group of would-be rastas. They were disorganized, a bit overwhelmed, and their spray-painted sign read Rasta-I-tal, but they had genuine smiles and seemed to be the real deal (Reshay who served me was in Portmore this time last year). I got the Curried Goat with rice and peas. It was fresh, meaty, good portion and was spot on! I gave them a card and told them I was going to write about them. I also told them to open a restaurant. They had that intangible something that turns good food into a great meal.

    The heroes of the day were the usual suspects: Bob Marley, Haile Selassie, Martin Luther King and Malcolm-X, but supplanting them all was Barack Obama, it was all about Obama, you’d think he was running for President or something. Even Chucky Schumer’s entourage were sporting “Obama is the Answer” t-shirts. I didn’t wear my Obama shirt, nor did I wear my Bob Marley shirt. I don’t like being “that guy.” There were penty of “those guys” around. It’s funny how silly wannabe white-boy dreads look in such situations.

    The music was loud, we were all having a good time, I didn’t see any trouble, but New York’s Finest were out in force. I walked from Franklin Ave. up to Utica Ave where the parade started and I ran into a Police created coral with no throughway, so I went into the subway and went back into the thick of things at Nostrand Ave, but on the other side of the Parkway. This time I walked back towards The Brooklun Museum and Prospect Park. Soon I was standing at Grand Arch at Grand Army Plaza looking back at the parade.

    Fun Day (~~)
    Vinny

    Leave a Comment September 1, 2008

    Into Thin Air – Book Review

    Into Thin Air - Krakauer I never dreamed of climbing Mt. Everest whether it was there or not, hell I get winded on a ski lift. Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, evokes wonder, tempered by visions of stark conditions and daunting sacrifice.

    Krakauer writes in a way so pain-stakingly specific, yet somehow leaving room for the reader’s imagination to fill-in the scene. A rudimentary map in the prologue colored by about a dozen black and white glossies mid-way through the book were all I needed to paint an intimate picture of the 1996 Mt. Everest Disaster.

    I’d never put much thought into what it would take to do something as monumental as climbing Mount Everest. Logistics aside, preparing oneself for such a quixotic adventure must include long hours staring into mirrors. I was captivated by the soul cleansing effect of pushing one’s mind and body so far beyond the boundaries of safety and sanity. Krakauer enlightens this aspect of the story only as someone writing from real experience can. The reality and tragedy of these events only begin in the text. The full force of the story gripped me far beyond words.

    Shivering through pre-dawn walks to the subway in Brooklyn while reading Into Thin Air, I tried to picture myself trudging across the frozen waste of the Western Cwm with a trusty Sherpa by my side. Fifty below zero, sixty mile per hour wind gusts, hundred foot crevasses, thirty percent oxygen levels, sheesh, count me out, I’ll wait for the DVD.

    Now, I don’t want to turn this blog into a book review site (how friggin’ boring would that be?), but I love this guy! Into Thin Air is recommended reading.

    Peace,

    Vinny (~~)

    Leave a Comment March 7, 2008

    Out of the Wild – Book Review

    Into The Wild - Krakauer 1996Into the Wild is Jon Krakauer’s exhaustive, insightful, if sometimes bleary-eyed look at the life of Christopher J. McCandless, and his unfortunate death in the Alaskan taiga during the summer of 1992. An admittedly semi-objective biographer, Krakauer is able to get past his infatuation to give a deep, even beautiful account of this young man’s life and how he affected those around him.

    After reading the book, and dubious of Hollywood’s popcorn culture, I expected the movie to be an idealistic, hero-worship story of a man-boy searching for himself amidst a cast of wacky characters and weepy out-of-touch parents, but bravo Sean Penn, I was wrong. The film was engrossing, and deeply moving. It did smooth over several key points in the book, but I’m sure the book glossed over some key points in the truth. On both fronts we are left with a worthwhile story that actually inspired thought as opposed to only inspiring another handful of popcorn.

    I found myself relating to the character of Chris McCandless though I didn’t find him noble, at least no more noble than myriad young men who’ve searched for truth in their lives. Reading between the lines I felt his anger, his narcissism, and an immaturity that, several years out of college he still held on to. His too-late realization of these issues, before a series of seemingly simple errors lead to his death, left me aching with sympathy.

    On another level I know this guy. I have a daughter who is about the same age as McCandless when he began his wandering, and I very clearly remember myself at his age. I knew something wasn’t right, and I too ran away. Not to the desert or the frozen north, but into the arms of a beautiful woman, and into a life I was no more ready for than was McCandless. Like his Alaskan Adventure, I thought marriage, family and a mortgage would solve my problems, quiet my demons, in effect be The Answer.

    Part of me sees McCandless’ death as a coward’s suicide. So wrapped up inside his own trunk as not to see the forest. Yet another part of me can understand a plan gone awry. After the death of my hastily built fortress, leaky and incongruent, I fought through years of my own wilderness, hurting those who came close, and lashing out in silence at a world thought unfair and cold. When I finally endeavored to look up, the pieces of life were hard to find.

    Have I come out the other side? I don’t know. What I do know is that while I feel for Chris McCandless and for those out there like him, you can’t just climb up a mountain and die there, figuratively or otherwise. Life isn’t that easy! You must come down from the mountain, and bring what you’ve found there into the world.

    Peace,

    Vinny (~~)

    Leave a Comment December 15, 2007

    Erica’s Cafe – Review

    Info:

    West End Road – Garden Side across from Rockhouse.

    Food:

    Erica’s Lobster dishes are the mainstay of this little gem in the Negril cliffs. Grilled Lobster all over Negril is so often tough and/or lacking in flavor, few people really know what to do with it. At Erica’s the lobster is tender, buttery and the lobstery deliciosity just explodes in your mouth.

    We had a wonderful soup to start things off, then out came the lobster. We were a party of four the first night, and eight the second night. Yes, I broke my “one meal per trip” rule, it was that good! The Grilled Lobster, must have been cooked slow on low heat, it was tender and shot through with buttery flavor. We also shared Erica’s Curried Lobster, though my preference is a spicy curry, the almost Thai-Style coconut milk infused curry was really beautiful.

    Drinks:

    I didn’t go for the fancy foo-foo drinks, but the Red Stripes were cold and plentiful, and unlike a lot of places in Negril they kept them coming.

    Ambiance:

    I must admit to driving and walking by Erica’s many times over the years and passing without a second thought. When we pulled up I thought, “Oh, this place! I always wondered what this place was…” The warmth and home-y-ness of the place is apparent as we took our seats.

    Now, both times we were there with Negril royalty, the first night it was Susan and Petrona from The Blue Cave Castle (Susan took Dad and I out to dinner), and the second time it was for Queen Trudy’s birthday dinner, so I’m not sure how this ambiance will stand up when next I go there with other lowly commoners.

    Service:

    The service was quicker than most in Negril. Friendly, but not all over you, and as I wrote above the cold Red Stripes kept coming. There was no empty bottle doing the head-waggy-whip-around looking for the server thing so often needed in even the better restaurants in Negril.

    Value:

    The value the first night was awesome, Susan treated. The second time, I don’t remember the exact price but that doesn’t really matter I remeber the value. I remember being full, happy and buzzed, driving up to Seastar thinking I must have underpaid my share of the bill, since I was only 2000J lighter and we all chipped in for the Queen of Negril’s dinner.

    Notes:

    Erica’s is one of those places in Negril that you can take newbie friends who will be so impressed with the experience that they think you are “like totally” plugged in to the town. I plan to use this to my advantage on future trips. I wish there was a website to promote, I can only say to try it. You won’t be dissappointed.

    4.5 Angels

    Bon Appetite,

    Vinny :)

    5 Comments November 23, 2007

    Oscar Weekend – And the Winner is?

    It annoys me that they don’t say, “… and the Winner is …” Does it really make the fellow nominees feel any less like looooooosers? l-) I think not.

    I bought Little Miss Sunshine this weekend, and it was just amazing. I laughed, I cried. I felt good because, in contrast, my family is normal, though we were a Volkswagen Bus bound family on many a road trip back in the 70′s. The characters were at once unique and archetypical, watching the film I wondered who I identified with the most. Was I the angry teen? The eccentric uncle? The over-zealous dad? Hmmm, at least I wasn’t the crazy dope smoking grandfather, not yet anyway.

    I also picked up The Departed, it was excellent, but it was no Goodfellas, hell, it wasn’t even My Cousin Vinny. I think Marty went to the gangster well one too many times; at least it was the Irish mob this time. It just makes me laugh to portray Patriots fans as tough guys, talk about suspension of disbelief. My nephew Thomas could kick Leo’s ass.

    OK here are my picks:

    Best Picture - Little Miss Sunshine (it won’t win but it should)

    Best Actor - Forrest Whittaker should win, but Will Smith will win.

    Best Actress - The Queen chick should win I guess, but I didn’t see any of those movies. Penelope Cruz could win on general hotness.

    Supporting Actor - Eddie Murphy – as long as it stops him from making those annoying fat suit movies.

    Supporting Actress - That girl from American Idol.

    Best Director - Paul Greengrass for United 93 but that suck-up Scorsese will win.

    Best Screen Writing - Michael Arndt and Sacha Cohen

    Animated Film - Cars – Aidan helped me with this one.

    Best Documentary - Better known as the Americans Suck Category – Big Al is gonna win, and he will probably be so obviously trying to look un-tree-like, it will be fun to watch.

    Best Foreign Film – Who cares you can’t figure out what the hell they’re talking about anyway.

    Best Song - I think its unfair that Dreamgirls has three of the five nominations.

    Vinny (~~)

    Leave a Comment February 24, 2007

    Getting Stoned With Savages – Book Review

    Buy this book!

    J. Maarten Troost is a delightful writer. His books are topical, funny and engaging. Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu is great summer/vacation read.

    A DC bureaucrat type recently back from the adventure on an atoll in Kiribati, Maarten and his lovely wife have a hard time adjusting to the suburban lifestyle. So when an opportunity with the UN calls his wife back to the South Pacific, Maarten goes along and finds himself in Vanuatu.

    He’s my kind of guy, he explores, he mingles with the locals, all while writing his first book and drinking copious amounts of kava, the hallucinogenic party drink of the South Pacific. He travels around the islands looking for people with personal knowledge of “eating the man” (a.k.a. cannibals), and tells a hilarious story of an encounter with a giant man-eating centipede.

    Just when you’re roaring through the pages, his expecting wife and he go to the slightly more civilized Nation of Fiji in search of proper neo-natal care. In Fiji he still has some adventures, while sharing the wonderment of new parents in this strange land.

    I hope he continues to write, I look forward to his next book.

    Vinny (~~)

    1 Comment February 11, 2007

    Hooked on a Reef – Book Review

    Diane Bostwick’s book, Hooked on a Reef, is the story of a Palm Springs playboy Steve Warren, and a young Jamaican anti-hero named Denzel.

    Steve comes to Jamaica to make it big in the supposed boom times in post-independence Jamaica by taking over a beach front Montego Bay restaurant. Things don’t work out exactly as planned, enter conflict, as Denzel wheedles his way into the world of the Reef Club.

    The book does a nice job with the history of Jamaica on those years (late 60′s to mid 70′s), going into a lot of details of how Jamaica changed with the Michael Manley administration’s move towards socialism. There are not many resources with this kind of information in the US, and I found it very interesting.

    Normally I’d like a guy like Steve, he’s got cash, he dates hotty, high maintenance women, and he comes to Jamaica for fun and profit, but there’s a class-ist thread that runs through the characters and the entire story that just put me off.

    Maybe it’s my libertarian world view, maybe it’s my Irish blue-collar upbringing, or maybe it’s my experiences in Jamaica that puts a bad taste in my mouth when class is brought to the fore.

    So I recommend this book as an historical piece, Diane Bostwick seems to have real first-hand knowledge of those times and events, but I pan it for the class-ism that runs through it.

    Vinny :)

    Leave a Comment February 11, 2007

    Banana Shout “The Book” – Review

    Banana Shout is the great novel of Negril, and Mark Conklin the grand old man (well, not that old).

    I first heard of the book on my April ’04 Trip to Negril, and the day I got home I went to Amazon.com to order me a copy.

    About two weeks later Irene Conklin, Mark’s wife, emailed me to thank me for ordering the book. She also asked me when I planned on coming back. I told her I was thinking of an October ’04 trip. Banana Shout, the resort, moved to the top of my list.

    When the book arrived I tore into it. By this time I was a full fledged boardie, and I was hungry for anything Negril. I read the book twice in a three weeks, after which I stuffed it into a FedEx envelope, and I sent it to my buddy Nick so he could read it before our October trip.

    The book is a lot of fun, a light hearted romp though the trials and tribulations of finding one’s way in the world. The story of our beleaguered hero Tavo Gripps makes us all wish we had discovered Negril years earlier. Crazy wannabe pirates, an eccentric bar owner, and even unfriendly drug dealers, but Tavo wins the day. You gotta love that!

    Now, as a piece of literature Banana Shout may not stack up with Twain or Melville, but in spirit and tone it captures the essence of Negril in the early years. It is the quintessential history of Negril, albeit in a quazi-fictional format. Nowhere else will you read of the early years; the development of Negril from a “sleepy fishing village” into a resort town. This is it.

    I did stay at Banana Shout in October ’04 right after hurricane Ivan, and I had the honor of hanging out with Mark Conklin as he managed the rebuilding of the resort. It’s under new management now, but on my last visit it looked as good as than ever.

    You Rock Mark (~~)

    Vinny :)

    1 Comment February 11, 2007

    Walk Good – Book Review

    I read Walk Good, written by fellow Negril-aholic Roland Thomas Reimer, on two successive trips to Negril. On the first trip I read it cover to cover, and on the second I went straight for the dog-eared highlights trying to decipher the code of names changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

    I’m writing this review the way I write most of my stuff, as if everyone reading this has already read the book and knows all about Negril, but for everyone else, Walk Good is a two-hundred and sixty-two page vacation. You go to the airport, you take a trip on “The Road to Negril,” and you meet myriad unique characters all along the beach in Negril. Roland uses the literary device of an extended Negril vacation with many vivid flashbacks, and a few interludes into Jamaican history to tell his story.

    I loved how the book spoke my language; the language of a guy who loves Negril. The book’s dedication lists my friend Rob Graves, and all the boardies of Negril.com. Hey, I’m one of them! And Roland was one of us, although I was yet to discover the Negril.com Message Board when the book came out.

    The Jamaicans are described realistically, but if you haven’t been to Negril you may think some things are over stated. I assure you he’s spot on. Roland treats the Jamaicans with respect, an important commodity for people who “get it,” and something Jamaicans can smell as soon as they meet you.

    When I talk to my Negril-nut friends, the subject is often a question our friends and families constantly ask: “Why do you keep going back there?” Walk Good, in giving the reader an “in your bones” feel for that little strip of land on the tip of Jamaica, answers that question.

    So I recommend buying the book, taking a flight to Negril Jamaica, and reading Walk Good on the beach.

    Thanks Roland ^:)^

    Vinny

    6 Comments February 11, 2007

    Appleton Estates Rum Tour – Review

    Appleton Estates is one of Jamaica’s oldest rum distilleries producing quality rums since 1749. Located in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains and straddling the Black River, its a scenic seventy five mile drive from Negril, and almost the same distance from Montego Bay.

    Of all the things I’ve done in my travels to Jamaica, by far the most touristy was the Appleton Estates Rum Tour. Don’t get me wrong, the Rum Tour was a blast, but it was almost comical. It was the stereotypical corporate or government tour, like one you would get visiting the Hoover Dam or The Crayola Crayon Factory. 

    Appleton Estates

    Getting There:

    The Appleton Estates Rum Tour is a popular day trip from most tourist areas in Jamaica. You begin seeing brochures as soon as you get off your plane. We hired a driver and made Appleton a part of a day trip. We began in late morning at Black River, a lunch of curried goat and jelly coconuts along Bamboo Alley, and then onto Appleton Estates by mid-afternoon.

    The Tour:

    “We’re walking; we’re walking; we’re stopping. Here is the cane press, in years past we had many such presses… yada, yada, yada… We’re walking; we’re walking…”

    The guide was a good-looking Jamaican gent with that harmless cruise ship Jamaican accent, you know the one that doesn’t freak out white folks from Des Moines. His Appleton Estate Logo shirt was well starched, and there was a meticulous crease in his khaki slacks. I joke, but I have to give it to our guide, he was enthusiastic, informative and he hit his zingers with perfect comic timing, even the donkey played along.

    Donkey

    We saw sugarcane being juiced, walked past the distilling tanks, and stood in a massive warehouse holding thousands of aging rum barrels. We didn’t get to see the bottling line or anything like that. The tour was more a history of rum making in Jamaica. 

    The Rum:

    We had to wait a while for our tour to begin, so we wasted no time hitting the Rum Punch. You’d expect it to be all juice with a bit of rum in a place like this, well not in Jamaica, the stuff was easily sixty percent rum. I’m not much of a rum guy, after a night with a bottle of 151 when I was seventeen, but I indulged and it definitely added to the fun.

    Rum Aging

    A key enticement in the Appleton Estates Brochure is “A Complimentary Bottle of Rum,” and at the end of the tour everyone is given a 50ml airline bottle of “Appleton Special Jamaican Rum.” It was almost a punch line that everyone was expecting, and we all laughed as they ushered us into the gift shop. I bought a fancy bottle of 21 year old rum as a Christmas gift for my brother-in-law, and it was a great deal cheaper than other places in Jamaica.

    Rum Factory

    Notes:

    If you do a daytrip in the area, it would be a shame to miss the Rum Tour, it’s a lot of fun, and you’ll get caught up in the moment. I wouldn’t say its a “must see,” and I doubt I’ll go there again, unless I wind up in Negril with my Dad, (He’d love this place) but I do recommend it.

    Peace :)

    Vinny

    4 Comments January 25, 2007

    Black River Safari – Review

    Info:

    The Black River Safari is located in the town of Black River which is about 50 miles east of Negril on highway A-2. The Black River empties into the Caribbean Sea at the town of Black River. Once a thriving sugar port, Black River is now a mecca of environmental tourism in Jamaica.

    There are several ways to safari up the river, this article discusses a private tour with a local guide.

    Rasta George

    Getting There:

    The people at your resort will be happy to arrange a driver for the day. A Black River Safari is usually paired with a tour of the south coast, a trip to one of the waterfalls, or to The Appleton Rum factory. This should cost you approximately $150US, and a decent tip. Make sure your driver knows you want a private tour on a small fishing boat.

    A more adventurous mode of travel is the Route Taxi system, a low budget, but awesomely efficient system Jamaicans use to get around.

    Here’s how you do it: Get to the Car Park next to the Negril Police Station and find a route taxi to Savanna-La-Mar. There will be a lot of guys trying to sell you a ride, but a true route taxi to Sav will cost about 100J. The first leg of your journey will take you to the Car Park in Sav where you will hop another taxi to Black River. This second leg will cost about 350J per person. Figuring the currency exchange; the trip to Black River equals $8-$9US each way.

    From the Car Park in Black River, its a few minutes walk to the docks. Cross the bridge and look for a guide, usually a guide will find you. I ask around for a guy named Rasta George. Rasta George is a colorful character who knows the Black River Morass like I know Philly. He’s well known, so seek him out, you won’t be disappointed. Tell him Vinny sent you.

    Fauna

    The Safari:

    Rasta George will have you wait at a restaurant right on the river where you can grab a beer or maybe an order of fries while he scares up a boat and pilot. In a few minutes Rasta George appears at the dock in a small fishing boat that seats about four travelers.

    As soon as you’re off, you find yourself in a mangrove lined river, strewn with crocodiles and graceful water fowl. You get the feeling of being in a National Geographic documentary, the air is clean and clear, mountains ring the background, and an authentic Rastafarian narrates the program.

    Occasionally you will see the big, covered, comfy and of course boring pontoon tourist boats lumbering up or down the river, each tourist cloaked in a green cloud of envy as they look at you’re intimate private tour.

    Note the looks of envy

    You’ll come up close and personal with real crocodiles, though they seem pretty mellow the first one will get your attention. Take a lot of pictures, if you’re not careful you may get back to civilization sans photos.

    Croc

    The Bar:

    Ask your tour guide to take you up the the little thatch roofed bar way up past “the bridge.” You pull up to a small rickety dock, near a clearing in the mangrove. In that clearing is a little bar, a wonderful place to relax for a while. Lie out on the rocks, take a swim in the croc laden river, or just chill with the locals.

    Black River Dock

    It feels like your own secret little spot, like you’ve found something special, and you have. I was crushed when I found photos from others folks on the web showing the exact same place.

    The Bar

    The boat ride back to town is done at high speed, and is exhilarating. I always tip the boat pilot who doesn’t say much during the trip. Then its back to Negril or on to another adventure. For a few bucks more Rasta George will take you to the Pelican Bar, a cool ramshackle bar out in the Caribbean on a sand bar. Another unique experience.

    Peace :)

    Vinny

    1 Comment January 25, 2007

    Tedd’s Shroom Boom – Review

    Tedd's Shroom Boom

    Info:

    The road to Savannah-La-Mar
    Left hand side just before Mrs. Brown’s

    The Experience:

    Tedd’s Shroom Boom is a unique experience to say the least. I don’t know what kind of reputation ‘ol Tedd has around town, but you’ll get a double take from your cab driver when you say, “Tedd’s Shroom Boom, please.”

    Arriving at the small house with the mushrooms painted on the front, it looks like there’s no one home. Then you walk up the steps onto the porch, knock on the door, and depending on the time of day, Garland or his son answers the door with a quiet smile.

    “Um, we’d like to buy some mushroom tea?” You ask with some trepidation. He answers, “Yes Yes, how many?”

    Make sure you ask for double strength, you’re there anyway why not just go for it.

    It takes a while for him to boil and brew his famous tea, you can wait on the porch, mill around the yard, or sit in the shade of several large seagrape trees. While the tea is working Garland will often engage you in conversation, he is a warm gentleman who loves to tell his story.

    Garland? You ask. Yes, I had a hard time figuring out why his place is called Tedd’s.

    I asked him once, “So Garland, your place is called Tedd’s, but your name is Garland?”

    He replied. “Yes, this is my place.” I tried this a few times, I continued to get the same answer. I gave up.

    The Tea:

    Hot tea, an herbal tea, a powerful mushroom flavor with a hint of honey and cow patty. It’s absolutely horrible! Horrid even. Now, I don’t want to take anything away from Garland, he’s a wonderful fellow, and I’m sure his tea tastes as good as anything that grows in shit can taste.

    But of course that’s not why we go there and drink the tea, is it?

    The Aftermath:

    Make sure you tip well, hug Garland and his son goodbye, and get back to a controlled environment, because you’re mind is about to get a workout.

    Here are a few good places to enjoy your post-tea time:

    • Whoopie’s Hammock Park – Just past the Lighthouse on Lighthouse/West End Road. Whoopie’s is a bar in a grove with hammocks everywhere. Very cool.
    • The Hammock Hut at Negril Yoga Center. (Getting the picture?)
    • A quiet bar like Peewees, Barry’s, Roots Bamboo or the Boat Bar. Any place where you can put 1000J on the bar, only having to grunt to keep the beers flowing. These places often have clientele who enjoy wavy, incoherent conversations.
    • Better yet, on your patio or veranda, especially if you’re staying on the cliffs.

    Recommendation:

    Go! It’s nice clean fun, just go.

    Peace :)

    Vinny

    3 Comments January 24, 2007

    Reviews Page Updated!

    This past weekend I updated the “Reviews Page” on this site. I’d been trying to come up with a format, a ratings system, a color scheme, yada, yada, yada… But it was just not getting done, so I decided to read over my notes, and to write the damn things once and for all.

    From the early days of this blog, way back in 2004, people have been asking me to put my opinions on record. As I wrote them I posted them on the Negril.com Message Board. I was happy with people’s reactions. My opinions caused quite a stir, and engendered a lively, even rowdy conversation, with thousands of page views and hundreds of responses.

    I like to be positive, and I’m pretty easy to please, so you may notice most of these reviews are raves. I just found it easier to start with the places I’ve stayed, and with some of my favorite restaurants. Moving forward I will expand the field, I promise honest opinions, and I will pull no punches.

    So, click the Reviews button on the top of this page, any feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

    Peace :)

    Vinny

    Leave a Comment January 15, 2007

    Smokey Joe’s – Review

    Smokey Joe’s is a classic Jamaican Roadside Jerk Stand.

    Smokey Joe's

    Info:

    Norman Manley Blvd
    Opposite Kuyaba give or take a few yards.

    Food:

    I’ve only had the Jerk Chicken, served with a thick chunk of white bread wrapped in tin foil. Excellent! This is as simple as it gets, but please, don’t mistake simple with ordinary.

    Character:

    A Roadside Jerk Stand lunch is an experience, savor more than just the food. Don’t just order and wait. Engage the Jerkmaster in conversation, you won’t be disappointed. I get an education every time I go to a place like this. This is more than what he does, this is who he is, and he likes to tell his story.

    Be hungry and not afraid to eat with your fingers. It’s all a part of the experience, go for it!

    Value:

    Jerk Dinner from 300J – 800J, this is roadside and haggling might be necessary. You never pay the quoted price for anything else on the street, be it a necklace or a rented scooter. He usually has a Red Stripe for 100J

    Notes:

    I love street food. You can really get to know a place in a visceral way by eating its street food. Cheesesteaks in Philly, dirty water hot dogs in NYC and Jerk Chicken in Jamaica. There are many great Jerk stands, they come and go. Don’t miss this treat!

    4 Angels

    Vinny :)

    2 Comments January 14, 2007

    Ozzie’s Jerk Center – Review

    Info:

    Location: Norman Manley Blvd
    Opposite: Native Son Villas and Seasplash Resort

    Food:

    Jerk Pork is the house special here. The jerk smoke and spices infuse the tender juicy pork parts with what can only be described as a culinary orgasm. My date had the Jerk Chicken. I tasted a piece of her’s and it was excellent, but when I gave her a piece of mine, her eyes narrowed into green slits of envy. I wouldn’t give her another piece.

    Character:

    I didn’t meet Ozzie, but the service was quick and friendly. The place itself is a small building near the road with a nice breeze blowing through the hurricane shuttered windows.

    Value:

    Jerk Chicken w/ Rice & Peas 350J – Jerk Pork w/ Rice @ Peas 350J - Bottled Water 100J – Red Stripe is 150J

    Notes:

    I’ve been to Ozzie’s twice, once heading back from Half Moon Beach and once heading to the airport. The place is clean, the service is very quick by Negril standards, the food is good, and the beer is icy cold. What more can you ask for?

    3 Angels

    Vinny :)

    4 Comments January 14, 2007

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