Tag Archives: condé nast traveler

A pOptimistic Christmas Note

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s Christmas note announces the end of the ABCityblog sitcom as we know it, but the launch of a new pOptimistic network.

2010 Christmas Card Wreath

Receiving Christmas cards is one of my great holiday joys.  I’m not one of those curmudgeons who complain about the cutesy pictures of kids posed in their holiday finest, or roll my eyes at the “year in the life” letters that could have used a deft editing touch.  In the age of Facebook, when you’re only one passive peek away from knowing the latest thought of your 389th best friend, I find Christmas cards wonderfully anachronistic.

Maybe it’s the sense of anticipation that has me addicted to holiday snail mail.  Will I make it back onto the Jewish Billionaire’s Christmas card list having run into him on book tour a couple times this year?  No, but his company sent me an e-greeting with a recipe for a trifle.  Bah-humbug. Will Tyra see her way clear to forgive a little out-of-context PageSix book publicity?  Unfortunately, no.

But then there are the true friends and family on whose cards I can always count.  Frida’s veterinary pet insurance kicks in the season early with a note that arrives right after Thanksgiving.  My 83 year-old Uncle Cleigh typically sends a picture montage card—usually posed with his dogs and sky diving on his last birthday.  My best gay Gareth chooses a homosexually charged fold-over.  Keith mails an artistic and intricate pop-up cut out.  Cathy manages to unearth yet another jokey Mexican theme featuring yet another Chihuahua, this year posed in a sweater with message, “Fleece Navidad.”  Which, by the way, has Chef in stitches—never underestimate the power of homonym humor to a non-native speaker.

Given my love of the card tradition, you’d think I’d get in on the action.  But no, I’m just a greeting voyeur.  And I don’t even feel guilty about it.  I suppose if you get right down to it, that’s what this blog is really: each post one big Christmas card note, a snapshot of my thinking at a certain point in time.

Here then is my (electronic) Christmas card missive:

With Chef in Mexico

Dear friends, family, fans and casual readers—

2010 has been a life-changing year for me, and I couldn’t have done it without the love of Chef, my partner of a decade (yikes!), not to mention all the encouragement and support you’ve given me along the way.  A year ago, the success of this blog in connecting with readers convinced me to muster the courage and independently publish my humorous memoir Alphabet City.  And what a joyous journey—both literal and emotional—with consequences I never anticipated.

On book tour, I had the opportunity to connect personally with so many of you who graciously opened your homes for book parties with friends.  Christine E., Cathy, Mandy and the ladies of Chi Omega in Dallas/Ft. Worth made my hometown welcoming again—and the reconnection with my stepmother Christine C. was an early Christmas gift.

Alphabet City themed cupcakes at sister-in-law Laura's party

My Mexican family—Isabel in S. Florida, and in-laws Laura and Miguel in Boston—thanks for trying to translate Mary Tyler Moore to a Latino audience.  Of course, the coastal gays jumped into action: Bryan K. for the first Manhattan gathering, Larry for LA’s Gay Pride, Chris and Tom for a weekend on Fire Island.  I had the opportunity to see dear friends blossoming in their new homes: Kara in DC, Dana in LA, and Jimmy in Madison.  Old friends like Shannon took me to new places like Lubbock where her sister Colleen charmed the boots off of me!  Even older friends (and family) introduced me to their new friends and family: sister Paige to the Whole Foods gang, Valerie to Austin’s Media Mavens, including Tammy and her gorgeously renovated historic abode.  Not to mention the reconnections along the way: Kathryn, Mila, Julia, and Diana.

The love I felt from you, your friends, and the fans I met along the way, made me truly believe that I have a unique, fun and optimistic voice that is connecting with readers.  And that is what has given me the courage to announce my next journey: following my passion and dream of being a writer, and doing so full-time.

An optimistic attitude, like Mary Tyler Moore

That means I bid a fond farewell to life as a marketing/public relations consultant, and say hello to the life of a writer.  While I anticipate many ups and downs, I’ve learned that my passion, creativity, hard work and optimistic attitude can take me far.  Already, my focus and energy landed me an important story for Condé Nast Traveler (watch for it in March 2011).  And I have many more exciting changes in store, including a complete redesign and relaunch of this blog.  The topics I write about are more than can be captured in a sitcom called Alphabet City.  With favorite shows like Tex and the City (culture), Green Globe Trekker (travel), and 40, Love (life), and soon-to-be-released shows like Service Entrance (food) and Biz Savvy Blogger (technology), I may just need my own network—like Oprah.  As the wise and wealthy media mogul says herself in promos for her OWN channel:

“What if I could take every story that ever moved me?  Every lesson that motivated me?  Every opportunity that was given to me?  All of my most special celebrations?  And shared them with you?”

Some might call that nauseating, others might call that Facebook and Twitter, but I’m calling the new JP network:

Watch for this fresh, frank, fun website-network to launch in the New Year.  I can’t wait to share this next part of the journey with you.  As Oprah says, “Oooh, this is gonna be good!”

Until then, wishing you a

Viewer programming note: To prepare for the Poptimistic programming change and to celebrate the season, ABCityblog will be going on hiatus—except for instances of breaking thoughts/news.

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Green Globe Trekker: Mexico’s Hope

Today on Green Globe Trekker: JP worries about Mexico’s recovery from narco-trafficking violence.

Last year in the Yucatan Peninsula

Last week, I had the rare opportunity to dig a little deeper into someone’s Spit List—the controversial Thanksgiving game of nominating someone you so detest you’d spit at them on a red carpet.  This year, Chef stopped dinner conversation cold with his choice: Recreational Drug Users.  As he explained, their choice is tearing apart his home country of Mexico.  Little did I know at the time that an assignment from Condé Nast Traveler would take me South of the Border to check out the affects of narco-trafficking violence on tourism—for contract reasons, you’ll have to read the full story in the March issue of the magazine.  But here’s what I can say: there’s a spirit of optimism afoot that things will improve in Mexico—but I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.

The last time I wrote about Mexico for Condé Nast Traveler was November 2004, and I commented on an excitement about the country shrugging off decades of authoritarian rule and looking forward to enjoying true democracy.  In the intervening years, Mexico has become the notorious site of drug cartel warfare.  Experts like University of Miami’s Bruce Bagley told me that was a direct result of the “success” of the American-backed war on drugs in Colombia that has just shifted the drug trafficking up through Mexico.  He believes that Mexico’s 71 years of one-party rule has left a young democracy’s institutions vulnerable—the courts, the police, and the military are cracking from corruption due to the incredible amounts of profits made from drug trafficking.

Where’s that optimism I mentioned?  Many people I spoke with told me a version of, “It’s safe here for tourists.  Drug traffickers don’t want to hurt North Americans.  They are the source of their profits, after all.  They’re the ones who buy their drugs.”  Yikes.  A forceful crack down on trafficking won’t ever stop the problem—there’s just too much money to be made.  Instead, we need to focus our resources on targeting the cause—Chef’s “spitees.”

The other hopeful note Mexicans sounded was that elections are coming in two years.  The likelihood is that the country will shift back to the PRI party—the same one in charge for 71 years—who will make a quiet deal with the drug cartels, and the violence will go away.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t sound like progress to me, but to many in Mexico it seems like the safer choice.

Bottom line, America’s “war on drugs” is a costly, failing effort that is ripping apart a country so dear to my heart.  After all, Mexico has given me so many gifts—and not just the seven or so nativity scenes that are part of my Christmas decorations.  The country blessed me with Chef, and as I’ve said before, I love being the Tex to his Mex.

Let’s put an end to the spitting, and to the drug war.

Check out StopTheDrugWar.org for more.

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Destination Taste: Subjective Top 12 Gay Honeymoon Spots

Greetings from Singapore where I just finished coordinating (and moderating) Condé Nast Traveler’s 4th Annual World Savers Congress.  This bustling and constantly changing city-state is a must stop over for a Southeast Asian holiday—#5 on My Supremely Subjective List for Destination Wedding on my new column at GayWeddings.com.  Check out what else made the list.  CLICK HERE.

Just a little gay in Singapore's Botanic Gardens

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Green Globe Trekker: Little Elephant that Could

Today on Green Globe Trekker: JP gets a lesson in the Power of One from a little South African elephant-hero named Jabulani.

Camp Jabulani Lounge

Several years ago I found myself in the midst of an elephant herd in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, part of a TV series I was producing for Condé Nast Traveler.  I was so mesmerized by the tender and sweet familial interaction of the giant animals, that we turned off the cameras, not wanting to interrupt their routine—or more importantly trigger big Mama’s protective instinctive over her babies.  It’s one of those powerful moments that stays with you for a lifetime.

Given the economic power of South Africa’s safari tourism industry, it’s no surprise then that innovative lodges, like the one I staid in Ulusaaba, are perennial favorites in the category of Wildlife Preservation in the Condé Nast Traveler World Savers Awards.  But this year’s winner, Camp Jabulani, has a particularly sweet “birth” story involving a lost little elephant that went onto become the “breadwinner” for a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center.

The wildlife center helps rehabilitate cheetahs

Adine Roode, Managing Director, of the property will be on the panel I am moderating on Oct. 20 called “To Preserve and Protect” at the Condé Nast Traveler World Savers Congress in Singpore.  She managed to take some time away from the bush to speak with me about how much she and her family and employees have learned about the importance of wildlife preservation.

“Thirteen years ago, an injured baby elephant came to our rehabilitation center, and we hand raised and tried to release him on reserve.  And it didn’t work.  He wanted to stay with the humans who were now his herd.  And then 8 years ago, we had the opportunity to rescue some other elephants, endangered by war.  When we brought them here from Zimbabwe—no easy task—our little elephant Jabulani took to them immediately.  It was beautiful.  Taking care of elephants is quite a heavy burden.  So we decided to build a separate camp around the elephants to generate income to support them–as well as our cheetah program.  And so Camp Jabulani was born.”

Much of the time we think of wildlife as being endangered by poachers and farmers, but this case was even more complicated.

“War instability was a part of the problem.  Zimbabwe war veterans took over the land there, and they were demolishing the land for the food.  They wanted to destroy the elephants.  We stepped in and brought them to South Africa.  It was a very tight schedule and complicated operation—no video or photos because the war veterans were quite tense.  The whole thing was controversial—a lot of people do say that there are enough elephants—why bring them over?  People say, ‘why don’t you just shoot the animals?  It’s easy to talk a lot, but you have to stand before that animal and make a decision.  And it’s not easy.  It’s difficult.  I have a passion and wherever there’s life, I will still fight for that.”

Today, the benefits of that fight are comng to life.  Camp Jabulani operates 2 safaris a day with the elephants, even though it would have easier to send Jabulani to one of the many zoos that initially wanted him.

“I love seeing Jabulani happy and a have a chance to have a herd.  An elephant doesn’t want to be on its own.  It wants a herd structure.  And that’s what we provided.  It’s funny, it’s supposed to be that humans must take of the earth and animals.  But here, the animals take care of humans—generating incomes for all the families here.”

Even the waste of the elephants is put to use in creating jobs.

“We use elephant dung paper.  And we sell that paper.  It’s part of the job creation—we have a lot of elephant dung but we’re able to put people to work to make it useful to us in so many ways.   I take that paper all over the world making sales calls because people can’t believe it when they smell it.  It’s part of the education program for schools and children to teach them about recycling how to make these things.”

The outreach to the local community doesn’t just stop at an education program.  Real decisions made on the property help create even more employment opportunities.

“Take for example on the reserve.  There are a lot of easier ways to do bush clearing, but we think it’s better to get farm workers and dig manually, that way you feed a family.  There are easier ways with machines that could do the work but at end of day you have to support the local community.”

Adine hopes her passion and enthusiasm spreads far beyond her reserve’s borders.

“It’s important to realize that one person can make a difference.  There are no boundaries for a person—everyone can make a difference.  Like now, we are bringing in the schools and locals, to educate them.  Once they see a cheetah in our endangered species program, they understand more.  The importance of wildlife becomes part of their daily life.”

And to think it all started with the power of one little elephant—who’s now a World Saver.

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Green Globe Trekker: Blue Bahama Mama

Today on Green Globe Trekker: Jon Paul dives into Bahama coral reef preservation with Kerzner Marine Foundation’s Debra Erickson.

I’ll admit that sometime in February—during the deepest, darkest of New York’s seemingly never-ending winter—I’m tempted by the advertisements to book an affordable getaway to Atlantis Bahamas.  But then I wonder how I can support such an enormous property operating near ecologically sensitive areas like coral reefs?  After speaking with Debra Erickson, Executive Director of Kerzner Marine Foundation, who will be part of the panel I’m moderating at the Oct. 20 Condé Nast Traveler World Savers Congress in Singapore, I’m happy to report that environmental degradation is not an issue that the company is ignoring—but tackling head-on.

“All of our properties are built near beautiful marine ecosystems, and we realized that if we want them to be around in 20 years or so, it’s incumbent upon us to take care of them.  So the company established the Kerzner Marine Foundation five years ago to foster the preservation and enhancement of marine environments.”

 

Kerzner Marine Foundation's Debra Erickson dives deep in her support of marine preservation

 

Debra seems to be the right person to head up that mission—she has a long background in overseeing effective social responsibility programs for organizations as diverse as the San Diego Zoo and Anheuser-Busch.

“One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is that if you want to make a long term impact on ground, small discreet donations just don’t do it.  So, at the Kerzner Marine Foundation we fund a program for three years.  Right now, we’re in the second year of a three-year program to protect the coral reefs in the Bahamas.  It’s a multi-prong approach that involves doing scientific evaluation and education outreach.”

The program to which Debra is referring is ambitious—involving a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust.  The ultimate goal is to greatly increase the size of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) on the west side of the largest island in The Bahamas, Andros, which has some of the most spectacular and intact marine habitats left in that area.

Debra believes that the ultimate success of a preservation project depends on the partnership with a local NGO—she has definite take on what it means to “go local.”

“One of key things I ask when evaluating funding for a program is, ‘Who is going to lead the project?’  Before we give any money, I fly to the project site and spend at least two days, ask to speak to local government officials, making sure that NGO has support, interacting with community leaders to see who supports the project and their level of interest.  I can pretty much tell in the first ½ day if what the organization says their going to accomplish is going feasible.  The key is always how involved are locals in project?  A lot of Western NGOs go overseas, make a lot of promises, and then the project is done.  They go back to where they came from and didn’t develop an infrastructure or leave funding that phases out over time that’s going to keep the project going.  If I don’t locals, and if the plan has no one locally getting a salary, I won’t fund it.  You have to think about locals.”

Like many others in the travel industry, Kerzner and their properties are trying to figure out how to engage their customers in the challenge of preservation.  But Debra sees it as an opportunity.

“One of the advantages we have over others in the industry is our incredible aquarian interaction program that really changes people’s lives by putting them in contact with wildlife.  We’re trying to figure out how then you ask them to take the next step and contribute to a program that helps save the coral reef.  A lot of people want to contribute—I do get checks from guests who want to help.  We are working on a way to engage guests in a more structured way.”

We’ll dive—pun obviously intended—much deeper into these issues with this “Blue Bahama Mama” on our panel in Singapore.  For now, I’ll keep Atlantis on the list of possible last minute winter escapes.

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Green Globe Trekker: Shampoo Down Under

Today on Green Globe Trekker: Jon Paul travels Down Under to Melbourne’s Alto Hotel on Bourke to explore the travel industry’s dirty secret—shampoo.

I wear my love for Australia on my sleeve—literally.  An image of the famed Sydney Opera House forms part of a tattoo sleeve on my right shoulder.  So it’s no surprise that I’m thrilled by the cutting edge eco-luxe efforts of Melbourne’s Alto Hotel on Bourke.  The property won Condé Nast Traveler’s World Savers Award in the Preservation Environmental and/or Cultural category, and General Manager Gary Stickland will be appearing on my panel at the Oct. 20 World Savers Congress in Singapore.  We recently discussed a dirty little travel industry problem—mini-shampoo bottles.

Those little plastic amenity bottles of lotions and hair products are quite the source of conversation—and frustration—in the hotel industry.  While most recognize them as a detriment to the environment, many properties are unwilling to eliminate them for fear of upsetting guests and a claim that there are not better options.

 

Alto's soap dispenser has raised no eyebrows

 

Alto placed a nice dispenser next to the vanity and in the shower, but even the boss Gary was suspect when he took over as General Manager.

“My first thought as a hotelier was that’s not going to work. But surprisingly, there’s been no feedback about it.  The contents that we use are same grade and quality—so it’s not that we’re skimping on quality.  I think a majority of guests have their own.  And when you start to run the numbers, it saves a significant amount of waste.  With about 25,000 rooms in Melbourne, on average about 10,000 bottles of shampoo are going into landfills every month—filled with chemical waste content.  Multiply that across the globe and you get a sense of the problem—we can’t afford to ignore it.”

Still, the problem remains unsolved and complicated by issues of security—would some crazy person pour toxic chemicals inside the shampoo and the next thing you know you’re blonde?  We’re definitely tackling this issue on the panel.

In addition to the shampoo solution, Alto Hotel on Bourke has a number of other cutting edge eco-initiatives including being Australia’s first carbon neutral hotel and providing guest key cards made from biodegradable cornstarch.  No wonder Al Gore’s environmental team took note and used the hotel as base camp during an important conference.

Not to say they’ve solved every problem, including the off-color issue of toilet paper.

“Finding the right quality toilet paper that is sustainable and also appears nice and white and bright is a problem.  A lot of the recycled post consumer waste or bamboo sugar cane products still appear grey.  And guest perception is they want white and fluffy.  But we’re not giving up.”

So has being so eco-forward been a competitive advantage for the property?

“Maybe right now with some of our corporate clients who know about what we’re doing and want to be supportive as part of their policies.  But I don’t see it as a long term competitive advantage because I hope that other hotels will be doing same type of things or a lot more.  Think of it this way.  Would you stay anywhere where you can’t have Internet?  No.  Today, web access is standard practice.  But it wasn’t always so.  Sustainability will one day be the same.”

For the sake of the planet, let’s hope that’s true.  But first we have to find a way to wash that shampoo right out of the room.

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Green Globe Trekker: Trashy Thoughts

Today on Green Globe Trekker: The politics of global travel industry trash is trickier than JP imagined.

Grand Hyatt Santiago developed a innovative recycling program benefitting local non-profits

Lately, as I fall asleep, trashy thoughts have been filling my head.  For that, I thank Hyatt Hotels & Resorts.  Not because of any particular steamy hotel fantasies, but because of a conversation I had with their head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Brigitta Witt.  We spoke because Brigitta is part the panel I am moderating in Singapore at the Condé Nast Traveler World Savers Congress on Oct. 20.  Our discussion is titled “To Preserve and Protect—Can Going Green Coexist with Luxury?”  I wondered about the challenges a global operation like Hyatt might have vs. a smaller outfit like Costa Rica’s Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality that I wrote about previously.

What I got was a lesson in trash—the complexity of recycling, to be exact.

“We operate in 45 different countries.  Even in the United States, what a hotel in San Francisco can do is different than what one in Wichita can do.  Our hotels in San Francisco can recycle all of their waste, they can compost, because they have the support of the city and municipality.  Hotels in a lot of other places have a tremendous challenge in recycling—it takes a lot of infrastructure to pick up tons of glass.  Some cities don’t have a program, or even businesses to support us.  Even in California, we have hotels that physically must transport the waste on their own to a recycling center, because we can’t find someone to hire to do it.  Then the economy takes a dive, and it becomes too expensive to recycle because no one even wants it.  If we face that in just the United States, imagine what it’s like in other parts of the world.”

But all is not lost.  As Brigitta explained, even in cities or countries without a culture (or business) of recycling, hotel employees are coming up with inventive solutions.

“At our fairly large property in Santiago the employees were frustrated that they couldn’t recycle.  There was no recycling service spearheaded by city.  The hotel put out tons of glass and aluminum and paper every single week.  Our team there came up with a great idea—organize local charities that help children and families to come by once or twice per week and take the waste to local centers, and the charities get all the money.  It was a perfect solution for everyone.”

In fact, the team has been able to divert approximately 110 metric tons of waste from local landfills per year while helping local organization like Cenfa, which helps families in need, and Coaniquem, which works with child burn victims.  Now with a grant from Hyatt’s corporate office, the hotel is working with a non-profit called Fundacion Casa de la Paz to give the community a new waste management system and educate them about the importance of recycling.

At the panel, Brigitta will have much more to say about that despite the challenges of measuring carbon emissions and energy usage at various hotels around the globe—Hyatt is committed to reducing both by 25% (they even post their progress on their website).

For me, no more complaining about the extra clear recycling bag I have to drag to my NYC curb every Tuesday.

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