A pink taxi

A pink taxi

November 30, 2010

Technical Difficulties

My cousin teased me when I confessed to her how worried I was to go scuba diving. I quote her: "If I know you, as we speak, you are copying the whole book in four languages right now. And you are doing a cross cultural reference of the impact of scuba on different cultural areas."

When instructing me in pilates, my instructor had to drill the technical, anatomical, choreographic, and  equipment terminology concepts in my head. He even tapped on my forehead in exasperation! I am a thorough student but not always a quick learner....

Driving is basically my current profession, now that I drive my kids to and from school and activities. But driving didn't come so naturally to me at the beginning. I was fortunate enough to pass the driving test in the most indulgent country, the USA, and still I managed to fail the test the first time. All that truly is required there is to be 16 and capable of filling a form at the DMV without being intimidated by the weirdest people who stand in line alongside you.

Does anyone remember the cartoon character, Mr Magoo? The bespectacled little old man, who probably inspired the looks of the modern cartoon character in "Up!", was my designated driving teacher. We drove the beautiful roads of New England together in his blue Chrysler. I watched the foliage followed by the snow and even the spring rains. The exam didn't even include parallel parking and was on an automatic car. Yet, when the examiner asked me in the first three minutes of the test to leave the parking lot, I forgot how to put the car in reverse, with that strange American mechanism that is attached to the steering wheel. That is how I failed my first test! I still am incapable of driving a manual car.

When my younger brother and his wife gifted me with scuba lessons, they unknowingly thrust me in that awkward and challenging position of being tested again for technical knowledge. I spent over an hour, assembling and disassembling diving equipment! What's most difficult is to memorize when to use what!

Granted, in pilates class, I have managed to use the pole equipment, the reformer, the cadillac, the barrel and the chair at Club Stretch, and when playing golf, I can differentiate one golf club from another. However, in each of those instances, my life does not depend on that knowledge!

This makes me wonder why the little mermaid tried so hard to breathe and walk on terra firma when I am trying so hard to live her life in the Big Blue....The grass is always greener on the other side!

November 29, 2010

I Hate Hamburgers

I love my steak. But I refrain from eating hamburgers. I can no longer hold one, or even cut one for my kids to share. If they want a burger, they count on their dad.

Once upon a time, and surprisingly, I had my first Mc Donald's in Hong Kong. I was 8 and had never been to the United States or Europe. Perhaps I had a cheeseburger or two by the pool at the Hilton Hotel in Dubai, when the plates arrived covered in the hotel restaurant steel tops and were such a treat. But unwrapping the small burger in the happy meal in Hong Kong was a milestone experience. We didn't have fast food in Dubai in the seventies and in the eighties, we first had Dairy Queen with its poor marketing.

I believe the best burger to date have been the ones we indulged in at Huston's in Washington D.C. It came with its artichoke dip and its chilli and was a whole restaurant experience. Nice days!

I always ate hamburgers. In Geneva, during Agassi tennis games on tv, I often took-away Mc Donald's burgers. When I studied in Boston, I upgraded my burgers to gourmet and used to frequent the Four Seasons to order a burger. The In and Out burger in California were the last delicious burgers I ate.

Something went wrong one night, two years ago, my husband ordered a very large burger from Johnny Rockets in Dubai. He left it for me to eat on the kitchen table and departed to some business obligation. I sat with LeMonde spread in front of me, and read as I bit into the gigantic burger. I finished it, distracted by my reading. I didn't sleep that night, incapable of digesting the heavy burger. I have never eaten a burger since.

November 28, 2010

Sotheby's Doha Sale

I have just discovered another reference book-catalog from Sotheby's: Horouf: the Art of the Word, Dec 16, 2010.  The up and coming sale at Doha, is an exhibit of Arabic calligraphy,  an art genre I have only recently begun to appreciate.

The rich cover with Ahmad Mustafa's penmanship and the Muhammad Ehsai stylized blue letters on the back, sealed together with a now "trademark gold biding" conceals the contents of the Doha sale in a refined preview feature.

The sale begins with "The Green Tree" by Ali Hassan, a symbolic and optimistic painting for the Islamic world.  No sooner had I turned to Lot 2 that I recognized Dalya Islam's talented curatorship. She has dusted the conservatism and the stillness off the concept of calligraphy and has dignified it with a modern and avant guard twist.

Lot 2 is a Kamran Diba painting with very little calligraphy, in the pure sense of the term. Here, the artist has removed the text from the front page newspaper, only showing the illustrations, all photographs of Qatar. The newspaper has six top paper titles, thus referring to them all at once, but rendering the situation unlikely. Journalistic words are also developed in the work of Mohammed El Baz, the neon signs are the ones of the three Arab leading newspapers.

In this catalog, artists have a common theme to work on: calligraphy. But calligraphy here has a very open definition and the artists are from the Middle East but also from the United States, China, Japan and particularly from the Indian Subcontinent. How I smiled when I saw M.F Hussein's watercolors: his calligraphy retains his ElGreco elongated style which make him so unique.

Rachid AlKoraichi has a monumental sculpture in bronze, a masterpiece representing a Japanese character with Arab symbolism. How I wish to see that particular piece of the collection!

My favorite pieces from the catalog are Hussein Madi's The Arabic Alphabet and Omar Bilbeisi's Untitled. Omar Bilbeisi is unknown to me, yet his use of primary colors and his highly stylized script remind me very much of Shishegaran who painted scrawls instead of letters on very similar backdrops of primary, two dimensional colors. I can even sense an influence of Dia Azzawi because the Iraqi artist used black between the bold colors as Bilbeisi does.

Hussein Madi has painted 31 circles, which he aligned perfectly in a grid. In each circle you may find a single chapter: the celebration of the Arabic Alphabet, one letter at a time. I only know Madi for his Bottero-esque figures or his abstract patterns. The abstract pattern of leaves, flowers and birds set his familiar background, a trademark of Madi: his identifiable style. The addition of letters make the work all the more unique.

Granted there is a big dichotomy between the two halves of the catalog, thus making it a serious sale of calligraphy because it is an amalgamation of vanguard contemporary artists and precious antique and religious works. In fact, the last part of the book is a clear and immediate reference to the vestiges that our new artists use for inspiration.
From the 89th lot onwards, I get lost in the unknown realm of antiquities. The first 89 lots are in contrast very familiar to me.

That is why I was able to recognize the very special collection that Dalya Islam curated. Her team has brought two very fine Khaled Ben Slimane, both sculpture and painting. How did they find the Ali Omar Ermes, painted 8 years ago, of four letters, all in a familiar alphabetized sequence instead of the standard single letter he chooses to paint today? Luxurious are the golden interlaced letters of Farhad Moshiri, on a white background of deliberately peeling paint. I consider the letters and numerals by Moshiri to be the finest of his repertoire.

I also admired Zoulikha Bouabdellah's orange sculpture of Hobb and was grateful to Dalya Islam for selling works created by artists that were born after 1977. Thus Marwa Adel, born 1984, may not be a piece I would theoretically buy, but it provides me with a great example of how unconventional Dalya Islam is being in order to diffuse calligraphy to a wider audience. She certainly educated me by finding all this talent for a single calligraphy theme.

November 26, 2010

All the Roads lead to New Jersey

I used to often visit my brothers on the Main Line, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Brothers Mc Mullin were roommates while one attended college and the other Law school at Villanova. We instinctively would jump in the car for a bite in Philadelphia. It sometimes happened that we took the wrong turn.....

....And ended on the New Jersey turnpike with the next exit, twenty minutes away, leading us, in the darkness to the Garden State. These mishaps only happen at night.

In Dubai, the ONLY road to avoid is the highway to Sharjah. Beware, it doesn't start off as a highway like Sheikh Zayed Road does. It looks like a ramp taking you to City Center. But it develops as a "sneaky, tricky" rollacoaster road. I start to mumble, I begin to scream, my heart rate rises and then it is a sharp downfall to an ever enlarging highway, two lanes become four, I submerge in a tunnel and all the signs lead to Sharjah. I combat panic and I find the last chance, the last exit before torture (ie no choice but to go to Sharjah).

My motto when I get lost is that I will learn my lesson, will never take that turn again. At least I have found a quick exit right before Sharjah: Airport Terminal 2. My son and I chat now for comfort. We remark that this is the airport my husband, his dad, lands in when he arrives from Kabul. Deep down, I wish that my trip will not last three hours as the Kabul-Dubai one does. Logic rules. There must be signs for Dubai at the Airport! The familiar AbuDhabi/Jebel Ali ones pop up and reassure me.

My son is in his swimming trunks. I had tried connecting a very obvious Dubai Golf Creek Club to the Floating Bridge. He is doing his geography homework. No better place than a silent car, vibrant with stress, to get homework out of the way. "Don't you know where Gianxiou is Mama?" I wanted to find Dubai first. More important I was afraid of the giant cobra with the white and red illuminated eyes. This is what we call traffic: the lurking monster. If it finds you, traffic swallows you, you get imprisoned  in the entrails of the massive snake. No mercy!

Each turn is a decisive one leading u to "Syraat almostakeem" (the right road in religious terminology). When I found my way back through the labyrinth, when my son got into a swimming lane after all the highway lanes we traversed, I relaxed and told myself it was well worth the effort. My second motto is: when you get lost just know you will get hit by a blog posting!

I hope traffic will be eradicated in a decade when my children will be behind the wheel. In two decades they can tell their children stories about the pinktaxi caught in traffic.

November 25, 2010

Music Matters

"What type of music do you like?" Is a personality assessment question. What kind of music I don't like is very important too. Most people lie and say they like all kinds of music. It is a standard answer. However, you will hear me change the radio channels constantly while driving because I don't want to linger on songs I dislike. The Touareg's radio buttons were abused in five years.

My youngest complains when I keep changing, he says its wrong. But he has taste in music too and he will often ask me to change the "overplayed" songs. He doesn't like DJ Guetta anymore because the four year old has realized that it is played ad-nauseam. He doesn't know how fortunate we are in Dubai to have cool radio stations, with little talk and little advertisements. Also the Dubai stations I have picked rarely play oldies, unless they are retro-cool and play dance music as early as our morning commute!

"Music matters to me" was what I SMSed Nathalie, Dubai FM92 DJ and friend, when she played Go West by the Pet Shop Boys for my birthday, a few days ago, upon request. We rarely bother her with requests, but I always sms her when she plays music I really like!

My husband's IPod, which he lent me to attenuate the pain during my root canal dental visits, is a reflection of what tunes motivate him to accumulate the running kilometers. Most important, his IPod is his inseparable travel gadget.

It was with my other half that I discovered "Alors on Danse" by Stormae, at the cool Raina club, in Istanbul. The music there is so fabulous that we were dancing the June night away and when we heard it for the first time, my husband couldn't stop me from running up to the DJ, baffled as I was by the tune, to discover the artist. My friends in Dubai and a sibling who didn't read my blog, didn't catch the song until it became a best single today!

The one who liked it from the minute I sent him the name by blackberry was my older brother. With much thrill, he endorsed my choice immediately. My strong taste for music doesn't compare with his passion/obsession. He enters a music store the way I enter a bookstore. His ear captures intricacies that seems scrambled to me. Moreover, he is patient when he explains them to me.

In fact, I met my future sister in law for the first time at a Faithless concert when I was the third wheel on their date. Love conquered all and music was a cement. They got married and we went to other concerts together: Cold Play and DJ Guetta.

I sometimes wonder what music Dai Rahim would have endorsed today had he still been with us. He used to tease me so much about loving REM! With Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode, he still lives. He was the one who initiated us to music.

When my phone rang endlessly at the hairdresser's today, I didn't feel self conscious. The stylists are British and hip. They did not blink when the Depeche Mode ringer tuned.

November 24, 2010

Eid and Thanksgiving

"Thanksgiving!" My son cried out when I putted less than perfect, but close enough to the hole for him to have allowed a gimme.  The Scottish instructor didn't understand. "Isn't that an American holiday?" He asked with his  distinctive accent.

Eid al Adha and Thanksgiving are only a week apart this year. Eid fluctuates as the Islamic year rotates around the Gregorian calendar and the seasons. I have celebrated both holidays, with more festivity according to the continent I was on.

What I love about these holidays, and by Eid I refer to  both the Ramadan Eid and the Eid of Hajj, is that in those instances (and to a certain extent Christmas, but that gets affected by Christmas shopping) the whole city sleeps, slows down and makes us all feel on holiday.

How can a huge consumer society like the United States come to a sudden halt on Thanksgiving? A country that is open 24 hours seven days a week just closes shop on Thanksgiving. Even supermarkets close early for those holidays. By principle, this historical celebration, turned traditional, is a time when Americans criss cross around the country to make sure they all reunite with their families. The airports and other airline industries fill to the intolerable brim and comical movies have been written about the family reunions that take place.

In the Middle East, and in Dubai in particular, where I reside, the sudden halt also occurs on Eids. It is the only time when Dubai which is also built on a 24h seven times a week sort of pace declares public holiday and sleeps in. Only the shops remain open. In fact the traffic to the mall on Eid nights is notoriously insane.

For me, I have no school drives, barely any scheduled activities and my family spends more time at home and on the golf course. Eid becomes a time for gift giving, family meals and a dash more of sleep. As a child, we used to travel to Lebanon, bond with family in scenes reminiscent of American comedies on Thanksgiving. I do remember the solemn moments also, namely when my uncles and aunts came back from Hajj, draped in white and greeted with much pride.

For Eid, it wasn't the traditional cash handouts children got from relatives or the new clothes parents dressed us in but the fireworks which were my favorite memories of Eid. As soon as it grew dark, with parental help and supervision, all the cousins used to light up bangers and other small firecrackers in front of our grandmother's house, like American kids do on the Fourth of July.

Norman Rockwell has painted Thanksgiving dinners. I have participated in many similar ones, one extra large maternal family, all united at my grandparents home in Salt Lake City, around an extra large dinner table, with turkey, stuffing, cranberry and all the trimmings. My favorite part of the meal were the pies. I had now grown accustomed to the pecan and especially pumpkin pies that I wished I could eat all year long and not just seasonally. The dinner always ended with the dishwasher being loaded and the pots and pans washed and dried in an assembly line of female relatives.

This Eid was splendid as Dubai became a slow paced city, with little traffic and had a calming vibe. I thought of Thanksgiving in the USA when Americans count their blessings for the short respite from the stress of work and consumerism. I thought of my family in New York which will travel to Washington DC, and the San Diego maternal gang gathering around a turkey,  and the Afghan tribe also reuniting in the Bay area. Just as we get our school bags ready for a month of school before Christmas and its boisterous holiday, no matter where on the globe you are.

And for the record, I researched and asked my fellow golfers across the blackberry network, about the term Thanksgiving. It does not exist. Apparently it had infiltrated our golf lingo in a mysterious way, perhaps linked to those awesome American holidays......

November 23, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

I read "The Catcher in the Rye", by J.D.Salinger when I took a summer course in American Lit  at St Alban's, in Washington D.C. Often, when I think of Washington DC the image of its maroon cover comes to mind. I can even visualize the title's golden large font.

That summer, the teacher had also assigned "The Diary of Anne Frank", given that both books were coming of age stories. At age twelve, I was of course very receptive to this literature and I read and re-read passages, in search of those authors' confessions.

Picture taken in a NYC cab by Talal Salaam

"Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen could also be designated as a coming of age novel. Like "The Catcher in the Rye", New York City  is looming in the background, an intimidating playground for a teenager. In Freedom, it is Christmas 2001 and the country is still trembling from  the 9/11 attacks. New York City has a threatening feel to it. This is a far cry from Gossip Girl's NYC, as popularized by that T.V. show,  which glamorizes the world of over privileged kids who are merely concerned with fashion and dating.

There is something special about discovering contemporary talent in literature, and I know that Freedom has the power to one day become a classic. To think that the writer is still living, and may write another equally rich novel, is thrilling. I leafed through two of his earlier novels, and didn't find them as magically enthralling as this one. In Freedom, pages and pages are so lyrical and utterly simple that I wanted to read them out loud. I have yet to discover his memoirs, which were ferociously critiqued by the NY Times' Kakutani, and "The Corrections" which earned him an award.

In "The Catcher in the Rye", the protagonist takes his little sister to the Museum of Natural History. The descriptions I discovered twenty five years ago were so accurate and precise that I still remember Salinger's words when I walk into a museum of that sort, be it the one in New York or even in Geneva! Even the film "A Night in the Museum" makes me think of that novel. Franzen  uses the term "phony", as coined by Salinger, throughout his novel, an obvious clin d'oeuil to a writer that has influenced him.

Another writer who came to mind as I read "Freedom", is Francoise Sagan. She  was a French writer with a personality like Franzen's. She wrote "Bonjour Tristesse", a little gem of a book, about a Lolita who spends a languorous summer with her divorced mother.  Sagan gained cult status after writing that book. Similarly, Salinger was so afraid of his fans that he went into solitary retirement in the nature, as did William Thoreau at Walden Pond.

In "L'Ecume des Jours", the love between Sartre and Mme de Beauvoir is ridiculed, but Boris Vian, its author, eventually also gained cultish status as Sagan did and Salinger in the U.S.  Today, I join many in admiring Jonathan Franzen. He has colored my month with instant gratification reading as I sniffed the literary quality of his work. His book surely rises to the level of my much beloved "Catcher in the Rye". Freedom will be read across colleges and perhaps maybe in high school! I can be sure of it.

November 22, 2010

Golf is Like Skiing

When I book to play on a large golf course, I prepare myself as I would for a day of skiing. Golf and skiing are time intensive sports and I must re-arrange my day and make the necessary cancellations to give myself that luxury of time. I will therefore wake up early for a day of golf, sometimes teeing off at 7am, either because I am escaping the heat or simply because I can catch up with the rest of the family sooner if I start earlier.

Eating properly before and during a golf game is important. Golf requires energy and concentration and a good breakfast is a must. The bananas and energy bars I take along also remind me of the supplements found in my ski anorack.

Golf equipment can be as cumbersome as ski equipment. The clubs weigh almost the same as skis, are odd-sized and somehow must be carried around despite their weight.

Often weather is the issue. We are fortunate not to worry about rain in Dubai but we have to be very careful about the sun and can justifiably complain about the humidity. I have even coined it as "bikram golf". I may add that it is almost as dynamic as bikram yoga because your heart rate goes up when you are running to the next hole, striding on the green. I spend so much time running after "ridiculous" balls that it becomes  "power golf"! The day will come when I will walk the course because my game has improved. I will then score no more than 5 on a long hole and spend the time walking, with no worry about making the players behind me, wait too long.

Nature is at the center of both games. People may argue that these manicured lawns of golf are environmentally incorrect, a waste of water, but aren't parcs manicured as well? One thing is for sure, golf  is half a day spent outdoors, in the fresh air, admiring beautiful landscapes, the same way skiiers look at mountainscapes. The sense of escape is the same. In Dubai, I have encountered fully lawned courses as well as  desert landscaped courses. Both types are charming in their own way.

In both skiing and golf, snow and grass are respectively our main preoccupation. These are the elements we deal with. Skiiers and golfers are always dwelling on that subject. They say eskimos have a multitude of names for snow. They should hear Scottish golf pros talk about grass!

I would say that golf is more cerebral, technique focused and emotional. Like with tennis, I can get very frustrated with myself. Golf can therefore be less of an escape and a release than skiing. But I must say that I have never spent a day of golf when I was always mad at myself. I eventually warmed up and played better and playing better than worse is always a happy improvement.

Golf, like skiing is a family sport which is conducive to bonding and to quality time. I cannot wait for the other children to join my eldest and me! In fact golf has been a very good measuring yard with my son. I can assess his maturity with his progress as he becomes a keener player, one that wants to hear the tips from his coaches and apply them and especially one that contains his behavior to a disciplined stance. Golf demands quiet, respect, protocol and concentration.

It is hard to change the image of golf because of the senior citizens who play it, and because of the less fit people who choose it as their only sport. I can vouch however that there are a large number of young, talented, calculating and fit players out there. In fact, my son's swim coach recommended swimming for golf because swimming allows for the suppleness that is required for excellent golf playing.

November 21, 2010

Growing up Polyglot

Most Lebanese are trilingual. Our kids, of Afghan father and Lebanese mother, are versed in four languages. I hope they will pick up another two along the way. Mandarin and Russian would be a challenge for them, Japanese a cool tool. But I know that I am being an overly ambitious mother. I think Farsi, Arabic, French and English would suffice for the time being!

I have made it  a point to never speak a word of English to my children, although it is arguably the language I am most fluent in. I know they will eventually learn English by living in this globalized world of ours. When they were babies, my terms of endearment were in Farsi, and I transitioned to French or Arabic when they reached preschool. There was a time in my family's history when I spoke three different languages to three different children: French to the eldest who goes to a Lycee, Arabic to the second who was attending an Arabic preschool at the time, and Farsi to the third, still my baby. My Farsi level fizzles at the preschool level.

It goes without saying that each language has its own approach. French has to be addressed though its main artery: conjugaison. If you cannot conjugate French verbs , that sound Latin and complicated with its thousands of irregularities, you cannot speak French.

Arabic is no longer a daunting idiom for me. My youngest son speaks the classical version of it and believes it is his secret language with his mother and grandfather. He loves the colorful Arabic books I read to him at bedtime. The books have evolved since my youth, when they were still dull and serious books I never cared to open. Reading in Arabic is still a challenge for me, but I am learning with him. I think children books have enough vocabulary to make any person adult or child versatile in that specific language. My husband always says that he learned French 8 years ago when our eldest began to speak it! He can now order anything he wants at La Petite Maison...in French!

Currently, my older kids are schooled in four languages. They have managed to master them withouth mixing them up. Let us take Farsi and Arabic for example. My five year old daughter understands that they have the same script but she is capable of differentiating the two languages. She has a new drawer in her brain for new farsi vocabulary and I am hoping that the drawer is padded with all the Farsi I spoke to her in her first two years of life. Perhaps it sinks with more ease because she hears it around her  in Dubai quite a bit.

I unfortunately was not as lucky with Spanish and Italian. While I was majoring in Latin American Literature, which required mastering  academic Spanish, I could read Spanish books and write essays, however, I took a silly chance and enrolled in intensive Italian my senior year. My Spanish degenerated and my Italian went nowhere!

It is therefore safe to advise against any language study choice under the pretext that you know a similar one: I also learned my lesson the hard way when I tried to study Turkish.....because it sounds like a mixture of Arabic and Farsi. But I have already posted on that topic! Instead, I will leave it to my children to grasp as many languages as they can, while their minds are still agile and open.

November 20, 2010

Edward Said and Mathematical Demonstrations

When studying geometry with my eldest son, I like to review the intricate steps with him. He has to demonstrate the hypothesis, use a geometric theorem and then conclude that his hypothesis was correct or incorrect.

Edward Said also had a studied message when he wrote his celebrated "Orientalism": that  the West had traditionally portrayed Eastern countries in a such a way as to justify colonising and exploiting them. Very few people have actually read Orientalism in its entirety. Like me, they have probably been intimidated by the in depth literary references the author uses to demonstrate his hypothesis.

In order to appreciate "Orientalism", you would need to have read most of the primary sources he refers to and equally understand his delicate dissection of them. Edward Said made no shortcuts and Orientalism is an academic gem that has transformed the way the West is permitted to treat the East. He certainly was a pioneer of cultural relativism. In the end, however, many of us managed to understand Edward Said's message without having to read the book. "Orientalism" becomes his developing demonstration, as would be the demonstration of a geometrical hypothesis.

I have had the pleasure of meeting the late Edward Said up close and personal, as well as  listening to him from afar when he gave talks in  university auditoriums. I have enjoyed his political diatribes, as he always expressed his opinion without any constraints. He was a politically engaged intellectual, living and teaching in York City, the bastion of modern judaism, where he was nevertheless respected for his genius and could legitimately critique the government of Israel because he spoke intelligently and eloquently.

I particularly remember a message he once made to Arab students in the United States, urging us to leave our academic ghettos "of Middle Eastern studies", which I happened to have specialized in, and pushing us to study other fields, namely American studies, considering many of us were also citizens of the US. "Stop looking at yourselves and stretch your sight to others", was what I remember him telling us. When I applied to his Ph.D program in Comparative Literature at Columbia, I brandished my Latin American Literature BA degree before mentioning the M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies. I believe that is one of the factors that enabled my acceptance to his rprogram. I also was accepted for a Ph.D program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

I was then faced with a great dilemna. I couldn't decide whether to pursue the Ph.D degree with the most talented intellectual from the Middle East, or International Law and Diplomacy for which I had already acquired all the course work during my M.A., and considered to be a more professional degree? I ended up opting for Fletcher, and as destiny would have it, I also met my future husband there. A few years later, I had the honor to sit next to Dr. Said at a dinner and I told him how divided I had felt when I chose the path of international law instead of comparative literature.We got too busy talking about his various passions to dwell on regrets.

Dr Said's book of memoirs, entitled "Out of Place", is the closest written work to "Les Confessions" by Rousseau. This book is about his para-academic life. I savoured every sentence and enjoyed discovering the childhood of the genius. His predilections were music and politics, and his childhood stories reminded me of the nostalgic memoirs by French writer Marcel Pagnol ("La Gloire de Mon Pere" and "Le Chateau de Ma Mere"). Some have wondered why he lingered on his self portrait while barely painting a clear picture of his family members and loved ones. I believe this focus on the self is the backbone of a memoir, an attempt to delve into and find one's self through the act of writing. His title tells us that he always felt "out of place" and this particular endeavor was a way to rediscover himself through his past.

Edward Said was our era's Renaissance man. An academic, musician, and engaged intellectual. He corrected Western misconceptions of the Orient, and most importantly he gave us, Middle Easterners, the confidence to benefit from our education in the West. He opened doors  in the West for future Arab scholars, spearheading subaltern studies in history and supporting new writers as a fine literary critic that he was. While only a small percentage of the intelligentsia has actually read Orientalism, it is certain that the demonstrations of his theory are his most prized legacy.

Paranormal Activity

I am American and like most Americans, I love peanut butter and pumpkin pie. Its an American inclination. I have the same inclination to horror movies. Those quintessential flicks like Nightmare on Elm Street always have so much Americana in them that you must have lived in the United States to understand the finer references.

Artsy movies are my first choice but I do confess to loving Twilight. Vampire movies aren't nearly as scary as the horror movies I agree to see on rare occasions when my older brother buddies up with me for a movie date: not the random ones but more the home-movie type, with Blair Witch as the first one of that type. They are reality show parodies. The characters act as though they have forgotten the video camera is there, as many do when they are at big memorable occasions.

Yet what persists more, and especially before the drama is the daily routine, the no occurence type of footage. It lulls the spectator so that he/she can be jolted in fright when the gruesome occurs.The scary is also funny because it touches on all our insecurities: the strange noises, the fear of being alone, the odd and awkward situations like being locked out of your house with no phone or shoes.

Paranormal Activity (part I, part II) dwell on the simple act of sleeping, of what happens while you are fast asleep and the act of the other sleeping. The eerie scene is of the girlfriend standing in a daze over her boyfriend while he sleeps, staring at him for hours. The theme is about spirits and haunted modern houses. Indeed the houses aren't similar to Adam's Family which are construed in a dramatic costumed monster castle with dust and cobwebs. In Paranormal Activity, suburbia sprawls.

Swimming pools, gadgeted kitchens, basements and bedrooms with large closets make for door banging scenes.We sit with our popcorn, children of the eighties, who have all watched Poltergeist by Steven Speilberg and remember how the whole summer it was released was hauntingly scary. That whole summer we were scared of TVs!

It had been a few weeks after my Hallaween viewing of Paranormal Activity 2 with my brother. I was now at bikram yoga when the instructor led us into posture 17. As usual he used very precise instructions which my ears were tuned to and my muscles were ready to follow. For Salabhasana, he requested that we raise one leg at a time and insure that, figure of speech, our toes and leg were dragged to the end of the room.

That was when the Paranormal Activity imagery attacked me, as I lay in zen on my mat, applying my concentration to a pose that my hamstrings would benefit from. However, at that split moment, and luckily for a split instant, I had the uncontrollable urge to laugh. I imagined the scene in Paranormal Activity 2 when the spirit was dragging the defenseless mother by her toes, down to the basement. The towel beneath me muffled my laughter.

November 18, 2010

Franzen vs Kakutani

I enjoy intellectual fights. Not thos simple debates but the real fights between intellectuals. I can think of VS Naipul and Salman Rushdie slamming other with open letters. I recall the late Edward Said's anger toward Fouad Ajami's political stance with whom he had ferocious public debates. The open letters and OpEds and rare ensuing public excuses entertain me. I think debates like these are healthy and conducive to cultural development.

I then heard about the strong animosity between a leading New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani and Jonathan Franzen. The rumor of their discord encouraged me to read Franzen's book "Freedom" first and then read her preview, and his response finally.

The most comical aspect of the whole debate is that she was praising him for Freedom and he was rejecting her praise because she had criticized him so harshly in the past for his memoirs entitled "The Discomfort Zone". "The stupidest person in New York City is currently the lead reviewer of fiction for the New York Times” is what he said of Kakutani.

Jonathan Franzen masters English like few writers do. Granted the Indian school does. Salman Rushdie does. But Franzen's English isn't elegant and doesn't sound as outdated as Rushdie's does. Franzen's English is American, contemporary, and casual, yet it is rich and poetic.

I wish I carried a Webster dictionary in order to discover the meaning of some the words he uses. There is no necessity for this however, because his words are so accurately chosen that I can safely extrapolate their meaning: they stand for the exact idea he is expressing and describe the atmosphere to a delicate precision.

His sentences are games. Grammatical games with shows of dexterity and supleness. They make me smile throughout my reading. His storytelling is dense. Each scene, or plot unwinding is a short story in itself, replete with decorum, personality development and very often tense narrative construction. I can imagine Hopper's interiors and his lonely characters when I read. In this book, characters are constantly battling themselves, their addictions and their desires.

He paints American society as we think we know it and yet as we cannot express it: "all she ever seemed to get for all her choices and all her freedom was [to be] more miserable" (p.181). Americans have earned the privilege and the freedom to choose and they battle with these luxurious decisions on  a daily basis. "L'embarras du choix" would say a Frenchman. Perhaps that freedom is what the title refers to.

Franzen writes with the same technique used to paint oil on canvas. He layers the narrative, one brushstroke at a time, and it gains depth as he adds one more complex color and creates a variant shade. I turn pages, slowly, with curiosity and enjoy the build up. I still cannot tell how he will construct the larger framework. He travels in time with such fluidity that regressing or advancing feel natural.

Now that I have immersed myself into Freedom with such pleasure, I have decided that I will soon read his earlier book, "The Corrections". Another book by Franzen for which Kakutani had little praise.

November 17, 2010

Life begins at 40

I once got my father a key chain that said: life begins at 40. I will take the adage to heart.

I swam with my son, or should I say  that I competed with him. Each one in our separate lane. The coach tried to cheer him on: "speed up and kick! You are a man, you can't have your mom win." My son retorted with a precise true fact: "but she is four times my age". The coach began: "well, precisely. You will become a champ and your mom...." He didn't finish but I understood immediately. I can swim my laps but would I ever have the potential to become a champ? Not at my age.

I can't take up a new language either. Improving on what I have got all ready would be smarter. Golf, pilates, yoga and swimming are good sports because I could practice them for another forty years.

Now is my time to pursue intellectual passions. I have renounced writing a novel because the genre isn't suitable to me. Blogging, in all its casualness suits me well. Now is my time to teach: teach my children the fundamentals and a methodology for academics. I strive for them to approach knowledge with interest, inquisitiveness, thirst and serenity. Not to be intimidated by dense information or strange formulas.

The flip of the coin is that I learn from my kids. I constantly challenge my own techniques, upgrade my information base and assimilate knowledge that passed me by  when I was their age, or that I may have forgotten.

To take the example of Winney the Pooh and his pot of honey, I am not at that preparatory stage when I am swimming to become a champ, rather I have reached my destination: I have retained swimming as a fitness tool. I have all the summers at swim team on which to base my technique and passion on. Life begins at 40 because now is the time when the hand is in the honey pot and I am enjoying my skill sets and applying them.

My younger brother and sister in law surprised me with a full package of.... Scuba diving lessons! I would never, ever, in my wildest dreams, have explored the seas at my own initiative. They have just thrown me into the ocean and I must overcome my fears and discover a new world....at age 40.

So I blew out forty candles today, as I took count this time at bikram in the last pose of the class,  during my last class at age 39.

November 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Pinktaxiblogger!!

Dear Pinktaxiblogger,

In honor of your 40th birthday, many of your family and dearest friends wanted to share their best wishes and love on your special day. As your only sister, I have been anticipating this day with childish but teary-eyed glee, as I am so happy to know that you are turning in a new decade in such happiness, yet I am so sad I can't be with you to celebrate. Randomly, songs like "Viva La Vida" or "Papa Don't Preach" turn on the radio, and my heart squeezes because I miss you so much. I am reminded of how I felt when you first left home, at age 14 to go to boarding school, and left behind a 10 year old brother, a 6 year old sister and a 3 year old brother who missed you so much. I used to sit in the back of the car and literally cry because  your place was so empty. And the truth is you'd given so much of yourself to each of us, whether reading us bedtime stories, pushing us in the stroller, playing dolls with me, or entertaining us when eating. You are a very special person in each of your hearts, and none of us would be who we are if it weren't for you.

I hope you have so much fun celebrating this important birthday. As you once told our father: "Life Begins at 40". I don't know if that truly applies to you, because you are not in the midst of a midlife crisis. You are at your fittest, your most social, your most fulfilled, with three beautiful children, a loving husband, and too many degrees to mention in your back pocket, and too much art to fit on your walls. MASHALLAH! Life has begun long ago for you. May the next 40 years be a lovely continuation of an already fruitful and successful life, all in the best of health Inshallah, and always surrounded by those you love most.

Please listen to each and every song, (they were chosen meticulously--yes go on the IPad or a real computer), and have a very very happy birthday! I love you more than the world!


Your sister, Amira

Here are the messages from everyone:

Dear Pink Taxi,

 Not only did I share in giving you your flower name 40 years ago, but I also suggested to you, the blogger title Pink Taxi, almost a year ago. I still treasure the key chain that you gave me, with "Life Begins at 40", but I also cherish the other key chain that reads "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" ! Of course that was 25 years ago, your heart now belongs to your cool and loving husband,and I call you now Siss!

We are soul mates, your presence in Dubai with your husband and three lovely children fills my life with pleasure and content.

A very happy 40th my love, may God fulfill your dreams,and give you a long, happy, prosperous and healthy life ahead!



From K:

She doesn't make comment about the fact that i have more closet space than she does and the fact she always buy me more shoes..( reference the tao of pooh)..she is the best friend anyone can ever hope to have....always in the same wave length, curious about everything...it is a fact that she has never initiated any fight ever...the honor goes always to me... she says the kids have my enthusiasm , but surely without her we would be always lost!

She is gift to all of our lives! Every single day!

AT, AS, MW and K are luckiest people on the planet. Thanks...


To my partner in crime, I wish you the best birthday ever! We've been through so much together it would take pages and pages to list all the memories we've shared. You are the best and coolest big sister anyone could ask for. I love you.



Best wishes to my totally cool and awesome sister in law. So lucky I married your bro. And you are his sister. :) thanx for being the best. Wishing you  a great birthday!

 lots of love

Life begins at 40... An expression coined by someone who understood that the first forty years is just a taste, an amuse-bouche, of what life really has to offer... Tabula rasa, or blank slate, is a perfect way of approaching your next forty years... you are the most ambitious person I know, you succeed at anything you put your mind to, so keep discovering new hobbies, new skills, new interests... Don't ever stop... I love you so much, wishing you all the health and happiness in the world, you SOOO deserve it!! Happy birthday Pinktaxi!!

Love you always, Talal


Happy birthday ! May your  40th year bring you even more PINK adventures and blissful moments all in good health.

In the meantime, enjoy life under the water!

Love and light always,

Wishing you the happiest of birthdays on your 40th! Not only have you always been a wonderful sister to us, you have been a tremendous supportor and advocate from before I met Amira. You are a true Khaleh to our boys and when we see them with you (although not as frequent as we would like because of distance) we are filled with much happiness. We hope that you have an amazing 40 years to come inshallah filled with the love and interesting times.

-Love Dean


Having you as a neighbor these past years has been a blessing. You have been a great friend and sister. I wish you the happiest birthday ever and years ahead filled with health and happiness for all your loved ones.

With all my appreciation, love and gratitude,


Dearest Pinktaxi,

I hope you have time to read your own blog while busy driving around in your Pinktaxi! Happy Birthday! All the memories of your childhood are coming back to me like a flood, how time flies! You were the cutest, little blond curly haired girl when you visited us in Tehran. Do you remember the summer we spent in Chaloos, Caspian Sea, when you broke your arm and we couldn't find someone to set it! The long road trip we took with your parents along the northern most border of Iran, stopping in Gombad- e Qabus to take a picture in front of the Tower. You riding your horse in Dubai at Sheik Mohammad's stables.

The two years I spent in Dubai, being fortunate enough to have spent some time when you kids were growing up, especially when you parents went to India and I stayed with you. There are so many memories, can't put them all down at once. Now you are a lovely, grown woman with your own family, but still the sweet, logical girl who had a head on her shoulders and knew from the beginning what she wanted out of life. I admire your love of life and all it offers you and most of all your appreciation of the simple things which you pass on to your family and to us.

I love your blog, as your Dad said, we have all become adicted to it! Love you always and Happy Birthday!

Khaleh Linda

Wow, the big 4-0 has arrived. Now what, mid-life crisis or does that now happen when you are 50? Regardless, I truly believe that age is just a number and you are as old as you feel. Having read your blogs in the past couple of months, it looks like you are feeling better than ever, looking better than ever, busier than ever and thus the question is how old do you feel?

Behnam, Reza, Keon, Nina and I would like to wish you the happiest birthday ever. May you have a wonderful year ahead of you and may you continue to entertain us and keep us informed with your blogs that we truly love reading.

Lots of love, kisses and birthday wishes,
Behnam, Vida, Reza, Keon, and Nina

Happy bday Pinktaxi. Looking forward to bikram with you. Best wishes to you on your 20th.

Happy 40th Pinktaxi! This is going to make you cringe.... But going to say it anyway!! "love you lots" xx Homaira


Dear Pinktaxi,

Remembering all the good things that has happened in your life till now is what "Forty" is all about. So enjoy! Amou Bahram and I wish you the best for the great day and years to come. Love, K. Claudia

Happy Birthday from your eldest cousin. You know I wish for your health and happiness always that goes without saying, but also I know as a mom it is easy to get wrapped up in your families doings but never forget how lucky we are to have those doings. We are truly blessed count every minute you have as a blessing and never take them for granted!! I love you.



The next video clip is from your two nephews in NY who love you so much and wish they could kiss you on your birthday! It is jointly their favorite song, and they dance to it with all the joy in the world. We love you Khaleh Pinktaxi or is it Khaleh Gaga(?) and send you so much love and juicy kisses!!!