A pink taxi

A pink taxi

July 30, 2011

FINA Shanghai Swimming Championsh​ips: A Vignette

My nuclear family follows FINA swimming championships with enough motivation for me to write a vignette.

These tall athletic heroes, men and women, are our inspiration. They are concentrated, in "the zone", with headphones on their ears so that the music keeps them away from distraction. They walk on stage, decked in their sweats, their hair pulled back in tight spandex caps, their eyes mysteriously covered in goggles. How do they find the perfect fit and adjustment for their goggles?

I think half the problem with swimming is the goggles. How do you select them, adjust them, so that water doesn't leak, so they aren't so tight they give you a headache and two suction traces around your eyes? I have never purchased a pair that doesn't fog up as soon as you dive in, not to say doesn't fill up with water.

The competitive swimmers walk in with pride, representatives of their countries. The majority is tall enough to have joined a basket ball team but they have selected the aquatic sport instead, one I happen to understand most because I am swimmer, no matter how amateur I am.

I began swimming at the age these swimmers began as well. I swam with the same passion and the same verve. However, I never pursued it seriously because I didn't even imagine I could. I didn't have the olympic swimmers as my role models. I never followed their exploits and stunts.

Now my children, swimmers, watch others swimmers perform perfectly, strive to win, to beat their own records. My husband repeats constantly: "it just takes hard work. None of this can happen without the constant work and performance over the years." Our children admire the American team with the emperor of swimming Michael Phelps. They follow the great results from the French team at this competition. Yet another French team (besides soccer) that we cheer on. Go Camille LaCourt!

Phelps may be retiring after London Olympics next year. Yet, he has another year to inspire us! Indeed, when you watch the FINA performances, you think, maybe, just maybe, with a lot of hard work, your children can also aim for the Olympics and the FINA.

July 27, 2011

A City that has lost its Luster

I know a small city that has lost its popularity and then its luster. It seems abandoned and haunted. Its glory is now faded but resilient. This is San Remo, Italy, on the border of France.

San Remo had its heyday. I can see it in the 1940s architecture of its Casino and its "Gran Hotels". Just on the beach front, it has 3 or 4 hotels whose stars have turned off, one by one.

I always feed on the images of Talented Mr.Ripley, when Matt Damon and Gweneth Paltrow visit the San Remo Jazz Festival at its heyday, in the 1950s.

Very little has changed from those days. Even the tempo is the same. Just a little less hussle bustle. The Mediterranean gardens grow wild, the palms line the coast, the abandoned train station lies idle, as the tracks have moved to the outskirts of the city.

SanRemo is authentically Italian, without any marks of globalization. The Dolce Gabbana clad "caribbinieri" (cops), the coffee shops offering the best cappucinos, the pastry shops with their old fashioned recipes, the market overflowing with the largest variety of tomatoes in the world!

I pretend to visit SanRemo frequently for the coffee and panini at breakfast only. It is my first priority.But I also enjoy the window shopping along the pedestrian streets, the market shopping with my father, the pastry selection, the shoe shop visits with my husband. My children tag along with their cousins to a quaint toy store that "curates" toys with Italian taste. My sons get their "annual haircut" which consists of an Italian hairdresser sheering them like lambs.

I walk along, studying the colored facades, noticing the laundry that hangs from them, the numerous chiming churches. Wondering how SanRemo had been in its heyday, when American tourists visited.

July 24, 2011

La Tortue et le Scorpion

Une tortue revessant au bord d'un ruisseau
Rencontre un scorpion qui desire traverser les eaux

Le scorpion lui fait serment
De ne point le piquer pour le moment

"Si je vous piquais
Avec vous je me noierais"

La tortue accepte alors sans crainte
Avec le scorpion sur le dos, elle nagea sans plainte

Mais le scorpion la pique a mi-chemin
Mourante, la torue regrette le lendemain

Le scorpion s'excuse: "je suis trop puissant
Pour demeurer innocent

Aussi je vais mourir noye
Comme l'abeille, piquer est ma destinee"

Il faut savoir que personne n'echappe aux regles de la nature

AbuTorab De laFontaine

July 23, 2011

Promenade at the Kabul Zoo

I am translating a superb article I read in LeMonde (July 2, 2011) by Frederic Bobin, in the bi-weekly rubric "Letter from Asia". This expert on Chinese affairs and journalist has been posted in Afghanistan, where he is covering the so called "transitional" period as foreign troops prepare to withdraw gradually, whether it will happen or not.

I need not make added comments, but want to remark that a trivial visit to the Kabul zoo could have much insight on the present day atmosphere. The translation is not precisely accurate, but rather amateur. I wish I could convey the perfect French that had been used and struck me as very refined for a more casual space in the newspaper.

"In the shade of the high pines, the small crowd sweeps by the fountain and heads towards the dry alleys. Behind the grilled enclosures, a placid menagerie soaks in the sun. White and brown bears, peacocks, gazelles, wolves, eagles, owls and parrots attract the looks of the good-natured public. Entertainment is a must in Afghanistan at war. The Kabul zoo is part of these havens of carefreeness, with the Shahre now park and the gardens of Babur, where the capital's inhabitants come to forget, for a few moments, the daily worry and the future anxiety. All know that these islands of peace are factitious. The night before, a police station had been attacked by a suicide bomber and killed nine. In a few hours, the city had emptied, regaining its impression of absence of bad days. But today, people came out, taking over the markets and the side walks. One must live well.

The crowd at the zoo is an image of this urban multicolored population where the young man clad in jeans rubs shoulders with the grilled woman under her blue burqa. At the aquarium, a mother shows her handicapped son the shimmering colors of the fish. The child is amazed. Facing the enclosure of the gazelles, a shop sells sodas and kebab sandwiches. Under the trees, visitors lay down to nap, tucked in the freshness. And all around, serpentine the hills of Kabul, circuses of stone flanked by clay homes. The light is so hard that the peaks of stone seem to take fire.

Azizgul Saqeb has a laudatory resolution. The zoo is his fight. Generous amounts of hair and sober tie, the director receives us in his haste office with crimson carpets  stitched with flowered motifs. Equipped with a computer and a television, the room is a proof of relative ease, a sign that the Government that makes effort to exist. The zoo, that was the pride of Kabul in the 1960s, when the King Zaher Shah modernized Afghanistan, must relive. It is a question of principle. Educated in India, the young director solicited foreign support. The zoological society of London and the North Carolina zoo answered their calls. But the toll is heavy and the resurrection demanding.

For the civil war has devastated Kabul zoo, to its disadvantage at the heart of the frontline. It was the era of the moudjahedeen factions had plunged the country is a bloody chaos, at the eve of the Communist regime collapse (1992). The animals - there were about 400 - died of hunger, no one fed them at the time. Or because the tempted fighters came to serve themselves as if it at anti-room of the butcher. Gazelles, dear  and ducks ended in pots. However, the milicians didn't touch the bears, tigers, monkeys and eagles that are considered haram (forbidden) for consumption. Those died from neglect or from lost bullets. In power in Kabul since 1996, the taliban reduced the damages. Azizgul Saqeb talks of how they rebuilt a surrounding wall and offered food to the surviving animals.
The tragedy of the lion Marjan alone summarizes the misfortune of the zoo. Ah! The lion Marjan! The people of Kabul still speak of it with emotion. It has been erected as a national symbol. Its story is the parabole of the Afghan martyr. Marjan had been offered by the Germans at the end of the 60s, at a time when the director of the zoo was prince Nader, son of the king. Besides the Bactrian deer (very rare specie), Marjan was the glory of the establishment. In 1993, at the hight of the civil war, a desperado had the strange idea of entering its den and defying it. Marjan ate him in one mouthful. The next day, the brother of the victim came to seek vengeance and threw a grenade at the lion's face. Marjan lost an eye and some teeth. "Look how it suffered" whispered Azizgul Saqeb showing the photo of the disfigured Marjan that stands in his library. With its dented mouth and blind since that day, Marjan survived. It died of old age in 2002, at the time when, bitter coincidence, "the new Afghanistan" was waking up to hope. Since, a bronze statue of Marjan stands at the entrance of the zoo. The visitors caress it lovingly and of course take photographs next to it. Marjam has been immortalized as a hero of legends.

After she died, the Chinese offered Afghanistan two new lions of Africa. They then added two bears, substitutes to their habitual diplomatic pandas. Pakistan outdid them with Kashmir peacocks. Now the menagerie is almost complete. Azizgul Saqeb would have preferred to get provisions from Afghanistan itself, but the wild life is threatened by the rare species' traffic. The snow white leopard of Badakhshan suffers enormously. "It was out of the question to put an almost extinct animal in a zoo" declared Azizgul Saqeb.

Regardless. The people of Kabul on an outing don't come in throngs to the zoo necessarily for a precious feline. But for the oasis of quietud, its puddles of shade, its sodas, its kebab sandwiches and the myth of king Marjan."

July 21, 2011

Hanna, the film

Every decade needs its prototype alternative action movie. Just last night, my family found Une Femme Nikita playing on prime time French TV because it is a Luc Besson classic and blockbuster the French are proud of. We all watched it, my kids for the first time and my husband and I, a few times too many since the first time in 1990. (We didn't know each other then).

Eight years later, and perhaps in celebration of Nikita, which set the trend of strong fiesty James Bond women (not the ones he seduces!), came the German flick Lola Rent. The heroine was a punk with the strength of Wonderwoman. The soundtrack was intrumental and hip. I went alone, tried it, loved it, dragged my husband. It was like Speed without the bus! How Lola ran against time, held a bank, got the money before the deadline.

Hanna is a mix between Nikita and Lola Rent, a very contemporary version of both. My elder brother recommended it to me highly. He also spoke highly of  the Chemicals Brother soundtrack. My brother wrote: " the soundtrack is woven into the movie's fabric in all the fight scenes, and even discreetly lending itself to the narration. No one is soon to forget the infamous "The Devil is in the Beat" which implants itself in your mind a long time after you've left the movie house. "

The film met my expectations. It had a super cast, with Cate Blanchet as a sadistic official in search of renegades that we approve of. Her role could have been covered by Jodie Foster or better yet by the icy presence of Nicole Kidman. But Cate Blanchet can maintain her stamina of evil attitude with ease.

However, the stupendous acting and physical presence came from budding actress, once Oscar winning, Saoirse Ronan, who played with the vigor of Lola Rent, the casual violence of Nikita and even the conniving actions of Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear! Her Nordic features and wavy signature hair and especially her young age, made for special heroine.

A superb summer flick, albeit a very artsy alternative one. What a coincidence that Femme Nikita was playing on tv the night before.

July 19, 2011

Reading Duets

I have read parts of novels to my husband. I have read books in informal book clubs and in very formal classroom settings. With my youngest brother and my son, I have read Saint Exupery's Little Prince twice and two decades apart.

But reading "Les Malheurs de Sophie" by the Comtesse de Segur with my daughter is an experience on its own. That experience I had once before, reading the same book with my paternal cousin, who is a year younger than me, and it was the identical book. Indeed, I don't think it would have come to mind to read it as a duet with my daughter, had I not done it three decades ago!

Comtesse de Segur is to French children what Enid Blyton is to English or Louisa May Alcott to Americans. It is classic children's literature, miles apart from the more hip and current literature that is written for children today.

Comtesse de Segur's novels are written like plays, with conversations and dialogue. In this particular case, and because my daughter is a novice at reading she was designated to read the words of the heroine, Sophie, who is a naughty girl, always up to trouble. I read the rest of the book, the other dialogues and the description and narrative.

The author is a Countess of the XIXth century and the circumstances are often "aristocratic", with children playing with dainty toys and getting dressed for occasions and followed by maids and servants. The language is at times pretentious and often obsolete. It is charming nevertheless. Yet, reading it as an adult didn't give me new impressions. I sensed the preciousness of the setting even as a child. I just rediscovered it as an adult.

My cousin and I were probably nine or ten when we read the same book. So we divided the reading equally. I will always remember reading that book on our drive to the Roman ruins of Baalbek, in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon.
Three decades later, I was reading the book, with my daugter, on the train ride to Zermatt. Times and worlds apart, but the same classic!

July 17, 2011

Hotel Memorabilia

Who hasn't "stolen" a souvenir from a hotel?

I have walked into a  specialized boutique on Newberry Street in Boston that sells hotel memorabilia from the whole world. You can find plates from the Titanic there. I am not sure how authentic they are! But I remember noticing that the Grand Hotel in Isphahan, Iran, still had its Sevres plates, a testimony of Imperial days.

We all believe that hotels take into consideration the random "pickpockets" like myself and include it in the price of the room. We therefore hoard their travel size luxury soaps and shampoos, their mini sewing kits and shower caps. My grandmother and my mom always use their stationary, when back home. I have more Four Season's pencils than I can count, pocketing them in the lobbies where I sometimes go for dinner.

Many hotels warn you that they will charge you for the stolen bathrobe, so I actually asked the owner of Phoenecia Hotel in Beyrouth, a dear family friend, if I could "steal" mine free of charge.

Also the ashtray from Villa d'Este (Lake Cuomo) that hosts my coins today is a precious relic of a mini honeymoon with my husband.

On this rainy day, I exchanged the brown umbrella from my forgetful husband as we parted ways for an hour. "What is so special about the brown umbrella?" he asked. "I don't want you to forget it, I said. It is from Grand Hotel Napoli." We had spent 1 day there, on our way to Capri. I don't think I will ever go back to Naples again. It is an abandoned ghost industrial city. Staying at its nicest hotel was like a trip through time. The umbrella reminds me of the view of the bay, and the distant Vesuvio volcano.

An umbrella I refused to surrender when we checked out.


July 16, 2011

Woody Allen Strikes Again

I had read previews about the latest Woody Allen, and they prepared me well for the film Midnight in Paris because they said something important without giving the plot. This is what I will try to do here.

What the previews said with exactitude is that Woody Allen's film may be predictable and classic, but it doesn't disappoint. He has chosen a cliche topic: Americans in Paris with the pretext to film in a city that he loves. I understood, with analogy, that the moviegoer would be like the gourmet going to a classic French restaurant to order from a predictable menu and have an excellent meal. He doesn't expect any fusional additive and neither does the audience expect anything but 100% Woody Allen.

Keeping in mind my attempt not to give out the plot, I will present the thematic and that is what people call the Golden Age and how they perceive the artists of the past with reverence.

This film, in a Woody Allen manner,  makes reference to many artists of the 1920s: Picasso, Modgliani, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Bunel, ManRay and Dali. It even makes reference to LaBelle Epoque with Degas, Toulouse Lautrec and Gauguin. Only Woody Allen can make reference to such a clique of cliche artists and make it appear funny and mesmerizing.

What I want to know, even though it is obvious that NO ONE would refuse an offer to play in a Woody Allen, is how Allen builds his beautiful cast: he chooses the best medley of actors and actresses and every appearance draws a smile.

In that vein, and I don't think it is deliberate on his part, he sends the message that while all those artists and writers formed a clique in the 20s or at the Belle Epoque, we have talented actors today: just look at the cocktail of artists he brings together beautifully. It didn't take much to convince Madame Sarkozy, alias Carla Bruni, to play!

In the same vein, I thought of the current artistic movement in the Middle East, all the artists know each other, many form a tight clique and support each other and hang out together. In many ways, like the 20s in Paris. Just because it is contemporary, doesn't mean it isn't a fact!

Summer Resolutions

The first summer resolution would be to take it easy. But the summer is two months long and resolutions are not always tough ones. Here are a few.

To watch every available artsy movie. Not to miss 8pm French news. To make it to the Premiere of the last Harry Potter because my son read all 8 volumes. To keep an eye open for cultural events: concerts, ballets and operas, even though they slow down in the summer months.

To take train rides to see Monet in Martigny, to see a large collector's Impressionists in Lausanne, to see the Richard Serra exhibit in Basel. To take a train ride to Zermatt to view the Matterhorn (how can you become Swiss and not have seen the most famous mountain peak?)

To swim in the Olympic size pool by the lake as often as possible. To rent the free bike as frequently as possible. To keep up on foot while the kids skid on their razor blades.
To watch my eldest progress in sailing, after 5 full weeks.

To eat more berries and cherries and less ice cream and croissants. To keep to two cups of coffee a day maximum.

To go to every park, the further the better. To go to the Museum of Natural History on rainy days and try to retain something non-artistic.

To borrow the maximum amount of children's books from the public libraries and to choose many new themes. Next week we will look at African Stories for one child and Ambulances for another.

To read as many French classics as I can. To splurge on all the Orhan Pamuk novels in one go. To read Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Aswany because my father assigned it to me with love.

To review mathematical fundamentals with the eldest and practice Toeffel vocabulary words with him. To keep practicing reading and maths with the 3rd grader. To keep practicing handwriting and counting with the 1st grader.

And when we arrive in France for two weeks, to abandon all these resolutions and call it a real vacation. Well, there would be an important resolution: to bond with family members we don't see except for every 6 months.

July 13, 2011

My Personal Kidzania

Dubai is often qualified as a superficial place, designed for consumption and devoid of culture. I have found many occasions to disqualify that accusation, by commenting on cultural and sports events and activities that take place there. Dubai is a dynamic city with an urban edge that can compete with other cities.

But Dubai, like any other city, does have a superficial, consumption driven edge to it as well. People can easily spend all their time roaming in malls and entertaining their kids in indoor playgrounds that have nothing educational to them. Of course Dubai has a Children's City, a place I once thought would be a silly indoor playground but turned out to be an interactive play area, resembling a science museum, but entirely for children. Either it is a well kept secret or the parents don't think it is "stimulating" enough for their kids because it remains empty.

More stimulating for kids in Dubai, some have argued is Kidzania, which in my opinion is an easy gratification place. Kids pay a hefty price to be "taught" how to pretend. To be given so many tools and realistic toys that they are no longer "pretending". There is no longer room for imagination in such an artificial environment.

My own personal Kidzania is taking my children with me to the supermarket. We choose things together, we take the fresh items to be weighed, we talk about the choices and the alternatives, the prices and the quantities, even the provenances of things.

Geneva, an urban-village, allows for Kidzania play all day long. We take public transportation, and I make sure the kids pile the coins into the ticket dispenser, choose the routes and numbers to take, and press the door buttons before the requested stops.  At the public library, I allow them to choose their books freely. At the supermarket, they have to weigh the veggies and fruit themselves, and help me bag the groceries, even carry some. We go to the post office, wait in line, buy the stamps, and drop the bills in the yellow boxes. We go to the baker, select our pastries with care, naming them correctly, handing the change. They buy me my Le Monde, not because they can necessarily read the words, but rather because they recognize the now familiar font. 

Dubai may lack these specialty shops, and public libraries that make Kidzania interesting to parents who think "pretending to work as a hairdresser or as a McDonald's cook" will teach their kids lessons in life.

Frankly, I think the game of Monopoly is a much better experience.

July 12, 2011

Egyptian Art

I know very little about Egyptian Modern art. I was most recently exposed to it  at the Christie's Dubai sales, notably through the collection of Mohammad Al Farsi. The paintings that sold in Dubai were of landscapes and peasants. I have only seen his nudes in photographs but when I saw them I was reminded of the painter Mahmoud Said from theYacoubian Building and his image of a sensual nude.

Alaa AlAswany does not worry about censorship in his novel. All topics are mentioned: adultery, sex, homosexuality with the detailed naturalism of Zola.  Sensuality permeates his novel. I considered the cover of the book, in French translation, as ill-fitted to the images I had imagined myself while reading it.

While reading the Yacoubian Building, photographs by contemporary Egyptian artist Youssef Nabil sprung to mind. Amongst Youssef Nabil's rich repertoire, are Egyptian movie actresses and singers, preserved in large photographs to which he adds his signature paints to render them nostalgic and hyperbolically sepia toned. These photographs are sensuous and sultry, as are the descriptions of AlAswany. Nabil's male models, in galabiya also could inhabit  The Yacoubian Building.

This novel has become a contemporary classic with large success. I am almost certain to have read it before viewing the breakthrough film. It hit box office records in the Middle East because it was the first time an Arabic movie actually raised so many controversial topics, social and political.

But my father recenly purchased the book for me as a surprise and dedicated it to me: "With the January 2011 Revolution in Egypt, it is time to read Aswani".

I am sure not to have first read it in French, so I decided to read it again in this translation gifted to me.  As I read,  and the story unfolds and the characters' destinies progress, I cannot help making the cliche link to Naguib Mahfouz's Midaq Alley, in their similar  ambiance of debauchery.

An Egyptian friend of mine told me as we discussed the similarities: " both stories are based around the tales of normal Egyptians, Midaq tells the tales of a working class area in Old Cairo, Yacoubian in a more middle class neighbourhood in Downtown Cairo. This was the heart of Cairo in 1950s,60s and early 70s. The buildings, like their inhabitants, are past their prime, yet they are still trying to hang on to their former glory. "

The Yacoubian Building has become a figure of speech, in reference to the gossip and stories that happen in apartment buildings, where neighbors know each other all too well. It stands as the  Melrose Place of Egypt! While my father invited me to reflect on the political dynamics of the novel, to better understand the social roots of the January 2011 Revolution, I somehow skipped the political analysis (I am halfway through) but I did grasp the artistic undertones.

July 11, 2011

The Scavenger Hunt

My first assignment at the Middle Eastern Studies program at Harvard University was a scavenger hunt.

They gave each one of us the task to find a large list of obscure documents, books, articles and images. The library system at Harvard is the second largest in the world after the Library of Congress.

Since Middle Eastern Studies is interdisciplinary, the cruel, malicious professors scattered the hunt to the farthest flung libraries,  including the Harvard Medical School on the other side of the Charles River! I had to check the library hours of the School of Architecture and ask permission to check the Reserves at the Law School. Then, I had to xerox each document as a proof of having found it and gather them all in a dossier for this  malicious professor!

At present, I am building a similar dossier, one document at a time. The list is shorter than my Harvard research training, but I have to go from one bureaucratic building to another, waiting in line, speaking to officials, gathering information, following guidelines. I am glad that  my academic experience  has served me well and I feel prepared for the challenge!

July 10, 2011

Peak Tourism

I have two different recurring dreams, which probably symbolize where I belong or long to belong. One is of swimming in the oily thick waters of the Dubai Creek with the dhows driving past me dangerously. The other dream is very pleasant and it entails me opening shutters of a chalet with direct access to a frontal view of the Matterhorn peak, in Switzerland.

While the Dubai Creek was an integral part of my childhood (although I've never actually swam in it!), I have never seen the Matterhorn, and certainly never had a frontal view of it.

A few days ago, my dream in mind and children in tow,  I travelled the distance by train from Geneva to finally see the Matterhorn. After all these years spent living in Switzerland, none of us had seen one of the most iconic peaks in the world, one that adorns every chocolate box, every Swiss watch publicity, every calendar and stamp. It is the peak on the Toblerone chocolate and for that reason, we bought a small symbolic one, and shared it.

It turns out we had brought too many nick nacks and snacks to to dwell on the Toblerone. We had Swiss cereal bars, almonds, fresh fruit, homemade sandwiches all packed in a hefty package that I carried for refueling. Not that we exerted ourselves. I am to blame for not hiking. I came ill prepared. I didn't expect the temperatures to be so low at an altitude between 2000 and 3800m and thus dressed my kids in two summer layers. Needless to say, they froze, up at the peak of the nearby mountain.

The trip in the cable car was breathtaking,even for me a pretty seasoned skier of the Alps and the Rockies. I have always said that Verbier, for example, offers "Swiss Air" views as they resemble those you see when you fly over the Alps on a Swiss flight. Courchevel is also very high in altitude and has nice views. But Zermatt, which we visited for the first time in order to view the Matterhorn, is magnificient, and this even in summer.

There is nothing more authentically Swiss than the village of Zermatt. Granted it has its hotels, tourist shops and restaurants but its beauty lies in its pedestrian roads, and its strict architectural zoning, even more so than Wyoming. From the cable car, Zermatt is a town built of wood, and the higher we went, the more it  began to resemble the remnants on the floor of a carpentry store. Zermatt fits well in its environment.

We were delighted with our trip, dwelling in the Swiss ambiance (we even had fondue). And my delight surpassed the disapointment of not making my dream come true. I traveled 4 hours by train to see the Matterhorn and I actually didn't get a frontal view of it. I climbed into a cable car to catch a closer look and the closer I got, the more eclipsed it got.

When we approached the peak, a huge gray cloud covered its summit. The surrounding peaks were shining and white with snow in the mountain July sunshine. However, this particulat cloud didn't budge during the five hours we spent in Zermatt.

Like a veiled woman, the Matterhorn refused to show her face. I choose however to ignore nature's games and have promised to come visit again, in another season or again next summer. What a perfect reason to get some fresh air and take in splendid landscapes.


It takes motivation to go to the public pool at Geneve Plage and swim two kilometers and a half. I find many motivators without which I would renounce to the endeavor.

The first one is that I have to be a role model to my eldest, and to a lesser extent to the younger ones. They know that their mom and big brother go swim for an hour a day. It will compute eventually. They should think its the norm. I have to induce my eldest to keep swimming as it is the sport he elected. "Just do it, I tell him. I will come with you. I will swim as well."

The second one is that swimming is my summer fitness routine. I am not a runner, nor a biker. I have abandoned pilates and yoga and decided on swimming every summer. It is a resolution that I have to follow through.

The third one is that I am a nagger. I say I won't swim in a pool smaller than 25 meters. Well, here in Geneva, at a stone throw away from home, is a 50 meters Olympic size pool. Swim for all the laps you have refused to swim stobbornly in the 15 meter pools!

The fourth motivator is to tell the world you are about to swim the length planned and then stick to the goal. Otherwise your credibility is at stake.

The fifth motivator is to remember that sports runs in the family. Your sister bikes daily, your brother can bench press more than his own weight, your husband and younger brother are very good runners. They accumulate more kilometers than you can swim in a week. If I looked at the generation before me, the swimmers and golfers on the paternal side and the skiers, tennis players, climbers, kite surfers on the maternal side, I would feel a fool not to swim.

Those five motivators get me to the pool. Get me to argue with my son till he finally agrees to swim the selected distance. All the way there, I have to motivate him. Pep talk him: tell him that Andre Aghassi hated tennis and played daily, tell him that Roger Federrer's tennis might look smooth but it actually takes a lot of work and practice, tell him that Vladimir, the Olympic swimmer in his team in Dubai swims daily. I try not to talk about Phelps because he knows his mother is strict and he doesn't need to be reminded of that.

I touch the water with my toes. Feel the temperature. It is bearable. The outside temperature is comfortably high and the sun is shining. Get in. Swim your distance!

I have jumped in. I start counting. Now I have to pep talk myself! I remind myself that I have been swimming for three decades. That it was the most valuable sport I learned in Salt Lake City. That I swam at camp for three summers, in the freezing and daunting Lake Chaplain in Vermont. That I even swam while I was overweight at Smith College. That I swam through 3 pregnancies!

I am in the lane with the endurance swimmers. The fittest fish in the pool. I have to keep up with them. Besides I am swimming against the clock. I want to be out of here in good time. Get out of the pool and lay on the grass and have some sweet fruit.

As I swim, I try to convince myself that this is less torture than bikram yoga. I am not fully convinced. I switch to thinking about pilates and agree that swimming is also an all body integrated sport. 30 lengths through, I feel my shoulders, my abs, my wrists and my ankles. I know I have to articulate my kick from the sit-bones.

My son swims ahead of me with fins on. It is good for his kick and he gets out of the water before I do. I don't count lengths for him. If he has swam 40 lengths instead of 50 it is good enough for a eleven year old on vacation. I have encouraged him to set high standards. Like Vladimir who swims for his country or Federrer who plays for Switzerland at the Cup Davis.

Why not aim for the Olympics, I suggest? Time will tell. Till then, its the journey that matters, all those laps in the pool.

Happy Birthday AT!

July 8, 2011

Moby in Dubai by Guest Blogger

What does one do when Dubai empties out for the summer? What's the best remedy for a terrible Monday at the office? How do you celebrate the 4th of July? You go to a Moby concert. That's what you do. The revered American music producer, singer-songwriter, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, all round genius, landed in Dubai as part of his Destroyed World Tour. Having bought my seated ticket a few days back, I headed alone to the World Trade Center venue looking forward to a night of music appreciation. 

People find it weird to go to a rock/electronica concert alone so why don't they find it strange to go to a classical music concert solo? Music is meant to be appreciated. God damn it! Ian Curtis of Joy Division once taught his wife "if you put music on, you sit down and listen to it. You don't get up and do your laundry. You listen to it." With that ethos in mind, I took my seat in the near full capacity venue. Moby didn't disappoint with his full live band. Other than the drummer, his musicians were all female. And did they play! The guitar, bass, drums, violin, synth, and soul vocals all blended together creating a beautiful medley of sounds which enthralled the audience in a dreamlike state. Moby powered through his opus Play album before delighting the fans with new singles from his new album. I leave you with the official
video from his latest single "The Day." Enjoy because music matters.


July 7, 2011

Summer 2000

Summer 2000 began with a Ph.d graduation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts. I received my diploma: 5 years worth of work. But my task seemed incomplete. I was 35 weeks pregnant. I had 5 weeks left before I delivered my first baby.

That summer I volunteered to be a guidance to my youngest brother by tutoring him while he took summer school. He came from Villanova University, Philadelphia to Tufts University. He enrolled in Economics which I had no knowledge of and Philosophy, which I pretended to know. I had told my parents: "when will we ever get this chance again?"

Indeed, I was married but my husband was working in Geneva. I was due to deliver in Boston, a month after my graduation. My youngest brother and I, born 11 years apart, had not lived under the same roof for over 15 years.

Don't be mistaken: he took care of me! He did study. We did argue over philosophy. I also made him swim laps daily as it was my pregnancy fitness routine.

But we spent most of the time enjoying Boston at its best: in June! He was overprotective, chauffering me, while I sat in the back of the car. "Who puts a baby in the front seat?" he would say referring to my pregnancy.

He was already an excellent cook by then. I blame him for the extra pounds. I thank him for introducing me to Indian cuisine. We bought a Madhuri Jaffrey cookbook that I still use till this day.

Incidently, the baby was due July 4th, 4 days before my brother turned 19. My son was born two days after the birthday, thus skipping the chance to become his namesake (I had made a promise if it coincided). My brother, who drove me, my mom and husband to hospital, and attended the birth, became an uncle for the first time. Uncle and nephew may not share the same name but as astrology wants it, they share the same caring and kind character. And time has shown that they share many same interests!

My brother is 30 today. He is married to his childhood sweetheart and they have two wonderful boys. How time flies!