Cartagena Cool Part I: The Lowdown on Latin America’s Most Alluring City

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Cartagena de Indias, the exotic port city on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, has been something of an in-the-know spot for the more adventurous traveler for years; Mick Jagger has been visiting since the ’90s, and Justin Bieber even bought a house here. And though the pace of new hotel, restaurant and retail openings might seem to indicate that Cartagena has moved up the trendometer, it’s still under-the-radar to be…exotic.

Certainly there was a time when the words “vacation” and “Colombia” just didn’t sit well within the same sentence. In the ‘70s and ‘80s the country pretty much invented the cocaine industry, courtesy of noted narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar; and that, combined with the fifty-plus-years civil war with the Peoples Revolutionary Army (FARC), didn’t inspire visions of romantic Latin American getaways.



These days, however, it’s a much different story. In the early aughts the Colombian government launched a major get-rid-of-the-dealers initiative, resulting in a relocation of the Americas coke trade to Mexico. And effective efforts to end the civil war over the last several years has seen the remaining members of FARC assimilating into Colombian society. Colombia’s murder rate is at it lowest since the early ‘70s.

Cartagena was always the jewel of Colombia, the place where even Escobar would come to escape the, um, stress of his job. Fortress walls dating back to the 17th Century surround the central Old City – a UNESCO World Heritage site – and the main tourist area, within which you’ll find hotels and restaurants to rival those in Paris or New York. Beyond the walls are the scruffier but equally interesting enclaves of Getsemani, Bocagrande, Manga, and the quaintly residential Castilogrande. We fell in love with Cartagena and other spots along the Colombian Riviera on our first visit, and have been going back regularly since. Our eminent guides have been Travel Colombia Direct (more on them in Part II), who have helped us to feel at home in the city.



As long as you’re prepared for the heat – the year round prevailing temperature being hot – Cartagena is an easy and affordable getaway. JetBlue now flies direct from JFK in less time than it takes to get to San Francisco; and once there, typical hotel and restaurant bills are a good 25% less than you’d find in a comparable big American city.

Starting at the top is the classically sophisticated Sofitel Santa Clara, recently voted best luxury hotel in South America (a Conde Nast Readers Poll); Jagger stayed in the royal suite, as he would. Less opulent and pricy but no less charming is the lovely Casa Quero, housed in a historic colonial mansion. Fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi’s Tcherassi Hotel + Spa adds wellness and pampering, and has a chic poolside restaurant.


Sofitel Santa Clara


While Cartagena is technically a beach town, the actual beaches in town are not on par with their Caribbean neighbors (more on the amazing beaches just off shore in Part II), leaving travelers to occupy themselves as one would in any cosmopolitan city – and that obviously includes shopping. The spider web of streets in the Old City are a walker’s paradise of bustling local boutiques, street vendors, and upscale jewelers, with security at the door and NASA-worthy air-conditioning. With trays of dazzling emeralds and sapphires, Lucy stands out for its selection and service; for fashionable local styles we love the charming St Dom, but we’re also happy to explore the outdoor markets and vendors, including Las Bovedas, where we have tried on many a Panama hat. (Yes, they sell them in Colombia.)

Time to eat, and the options are seemingly endless. Of course fresh fish is a staple, as is plenty of steak, all accompanied by platacones, salsa, and beer or fruit shakes. One of our favorites is La Mulata, a casual Caribbean joint that’s always packed, and has some of the best grilled fish. Head to La Cevicheria early as, come dinnertime, the wait is endless; it’s got the best ceviche in Cartagena. For an over the top Argentinian carnivore experience, nothing beats the kitschy Patagonia Asados del Sur. And two new hotspots on our radar include the lively (it’s more a bar/club than resto) La Movida, and the pristine Moshi, which combines Asian and Caribbean cuisines; it was the first time we saw crispy pig’s head carnitas on a menu.


La Movida 

Coming up in Cartagena Part II we venture outside the walls to find the city’s equivalent of Brooklyn (or Oakland), plus an offshore paradise.

WEEKEND IN OTTAWA: The Art, the Food…the Canadians

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Louis Bourgeois’ Maman at The National Gallery of Canada

The endlessly unsettling reality of domestic politics has once again left untold Americans staring longingly across the northern border – where, currently, hotsy Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presides over a stable economy, and a society that provides universal healthcare, as well as affordable education. (And, despite comparable gun ownership, no seems to be casually blowing each other’s heads off up there, either.)

Thusly inspired, we returned to Ottawa recently (where Trudeau delegates from an office at stately 80 Wellington Street), just in time for the Tulip Festival – an event they share with that other bastion of progressive egalitarianism, The Netherlands. Downtown was teeming with food and flower markets and, of course, Canadians – who, while we hesitate to generalize, just seem so incredibly well-mannered and welcoming all the time. And speaking of wonderful welcomes, we checked into the exceedingly stylish new Andaz Ottawa Byward Market amidst what was actually a pretty buzzy Friday afternoon lobby scene.

The real lure of Canada’s capital is the impossibly picturesque setting, bordered by the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal – and with grandiose 19th Century architecture lording breathtakingly over the city. But there’s also quite a lot to pack into a few days’ visit. And it’s bi-lingual, of course, so you can brush up on your French.

Canada also turns 150 this year – so it’s pretty much a non-stop party up North.

Here’s what we did.


The National Gallery of Canada

A genuine architectural masterpiece by Moshe Safdie (dating to 1989), you feel awed just walking into all the cold, concrete modernism that is The National Gallery of Canada. There’s a great collection of Pop Art that should be your first stop. But the current exhibition, Photography in Canada, 1960-2000, presents an absorbing look at contemporary life through the lenses of some of the country’s most venerable snappers. Don’t forget to pose for a selfie outside with Louise Bourgeois’ massive spider sculpture Maman – it doesn’t bite, but it looks like it might.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

From Naples to Krakow to Hamburg, you’ve seen all those uber-baroque European “Houses of God.” Still, none could prepare you for the astonishment of Ottawa’s own Notre-Dame (Cathedral of Our Lady). First, the twin silver spires, which gleam in the sunlight, as if to indicate the transmission of divinity itself. But we sat riveted within the intentionally histrionic neo-gothic interior, which suggests a path to God by means of really daring color choices. It could almost make a believer of Richard Dawkins.

Contemporary Art

There’s actually a good little scene in Ottawa. We liked the Galerie Saw, run by artists and with a decidedly socio-political bent. But we were most taken with an exhibition of Inuit (indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic) carvings at L.A. Pai, one of the city’s most influential contemporary dealers.

The Food + Drink

Ottawa – who knew? But our tastebuds were forced to shift into overdrive during our stay. We naturally dined at the Andaz’ own Feast + Revel, only to joyously discover our new favorite food ever, fiddlehead lasagna; go Canadian and also try the lamb poutine and wild boar rillette. But the city’s hottest scene is at Riviera, with its soaring-ceilinged neo-classical interior, super cute staff and life-altering dishes like venison tartare with pistachios, as well as possibly the best chicken liver pate in the universe (a big deal for us).
For lunchtime, Play Food + Wine is as fun as its name, with small plates (shiitake gnocchi, tempura eggplant) in an industrial mod setting. Though we most loved Social, a sprawling warren of rooms perfect for naughty assignations by night – but by day, we grabbed a sunny courtyard seat and indulged in the Scottish cock a leekie and a few glasses of Canadian Hinterland sparkling wine, all to a knowingly curated Britpop soundtrack. (Canada is of the Commonwealth, after all.)

Riviera Ottawa

The Shopping

Style hounds head to the Sussex Drive corridor, where cool indie boutiques like Trust Fund, Wolf & Zed and Schad offer a current view into mode Canadienne. Patrick McGahern is a legendary shop for rare and used books, should you still prefer them in physical form. Something for the home? Get your mod on at the Modern Shop, flogging designers like Tom Dixon, Jonathan Adler and Moooi.

Moscow Tea Room

If you’re going to pick one place for a night that will remain forever hazy in your mental recall center, Moscow Tea Room is absolutely it. As you might have guessed, it’s not a tea room at all. Rather, it’s a decadent, pre-Bolshevik watering hole done up in a sort of faded Czarist opulence – though a little too earnestly plush to be kitsch. There is a cocktail list, but whatever – drift your eyes straight over to the “Spirits” section of the menu, where you’ll find 19 expertly-chosen vodkas listed by shot price. Our unimaginably lovely Arab expat bartenders Zainab and Kianna (Seriously, how can you have those names and not be a reality show?) poured us ice cold Russian Standard Platinum and impressively expounded on international political matters and their love and loyalty for their adopted country. One of the best bars anywhere, period.

Stay: Andaz Ottawa Byward Market

We’d done time at the Andaz hotels in New York, WeHo, Mayakoba – but the Andaz Ottawa is easily our fave. As you enter, there’s a tiny area for check-in, leaving the rest of the lobby for lounging and socializing – of which there was much. Rooms smartly have huge floor-to-ceiling windows, all the better to frame the awesome scenery all around. And the bathrooms…cool, modern and surprisingly spacious.
The hotel’s (literally) crowning feature, though, is the rooftop Copper Spirits & Sights. Ottawa, apparently, has not exactly discovered the joys of skyward tippling – so the bar was a sensation upon opening. There’s an enclosed indoor area, an expansive, comfy-furnished outdoor terrace, and a killer cocktail list. Tequila aficionados should order the Copper Skyline; but we couldn’t resist with the bourbon-and-smoked-glass Last Man Standing. And there’s that view.



Star Chef Matthew Kenney on His New plnthouse at 1 Hotel South Beach

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Matthew Kenney’s NYC culinary mini-empire was as hot as it gets around the turn of the Millennium. His Monzu, Mezze, Canteen, Commune and Commissary perfectly embodied the new generation of restaurant-as-mediarati-social-incubator, galvanizing the in-crowd from Soho to the Flatiron to the UES.

Along the way, the star chef discovered something a bit more ideological: the joys and benefits of the plant-based lifestyle. Indeed, his 2004 book Raw Food World was just the first of seven he authored on the subject. He eventually decamped to, of all places, Oklahoma City, and began an experiment which became a philosophy – opening the world’s first plant-based culinary school – Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy – which he moved to Santa Monica in 2012.

1 Hotel South Beach

His Plantlab brand now oversees restaurants from LA to NYC to Bahrain and Miami, where his new plnthouse has done the impossible: made the already super hot 1 Hotel South Beach even hotter. We already loved 1HSB for its breezy chic style, plush Bamford Haybarn spa, and gorgeous, ocean-facing pool. (Celebs the likes of Adrian Grenier, Jessica Alba, Ellie Goulding and superstar DJ Steve Angello agree.) Now Kenney joins STK and Tom Colicchio’s Beachcraft, making the hotel one of the city’s top culinary destinations.

The casual-chic plnthouse veritably presents a new paradigm for veggie-focused cuisine, with dishes like French lentil pâté, a carrot ginger kelp noodles bowl and sprouted garbanzo hummus (see recipe below) – all perfect for maintaining the Miami beach bod, of course.

BlackBook caught up with the chef for a rather philosophical discussion about it all.


You once lorded over some of the hottest restaurants in NYC. Are their particular reasons you’re focusing more on California and Miami now?

In general, the health and wellness lifestyle is gaining popularity. But Los Angeles has the most health-conscious community in the country – and the wellness lifestyle is building momentum in Miami. My team and I at Plantlab wanted to continue leading the charge in the wellness realm by offering beautifully designed, nourishing, raw vegan dining experiences and bringing plant-based education to a mainstream demographic in these cities. I’m really excited to be working with the 1 Hotel South Beach, because plnthouse is their first plant-based restaurant – and we are bringing our focus on locally sourced, sustainable ingredients to the hotel’s clientele in an accessible, grab-and-go form.

What first drew you to the plant based culinary philosophy/lifestyle? 

I developed an appreciation for the plant-based lifestyle, implementing this philosophy on a personal level little by little throughout the years. I worked as a chef at several fine dining restaurants in New York City, and I was somewhat turned off by raw vegan restaurants, because I found most of them to be void of the atmosphere and culinary design that would excite the guest. I noticed a disconnect between fine dining and plant-based living, so I set out to create something that combined the two.

Tell us a bit about Plantlab.

Plantlab is a lifestyle brand my team and I created to drive the sustainable health and wellness movement forward, in a number of different ways. We offer accessibility to plant-based cuisine through our restaurants, such as Plant Food + Wine in both Venice and Miami, Double Zero in NYC, Make Out in Culver City, Matthew Kenney NM at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and, of course, plnthouse.
As well, Plantlab is grooming the next generation of plant-based raw vegan chefs through The Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy, a culinary school offering courses in raw vegan cuisine at the highest level via nine global locations and an online “campus.” And we’ve just officially launched Matthew Kenney Wellness, offering retreat experiences that give guests the knowledge and tools to implement a plant-based lifestyle when they return home. Plantlab hosted a wellness retreat in Kauai this May, and the next venture will be our collaboration with Camp Âme at Turnberry Isle Miami…for a weekend retreat this July 7-9, including nutritional education, group fitness, spa services, and social events led by health, nutrition, beauty and fitness practitioners.

plnthouse at 1 Hotel South Beach

What are the benefits of a plant based diet? And some of the misconceptions?

Plants are nutrient-rich and fuel our bodies with the minerals we need to operate at our best. Plants not only provide the basis for optimal health, but a plant-based lifestyle also contributes to the overall well-being of the planet.
There tends to be a certain stigma surrounding the term ‘vegan’; people think it means you have to sacrifice all enjoyment around your food, and you’re definitely not getting enough protein, etc. But there’s no need for an ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude when adopting a plant-based lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be a major shift from eating meat to suddenly gnawing on raw vegetables and nothing else. You can implement more plants into your daily routine quite easily by making small tweaks.

Why was the 1 Hotel South Beach the right locale for plnthouse? Is it a philosophical alignment?

Miami is already ahead of the curve when it comes to promoting an active and healthy lifestyle, and wellness is in the DNA of the 1 Hotel South Beach; it emanates health with a certain cool factor. It seemed like the perfect location because it’s so accessible. My hope is that people living in and traveling to Miami will realize how easy it can be to integrate a plant-based diet into their busy, on-the-go lifestyles.

What can diners expect that is new and unique about plnthouse and its menu?

The menu includes salads, wraps and sandwiches, bowls, and smoothies. Any of our smoothies can be turned into meal-replacement bowls with natural super-food granola and tropical fruits, which a lot of our guests enjoy. The One Salad is quite a crowd-pleaser and includes shaved vegetables, hemp seeds, sunflower sprouts, avocado and more. We also have really great shareable plates like sprouted garbanzo hummus and yuzu guacamole with wasabi crackers.

Can you quickly sum up your culinary mission? And the mission of Plantlab?

Our ultimate goal, through our restaurants, Culinary Academy and unique programming, is to help the world move towards a more sustainable outlook on health by offering accessibility and education about a plant-based lifestyle.


Matthew Kenney’s Select plnthouse Recipes

One Salad Recipe

3 cups mixed greens
1 cup shaved vegetables (carrots, fennel, radish)
2 teaspoons hemp seeds
1/2 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
1 small bunch sunflower sprouts
Chili Lime Vinaigrette Yield 389 grams
30 g jalapeno, seeded and diced
108 g lime juice
25 g coconut nectar
7.5 g salt
50 g rice vinegar
Blend everything except the olive oil. Once the mix is smooth, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
Spicy Macadamia Nuts Yield 1 cup
1 Cup raw soaked macadamia nuts
1 Tablespoon lime juice
¾ Teaspoon dark chili powder
¾ Teaspoon maple syrup
Soak the macadamia nuts overnight. The next day rinse the nuts and strain to remove excess water. Toss the nuts in the lime, salt, maple, lime and chili powder. Transfer the marinated nuts to teflex lined dehydrator trays and dehydrate until dry at 115 (approximately 24-48 hours).

Sprouted Garbanzo Hummus Recipe

Garbanzo Beans
2 cups dry garbanzo beans
Soak garbanzo beans overnight then drain and rinse. Put garbanzo beans in a flat container then cover with cheesecloth and allow to sprout overnight. Once sprouted rinse the beans then place in a rondo with 2 quarts of water. Skim any foam while beans are cooking.
2.5 Cups sprouted and cooked garbanzo beans
2 Cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
¼ Cup tahini
½ Tablespoon salt
¼ Cup olive oil – poured in slowly
Put the everything except the olive oil in food processor and start blending. Slowly pour in olive oil until smooth.
Yuzu Guacamole
Yuzu Guacamole
2 Avocadoes
2 Teaspoons salt
¼ Teaspoon yuzu extract
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Teaspoon rice vinegar
Shaved daikon radish
Pickled jalapeno
Wasabi sprouts

Read This Deeply Personal Excerpt From The New Novel ‘When My Ship Comes In’

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Photo Courtesy of the Author

Kristina Holstad’s debut novel, When My Ship Comes In, tells the true story of a young girl in the Midwest navigating a home of, among other things, abuse, death, and racehorses. It’s a wild, entirely unpredictable story of overcoming great physical and emotional obstacles through sheer strength of spirit. When My Ship Comes In offers a raw, heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious account of what it really means to struggle with mental health, and explores dealing with suicide, both firsthand and as a witness of someone else’s, with an unfettered, at times unsettlingly authentic approach.

Today, we’re pleased to offer a BlackBook exclusive excerpt from Holstad’s memoir, a glimpse into the sharply twisting story contained within the pages of the novel.

“This chapter was special to me because it summed up so many of the elements of my childhood in one story. I had a lot of excitement and adventure, but it always seemed to be tinged with anxiety and fear,” she explained to us. “My mother was an amazing woman and I loved her fiercely, but at the same time I was exasperated by her choices and actions. This chapter captured a lot of those paradoxes for me.”

In the following excerpt, an 8-year-old girl goes to a waterpark, but also watches her mother get physically abused, helps an Arkansas marijuana ring assemble its products, and escape danger in a midnight getaway. Without further ado: here’s an excerpt from When My Ship Comes In:

Arkansas in the summer is sweltering. I had never experienced heat like that before. But I didn’t care. We were on a family vacation. At least that’s what Mart called it. I had never been on a family vacation before, but my friends had. They were always coming back from school vacations talking about Disney World, the Bahamas, and cruises. I didn’t know much about those places. This trip made me feel like we had a real family and that we were normal because that’s what normal families did. Tim told me we weren’t normal because our dad killed himself last fall but I wasn’t going to think about that. We were going on a vacation.

We had piled into Mart’s new hatchback car the night before and Mart drove through the night while we slept. We folded the back seat down and laid our blankets and pillows out to make a bed. It was a huge adventure and even Tim started to warm up to the idea. Wally was only three so he didn’t care about anything except sucking his two fingers and his ratty blanket. Mart played the Bee Gees 8 track tape on her new car stereo and sang along all the way until we eventually fell asleep. She had the most beautiful voice so it was like a lullaby. A feeling of happiness washed over me. We were going to be alright, I just knew it. Mart was happy now and we were safe. We had a new car and were on a family vacation. Leny wasn’t around to hurt us anymore. And we had money.

When we arrived in Arkansas Tim and I were surprised when Mart pulled the hatchback into a driveway in a small neighborhood.

“This isn’t the Holiday Inn.” Tim commented in a sarcastic tone.

“Oh, I know honey. There has been a change of plans. We are going to visit a friend of mine. His name is Bruce. You will really like him.” Mart’s singsong voice was an attempt to make it seem like everything was normal and people visited friends on family vacations all the time. Tim and I glanced at each other but didn’t say anything. We didn’t need to.

“Let’s go in and say good morning,” chirped Mart. Reluctantly we exited the car and slowly walked up the driveway. I felt self-conscious in my shabby nightgown as I approached this stranger’s house. Where were we? The house was small and white with dead bushes and no garage. The grass needed to be cut. I didn’t see any flowers. It was what you might call ‘run down’. I knew what this meant because I had heard my neighbors at home whispering things like this about our house. I was across the street at April Fenn’s house recently and I overheard her mom talking to her friend about me in a hushed tone.

“That little girl is Tina Holstad. She lives across the street in that run down house. But you can’t really be surprised that no one is taking care of the house. The mother is never home and the father committed suicide last year.” The last part was always spoken softly as the one adult leaned in to the other and cupped her hands around her mouth. I pretended not to hear even though the anger was rising up in my throat. They would go on and on about my house, my dad’s suicide (I also knew what that meant now) and my mom and her boyfriends.

As we approached the front door a man emerged. He was tall with long hair and a beard. He wore cutoff jeans and no shirt or socks. I thought he could use a shower and a haircut, but I didn’t say anything. Lately I had been getting into arguments with Mart about what she called ‘differences of opinions’. She and I disagreed on many things.

“Bommie, she would say, “ just because you are smart doesn’t mean you are always right. You are right most of the time, but don’t be so bossy.”

“Mart, I don’t think you should date that man. I think he’s a loser. Does he have a job?” I would often say when she brought a man home to meet us. It was usually how the conversation began after she asked me what I thought. The problem was in the end I was always right. I couldn’t talk about it with anyone because no one understood. None of my friends had single moms who were young and beautiful. All of their moms were married to their dads and were old and fat. They also didn’t ride horses and stay out late drinking and play the guitar and sing Beatles songs like Mart did. Tim was the only one who understood but he didn’t want to talk much anymore. I always tried to cheer him up with stories of how great things were going to be now but it didn’t work. It was like he knew something that I didn’t and he would tell me. He just went to his room to be alone.

“This is Bruce. Say hi, kids.”

“Hello,” Tim and I murmured. Wally had wandered off so Tim quickly ran to fetch him so as to get away from the need for any further conversation with Bruce.

“Less go inside,’ he said as he opened the tattered screen door. We followed him inside. I thought about saying, “aren’t you supposed to hold the door open for ladies?” Grandpa Walt always told Tim to do that for me. But I knew Mart would get mad and I was still holding out hope for this family vacation. The front door opened to the living room. There was no air conditioning so it was hot in the house. The only relief appeared to be a box fan in the corner of the room. It was chugging along the best it could considering one side of it was held together with duct tape. I felt a kinship with that sad fan. There was a mattress on the floor and a low table next to it. Other than that the room was empty. We entered the kitchen next. Bruce put a box of Cheerios and a jug of milk on the table. I looked around at the dirty yellow linoleum and was silently thankful that I didn’t see any bugs. There was an old, worn formica table complete with 2 matching chairs, each of which looked to be missing a leg and some screws.

“Feed yourselves. I need to show your mom something in the bedroom.” With that they left. Tim and Wally had come in by then so I told them it was time for breakfast. I searched the kitchen and found some bowls and spoons. They looked dirty so I found some soap and washed them, just to be safe. I proceeded to pour us all some cereal. I knew that Bruce thought I was stupid because I was only eight years old, but he was wrong. I knew exactly what he was going to show my mom in the bedroom, his penis. He wanted to have sex with her. That’s what all the boyfriends wanted from Mart. But I am pretty sure he didn’t know I knew. I didn’t say anything to my brothers, I just fed them breakfast. As we sat in the kitchen and chatted I heard men’s voices coming from somewhere in the house. Tim and I exchanged a look.

“I will go investigate. You stay here with Wally.” Tim nodded in agreement. I tiptoed through the living room and down the small hallway. There were three doors, all closed. There was no way I was going to knock on or open any of them for fear of walking in on Mart and Bruce, so I pressed my ear against the first door to eavesdrop on the conversation. I established that there were two men in the room. I leaned a little harder because I couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, but as I pressed against the door it opened. I stumbled into  a small bedroom complete with some sleeping bags and a bunch of boxes and bags full of clothes and junk. The two men looked at me standing there in my nightgown and one of them said, “Well what do we have here?”

I backed away nervously as I said, “Hi, my name is Kristina. I am here visiting with my mom and my brothers. Sorry to interrupt. I was looking for the bathroom.” They both laughed.

“Well I am Tommy, and this here’s Joe.” He pointed an elbow at Joe as he took a swig from a beer can. “Guess we’s roommates now, eh girl?”

“Not really. I am just visiting. We aren’t going to live here.” A feeling of fear was forming in the pit of my stomach. I had learned to trust this feeling as it had warned me of trouble ahead many times. What were we doing here? Was Mart trying this out under the guise of family vacation but really planning to move here so we could live with some hippie strangers and no furniture? We lived outside of Chicago – where the heck had she found this guy in Arkansas? I started to worry intensely because I really had no idea what Mart was thinking – I never did.

“Well we been hearing that y’alls moving in. You a pretty little thing. You can sleep in here with us. How’s that sound?” Tommy and Joe howled with laughter at my horrified expression. “I’m just messin’ with ya, lil girl. I’m sure you and your brothers will be just fine sleeping out in the livin’ room. Didn’t mean to scare ya.”

“I gotta go,” I mumbled as I backed out of the room.

Later that day Mart and Bruce took us to a waterslide. I had never even heard of one before. It turned out to be one of the most fun days we had that summer. Even Tim was hooked. We ran up those stairs so many times I lost count. The water was cold and the day was roasting and sunny – over 100 degrees. It never got that warm back in New Lenox. When we took breaks we bought peach sodas out of the vending machine and we each got our own. “No sharing on vacation,” Mart said. It was delicious and made me feel so fancy because with Leny we never got to have our own soda.  Even contemplating my own soda made my cheek sting with the memory of Leny slapping me hard across the face when I complained about sharing with Tim. The best part of the waterslide was at the very end when the force of the water thrust you into the pool. I would take a big breath and then plunge to the bottom of the pool. All of a sudden water filled my ears and everything was quiet. In that instant I had to focus on getting to the surface, and all of my worries evaporated. Sometimes in that moment I thought about how easy it would be just to breathe in and fill my lungs with water and just stay in the quiet forever.

The days passed in a similar manner. We would either go to the waterslide or the beach at a nearby lake during the day, then Mart and Bruce would go out at night and we would stay home, usually with Tommy and Joe. They had grown on me. I mean after you live with people for days or weeks, you get to know them. Tommy had his own business and Joe was his helper. Tommy would go meet a guy named Rocky every Monday and pick up a big plastic bag full of plants. They looked like a combination of moss that grew on the tree next to the creek in our backyard and dandelions without the yellow heads. I always asked if I could come along but Tommy said no, he needed me to stay and keep an eye on Joe. I knew that was an important job because Joe didn’t seem too smart. Joe and I would go to Kmart on some of the Mondays to buy ziploc bags, waxed paper, tissue paper, and sometimes tools like exacto knives or razor blades. Those lasted a while so you didn’t need to buy them every week. When Tommy returned Joe and I would cover the table with waxed paper. Then we would take the plants (well they called it pot) out of the bag and look through it to remove any twigs or bugs or things like that. They told me I was good at that part because my hands were small. Once it was cleaned Tommy would take a handful or so and make a little pile. Then he’d say, “Tina, how many piles can you make that are exactly the same size as mine?”

The first time he said that I responded by saying, “None. It would be impossible for my piles to be exactly the same as yours without having a scale to measure them. They may look the same but they wouldn’t be exact.”  Tommy looked at me with a puzzled expression and retorted,” Girl, who tole you that? Just make me some piles same size as mine. Sometimes I don’t know what you talkin’ bout. And make sure ole Joe doesn’t pocket any for hisself,” he smiled at me and winked while he was laughing. I smiled back and laughed too.

“OK, deal. I will make piles that look just like yours,” I replied. And I went to work.

We made the piles and packaged them up in the ziplocks. We reserved the best piles for ourselves. Later in the evenings we would take our piles out and sprinkle some of them into small squares of tissue paper. Then we’d roll the paper into a little tube which was basically a homemade cigarette. Tommy and Joe called them joints. You had to lick the paper at the end to make it sticky and then glue it to itself so it didn’t unroll. Tommy and Joe would smoke the joints while Tim and I read stories to Wally and cuddled him. Sometimes I did the reading by myself because Tim went off to read his own books. Tommy and Joe told me I could smoke some too but I didn’t. I thought that might lead to trouble. Besides, I was too young to smoke. Eventually Tim, Wally and I would fall asleep on the living room mattress. It was like camping I guessed because we slept on the floor, but better because we didn’t have to go to the bathroom outside.

On Tuesdays we had to handle distribution. The phone rang constantly and people were always stopping by to see us. It never really interfered with the waterslide routine because none of the people called or stopped over until mid-afternoon and we were already back by then for Wally’s nap. Sometimes when Tommy was avoiding someone he would have me answer the door and collect the money. “No one’s gonna give a lil girl the shakedown,” he said. I didn’t mind because when I did a special job like that I got an extra fifty cents. I had already made over $8 on this trip! I was saving it so I could be rich someday. Mart told me I would need money for college or for all of the nice things I always was begging her to buy.

“Save your money, Bommie. You will need it until your ship comes in.”

I still hadn’t had the chance to tell her about the money I was making, but it could wait. I knew her mind was on other things.  Mart and Bruce argued a lot. I could hear them fighting late at night when they were in Bruce’s room and everyone else was asleep. I was usually awake, lying on the mattress in the living room, either reading or thinking about how I could have a business like Tommy’s. I had tried something similar with popsicles but I couldn’t get enough customers before they melted. Tommy’s customers came to him looking for the pot. It seemed like more of a sure thing than popsicles. I was laying there one night late in the summer when Mart ran into the living room crying. Her nose was bleeding.

“Martie, what’s wrong?” I jumped up to hug her and wipe the blood away with my sleeve.

“Bruce is an asshole. We are leaving.”

“Right now? It’s night time.”

“That’s ok, Bommie. We can do this. Gather up the boys and your stuff. I want to get out of here before he gets out of the shower. Hurry!” she glanced around, nervously.

“OK. I’ll get the stuff. You get yours and fold the seats down in the car,” I whispered as I jumped up and got started. We didn’t have that much stuff and what we did have was still in suitcases that we used as dressers so it was a quick job.

“Are you sure you don’t want to say goodbye?” I asked.

“No! He told me don’t even think about leaving or he will hurt you kids!” she whimpered. I didn’t answer, I just went to into crisis mode. One thing I knew for sure was that angry adults are unpredictable and scary. We had to get out and fast. I threw our little suitcases in the car. Then I came back in, shook Tim awake and said, “We need to leave now. Bruce has gone crazy. Get in the car.”

Tim nodded and was up and out in one second. I grabbed Wally and tried not to wake him, but once I heard the shower water turn off I didn’t hesitate. Wally jostled in my arms and woke, but miraculously didn’t make a sound. I grabbed his blankie, took one last look around and ran for the car. We all hunkered down in the backseat and as we drove away I could hear him screaming, “Martha, you bitch! Get back here!”

We sped away like a scene from Rockford Files. It was scary and fun at the same

time. My heart was beating so fast I thought I would have a heart attack.

“Do you think he will follow us?” I asked.

“Nope. His car is broken so he can’t. That’s why he was mad. He wanted me to give him $5,000 for a new car and I wouldn’t.”

“Good for you! $5,000 is a lot of money and I am sure we need it for something else. I’m glad you didn’t give it to him.” Thank goodness, I thought to myself as I glanced over at Tim and he rolled his eyes at me. I nodded in silent agreement. With a sense of relief and exhaustion I laid down on our makeshift car/bed and began to doze off. I thought about my business ideas, my sweet baby brother and getting away from scary Bruce. I was a little sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye to Tommy and Joe, especially Tommy, but I was sure they wouldn’t miss us too much. As we drove along the dark deserted back roads of Arkansas, Mart hummed softly. I gazed up through the sunroof and watched the stars twinkle. I listened to Mart and the soft snoring sound that Wally made as he slept with his two fingers in his mouth. Everything was going to be OK. We were going home now and we wouldn’t be moving to Arkansas. Mart had made the right choice on leaving Bruce. We were safe was my final thought as I drifted off to sleep.

When I woke the next morning to bright sunshine, I looked around and was confused when I saw our car parked in Bruce’s driveway. I sighed and closed my eyes for a few seconds. The feeling of anger and rage that I felt at that moment consumed me. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs but instead I crawled over my brothers to get out of the car and ran into the house. Mart and Bruce were in the kitchen talking. He was holding a check.

“What are you doing? Why are we back here?” I screamed at her. “He only wants your money! He threatened to hurt us! He hurt you! Haven’t you had enough? What is wrong with you?” I was crying now. This could not be happening. I felt a hand on my leg and turned around to see little Wally standing  there.

“Tina, I hungry,” he said.

“Go take care of him and mind your own fucking business you little shit! You ain’t in charge here. I am.” Bruce shouted at me in his half-drunk stipor. He gave me a cold stare that enhanced his point. I turned, took Wally in my arms, and left the kitchen. I was smart enough to know that he was stronger than me. Now we just needed to survive.

After that night things were strained for everyone. Bruce and I had an understanding that we hated each other. Tim and Wally stayed outside most of the time so they could be out of Bruce’s path. Mart and Bruce continued to fight. Bruce showed up with a brand new car. Even though Mart had funded the new car purchase, it was the last straw. I overheard the argument that night as I eavesdropped on them through the bathroom vent.

“Martha, you and your lazy kids been freeloadin’ off me for long enough. Hell that gil ‘o your probly been stealin’ weed to keep for herself and sell. Regular delinquent, that one. Time you started payin’ rent. ‘Sides, I need money,” he slurred. I could tell they had been drinking by the pile of beer cans on the floor in the kitchen. Plus I had been ordered, “Tina, get me a beer. NOW,” about 20 times.

“You invited me here to visit to see if I liked it, for a vacation, not to pay rent,” she said in a quiet voice.

“Yeah well I didn’t realize that the lot of ya was a whiny bunch a spoiled know it alls!” His voice was beginning to escalate.

“Well I guess you are out of luck because I don’t have anymore money!” she choked out through a sob.

“Oh, honey, I think you do. I seems to recall you tellin’ me ‘bout that life insurance settlement from yur dead husband. Member that?” There was no response except the sound of muffled sobs.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Tomorrow you and me’s makin’ a trip to the bank. That’s what we gone do. Wouldn’t want nothin’ to happen to those kids now do ya?”

I slipped quietly down off of the bathroom sink where I had been standing to reach the vent. I tiptoed out to the living room and explained what I had heard to Tim.

“I think we need to get out of here tonight, before he forces her to go get money,” I whispered.

Tim nodded and replied, “we have no other option. We have to talk to mom. Besides, I am sick of it here, aren’t you?”

“Yes I am. I hate Bruce. I was sick of it the day we arrived! But how are we going to talk to her now?”

Then all of a sudden we heard the bedroom door open and the sound of Mart’s small footsteps padding into the bathroom. We looked at each other with relief.

“You start getting our stuff and Wall in the car. I’ll get Mart,” I whispered quickly.

Tim nodded and I snuck off to wait outside the bathroom door. Mart appeared a couple seconds later. Before she made a sound I put my finger to my lips, grabbed her hand and pulled her into the living room.

“I heard what he said. We need to get out of here for good before tomorrow. You know that right?” I pleaded.

“I know,” she whispered as tears welled up in her eyes.

“It’s OK, Martie, don’t cry. Tim and I will help.”

“I’m sorry, Bommie. He said he would take care of you kids,” she whimpered.

“We don’t need him. We can take care of ourselves,” I said in my happiest cheerleader voice. “Now here’s the plan. Tim and I will get everything in the car. You go back in there and wait until he’s asleep or passed out. Then make a run for the car and we’ll get the hell outa here!”

She hugged me tight. “OK, Bommie, you’re right. Be quiet and careful.”

“YOU be careful,” I replied as I squeezed her back. She turned and tiptoed back into the bedroom.

Tim and I loaded everything in the hatchback, closed the doors as quietly as you can close a car door and waited for what seemed like hours. We were whispering about how lucky it was that Tommy and Joe weren’t home that night to witness our second escape when Mart appeared out of the darkness. It took all of my self control not to scream as she had startled me. I guess we were all a little nervous. Mart slid into the driver’s seat and tossed her sandals on the passenger seat.

“Here we go,” she whispered, “and this time we won’t be back.” Tim and I looked at each other thinking, “we better not be back,” as Mart backed the car out of the driveway with the lights off. She drove with the lights off until we reached the two lane highway, and then we sped off into the night and never looked back. Well, almost never.

BLACKBOOK INTERVIEW + PREMIERE: New Jaymes Young Video For ‘We Won’t’

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Image by Lexus Gallegos

Jaymes Young burst into the public consciousness with his 2014 EP Habits of My Heart, and a guest appearance on David Guetta’s “I’ll Keep Loving You” shortly after. In the ensuing three years, the weighty, starkly confessional Seattle singer-songwriter has built a particularly devoted following, many of whom have seen their own lives reflected in his poignant, strikingly honest lyrics. Indeed, the video for 2015 single “I’ll Be Good” has been viewed more than 20 million times.

Next Friday, June 23, Young’s enthusiastically anticipated debut album will at last see release (on Atlantic). Fittingly titled Feel Something, it finds him in his best soul-baring form, from the emotionally courageous “Stone” (“Give me all your shame / Put all your weight on me”) to the affecting but infectious reggae-soul of “Black Magic” to the impassioned plea for meaningful connections (“Make me feel something / Show me that you’re human”) that is the title track.

Musically, it’s all lush arrangements, majestic synths, exotic rhythms and irresistible melodies – setting him exceedingly apart from his quotidian pop contemporaries.

But perhaps the album’s most compelling moment is Young’s duet with Phoebe Ryan, “We Won’t,” a stirring recitation of shattered dreams, replete with all manner of vivid imagery (“We burn faster than a cigarette in my mouth”). One imagines it will be the soundtrack to many a summertime broken romance.

BlackBook premieres the video for the song today.

Young will also launch a 17-date North American tour at the Constellation at the Observatory in Santa Ana on July 10. But in the lead up to the album release date, we caught up for a chat with him to talk love, inspiration and making that ever important connection with his fans.



Your first full album is finally being released. What are you feeling right now? Nervous? Excited?

I spent a long time on this album. All the music I’ve released in the past and future just all blends into one timeline for me. That being said, I’m very excited – but am very focused on continuing to write and discover new sounds.

What were the biggest inspirations, musically and lyrically?

My inspirations are all over the place, it’s really a mess, but I’m okay with it. I’m big on trying to write lyrics that are honest and come from a real place, and most of my biggest musical and lyrical inspirations do that very, very well.

“I’ll Be Good” is the lead single – but it’s already a fan favorite, isn’t it?

That song snuck up on me. I didn’t realize that it was going to have any success when I first put it out, so it’s strange thinking of it as a single years later. I’m just excited for the album to live that long as well, and to see what comes of that.

What are some of the highlights of the record for you? 

There’s quite a few songs on the album that mean a lot to me: “Stone,” “Sugar Burn,” “Naked,” and “Feel Something.” Those songs all came from a very real place inside my head, and are based on personal experiences.

“Don’t You Know” and “Sugar Burn” and almost like synth-disco-pop. Have you been listening to anything in particular that is inspiring that direction? 

“Don’t You Know” was like an overnight song, happened super fast and was just in the moment, both on the production and writing side. “Sugar Burn” however has been in the works for a few years. I can’t say I drew specific inspiration from any one or two places for the creation of those songs. I think I was searching for sounds and they just turned out that way.

In “Don’t You Know” you declare, “I would fight in a war for you.” Then on  “Stoned on You” you go even further: “I’ll take a bullet for you right now.” Any reason you associate violent imagery with love?

Love to me, real love that is, is a submission of self oriented desires; and in good relationships I believe that sacrifice is a big deal too. Actions speak so much louder than words – I think I just wanted to express to what limits I would go for that kind of love. And what better way for me to do that than to say I would face such evils for another person?

In “Stone” you seem to be trying to save someone from their own darkness. Do you tend to be attracted to broken people? 

I don’t know if I have control over the type of person I am attracted to; I either am or am not attracted. But I’ve met a lot of people in my life whose struggles and hardships really inspired me to write “Stone” – and there are plenty of people who have been that strong kind of person for me as well.

Image by Lexus Gallegos

Your music is unapologetically visceral and confessional. Do you hear from fans who have made very emotional connections with the lyrics especially?

I do hear things from people sometimes about how a song made them feel or what it means to them, and I really appreciate those moments. I think it’s a good reminder of what music and art is really meant for. I don’t expect to change the world, but if one single person is affected in a positive way then I’m going to keep writing those songs and those lyrics. That stuff matters to me, probably more than most people know.

On “Feel Something” you insist, “I’m too young to feel so numb.” You seem to have a fairly cynical point of view on human relationships. Or is it that you’re just working it all out in your lyrics?

I try to be realistic about human relationships, but let’s face it, nobody is out there listening to a song about how great the singer’s relationship with the muse is – and is saying, “oh man, this really gets to my core and hits me hard right on the nose.” It’s the songs with pain in them that usually do that for people. But in retrospect, I think I was speaking on a different aspect of relationships in the modern age, as a younger person. I think what I was really trying to get at was the idea that as a young person, lots of romantic relationships will come and go with the seasons, and it’s easy to burn out on those highs if you’re just moving from one lover to another. That’s what I mean by “touch me someone” – after awhile you can be immune to something that would have felt pretty great. I feel like it’s even better to suffer a little bit sometimes instead of just feeling pretty bland about it all. It’s so easy to lose your point of reference.

You duet with Phoebe Ryan on “We Won’t.” She seems like a little firebrand – what was she like to work with? 

Phoebe is awesome, I loved working with her and will again in the future. She’s the only other voice on my record and I couldn’t say enough good things about her.

Are there any dream collaborations you’d love to see happen?

I won’t be able to predict what a dream collab would look like and who it would be with. I’ll let you know as soon as I figure that one out though – haha.

What are you looking forward to most about playing these songs live?

I’m just excited to get back out onto the road. Touring for me is really a feeling of energy and being alive. I’m starting to really miss that feeling, and the connection I get to make with fans.

Image by Lexus Gallegos



Vaquera’s Handmaid’s Tale Collection: Fashion That Empowers & Oppresses

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Photography: Michael Hauptman for Vaquera

Inside an eerie Lower East Side chapel and seated across from a woman in a chunky red leotard, moody noises began composing an ethereal soundtrack. We knew we were in one of two places: the scene of a high fashion cult sacrifice or the runway of Vaquera’s Handmaid’s Tale capsule collection.

When the NYC brand—composed of Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sully, Bryn Taubensee and David Moses—announced they were teaming up with The Handmaid’s Tale for a special project, we had very high, bonnet-filled hopes for what outfits might result. Our expectations were surpassed by the show we witnessed at the Angel Orensanz Foundation—a place that likely hadn’t seen such energy within its walls since Sarah Jessica Parker married Matthew Broderick there in 1997. The capsule delivered on thoughtful silhouettes, textiles and intentions, but above all, stayed true to Vaquera’s ongoing mission: to create characters.

“It’s something that’s at the core of our collections,” DiCaprio told OUT. “We do work about people that are oppressed, and we like to talk about a person’s individuality, and create these characters, which is the opposite of what’s happening in The Handmaid’s Tale. We’re very focused on the personalities. Once you put a piece of clothing on someone who has a great personality, it evolves and becomes something so much greater.”

Personality certainly took the spotlight on Vaquera’s runway: two models in red tunics and bonnets planted kisses on each other as they took their place center stage, while another stormed around the room chucking ripped up flowers at audience members with all his might. One look featured a woman in a thong and bra holding a pearly white umbrella over her heard, with a cocoon of silvery gauze shielding her body from the outside world. Another model ate a bag of oranges as he walked, letting the peels scatter behind him on the runway.

“We were all fucking weird kids,” DiCaprio said. “So I think doing something that speaks to oppressed people, or people who are weird comes naturally to us.”

In true Handmaid’s Tale form, the collection was grounded in stifling imagery that reflected a history of female marginalization: bound hands, a dress with the words, “Votes for Women,” emblazoned on its chest and a model dripping with sewn-together cone bras.

“The original theme for us in this was empowerment versus oppression,” Sully said. “We were talking about how, throughout the collection, as we worked on it, we realized that every look could be either empowered or oppressed, depending on the way you, the wearer, is wearing it. And so the cast was really important in that. And that individuality coming through with the way that they were acting, and the way that they walked, was really important to us.”

An eccentric, inclusive cast was essential for conveying the wide variety of identities being communicated at the Angel Orensanz Foundation. To accomplish this, the brand collaborated with Midland Agency‘s Walter Pearce, who’s known for discovering and championing unconvential beauty—especially through his work as Hood by Air’s longtime casting director.

Vaquera’s most recent fall ’17 collection tackled American identity, from long gowns constructed with American flags to cocktail dresses fashioned as oversized Tiffany’s bags. Through their collaboration with The Handmaid’s Tale, the burgeoning label continues to explore what it means to be a member of the United States.

“The election has obviously changed this country,” DiCaprio said. “We don’t need to say it. But America has a long history of oppression, and it was built on that. It’s sad to say, but it’s true.”

Moses underlined the importance of working with intent in fashion today: “I feel like we always talk about putting clothes out in an oversaturated market, and how it’s really important for us to have a strong message behind what we’re putting out there,” he said. “So this worked out very serendipitously.”

The individuality of each Vaquera look—a gown made from a wildly oversized hoodie, a high-low tunic incorporating seat cushions—comes from the designers’ understanding that fashion is a vehicle for telling stories about the wearer and the larger cultural context that individual is living within.

“I made a lot of looks with bras this season, so I feel like that must say something about me,” Taubensee said. “I was really interested in sexuality, and—I don’t know, it sounds cliché, if bras are empowering or not, but I guess the bra was somehow very poignant to me, and I guess that would be my personality this season. It’s hard to say exactly why.”

DiCaprio echoed Taubensee, adding that Vaquera likes to use clichés to raise questions, in this case, asking why femininity equates to bras? “You can make a simple answer to that, but if you think about it, it’s pretty complex, and cool to talk about,” he said. “Why can’t women show their breasts? Does that mean something? A nipple is bad, but you can see other things.”

With all these deeply complex conversations at play, Vaquera’s collection certainly felt cathartic, like something inside the designers’ minds had been bumbling around, desperate to escape into reality. And through their Handmaid’s Tale capsule, that something finally has:

“In middle school, I was dying to paint my nails black, and dye my hair, and wear tight pants, or whatever, but when you’re doing something like this, you put it outside of yourself,” DiCaprio said. “And I think that’s why people become designers—that’s at least why I do. I felt so much of that was like, “Get out,” And now it’s on the runway, and I feel relieved. [Now] I can wear jeans and a tee shirt every day.”


Soul Purification, Good Tequila and Creative De-Stressing in Cabo San Lucas

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It goes without saying that one would rather be staring out into Mexico’s calm, beautiful blue Gulf of California than watching the endless American political tsunamis raging across our television sets every day. So when Cabo San Lucas came calling, we couldn’t pack our bags fast enough.

But our destination was not one of Cabo’s overamped celebrity resorts. Rather, we dropped our bags at the gorgeous, family-owned Hacienda Encantada Resort & Residences – perfect for those more discerning travelers (like us) seeking something a little more creative and personal.

Perched high above the stunning Sea of Cortez, overlooking rugged coastline, Hacienda’s unique appeal extends further than it’s dramatic topography. With a uniquely curated lineup of amenities and activities, an exceptional collection of local artworks, and a staff so friendly as to feel familiar, we wanted for nothing – and left Cabo already planning our return. 



“The essence of our family is to serve and try our best to be a great host,” said the resort’s gracious Gabriel Ibarra. “So I think what makes us special is that we try to pass this idea along to all of our employees through a very common saying: “Mi casa es tu casa. Our guests don’t feel that they are in a traditional hotel or resort at Hacienda Encantada.”

And we couldn’t agree more. There’s no one-vibe-fits-all here. Every staff member we encountered wasn’t just solicitous, but warmly welcomed us into their “home” with helpful suggestions based on our individual moods and interests. 

Here’s what we did.


Soul Cleansing

Aside from an exhaustive array of restorative treatments, therapeutic massages and fabulous facials on the menu, the opportunity to experience the ancient Mexican tradition of Temazcal was not to be missed. Temazcal means “house of steam,” from the native Nahuatl language, and is promoted as a “purification for the body and the soul.” Once inside the small, round chamber, hot stones are splashed with medicinal herb-infused water during the 90-minute session, for the ultimate in healing relaxation. Just a note, this native ritual cleanse requires four guests.



One if by . . . horse!

We loved the romantic allure of taking a horseback riding tour along the property, where panoramic views of Cabo San Lucas bay and the land’s end were just a gallop away. Make sure to book in advance though, as this equine option is only available on Fridays at the resort.


Staged on the outdoor terrace of the resort’s Barolo Restaurant, our tasting flight was led by the resort’s resident “sommelier.” Little did we know – or really care by the end – that tequila can only be called such if it is produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco (and in some select municipalities). Much like French Champagne, this agave-based distilled spirit is unique to the region and is known as “mezcal” anywhere else. Our favorite, after tasting six distinct varieties, was Blanco, or silver tequila. This popular ‘unaged’ tequila never touches wood, thereby delivering the purest notes of agave. Yes, we’ll take another shot please.



Mexican Flavors

Who better than the resort’s expert chefs to teach guests how to create one of the signature dishes of Mexico? During our al fresco cooking class, we watched – and then tasted – as our teacher expertly chopped onions and cilantro – the trick to the latter being, just bunch it up, stems and all, and dice finely. Combined in a traditional, volcanic stone molcajete (a mortar and pestle), pieces of gorgeous, ripe avocado met the freshest jalapeño, and was then topped off with lemon juice and sea salt. Can you say melt in your mouth? It did!

Sister Act

Taking a break from the sedate environs of Hacienda Encantada, we visited the resort’s sister property in downtown Cabo. Marina Fiesta boasted a lively poolside bar, La Palapa (it’s covered by a giant thatched roof) and four restaurants, all located along the bustling main drag. We dined at Los Deseos and were treated to a table side demonstration of the house speciality, heated Mexican cheese infused with tequila. Our gracious server was a good sport, taking our requests for more – and more – in amiable stride as he worked two spoons to serve us the deliciously gooey concoction.



Set Sail

No trip would be complete without seeing the Arch of Cabo San Lucas. And the best way is by boat, sailing by this distinctive rock formation at the southernmost tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Suffering from erosion in recent years, it now looks like a dinosaur drinking water. Accessing ‘El Arco’ on foot is best done in October when sea levels fall and you can walk under the arch. However, stopping off nearby at Amor (Lover’s) or Divorcio beaches (depending on your state of heart) can be done any time of year by boat. 

“Home” Cooking

To say we ate well at Hacienda Encatada is a significant understatement. There’s eight (yes, eight) venues, and we recommend trying them all during your stay. There’s of course ‘a la carte’ tacos every night at El Eden, ancestral Mexican cuisine at classy La Trajinera (reservations required and there’s a dress code), and ceviche and sushi at El Patio. The breakfast buffet (both American and Mexican) at Las Marias will have you dining on a balcony cliffside. Be sure to order the ‘off-the-menu’ Mexican coffee, a spicy and sweet elixir (a tip from Gabriel).
There’s even good pizza if you’re feeling homesick, at Il Forno. But the standout is Los Riscos. With its mesquite grill, and ethereal views, it was genuinely our favorite.




Art Everywhere

Seriously, everywhere. The lobby, public areas and restaurants were all decorated with original paintings by notable artists including José María Velasco, Jesus Helguera and Diego Rivera. Talavera vases from Puebla, hand-painted pottery and handmade lamps from Tonala, Jalisco, and ceramic sculptures by artist Rodo Padilla, are an eye-catching mix of art and craft.
You’ll notice the beautifully carved wooden furniture (a colorfully painted bench on every floor of the building we stayed in, the newest on the property), made by local Mexican carpenters. There were also several ornate iron pieces wrought by indigenous artisans. The entire resort is a celebration of Mexican architecture and design – with the exception of the rugs and the ‘gobelino’ located in the lobby, which we were told were imported from Europe.
The resort’s luxurious suites and spacious villas also include ceramic tableware made in the state of Jalisco, and mirrors with copper frames constructed in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Additionally, handmade wool carpets adorn the floors, woven in Oaxaca. Even the ceramic bath accessories are brought directly from Dolores Hidalgo Guanajuato. (We also liked the eco-friendly products themselves.) And as might be expected, the image of the lizard and iguana figure prominently throughout the resort – emblematic in numerous handmade sculptures and decorations. Though if you get the chance, try to make friends with a real one.



Exclusive Interview + Six Great NYC Cocktails with Jazz Songstress Bria Skonberg

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While still in her twenties, Canadian jazz singer-trumpeter Bria Skonberg left Vancouver to have a go at it in New York City (but not before playing the 2010 Winter Olympics). Now just 32, she’s drawn comparisons to Norah Jones, dueted with jon the legendary John Pizzarelli, and received both a Jazz at Lincoln Center Swing! Award and a Juno Award (a Canadian Grammy).

Her newest and third album With a Twist was just released this month. Citing references from Esquivel to Spike Jones, it’s replete with the unexpected, including captivating covers of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.”

In advance of her appearance at the Highline Ballroom this Friday, June 2, and at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live on June 7, we caught up for a chat with her about inspiration, American pride, and her new “side gig” as a devoted cocktail aficionado.


Jazz is much more at the cultural forefront in Europe. What is the American jazz audience like?

American jazz audiences are warm, interesting and interested. Since the music was born in the United States, I feel a sense of pride and deep appreciation for where and who the music came from. America is also known for innovation so I feel that the audience is open to and excited by the artist taking chances.

The new album has some surprises. What were some of the inspirations, musically and personally/emotionally?

This album is inspired by falling in love both in and with the city of New York. There’s a never ending sense of adventure and possibility!

What did you discover about your musical self in the making of this album?

I was fortunate to arrange writing sessions with professional song writers in LA and Nashville which were wonderful learning opportunities. I learned I am more ready than before to share my real self and personal stories with new friends; it’s the quickest way to an honest connection.



You cover Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.” As you’re also Canadian, was that done as a tribute, after his passing?

The song had been decided on months before, because of its theme, and I was drawn to interpreting it as more of a lament. I wanted to give a nod to one of Canada’s most cherished songwriters, and his unexpected passing took it to a deeper level.

What can we expect from the live shows?

Adventure! I really love the music from this album and I’m simply excited to share it with more listeners. I have a lot of fun, I also have many ideas, but it’s the band members that bring them to life – and I’m looking forward to showcasing their many talents.

How did you become a cocktail aficionado? How does it play into your music?

Jazz and speakeasies grew up together in New York; It’s the soundtrack to the secret spots and nightlife you can discover here. The way a good mixologist can craft a perfect arrangements of flavors and depth and enhance a mood is music to my tastebuds.

Check out the video she made with Slowly Shirley’s Jim Kearns, plus her picks for NYC’s most fabulous cocktails. 



Death & Co

Cocktail: Don Lockwood
I remember coming into this dark, intimate setting [for the first time] and it was the perfect nightcap after an evening on the town.

Pouring Ribbons

Cocktail: Diego Riviera
Pouring Ribbons is across the street from Mona’s, where there’s a fantastic hot jazz jam every Tuesday night, hosted by Mona’s Hot Four.

Slowly Shirley

Cocktail: Plum Tuckered
It’s been a thrill getting to know Jim Kearns (Beverage Director & Partner, Slowly Shirley and The Happiest Hour) and the fabulous signature cocktail he created for the album. The staff are incredibly friendly and the food is good too. It’s a wonderful getaway for intimacy and atmosphere for friends and lovers.




Dutch Kills

Cocktail: Jungleland
Located in Queens, this makes for a lovely weekend destination drink if you’re not a lucky local.

Angel’s Share

Cocktail: Watermelon Man
Angel’s Share’s secret location makes you feel like you’ve discovered a really special spot in the midst of downtown Manhattan. The decor is classy and the ceiling transports you to another place.

Dead Rabbit

Cocktail: Cage Fighter
Dead Rabbit has live jazz music played by fine local players! Little Branch in Greenwich Village also supports live music, which I’m obviously a fan of.


PREVIEW: Images From the Landmark Murakami Exhibit at Chicago’s MCA

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It makes sense, culturally, that Pop Art’s two most famous progeny were American and Japanese, respectively. But as Keith Haring left this mortal world in 1990, it would be Takashi Murakami alone who would live on and realize the Warhol-like fame that was so much a “strategy” of the original movement (Warhol superstar Ultra Violet told BlackBook in 2011 that Andy’s real goal was “that when he walked down the street, he wanted people to say, ‘Here walks the most famous person down the street.’”)

Murakami is virtually that famous in Japan; but, partly by virtue of his collaborations with Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton (which began in 2002) he has come to enjoy such global recognition as to warrant blockbuster exhibitions of his work around the world (Paris, Bilbao, Doha). And the Chicago MCA is undertaking just that – a spectacular, landmark survey of his oeuvre, charmingly titled The Octopus Eats its Own Leg.

The retrospective will greatly on focus on Murakami as a painter, and feature rarely seen early works from the 80s. But most excitingly for true devotees, the show will also flaunt as-yet-unfinished canvases – an amazing opportunity to get a peek into his process.

The Octopus… opens June 6 (and runs to September 24) at the MCA. But here is a sneak peek at some of what the show has in store.

  • Super Nova, 1999
  • From the perceived debris of the universe, we are still yet unable to reach the stage of nirvana, 2008
  • Kansei Gold, 2008
  • Assignation of a Spirit, 2014
  • Tan Tan Bo Puking - a.k.a. Gero Tan, 2002
  • 727, 1996
  • Release Chakra’s gate at this instant, 2008
  • Klein’s Pot A, 1994-97
  • ZuZaZaZaZaZa, 1994
  • Takashi Murakami, Photo: Tayama Tatsuyuki. 
Courtesy: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo