A pink taxi

A pink taxi

June 30, 2010

Saad Mohseni in the New Yorker

Le Monde is what the Economist recently called "the bible of the French intelligentsia"  and Saad Mohseni has already been interviewed in it many times. I  proudly save each article for him. However, the honors are greater when he is featured in a large piece in the New Yorker. That magazine is literally the cream of the crop!

I will add a single remark to this small introduction, because I cannot compete with a New Yorker journalist. My ten year old predicted this. When my son was asked to play journalists for a school project, he chose to interview his dad's very close friend Saad. I had the opportunity to witness the interview: the interaction between the two was dynamic, the questions answered in Saad's particular style of turning questions  back on to you. My son had done the work of a New Yorker reporter without knowing it! Saad is a true role model.

Here is the link to the piece:


Eternal Student

Have you ever wondered whether you would fail your driving test if you were to take it again?

I used that line when faced with an academic board who wanted to test me on Middle Eastern Studies, even though I'd already earned a PhD in the field. Mental nausea is how I felt the day I squirmed myself out of a situation I got myself into voluntarily.

Many times, and with much regret, people forecast their sweetest desires into a "in my next life I would......". I was lucky (some may not concur with me), to get another chance at my academic life. I was in Geneva, my only child was in school all day,  and the University of Geneva only cost a grand total of 500 swiss francs a year for tuition......so I decided to enroll in that university, at the ripe age of 32, toward earning a second bachelors degree, this time specializing in Art History and Arabic.

At first I thought, ha! Piece of cake! Won't I be studying with kids just out of high school? With no knowledge of Arabic? Hadn't I taken an introductory art history class at Smith College a decade ago and visited every art museum in every city that I had lived in?

However, no sooner had I started the program, I was thrown into amphitheaters with interminable lectures and in seminars where I discovered that my fellow 18 year-old students actually had a very strong basis in art history and history per se, a reflection of the excellence of the Swiss public system.

When I joined the Arabic department and took translation classes, I was summoned to the meet the Chair of the department who said that an obligatory exam in Islamic history would exempt me from classes in that field. I had shown my transcript with no less than 6 years of course work in the field, Phd comprehensive exams and two dissertations. When I told him that it would be like failing my driving license after having it passed it a first time, he was surprisingly convinced and allowed me to skip those exams I so dreaded.
The art history professors, on the other hand, didn't cut me any slack! I had oral exams on medieval art history. I memorized the entire Renaissance period also. And I did pass those exams, albeit with a lot of effort put into them. However, when it came to the essays on these subjects, I was given an insufficient grade and they accused my writing of having a "patchwork feel" to it! They wouldn't listen to my long tale: I had earned my french baccalaureat writing the way they had expected me to do now, but when I had gone to the United States, I had unlearned their method, and picked up the "patchwork" writing system which consists of small paragraphs with topic sentences. I wrote my PHD dissertation in that patchwork fashion and was now failing bachelor degree papers because of a constant educational system switch!

As you can see this persistent patchwork writing style permeates this blog!

PS: I  did finally earn my "demi license", after two years of coursework and exams. I then left for Dubai.

June 29, 2010

He Put a Hat on my Head

My daughter sat in the backseat of my car and cried out: "Where is my snack?"

I had forgotten to provide my five year old with a snack before her Arabic class. I quickly took the exit off Shaikh Zayed Road and found a gas station. I thought it would be simple, that  I would run in to the little mart, buy some Orio cookies and we could go on with our day. I didn't even need gas. Just Orios and a bottle of water.

At the gas station, I looked for a place to park in front of the store. At that moment, a black hummer decided to back out as though he owned the gas station,  quickly and furiously, and bang, he ran striaght into my left side mirror and the entire left side of my Touareg. Without a moment's notice, I took a photo of the Hummer's license plate with my blackberry's camera. I also took a good look at the driver's face  and demeanor and commited them to memory. He'd been talking on the phone, a blackberry no less, and within seconds he was gone.

I was the victim of a hit and run!

I called my father and the police to the rescue. We were told to head to the police station to file a claim for the accident and they seemed pleased that we'd taken his license plate number.  At the police station, they informed us that the driver had also called in, and was on his way. He had left because of a sudden emergency. My father, who had not been witness to the situation, and I, waited patiently.

Finally,  a man I had never seen before walked in toward us. He was dressed in a dishdash. He presented his apologies but left me confused. Granted accidents happen so quickly and the driver had escaped but I didn't recognize him at all. I told my father. I told the police.

"He wasn't wearing a dishdash!

 "I went home and changed", was his answer.

"He was talking on a blackberry. This man is holding a normal phone." I replied.

Everyone laughed. I was identifying him with accessories.

But I remained serious.

I blurted: "He was also heavier."

The man began showing signs of anxiety at that point. The police was listening to me more closely.

In Farsi, the situation translates literally as "he put a hat on my head" (kola ruyeh sarram gozosht) which means he was deceiving me. I had a con artist trying to push his clout and gender advantage over me. He also had believed that I probably wouldn't have been able to differentiate between two Arabs. It turns out that he was the owner of the car and his friend had driven it, backing in to me at the gas station, and he didn't have a valid driving license.

"Taxi drivers" like myself are bound to have these encounters. The story ended with the culprit, his friend, as chubby as I'd remembered him to be, walking in and signing the papers, finally admitting to his culpability.

June 28, 2010

Public Transportation a la Suisse

When we lived in Geneva, we didn't own a car. We lived in the heart of the city. Like New Yorkers, we walked everywhere. Babies in strollers, toddlers on sccoters,  no car seats to worry about.

When we rented a car (for a  skiing  outing or cross European trips), we were always worrying  about the parking, whether it was feeding the meter or moving the car. Car owners in Geneva have to park in centralized areas and walk to their cars anyway.

So we take the bus most everywhere. Taking a bus in Geneva is a truly Swiss experience. Like the newspapers that are stocked in open boxes with small areas for coin dropping, it's all  based on the honor code, and pride in Swiss citzenry. Occasionally, you will get a  surprise check , when all the doors of the bus lock, and inspectors ask everybody to show their tickets. If you get caught not having purchased a ticket you receive a hefty fine and  are publicly embarassed. That is enough of a deterrence for most Genevois. I will admit to have jumped on a tram tickteless a few times  in my entire public transport experience (which began in 1985), but I have luckily never been caught red handed. During my summer stays in Geneva, I take the bus daily and so I have chosen to purchase a monthly membership. My son pays a symbolic 20 swiss francs a year to accompany me and the small ones are still free.

I use the bus to commute to my children's activities. Sometimes, my kids are spread out on both banks of the Lake. My son  takes sailing lessons in Cologny and his siblings are in an art and music day camp in Petit Sacconex, in two opposite parts of Geneva. On any given day, you can see me zoom through my connections, my whole route synchronized to the second. Often a sprint up a hill would close the commute. The buses in Geneva are always reliable and on time. Schedules are posted and respected. Most of the time, the bus conductor is indulgent and will wait for me a few seconds as I run up to his door, stroller in hand.

My eldest son went through a phase when he aspired to become a bus driver and so he would run to the conductor and ask him to press the central open and close button. When he grew out of that stage, he found the free newspapers on the bus that he would read aloud, enumerating football scores or weather forecasts, reminding us to bring our umbrellas for those rainy days. Bus rides are very quiet and solemn moments in Switzerland and his reading would wake us all up and annoy the elderly.

The special part of public transport in Geneva is that it includes some trains and also the water taxis, known as "mouettes", that circumnavigate the bay. My children have  even acquired aspirations to become sailors because they have taken them since a very early age. All this is a nice respite from Shaykh Zayed Road traffic....

June 27, 2010

Promenade with Venet

Bernar Venet "l'artiste le plus important de sa generation"

Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice.

I walked into an art gallery, not far from the Promenade des Anglais, in Nice, one day. I entered a new world, one that resembled the grand Musee de Nice, because all the artists (except for Yves Klein) that were represented there were from the Ecole de Nice (Cesar, Arman, Ben, Sosno, Venet and the youngest of them Moya). And everything was for sale!

A mustashoed man greeted us. Jean Ferrero, the owner of the gallery, is a character! As a photographer, he had encountered Picasso, Leger and Yves Klein in the glorious days of the French Riviera. As a gallerist, he knew all the Ecole de Nice, the late Cesar and his accompanying mistresses, Arman (whom I"d encountered there once) and the rest. Moya, a skinny bespectacled young man used to paint at the gallery, his self portraits in caricature Pinnochio figures. His works were left to dry on an Arman table.

The gallery was a a true Ali Baba cavern, the canvases resting against each other against the walls, or even against a Cesar sculpture. There wasn't a  piece of wall that wasn't covered with the witty play on words by Ben, the successions of paintbrushes, or tubes of paint by Arman,  or the square heads of Sosno.

Ferrero had all his prices memorized, which meant that today's prices were never yesterday's or tomorrow's. In the days of the French Franc he used to convert from old Francs (Francs Anciens) and in the days of the Euro he converted form French Francs.

He later gave away management to a gentleman who dusted up the place, sent Moya to a proper studio and properly curated shows. However, I miss the Ferrero epoch, when I could, on a lucky day, purchase a painting or sculpture at a great deal.

I didn't meet Bernar Venet at Ferrero's gallery. I was introduced to him at Art Dubai. The kind artist gave me his email address and that was when our correspondence began in 2008. I had admired his work two decades before I  had met him. The first sculptures I saw of Venet were monumental ones. A huge single steel arch, almost 180o, in a park in Nice. Another one facing the Nice public library. And in Cap Ferrat, on our walks, I found one in a garden once, and ever since, peer over the walls to steal a glance of its Infinite arc. We also managed to buy our own, a series of arcs, which I lovingly call a bouquet!

I rejoice in finding the scattered Venet's in the world: in Geneva I have found two, and in Beyrouth there is one also. I use the pictures I send to Venet as a pretext to keep in touch. I write to him in French. He invariably answers me in English. I even sent him a photo of the Dubai metro station in construction, its carcass resembling a Venet. These pictures amuse him.

Last summer, my husband and youngest child went on an excursion, in the back areas of Saint Tropez to visit him. A garden of sculptures, a steel bridge made by him over a stream, a hangar-atelier, and an old mill transformed into his private residence with his personal collection of modern art: his colleagues and him had traded, gifted etc. Very charming, not pretentious in the least, Venet was our guide. Promenade with Venet. An art lover's dream.

June 26, 2010

Dubai's Public Beaches

My children are living a retro childhood. They wear Zidane jerseys and cried when Aghassi was defeated in the Dubai ATP in front of our eyes. They listen to Madonna and Depeche Mode. They attended Arabic nurseries when most attend English curriculum nurseries. They got their casts and stitches at the Iranian Hospital. They don't watch cable television at home, unless they have a special night at their grandparents where they also get to enjoy popcorn.

They have open memberships at the Dubai Zoo but they don't have beach club memberships. My children swim at the public beaches of Dubai.

We occasionally go to the Royal Mirage for a dip in the pool. These are rare occurences, because my kids are often busy playing golf on friday,  or  practicing at swim team. We like the Royal Mirage because it gives us the feel of having traveled far and arriving at a destination pool.

But at any random free afternoon or morning, I pack kids, beach toys and towels and head to the public beach. Most of the time, we are lucky to find these beaches with very little people if not empty. We run into the water and sunbathe on towels laid on the sand. We build sand castles and look out for sea creatures. We collect shells and take photos. Sometimes, on half hour breaks between two activities, we run to the beach to smell its air, to watch the sea gulls, to admire the kite surfers, to throw a ball around or to watch the sunset. We never have to worry about paying a hefty price to "enter" or stopping to socialize, as we would have to had we gone to the various beach clubs.

And then we pack up, sandy, half wet, with one thought on our mind: stopping at the closest gas station to buy  some ice cream. We only do that when we go to the beach.

June 25, 2010

Geneva, My Love

My mother had packed for me her hand -me -down winter clothes from the 1960s. It was 1985 and I had never experienced a winter in my life. I didn't own any coats or sweaters. I was heading for my first year at boarding school in Geneva.

I had seen Desperatly Seeking Susan a dozen times the summer before school. I was a total Madonna wannabe, with my black rubber bracelets and my fluoresent nail polish.  I wish I had timed it better and started boarding school when I had been in my Lady Diana phase instead! I was thrust into a boarding school that was preppy to the max, all Ralph Lauren and Faconnable, and my only snow boots were Moon boots!! Seriously, what were my parents thinking?

I was homesick, culture shocked and determined not to give in to peer pressure. I didn't smoke or drink. I read all the time and since my mom thougt walkmans were bad for my ears, I used to walk with a boom box,  blaring Depeche Mode. I tried chanelling all my energy into studying, making up for my many years of daydreaming in Dubai. I was lucky to be seated next to a handsome guy, Alex, in Premiere, or 11th grade, and gradually, my popularity ratings went up in proportion to my grade improvements and I was buddies with the some of the coolest guys (Mark, Tobias). My girlfriends (Dalia, Nawal, Karima) were quite cute too!

But when I graduated three years later with a "bac en poche", I slammed the door, excited for my escape to the USA for college. I never thought I would live in Geneva again. Twelve years later, my husband had a great job offer there and it became my newlywed home. It took me a long time to disassociate Geneva with my boarding school days. I would get on the public bus and my heart would squeeze anxiously remembering the homesickness and stress of preparing for major exams.

However, no sooner did I realize that I had no curfew hours, bad cafeteria food or lonely sundays (Geneva is notoriously quiet on Sundays), I fell in love with the little city. In Switzerland, we lived our own nuclear life, with no family and only a handful of friends. We bonded as a couple and started a family.

Five years later, when my husband made a career move that would take us further back into my own personal trajectory, to Dubai, I held on tight to our island of privacy in Geneva. We made it our secondary home. We spend vacation time there. I drop all my social activities (and even trade my pilates training for walking and swimming) and dedicate 99% of my time to the kids (the other 1% of the time I am catching artsy films, reading French classics and taking a train to an artistic destination).

Geneva, my love. An oasis of Swiss tranquility.

June 24, 2010


Mona Hatoum, "Nature Morte aux Grenades"

Why was I thinking of Mona Hatoum's "Warriors Infinity"?(Toy soldiers, bronzed, lined up in the infinity shape) Why was I thinking of her crystal grenades? Her larger than life worry beads made of real sized cannon balls? I also thought of Chris Martin's ( from Cold Play) lyrics : "Soldiers you must soldier on" ( from "Dreaming of the Osaka sun"). I was in yoga class and I was struggling into a warrior pose. The remainder of the class was also a struggle. It was as though I was kneeling on hot coals.

I was fighting that was why. Fighting those thoughts away, no matter how artistic. Fighting to perform. Isn't every athletic session a performance?

Fighting to concentrate, to focus. The heat wasn't the issue. In the same way I cross a hot parking lot in june in Dubai, I try to think zen and remind myself that sweating has a cooling effect.

It was in my 30s that I learned mastered the art of focusing. I don't think I'd ever even tried before I was taught to. I walked into my favorite pilates studio five years ago with daydreams and shopping lists in my head. I have now managed to eliminate those lists and am left with fleeting thoughts (how can I not when I am told to "pick cherries" or hang in the "hammock"?) I do focus most of the time. I listen to the isntructions given rather than visually copy the instructor. I breathe : inhaling and exhaling, the way I showed my son when we reviewed the respiratory system for his biology test.

I don't make faces anymore, or show the familiar signs of strain. No drama is required in this performance. I minimize unnecessary movements, as they would only distract me. And most of all I focus on relaxing.

In between every yoga pose, we take a savasna or a  rest time. This requires maximal stillness. "Scratch yourself with your mind" says the instructor. If you keep your body and mind still, you can attain relaxation.
The poses are so energetic and the contorsions so excruciating that the in between time is your one chance for recovery. I have learned to take advantage of that moment between two challenging poses, to relax, and to give in to gravity.

In my daily routine, I have also eliminated the unnecessary facial expressions, focused on the listening  and especially the relaxation philosophy. At a red light, I sit back, and relax. I enjoy a musical lyric, I catch a brick of inspiration as I gaze upon an idea. The light turns green, and I return my concentration to driving safely . Between two of my kid's activities, I stop at a Starbucks with an outdated LeMonde issue and "relax" myself into a serious article. At NBar I relax between two pickups, with a manicure and a less serious magazine article.

But the most effective method of relaxation is my quasi daily morning siesta. I take it in the morning because the kids are at school. I can take it at any given time and for any duration that I choose. No sooner am I home, that I lay down on my bed, set my head on the pillow, close my eyes, relax my mind and body. And then I am Out! No reading needed, no tossing. Stillness and the certitude that sleep will follow this method of relaxation.

I could not do this before I became a bikram student. The nap does wonders, the alarm rings after the alloted time is over (ranging from 20 mins to 2 hours) and I am back on my feet, ready for the enjoyable daily challenges, albeit with variable levels of caffeine withdrawls.

The bikram yoga class in its entirety is sandwiched between two rest times: the one before the class when we enter the club with our hydrated bodies and our construed enthusiasm and the one after when we exit, our faces red and flushed, our bodies envigorated. I believe the promise of that relaxation time after class is the true motivation while we are "fighting" inside.

Nine months of "training" have come to a halt now. In Geneva, I will trade yoga mat and pilates reformer for for a pair of swimming goggles for laps and Asics sneakers for walking and cycling. It will be my two months relaxing time before I return once again to Dubai.

June 23, 2010

Blue Heroes

In the wake of its disapointing loss in the World Cup 210, my brother and I feel the need to reassert our support for the French soccer team.  My brother has added some remarks to this entry, but we essentially shared the same views throughout these games.

My eldest son didn't cry tuesday when France was defeated by South Africa. We both had wiped some tears already when they lost against Mexico. He didn't call for "La France" in his sleep as he had when they drew against Uruguay. We were both standing by the screen, almost there on the bench with Thierry Henry, cheering our heroes until the last minute. My brother sat with us during the three games, wearing his vintage Coq Sportif jersey. My youngest son ran around wearing a hand me down Zidane jersey that had belonged to his brother six years ago.When you support a team, you support them through thick and thin, is what we believed throughout the games. Even if  they lose. You recognize their failures, you acknowledge the odds against them and you hold steady. Where is the passion and loyalty otherwise? France reflected their dreams and aspirations on the French team,  and what they got was a reality check: a miror image of themselves.

In the posting "Can I just have one month of cable please?", I attempted to convey the emotional attachment I've had to "Les Bleus" since 1998. While I stick to that memorable year of my marriage, I believe in the recommendation that has been given to the team: "Tuez la mere" (kill the mother) which means they must find a new game, let go of the Oedipus complex and move on from the victorious Zidane. Innovate. That recipe won't work again. The sports commentators should stop referring to '98. Most players on the team are new and did not play in '98.

Take Frank Ribery for example. Example is chosen because we have encountered him twice personally in Dubai, when he trains here with Bayern Munich. My son asked him: "Why do you play with a German team? He simply answered "because they need my help". That same Ribery kindly posed for pictures with my two sons, on two separate occasions, a year apart,  and told my eldest son: "Of course I remember you. Weren't you at X location last year?" Ribery didn't disapoint this World Cup either. He ran up and down the flank, lonely, with no partner to share the ball with, till finally Domenech allowed Henry to join the field.

What the French team did this World Cup was that they colored the sport with drama and tales. Locker room conversations, strikes and personality clashes shone in the headlines.  Perhaps the players inherited that rebelliousness from Zidane. They won't submit passively to bureaucratic authority. The rest of the world calls them "banlieusards" referring to the residential projects they grew up in. What is wrong with that? Their origins, like the favelas of Brazilian players or the gecekondus of Turkish players, gave them their aura. Where did we expect them to come from, private academies?

Therefore, when they are in the locker rooms and faced with head on rigid stubbornness from above, they rebel and they curse like any adult would. I am not questioning the fact that Anelka was suspended after the insult and I am not defending the team for striking in his support (even though we have to grant them team spirit for doing so, when all speak of selfishness and individualism). I can't help but admire their "culot" or nerve. Perhaps pride describes best Anelka's sentiment , as we see him walk out of Domenech's gordian knot, in this photo, head high, with the same stride as Muhammad Ali!‎​​

I love heroes in defeat. Their vulnerability makes them human.

June 22, 2010

A page in history

I am not a direct descendant of Anbara Salaam, but I  like to think I have inherited her philosophy. She was a fleeting person in my  life, but I have precise memories of her. I believe I have been an indirect recipient of her close relationship with her nephew, my father. The picture above is a portrait taken by my father.

Anbara Salaam Khalidi was my father's aunt on both sides. She was his paternal aunt who later married his maternal uncle. She married  my grandmother's brother Ahmad Khalidi, at the late age of 30, a true act of love, and one of bravery for a woman born in the late 19th century.  But she had been even braver by refusing to wear the veil at the early age of 20.

She took it off for the first time in public during a demonstration. She battled for the progress of her gender. This explains my strong stance towards the veil. I cannot regress in history, I must always remind my daughter that her great great aunt was one of the first Lebanese to shed the veil. In my opinion, there are many ways to express one's religious zeal, besides vestimentary ones that impede modern activity.

Anbara Salaam was also a very educated and literary woman. This was the generation of Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras and Yourcenar. These were women who had the confidence to write and verbalize their thoughts. Anbara was their counterpart in Lebanon. She used to correspond with Gibran Khalil Gibran, author of the Prophet. She had literary salons and translated the Odyssey and the Illiad into Arabic.

Albert Hourani, who wrote one of the most book influential books in Middle Eastern Studies: "The History of the Arab People", evokes the importance of Anbara Salaam Khalidi in Lebanese society. The book is a concise and beautifully written account of Arab history from pre-Islamic days uptil the 1970s. His approach to history is subaltern, meaning that history is about the people and not about the rulers. He researches the daily life, atmosphere, social, cultural and economic backgrounds that give all the important historical dates, depth and meaning. If you turn to the chapter entitled "The Age of European Empires, you  will find an entire paragraph dedicated to my aunt. In the words of Hourani, her life "conveys some idea of the foment of change." He credits her with "playing her own part in the emancipation of Arab women." Her story covers only three quarters of a page in a large volume but I am nevertheless eternally proud to live in her shadow.

June 21, 2010

Can we just have one month of cable please?

"This team has the possibility to get over this obstacle with this match. Everything can change for them." Zinedine Zidane (at a News Conference yesterday discussing the upcoming match between France and South Africa on Tuesday)

I have had soccer fever my entire married life which has now been a good 12 years.

Let's rewind to World Cup 1998. I was in the USA then, preparing for my own wedding, with a six hour time zone. I was still  living alone at the time and thus fell into the soccer mania by myself. However, it was on the large screen at my grandfather's house in Sandy, Utah, that the whole family, reunited days before my wedding, watched the final between Brazil and France, half of us cheering for Ronaldo and the other half (I amongst them of course) shedding tears at  Zinedine Zidane's victorious game! I even mentioned him incidentally in my wedding speech.

I was in Geneva for the World Cup 2002, where we  participated with the entire small city and watched games on the large screens set up for the occasion in parks. Our son, a toddler then, would run around with a ball. The matches were held in the afternoon, in daylight because they were played in Japan.

By the time it was World Cup 2006,we had settled into a life in Dubai. Our LG plasma TV crashed one day in the middle of a game. We ran to the store that night in haste, purchasing a new flat screen (a Sony this time),  and luckily for us it happened to coincide with the Dubai shopping festival. As a side note, we don't have cable. We don't watch TV at home. We only owned a handful of educational dvds for the kids at the time (Sound of Music, Baby Einstein). Mostly, we were trying to set a good example for our kids so they choose to play, do sports or read instead. But for the World Cup, we decided to treat ourselves. We purchased the box, the cable, and all the bells and whistles.

That same summer, I was set to deliver my third child in Geneva, and so I spent the remaining world cup days with my six year old, who was decked from head to toe (golden soccer shoes included) in Zidane attire, watching matches. The French team with our favorite players Zidane, Ribery and Henry made it to the finals.....and we witnessed the final minutes with Zidane performing his historical head butt. We have since not forgiven the Italian team for their bullying.

We have now reached WorldCup 2010, and our four year old son isn't called Zinedine as some of us had wanted, but the soccer fever lives, with particular support to France. I have allowed my 6th grader to watch all the matches, even the late night ones. I tell him that in 4 years he won't have that opportunityto do so, preparing for his official Brevet exams.... But somehow the baccalaureat exams will be for 2017 so he has lucked out.....

PS. "La France a perdu une bataille! Mais la France n'a pas perdu la guerre!" I think General deGaulle's citation is applicable to the French football conundrum today. I wish the Bleus all the best of luck for tuesday. I hope the Mexico-Uruguay game will have a winner too, so the points can even out for our beloved Blue team. It is simply too early for the French to go home. Nicolas Sarkozy, have you given your two cents (or rather centimes) yet to Raymond Domenech?

June 20, 2010

A French Woman...


....Like the ones you don't want to bump into at a bank, a boulangerie, in a car, or topless on the beach! A French woman of that type was sitting on the low wall of the school. She is a teacher and she was crunching an apple.

That piece of wall happens to be my youngest son's favorite play area. It is shaded and fun to climb onto and  jump off from. In the mornings, my daughter and him take turns sitting on my lap there, before the gates open and the Emirati anthem plays.

And so he went to the regular section of the wall and found her there. When I turned my head, they were locking horns. I am acquainted with her, so I addressed her,  as the adult, and gave her the benefit of the doubt as I always do with my crazy kids. It was a particularly hot day and we were all a little distraught.

- "I see you are in full conversation with my naughty child", I smiled understandingly.
She crunched her apple.

- "He said he wants to pass by, but I told him I would really rather not move", she explained.

I laughed to loosen the air. Then, I told him:

- "Do you know this lady is a teacher here? That you shouldn't be climbing the wall?"

He ignored me. As though I hadn't interfered, he continued to say:

- "Je veux passer!" (I want to pass)

I grabbed his little arm and we walked away. By then I  had found my other kids, loosened my grab on him and began walking to the car.

My youngest then freed himself of my grip and ran, all the way back to the wall where the French woman was still enjoying her apple. With his finger he warned her:

- "I am not your friend!"

The teacher lit a cigarette in the parking lot as we waved goodbye from our car.

Tout ce que j'ai appris, je l'ai appris en Cours Moyen

Mon fils aine est passe en 6eme! Je peux affirmer pour lui, que tout ce qu'il aurait appris, il l'aurait appris en Cours Moyen.

Suis-je en train de faire reference, inconsciemment, a ma propre experience? J'ai garde des souvenirs flous, mais de bons souvenirs tout de meme. Pendant 2 ans, j'ai eu Madame Garnier. Institutrice d'un certain age ou plutot d'un age indifini. Aux cheveux grisonnants eta la main tremblante. Elle etait severe sans jamais hausser la voix. Peut etre etait elle intimidante? Elle faisait l'instruction a l'ancienne. Elle exigeait soin et diligence. On avait des cahiers avec des protege cahiers de couleurs differentes pour chaque fonction. Les cahiers de controle etaient jaunes! Nous ecrivions tous a la plume et nos stylos verts servaient a la correction et les rouges pour souligner. Nous devions compter les carreaux et sauter le nombre exact de lignes consciencieusement. J'en garde jusqu'aujourdhui ces habitudes! Pour la poesie et les lecons apprises par coeur, on recitait debout, devant son bureau et toute la classe. Pendant les problemes de maths ou de grammaire ou apres les dictees, elle passait derriere nous, et corrigeait au stylo rouge avec ses doigts encore poussiereux de craie. Nous etions notes pour TOUT, et sur 10. Chaque notation avait son tres bien, assez bien, et meme mediocre.

Les temps ont certainement change et  depuis mon fils a termine ses annees de cours moyen. En temps que mere et en toute lucidite, je l'ai vu grandir comme grandissent ineluctablement tous les enfants. Je l'ai vu aussi murir, que ce soit sous l'autorite de M. Bouchouck ou sous le partenariat de Mme Ferrier et Mme Mas. Chacun l'a pris a part, a reconnu ses faiblesses, a apprecie son exuberance et a faconne sa personnalite. Pas a pas, reunion apres reunion, remarque apres remarque, recompense ou chantage, ils l'ont mene vers sa maturite. Quelle patience et quel epuisement! Mon fils leur a souvent parle a coeur ouvert. Je ne doute pas qu'il les a apprecie autant et que, de son cote, il aurait deja tout appris au Cours Moyen. Ses souvenirs surtout resisteront au temps, comme ceux que je garde de Mme Garnier.

Culmination de tous les efforts: le spectacle de fin d'annee des CM2 a ete magnifique, pour ne pas dire spectaculaire. Des sketches sur les "mauvaises notes", des poemes ecrits par les eleves sur leur environment desertique,  et enfin une piece dramatique avec princes, jardiniers, et diables! M.Rubio, un maitre surdoue avait meme cree une animation sur video avec croquis d'eleves, personnages faites en pate a modeler et voix d'enfants lisant un texte habilement redige. M. Rubio avait aussi filme leur voyage vert a Dibba pour conserver a tout jamais des vacances vraiment Petit Nicolas!

Les eleves se sont ils inspires de Sempe (Petit Nicolas), de Niki de Saint Phall, et d'Antoine de Saint Exupery ou bien serait-ce ces artistes qui faisaient plutot reverence, dans leurs chef-d 'oeuvres respectifs, a leurs plus belles annees, celles du Cours Moyen?

June 19, 2010

Gardens of Dubai

Do you notice the greenery around you when you drive the streets of Dubai? Do you see the armies of gardeners toiling in the hot sun, for the pleasure of our eyes? Do you gaze at the straight interminable row of palm trees that shade our roads? The flowerbeds that decorate  our remaining rotaries which are being replaced by equally flowered sophisticated interchanges?

During my childhood, when Aweer was a royal oasis that I sometimes frequented to visit the tigers there, I thought one of my relatives was a "royal gardener" because he was working on the project of landscaping the royal palace gardens of Dubai.

The Iranian hospitals of Dubai and Fujeirah that my grandfather founded had their large gardens too. We used to play on their grounds. In fact, and many still remember, I was being chased by my cousin in Fujeirah when I decided
to squeeze myself between two columns, when I got stuck, well my head did. (They literally buttered my head out of there, the hordes of nurses in their whites).

Today, in 2010, there remain the old gardens of Dubai, namely the Aviation club garden, with its pond, and my preferred dragon flies accompanying me to the gym.

There is also AlNaser club, in OudMetha, with the AlNaser Leisurland up front and the very large gymnaseum further down. My children attend the school that has grown in those old gardens. I drop them off daily there, mother duck with her three ducklings and they metamorphose into gentle sheep following their shepard teachers, in neat rows.

Today, we especially enjoy the sophisticated gardens that surround the Emirates Towers and their esplanade. Our kids join the neighborhood kids (children that live in our high tower) and run by the waterfall, climb the big rocks and take their shortcuts behind hedges.

Dubai, city of gardens.

June 18, 2010

Charlies Angels

This story has been written by the blogger and her cousin. All people mentioned are real and bear resemblance to true people.

Once upon a time, a doctor and a nurse had ten children. Their first three daughters had a nine children in total. This story is about their three eldest daughters. The Charlie's Angeles were born.

The eldest daughter had a girl with blond locks. The second daughter had a girl with brown locks and the third had one......with RED hair AND freckles! These three girls were born a few years apart and were very close cousins.
The blond lived in Dubai and Geneva, the red head lived in Tehran, Dubai and Walnut Creek, Ca, and the brunette lived in Beijing, Seoul and Utah. They did visit each other and grew up playing paper dolls, barbies and monopoly. They watched Grease, ET and Roger Moore as 007. They called themselves the Charlie's Angeles. They were three girls with three different colored manes.

They joined swim team together in the summers in Utah where all the cousins converged for 3 months of fun in the outdoors and discussed their first crushes... the blond plotted of ways to get the equally blond swim team coach to notice her while the red head and the brunette supported all of her plans unquestioningly even though the red head was secretly in love with Mick Jagger and the brunette faithful to Roger Moore. These were the days of Human League and they took turns lipsyncking "working as a waitress".

During that time, the hierarchy was established...The red head was at the top of the food chain with the blond and the brunette vying for position as second. Being second depended on how many favors were done for the red head and how many times when playing house she got to be mother. At any time, for any reason, the red head would threaten not to speak to her two cousins. Silent treatment was sternly maintained with an introductory: "I'm not your friend anymore."

Most of all they identified with the Charlies Angels, sporting 70s hairdoes , strawberry flavored lip gloss and tube tops. The blond one was the bookish one, the redhead the sporty introspective one and the brunette the dramatic one. Somehow, between the three cousins they managed to make one perfect person. The blond one was sweet and mature, the redhead was evil and cunning and the brunette with the sense of humour just wanted to be left alone to daydream of marring Roger Moore.  When the brunette lived in Dubai for a few years pre-teenage her one memory of her blond cousin was of a blond head bent diligently down doing her homework 24 HOURS A DAY!  The red head lived what the other two thought a very glamorous life in California. Time zapped by and she drove a Volkswagen fox and wore cowboy boots at all times.

In college, the Charlie's Angeles reunited for two spring breaks together, they painted Palm Springs red (slept in the car and ate at Denny's: you think Hangover was funny?) and in Boston (when they weren't out in the boonies at Smith College where they filmed Halloween I, II, II and the Blair Witch Project and Psycho and Silence of the Lambs), they hit the night life with a vengeance and listened ad nauseum to "Loosing My Religion" as it was the blonds favorite song in the whole world. Unfortunately, the blond only socialized with people at MIT and the nightlife consisted of a tour of the library at MIT and sitting in a cerebral café with a bunch of nerds. The red head and the brunette went on to New York while the blond went back to the location where they must have burned witches, happily listening to REM in her Golf.

Today, they are happily married with 9 kids in total ( the brunette had 3 in one go!) and at each wedding, the bride in the middle (with her blond, brown or red locks) and the two Charlie's Angels, on each side, sporting a supportive smile in souvenir photos

June 17, 2010

A Face in Translation

by Shirin Neshat

"Ce regard avec lequel un jour de depart on voudrait emporter le paysage qu'on va quitter pour toujours."

As you all would have learnt by now, one of my main sources of inspiration is my favorite daily newspaper: le Monde. The variety of opinions it offers and the depth of analysis the writers delve into, encourage me to question my own thinking and to raise subjects which I discuss here on my blog. The topics can be as light as the player selection for the FIFA French team, or as serious as the integral veil, as appeared in the issue of May 13, under the penmanship of Yves Simon, a writer I am not acquainted with, but whose prose strung a chord in me and encouraged me to make the followng literal translation of his article for my Anglophone readership. Those francophones who are interested in reading the original version, may  find it  in the Le Monde of May 13, 2010 ( articile entitled "Visage, mappemonde de l'au-dela").

PS:  I have taken the freedom of translating only part of the original article. The Proust quotation was chosen by the author and will thus remain in its original language.

"If faces are our personal property, then each one of them is part of the world's heritage,as representatives of  humanity in its totality. As a result,  these faces cannot subtract themselves from the chain of six billion individuals to whom they belong. Masking them would become an intolerable infringement to the history of women and men.

Faces have the ability to communicate without moving lips. Voiceless they recount a story that comes from afar, a tale of beauty and hideousness, of youth and wrinkles, of enthusiasm and emotion, of worry and joy, embarrassment and even fear. Our faces represent a small offering of one's self on a first encounter with a stranger, be it a powerful face or a miserable one. I offer you my face so that you may discover a little part of me, from where I come, if my tanned skin tells you of ancient suns, if my transparent skin indicates deficient red blood cells, or if I hail from Ireland. My nose speaks to you, my cheeks speak to you, as do my forehead and my chin. They tell of recklessness, good will, worries or indulgences.

Your face tells me just as much. Our two ovals of skin emit to one another an opinion of ourselves. I am my face and you are yours. With our chance encounter, we offer simultaneously to one another our respective images, equally shared, in surprising fraternity.

These faces, which remain buried in our memories, restore the personalities of those deceased. Thus, we frame their portraits, we speak to them and kiss them, we hug them and shed tears just by encountering them at the end of the day, when we return home. We cherish these icons of our lives that restitute
man, woman, or child we loved so dearly.[...] Each face represents a personality's emissary in his entirety, like an angel-messenger who announces, without a word, the good and the bad news. Like an ambassador of our troubles and moods: the face is the person, and it surprises.

Faces are magnets. How we all delight, on the terrace of a cafe, as we watch them stream by us, like at the theater, wondering about the scales of their feelings and their suffocating torments, perhaps a birth, a concern, or a jealousy [...].

Truly, to look into a single face, is to witness humanity entirely...."

These comments, written by Yves Simon, are also a reflection of my opinion. I cannot imagine a more lyrical way to assert my opinion about wearing the integral veil, which conceals the faces of women in my world.
The photograph by Shireen Neshat, a self portrait, was the most symbolic way to illustrate this article. It is all "written" on her face!

June 16, 2010

Eating Granola Bars and Playing with Slinkys in Tehran

My parents have always been avid and seasoned travellers, flying us to various parts of the world  ever since I can remember. I had seen the Great Wall of China, the cherry blossoms of Tokyo, the temples of Seoul, the volcanoes of the Philippines, the grand Pyramids, the oasis of Marrakesh, the hills of Tyrol, the canals of Venice even Juliette's balcony in Verona,  the obvious Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, all  by the time I was 11. But although I am a fourth generation American of Irish-French decent, I had not been to the USA until 1981. I hadn't tasted the authentic American delicacies, nor was I acquainted with American toys, gadgets and cartoons. I  had been living in the Eastern tip of the isolated Arabian Peninsula and didn't even have access to Coca Cola (only Pepsi) at that time. My first McDonald happy meal was devoured in Hong Kong in 1979!

When I found a slinky a few days ago in a toy store in Dubai, and visualized its springy quality, I went back to 1979 when I first discovered my cousin's American toys in Tehran. Although she lived in Iran, she called herself American because she was born in California. I remembered hers was larger than the one I held recently, or perhaps I've simply grown up since.  I used to like how the slinky leaped down the carpeted stairs of her house. She also had a prized Mr Potato Head with all his accessories and of course Play-Doh bursting with color. My mother wasn't as interested in such hip toys as her second sister was. But these playthings, so common in the US were not found in Dubai in the early 80s. Likewise, my cousin's house in Tehran also abounded in what I thought at the time were true delicacies, snacks and treats that her mother had brought back to Pahlavi Iran from her trips to California. I ate my first Nature Valley granola bar at her house, and loved the fact that those bars came in pairs.

In Dubai of the 1980's, Americana was not available nor prized. What we did get, and enjoyed almost just as much were kit kat chocolate bars (also in pairs) and crunchy lion bars. This was of course what the Brits had left behind as their legacy in post-colonial Dubai, along with british schools, range rovers and pubs.

June 15, 2010

Body Worlds

Extraordinary Istanbul! You don't cease to surprise me.

Yesterday my husband and I decided to visit the Istanbul Modern Museum. We had gone expecting to discover the emerging turkish art market and which artists were valued by the curators of the museum. Lacking linguistic prouesse (see the previous entry "Talking Turkish in Boston"), we walked in, and learnt that the museum was showing a visiting exhibition by a German entitled "Body Worlds".

The exhibit began with a controversial sign: "If you care to skip this section, enter room 2". Intrigued, we rushed into the concealed area (without looking for any further information) to find the first chapter of the exhibition: the conception of humans, with a series of embryos, true to size, at each stage of the pregnancy. My husband and I were puzzled. I asked him: "how does the artist make it look so real?" We read the poems all along the way, about youth and aging. I was busy telling him: "I was just talking to you about aging and sports and look at this exhibit!"

That morning, at breakfast, I had asked him : "When do you think we will stop exercising? At what age do you think we will run out of energy or stamina?"

My maternal grandparents had set a good example for me. My grandmother used to actively attend aerobics classes till a decade ago, and she is now in her 80s. Perhaps she stopped because the aerobics fad diminished with the new century, replaced by spinning, yoga and pilates. My grandfather was a tennis player, hiker and skier till the late age of seventy five or so. He always sported a good set of abdominals and showed off his muscular biceps.

My parents' walk daily and almost religiously.  In France, they walk along the Cote d'Azur, enjoying hidden promenades and pathways as they gaze at the beautiful Mediterranean. In Dubai, they circumvent Safa park with the many city dwellers, afectionados of the soft padded course.
My maternal aunts and uncles have always been role models for me: polo players, fencers, yogis, runners and kite surfers. When will they drop mallet, dumbells, heavy kite and yoga mat? I say yoga mat last because one can live to be 100 years old and still practice yoga.

At the Istanbul Modern Museum, we stood in front of an equestrian "sculpture", only that the rider and his horse where skinless, hairless, all their guts and muscles and bones out. I t wasn't a gory site, nor a sinister one. As we were told it was art we looked upon it with the reverence of any object that makes it to the sacred museum. The explanations around the exhibit were poetic, lyrical, philisophical and sometimes even sermon like: "Don't smoke or sit in the sun, it accelerates aging". It was a celebration of life and living in the healthiest way possible. We walked around the human structures and I was amazed at how realistic all this art felt. Back at the hotel, I looked into the exhibit further. I felt deep inside that something wasn't quite right. That is when I found out that  we had not been to an art exhibit after all. We had viewed the strange  "Body Worlds" exhibit made famous by the controversial Gunter vonHagen and the science of plastination. The website for "Body Worlds" explains the process well:

"A process at the interface of the medical discipline of anatomy and modern polymer chemistry, Plastination makes it possible to preserve individual tissues and organs that have been removed from the body of the deceased as well as the entire body itself..........

My husband returned to find me pale and was shocked to hear that we had spent a good hour of our morning with corpses!  We had rushed into the first room and hadn't seen the  first explanatory pannel which would have explained the whole exhibit to us!

Despite our shock, the exhibition turned out to be an interesting one for us. In light of our earlier conversation about exercising and health, it seems we came full circle and  we were reminded of what we already know. That we should all invest in sports for the long term. I swim laps diligently - if I accumulated swimming miles through pregnancies, I think I will do it through old age. Granted I practice yoga in a hot room and haven't seen anyone above the age of 60 at our club in Dubai, but I could practice another form of yoga in 20 years. I also play golf and get mocked for playing a "geriatric's game".

Golf is in my blood: it skipped a generation with my father, but his cousins and siblings play it, and so do my children. At least I will have a sport I can play in my retirement. And to top it all, I am passionate about pilates: 5 years now! I have discovered a sport and philosophy that goes beyond the expected core strength building. While grasping the anatomical vocabulary, I have discovered the maintenance of the health of the sacred spine. I am learning to build a stronger body from the inside for my older days. The "Body Worlds" exhibit, in all its strangeness, was an apt encouragement and a reminder for all of us that our bodies are sacred and that we must maintain them.

Missed Opportunities (for Art Basel visitors)

Sometimes you just miss the boat. In art that is. You walk into an art gallery and you leave empty handed. You dismiss the art, or the price of the art, or the need to buy more art.

- At Third line, circa 2005, you say "Mohsheri painted antiquated jugs, and now these numerals?" Today, you regret that you didn't buy Mohshri's work before he went bling on us, swarovsky, cake icing and Hello Kitty!

- You see a "Blood Line" chinese painting (father, mother and only child in the center) at ArtBasel in 2001 for the price of 20k. You think: "I could buy a fancy car for that price!"

- You remember calling your father in 1994 and urging him to buy a Roy Liechenstein (while the artist was  still waking up every morning in his Soho stuido and painting) at 100k because there was a show at the Whitney and how much more convincing is that? But the inevitable answer was: "I could buy a penthouse in New York for that price "(that was in 1994).

- You take a millionaire by the hand at Art Paris, you show him a Chagall depicting those famous wedding scenes, with bride and groom floating over the mountain village of Saint Paul de Vence and a still life bouquet in the foreground, with a provenance of  the Chagall family. The millionaire shakes his head and answers: "I could buy a penthouse in Dubai for 2 million dollars" (that was in 2007).

But sometimes you don't miss the opportunity. You try your luck and bid for a Ghada Amr at a Christies auction in Dubai. You raise your arm at the reserve price, turn around with your raised paddle to see who is trying to outbid you, but somehow you are the only one interested. And that is when you return home with a forest scape by Ghada Amr at an amazing bargain. Pure serendipity.

June 14, 2010

Speaking Turkish in Boston

My trip started in 1993 in Cambridge, Mass. I begged my boyfriend (now turned husband) to take a full year course of intensive Turkish with me. He resisted, resisted, resisted and .....gave in. "Come on", I told him, "we've both taken Arabic and Farsi. Turkish is a just a combination of both languages!"

Boy, was I wrong.

Turkish is more akin to German, with syllables attached in interminable words full of irregularities and grammatical complications. PURE TORTURE! Homework was torture, classes were torture, the EXAM was torture. It was a final exam that lasted three hours, twenty pages long with a hundred tricky questions. Lukily, we both passed. After which time we began the  surprisingly rapid process of forgetting what we'd so laboriously learnt and crammed in for a year, as though it was necessary to get rid of our "post traumatic stress".

With only remnants of the language left , I traveled to Istanbul for the first time in the winter of 2001, accompanying my husband on his business trip. My other tourist companion was my six month old first born (I remember because I was mashing bananas for him at the hotel). It was rainy, the stroller broke on the cobbled streets and despite all the sight seeing, I kept a negative feeling from my trip to Turkey.

But now I have given it a chance again, on a honeymoon alone with my husband to attend a wedding. Barely had I arrived that I put on my dancing shoes, went on a prelude boat ride on the Bospherous, and enjoyed the spring air. The rave began when we arrived at Reina, an outdoor night club on the Bospherous. Red lamps and genuine wooden parquet, tables with plush toweled cushionned benches. The high life I must say! have you ever been served cherries and watermelon at a night club?

The DJ put the music on and we all went into a TRANCE! He spun and we danced, we danced and he spun. Mesmerized, I was high on the single red bull I drank. The music was controlling. We couldn't stop. Eventually, I ran up the stairs to meet the fabulous DJ who had turned us into raving dervishes. I complimented him, got the name of a song  (see below link by Stromae) and we danced some more. It was only 4 am.....

Fly Swiss

I have been told to compare before making a judgment, before confirming an opinion.

I flew Emirates and I can now make my comparisons. I always fly Swiss. I have been flying it to near exclusivity for 25 years. Sometimes, and rarely, the destination gets me jolted into a non familiar airline and Emirates is one of them.

Don't point accusatory fingers at me and call me pretentious. I am an economy fare passenger so I compare third class cabins to each other.

Enter the plane and the design is Swiss and subdued. The overriding theme is H2O, served in small chic Henniez bottles, and then in constant glass servings. The brand names of juices are predictably Granini. The food products are Swiss because the catering is always swiss (no Abella food catering).

The food is served, in silence and style, on designed trays, with designed plates and cutlery. Now I am not a captive audience to plane food and I don't eat except the cold: the swiss cheese, perhaps the salad and yogurt. However, I succumb to the the Swiss chocolate that is offered plentyfull. Ok, we don't have a selection of movies, perhaps only three, but we get Movenpick ice cream on waffle cones to entertain us longer.

And when we land in Zurich, and we walk the best designed airport of the world, all simplified to the minimalist concrete and glass that I prefer, I applaud my choice to have faithfully, albeit stubornly selected Swiss.

PS Notice that I didn't criticize Emirates Airlines, but what Swiss has, it doesn't (neither have the other airlines).

June 13, 2010

Rousseau at Brokeback Mountain

My son has an oral presentation on the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau to prepare. We have decided to research his relation with Nature.

Ever since we have started the research, and I have had to decipher the philosophy of Rousseau all over again ( in order to explain it to my son), all I can visualize is the movie "Brokeback Mountain"' and it's landscapes, those I saw when I visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Rousseau should have witnessed this Marlboro country, he who preferred unadultered botany to sophisticated French gardens. Indeed, the Alps and the surrounding Geneva area (where Rousseau was born), have landscapes of inexplicable beauty, but they seem tamed, not wild as Rousseau wanted them to be. At least Thoreau was closer to that ideal, as he sought isolation on Walden Pond. I have been to Walden Pond, not far from Boston. I have swam there and walked the paths surrounding the now very busy popular summer hangout. Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Romantic, desired above all to be left alone (or with his love), surrounded by Nature. Its beauty represented God to him, the ultimate goal. LeCorbusier, in his final days, had also retreated to Nature. He, the master architect, created his own cabin, which can still be found, perched on the heights of CapMartin (in the South of France), overlooking the blue bay, hidden in the pine forest. The architect drowned in that bay.

We frequently visualize Nature to colour our urban lifestyles. When I am told to "stand under the waterfall of gravity" in bikram yoga, my mind's eye can't help seeing and feeling those waterfalls of our childhood, those rare moments of bliss in the wildest nature. I had experienced that in Utah, where my grandfather would take us for a short hike in the surrounding mountains and then we would hear the waterfalls before we saw them, we would run to it, but hesitantly, gauging its strength, and especially its freezing temperature. (Yes those memories do strike me in a bikram studio). If it wasn't a waterfall, it was a stream. Even the youngest grandchildren participated,  a safety rope tied around their waist, and they were tossed into the running currents of the mountain streams.

Therefore, with all these random experiences to depend on, I tried to explain Nature by Rousseau to my son. If you understood, then I hope he too will grasp it.

June 12, 2010

Matchmaking on rollerblades

Its about time I finally set things straight....

I can boast, yes,  about two things: One of them is meeting my future brother -in -law on roller blades.  The second is that I was the one and only matchmaker in that union! Various versions of the story do exist. Granted he is the brother of a very close friend. But does that fact alone give said close friend credit for thinking up the match? We even have another dear friend who takes credit because he introduced us to "close friend", whose younger brother is now my brother-in-law of 7 years! The chain of stories can keep on going, confusing you all even further.....

Here is the story: It was a summer day in Geneva and as newly weds, my husband and I decide to partake in a very romantic activity which consisted of roller blading around the lake of Geneva. My husband got a phone call from said close friend who happened to be on the other side of the lake with his brother who was visiting from New York, wondering if we could meet up. We roller bladed there and reached a group of guys. I was introduced, and casually I asked: "So where is your bro?" There were no two guys in the group that had any family semblance to one another. It was then  that I was acquainted to my brother- in -law- to -be, and reacquainted again (this time without roller blades) at our favorite chocolate cake cafe.

It was around that single piece of chocolate fondant and three forks, that my husband, future brother-in-law and I, shared a moment which turned into a realization for me . When the gentleman went to the washroom, I elbowed my husband. This gesture of elbowing was more important than what I said later because the
idea had formed with that gesture: "He would be so great for my sister!"

And the rest is history...

I will take this opportunity to wish my dear brother -in -law a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY today!

P.S. I think my matchmaking role should clearly be acknowledged by now!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

June 11, 2010


"Il etait une fois un petit garcon
qui s'appellait Rashad
Ce fameux garcon
 Vivait au Liban pendant la guerre
   Dans des conditions miserables
Il entendait chaque seconde une bombe
Des pistolets en train de chanter
 Et ses vitres en train de se casser."

 A poem by Rashad Serhan

This is the photograph of a news reel, by the artist Fouad Khoury. I bought it on a whim. It hangs in a corridor where my eyes meet it daily. During my childhood, my eyes witnessed the same news reel.

In the 1980s, I grew up watching the news of bombardments in Beyrouth from afar. The news was often in Arabic and the names of  neighborhoods like Daamour and Ramlat Al Bayda still resonate in my mind. Most particularily, I remember the TV screen in Beyrouth itself, with my grandmother, Teta Um Hani, watching attentively, quietly, routinely. Her dinner would be set on a wooden trolley (like a restaurant one, on wheels). The trolley was laden with the simple mezzes she liked for dinner, some labneh, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, and grilled halloumi cheese. Or she could be seen knitting away, asking me to come sit close to her. Telling me: "Shoofi ya Teta!"(Look oh grand ma!).

 And always the same images of bombing on the television.

I bought that photo because I still remember the humming of the radio, following those visuals on the TV, and the familiar sound of the news on the radio that my grandmother listened to in bed before falling asleep. She kept it on a very low volume so as not to disturb her grand daughter who was visiting from Dubai and sharing the room with her.

Bling and Fur Vignette

Versace? Try again. Fendi? Close.  Just Cavalli! No not a fashion show (wrong city, that is Paris, London, New York and Milan!)

Close your eyes and you are transported to a Solidere nightclub (in their wildest dreams). Here, my compatriots (the ones with the cedared newly blue passports) come to play in Dubai. Everyone else is related to them somehow. Russians? Same fashion conscience.

You enter through a dark staircase wallpapered with nothing else but black silky fur. It takes you to a high ceilinged room, with a large central restaurant turned club in the wi hours. The furniture is over the top, the ceiling decorated with a million small cristal dangling marbles, the chandeliers are extravagant but turned off when I walk in.

House music, non stop (so much better than eighties nostalgia). But no matter how young I try and try to be, I can't get into the groove. The cadence is tribal, yet repetitive to oblivion. How long can you jam to this? Perhaps I lack "the joie de vivre" of my fellow countrymen. Exit. I must exit.....

June 10, 2010


 I have received a windfall of letters which tell me that you have read my entries and those special comments that have given my blog a three dimensional character.You are all supporters: some with single entries, others with multiple or daily ones. They all count the same. They represent your participation. My family, which still comprises the largest percent of the regular readership, either applauds me (to the point of embarrassment) or teases me (to the point of embarrassment). My direct family has all participated except for my mom who doesn't have access to a computer and receives all blogs in hard copy and my husband who reads and argues the blogs LIVE.

So far, the comments are never disagreements. The subject matters don't lend to ferocious arguments. There is always a person who has his/her own interesting or funny story, his/her additional detail, his/her "oh yes I was there!" certifying the authenticity of the tale. There are even commentators that have their own dialogues with each other!

What happens in annex is worth noting too: I got a book club offer from a reader who read one of the Prix Goncourts mentioned in the blog in less than 4hours (I timed the person). Now who thinks I was reasonable enough to refuse? I got bikram yoga emails that spiraled into a cacophony of hysterical remarks.

In addition, did you know that I wrote two entries that were rejected by the editorial board? They were deemed to be controversial. I did fight for their entry, sharing with more participants of the board, but that only gave me intellectual over stimulation and I rapidly became tired of the subject matter myself.

One reader sent me no less than five answers to a single topic, regarding the meaning of the word "blasphemous!"

Thank you commentators!

June 9, 2010

To travel with Le Monde (In the Footsteps of Clotilde Reiss)

It was April 1998. While reading Le Monde before a siesta, I jump out of bed and rush to my parents's bedroom, who I was visiting in Dubai from Boston.

- "Will you, oh will you sponsor this trip?"

I was brandishing Le Monde and had folded it to reveal my discovery.

A trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran!

I had not been back since 1979 and was left with sepia memories and recent academic collectibles throughout my Masters degree. Moreover I had studied the Farsi language (which before I only had an ear for) for two full intensive years in university and could now write a letter or memorize Saadi and Hafez!

My parents were more than supportive and even sent my elder brother with me. We would travel in May (just two months before I got married in Salt Lake City) accompanied by ...... a dream come true: the actual journalists of Le Monde.

We boarded a chartered plane into Tehran, exclusively accompanied by fanatical readers like myself (my brother feared it was a cult when he saw so many identical opened newspapers on the plane). We traveled with this French group for a week, bus rides, internal flights.

We revisited Tehran the Islamic but most important Tehran the political (met parliamentarians, influential women in politics, university professors).  The doors of the imperial Pahlavi palace in Niaravan, once forbidden, were open wide, exhibiting a strangely bourgeois home (and not a palace), with its drawers open, its furniture upset (had the inhabitants suddenly?) asthough someone a thief had broken in. We were the guests at the French Embassy with its fantastic "salle des mirroirs" (but done in the Persian fashion, like Monir Farmanfarmayan's art work). I thus know today where Clotilde Reiss, the French hostage remained under house arrest at the embassy.

We were driven to Qom to visit the shrine of Khomeiny and to meet Ayatollah Shirazi (today deceased), an experience I had only read about in The Mantle of the Prophet (Roy Mottahedeh) and in Among the Believers (VS Naipul).

In Shiraz, we visited the tomb of Hafez, the Persian gardens of Ferdowsi, the remains of Persepolis and the university that once was American and that had been started by my grandfather, Dr. AbuTorab Mehra (I later made a summary for him, to tell him his works survives). Shiraz the city of childhood of my mother! The cradle of Iranian history.
Magically, last was Isphahan, its blue domed mosques, its bazaar replete with antiquities, its own Puente Vecchio. The Florence of the Middle East, the cultural center of Iran (and perhaps the region).

We traveled with chain smoking Mona Naim, the Lebanese journalist whose French was frencher than the French.  I was star struck, surprisingly shy and didn't interact or stalk her much. Later, after the trip, I could put a face behind the reportages on Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Today I score Le Monde, very very carefully, for another trip. One with a unique destination like Iran: ( I had wanted Iraq of Saddam),Central Asia, Libya, Jerusalem or wouldn't discovering Afghanistan for the first time with my favorite French journalists be the best introduction?

June 8, 2010

Halloween Parties and Stage Fright...

I took my two older kids today to their violin concert at the American school in Jumeirah. No sooner had I stepped into the campus, that a wind of memories came upon me.

When we moved to Dubai in 1975, we lived in a 3 bedroom colonialist style single story white villa near the zoo. So close, we could hear the lions roar. In 1975, the Jumeira neighborhood was intimate and we could walk to the beach from our house, with a simple two-way beach road to cross (before The  Bin Laden's construction group doubled it). Sometimes, on the beach, we waved at helicopters in the sky, which at the time, could  even land on the beach or on another patch of sand not too far from our house. I took my first helicopter ride when I was 5!

At a walking (or biking) distance from the house, was the American school. Ironically, we attended the French school, at the other end of the world, in Sharjah. But the American school campus served as our playground. We would swing on their monkey bars, ride bikes around the school,  play hide and go seek. There wasn't any Safa park in those days (that didn't happen till 1980).

The American school also had one of the two tennis courts in the whole city (the other one was at  the AlBoustan hotel). My grandfather used to play at the court that was available. Proximity wasn't the issue: either would be a ten minute ride. Everything was  ten minutes away, except for Sharjah which was 30 mins away by car.

When I walked onto the campus of the American school today, I did think of the playgrounds, and the tennis court and even of the Wizard of Oz school play which I watched in the inside air conditioned gymnasium (wow! They had an indoor gym). But what I did remember most of all were their Halloween parties, with the entire neighborhood participating (no bunkered school in those days with security guards and cameras). Those were scarrrrrrrrry Halloween parties they threw. Ghosts, witches, vampires and the weirdest things, like bodies being dismembered and screaming, and even a haunted train. Those images followed us in our wildest nightmares.

But today, my 5 year old daughter only got stage freight when I handed her the violin and bow and pushed her onto the stage. She refused, cried, and kept saying: "I need to practice". I took her then to the far end of the auditorium, so those playing their pieces on stage wouldn't hear her, and her older brother showed her strings. It was very hot at 4pm and her crying just made her face redder. Finally, convinced of her own capacities, she moved onto the stage and played her partition in front of the whole room. Her brother's turn came after hers, at which point, relieved she could actually enjoy the moaning melancholic sounds of the

I did promise her a doll (you go up there and you get a doll!) so we later drove on the Beach Road to the original store of Magrudis, another old institution of Dubai (where I did my first and last shop lifting experiment with a small bouncy ball my mom had made me return with much repentance, but that is for another entry!).

June 7, 2010

La Cote d'Azur Artistique

Why do we all  think of the Cote d'Azur as a hot spot beach resort with clubbing, gambling, ostentatious wedding parties or luxurious honeymoons? Its so much more than that!

In the summer of 1992 I bought a travel book from the States and packed it with my new JCrew swim suits and my (oh gosh how embarrassing!) Moschino outfits for my annual trip to our summer home in the South of France. I had long since learned not to say the South, which was a chichi way to refer to it in the eighties. My parents had bought a house there in 1984.

So, eight summers later, I finally intended to discover this beyond beautiful area of the world.  Book in hand, I bossed my whole family into car drives around the region (and sometimes tiring train rides!)

Now my parents did have the gastronomical green Michelin books, with their tiny print on quasi silk paper thin pages. But they had been busy renovating the house, lounging by the pool and enjoying the yuppie lifestyle of the 1980s.  And I had been coaching my poor siblings SATs and helping them fill college applications for many summers.

American tourist book in hand, we followed easy instructions diligently. We discovered walking paths in Cap Ferrat and Antibes, we admired the back country and the Alps, we went on excursions to medieval villages. Furthermore, what we unveiled that summer was the artistic side of the South of France.

There are at least two dozen art museums on the coast from Saint Tropez to Monaco. The reason is that this beautiful area of the world attracted the artists who came to paint its landscapes: Picasso is the most famous (museum in Antibes), but also Matisse (museum in Cimiez, Nice), Chagall (Nice), Renoir (Cagnes sur Mer), Leger (Biot), Picasso ceramics (Valauris), Raoul Duffy (Nice),  Jean Cocteau (Menton), Seurralt (Saint Tropez), leCorbusier (Cap Martin). Not to mention Musee de Nice showcasing their very own School of Nice (Yves Klein, Cesar, Armand, Sosno, Ben and Venet, with special exhibits for Nikki de SaintPhal and Djemel Tatah). We went to these museums in 1996 for the first time but we repeated our visits again and again.

My favorite haven is Saint Paul de Vence. Why do people only go see the boules players or the famous restaurant, la Colombe d'Or? La Colombe d'Or is a  hotel restaurant with an outdoor ceramic large panel by Leger, a giant Cesar thumb marble sculpture at the entrance and a Calder mobile entertaining the swimmers in the green pool. Ah la dolce vita!

At St Paul, there is la Foundation Maegh right next to the round about with the huge steel Calder. You enter the grounds, discover the 1960s architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright inspired, but the materials are more light) and low and behold, the most astonishing collection of Alberto Giacomettis, dispersed in the gardens, on the verandas. If not for the sound of cicadas in the pine trees, you could be at Foundation Bayerl in Basel, in the Swiss Alps (same 60s architecture, same Giacomettis).