A pink taxi

A pink taxi

May 31, 2011

Lettre Ouverte a Bernar Venet

Cher Monsieur Venet:

Nous vous remercions pour l'invitation a l'ouverture de votre exposition a Versailles. C'etait un tres bon pretexte pour voyager a Paris. C'etait un grand plaisir de vous revoir, vous et Madame Diane Venet.

Vous m'aviez parle de ce projet depuis longtemps et de voir votre vision se materialiser est tres emouvant pour moi, une grande admiratrice de vos creations mathematico-artistiques.

Tout enfant francais, et par ailleurs tout enfant a sensibilite artistique, devrait aspirer a Versailles, le summum de l'Histoire et de l'Art. Votre pays vous fait honneur en vous exposant sur la scene classiciste, celle qui est percue comme la plus parfaitement belle.

Mais c'est aussi un honneur pour la France et avec beacoup de fierte qu'elle presente au monde, vos sculptures aureolees par le soleil de Louis XIV et cette inclination qu'avait Francois Mitterand de toujours vouloir epouser l'Ancien avec le Contemporain. Vous etes un de ses plus grands artistes contemporains.

Avec audace, et avec respect vous avez pese l'harmonie et le contraste. Vous avez pris un compas et un rapporteur et vous avez ajoute une troisieme dimension a la symmetrie severe d'Andre LeNotre. Tous vos arcs de rouille, parsemes dans les jardins, en contraste avec le palais de splendeur et les haies francaises, sont plantes aussi en harmonie avec les lieux, car geometriques aussi.

Votre ligne brisee, infinie, telle une signature, sur le bas cote du palais. Cela vous est permis, cette petite fantaisie, "un caprice", vous avez dit.

Les visiteurs, francais et etrangers du monde entier, viendront par milliers, et seront surpris par l'audace d'un artiste francais, qui avait pu, l'espace d'un ete, mettre Versailles entre d'immenses parantheses d'acier, des parentheses que j'appelle separement des "bouquets d'arcs".

Vous sauriez toujours me surprendre, Amicalement

May 30, 2011

A Spontaneous Art Visit

I am not used to visiting an art show two hours after I have read about it. I usually read about it or spot a poster and then choose a convenient date to attend. I had gotten used to the anticipation and I build up to the trip.

The truth is I do not live close enough to a museum to take for granted art shows. In Monaco, where you can find two expertly curated art exhibits a summer, I save the art for last, in order to savor two outings over the course of a two week stay.

But in Paris, I have learned that once you read about an art event in LeMonde (luckily not too outdated an issue), you can hop in a taxi and be there in a few minutes. I verified multiple times that the exhibit at the Grand Palais was open till midnight on Sundays. I was amazed I could actually partake in a post-dinner art activity!

When you enter the Grand Palais, you are met with a literally monumental surprise: the mother of all installations! Anish Kapoor has squeezed, (or at least appears to have squeezed), a huge pneumatic sculpture, the size of a whale, in the grand glassed dome exhibit hall of the XIXth century.

This art installation is interactive. It invites the visitor into the entrails of the purple whale. Once inside, you get the feeling of being in a convex circus tent or swallowed by a huge volleyball. The difference is that you can visualize three large orifices that give the pneumatic sculpture an organic feel.

When you exit the sculpture, you are then able to see it squeezed in the glass case of the Grand Palais, like a space ship with circular shapes.

Anish Kapoor redefines sculpture. Takes it to a metaphysical dimension.

May 29, 2011


When you get an autograph from a painter, you hang it as art. When you pose for a picture with a football player, you frame it as a show off. When you get your cap signed by a champion tennis player, you wear it with pride. When you get a book signed by your beloved writer, your cherish it.

When you get a "special CD" gifted and signed by a musician, you smile at the "dedicace", you look at it for a while...and then you pop it in your CD player to listen to it.

Mirwais told me he had remixed his album and had a copy for me. Two CDs in a pink fluorescent jacket, with his epitonymous self portrait. In fact, we recognized Mirwais immediately and we also hit it off instantly. My kids are francophone Afghans like him and the youngest is his namesake, named five years before their meeting.

When we listened to the first track, the car was silent (for a change!) in anticipation of what Mirwais had re-created, considering it was a remix. My children didn't expect accompanying lyrics, as they are used to the electro-dance-genre that we sometimes listen to.

I personally tried harder, as my personality dictates, to listen and understand and analyze, as I enjoy doing with any art form. I realized that Mirwais has construed his own musical language, based on very striking sharp yet harmonious sounds and with those notes he builds his poetry.

The first track which lasts over 6 minutes, without lyrics, accompanied us on our morning trip to school. My once reluctant child who moans daily about attending school, had now forgotten his destination and was listening...and a surprise popped up, as if bespoke to him, the musically engaged child, his own name (and incidentally that of the composer) covered the electro sounds for brief intervals: mir....wais....wais ....wais....wais.

May 27, 2011


My six year old daughter told me about her gym session at school.
"- we hummed, she told me
- what does that mean? I asked. She certainly seemed too young for any esotheric activity.
- its meditation! You have to close your eyes, breath and only see white."

They are teaching her escapism early, I laughed.

I certainly attend bikram yoga and aim for escapism. To be in that white zone my daughter so exactly explained. It took her 6 years of maturity and 1 introductory session to school-yoga to understand that. It took me forty years and 3 years of bikram yoga to reach that zone.

At first, I went into the heated room with the idea that positive thoughts would lead me to nirvana. I always kept the scene of Johnny Depp in the film Blow in my head. He smuggles drugs through airports. When he has to go through customs he keeps thinking of the beach to overcome his anxiety.
Marine landscapes, I built in my head while holding challenging poses. But seeking escapist pictograms while being in that moment was defeating the purpose! I soon came to realize that yoga was about "not thinking at all", being in the "white zone" so well described by my daughter.

I took savasnah out of the hot room to random, albeit rare moments of my day, when I tuned off completely to relax, to nap. No reading to distract me, just lay down, close my eyes and instantly be "out".

There is no denying that reading is escapism. I hold on my books like my youngest son holds to his safety blanket at bedtime. Difference is my book is a reassurance I carry in my handbag: I can hide behind its cover, seek solace in its poetry and experience bliss. I have saved my favorite authors for more stressful times, rationing my read so the book lasts the time I need it "for escapism".

Prime time 8pm French news is the best example for escapism. After a long summer day with three kids in tow, I drop everything and everyone and watch the news for a 30 minutes "me-time" ritual. It is a strange way to relax to listen to the microproblems of France and their summer festivities, but its escapism nonetheless!

While I don't own an ipod, I listen to to the radio enough to listen to music, to discover new tunes. Indeed, music is the ultimate escapism. Frequently, I will dance along at a red light!

May 26, 2011

The Writer and His Character

I asked Atiq Rahimi if he is welcomed warmly in his country, when he visits. I almost expected him to answer negatively, perhaps because his Gouncourt awarded novel "Sangue Sabour" (or Patience Stone) was written in French, and he hasn't been read in  Afghanistan where literacy is very low. But I also knew that Sangue Sabour had been translated and that he had previously written in Dari, so I opened the question to him.

He sighed and replied: "no, I am not very popular, especially with the women who accuse me of tarnishing their image. They said I painted an Afghan prostitute in my novel." I was alarmed because I personally recognize Atiq Rahimi as a feminist and his Afghan readers identified him instead with the heroine.

However, all being said, I am making the same mistake, instinctively, as I read Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. It is written in the first person and the narrator is a man with a different name. Why do I feel the writer and the narrator are one? Perhaps because the narrative is so fluid, to the point of being sincere. But I don't sympathize with his sincerity and think his literary eroticism is awkward.

The story is a triangular love affair, with the macho narrator at the top, switching lovers to his heart's content. I disapprove more of his attitude than his actions. Indeed, Pamuk has the brilliance of evoking inner feelings and thoughts. I am not even a quarter through the novel that I am given the illusion of reading the narrator's mind and heart. All I see is a self conceited man who can only talk about his own feelings. This altruism may have fit Jean Jacques Rousseau but it offends me, as a woman.

The novel builds the tension, the time perspective fluctuates. The narrator constantly and obsessively reverts to certain moments. I don't read out of sympathy but out of growing curiosity. How will Pamuk stitch the story? How will it unravel? In the end, will I be able to separate Orhan the author from Kemel the indecisive self-centered lover?

May 25, 2011

The Saadiyat Story

My son signed me up as soon as he heard that his Art History and History teachers would accompany them to the Mesopotamia exhibit at Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps he thought I would be an asset considering my personal interest in art, but  little did he know that I know very little about ancient art... thank God!

As a child, I enjoyed history and arts of the post Renaissance era. I carried this bias into College and when I sat in that dark auditorium at Smith College, viewing slides after slides of Egyptian, Byzanthine, Medieval and even Islamic art, I wasn't learning with enthusiasm,  but rather as a sense of duty. I was instead eager to reach the Impressionists, the Modern Art and the Contemporary. However, when I decided to take art history classes again, after I'd earned a Phd and become a mother, I enrolled in Medieval Western Art courses at the University of Geneva. Today, I went on the field trip with the enthusisasm and knowledge of a  Seventh grader.

I followed the guide and stopped by the relief panels. The children sat on the ground and observed the narratives: many of them representing kings and lions. I admired the details of vegetation and animals and my heart squeezed in pleasure because I remembered the lush paintings of Douanier Rousseau. The fierce lion walking under the trees is present in both works.

The art did  strike a cord within me. I had finally connected with Ancient Art from the Middle East. My younger children will finally have a more rounded-artistically inclined mother.

I felt pride and enthusiasm for an artistic project that appears to be materialize. The exhibit was empty except for 100 seventh graders that came from AFLEC, a French school I was happy to notice, produces bilingualism since the students followed and asked questions in proper English.

Some may argue that the exhibit, while divided in 3 (Sumeria, Assyria, Babylon) is too small for the trip. Others like myself (before my son's invitation) were not even interested or motivated by Ancient History. The Londeners can claim to go see it when in London because it is a loan from the British Museum. I argue that it is very pleasant to visit an exhibit that isn't crowded, and when the exibit is literally brought to your  doorstep (well, Abu Dhabi isn't for Dubai dwellers, but still!).

For all the Cassandras out there and critics of the Saadiyat project, who by extension criticize the UAE for its supposed superficiality, I encourage them all to make the effort and visit these exhibits. It is one way to show enthusiasm and solidarity: this country needs art appreciators!

May 24, 2011

Field Trips

I am a chaperone on a school field trip tomorrow and I am looking forward to accompanying my son's class with the same trepidation I used to feel when I myself was a schoolgirl.

We used to invent field trips as an excuse to avoid the classroom. On one occasion, I asked my father to organize one. I even requested that the class ahead of me be also included because I had a crush on a boy in the 8th grade. I ended up sitting next to him on a very long trip to Jebel Ali to visit the Dubai Aluminum factory. We didn't get off the bus, or perhaps I forgot that detail, but I do remember peering out the window and listening to the engineer-guide.

Decades later, my son's teacher inquired on a possible visit to a printing press and I did my utmost to find a good reason for my son to go on a school trip. I contacted a childhood friend, who is the Chief Editor of Canvas magazine and he made our wish come true. I say "our" wish because I accompanied his class on the trip. It was as fun as I remembered school trips to be because all the students were elated to miss classroom instructions!

As my daughter jealously remarked, I am not always eager to volunteer for school trips. I haven't been to any of the kindergarten park/zoo visits. I always select the artsy visits and tomorrow's will be at Saadiyat island in AbuDhabi for the Mesapotamia show: a slice of art history I have ignored for too long.

With us on the trip, is the fascinating apple crunching teacher, mentioned once upon a blog, in June of 2010!


May 23, 2011

I Love Essays

I never liked essays until this year. But I recently discovered that David Foster Wallace's non fiction is much more aproachable than his fiction. I would never have thought that literary theory could be as pleasant a read as David Eggers' Preface to the novel "Infinite Jest"was.

My husband doesn't want this blog to become too "intellectual". He recommends I write the way I speak. My cousin seconds that, as she scolds me for dwelling on Franzen. But my husband also doesn't think too much golf or bikram on the blog is good either. The one thing I try hard not to do is to build a "desperate housewife" blog about the trials and tribulations of a wife and mother.

This is why I choose to express all my thoughts, as a mixed salad of trivial and not so trivial. I have to say the main reason Wallace or Eggers appeal to me as essayists is that they tackle the complicated with perfect precise words and astute reflection.

Which brings me to my new discovery: Daniel Mendelsohn, the literary critic. He writes about finding the Masterpiece, the one that increases the conscience of self. He doesn't shun popular culture because he believes that those who make shows like the Sopranos, or the films like 300 or Avatar are educated and refer to larger ideas. He wrote a long essay on one of my favorite films: Marie Antoinette by Sophia Coppola.

This thinker was born in 1960 (only ten years before me) and gained maturity studying the classics at Princeton University. If Le Monde calls him a francophile, then I believe he understands French culture very well too!

One thought led to another and I googled his name and that of Franzen, wondering what he thought of a writer that some of my friends consider as "over-rated". I found an essay: This American Life, a book review of Corrections by Franzen and Fury by Salman Rushdie! Disappointed by Rushdie's short novel, he had laudatory notes for my favorite Franzen: "The Lambert family may be in sore need of repair, but the novel they inhabit requires none."

You can't mess with Franzen and for those who got bored by this posting, just go read The Corrections!

May 22, 2011

Three's Company

This is the last English wish I make to you, girls! I now pledge to only speak to you in French and to begin tutoring you the complicated grammar spoken by the Frogs, from this second year onward.  Have I just gained 3 students in one go?

Your parents, 2 years ago, were not blessed with a single baby, or even twins, but with triplets! That is 6 years worth of love, sleepless nights, milestones, teething, diapering, playing, crawling, dancing, baby talking all crammed into 2 years.

They bestowed upon you simple two-syllabic names that remind us of Gone with Wind, a Hollywood movie star of the 1940s, and a red head goddess from our family. When you were babies, we would mix you up, and request to be reminded of these individual names, but now you are each so very distinct in personality and looks that we can almost always differentiate you.

Your mother manages the household with human resources methods. Everything is planned, everything in order, everything is noted and it all appears harmonious. Why doesn't anybody accuse her of being a tiger mom? You were fortunate to be born in a dolce vita household. So your parents have decided to outsource your tutorials to a fierce Tiger mom, who is related to you, so there is no escaping!

Bonjour, je serai votre maitresse! Your mom was alarmed when I told her that I would have manuals ready in September and that I would put pencils in your little hands! Half an hour each will make for a hefty 90 mins tutorial a week.

Everything counts triple in your family.

Objects of Desire

Intellectuals always stray from the convenient and cliche comparisons to Proust. However, my comparisons to A La Recherche du Temps Perdu must be made to convey the very strong essence of nostalgia that permeates some of the work of Orhan Pamuk and most particularly The Museum of Innocence.

How glad and relieved I am to discover in the Middle East, another high intellectual,  who would probably cringe at my cliche comparisons. Orhan Pamuk is our Nobel Prize winner and I have finally set on a reading journey with him.

I have always intended on reading Pamuk. He comes highly recommended by my prolific reader father. I read an interview by him in LeMonde recently that sent me rushing to the bookstore. I had previously begun reading Istanbul, another book by him and very much appreciated by my father, before someone, somewhere snatched it from me! In that book, what remains in my mind is the "photographic detail" of those opening chapters. He had described every object in his father's room!

Orhan Pamuk has a fetish for objects and what they represent and symbolize. It is not a "madeleine cookie" that takes him to a time past, but the vision or even the handling of objects that transport him to the time when the object was acquired or was used (before it was forgotten and became a relic).

I conversed with my father as I began the opening chapters of Museum of Innocence and got drawn in, like a bee to honey. He remarked that Pamuk and him are of the same generation and that is why he can comprehend his sensibiities and nuances.
When I inquired about him further, a writer-friend, one I consider as his colleague, because he is a recipient of a Western literary prize, but is originally from the East, told me that Pamuk is rather stiff at first encounter. We both agreed that didn't intervene in our impressions of him as a writer.

I praised the Turkish thinker and recalled my father mentioning Neguib Mehfouz, one generation older than Pamuk. Mehfouz's trilogy is influenced by Zola, I told him. Mehfouz who builds genealogy and stuffs interiors with customs and detailed narratives. Indeed, the Middle Eastern novels have found their inspiration in France.

May 19, 2011

Cookie Monster

I can't remember how and when I became a cookie monster. My parents never indulged us with cookies. They were yuppie 80s era parents who believed kids had to eat healthy, and the only lunch box stuffers we got were carrots, labneh sandwiches, "cold" grilled cheese sandwiches, apples, soggy pears or over ripe bananas.

I used to drool over the contents of the French kids lunch boxes: sugar crepes, baguettes with Nutella and the famous BChoco cookies! Decades later when I found those BChoco cookies in the aisles of French supermarkets, I bought shopping carts full of them for my own kids.

In the mid eighties, my parents began purchasing French imported goods when we spent summers in Washington DC: Perrier water, individual fruit flavored Yoplait yogurts and LU cookies. The latter were stored in a porcelain cookie jar in the kitchen. Every night, I would sneak into the deserted kitchen and carefully lift the porcelain lid and gobble down a few. What a treat those butter cookies were! I still remember the day when my dad requested some from the Indian cook who lived with us, and he responded: "they are all finished Sir". " But we just bought them Suresh!", my father retorted. 

 "Yasmine at them all, sir!"

I was literally caught with my hand in the cookie jar!

When I gained my own independence in Swiss boarding school, I tried a large variety of Swiss cookies. The box was usually consumed by the time I walked back from the supermarket to the dorms. I had the same lack of control with freshly baked cookies at Smith College!

Perhaps the craze dwindled when I was in graduate school, and  the cookie boxes lasted longer. With all my diets and efforts to shed weight, the cookies were the very last indulgences that I scratched off the menu. Till this day, I walk the cookie aisle in supermarkets with care, examining the labels, selecting and sampling. In Dubai, my preferred cookies are the Marks and Spencers because they are the most authentically European. But I don't mind Oreos, come to think of it, yum!

My efforts to scratch cookies off my menu were resolved by eating SpecialK bars. How I fooled myself to believe that they were the best condiment to coffee! However, when I began my strict protein diet, I had to renounce even the last "bastion" of cookie land, the Special K bars! Fortunately, the difficult to find ThinkThin bars are my latest solace.

My husband calls me Cookie Monster with affection because he knows that he can sometimes - on those episodes when I am off the protein diet - find the widest array of cookies, tucked in my purse at coffee time!

May 18, 2011

Education Choices

I have always been surprised by parents, ourselves included, who want things to be different for their children.

In Dubai, the old timers, the ones that grew up here in the 80s, attended Choueifat school, in Sharjah. My siblings also commuted to Sharjah to the French Lycee. These were the best options for International and French education. When I bump into someone who says he/she grew up here, I always suppose they attended Choueifat and they agree, mostly with a litany of laments.

The Choueifat system is a very academic one, based on examinations and is very strong in sciences. The graduates often get admitted to the top American universities. This is what I tell anyone who moves to Dubai, in search of an International education in English. The Choueifat graduates seldom, if not, ever, put their children there. They say, they don't want their kids to memorize, they think it was too strict and stressful and they don't want their own children to go through the same strenuous experience as they did. They do not admit that they got a very solid education.

I somewhat understand them. While my children are following in my footsteps, by attending a French school (with the added Arabic bilingual program), I would not imagine sending them to Florimont, the Jesuit boarding school I attended in Geneva. If I were to live in Switzerland, I would find a good alternative in Swiss public schooling.

The reason behind my rejection of my former high school stems from the feeling of discomfort I felt while attending. I performed better than I ever did while I was in Sharjah, I aquired very good study skills and I cannot criticize its system. However, the daunting feelings of homesickness, the severity of the place, the cold and ugly corridors do not make it a prestine setting. I don't want my children to think that education is punishment!

I was chatting with an acquaintance who told me her kids attended JPS. I know the school well enough because I have many friends, some of them ex-Choueifat, who have put their children there for all the reasons that vary from the objectives set by a school like Choueifat: very good sports, less exams, less stress and more hassle free!

In our conversation, she inquired about Arabic and Hindi tutors. For the latter, I pointed to My Own English High School, which has a very high success rate because of the excellent academics (Indian education). She blushed and admitted she had graduated from there: obviously she had chosen an upper-scale Gems system for her children, but the irony is that the higher the tuition, the more lax the system.

The only friends who come to mind who have chosen Choueifat for their children and happen to be very content there,  are a French educated couple.... yet another example of wanting a different educational choice for their children!

May 16, 2011

A Versace Skirt

Who says leopard can't be worn by a woman without inviting innuendos? I always defend the Roberto Cavalli look by claiming that models look hot and feminine in them, strutting their long panther legs.

Gianni Versace knew how to dress the common woman in a leopard print, albeit at a price. I splurged on such a skirt, on my 22 or 23th birthday and still own the vintage skirt 15 years later. A fifteen year old Versace anecdote was my second cousin entering the boutique on Newberry Street. He checked the price tags and considered them very reasonable. He purchased a ton of clothes, flirting with the attractive sales-girl who now liked his demeanor, handed her his credit card which obviously rejected a purchase close to that of a small car. He had thought the last two digits were cents.

In the nineties, Versace defied Prada at a time when they were both ascending in drastic contrast. What Gianni did was put  his personality intohis designs, his extravagant prints and Medusa embossed golden interiors. Somewhere there were allusions of glorious and decadent neo- Roman fest.

I remember where I was the day Versace was assassinated in Miami: I was driving back from a beach day on the lower corniche, near Nice (France) when the news came on the radio. My sibling asked me to pull over because I was sobbing. It truly saddens me when talent dies.

The Tower of Babel: A Vignette

I passed my phone around to show photos of IVDE gallery's latest exhibit: all drawings by Iranian artist Farshid Maleki.

At dinner, my friends asked: "so will you write a blog about it?" I wasn't sure there and then. But the question simmered in my mind, as it does sometimes. Indeed, some blog topics, I dismiss first, because I claim I can't grasp "the twist", afraid it would be too banal.

But banal this art was not: we were discussing it over dinner and I was sending images of it to my relatives. The selected image above was considered too scattered by some, almost disturbing by another. It was the image that I had showed to one of the gallerists. I asked her: "do you think it's the Tower of Babel?"

She did look intrigued by my remark and she came closer to the scribbly magic marker portraits, nudes, and zoomed on my reference. I added: "it could be a wedding cake, but do you think it is?" And I appended: "you see my son is studying the Tower of Babel in art history and now I see it everywhere!"

Perhaps I do live in an ivory tower. On this blog, my sister once illustrated that admission with a painting of the Tower of Babel!

May 15, 2011

Electronic Concerto

A regular reader of PinkTaxiBlogger recently sent me a personal note which I cut and paste faithfully:
"U said u would write gossipy and hot on your profile. Do u even know how to do that? Not theological retrospect on the bifocolated parameters of the voracious art dwelling cross lateral vindication of Franzen."

It is true that I have never stepped on anyone's shoes and revealed gossip, on or off the blog. I haven't even commented on the Royal Wedding in England! But please give me a break. I write about music and what is lighter than a commentary on Pet Shop Boys or Kanye West?

Last night, listening to Robert Miles release his new album THIRTEEN on Friday the Thirteenth of May, wasn't as light as I expected it to be. The venue was very small, exclusive and private to say the least, considering it was at Armani Prive where the Italian 41 year old DJ felt at home. But his music was much too sophisticated for the crowd, me included.

I don't believe I have the specialist's ear. I can't read music the way I read text. I only digest it literally. I like electronic music and I loved his old track Children. It was therefore difficult for me to digest this music at first ear. Much of it sounds like a continuous melody.

But I have something for DJs. I admire the way they stand and spin endlessly. I had a very good view of the Maestro and the music he played did sound good, especially as it developed to that moment when he warmed up the house and delivers his best. The beat sounded like ba-goo, ba-goo, ba-goo....at that point like a three beat measure, that got interrupted at its second, teasing his dancers into a trance as he played in his "zone".

He played on into the night. But with the morning after on my mind, I left him spinning for the die-hard party dancers.

Respect to the electro-maestro.

I got a strong positive vibe for Dubai. How can anyone deny its rich cultural lifestyle? Robert Miles, Andrew Fletcher, DJ Guetta, Faithless....they all know the imprint of Dubai is strong. Dancers and ravers are culture seekers. Tourists come to Dubai to party!

This post may be lighter than another Franzen entry. But come to think of it, I bet Franzen is in tune with Robert Miles. Both are of the same generation. In fact, the writer is a bird watcher, the musician incorporates bird song in his electronic sounds, as a signature.

May 13, 2011

My Closet

I store things in a closet, like my mother does and her paternal grandmother did before her. I must say that on my paternal side, my own grandmother had a closet too. These ancestors of mine had a variety of things they would lock in their closets: mainly gifts, jewels and sometimes sweets for the guests. My grandmother would frequently send us to her closet to choose "something": a generous token of her affection!

On the highest shelf are the breakable antiques that I don't put out yet, lest my primary schoolers break them. Well hidden amongst them is the stalk of gourmet Swiss chocolate that I have tightly enclosed in a bag, for a later non-diet episode of my routine. Out of reach. If I go get them, it would take a deliberate effort on my part.

On the shelves beneath are a wide array of toys, some books, some dvds. The targeted age is between 10 and 4 years old: my children's ages. I have bought these with them, or without them and they know that their mom will always have a gift at hand for a good grade, good behavior, an achievement, a record beat. But they would never just get a gift for no reason other than their birthday or Eid. I don't buy a dvd at the store and hand it to them right there and then. The DVD has to spend some time in "mama's closet" before any one of them can earn it.

This positive reinforcement method and "gift hoarding" is great for unexpected events like losing a tooth. The tooth fairy doesn't give my kids currency, she drops a gift under their pillow and when the gift is too bulky, like a Lego box or a Barbie doll, then the fairy hides the bulky gift somewhere beneath the duvet. The children are bewildered at these bespoke gifts!

In my closet, at eye level, are the important documents and mail that I have to address. Amongst that paper work are the irreplaceable "school by correspondence" my eldest son works on with me. There, at hand's reach, are my precious Yemeni almonds, for my midnight snack or to stuff in my handbag.

The shelf underneath houses the family photos that have yet to find a home in an album: just developed ones they have been carefully chosen and will be soon added to each child's albums. There are also enlarged photos, waiting to be framed, and photos I haven't hand distributed to friends yet.

At the bottom of my closet, you can find the British Vinolia soap bars my father buys me from Deira, and which I hoard, like a granny. Their smell infuses the entire closet.


May 10, 2011

One Bikram Post Too Many

This blog opened with a Bikram yoga story and was followed by indirect or direct allusions to it, some exclusives, repetitive and constant. My husband told me to stop. But everyone, including myself, react to Bikram yoga and writing a post or refusing to read it, is yet another sticky reaction to a sport you either hate or love to hate. Don't believe anyone who has tepid or positive feelings towards it!

At the National newspaper in AbuDhabi, for a job interview, the rigid editor refused a piece called "Why I Love to Hate Bikram Yoga" that I offered to contribute, because it had an oxymoron! "Why don't you just hate it or love it? And besides we don't want to know why you hate it! Why practice it then"? He asked condescendingly, ending my brief flirtation with journalism. I simply brushed off his ignorance!

Bikram is a sport so different that I can actually combine it with weight training or pilates in a single day and use it as a pretext "to stretch". It certainly has to be the ultimate exercise of the day, because it depletes any energy I may have stored for the day.

The fittest of my friends and relatives believe that bikram is an unusual sport to say the least, requiring exertion and ending with fatigue. The most amusing eavesdropping is in the locker room after class. I hear all the comments and sympathize with my fellow yogis. We are all flushed, tired but proud we endured the long class.

I attend class occasionally, usually once a week, but sometimes twice or not at all. It is an activity I try to fit in a busy evening schedule of kids and social activities. Yet, with a pinch of guilt, I sometimes abandon my maternal responsibilities for the large chunk of time required for such a yoga stretch. Occasionally I will drag (you have to be dragged or bribed to go to bikram!) my husband, a friend, a relative or a mixture of the above (the more the merrier).

I come out invigorated and most important with a feeling of accomplishment: I climbed that mountain, I reached my goal. I crossed the finish line. I can actually work out like Madonna!

May 9, 2011

A Preface to the Preface of a A Book


This blog post isn't an anecdote, nor is it a portrait, or a film review. It is a preface to the preface of a book.

When was the last time you read the Preface to a book? Especially when you don't recognize the author of the Preface. I occasionally will revert to a preface AFTER I have read a book, the same way I look for film reviews after I have seen the film and have allowed myself the time to compose my own review on the blog.

I took a deep breath when I bent the binding of the hefty volume, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and initiated a reading I had been postponing for a while now. A friend, whose literary opinion I respect, read it six months ago. I had perhaps influenced him because I informed him that Wallace was a graduate of Amherst College, like himself. I had also read DFW's non-fiction, after I found out he was the buddy of Jonathan Franzen. Your friend is my friend, Franzen!

David Foster Wallace has Amherst College in common with me (I cross registered there), a fascination with Roger Federer (he wrote the essay "Roger Federer as a Religious Experience") and he was recommended by both my well-read friend and my favorite writer. I began with his first book: The Broomstick. It is the quirky story of a grandmother who goes missing from a retirement home and her grand daughter goes looking for her. By chapter three, I got lost in the Alice in Wonderland fantastic train of thought of David Foster Wallace. I gave up! I much preferred the very Franzen's straightforward story in The Corrections, in which the grandmother pops pain killers and pursues her family to gather for a Christmas dinner in the MidWest.

Dave Eggers, the author of the Forward in Infinite Jest addresses all these issues. He says the following:

(A) David Foster Wallace isn't necessarily an easy read.

(B) In fact, he is a unique writer and his Infinite Jest cannot be categorized with any other piece of fiction. As a result the reader doesn't know how to handle the book and can be intimidating.

I must quote the writer of the preface, who must feel honored in his role as "opening gig" to the literary concert that is Infinite Jest. He poetically mentions: "and thus I spent a month of my young life (reading this book)". I know one person who could say the same. He carried the hefty volume to the other side of the world, on a trip to Australia.

I have just begun reading Infinite Jest and I may very well answer negatively to the very frank question posed in the Forward: will you read it? The 1000 pages don't intimidate me in the least. It is DFW and his absurd style that confound me and have me lost by the end of the Preface.

May 8, 2011

Equal Treatment

I have three children. It is a juggling act every day. That is because I want to treat each of them in the same way, and offer them the same amount of quality time. For who says time, says love.

My eldest was once an only child. That lasted three long years and a half. I divided my love and time between him and my husband. He received undivided attention and quasi total devotion. We were together almost 24/7 before I delegated some of my attention giving and educating to a babysitter and educators.

I can safely say that it is easier to have two children than one. The single child now realizes that his mother is busier and he grows independent. I once wondered how I could give the equivalent time and attention my first born received to my second child. A cousin of mine,  now a mother of three gave me the magical recipe: when you read to your older kid, put the baby in your arms and read on, babies like the sound of your voice and the colorful pictures of the book.

My second child joined me everywhere I went! She wasn't a nursery baby in the least. She was car-seated and attached in the bjorn carrier, and strollered almost everywhere we went. She napped on the go, was breast fed during her brother's riding, golf or swimming lessons. She was always outdoors, accompanying her parents to art galleries and coffee breaks.

And when baby number three came, he did the same. At that point the two toddlers were double strollered in Geneva through long forest strolls to pick their brother up from soccer and  for walks along the lake to get to his sailing regattas. I often dragged all three to the supermarket with the belief that you have more fun and learning at Carrefour than you ever could have at Kidzania!

Quality time is what I worked on, making sure each individual child got the same dose of love, one on one time, attention and play as his sibling. I may sound like I am a devoted golf/swimming mom but I also am a ballet mom! I play the par3 golf with my daughter once a week and take my youngest alone to the beach weekly while his sister plays the violin or dances.

Tiger mom I have perhaps been labeled but my children get their dose of fun: theme packed birthdays, mid-week beach stops, outings with their friends at the cinema depending on their age group,and frequent sleepovers with their friends.

Boy or girl, middle child or younger, teenager or toddler, none of the kids will ever sincerely  be able to accuse me of: "mama, its not fair!" They truly all get equal treatment.

May 6, 2011


100 is a magic number. Counting till 100 is a milestone for every kid. No hide-and-go-seek happens without it! 100 of anything appears like a large quantity, no matter what you are counting. Reading 100 pages is a challenge, so imagine writing them!

I may be the only one counting my posts, because I cannot always count on my muse and frequently, inspiration will ignore me, pass me by, give me the cold shoulder and the composition of more posts are quasi-feats. I have thus counted this entry as my hundredth of the year 2011!

Just say Hundreds and I think of the most basic pilates move which consists of the epitomous non-crunch abdominal work. Anyone who has ever sampled a single pilates class will always ask about the arms flapping and will gasp about how hard "hundreds" are! Six years into it, with very small variations, I still think they are mysteriously a killer, no matter how simple they really look.

For my son, hundreds represent four laps of a 25m pool. During swim practice, he is given instructions to swim, in hundreds and fifties. Later, he will count them to average his distance for the day.

Today he raced 50s, in the same pool as the Dubai resident, Vladimir, Olympic Serbian swimmer and World champion of his age group (17). Vladimir swam his 100 butterfly, 1/3 under water, before surfacing like a dolphin. 100 is a challenge no matter how you look at it!