Thursday, 22 August 2013

Erlend Kjellstad...Here's looking at you!

A little over 23 years ago,
Erlend Kjellstad
walked into my life.
He literally walked in.
I had just started our first store
in the 
Dayabumi Complex
Kuala Lumpur
 on one quiet afternoon,
this tall chap with a friendly
smile came in 
with an equally
friendly hello...
instantly we bonded.
That was then
this is now.
Over the years 
we kept in touch.
If I were to say  
we were writing every month,
I would be lying.
Somehow, we kept
the lines open.
on a flying visit to 
we caught up for dinner.
It was one of those clear 
 evenings where
the West End lights 
appeared enticingly
 bright & inviting.
And in this city
with a gazillion things to do,
one always seem to be running late!
The most convenient place to meet
was at
Piccadilly Circus.
It was 5 pm.
The after office crowd was full on.
Some rushing home while
others onto the pub for a relaxing
 drink or two.
Eager tourists jostled here & there,
heading towards a busy
evening from all that 
was on offer
in the
For us, we were aiming for
South Bank.
Along the way & during dinner,
here's our conversation...
What makes you laugh?
Humanity & the extraordinary
situations people sometimes
put themselves in.
Erlend Kjellstad,
Arly in short.
Norwegian by birth.
Man about town
international traveller.

Favourite cuisine?
French for breakfast,
Japanese for lunch
Italian for supper.

Describe your job?
I help companies & entrepreneurs 
navigate & thrive 
in the new digital landscape.
What are you reading right now?
I like to read many books simultaneously ...on my kindle.
Right now:
Nemesis by Peter Evans
Old Filth by Jane Gardam
number9dream by David Mitchell

How many countries have you lived in?
Do you have a theme song?
"We Have All The Time In The World"
Louis Armstrong
How do you relax?
TV Box Sets!
Currently watching "Dexter"
last seasons
"Breaking Bad".
Followed by a fantastic BBC
costume drama...
"The White Queen".
What can you make with your hands?
Yummy food.
Colourful Art
Decent Prose.
What were your first thoughts this morning?
Grateful I am on holiday 
for the first time
I don't have an 8.30 am skype business call.
Red or white wine?
Though a great
can hold their own against
any fabulous reds...
they are rare!
Your life philosophy?
To learn,
To Know
To Do.
One thing that motivates you?
Every day is a new
Whom do you most respect?
My friends.
People who are 
strong, determined & devoted 
to improving themselves.
Define style?
Using one's will to create a certain look.
Style is deliberate
is a reflection of personality.
Any hobbies?
Dabbling with painting.
Food - both fine dining & home cooking.
Travel - both to explore new things & deepen the
understanding of favourite places.
Skiing, running, scuba diving
TV Box Sets!

What is your most prized possession?
I love my crystals.
A wonderful topaz pendant
also a fabulous pair of
 black & pink tourmaline,
a cherry citrine as well as a soothing honey calcite sphere.
How many languages do you speak?
6 or 8.
Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, 
French, Japanese, Spanish
Favourite movie of all time?
Fifth Element
Luc Besson.
Beach or mountain vacation?
Being a little cancer crab,
it'll have to be the beach.
I love the ocean!

Most memorable journey?
My first backpacking trip -
Southern China 
Hong Kong.
Then a flight to Katmandu
onto India...
Darjeeling, Sikkim, Calcutta,Jaipur,Agra
up to Leh, Ladakh to Kashmir
then to Amritsar
before crossing into Pakistan.
Did the beautiful Hunza Valley
crossed the Khunjerab pass
into western China.
After that,a flight to Beijing 
the one week long
TransSiberian train ride to Moscow.
Ending in Leningrad
before heading home to
Helsinki !!!
Erlend Kjellstad
has been there,
seen that
tasted the good life.
is a man who has accomplished much.
Widely travel 
terribly articulate
while possessing
a curious
has brought him thus far.
And his journey,
I gather,
is only half begun.
You can't reinvent the wheel
 seeing it from a different
angle is what sets us
apart from the herd.
has this capacity.
His viewpoints,
in our many conversations,
are loaded heavy
with extraordinary
As we parted
I strolled back to the hotel in the
West End
on this rather balmy night,
I felt energized.
And refreshed.
Being around positive people

"The Four Characteristics Of Humanism
Curiosity, A Free Mind, Belief In Good Taste
Belief In The Human Race".

E. M. Forster

Friday, 16 August 2013

Oslo...Late Summer Dinner In An Enchanted Garden

Summer in Oslo 
is beautiful.
Long days and short nights.
Warm but not hot with clear blue sky
 the entire city is 
out & about.
Flowers bloom everywhere, reaching to
the heavens in all their colorful
Even the city looks
  green & energized.
While the Oslo fjord is
a brilliant inviting blue,
sail boats in all sizes cruise by
the precious weather
is never taken for granted.
The truth of the matter is...
a good thing is never enough!
Recently on one such day,
our good friend
Bjorn Lapstun
invited us for dinner at his
communal garden,
right in the 
heart of the city.
The 30 minute walk 
along the 
a charming river that was used for 
various purposes during
the Industrial period,
was totally picture-perfect.
Wild ducks floating on the clear water,
illuminated with shafts of sunlight
seeping through the trees above,
gave the impression of 
the "joys" of 
the season.
Although the invitation was for 
 the day was not lost.
This was after all summer.
The sun was still bright
 as the photos show,
the sky was a tempting 
shade of blue.
A communal garden,
as the name suggests,
is run by a collective of different owners,
on a lease-hold basis.
It was devised more than a 
hundred years ago,
primarily for the working class.
It provided an opportunity to enjoy
the wonders of gardening 
to escape from the confined
quarters of urban living.
While it gave the populace a
chance to work with the
these projects also put
food on the table.
Parcels of land was set aside.
it's extremely trendy to
own such gardens
the waiting list is rumored to be in the hundreds!
There are many such plots all over 
Fortunately they were never built upon.
This one is called
has 60 parcels within
20,000 square metres.
Each with it's own distinct
look & feel.
you cultivate it according 
to your own 
whim & fancy.
you're only limited to your own
This is our host for the day...
Bjorn Lapstun.
And our 
meal was only minutes away.
All around us, 
we were surrounded by
fruit, vegetables 
flowing in abundance.
Busy bees everywhere,
ecstatically from
flower to flower, drunk with joy.
This place is precious
such an experience...priceless!

The table all set & ready!
While our host was busy
grilling over hot coal,
we ventured around taking in the
beauty of this "paradise-like"
The plots spill over onto each other
without any fencing.
Everywhere you look,
juicy apples, pears, cherries & plums hung
while wild raspberries & red currants
suspended in delicious clusters on delicate vines.
Flowers large & small,
added that burst of color.
 The land was full indeed!
Greetings all around!
As we wandered between the gorgeous plots,
each neighbor eager to show off
the bounty of their handiwork,
invited us over.
Home made marmalade 
squash & ginger!
An unusual & tasty
combination which was a perfect complement
to our meal.
Christian Sommerfelt & Gunnar Fon
enjoying chilled white wine
under the Norwegian sun.
Fish wrapped in foil
with garlic potatoes warming above.
Bjorn is a clever & innovative chef!
There's always an unusual twist to his
Sweet plums ready for the plucking.
Since there's so much of everything,
you're invited to taste as much
as possible.
Many fruits will eventually end up as jam.
A photo of Christian Sommerfelt
cutting vegetables
from the plot in the quickest way possible!
All grown within arms reach.
We sat down for dinner in a manner as
civilized as one possibly could in such a setting.
Little else was required in terms of props.
We were literally surrounded by
lush fragrant vegetation
in the most intense green!

Flowers in all shapes & colors 
made it
 magical & alluring.
I firmly believe the happiest moments
are invariably the simplest!
A group of friends enjoying
good weather
farm fresh produce...tough to beat!
Gunnar, Morten, Bjorn & Jacob
amidst the lush beautiful garden.
Potatoes from the land awaiting consumption.
Organic at it's best!
The first course was grilled scallops
on a bed of squash,
drizzled with a home-made
light orange balsamic sauce!
And honey harvested from the hive a few
feet away!
How great is that!
Sitting here with these intense colors as backdrop
far from city interruptions,
we shared summer holiday stories.
This could possibly be the best
meal I've had in the last few months.
Garlic potatoes giving off
the most delicious smell!
The fish was brushed with a light egg wash,

It was then placed over the hot coals 

steam cooked.
 In this manner, it preserved
the moisture,
while retaining the flavors.
tasty & satisfying!
A job done well Bjorn!!!
Dessert was an abundance of fresh red currants served
with vanilla sauce.

The currants exploded with every bite
soothed by the creamy sauce.
In their quest for greatness,
more chefs should return to the basics!
The garden was the perfect setting
for our
excellent dinner party.
There were no prized crystal glasses
nor bone china 
heirloom flatware,
yet this meal was beyond anything
any downtown restaurant could offer.
These establishments are so occupied
with interior decor that
they seemingly forget
that one important point:
the food.
Our late afternoon get together
was a no frills affair.
However, within it's 
simplicity & honesty,
we came away feeling truly
blessed to have enjoyed 
such hospitality.
Bjorn Lapstun
has spent long hours
working on this land
for many years.
His yield is plenty
his generosity 
holds no boundaries.

"Tusen Takk"
for an absolutely
unforgettable experience!

"A Thousand Words
Will Not Leave So
Deep An Impression
As One Deed."

Henrik Ibsen

Monday, 12 August 2013

Marrakech...another one off my bucket list!

The heat engulfed us
the minute we exited
Menara International Airport.
It was as I expected.
Dry & sharp.
Even the month of June is not spared
from the high temperatures of
I've waited many years to travel to
And here I am... in
Standing under the 
North African sky.
The evening air dry,
 with a hint of
The sky, a shade of
dark purple-black
with silhouettes of 
palm trees scattered here & there.
The Adhan call to prayers
added to the exotic atmosphere.
Our driver, a pleasant local chap who
spoke well, was waiting to transfer us
to the cool comfort of our
And beyond that...a holiday adventure worthy
of a magic carpet ride.
That's what I thought...
The short ride to the
was jam
packed with
visual & mental
Everything I've ever read
about this city
came into play.
Once we entered the
which was the old city quarter,
the scene before unfolded,

at once,
the 21 st century slipped away.
The bumpy ride now took

on another form.
A sharp turn here 

a loud honk there,
further enhanced the
unfamiliar scene.
Narrow lanes choked full with
shops & cafes spilling
out onto the streets
already filled to the brim with everything
It's all very
Ali Baba.
Camels, carpets 

Mind you,
all through our week long stay,
Mr Ali Baba 
was nowhere to be seen nor heard.
Instead you get
Youssef, Hassan & Ahmed,
in all 
shades of shady.
Armed with their biggest talent...
smiles blessed 
with good teeth.
This is after all
North Africa.
A totally alien 
frontier even for 
frequent travellers.

I was in 
 with a group
of fearless
who flew in from 
far & wide.
Ruri came in from Tokyo after a 22 hour flight.
Gomi tore herself away
from Shanghai.
Celina & Gordon
in search
for an adventure.
While Karen & I
came in from 
Kuala Lumpur 
Granada, Spain.
6 intrepid thrill seekers
 all set
for an
anything-goes vacation.
As this photo suggests,
our holiday lay
beyond these beautifully forged
sturdy doors,
so to speak.
The promise of adventure
books & beautifully 
photographed magazines,
simply does not prepare you for the
real thing.
Our day starts as 
in any holiday, 
with a 
good breakfast.
The sun already a fiery ball
of intense heat, 
greeted us each morning
on the roof terrace,
where we sipped coffee 
drank freshly squeezed
orange juice.
Under a canopy of what appeared
to be a grass thatched roof,
with white voile curtains to shield
us from the morning glare...we 
contemplate the rust colored roofs of the
Kasbah neighborhood.
It appears to be quiet.
But beyond this,
the ancient city beckons.
The walled
is where most
tourists would hold camp.
It's where most of the action is.
Apparently the 18 souks snake around,
connecting themselves through a myriad
of back lanes
further smaller lanes that
somehow takes you somewhere!
is the fourth largest city in 
Founded in 1062,
the buildings were initially
built in red sandstone 
giving rise to
it's nickname,
Red City.
Legend has it
that the seven patron saints
are entombed here.
This is a photo of 
the main sitting room of our 
I was told that in the old days,
this was the domain
of the master of the house.
I have seen similar weave patterns in
My daily wanderings
through the 
hot & packed
souks, yielded little in terms of purchases.
I guess the fun was in the roaming.
Armed with no maps
guide books,
may be an excellent way to discover 
Fortune favors the bold 
not the foolish.
So beware!
In a place like this,
one has to be on guard at all times!
There are many juice vendors all over the place,
simultaneously calling out to you with
charmless abandon.
Just make sure to tell them you rather have
a glass that's not watered down.
If you've never had a date in your life,
here's your chance!
Stick to the ones that are sold in huge
metal pots as above.
These will not scam you!
They're actually
quite good!
After several days of meandering through
the vast labyrinth that makes up the
market in 
I eventually found my bearings.
This was a blessing.
I could go have mint tea at my favorite
dash to the strip where 
the best shops are.
This is one with a 
from our cooking class.
This lady has been cooking since she was a child.
Under the glaring afternoon
sun on the roof terrace,
we cooked a 
lamb & fish tagine.
It was fun.
But the journey was much better
than the destination,
if you know what I mean.
After 3 hours of kitchen duty,
we sat to savor the fruits of
our labor.
The Ali Ben Yussef Madrasa
was a joy to behold.
Intricately carved stone & wood panels
took you to another time.
This ancient college was founded
in the 14th century.
It's no surprise that
it was the largest in the country.
Visiting this was one of my best moments
in the city.
One unique feature of the
is the central open courtyard
where a water feature
a small pool would
bring cool relief from the heat outside.
It also provides a mental
stimulus to calm us from
the chaos in the streets.
Of all the crafts available,
I found the ceramic plates to be the best.
The trick was to find ones that are
lead free.
The bright colors are a worry.
they look good in any environment.
Anthony Bourdain 
was seen slurping on these snails
in one of his travel shows.
I was tempted but
noticed that the broth
was never brought to
a rolling boil.
Several evenings,
 I circled this vendor
in the hope to summon
up enough courage to partake in
one small bowl.
Finally I decided
that I did not have a travel
show to proof anything!
back in the
I spent my days
wandering & taking in
the scenes as they
For me a good holiday
is to get acquainted with
the local surroundings
 if possible,
sample a little of
daily life.
I did come away with a pair of 
leather babouche slippers.
My only purchase!
Hand made in 
by a family making them for 
several generations.
The fine details sold me!
Since there was so much talk about the
Majorelle Gardens,
we had to go.
This 12 acre green lung
was designed by
Jacques Majorelle
sometime in the 1920's.
Along the way,
Yves Saint Laurent
acquired it.
Now, it's almost a must-see
on the tourist map.
We came, we saw
we left!
The contrast of
old & new
I suppose,
a daily struggle.
As with any developing country,
the transition from one form to another,
as in the law of physics,
are at best 
Not unlike making  
one wrong move and it's spoilt!
I get the feeling they're making
a lot of souffl├ęs here.
Everyday I past this shop 
on my trek home.
Along the way I also
ventured past repetitive kebab vendors,
carpet sellers,
brass smiths
the odd tailor,
in dimly lit confined quarters.
Plowing away at a skill
that was probably handed down
by his father.
These are the artisans that
I truly salute.
Of course in a place like
every corner is a photo
In full color, 

or even 

black & white...
but be wary,
they're tired of
being photographed.
Preserved figs for breakfast anyone?
Another shot of that 
Ali Ben Youssef 
As with any cuisine,
fresh ingredients are crucial
to the outcome of the cooking process.
We were repeatedly
told by the
 French manager of the cooking school
that they have the best!
Smiles before a meal!
I found the cuisine repetitive.
The best meal we had was 
at an establishment ran entirely by women...
Al Fassia.
The roast lamb was mouth-watering!
This country is blessed with an abundance of everything.
Water comes crashing down from the 
Atlas mountains
to keep the fields well irrigated.
There's enough sunshine months
to grow virtually anything.
And since pesticides are expensive,
everything is supposed
to be organic.
Somehow, I have to carefully consider
that logic...
Yes I confess to my nocturnal
return to
Djermaa el Fna.
mother-of-all town squares!
The contrast of this square
from day into night
is mind blowing.
At any given night,
there are several thousand people
crowding here for all kinds of reasons.
Food stalls, steaming with seafood,
lamb stew, chicken this-and that,
& even one stall devoted
entirely to boiled eggs!
Then there's the entertainment ranging
from story tellers 
not forgetting the 
medicine men
nor the water sellers.
They're all here
so should you!
All kinds of small plates of everything!
Very tapas-like meal on
 my final night.
Many foreigners
have come here to set up businesses.
There are many 
foreign run establishment
for your perusal.
This was one such example.
Just make sure to do a bit a of prior research...
being foreign run does not
necessarily mean they
know best.
Sunset over the square
cast a romantic shadow over everything.
The golden glow of light fades 
into darkness in minutes,
hiding all that is 
good & bad.
With night comes 
a cooler relief
but here,
the speed seldom changes. 
It's simply a change in
Life goes on
on comes the show.
My week here has been 
an experience.
Good or bad
I cannot say.
Fortunately I leave with many stories to I may never return.