A pink taxi

A pink taxi

February 27, 2011

February Child

Dear Nephew,

February has always felt  as the longest month of the year. This is ironic because it isn't a mathematical truth. When I think of February, images of long freezing snowy nights come to mind, instead of the typical short days the month actually brings. You arrived at its tail end, on the magical 28th day. Had you been born one day later, your birthdate would have become an Olympic or World Cup type celebration.

I discovered how long February was when I studied in Massachusetts for ten happy years. Colleges run full time during that interminable February New England month. The snow accumulates and the thermometer plays devastatingly diminuendo games.

But then you were born. Five years ago to the date. On Feb 28, 2006, with your big blue eyes and your perfectly pouted mouth, you honored me for my first time with the title of Khaleh! I am your maternal aunt, the only one you have since you don't have paternal ones. I will try to live to earn the title as best as I can.

Since you have been around, February has never been the same. I have since left New England, my children have February vacations in Dubai like you do since you are all in the French system, and there has always been Valentine's day midway to celebrate. Your cousin was born a year ago on February 7th, and so we now have many joyful reasons to pepper up our "longest month".

But then again, who I am to tell you....You of all people, would know everything about February's climate as a native New Yorker.

I wish for you, in a fairy godmother sort of way, sunnier days  in college. How does Stanford University, your mom's alma matter, sound?

February 26, 2011

What Fairy Tales Are Made Of

I once found a Disney picture of RF as a knight in shining armor. That picture is not far from the truth. A few sportsmen, namely two that I have followed closely, fit the image perfectly. One is RF and the other is Zinedine Zidane.

A guest blogger has these words about Zinedine Zidane: "The first time I heard of Zidane was the summer of 1998. I was doing an internship in Paris and France was hosting the World Cup. I was attending the France- Saudi Arabia game at the Stade de France with my brother in law and some friends. A friend of ours was really excited about watching a young French player of Algerian origins. I didn't know anything about Zidane. Once I saw him play, I was star struck. I had never seen anyone play with such grace and flair. Who will ever forget the Final against Brazil? Or the France-Brazil game in 2006? Zidane mastered football. In football, there will only be Pele, Maradona, and Zidane."

Watching Federer on the main court of the Dubai Duty Free Competition has been for me a unique opportunity because the stadium is very small and intimate. He draws crowds and everybody in the full house has quasi "front row" seats. This February, Roger Federer has unquestionably been the undisputed star with the absence of Raphael Nadal, his most challenging competitor.

Every night, in succession, RF walks onto the court, ready to play. Every night, a new opponent holds his breath and manages his anxiety with the realization that he is playing against the best tennis player in history. Simply the best. This opponent will write this February date in his family annals, a tale to tell his children and grandchildren: "on that day, in february, in Dubai, I once played against RF and ....lost."

In fairy tales, princesses request to marry the knight who will win all his opponents and as happy endings have it, the knight slays every dragon, or every rival and wins. Invincible.

That is what Roger Federer is doing on this competition. As I watch him play and win, I can only confirm that very few sportsmen, like Zidane and Federer are legends.

February 24, 2011

Writing Under the Influence

Friends ask me where I find the time to write regularly on my blog, as if time is too precious for such an extracurricular activity. In my case, as I have once mentioned in another post, time is not the issue!

Nobody ever asks me where I find the inspiration! It may seem natural and rather easy to write about an event. But while I am at an art event, or at a sports competition, or at a concert, or on a trip, I wonder how my writing can do justice to the intensity of my feelings and reactions. I also ponder on a proper analysis of current events.

I have made it a sweet habit to celebrate the closest people to me on their birthdays. But I think I do them more justice on a random day, when my heart goes towards a memory or a reflection of their talent. So I dedicate only a small paragraph to their birthday posts.

Memories often jolt me back to a special moment which I rush to jot down. What I write in a thousand words is but a single image that emerges to the surface of my memory. What I try to convey is a single detail that permeates throughout the essay.  This is what I call the twist. My reason to write is to twist the experience, the book review, the portrait, the sport, the trend, the event. How I come up with that twist requires....a coffee.

I write when I am caffeinated. Under the influence of the tall cappucino with skim milk. This often occurs between 815 and 820 am when I find a Starbucks cafe, where I read, write and drink coffee. Sometimes my parents call me at that time, and sensing the caffeine high in my voice, they ask: "are you drinking coffee"?

I may say that some musicians and painters, poets and novelists have often created while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For my blog, it is the capuccino of 815am or sometimes the iced latte of 4pm that ignites my inspiration, and helps me find that twist!

February 23, 2011

RF plays in DXB

I have followed RF on TV since his beginnings, and have made sure to watch each and  every slam he has participated in. But  the experience of watching him play live, as I did the last two nights for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, was a surreal experience.

It had been two years since I'd last seen him play live and I had forgotten how powerful his play was, and how charismatic he truly is. It didn't matter to me that his rival was an unknown. The truth is that I would enjoy watching Federer practice or even warm up.  But I must concede that watching him play against his second opponent, whose name I have chosen not to reveal, was like watching him hit balls from a machine. Roger either served or was on the receiving line of those balls shot at him from the other side; there was no rally! RF's opponenents are mere mortals when they are playing him. He is like a Greek God. I could almost swear I see him levitating when he plays!

I sat in that small stadium in Dubai, deeply grateful to my aunt for the wonderful seats she gave my son and me.  I screamed in delight while my now more mature son became embarassed and asked me to "curb my enthusiasm" in different mumbles of "mama, not so loud!"

I am typing this blog while I wait for the next Roger Federer game, due to start after Djokovitch plays his game, one I am barely following. I don't care for any other player except this Swiss champ. I am that kind of sports' spectator:  I can only be a true fan of players I feel a certain chemistry for. Then I am passionate. My son might even add a little too passionate.

February 22, 2011

My Fascination with Le Monde

Since the beginning of the Tunisian Revolution, my brother, knowing that  I only receive my news from a single source, Le Monde, and that I have never tweeted or logged onto facebook, has taken it upon himself to email me various articles on the uprisings in the Arab world. The articles rain  in on me, but I have trouble opening them all on my blackberry, and only read the most important pieces.

He does acknowledge however that my Le Monde fetish is useful in these times, because the French have unique take on North Africa, and so he even emails me Le Monde articles.  I scold him however, as these previews spoil the fun of savoring a newspaper one page at a time. You also all know by now how much I appreciate a stale and postdated Le Monde newspaper!

The truth is that I have been reading Le Monde for over twenty years now. I have grown accustomed to its approach, to its presentation and to its font. I have been reading it for so long that it has altered my mindset. Take the review of the film Inception, which I posted on this blog, BEFORE I found it in Le Monde: it was practically the same interpretation, I can proudly admit. Some friends would call this a brainwashing.

The second reason for my  strong inclination to read this paper is my infatuation with the French language and culture. It keeps me in tune with cultural trends in France and with regional French news. I must admit however, that I barely understand French politics, especially when  it is presented in its most intricate details in the paper. I prefer to read about French politics in American papers, which always explain those obscure details that are considered to be too obvious by the French.

Le Monde is not about events, it is about the analysis of events. Its writing style is very erudite and literary. Many articles are replete with descriptions that I enjoy reading, just for the imagery, the perfect grammatical structure and the use of rich vocabulary. Le Monde's French "barely" journalistic, and is richer than many American papers, or for that matter LeFigaro, its French competitor. Le Monde is an educational tool for me. I read it as a strong reference and often take their recommendations seriously: I will often read a book, or see a film, or learn about an artist through their reviews. If it makes it in Le Monde, then it must be good!

Most of the time, I read 70 % of Le Monde's contents, often skipping the dry economic and specially French political pieces. I savor the rest, hoping to absorb the information. Some articles are very long and I will not finish them in one sitting. I fold the paper at that page and enjoy the remainder a little later, or perhaps the next day, delaying my reading further. I seldom read the news of the day on the same day.

I have quoted Le Monde and translated it for my husband many times. He will always know their twist on events for having heard it second hand from me. It is a known fact now that my children don't call the paper a "newspaper" or even  the french word "journal". They have made Le Monde a generic name for newspapers of all kind.

February 20, 2011

France: Summer of 1979

I had been French educated since nursery school, but had never been to France before.  The first time I set foot on French soil I was 8 years old and in the 4th grade: I had memorized Victor Hugo verses, knew the height of the Mont Blanc and had even pronounced. "Nous, les Gaulois...", ie us the Gauls, an antiquated way of teaching elementary history in the 70s. I  had solved mathematical problems with the denominational French Francs, and could even list major cities and rivers of France. But I had yet to travel to France.

Today I caught a whiff of coconut suntan lotion and it took me back to that first trip to France in the summer of 1979, when I spent two weeks poolside at the Marina Baie Des Anges, in Nice.  In the 70s, while we wisely applied sunscreen to our faces, we smothered our bodies in suntan oil, an endangered product today. The French specifically use a coconut oil called "Huile de Monoi" that is Tahitian.

Marina Baie des Anges was one of the first marina type developments in the world, a city within a city for tourists, with dozens of common pools, tennis courts, restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and shops. The rented apartments were built in a pyramid building that resembled a boat and allowed for large balconies overlooking the Mediterranean of Azur blue.

I spent those two weeks  playing the typical French card game "Le Jeu Des Sept Familles" by the pool and treating myself to baguette sandwiches and doubled ice cream cones. I especially remember the delicacy of strawberries or rasberries with whipped cream. Those fruits were exotic for a desert dweller in a pre-global world.

I find it interesting that Nice had been chosen as my first French destination, overpassing Paris. My parents must have known Paris in their pre-children days, and had chosen Nice on their European Tour with my aunt's family. We had been to Austria and Italy and now Southern France.

Nice remains very close to my heart today. When the plane lands on the airport tarmac, only a few miles from the Marina Baie des Anges, I always remember that first French trip, in the Summer of 1979.

February 18, 2011

Mme Regnault

I am finally reading "La Gloire de Mon Pere" by Marcel Pagnol for the first time. I have seen the cinematographic adaptation countless times with my children and my parents. We have made the "La Gloire de Mon Pere" movie night an annual tradition at my parents house, where children and parents get cozy on the couch to watch this classic film.

The book happens to be as endearing as the film. The adaptation is very well done because it captures the era, the place, the narrative voice with perfection. Marcel Pagnol's works are quintessentially French, and specifically from the South.  In his books, he depicts France of the early Twentieth Century: the prewar years, when French boys wore peter pan collars and played with hoops in the parks.

I always find consolation about my own educational shortcomings by studying them again with my children when I tutor them. This has earned me, throughout the years, the nickname of Madame Regnault.

Madame Regnault was the entire family's French teacher for four important years, from 7th grade till 10th grade at the Ecole Francaise de Sharjah. She taught the four siblings so we knew her very well and so did my parents. She had her own method of teaching and she was known to have mood swings. We are all indebted to her because she taught us a language and a culture while miles away from her homeland. She could be called a sort of secular missionary.

There were two writers that Mme Regnault overindulged in: Marcel Pagnol for novels and Moliere for plays. I caught on to her theatrical taste and played lead roles in Moliere plays: I always was the over-dramatic maid,  a very Moliere type character! But  for reasons I cannot understand today, I shunned Marcel Pagnol. Perhaps in a spirit of contrarianism and rebellion.

Therefore, when I shed nostaligc tears while reading Pagnol, it is the narrative voice that makes my feelings rise to the surface, but  it is also the gentle memories of Mme Regnault always quoting Pagnol that I remember first.

February 17, 2011


Even Le Monde voted Kanye West's latest album "My beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" as the top album of 2010. I have always imagined Le Monde to be run by chauvinistic, ubber-intellectual French journalists. Apparently they can also be hip and in tune with the latest vibes.

I had yet to  read this Le Monde accolade when I  first heard the title track "Runaway" for the first time while riding in our car in the Bay Area, Northern California. I wondered about the artist at first sound and there it was, in  red letters on the radio screen: Kanye West!


I had just seen him in concert, a few weeks prior, in Abu Dhabi, and had danced to his old tunes and listened carefully to his new ones. However, I had no recollection of the opening piano of this track. Did he play this song at the concert? Did I miss it because I left the concert on Yas Island before the crowds? I will never remember. Suffice it to say, we now listen to that track on repeat. My children just love it!

Do I mind the fowl language on the CD and particularly on the single "Runaway"? Luckily, the smaller kids don't catch on and the eldest, well....he substitutes the very bad words for others when he hums: "24 7 365 I've got swimming on my mind". We all know Kanye doesn't obsess about swimming!

Those introductory notes of Runaway are elemental piano notes. My kids count 14 beats on a single note, alternate to another for 1 beat and then 7 beats on the same note. Yes, all this on a rap track that ends with our preferred violin for all, except the youngest who awaits the deafening electric guitar lessons.


My eldest has chosen "All of the Lights" as his second favorite track on the record. He hasn't watched Rocky to recognize the integrated sound track but he can recognize the catchy tune. My youngest likes the first track, with the introductory voice of a female and then the "yeah yeah's" of Kanye. I can't really understand that song but do recognize the philosophy of Cornell West on track 6. I have heard this Harvard professor, an icon of Civil Rights, lecture once and I can sense his energy and vibes in the song.

I don't care that my husband claims he discovered Kanye West before me. I always remember my intrigue for his lyrics since 2006 when the single "Snakes on the Plane" would come up on the radio. I also don't care that some say that Kanye is too much of a Diva. Eminem, another rapper we love, mocks him when he sings: "where is Kanye when you need him?" But I think that is more of a tribute than a curse. There always is a fine line in rap.

February 16, 2011

My Grandfather's Rolleiflex

My grandfather's Rolleiflex used to serve him as a snapshot camera. The patriarch of a family of ten, he recorded family history, one season at a time, one trip at a time. He used to always align my grandmother and their children in order of age and look into the lens of the Rolleiflex,  its genuine leather case hanging from his neck. Today these photographs are our family treasure, testimonies of a dynamic family's lifestyle in the 1950s and 1960s. My grandfather must have kept the Rolleiflex till the 1970s when he offered it to my father, his son- in- law, because the latter showed an interest and a talent in photography. I remember the handing down because we continue to call it Jeddo's camera to this day.

In my father's hands, the Rolleiflex became an instrument for portraits. My father took iconic photos with it, freezing time into small frames with a grainy substance, catching glimpses of smiles and attempting to soften rigid poses. He has taken  portraits in the style of Lord Snowdon, of all his living "ancestors", and these photographs sit in his extended family's living rooms.

My younger brother, also talented in photography, has always been fascinated by this antique camera. He appreciates the genuine quality of the pictures the camera takes. My father has gifted it to him now. The leather case is still there but the strap has torn with time and use and he now cups it in one hand, while shooting. He holds it in his palm with the care of a Faberge Egg, peering through it from above, turning the little crank with his free hand, capturing a non digital moment. The beauty of the rolleiflex is that the photo remains a hidden gem, a surprise to be discovered only upon development of the film. He recently has captured photographs of my younger children standing each one at a time on a rectangular white stone in a park in Mediterranean France, their smiles blending into their surroundings.

My brother treasures this heirloom from his grandfather. One hopes he will continune to record time as the patriarch did. Perhaps with some added talent.

February 15, 2011

A True Masterpiece

Many Afghans reacted to "The Kite Runner" with the following remark: "I could have written that!"

The Kite Runner was a  indeed a phenomenon in the US and especially in its Afghan community,  and I must give Khaled Husseini all the due he deserves: he wrote a mega best -seller. This book deserves to be categorized as literature with very wide appeal. It doesn't fit in that category of books like "Three Cups of Tea" or "The Bookseller of Kabul" which was composed with a Western commuter train readership in mind. There is nothing worse than targeted, fit to suit, commissioned writing. I refuse to even put those in the "literature category".

In fact, I believe that the best compliment Khalid Husseini could have received was the constantly repeated: "I could have written that", from his compatriots. What they are saying unknowingly is that Husseini has indeed captured their stories, evoked their childhood and expressed their feelings. This is why his novel rings so true, except for the dramatic pinultimate section, which is the only issue I had with the novel. I think the overly fabricated Taliban scenes take away from this amazing story and were "targeted" to the Western readers who would otherwise have criticized him for not mentioning the Taliban reality.

What I liked best about "The Kite Runner" was the nostalgic rendering of childhood. He painted it with the innocence of universal childhood: the games, the friendships, the fights. He celebrated childhood a la Huckleberry Finn, La Gloire de Mon Pere or the God Of Small Things. His poignant and unique difference was the early fall from grace, the heartbreaking coming of age which culminates in deceit and betrayal with the shocking scene of a child being abused and bullied. It made the book even more real and  so earth shatteringly honest.

Husseini paints his life in Afghanistan in beautiful nostalgic colors and his days as an emigrant in  the Bay Area with precise feelings of displacement and awe. Yet, he doesn't glorify the Afghanistan of his past. He speaks of it with truth and pride.He mentions that a house he thought was a palace in Kabul would not compare to modern American houses.

What Khaled Husseini has done in The Kite Runner and even more in his next novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is expose the harsh realities of a very polite and private society.  To the dismay of some Afghans, he "washed his dirty laundry in public". The prouder and conservative aspects of Afghan society forbids bringing up certain taboo subjects, especially if we are to share them with the rest of the world. Husseini did that with more impact than his compatriot Atiq Rahimi. The latter, a Prix Goncourt laureate, is exceedingly liberal and highly intellectual and has no taboos whatsoever. However, his sophisticated writings replete with philosophy don't reach the world the same way Husseini's simple and lyrical prose does.

The chorus of the novel,  "for you a thousand times over" ("azzar dafa" in Persian) is repeated throughout the story, a constant reminder of the true friendship between these two boys, and the loyalty that they had for another against all odds. Khaled Husseini ends his lovely novel on that heart warming note, a conclusion that still makes my heart quiver. This perfect mix of self deprication and poetic evocation in the novel is what makes it  masterpiece. And as always when one sees a masterpiece we say: "I could have painted it or written it!" It just so happened that we didn't.....In this case, Husseini did.

February 14, 2011

Six Years Later: a Pilates Junkie

I am more confident. Content with my stance and my energy level. My concentration and focus have never been sharper and I finally know how to relax.

I walked  into Club Stretch, the finest pilates studio in Dubai in late February of 2004. I carried my 4 month year old baby in with me. I found the owner at the front desk and I inquired about the classes. That is when my love story with pilates began.

My daughter always boasts that she attended my first pilates class. She only knows that because I remind her that she sat in her baby car seat, watching her uncoordinated, dissipated mother attempt an art of coordination and discipline. She did cry but the studio was empty and the instructor held her while he gave me my first private class.

I didn't understand a thing he was saying. I have failed biology class in high school, managed to skip it in college and he was reciting a litany of anatomical terms. I remember stopping to say: "I am multilingual. I can't register what you are saying." But I put my body to it. I didn't know that the mind was also required.

At first, I would sms "I hate pilates" to my friends with pride. After a strong push for my mother to take an eleventh class once my ten introductory were completed, I suggested my husband buy me a new pair of jeans every time I completed ten more. It was cool and incentivising to buy jeans in smaller sizes and large price tags! I soon became a pilates junkie.

This post, following another half dozen on the same sport, cannot be redundant enough: pilates has changed my life. Have I become better at it? A French person would reply with perfect sarcasm: "et bien, a force..." It is non-translatable but  an American would verbalize in this manner: "well dah! ....she is a pilates freak...she lives there!"

I can ascertain that it has changed the way I move and the way I sit or stand. I will never transfer my weight onto one hip the way I used to while standing around for example. I will attempt to sit on my sitbones on a chair, unless it is an inviting couch (I am only human). I have recently noticed that Tiger Woods walks with perfect shoulder stability, like I try to do. Pilates is all about grace and perfect body language.

I also refuse to do crunches at the gym because it is contrary to the pilates philosophy. A very tough personal trainer, angered by my boycott, used to make me do planks as a punishment and when I faltered he would scream: "say you hate pilates!" I would go mute. Now if he had  asked me to say "I hate bikram yoga".....

February 13, 2011

Had We Been At Fletcher Today

At the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, we met in late August of 1993. The week is referred to as Commencement. I was a seasoned Bostonian and New Englander. He was a Californian, freshly arrived in Boston. My cousin was our advocate. He had told my parents: "they have so much in common. They go to cafes and discuss politics and history. They also study there together."

Indeed, my future husband courted me over political scenarios. We were trained to imagine future scenarios, build solid foreign policy, comment on current events and train negotiation skills.

We studied in the mid 90s, when the world was rather still. It was the pre-9/11 world, with only the rise of political Islam and the threatening separatist movements that we were observing. We observed technological progress with intrigue and forecasting eyes. We called it the internet highway in those days!

With 9/11, I did wonder what it would have been for me to be a student at the Fletcher School, analyzing the events, looking at its background and envisioning the future scenarios. But, today, more than any other time, with the Tunisian and the Egyptian Revolutions occurring, I wonder what turn the classroom lectures at the Fletcher School have taken, what ideas and debates the students and professors are having in the seminars.

Had we been at the Fletcher School today.....

February 12, 2011

Chasing the Tiger

I will concede that I am a tennis couch potato. The last time I held a tennis racket, it was a wooden Wilson. But I am a devoted tennis couch potato. I have been one since my teenage years: a fan of Agassi and then of Federer. Only a fan of those two players. I admit that I only watched tennis if they were on the court. I don't care about the rest. I gave up an expensive semi-finals ticket at Flushing Meadows because Agassi lost in the quarter finals. The most memorable match ever was the Agassi-Federer game I watched live at the Dubai stadium. Agassi lost the match: I cried in public as I saw him pass the torch to my now favorite player, Roger Federer.

For golf, one name only: Tiger Woods. He went to Stanford University like my sister did and that was the first time I heard his name. I have been to golf competitions and watched the pros play but it has always been random and with little enthusiasm.

At the opposite of tennis, I am not a golf couch potato. I have never watched a single golf competition on TV. I am a very active golf aficionado and beginner player. I just got my very own clubs as a 40th birthday gift, which tells you how long I have been playing! My son had his since he was 5!

Dubai has spectacular sports moments, in golf, tennis and even swimming (my son attended the 10th FINA Swimming Competitions). I remember buying golf shoes in a far flung Californian suburb and the teenage salesman asked us where we played golf: "Dubai? They have the Desert Classic there!"

This Dubai Classic was flavored by the arrival of my favorite champion and I informed my friends: "Gone Tiger Hunting in the Woods", hedging myself against their teasing about my keen interest on following his game. This Friday morning, there was no sleeping in for my son, his friend or I. The three of us where at the 8am T-time of Tiger by fluke, uninformed but lucky.

There are two ways of watching a golf game live: either you sit in the bleachers or you follow the players, from one hole to the other, therefore following the players at their pace and distance. If you sit in the bleachers, you only have a view of one hole and you watch a succession of players. I have only walked and played 9 holes on a course. For 18 holes, I always take a buggy. In today's case, I walked the 3 hours with Tiger.

I had two close encounters with Tiger that are blog worthy. He elbowed me for passage to the next T when he was expected from the front. The other one was the ball falling next to a palm where I sought shade (granted with fifty other fans). He chipped it at a meter's distance from me, as if to demonstrate the perfect chip: I saw him open the club face and practice in the long grass and then the ball flew in perfect hight, over the bunker, onto the green. How interesting and entertaining to understand a good shot for all the times I strove to reproduce it!

February 11, 2011

History Buffs

We were not born to be scientists in our family, but we have been genetically blessed with a passion for world history. When I married my husband, who is Afghan, I ensured my children's cultural destiny. The question remains whether they will eventually stray to sciences or the arts.

My father's maternal side are all great historians. They are professors at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Columbia. They write books that become references, they write fascinating articles,  and are often interviewed on television. These are the Khalidis, my role models when I attempted to walk in their academic footsteps, eventually earning a Phd.

My mother's father also was a historian, who became a medical doctor malgres lui. In his leisure time, he read about history  and  truly enjoyed politics. I therefore gifted him Albert Hourani's "History of the Arab People", knowing well that it was a gift more precious to him than any pajama or college sweatshirt.

My mother studied Middle Eastern history at AUB. I believe her interest in that field permeated down to me.  I then married a co-graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, an institution that thrives to solve contemporary political dilemnas but bases its solutions on historical analysis. My fate was set.

Although I always enjoyed history, I never excelled at it, perhaps because I am a multidisciplinarian type of scholar, preferring a combination of art and literature, not to mention my penchant for mathematics. When I was in graduate school, I crossed paths with a professor who became my PHD advisor, Dr. Sugata Bose. With India as an amazing historical case, he approached history from the grass root level, in a subaltern studies method. It is much more complex than it sounds and I think I only comprehended his approach on the surface.

This also is the method used by my favorite historian, Albert Hourani whose gem of a book I gifted once to my grandfather. The book is about the mercantile activities, farming methods, music and art, religion, life of women in the various Arab countries at different times in history. Hourani strays from the typical stories of battles, edicts and dynasties.

At home, we watch historical films, such as Joan of Arc, Gladiator, Troy and Alexander over and over again in search of applied history. We comment out loud and over the dialogue because we know the story and are merely interested in its history. My son knows every detail of many battle scenes.

All our encyclopedias are historical no matter how much we have attempted to purchase scientific ones. It is the history books on Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Medieval Times that are used and abused, while I read to my kids during their dinner. 

In the car,  as I drive my kids around Dubai, if we are not reviewing Quranic verses, 19th century poetry, spelling or science terms before an exam, discussing current events in Egypt, or of course listening to music, we are always talking about historical events. It's in our blood and in our genes after all!

February 9, 2011

Tiger Woods: A Vignette

I am a Tiger Woods fan, despite all his scandals. He is the only player I like and know of who participates in one of my favorite sports: golf! Yes, I do actually play golf! I find personal scandals irrelevant when appreciating an athelete. I happen to also be a huge fan of Frank Ribery, the Bayern Munich soccer player, who had his share of negative press. They are both excellent sportsmen, and my family and I follow them closely.

Yesterday, I took the  Dubai metro with my children, literally from our apartment building to the Emirates Golf Club. At the metro-kiosque, the teller shyly asked me, while batting her lashes: "Will you see Tiger Woods?" Indeed, we were heading to a low-publicized par-3 competition that preceeds the Dubai Desert Classic. Tiger Woods was one of the six players. He was teamed up with Mark O'Meara, for the American
team. Go USA!

My son and I usually play and practice at the Dubai Creek Club. But we frequent Emirates Golf Club a lot because we play the large Faldo course with our friends there and we much prefer the par-3 course because it is more challenging than our own small one at the Creek Club.

When we followed Tiger Woods from one hole to the other, my son and I knew the course intimately, for having played it dozens of times. The champion was gracing "our course" and we had to see what the best of the best could do on a course we were very comfortable playing on. So how close to the hole can he swing it? Will his putting overcome the difficult slopes on the green?

My son ran frantically from one hole to the other to secure the best views. His sister got lost trying to keep up with him.I simply walked the course, admiring the winning game of a champion, realizing that he wasn't as nerdy looking as I'd imagined but charming enough to make any woman, including the ticket seller at the metro, swoon and bat her lashes.

February 8, 2011

Organic Salmon

It is time to reflect on Jonathan Franzen again. I have spoken of golf, reflected on Egypt, welcomed a nephew to our family, celebrated another's first birthday, and remembered a few old lyrics. But Franzen will always come back, to the surprise of the very few who appreciate him as I do, and to the consternation of others who cannot understand my obsession.

I also return to the theme of groceries and even more specifically to the one of organic shopping. I am a strong advocate for the consumption of organic foods. I was told in the USA, that growing organic could cost the same as conventional produce if the demand for it grew. Take a look at Trader Joe's, a grocery store that sells limited variety because it sells in bulk only. They have organic foods that are even cheaper than standard groceries.

I used to enjoy shopping at the Organic Stores in Satwa, Dubai. I thought the location was very appropriate because Satwa in itself is "an organic haven": walk into any Iranian and now Filipino fruit stall and you will find the best produce. Don't the consumers of Organic foods want the authentic experience?  The price for certified organic produce has always been high in Dubai because most of these products are imported in small quantities from abroad. Perhaps the prices were even higher at this Satwa location because very few people shop there, adding to concerns about the turnover.
Instead of the Satwa outpost, I decided to go to the Organic Store at the Dubai Mall today, which has an entirely different feel. It is pretentious and the aisles are wider for the happy few. I went straight to the fishmonger with the intention to buy organic salmon. It was then that I remembered Franzen's words:

"Chip found WILD NORWEGIAN SALMON, LINE CAUGHT on sale at a reasonable price. He pointed at a midsize filet, and to the fishman's question, "what else?" He replied in a crisp tone, "that'll do it". The price on the beautiful paper-wrapped filet that he was handed was $78.40. [...]

Ha, ha! He said, palming the seventy-eight-dollar filet like a catcher's mitt.

He dropped to one knee and touched his bootlaces and took the salmon right up inside his pants and stood up again.[...]

Chip took two steps, and the salmon, which was quite heavy, escaped from his sweater and covered his groin.[....] The dangling filet felt like a cool, loaded diaper. [...] He strode purposefully toward the whatever. Toward the dairy wall.[...] The less unaffordable domestic creme fraiche was blocked by a man in a Yankees cap who was shouting into his cell phone while a child, apparently his, peeled back the foil tops of half liters of French yogurt."

This is but a preview for "Corrections". I, of course, wasn't in a crowded New York Midtown supermarket jammed with pyramids of foods from all over the world, but as I was holding that unaffordable salmon, I stood in the middle of the Dubai Mall and broke into solitary laughter....courtesy of Franzen.