A pink taxi

A pink taxi

July 30, 2010

The Swiss Way of Thinking

In this entry, I will indulge in generalizations. This is a non-PC forum, so I will permit myself this freedom. Inasmuch as I have already generalized and romanticized about the French ad nauseum on this blog, as a true francophile, I will move on to the Swiss, who have been historically misunderstood. I hope I will shatter those stereotypes we have of the Swiss in this entry.

Throughout all my years as a student in Geneva, followed by my first years of marriage there and of course my summers "en famille", I have been in indirect contact with Swiss people. The same way you can live in your foreign cocoon in the United Arab Emirates, you can do the same in Switzerland and only have few relations with the citizens of the country.

Geneva is a cosmopolitan city. The international organizations, corporations and finance industry have attracted a large international community. I use the outdated term "international" purposefully instead of "global" as everything is a bit retro in Switzerland, and the international community behave as though they still existed in another decade. The expats of Geneva behave as though they were here on short term, not immersing themselves into the Swiss culture but rather only spending time with one another. For a start, they send their children to "international" schools, their kids not interacting with other Swiss who attend the excellent public schools. There is one exception to that rule. The Spanish and especially Portuguese workforce have truly integrated into the Swiss lifestyle. My support for the Portuguese soccer team during the World Cup stems from my contact with them in Geneva.

Perhaps the expatriate community is intimidated by the Swiss. It is true that the Swiss are conservative. They issue from a Calvinist work ethic reflected into their perfectionist reliability. To purchase an item " Made in Switzerland" carries as much cachet as anything made in France or in Germany, if not more . In order to produce perfection and precision, they sacrifice some romance and creativity, but it is usually worth it.

The Swiss continue to produce top design, a certain state of the art production. They also have an artistic community, but it is small. I can therefore only think of three great Swiss artists of reknown: Hodler, Paul Klee and Giacometti, the latter appearing on the Swiss 100 bills.

I visited MAMCO, the modern and contemporary art museum of Geneva that has received good press for its curator's choices . I wasn't impressed in the least (or I just don't get it). First it should only be called Contemporary because it doesn't have any modern artists. More precisely, it should be called Emerging Art museum because the only reknown Contemporary art I saw was Christo (and a unique piece that made the visit worthwhile: his plan to wrap the Jet d'Eau of Geneva in 1976!) The rest were long corridors replete with small framed works that were hung very closely together, almost like animation. Designed for the viewer to walk by and throw a quick glance that would give a certain impression....perhaps the future of art, more piecemeal, fleeting, like blog writing, more spontaneous.
The MAMCO's attitude towards art is full of humour, definitely rebellious. It appears as a reflection of the Swiss younger generation. Every Swiss person goes through a necessary rebellious phase. It happens when they are adolescents or young adults.

In LeMonde (22 June 2010), I found an article that informed me more about the permissive policy towards drug addicts in Switzerland. Like in most societies, a fringe of the youth are addicts; in Switzerland, they are more apparent. The dealers propose their wares in parks and the addicts have a safe haven in Geneva, behind the train station where they can snort, inject or smoke the drugs under medical surveillance. They are supplied new needles and other tools and are sent to emergency rooms in case of an overdose. This policy has lowered the incidence of AIDS, accidents and crime. Addicts are not sermoned, only supervised.

The majority of the Swiss youth dress grunge: they wear Palestinian kafiyas and Castro berets. They pierce various parts of their bodies and wear dreadlocks. My little kids attend a Sesame Street type of music camp in the summer. Their counselors, eat organic, wear dreadlocks and/or are pierced and tattooed.

Like in most Western democracies, they organize around social causes and indulge in Gay parades. They are master graffiti artists. And no matter how quiet Switzerland can be on the majority of nights, when they rave they do it with a vengeance, as they do every Lake Parade, right in front of our windows! They are infamous for squating in abandoned houses, modern kibbutzim, with inner laws of cohabitation.

Then they grow up. They calm down, straighten their collars and return to their conservative quiet lives. Their last expression of liberalism ends on their bachelor and bachelorette party when the bride and groom walk separately around town with their gang of friends, all adorned in costumes and tricks. The next day, they are adults.

July 29, 2010

Culinary Nice

Of all the towns on the French Riviera, my favorite one is Nice. In fact I know Nice better than I do Paris because I frequent it more, having spent every summer in the area since I was an early teenager.

I love this city with a pretty name, abutting the great blue Mediterranean, with a board walk ironically named "La Promenade des Anglais". Despite their historical antipathy toward the Anglosaxons, the French gave the English their due for creating the aura of the Cote d'Azur.

Nice represents "l'ecole de Nice", the school of art that groups the French artists I know best: Yves Klein, Cesar, Ben, Niki de Saint Phalle, Venet, Sosno, Arman and Moya. I have enjoyed visiting the many museums of the city. I have toured the hills of Nice (Cimiez), savored lavender ice cream in the Old City, bought fruit at the market with my father, walked the Promenade for exercise, shopped at Les Galeries La Fayette, FNAC and Faconnable. I have even been to Madonna and Michael Jackson concerts in Nice.

But the first reason for us to go to Nice weekly is to satisfy our stomachs. As a  family, almost every Sunday and sometimes twice a week, we embark onto Nice to devour the most delicious pizza you would ever have eaten at the infamous "La Pizza" restaurant.

The pizza there is incomparable to any other in the world,  because not only is it baked in a wood oven but the ingredients of flour, tomato and cheese are sourced meticulously and are of very good quality. The waiters sport a typically French attitude (Jean Paul Sartre has written essays about them), and are career waiters who remain at the same restaurants for decades.  For example, to request a "carafe d'eau", those narrow recycled jugs of water filled with tepid faucet water, we used to toss a coin, of fear of angering these venerable waiters.  Where are the smiling young American waitresses with large ice filled water jugs when we need them?

While La Pizza is a delicious meal on a budget, La Chaumiere is another amazing restaurant, one of my very favorites, with a significantly higher "douloureuse" at the end of the meal (agonizing name French give to the bill). La Chaumiere sits in the high hills of Nice, on the Grande Corniche. The menu is simple: meat, lamb or chicken cooked in the fire place, preceded by delicious appetizers of crudites and salads. For dessert, one of the highlights of the meal, you are served unctuous caramelized apple pie with cream served directly from a big pot.

One of the special attractions of La Chaumiere, aside from the food of course, is that there is a good chance you will get a Bono (from U2) viewing, seated two tables away from you.  Like me, he loves Nice (to the point of making it his residence) and La Chaumiere is his neighborhood hang out (the way  LaPizza is ours). My brother saw him at Chaumiere once, and I saw him there last night. My husband, sister and I saw him once before at the famous Jimmyz nightclub about ten years ago.

The two times I have seen Bono, I always assume he is a look alike of the U2 singer, not the real pop star.  The  last time, we approached him and he was gentleman enough to kiss my sister's hand. I, standing beside her, requested the same treatment. He was equally kind so I chose not to bother him this second time.

Nice and La Chaumiere, (RED) Gap Tshirts and art......and of course his music, it seems I have more in common with Bono than I would have imagined.

July 28, 2010

Artistic axioms

Recently, we were invited for lunch at Bernar Venet's house. I was honored as I have long admired his work.

We went on this artistic pilgrimage in Muy, North of Saint Tropez.  Bernar Venet, in his 70s today, is from the Saint Tropez generation of Belmondo and Bardot; and he wants to live close enough to the entertainment. His residence is a renovated old mill (moulin) with a park on the banks of a stream. The new buildings, which exhibit his works and include his studio, blend nicely with  the Mediterranean environment, despite their modern lines.

We sat for lunch in his gardens and spoke of art. We were surrounded by larger than life scuptures, mainly arcs and twisted indefinite lines. He told us about his many projects around the world. Public art. Grandiose sculptures.

Venet is also a painter. He paints mathematical axioms. Mathematics are art and music he explains. The sight of one reminds you of high school when school blackboards were left forgotten after a math class, with a gibberish of intimidating graphs, figures and logarithms. Venet doesn't imagine mathematics that way. He explained to me that math are  the ultimate abstract form and since he was seeking abstraction in art, what better way to show that, than a juxtaposition of mathematical terms, all painted with reference to beauty and not to "real" mathematics!

It reminded me of the movie "Beautiful Minds", which also glorified the beauty of mathematics. In my layman's mind, very advanced mathematics serve as theory, almost like theological studies, so abstract are those formulas to me.

I was holding my four year old son on my lap, at the desk of Venet, as he kindly autographed the latest publications about his art. My son then found a mathematics book on the desk, for the brevet exam (10th grade) and was leafing through it, the sight of mathematics formulas and axioms leaping at him. Those are Bernar Venet's source of inspiration.

July 27, 2010

Khomeiny at Crans Montana

The first time I traveled without my family,  I was about 8 or 9 years old. It was  in 1979, right at start of the Iranian Revolution. My parents sent me to a ski camp called Les Coccinelles, in Crans Montana, Switzerland.

I don't remember how my mother found me ski clothes, but I clearly remember one item of clothing my mother packed for me with the following guidelines: "wear this sweatshirt over your pjs at bedtime because you will be cold". That sweatshirt was a gift she had received that year from her lebanese sister in law. My youngest aunt, who is infamous for her sense of humor, had found and purchased for her Iranian sister-in-law, a light blue, almost gray, sweatshirt with the stern face of Ayatollah Khomeini.

My mother  was regarded by all her in-laws to be  very strict, affectionately nicknaming her Savak in the days of the Shah, referring to his severe secret police. With the outbreak of the revolution, and the desire of Iran to export its revolution, the Shiite of Lebanon felt empowered. How intimate geopolitics can sometimes be! The current affairs of both my parents' countries were now interlinked. My aunt had found the sweat shirt in the outskirts of Beirut.  West Beirut was already wallpapered with effegies of Khomeini. His face was the first one that greeted you at the airport up until President Assad's of Syria took over.

Without hesitating, my mother had sent me to Switzerland with the sweatshirt, which as you can imagine had a high content of polyester, considering the place and year my aunt bought it. I obeyed and wore it despite the light mockery of the supervisors. Luckily for me, the children there didn't understand.

Ironically, it was on this same trip, that my own lifestyle became slightly fundamentalist. I met  a  Lebanese girl at that ski camp, who was a little older than me,  who  made me wash my mouth out after I ate a ham sandwich. I never touched another product containing pork since then!

July 26, 2010

La Vida es LLena de Nada

I never read detective stories. It's just not my style. But I had to see the movie version of the Millennium. I remember it showing last year and I rejected the idea, because it looked weird and of course because it was a detective story.

My Swedish friend read the book and mentioned what I knew by now: that it had become a craze, with its followers. The book is a trilogy. Part I came out last summer, Part II and III this summer. Last night I watched Part I on DVD, dubbed in French.

Tonight I selected an Argentinian movie, "Los Secretos de Sus Ojos". I thought it would change my ideas from last night's Millennium. I knew it had won an Oscar for Best Foreign Movie recently, so I made an effort to go see it at the cemetery of old movies, the picture house that shows the out dated movies. Always an opportunity to catch a movie you have missed!

Coincidentally, it was a detective movie as well. The plots turned out to be very similar. A male detective and his lover look into an unsolved case that had been long closed (in both cases, twenty years ago): the murder of a young beautiful woman. In both tales, the detectives look through archives and each one finds a photograph of the murdered beautiful woman. In the Swedish version, she is staring at a man (her killer). In the Argentinian film, the killer is looking at the woman he loves and kills. Both clues discovered in photographs, both found in the direction of the stare.

Mind you, I have not traveled to either Argentina or Sweden. I know the Scandinavian country only through contact with my mother's Swedish friend and my own friend. I have also tried to read The Wonderful Adventures of Niels by Selma Lagerlof. Argentina I had studied in Latin American Literature. My advisor was Argentinian. I can recognize an Argentinian accent from another Latin one.

Cinematography was equivalently beautiful in both. The Scandinavian landscapes or the Argentinian ones. However, the tone, the cadence, the rhythms were different. The Northern was more crude, more violent; the Southern was more romanticized, more poetic. In both cases, the girl friends of the detectives were strong women. However it was expressed differently. The Swedish woman had a troubled past and masked it in a punk, rebellious, tattooed and pierced look and attitude. The Argentinian woman was composed, elegant and had a strong verbal presence. In both cases, the love between the detective and his woman is impossible. However, the Argentinian love was romanticized much more than the Scandinavian film, which translated love into matter of fact sex scenes.

I remain ambivalent about the extent to which I enjoy detective movies, but if I had to choose one over the other it would be "El Secreto de Sus Ojos". I particularly remembered a sentence from it, a true oxymoron pronounced: la vida llena de nada (life empty with nothingness).

July 25, 2010

Combatting Sundays

Sundays can be very long winded in Switzerland. The whole country dozes off, turning into a real Slumberland. The streets are melancholic in winter and mysteriously silent in summer. All businesses are closed, including restaurants and cafes. Sundays in Geneva make Sabbath feel like a party.

When I was in boarding school our "parole" area on sundays was limited to our Petit Lancy neighborhood which consisted of a cemetery and a loony house. So I remained on campus, studied and bonded with my friends, if I could not escape to the mountains to ski. Nothing in Geneva inspired us anyway because the town slept all Sunday like it usually does after 7pm on weekdays.

But I have made Sundays with my children the most active day of the week. No sooner than we wake up that we bring out their scooters and bikes and cross the street to the Mouettes (the taxi boats) that ferry us to the other side of the lake.

We arrive in the red light district, the one area in Geneva where a handful of cafes are open, pass the closed sex shops and the random loitering prostitutes that smile at the sight of me running on foot after three kids on wheels.

We reach Cafe des Arts, a jazz bar that serves brunch on Sundays. The patron is an African man, Eric, who has known us for over a decade. I should say he knows my eldest son because they are the two to who communicate. They talk music (my son impressed him with Louis Armstrong once), he tells him about his life in a skyscraper in Dubai.

As soon as we are seated, preferably on the terrace sidewalk, my" renverse" (a Swiss cafe au lait concoction) and Ovomaltine (a malt chocolate preparation) for the kids are served. In our respective drinks, we dip our mouth watering pains au chocolat (flaky and praline nutella filled). I cannot eat any other pain au chocolat in the world after this experience. My children's boisterous conversation probably jolts the rest of the clientele's post saturday night hangovers. They sit, mumbling like the Card Players of Cezanne.

Then we run to the parks of Geneva, the more distant they are, the more attractive they seem to us. Like Victor Hugo, the poet of my childhood years, I follow my children. They rule my sundays.

The following poem, I happened upon on such a Sunday, in a park, on a sign next to a fountain.

"[...] En patriarche
Que menent les enfants, je reglerai ma marche
Sur les temps que prendront leurs jeux et leurs repas
Et sur la petitesse aimable de leurs pas
Ils cueilleront des fleurs, ils mangeront des mures."

These lovely verses by Victor Hugo are difficult to translate because they are so beautiful in their original version. This poem is about the kings of our sundays, our children who, in their lovely sweetness, lead us forward in their love of game and nature.

July 24, 2010

Khanoum Joun

I barely knew my maternal great grandmother' proper name (Faranggis). I always knew her to be 100 years old. Her hair, in two small braids, was white like snow. She looked like an Indian chieftain (her skin was dark and her nose prominent) and was treated as one. Khanoum Joun, as I knew her, means Dear Lady in farsi.

She was my grand father's mother and lived with him, as far as I remember. When they lived in Tehran, I believe her apartment was above the garage. We used to climb narrow stairs to visit her. In my child's mind, I thought it was a Rapunzel tower. She eventually moved to a bedroom in the main house, on the first floor. I recall stories of her locking up goodies away from her ten grand children, in case a visitor came by. Once the pomegranates she had stored there exploded due to the heat of her closet.

She only spoke Farsi and I believe trying to communicate with her enabled me to learn my maternal language. My parents always encouraged me to spend time with her. My mother was so close to her that my father often said that my American grandmother had only incubated her daughter but that she was every inch an Iranian, so close were my mother's conservative way of life to her grandmother's.

Indeed it was also with Khanoom Joun that my Lebanese father undoubtedly learned to understand and then speak Farsi. I can recall their theological conversations. My father is a Sunni Muslim and Khanoum joun a Shiite Muslim. My father used to attempt to erase the divide, to explain that they were fellow Muslims, she would repeat: "Heif! (Shame!) I like you. I wish you weren't Sunni."

Khanoom Joon followed her son to Dubai. My grandparents somehow squeezed the elderly woman, and remaining four to five grown kids in a three bedroom villa. I recall breakfast time, Khanoum Joun with her hot tea and infamous pile of buttered toast. When Pet Shop Boys sings about "piles of toast and empty promises" I think of her.

And so to Salt Lake City she followed her beloved son and American daughter in law. At the time, forgetful (she was in her 90s and probably had light Althzimer) she believed she was back in Tehran. As you can see from the photograph above of Tehran, and the one below of Salt Lake City, the topography of both cities is very similar, mountainous with dry weather.

Salt Lake City
In her mind, picnics by mountain streams or drives to Snowbird were thought to be outings in Tehran. She spoke to Americans in Farsi and was surprised how "no one speaks her language anymore". From her room, downstairs, she would call up to the rest of us upstairs in the kitchen and living area , "Balaya! Balaya!" (People above!) She mistook my handsome grandfather for her own long lost spouse.

She got wed in an arranged marriage. She had fallen in love with his looks and he had wondered how he had ended with a woman with a large nose. They had discovered each other for the first time in the Ayneh (the symbolic mirror that still presides over Iranian weddings).

In the 1930s, she sold her dowry to send her only son to the United States to study with her brother who had preceded him. And that is where our family lineage truly begins. For my grandfather had changed his family name from Fatemi to Mehra to symbolise this new start.

July 23, 2010

In Search of Monet at Hopper

Last year, my five year old daughter and I visited a Seuralt exhibit at Musee Hermitage in Lausanne. We took the train on a rainy summer day from Geneva and then a bus to the museum. From the bus stop, we walked through  a field to the museum and I took a snap shot of her as she held her umbrella in the rain. I still have the picture today and couldn't help noticing how similar it is to the Monet painting above.

I know that painting because it is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It is a painting of four characters and my photograph only shows my daughter. The Monet characters carry a parasol instead of a Hello Kitty umbrella and are wearing large dresses of the time while my daughter wears skinny jeans. In the Monet painting, the field is dotted with red poppy flowers called coquelicots in French (trivially I know the word in arabic: shakaiq al norman). Both painting and photo have the same movement: young girls crossing a field in transverse with the same elegant stroll.

This summer, I decided to revisit the museum, looking tor recapture my daughter in that beautiful field, and used the Edward Hopper show as a valid pretext to lug all my children to Lausanne by train. How the world has become globalized: Monet the French painter's art at view in Boston while Hopper the American 's work in show in Lausanne.

The show's poster didn't convince my older kids to enter the museum with me. The poster reminded them of Rhodes Island where their youngest uncle got married, but they still preferred to play in the museum gardens of Lausanne, where their eldest uncle had married two years prior.

I therefore took my youngest in his stroller. No sooner had we entered that he nagged: "limatha al fan ya mama? Aina al hayawanat fil mathaf?" (Why art mama? Where are the animals of the museum, referring to natural history museum).

The show was a good one, especially that most of the paintings were on loan from The Whitney Museum,  in NYC, which  my sister had visited a few years ago with my encouragement. I stood longer in front of two paintings from an Ohio museum and one from a private collection. I always do that because what is the likelihood of me seeing those again? I enjoyed Hopper's Americana red barns and especially his lonely women in a room, with light entering from a window as they longingly gaze out.

I wasn't able to reproduce another photo like I did that rainy day last year. Perhaps, it wasn't right with the two boys in tow. Monet's masterpiece  is one of pure femininity and only a little girl's innocence could capture that. It also wasn't raining this time. So the mood was different. However we all benefited from a lovely summer day and train trip to Lausanne.

July 21, 2010

Hand Me Down Clothes

Some people shun the concept of hand me down clothes. They think it's a stingy, unfair, unfashionable habit. According to them, shouldnt clothing your children be the most enjoyable activity for a new parent?

In my family culture, hand me down clothes are the norm: we are from a large family and so siblings wore each other's clothes. Children's clothing carry with them a nostalgic feel. I believe there is a coolness factor to wearing a piece of clothing previously worn by someone who came before you, whether a sister or cousin. My mother has even kept my  younger sister's clothes so that today my daughter wears her aunt's beautifully smocked vintage dresses.

My kids wear their siblings and their very close friends' hand me downs with ease. They know and love the person who outgrew them. They are proud to wear it. Sometimes, it's even an easy way to convince them to wear the dress or the sandals or the sweater. In turn, they hand their clothes to their cousins. The Bonpoint outfit  they only wore on occasions, the adorable Petit bateau onesies and pajamas, the Diesel jeans they outgrew so fast, the college memorabilia sweatshirts, the GAP pjs that got softer with every wash.

Since my daughter is the only girl in the family, she gets her brother's hand me downs. She often looks like she is deliberatly wearing boyfriend oxford shirts with baggy jeans. Luckily, her girlfriends give her the skinny jeans and pink polos. In these five years, I have been gathering trunkloads of girls only smock dresses, girlie coats, pink pjs, waiting for the next female to join the family.

In the mix, are those pieces of clothing that can be worn unisex, if you have an open mind. The peter pan collared shirts , the  French sandals that are designed for boys but that most middle eastern dads, including my husband, gasp at the thought of putting on their sons. In France, there is a feeling that classical clothing for kids should be unisex and should not look like adult clothing. I have dressed my older son very often against my husband's wishes. Those clothes were easily transferred to his sister.  My second son however was more headstrong than the first and would not comply. He is much too aware to notice that those clothes just don't look like his dad's. So like his dad he would much prefer an Ed Hardy blinged out tshirt.

Today, the fashion industry indulges in vintage inspired clothing, and you can buy first hand what looks second hand and worn. Parents born in the 1970s choose Petit Bateau for their children probably because the simplicity of the clothes takes them back to their own childhood. Parents born in the bountiful 1980s, may themselves never have worn hand-me-downs,and thus don't share the same philosophy  parents from the 1970s have, preferring to overspend on their children with the mentality that new is always better. At bedtime, I enjoy hugging my children in their soft overwashed pajamas, knowing that a few other special kids (not too many), have had sweet dreams in them too.

If you still aren't convinced think of this an environmental way to save the planet from waste....

July 20, 2010

Patrick Tourneboeuf, a piece of France

Le Salon des Glaces, or Hall of Mirrors. That majestic room sent me daydreaming in class from 5th grade History class, through Art History 101 at Smith College and  finally during my crash course two year  demi-license at  the University of Geneva.

From an art history perspective, it's not too complicated. LeBrun (think the color) did the interiors of Versailles, LeNotre (think the average but fancy coffee shop) did the gardens. And not to forget Jeff Koons who had the audacity and the priviledge of inflating super baloons and hanging pneumatic lobsters in this lavish Hall of Mirrors!

When my oldest son studied Versailles in fifth grade, I reviewed the concepts one more time, making it a fourth. Moreover I insisted that the whole family watch Sophia Copolla's "Marie Antoinette", an alternative period film about this infamous woman, mostly for them to discover the beauty of Versailles, imagine the courtisans, the hunts and especially to see how much Marie Antoinette loved her pastel macarons! We all held our breath waiting for the famed anachronism in the movie: pink high top converse sneakers belonging to Marie Antoinette, tucked beside her pale feet. An adorable moment in the film.

When we decided to celebrate my son's ten year birthday in Paris two weeks ago, the kids were beyond thrilled, more so with the excitement of visiting Versailles over their first trip to Euro Disney. Our five year old daughter searched for courtisans behind the hedges, wondered from which door Marie Antoinette escaped on that fatal day, and asked me how she had really died.

 My husband was happy on his golf cart, driving his tribe and in-laws through the symmetrical gardens and ponds landscaped by Le Notre. The birthday boy was stunned by the three immense paintings of Napoleon by David, especially the Crowning of Josephine (just like in his text book). The youngest, who will probably not remember much from this trip, walked into the Salon des Glaces and exclaimed in his classical Arabic: "Mama, hathihi fi al bayt fi Dubai" (mama we have this in our home in Dubai).

Indeed,  a few years ago, we were fortunate to have discovered, at the auspiciously named ArtParis in AbuDhabi (now called Art AbuDhabi), a 2m x1m photograph of the Salon des Glaces by Patrick Tourneboeuf, a french photographer.  I was taken by the idea of owning such a beautiful and iconic representation of French history. The photograph has a deep perspective with an effect of being in the actual room.

Visiting Versailles in person with grandparents and children was a very emotional and enjoyable experience. It certainly doesn't have that Disney tourism feel that many historical sites have acquired. Now our Tourneboeuf photograph of the Salon Des Glaces will seem even more familiar upon my return to Dubai, and I can remind our kids: We stood in that room!

July 19, 2010

How I find the time

Numbers always have a meaning. This 60th posting will be dedicated to time management , and more specifically to how I make time to write for this blog, as the number 60 is one of our standard units of time.

"When do you find the time to write for your blog?" is a question I am asked so often (because I have been posting daily), usually from tired mothers or working friends.

First, I have to reiterate the fact that my blog entries require very little reflection. I do not assign myself a topic or subject. My posting is a single thought that I jot down almost instantly on my faithful blackberry, almost in a stream of consciousness. A question from somebody ("how do you find the time?"), a movie, a good book, a funny episode in my life, and then the inspiration rises within me. So I write. Now, typing is much faster than handwriting and the machine is always close at hand. Often, I do delay the writing, storing my insight for a near future, because I usually am with my kids, or with friends, or with my husband or food shopping, driving, teaching, reading, sporting, socializing, learning.

 I am somewhat of an asocial animal in that I do not have social habits like surfing  Facebook or  A Small World (does anybody go to that last website anymore?). In fact I never surf on the internet. I also don't spend much time chatting with friends on the phone, local or international. I never watch TV, rarely a DVD and only glance at magazines at NBar (my favorite manicure/pedicure spa in Dubai). I do indulge in books  and my dated  LeMonde, but because I like my news older, I can always postpone reading them. 
My winter and summer schedules are somewhat alike, with a few more extra free hours  in Geneva in the summer months, because I socialize less there. However that time is easily converted into socializing with the kids or reading an extra chapter of literature. Otherwise the commute time is the same, time spent exercising the same, the errands are the same.

But I do have what I have coined "empty time" or simply down time, and that is when I write: while waiting for a bus solo or even riding it (when I am with them I am too concerned with their safety and well being to type), while waiting for my son's counselor to arrive at camp, or while waiting for my kids to exit camp or school. I am always  ahead of time for drop offs and pick ups. I write when I have coffee at a cafe alone, or waiting for a film to begin at the movies, on a park bench while the kids climb, in the car before my pilates class starts, while waiting for a friend, or right before I fall asleep. I even write during red tape moments while I wait in line for a visa or at at the checkout counter at the supermarket. When given the choice however, I choose an extra hug or a last minute quizz poem , and certainly common decency (I never write in a social moment) over my enthusiastic blackberry typing. But as you can see, we can all find the time to write down our thoughts.

These are the slots of time in which I fit my writing . It isn't a job.  It's a hobby, like sketching. And what I write is merely a sketch of a piece of writing. I am fortunate that its nature is to be simple, short and fleeting. I am not J.K. Rowling writing Harry Potter novels. How did SHE find the time? How powerful was the brick of inspiration that hit her one infamous day?

July 18, 2010

Culinary Geneva

Geneva restaurants are reknown for their consistency and quality. Any "plat du jour" in a random restaurant, albeit often overpriced, will be above average. Many times restaurants will astonish you, and  be extravagantly delicious.
Today, a family of four visited my family in Geneva as they travelled through Europe. After a full circle tour of Lake Geneva by bike with the kids, and a trip on the infamous mouettes, we decided to stop at Les Bain des Paquis for lunch.

Les Bains des Paquis is an institution in Geneva. It consists of a public jetee, with an interesting 1950s flavor, that caters to mostly grungy Swiss hipsters and gives them a locale on the lake to sunbathe, swim, have lunch and even use the sauna!  The restaurant serves three types of salads and one plat du jour, which was a very unique red pesto pasta . The five children present decided to be adventurous, and agreed to try the pasta dish, which they did enjoy. The adults had surprisingly good greek salads drenched in an extra- virgin olive oil. Despite the overcast weather,  and their stomachs satiated, our children bravely dived into the cold lake and enjoyed themselves.

Our evening meal at the Auberge D'Onex was quite different. It was my wedding anniversary, and although my husband in Dubai couldn't make it to Geneva in time to celebrate, despite his best attempts, I still commemorated our twelve years, with his two oldest friends and their spouses. Of course we missed him terribly.
The Auberge d'Onex is a tradition. It is a restaurant that deserves a grand occasion, a birthday or the celebration of an anniversary. My husband and I have celebrated six of our twelve anniversaries at Onex. In fact, on one such occasion, as we were taking the bus there, I noticed I had two bus tickets in my jacket (one dating from the year prior). On another bus trip there, concerned about missing  our stop, I asked the driver when we should disembark for the Auberge d'Onex. He  looked at me, the penny wise bus rider, quizically, then asked : "Madame, do you work there or will you eat there?", as he probably thought me pound foolish for dining there.

On a third occasion, I went there with a friend who was visiting from the United States. She had insisted on inviting me. I informed her that they were a cash only establishment. She told me not to worry. It was half way through the meal that she confidently assured me that she had traveler's checks, which of course was not accepted there. I  immediately summoned the waiter and,  giving him our budget which we calculated to the last coins in our wallets, I requested he tell us when to stop ordering, lest we be forced to clean the dishes to pay for our meal!

 The Auberge d'Onex is a gargantuesque experience. It is a true feast for both eyes and stomach. Tonight, we started off with the introductory frills of olives, radish, parmesan blocks, cherry tomatoes, all beautifully presented in large bowls. We then advanced onto our appetizers, followed by five different but equally scrumptuous risottos. For dessert, they showered us with fruit, nougat, candies and chocolates, on top of the desserts we each had selected. The lemon tart, very zesty, was the best I had ever tasted, and the white chocolate and coffee mousse felt like clouds of....cream! Each dish was presented as a still life painting.

From a light lunch on the lake, to a delicious Italian feast, these are but a few tastes and flavors of Geneva's culinary world, which I, a secret bon vivant at heart (don't tell my pilates instructor!!) indulged in thoroughly.

July 17, 2010

Rewind July 1998

La Caille, Salt Lake City, Utah
My eldest son opened the door with a large smile when I came home. It wasn't the promise of the afternoon bike ride or the thought of himself in the cold lake this morning trying to get up on water skis. There was a glow in his eyes. He had been transported in time.

He led me to the kitchen where the flat screen TV hangs and there I saw another soccer match. In post FIFA time, but certainly pre-2010. A twelve year old match: the final of Brazil-France.

Funny watching soccer players of that decade, in their retro gear and hairstyles on a flat screen! My son was excited to recognize all the players, the ones who have either become soccer trainers or soccer commentators. I told him how I had seen the game 12 years ago, but in Utah. The comments were in English. Now, I was hearing the comments of the day in French. Has anyone heard comments made by the winning team's compatriots? The pride, the tenderness (player's given nicknames) and the partiality!

It's true that we obsess over the French team and that we should kill the mother "tuez la mere" of that victory. But today, I have an excuse. It is our wedding anniversary and it has also been a dozen years.

In 1998, my husband also had a retro hairstyle: at least it was short. He was clean shaven and he wore a tuxedo. We married in the peacock inhabited gardens of LaCaille, in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was a simple happy celebration. He made a short speech and I a lengthy one. I had descended with my father on the tune of "Papa don't preach" by Madonna which was played from a boom box held by my brother (we were very amateur). Later, a professional DJ that I found on a local radio station I called, played "Go West" by Pet Shop Boys. It was 18 July 1998.

July 16, 2010

Don't spoil the Fun!

I saw Eclipse, part 3 of the trilogy Twilight and I absolutely enjoyed it, like I did the first two.

Don't take the fun out of it and cast it aside because it's a vampire movie. It is so much more and that explains its strong fan base.

As a point of information, the writer of the books (which I have not read) is a Mormon who composed her stories in secret, lest she loose her Temple privileges. I wouldn't think she has written anything blasphemous. In fact, the whole story is based on one topic sentence: Edward the Vampire loves Belle but doesn't have premarital sex with her because promiscuity may incur out of control vampire desires and he may bite her and transform her into a vampire as well.

First, I enjoyed watching the film for the entertainment. The landscapes which are stunningly created to make it seem like Alaska or Washington State are a pleasure to the eye. The actors are heart throbs too. Even the simple story line encourages mind evading, which is relaxing.

Second, I keep returning to understand the formula of success. Why are these movies attracting such a large teenage audience? I walked into a cinema house in Geneva with the same teenagers that swim with me at the public pool. This Abercrombie generation actually applauded and laughed and sighed at love scenes. I would have thought it would be a "girlie" movie but the guys tag along for the fight shots. Manifestly, they enjoyed the show!

Twilight isn't a light movie. It is well thought, like a Harry Potter for older kids. Its special effects may look like improved Bionic Woman and Million Dollar Man but there is fun in that. Other cinematographic references can be found: Adams family for the Halloween grunge look, West Side Story for the gang fights, Brokeback mountain for the landscapes and Gone With the Wind and Casablanca for the dramatic kisses.

The heroine Bella has natural beauty. She isn't too skinny and doesn't wear make up. She also rarely wears feminine clothing, always decked in thermal, checkered and corduroys. The second part guy is the muscular, tanned sportive fit that every adolescent girl would drive to, however its the pale lanky indifferently dressed guy that Belle loves. They have selected forest, mountain scapes as their surroundings, often covered with snow. As if a call to mountainous nature would be the coolest destination, more than sunny beaches or happening cities.

There is very little violence and no gore. Nothing in this movie is reminiscent of a horror movie. There is no scary episode. Barely any suspense. Many many love dialogues. The pictures are beautiful because the faces of the vampires are colored so their lips are pinker, their eyes entirely hazel and their skin paler than a geisha's.

I sign here below that I actually enjoy these movies very much. I wouldn't worry in the least about the teenagers who would grow cultish about it. Its harmless. So please don't take the fun out of it. Leave me there in the field of flowers to look at Edward the Vampire swoon over Bella and not once, ever, bite her!

July 15, 2010

The Way I Teach

Some people are born scientific and others artistic. Some have a business acumen or an athletic bend. I am convinced that I was born to teach. I even earned a degree to teach but was often labelled as overqualified to teach in some institutions, or stumbled over bureaucratic issues and university politics when I attempted to teach at the American University of Sharjah.

From very early on, I channeled that academic zeal onto my siblings: every summer we prepared for the following academic year by filling up Passport notebooks, the French  equivalent of summer bridge notebooks. One of my siblings was always enthusiastic, the other ran to his favorite hiding place (a box in the storage room) and the third once threw a chair at me in rage while we practiced for the SAT verbal. I also helped write college entrance essays with them, and I spoon fed novels to the less enthusiastic readers of the bunch. I gladly tutored for the brevet and baccalaureat exams. My mother had trained me to tutor my younger siblings from early on, especially that after a certain point, my French had become better than hers.

As a newly wed, when my husband was looking for a French teacher that would facilitate his integration in Geneva, I told him to look no further. No sooner would he untie his tie that I opened the large French textbook. He invariably fell asleep on the couch as I coached him but there was no escaping me. As we walked in the city and, as though he were a toddler learning speech for the first time, I would point to umbrellas, swans, trees, motercycles, sailboats, coats, buildings and he had to repeat the words to me in French.

When I had children, I transferred my energy and hopes onto them. My eldest son  has done the most mileage with me. He is occasionally enthusiastic, often tries to hide from me, and has yet to throw a chair at me, but that is because we probably haven't reached the SAT reviews yet. Beyond his normal school curriculum, I also choose to home school him with a French program by correspondence, religiously submitted  bimonthly, with all the required exams approved by the French government.  In all honesty, we do this for him to get a Swiss nationality, because he is technically supposed to be home schooled in Geneva, and we need to show proof of the latter.

For me, the most challenging thing to teach in this program by correspondence are, ironically (given my love for art!), the "art and music appreciation" sections. To fulfill those credits, we listened to jazz, counted musical scores, and were attentive to opera voices, all while driving around to activities.  We are always brainstorming for art project ideas, and the above picture is an example of one such project:  in this assignment, we had to transform a well known painting of our choice. My son chose "Liberte Guidant le Peuple" by Delacroix, for which he replaced the gun with our infamous Burj Khalifa, glued some authentic desert sand and put a hijab on the Marianne who, in his project, carries an Emirati flag. A gem shines in the sky.

I love to teach because somehow along the way, I learn myself. I stumble over a almost forgotten physics concept, work a mathematical axiom and shed tears for a poem. I try to make amends for my own educational loopholes. With my children, I relearn the intricacies of French history, understand Jean Jacques Rousseau better and practice the art of handwriting. Indeed, in order to teach you have to understand the concept yourself.

Tutoring available to those interested. Please apply in the comment area.

July 14, 2010

Biking in China

My five year old daughter is fascinated by anything Chinese. She has covered the theme in First grade and has brought back hand cut lanterns, plastified hand held fans, and has worn Chinese dresses with pride. When I read a children's book called "Mao and Myself", she listens attentively.

As I read, page by page, admiring the illustrations, showing her the chop sticks, the Chinese characters, the cloisonne vases, she asks questions. I give her my own rendition of things which consists of recollections of my trip to Mao's China in the summer of 1978. I have returned to Shanghai and Guangzhou for a wedding in 1994 but it did not come near that trip in the Summer of 1978.

In those days, men and women were all dressed alike. Even their black shoes and kakhi hats emblazoned with a red star were uniform. Unmarried women wore two braids, married women cut their hair. They all rode on bikes. They carried little red books with Mao's writings. My daughter asked me about Mao and I tried to explain in simple terms. She recognized his ubiquitous portrait by Andy Warhol from her uncle's house!

I also told her about the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. However, she was most interested in my bicycle story. That summer, we were visiting my First Maternal Aunt (in the way the Chinese refer to family members), who lived there with her family because her husband was in the Iranian diplomatic corps (a few years later we visited them in Korea before it became an emerging tiger). My cousin, a year older than me, had a bicycle with just two wheels. I practiced riding it, finding equilibrium and balance and confidence. One memorable day, he let go of me from the back and I found myself peddling solo. I had learned to ride a bike in Mao's China. My daughter who still rides with training wheels asks me to repeat the story over and over again, in order to build her own confidence to one day do the same.

I post this blog on my dear Khaleh Claudia's birthday. She hosted us in China two decades ago. She traveled immense China with her kids with the same ease I take to travel tiny Switzerland.

July 13, 2010

Behind the Wheel

Considering the fact that I spend 55% of my day driving, without much exaggeration, I feel compelled to tell you about my driving history. The soundtrack to this entry could be "Behind the Wheel" by Depeche Mode, which I listened to incessantly at age 19, when I first was learning to drive.

I began taking driving lessons during my Junior year at Smith College. An older male driving instructor would pick me up in the driveway of my dorm at Capen House, once a week, the entire academic year, in rain, snow or sunny weather. I eventually got my US driving license and received a Volkswagen Golf from my parents in my Senior year.

Who doesn't remember his or her first car and keys to freedom? I commuted biweekly to Boston,feeling  the rush of freedom as the skyline of  the Hancock and Prudential  buildings appeared in the horizon and  the Northampton's forests disappeared behind me. I would hold my breath on my solo drives as I overtook trucks on the highway,  still glad not to be on Greyhound bus of my pre-car days.  Owning a car also allowed me to cross register at nearby Amherst College, escaping the sometimes suffocating all-women atmosphere of my own college. Having a car also meant more responsiblities: I woke up daily at the break of dawn and ventured into the snowy parking lot in my pajamas to move my car to liberate the spot for early rising professors.

Exhilarated by the techie stockmarket bubble (prior to its popping),  my father upgraded me to a shiny beautiful  green 325i BMW when I was in graduate school.  That is when I "moonlighted" as a taxi driver for  friends, siblings, cousin, visiting grandparents and even the honorable professor Edward Said. Those passengers would willingly exit the car and  fill my gas tank (something I have not learned to do till this day). However, I  did acquire other skills: calling the BMW rescue team for a flat tire or turning my car battery on and off before and after summer vacations.

That car took me to Maine for outlet shopping, to Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard for some East Coast Island hopping, and  to Eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire for foliage viewing. I even got caught in a hail storm once on my way to the Norman Rockwell museum. I drove to Vassar College, Poughkipsee and Philadephia to visit my brothers many times. I also contested speeding tickets in many of these counties' court houses.

I pride myself in my parallel parking skills (probably as a result of my Lebanese descent) on Newberry street in Boston, and I filled the meter diligently with quarters ( avoiding the dreaded fluorescent parking tickets).Valet parking the "Yazz" plated car every thursday night at Club Nicole was my weekly frill. After one such evening, as I drove home across Mass avenue Bridge, a car came out of nowhere and collided  into mine so powerfully that I feared I would end up in the icy waters of the Charles River. I luckily walked out of the totalled car, protected by the air bag, without a scratch. 
In Dubai, until recently I drove a Volswagen Touareg, reminiscent of my Golf years. The big difference is that I now have a family composed of three kids, who, diligently, like termites, ate at the car, killing the airconditioning, wiping all the stickers off the stereo system, breaking the side window controls, turning the once beige interior into a dark gray one. This time it was my husband, understanding my qualm, who generously upgraded me to his own large silver BMW sedan, reminsicent of my green Yazzmobile days...

July 12, 2010

From a Parisian Kioske....

Never ever judge a book by its cover, or by its title!

I picked up Jean Rouaud's "Champs d'Honneur", with great hesitation, despite the laudatory  review given by Le Monde. The cover was a  photograph of a World War I soldier. I have never  truly enjoyed that period of history. Even the title was bellicose. However, when I realized it was a Prix Goncourt winner (1990), I forced myself to purchase it.

I ended up finishing the book in three days. Granted, it is summer. I had two days without FIFA and I read myself to sleep every night. I enjoyed the book tremendously. It actually hardly evokes WWI. It is a novel about a family. Not a romanticized saga, nor a boring autobiography.

The writer, whom I read about later, used to sell newspapers at a kiosque in Paris. He came from humble means but from an ambitious family that pushed him to get a degree in literary studies. However, he still ended up as a kiosque newspaper seller. Rouad wrote this book in the 1990s and received a Prix Goncourt for it, which made many journalists rush to his kiosque to meet him. He has since written a dozen of books.

In "Champs d'Honneurs", he writes about a series of passings in his family: his grandfather, his great aunt, his great uncle who died in WWI and his own father, whose death affected him the most but about which he wrote the least in this book ( apparently his other books developed those feelings further). All this sadness, in rainy Middle France (Loire), yethe also offers so much comic relief! His style reads like Marcel Pagnol, and his images from Louis de Funes movies.

He mentions his pious great aunt, a spinstress. It reminded me of my great aunt, Tillette, short for Henriette, who was born in  La Rochelle. She also became a spinstress. Perhaps because  so many men were out at war! She may have missed her opportunity, being at a marriagable age during the two World Wars. Her sister, my great grandmother, married an American Irish soldier who came in WWI to France to fight with the Allies. My great grandmother was an English language teacher so they could communicate. Both lived to be centenarians, and retired in Florida. Neither had lost their French accents despite living in the United States for 75 years!

I was most impressed by the pleasant style of the novel, characteristically French,  reminding me of a succulently rich French dish. It is considered to be contemporary French literature. I have earned one point, dear sister, in a theory that I  have always wholeheartedly embraced: the French can still write post Sartre.

July 11, 2010

Media Synchronization

At Charles de Gaulle Airport, after a long walk through the labyrinth of Terminal 2, and in line with a bunch of families in Euro Disney paraphanelia, we finally reached  the Air France check in counter.

When the attendant's eyebrows expressed put-on regret, I ironically couldn't help thinking of their lovely advertisement campaign. Those artistic Air France ads that portray ballet slippers, and other feminine photo montages that translate in a traveller's mind into breezy hassle free voyage. The attendant  predictably explained to me that the flight was overbooked and that we would have to wait for a few hours, in what I believe is a truly detestable airport. In that moment, I missed the reliable Swiss who spend less care on advertisement but more effort on reliability . Furthermore, in my opinion, a delay in Zurich or Geneva airports would only mean  that my kids would play longer in the play areas provided, and I could enjoy an additional cup of delectable coffee.

Here I was with my three children trying to bargain my guaranteed places on the flight that I had booked back to Geneva. The Air France representative was attentive, perhaps even compassionate and smiled at my allusion to their advertisements. However, he was surprised by my older son's interference into the conversation:

- "Monsieur! I have to get home for the match!"

- "Are you for Uruguay or Germany?" the representative responded.

- "Neither really..."

- "Well, I won't be watching either", the man told him.

And then my son admitted:

- "I actually want to go home to watch the first Fort Boyard of the season".

The attendant's face illuminated at the mention of the silliest show that my son fancies over a third place World Cup game. It is one of those shows that has two teams competing by climbing into a fort, swallowing spiders, jumping from heights, playing with scorpions or fire, and gathering gold coins hidden in the hay.

- "I will do my best to get you and your family on that flight so you don't miss Fort Boyard," he smiled.

I waited at the gate, with sweet memories of our escapade to Versailles, our expedition to Euro Disney and our excursions in the heart of Paris. I thought a flight change was a small price to pay for the superb experience my children, parents, husband and I had for four days. But we were fortunate to be called on to the flight at the last minute. I couldn't help wonder if this had anything to do with my son's conversation with the Air France attendant.

On the plane, I sat next to a woman who was reading an issue of Le Monde. It obviously was a current issue. I carefully took mine out, noticing with relief that it was only four days old , but I still carefully folded the front page so the date wouldn't be too obvious to her. I was concerned that she would peer onto mine, especially if our reading became synchronized. And I laughed at the humorous media synchronization my son and the Air France representative had twenty minutes prior!

July 10, 2010

Swimming Pools, Swimming Pools, Swimming Pools

I have decided to commit my time to swimming this summer. The pools I swim laps in are 25m minimum and 50m maximum. I refuse to do laps in a pool where I will spend time touching walls. I have swam in many pools over the years, and I have an emotional attachment to each one. In this entry today, I  will give you my history of swimming.

Canyon Racket Club, Sandy, Utah.

The first pool I remember seriously swimming in was at the Canyon Racket Club in Utah, where I would visit my maternal grandparents. That is where the passion began (with a major crush on my coach Steve). It was a daily hour spent with my cousins. We were all the together on the swim team, even my second brother participated. I was then 11.

Brown Ledge Camp, Vermont.

I joined the swim team while at Brown Ledge Camp, and swam in the freezing Lake Champlain. When I missed practice once, the coach attempted to punish me. "You will swim a mile! That is 36 times the length from one floater in the lake to the other."

I defied him: "A mile? Ha! I will swim 2 miles."

It rained the day I had to swim. I still can picture the coach on the bench, under his umbrella, counting till 72. He even told the whole camp about it at the end of dinner. I was 15.

Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Through the four seasons, during college, I walked to the indoor pool at the other side of the campus, and swam laps there with a good friend. Even with all that swimming, I still managed to gain the Freshman 15(lbs), and the Sophomore 15 and the Junior 15. I was 20.

River Court Condominium, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I was fortunate enough to have an indoor pool 25m long in the building I lived in  Boston, during graduate
school. I swam laps daily  there while pregnant with my first child. I was 30.

Piscine des Vernets, Geneva.

During my second and third pregnancies, I returned to the public pool where I used to practice swimming for the baccalaureate sport exam in high school. I accumulated lanes daily. I would surprise my fellow swimmers when I would emerge from the pool with my round belly. I was 34 and 36.

Piscine du Port Monaco

This is the Olympic size pool at the Monaco Port. It's a public pool for which you pay a small entry fee.  Like the public pools of Geneva, it has a communist feel. The changing rooms look like they date from the Cold War. I went there with my brothers and son. I was in my thirties.

Beach Hotel, Monaco

 I want to mention it because it's in strong contrast to the Port pool. Same olympic size, different bathers. Here, swimmers bronze in the sun completely bejeweled. My little brother used to dive into the pool with scuba mask to look for the coins that fell from the clients' swimsuits and would go buy himself an ice cream.

Jumeirah College, Dubai.

 Very rarely, I have jumped into the pool where my son practices swim team. I even get coached by my son's teacher, and am joined by  my sister- in -law and a good friend. I keep pushing myself, thinking: you make your ten year old do this four times a week, can't you do it four times a year?

Geneve Plage, Switzerland.

The Geneve Plage pool is at a fifteen min walk from my house, on the lake. I prefer its more temperate water to the colder lake water. Its 50m long and I have committed to swim there almost daily this summer as I had done regularly last summer. I have bought ten ticket entrance stubs at once so I can be sure to go at least ten times. With the multiple ticket card, I can skip the long line of teenagers and am glad that the lap swimmers have their reserved lanes. I will always have space in the pool to swim.

When there, I do look at my fellow lap swimmers and I always wonder what their story is, how they committed to swim laps I never count. It is an evolving thing, some leave, some join and then, thank god, its also my turn to leave. When I get out and throw my swim cap and goggles off, I look at them, all the same, classic swim strokes.

Speedo, Arena, Adidas swim suit, goggles, sometimes a swim cap, get into a lane and swim. God help you if you have the wrong goggles! With the right goggles that don't let water in, or are not so tight they cause a migraine, my mind does mathematics. I decompose the total number I want to swim into a series often increasing 2, 3,4,5 and constantly counting and barely stopping. Just wanting to finish and get out and achieve the goal. Swimming is one of the only cardio workouts I can do properly. I owe it to myself to dive in.

I also feel that I owe it to my son to accomplish my swimming goals, when he is with me at the pool. Just today, I told him we would  commit to swimming  30 laps together. He didn't even wince. Apparently, for him it was a simple task. We swam and I concentrated on my role modeling.

                                        My son with a photo of his true role model, Phelps

The Crow and the Fox

One day I was playing golf with my eldest son, who has become quite the accomplished golf player, when a strange occurence happened. My son had left half  of a granola bar sitting in the buggy. A crow flew by, saw the granola bar and it looked good. It swept it away in it beak, packaging and all. My son missed the whole scene as I stood back bewildered.

He wouldn't believe the story (perhaps wondering if I had eaten it myself), until he himself  witnessed the crow throwing the empty wrapper back at us.

"For once the crow outsmarts the fox" I giggled.

Minutes later we resumed our game.  Just until..... a fox, believe it or not, walked right by us on the green! In Dubai, in broad daylight!

This was a small anecdote to wish my son a very  happy birthday! He turns 10 today!

July 9, 2010

The Milk I Drink

I hated NIDO powder milk. It was the only milk available in Dubai, or rather in our house. In the seventies, there wasn't fresh milk available in the UAE.  My mom believed that long life milk had potential long term unhealthy effects, just like microwavable food and soda, and so it was banned from our household. For that reason, we ended up with NIDO.

I am convinced that NIDO (Nestle) is manufactured for the developing world. My mom used to mix it with a spoon in a one liter stainless steel jug and serve it to us generously. She believed that milk was essential for growth, and she was very concerned with her children turning out short.  But for me, no matter how cold the milky substance was, it just wasn't palatable. Milk was served as our drink at every meal, including with lebanese and iranian homemade food. The excess powder would resurface to the top and would become an instantaneous appetite breaker.
The Nido experience lasted eight to ten years. It became a constant battle in the kitchen where we had our meals. Many times I succeeded in pouring it down the sink. It was harder to argue about it when  my mother poured some  in my cereal (we only were allowed Bran), its excess powder sitting on the flakes that had not yet wilted  in the bowl.( For that reason, I never pour milk ahead of time for my kids).  However, a glance from my mom stood at the other side of the table braiding my sister's hair, showing me she meant business, and I was eating the cereal soaked in NIDO.

For my younger siblings, things changed in the mid 1980s. Digdaga farms in the UAE began to produce fresh milk. I still longed for the British milk I had once tasted on a trip to London. The memory of the glass bottles delivered by milk men daily could make me fantasize. When I went to boarding school in my late teens, the Swiss milk was so delicious that I gladly went on a milk and banana diet, as advocated by my grandmother who was a nurse in the 1950s.

When I went to college in Massachussets, I was almost amused by the Vitamin D fortified milk that was sold in gallons (yummy!) and I made up for all the NIDO I didn't drink in Dubai, guzzling milk while others partied with beer. I have remained a picky  and snobby milk drinker. Swiss and American milk is all I drink. I only eat cereal in those two countries. French milk won't do either: it has an after taste that is detectable making me wonder what French cows eat!  In Dubai, with less choice,  I switched from full fat milk to skim milk in my coffee. Thank God the Starbucks strong flavored coffee covers the flavor of UAE milk!

July 8, 2010

The Last Time I was in Paris...


... I was on a 12h mission.

No sooner had I put my three year old son on the school bus that my brother and I were on our way to the airport. A babysitter would pick him up from the bus in the afternoon. My husband was travelling.

A few months prior to the quick trip, I was reading Le Monde. The article was about a rather random photo exhibit in Biarritz. But the image I found was a very painterly one of a "Buzkashi" game. This Afghan sport is the ancestor of polo. Riders fight over a lamb instead of a ball. The photograph of the riders, shrouded in a cloud of dust, had a nostalgic feel and was signed Roland and Sabrina Michaud.

This French couple had traveled to Afghanistan in the 1960s. They claim to have been amateur photographers who were empassioned by Islamic civilization. They went in search of adventure and also taught French for a few months there. In those days, travels, especially to the "other side of the world", were more like expeditions and  were for months at a time. Their photographs have appeared in National Geographic in the 1970s, and enabled the West to discover the beauty of Afghanistan. Each of the images they captured are lyrical, like individual poems, with a unique light cast on a  once mystical and undiscovered region. They live in Paris today, with no internet access and no cell phones. Finding them was an adventure in itself.

At the bottom of the  Le Monde article were the contact details of the box office in Biarritz where their photographs were being shown. One phone call led to another and I finally heard the trembling voice of Roland Michaud on the phone. I told him my family was Afghan, that we had his book (all Afghan homes abroad have it),  and that we would be interested in purchasing his work. He was delighted!  He told me that somehow he and his wife had been forgotten and that few paid them much attention anymore. I  then enthusiastically ordered seven photographs (the aforementioned Buzkhashi game, a panoramic of Kabul in the 1960s,  portraits of young boys at work and at play and the above photograph of a woman walking in the snow) and realized that going in person to pick them up would be cheaper, and certainly more interesting, than mailing, insuring and going through customs.

My brother and I went on our own expedition to Paris, arriving at an undiscript address to their photo studio, one of the last ones where the process is still done by hand. Roland Michaud, a pleasant man in his seventies, greeted us. We looked at the photos that we had ordered,  and he signed them for me. We then had an enjoyable conversation over coffee, where he spoke of his travels and how he had captured all these photographs, but hadn't seen them until a year later, when he'd developed them in Paris. This was a far cry from our digital camera era with its instant gratification. We thanked him warmly and left to the airport in a rush to make our flight back to Geneva.

Seven years later, and already too late, I contacted Roland again. We wanted to order more photographs. However, the prices had quantupled since and no longer fit our budget. It seems that finally Roland and Sabrina Michaud had received the recognition they deserved.