A pink taxi

A pink taxi

November 4, 2012

Atiq Cineaste: Lettre Ouverte

Cher Atiq,

Combien d'ecrivains sont assez adroits pour interpréter leurs romans en film? Combien de cinéastes sont littéraires? Je te présente, cher ami, auteur du Prix Goncourt Sangue Sabour et metteur en scène du même film.

Je tiens a te remercier personnellement, mais aussi de la part de mes enfants afghans, pour le patrimoine artistique que tu nous lègue, moi ta lectrice dévouée, et mes enfants, tes compatriotes, qui te tiennent en fierté sans encore connaitre ton oeuvre.

J'ai lu Sangue Sabour une seule fois. Je me souviens encore des nuits passées a le lire lentement, a savourer les mots, a apprécier sa philosophie. On n'aborde pas un chef d'oeuvre avec irrévérence, on ne l'engloutit pas dans un bus, on ne le transporte pas dans son sac a main. Je lisais donc le roman et je prenais des pauses. Pendant ces pauses, je t'écrivais. Quelle veine! Ecrire a un ecrivain. Lui poser des questions et avancer des commentaires a fur et a mesure.

Vouloir comprendre le pourquoi d'un roman? Mais n'as tu pas ecrit spontanément? N'as tu pas rêvé la narration et mis au jour les personnages? N'as tu pas peint le décor simultanément avec des gestes rapides de brosse sur la toile?

Quand j'ai vu le film, quand j'ai revu le décor, les personnages et la narrative, j'étais ravie de la fidélité du film au roman. Néanmoins cette fidélité tenait de ta propre interprétation du livre. Je l'aurai lu d'un autre point de vue, d'une imagination personnelle. Mais voila que tu répondais a toutes mes questions. Toutes celles que je te posais et plus car tes personnages et leur décor filtrent si clairement a travers tes mises-en-scene photographiques. Spectatrice, je capturais ta lumière, le tempo de l'histoire, l'haleine de tes acteurs.

Et dire que tu avais imagine cette histoire en Francais car la langue original du roman est de Molière. Dans le film, tes personnages avaient repris leur langue nationale: le dari et toute sa poésie!  

October 22, 2012

Flywheel, Where Music Matters

My sister had not always been entirely musicaly enthused. At least she didn't obsessively think and talk about as she began to do so about two years ago. But about two years ago, things began to change, and we began to refer to songs, hits and lyrics over geographical distance and time zones: much of our blackberry chat was about Wiz Khalifa, Eminem or Madonna's MDNA.

My sister became obsessed with music as she delved further into her new passion: indoor cycling at Flywheel New York. At the time, I couldn't relate to her cardio work outs. I couldn't comprehend why she would wake up at dawn to take a class before her kids woke up, nor could I fathom the thought of taking two classes a day the way she does. She spoke to me of an alien activity that was fueled by her energy and also her love of music.

When she recommended the same activity to me, when she told me "cardio would make the whole difference", I tried Flywheel Dubai half heartedly.  Then, I used the pretext of socializing as motivation: you can fly with friends, with family, even with your teenage son! Indeed, I have always gone accompanied, me the usually solitary type who sports alone. I now consider Flywheel to be my "party zone", because the music is so loud and fun!

I then got onto the bike and listened to the music, eventually I began requesting some, battled with some on tough uphill rides, allowing my adrenaline and body rythm to get carried away by the tempo. Yes, I did "get in the zone" in the dark room with my peers and the fabulous four instructors.

Music at Flywheel Dubai is taken to another level: abstraction. I lock my cycling shoes in, the instructor talks us into it, we start off very quickly, and poof...the outside world disappears behind me. I am in the dark room, the music plays and I follow its cadence, I study my progression, I strive for the record, I participate in the race. I lose my sense of time. I don't care if the lesson lasts 45mins or 1 hour. I always think the ending is too abrupt, wishing for more. The instructors always end while I am still having fun.

Sometimes I feel more or less tired at the start of the class, depending on the time, or the day, but I give it all I can and the endorphines always kick in. Speak to me after a class and I won't make sense, as I am on a high! My Flywheel high!

October 12, 2012

Queen of Golf

"As her 40th approaches ,the Oryx is greatly missed.Her character,vitality and warmth remain with us through her memories,character and eccentricities."


My aunt, the late Maha Salim Salaam, otherwise known with reverence as Oryx, because it is a direct translation of her name, was eulogized in the sports section of Aliwaa newspaper (in Arabic). This comes as no surprise, despite the fact that she was a mother and the wife of the Chairman of Middle East Airlines first and an amateur golf player second.

Indeed, each member of her community remembered her for the various interesting aspects of her life, be they social, corporate or sportive. In this special case, she was remembered to her dedication to the Golf Club of Beirut, which her late husband conceived. Together, they were the life and spirit of the "lung of Beirut", the rare patch of green and venue for sport in the city.

They shared the love for golf and endorsed the sport on a national and regional level. Golf was their family lifestyle, as it has naturally became my own nuclear family lifestyle as well, in emulation of her. The passion for golf is a family tradition!

We play at the Dubai Creek Club. My children have held clubs at the age of 4, played the par 3 at the age of 5 and the eldest went on to the large courses all over Dubai since he was 9. Our golf lessons are regular, our practice times frequent, our time spent at the club large. We swim there but also study there, between games and classes. In fact it isn't unusual for my eldest to practice on the range before school, relayed by me, in a morning lesson and the day ends with my daughter's evening class! My kids shower then and wear their pyjamas!

When we play, we always remember our aunt, as my son is extremely proud to have played with Oryx, en tete a tete!

October 7, 2012

Rousseau Le Genevois

At the bookstore, I didn't find Rousseau under R with Rabelais and Rahimi. I asked, with shy hesitation, lest I seem like I am asking for the most obvious cliche: "madame, where can I find JeanJacques Rousseau?"

The book keeper sighed with deference at my ignorance: "Swiss literature section my dear!"

As you can see, Geneva is proud of Jean Jacques Rousseau. I have pointed to his statue when my kids and I cross the footbridge with his name, on bikes, over the Leman lake. Thus, my kids have heard about the philosopher before reading his texts.

On the occasion of his 300 birth anniversary, I took the eldest to a play that celebrated JJR the botanist,philosopher,writer and political theorist. As we rode our bikes to the park where the play took place, I shared my own knowledge of the thinker. "He wasn't a sculptor and artist as well" asked my son, now recognisant of the Michael Angelos and the DaVincis of this world.

I reminded him of the Confessions, one of the earliest autobiographies. I also told him that JJR was a humanist, that he developed the concept of citizenship. He was also religious but he despised institutionalized religion and preferred to find God through his meditation in Nature. He was a walker and an amateur botanist and this play would be interesting because it address the writer in the context of a walk with the actors through the park, by night!

The park's doors were thus locked behind us as we strolled "after-hours". It felt like we were intruders at Night at the Museum, only this museum was open-air. The small crew of actors walked with torch lights and led the way. Five scenes were prepared, of which a wonderful one, reminiscent of a Fragonard or Watteau painting!

I learned many small details about the life of the writer. I listened to some of his texts recited and I better understood his philosophy. They explained his rapport with his city Geneva, which maltreated him in his old age. Geneva today, while very proud of the prodigy, remains critical of JJR, pointing to his over-sensitive nature, or to his sexism as he wasn't fair in the realm of female education.

My 12 year old caught on most of the play, didn't complain at all (kudos to him for his patience) and credit to the acting that kept him attentive. As we sat listening to poetic recitations, it began to rain. Neither the actors, nor the audience flinched as my son and I wondered if we should leave. They were caught up in the story of their ancestor. Being in touch with nature is certainly a piece and parcel of Swiss culture.

Most important was the renewed idea of the Renaissance man, in the XVIII century: Rousseau believed in a well educated person, a well rounded one, interested in the arts and sciences, fascinated by the theoretical and immersed in the practical. It is up to us to look for answers in Nature, walk in the gardens, which is also an athletic pursuit.

I share his philosophy and introduced my children to it this summer of Rousseau celebration.

September 26, 2012

Perks of Being a Wallflower

"A quick, easy read. Well written and one that I am re-reading at the moment." Signed by a dear clever friend.

I was gifted this gem of a novel. I will treasure its meaning for years to come. I was entertained while reading it: the characters likeable, the feelings sincere and real. The last day of reading, after I had devoured 90% of the narrative, I had an epiphany.

I try not to use the word epiphany frequently. I save it for the real moment, when something clicks inside and the deep realisation that this smart writer has wrapped in a book, a concept I couldn't express myself.

The book is about the coming of age of a 16 year old. It is the Catcher in the Rye rehashed in a perfect way. I had just finished Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, a huge fantastic tome about a fifteen year old. I still save the memory of Joey, Franzen's teenage character in Freedom. These books have taught me that most lessons learned, most new feelings occur in those formative years. There is a single reason: the discovery of love in its purest form, because it is the first love. Every experience relates to that period in your life. "We accept the love we think we deserve."

I keep repeating the title "Perks of being a Wallflower" and I consider perks to be one of my favourite words because my understanding of this rather colloquial word is "an advantage you get while you do something that doesn't really seem advantageous".

I had tweeted once, before I even read the book: #perksofgoingtothepublicpool in the signature hashtag tweet lingo that requires word attachment and in reference to the daily, monotonous kilometres I accumulated in the summer: bumping into a Chris Martin lookalike and talking about the smell of lavender. It really is a perk!

I didn't know what a wallflower was till I looked it up: a person who feels shy or awkward or excluded at a party. The protagonist Charlie defines himself as such. Yet, while that was an aspect of his character, the side-effects of that "role" got me thinking and resulted in an epiphany!

There is a lot of communication between the characters of the book. In the last pages, Sam takes Charlie aside and asks him why he has always been passive, why he doesn't assume his feelings, why he doesn't take risk in his actions. Why does he just stand aside and watch. "It's like you're not even there sometimes...you can't just sit there and put everyone's life ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You have to do things."

I realized then how easy it is to just "go for the ride", be there, but not invest your feelings into something completely, in self protection. There are moments in life, opportunities to express and to feel but always the reluctance to let go of the barriers.

Doesn't Cold Play sing, "every step that you take may be your biggest mistake? It may bend or it may break" Why take small shy steps? Why not assume an important step with confidence and take the risk? Why remain a wallflower?

September 23, 2012

Kafka On The Shore

@pinktaxiblogger: I predict Haruki Murakami will get a Nobel Prize @Haruki_tweets @paulocoelho @SalmanRushdie #watchthisspace

After running through, debating and constantly thinking of What I Talk about when I Talk about Running, attempting and aborting the reading of 1Q84, I picked Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami because I believe in his talent.

His Talk about Running, a non-fiction essay of sorts about his passion, introduced me to the writer as a resolute athlete. What better than a book on fitness written in literary words? There transpired his personality and his real story. Nothing of this, except his constant talent, and his personal style come through in Kafka on the Shore.

I was hooked to a story I refuse to divulge in this commentary. Suffice me to say that unlike the cult book 1Q84, I was able to decipher the magical world of Murakami here. Perhaps because the story isn't as extraordinary as the other one.

Yet I warn you that you will be precipitated in a world of manga, a modern Alice in Wonderland because it often narrates as a road trip, or a coming of age: a Japanese Catcher in the Rye. But it remains akin to a Hiroyuki Morita animation: The Cat Returns. It has the magical realism of Latin American literature and also alludes to Borges' favourite theme: reading. Here you read the books the protagonists read, making you part of their fantasy! The novel is also dipped into classical music. The characters ponder its beauty and significance.

There is a blurred line between reality and illusions because reality and feelings are simplified to their essence. From that perception, comes the appreciation for Murakami. Beauty simply is, and everything is possible in this novel.

September 12, 2012


Why do people scorn Damien Hirst's polka dots, Murikami's happy faces or Jeff Koons' balloon figures? Why are art critics dismissive of these artists as "cliché" or "over-exposed"? Do they not see the beauty in the trivial, the reassuring in the familiar, the genius in the mainstream?

I went on foot, by boat, by train and by tram on a four hour trip to see an exhibit by Jeff Koons and I returned that same blissful summer day, traversing Swiss highlands and lakes immediately after I having seen the impressive show.

The journey to Foundation Beyeler is the beginning of the annual adventure. Always a few kids or a single one in tow, in delectable anticipation of what I will discover in the architectural masterpiece by Renzo Piano. The granite structure awaits me, floating on the little pond of lilies. I enter the garden and run to its collections, both temporary and permanent. Who doesn't want to see 9 Rothkos in a single room, the Man Walking by Giacometti or the very large triptych by Monet of a pond of lilies, reflecting the real locality of the Basel institution. I point to the Calders and the Mondrians and my youngest wonders at Wassily Kandinski because he had been introduced to him in first grade.

Then we discover the curated show of Jeff Koons. We enter a room full of old model vacuum cleaners. Then follow rooms full of porcelain. These extra-large porcelain pieces represent simplified figures of animals and friendly cherubs. We are in the realm of fantasy. Jeff Koons celebrates children's birthdays with large canvases of pink cakes, balloons, and party hats with confetti everywhere.

My son recognises the large puppy shaped balloon because it featured in the movie "Night at the Museum". I carefully and very furtively touched it to confirm it was solid and permanent, not helium and temporarily air filled.

I recognised that I was traversing an atmosphere based on illusions. What with the very large twisted blue balloon floating on the pond, as if deposited by a gust of wind, instead of a crane?

I sat in the gardens, in the shade of a huge shrub designed by Koons, that looked like a dog/a cow an amalgamated animal of flowers. My son and I ate the last bunch of cherries on the last day of August and I told him how happy I was that "he" brought his mother to one of her favourite places on earth, Fondation Beyeler, where illusions are in fact reality.

September 6, 2012

Farewell Umm Ali Salaam

Strength is a quality Salaam women strive towards. My dear aunt Maha was more than that, she was known to be the Iron Lady. An example of strength and open mindedness, I will always and also cherish Maha's generosity and try to emulate it.

She has passed away and to honour her beautiful life, I have chosen to translate the very evocative eulogy that was written by Talal Salman in AsSafir (Sept 4,2012) It is an approximate translation that doesn't do justice to its perfect Arabic eloquence.

".... And thus came the time of departure, and the lady of all ladies left us and the sister of men, Maha Salaam, Um Ali, joining her life companion Salim Ali Salaam, whose spirit shows with every airplane that evokes the horizons, decorated with the cedar.

Precious, she was amongst the women, either with her political culture or her social network, with frank confrontation in the open and with diplomacy behind the scenes.

She has reunited with her lifetime companion, as she was in his brain as much as she was in his heart. Encouraging him to withstand difficulties, even alone, and encouraging him to stand up against wrong, even if it came from a friend or a relative. She would infuse him with abundance of optimism and certainty even if the wrong prevailed.

She stood besides him when alone he faced the intrigues and manoeuvres that were targeting the destruction of MEA and the control of the company. She participated in all his hobbies, except hunting, and she confronted with him, and after his departure, all manoeuvres that targeted the "lung" of Beirut, the Golf Club of Lebanon. Furthermore she supervised the improvement of the club's services and she maintained its membership after the departure of her lifelong partner, Abu Ali, who wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather "Abu Ali" Salim Ali Salaam. He was able to fullfill what he aimed for, even in a different direction.

After his departure, she tried and succeeded, as much as she was able, to make up for his absence. Her house remained full of friends and lifetime companions and she offered her love too. Her blessed offspring joined the success as the distinguished four: Ali, Karim, Nina and Chafica, until she was rewarded with grandchildren as well.

She was known as Umm Ali, to the elite of Beirut and all of Lebanon, and in many Arab countries, and to friends of the house. She passed yesterday, quietly, after a painful fight with sickness, that never stopped her from interacting with all whom she loved and befriended. May God shower his mercy on Umm Ali Salaam whose presence shone bright,the intelligent, emotional, friendly and courageous lady. May God keep her offspring and

'Inna lillah wa innah ilayhi i raji'un "we are from God and to Him we return"."

August 27, 2012

Jump In

Water temperature is very important for me. I won't venture into a freezing pool unless I know I will be moving non stop, that is swim laps instead of paddling with the kids. However, I won't swim laps in a pool that is smaller than 25 meters. I call pools that are smaller bath-tubs and they are fun, only when the temperature is ambient. Only then, do I become an ideal lifeguard and play with the kids for hours.

I may sound finicky when it comes to swimming, but it is quite the opposite. Why do people say they are going to the beach, when in reality, they are sitting by the pool, which has a view of the beach? Why do people want beaches with full amenities, showers, long chairs, umbrellas and even food service? While Club 55 in Saint Tropez is certainly worth the posh and the experience, what is wrong with a towel on a free beach? Isn't the salt and sand combination an ideal exfoliation?

This summer I have been fortunate to have swum off the most beautiful peninsula of Cap Martin where the famed LeCorbusier swam (and drowned): the Mediterranean was a perfect blue temperature! I climbed back on the rocks at 7pm in the evening and didn't even need to dry off with a towel!

Take me to sea and I will swim from the boat to shore and back, or from the shore to a raft or a random floating boyee. When I was in camp, the swim practice for the team I belonged on, consisted of daily squad in the freezing Lake Champlain lake of Vermont. Back and forth to the raft, back and forth. I always smile at the thought that my freezing dives in Lake Leman, Geneva, are dives in a huge lake of Evian, as the Evian mountains and water fall into this lake.

But I had never swam in a river. Only in my recurring happy dreams. Most of the time I dream of the salty Creek of Dubai where I have lived most of my life, or else the Potomac Canal in Washington DC, where I have walked many Georgetown summers. I have sometimes dreamed of swimming in the Seine, the river whose geography and poetry I know so well.

But it never crossed my imagination to swim in the Rhone, which falls into Lac Leman in Geneva. In fact, I created a myth with my children that crocodiles inhabited the river and I would point to pieces of tree trunks drifting away in the current and tell them they were crocodile tails.

On a bicycle ride, I stumbled onto an unknown bike trail that took us to a rather boisterous bank of that river. There under the large trees, youngsters pounced in and out of the green river, using the accommodations built by the city, that is decks and ladders. The ambiance was urban alternative, all under the age of 30, smoking, drinking, jumping in, music playing from somewhere, bikes parked against graffiti walls.

It became my ambition to come back with my suit and try my luck. I didn't know how cold the water was, nor could I tell how it felt to swim with the current. The last time I swam with current was in an ice stream in Iran, as a child, held safely by a rope by my grandfather.

In fact, my aunt remarked about the post-Iran years, when my grandfather sought the same thrills in the USA: "The place we usually go to camp in Utah has a really wild and cold river. I don't remember if you were ever with us but it was a lot of fun. I remember your parents and mine came and joined us there for the day." I was there ofcourse and I remember the streams and waterfalls of Utah very well!

It was therefore with the same courage, learned in my childhood, that I jumped in, without my grandfather or his safe rope, but with my kids, looking over from the banks, wondering whether their mother is a daredevil or an example to follow.

Extraordinary feeling to swim in green currents, in a controlled environment, because the banks have many ladders and on-looking suntanning hippies.

Yes, it did feel like a dream....

August 23, 2012

Roman Summer

I started my trip to Rome, where I had left it a long decade ago. I traversed the Borghese park, once a distant elevated park, now a collection of pine trees; so far apart, as not to compose a forest but more like a gathering of green clouds. The poetry of trees. In Italian verse of course.

I visited the Vatican, once an off the track destination for cliche seeking Michael Angelo sightings, now my grown son's aced art history project. From emotions gathered, he dried his tears in the awesome Sistine Chapel. As for me, it was the St Peter's Basilica that left my lips trembling.

It takes coming back to a city after a very long time to realize how much time and how many accomplishments have occurred in that time span. Last time, I was pushing my eldest in the stroller and when the bumpy old roman roads didn't accommodate the stroller, I carried him on my shoulders. Today, I have three children to run after, on foot, while they ride their micro scooters.

Who said Rome is too hot in summer? The climate didn't intimidate me as much as its pedestrian aspect, thus adding wheels to my kids experience. We drank 10 liters of water in 3 days and literally ducked our heads in public fountains. Seeking the shade was a pleasurable activity.

We covered all the cliches, striding on the Corso and Via Veneto all the way to the Coliseum. All the while pretending I am not a tourist, fleeing tourist holes and tourist prices. Wanting to wander and wonder. You never truly get lost in the labyrinth, because at every corner is a fountain, an architectural masterpiece, a gelateria. You walk into the most basic high street store like Aldo and you find the whole range of shoes, the most fashionable models. Bewildered by the city, I forget to have my third coffee, distracted as I am by the strong sun, seeking the respite of shade and the evening temperatures.

As we climbed the Spanish steps, or down the Borghese ramp to Piazza Popolo I asked my kids why the stairs were uneven. They soon understood that it was the sheer number of visitors that altered the marble, one step at a time. "So that when you come back, and you are in college, and then again with your kids..." Rome is yours because you are sure to be drawn to it, again and again.

Derived pleasure from this trip is the open door to history and culture: the children are now made aware of Roman history, Biblical stories, the development of art and the beauty of Italy.

August 12, 2012

Beyrouth: Yours for the Taking

"How did you sleep?"It was a Proustian experience,to stay at my aunt's home in Beyrouth, where I had last spent an eventful two week vacation in 1982, during the Israeli invasion. Yet, the familiar smells, the beautiful linen and the tasty hospitality brought me back to those days.

- Do you know the story of the princess and the pea, when she rises to say that the tiny pea kept her awake all night?

-Do you still believe in fairy tales?" All joked aside, I had slept very comfortably!

Landing in the city of my birth, my fatherland, I snapped pictures from the window seat of the plane, knowing how illegal it may be but wanting the shots since forever: a city of mushrooming buildings on the Mediterranean coast, as old as its Phoenecian myth, as robust as its 30 years civil war scars.

My childhood playmate and favorite cousin greeted me at the airport and thus began a whirl of enjoyable experiences in less than 48 hours.

I had come to visit my ailing and beloved aunt, the one who always provided me with my "paternal side" of the story, be it in Beyrouth where she hosted me in the most memorable year of my childhood, 1982, or her visits to Dubai and some meetings in London or Boston. We are linked, like two people become, and eventually choose to continue to be.

Bonding with family, with a requirement to understand their colloquialisms, with an innate and genetic manner to understand their sense of humor, with an acquired taste for their gracious hospitality, as it was Ramadan and we sat at the iftar-feast on the large dinner table that united over sixteen tightly squeezed individuals, all carriers of a same name: la familia mafiosa!

Music emanating from a grand piano, under the fingers of two young virtuosos, my cousin's teenage boys. My heart raced with the tempo. Venturing through tastefully decorated family homes, replete with art pieces, artifacts and furniture pieces that I love and appreciate for having grown around them: Omar Onsi watercolors and Joumana Alhusseini oils, the modern Palestinian artist, whose naïve paintings represent wedding and other ceremonial scenes. Not to mention the early Dia Azzawis or Louay Kayalis! While discussing the latest Amin Maalouf or dismissing the 50 Degrees of Gray!

Stopping at an art exhibit, curated under the theme of glass, Glasstress at the Beirut Exhibition Center, I was taken by two installations: Nabil Nahas, whose two dimensional coral canvases I appreciate so much, had used glass as a medium to express his opposition to the pollution of his beloved oceans. Two oil barrels spilling some "garbage" which mingled on the sand with its glass starfish and jellyfish. How pertinent for my phone to inform me that the snapshot I took of it was the Mediterranean sea.

A meter away from that piece, Perez had thrown the stunning red Morano chandelier, shattered pieces on the floor, giving it a dramatic liquid sanguine appearance. Covering it, some ravens added to its beautifully eerie feeling.

Looking out the window, marveling at the unusual urbanity, recognizing the talent to make life not just livable but frequently tasteful against all political odds. Also pondering life making decisions, on the veranda by a sweetly warm Mediterranean night, hearing the "taraweeh" prayers of Ramadan, and the sound of celebratory children's fireworks.

"Make sure you mention this in your blog!" would shout out one of my cousins and I would dismiss it gently, thinking that I have dwelt enough on my "wicked" notion of identity throughout my life, and particularly and inexplicably the last two years: basta! Yet the snapshots I had taken heralded my blog-writing. "All I need to do is remember the blackberry photos" I convinced myself, like a writing-student in loss of inspiration. But my muse was there: the city I have imbued with much mythical symbolism, Beyrouth!

"So many memories!" "Old ones?" No the most recent ones. An unforgettable trip." That night, as I slept on the new memories that I made, my mind was functioning almost in the quirky Lebanese dialect of my childhood.

July 27, 2012

The Happy Exile of the Haerizadeh Brothers

This article was written by Christophe Ayad in LeMonde (July 25,2012). I took the liberty to translate it, as I have done with other articles of Le Monde, in the past. However, this time, the subject is very close to the heart as the artists are friends that I cherish and respect, those I have described on my blog before. To have found their portrait in my favourite newspaper was a wonderful surprise.

"When one begins a sentence, the other one finishes it. And vice versa. The Haerizadeh brothers, Ramin, round and bearded with specs, and Rokni, without a beard and his messed-up hair, are funny blokes: Iranian artists settled in Dubai since 2009. They landed here by chance. "We were coming back from London where Ramin was participating in an exhibition, recalls Rokni. We decided to transit in Dubai for a week when friends called us from Tehran telling us that the police was looking for us." Ramin continues: "the articles in the British press on my work, Men of Allah, had exasperated the authorities. They confiscated our works and they summoned the gallerist that had them to interrogate him about us." The electoral campaign that would end with the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was full swing. The Haerizadeh brothers saw the demonstrators in the streets of the "green revolution" on television.

Upon arrival, Ramin and Rokni just had two suitcases and a visa that was valid for two weeks. They needed the intervention of Sheikh Nahyane, Minister of Higher Education and enlightened collector, to obtain a permit of two years renewable. They considered returning back to the homeland till they found out that their names were blacklisted for arrest. Here, in Dubai, they are guests, not refugees. The shadow of the Iranian regime is never far. "One day, we received a call of a man threatening us in Farsi, remembers Ramin. He was referring to a work that we had only shown to close people and he seemed to know our schedule."

The Haerizadeh brothers live in a paradoxical state today. They have never enjoyed so much freedom to create while the society they live in is even more conservative than Iran's. Accustomed to live and work in Tehran underground, they now have a large home-studio flooded with light and decorated with objects and art pieces that they love and have received from Iran. Or that they have acquired here or at exhibits in Europe. "Its a rule we have made: the money we have earned from art, we reinvest in art."

The sense of provocation that the Haerizadeh brothers have doesn't always correspond well to the local standards. One of their works, in which ayatollah Khomeiny and Khamenei were represented was removed from Art Dubai Fair, the large annual fair. A drawing of Ramin's on the back cover of the fair programme had been partially darkened by the pen of the censor: it represented veiled men as if women. "In Iran, its very different, explains Rokni. I received a prize for the Biennale of Tehran for an old man holding his p***s. In fact, the authorities don't care about what you do. But if they start talking about you, your work, hell awaits you. All fear a police entry."

In Dubai, the Haerizadeh brothers work in conditions they would have never dreamed of. Their villa is situated in a new neighbourhood that has just sprung. Unlike the Iranian intellegentsia who mix with the riff raff but hold the place and its citizens in low esteem, the Haerizadeh brothers are glad to be here. "These people have done something with their money. Can we claim the same? asks Ramin. Dubai has been built like an aquarium, then they put people in it. This urban experiment fascinates me. The shopping malls aren't commercial centres, they are the city. There is a fever here, history is being written." Rokni adds: "we don't want to end up like all these Iranian artists in exile that live in the nostalgia of a lost Iran and have nothing else to say. My energy, I get it from where I live and where I am happy."

Their last exhibit is called "I put it there you name it". A hilarious installation where they have recreated (and moved)their interior, piece by piece, to an art gallery. A way of questioning the taste of Dubai dwellers for impersonal pret-a-porter decoration, be it Ikea or Armani-Casa. "People loved it, the next day they brought their parents" the two brothers rejoiced.

When they exhibit in Dubai, the Haerizadeh brothers do it at Isabelle van den Eynde, the Belgian gallerist that accompanied them from their beginnings, to the great displeasure of the Iranian gallerists that have settled in Dubai in the last five years. "Its as if we owe them something, cries out Rokni. They didn't exhibit us when we worked in the caves of Tehran." By now recognised in Europe, the Haerizadeh brothers are not in a hurry to exhibit in the United States, where they feel they have to constantly justify that they are Iranian and have a political discourse. It caps it all for those that regularly treated as "henchmen of imperialism" in the ultra conservative press.

July 23, 2012

Celebrating Life with Mark Quinn

An oversized red orchid sculpture ornates the lawns of Monaco's tropical manicured garden, facing the casino. It blends in with the surrounding foliage and invites the art-curious to visit the Mark Quinn exhibit at the Musee Oceanographique.

I had heard that the exhibit was controversial, what not for the self portrait sculpture made in the artist's own blood. Today's artists can be scandalous and I had seen two prior controversial exhibits, of which the Damien Hirst which was brilliantly curated at this same majestic marine-museum on the top of the Monaco rock.

This exhibit is also perfectly curated. It begins with the white orchid at the bottom of the staircase that blends into the facade as if it were a corsage. The large bronze shell in the entrance reminds us of where we are, as do three exquisitely realistic canvases, namely the one of a little boy examining an iguana on the beach and the other of a group of children jumping together in a green water whose pressured bubbles rise suddenly.

While the theme may sometimes touch upon the oceanographic and the works find their niche amongst the boats and the fish scales so that the non-artsy curious visitors can walk them by without a second look, what Mark Quinn celebrates here is life!

Nine large slabs of marble in which he has carved and chiselled nine foetus. My child pointed to their extra-terrestrial aspect. This very large work culminates at the exterior of the museum with a bouncing beautiful baby, pounced in the air, as if in celebratory delivery.

The regal red staircase showcases his fetish delicate flowers, the orchids in their exuberant colours. I loved the numerous fingerprints which he displays in all white or in multicolor. He calls them Chromatic labyrinths. I see them as eggs, symbols of life.

Beyond the wall of circular ocular retinas in shades that resemble the planets and earth, pass his sanguine self portrait and enter a chamber of skeletons and fire. The live flames emanating behind and from within the skeletons give life to an otherwise symbol of death. If you want to represent life, perhaps you need to show its opposition! A skeleton sits in prayer: entitled Waiting for Godot!

Once again, Monaco curates a splendidly artistic summer. These two shows, Extra Large and Mark Quinn make it an art destination.

July 18, 2012

Extraordinary and Extra Large

In art, I believe and try to justify that size doesn't mean anything, I visited a show that celebrated monumentality.

I rushed to Extra Large, Centre Pompidou at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco with extra large expectations considering the venue and the scale of the art pieces they were promising to exhibit. My expectations were met and this show fits at the same level as the wide array of shows preceding it: Andy Warhol, Grace Kelly, Princesses of Egypt, Manga etc.

The only criticism may be that such a large forum can welcome a large number of works while we have here a mere 35 works. But critics must realize that the large majority of works are of high end artists, namely Miro, Francis, Mitchell, Long and Judd. Extraordinary to view a cocktail of modern and contemporary artists under one large roof, in a white cube, under one theme: scale!

While I appreciate small dimensions, while I understand preciousness and detail in art, I also embrace the expansiveness of expression in large scale works. As I entered, I felt enveloped in the huge canvas by Frank Stella or confronted to a three dimensional sculpture of a red laquered rhino by Xavier Veilhan.

Most important is that Extra Large art can only mean institutional or public art. I am a vanguard of public art: I appreciate art in a setting, be it on a street corner, near a building, in a park. I watch people react to it or walk by it and I always stare at its monumentality. These extra large canvases that hit you when you walk into a bank, an airport or a museum appear to have been hung there for my own private enjoyment, yet they are meant for crowds.

I can tell you of the enormous three palette Jean Dubuffet that is composed of some thirty smaller canvases but appear as a beautifully integrated scribble, or the vermillion concave Anish Kapoor work that draws me in to its attractive blood drop shape and color. I can explain that the Andreas Gursky photograph is special to my heart because the subject is Madonna in concert surrounded by hords and hords of fans, numerous to the point of abstraction.

I marvelled at the stained glass effect of Gilbert and George's work, I finally saw a Jeff Wall in person and had just read about David Burren and was now initiated to his interactive project.

The James Coleman installation is entertaining because it takes you into a white cube where you are filmed and the surrounding screens project your animated figure in delayed and superimposed mode, something hilarious when you start making faces!

Then there is the Bill Viola installation, with its interminable room of black yarn on which u can walk onto, to feel caught in its web, as the yarn spills over onto other rooms, following you, as it represents the Witch of Tyranny. Funny at first, perhaps spooky, but deeply political.

The Extra Large exhibit was nothing less than Extra Ordinary!

When I write in French

My sister tells me I write better in French than in English. I just think I write differently. With a different voice.

I speak both languages fluently and have studied them both formally. I spent half of my education learning the French language and mixing with French kids in the playground and spent the other half of my academic life perfecting an English I considered to be my mother tongue.

But somewhat, the culture and my approach to the English language, which I know as American, is more casual. I believe I write more spontaneously, with little construction, with more liberty.

When I choose to write in French, the language, in all its richness, constrains me. I will convey a narrative, not as I lived it, but as the words express it. The grammatical complexity of the language persuades me to think longer, to linger on the moment, to extract the feeling. The choice of verbal tense makes me wonder about the time lapse: do I feel it irrevocably spent in the past tense or can I relive that time with the present tense? By appending circumstantial complements at the beginning of the sentence I am highlighting that detail.

I recently wrote a narrative in French. The writing experience was a trip of its own. I was regurgitating time. I am certain that others experience the same when writing in other languages than French, namely English.

This doesn't happen to me in English. It is my personal approach to both languages. And now I wonder, why the urge to write in language and not the other?

One thing is for sure. I cannot easily translate my own writings in another language. Certainly the ending would have been very different.

June 30, 2012

A Celebration of Dubai

I celebrate my city. I greet it daily. I express my gladness to live in Dubai. I point its wonders to my children. I write about it on my blog and I share my enthusiasm on twitter.

After numerous laudatory tweets, a follower then interjected: @pinktaxiblogger ...any thoughts on the almost transitory nature of residing in dubai? Link to a blog post wud be fab! #insight

A rare occasion for me to write a blog-answer!

People flock to Dubai from all corners and they don't stay for long. Yet I am part of a foreign community that has grown its roots here. My youngest likes to notice that I am "one year older than the Emirates" and I explain laughingly that Dubai was always here, even before the making of the UAE. Yet, his references are not far fetched because we came to this land "on our Mayflower": four generations of a same family have lived on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Persian is now an disused adjective: I am well aware of this, yet I employ it to convey the historical roots of my family.

My daughter asked me where she would live in the future and I responded:"where your heart desires, where your fate takes you." We come from such an intricate melange, that we don't belong anywhere. We move on, in search of education and life-opportunities.

Is permanence what we are looking for? Do we instinctively want to live in the same place as our grandparents did? Aren't we content to be scattered around the world, visiting and even living in cities according to seasons? Will we not profit from global experiences?

Dubai is the city of the future, where people come to work and play, and live and grow along the way. The lifestyle is dynamic and the experience is enriching. It appears to be a city in constant flux, always reaching out for the most modern. Each and everyone one of us living here participates in the grand scheme of things. Does it matter that we come from different countries rather than emigrate here permanently?

In the same way we do stunts in universities, for the shortest time of our lives, we carry the knowledge and the experience from our alma matter and we pride with the very special belonging to that university.

June 26, 2012

Living My Blog

I had a two year liaison with my blog. An intense one.

I used to write daily. Frantically. Obsessively. Constantly. Rapidly. Instinctively. Passionately.

Then the blips and the blops of life slowed me down. I wrote less frequently. The inspiration dissipated. Had I not written about every single facet in my life? Had I not observed every single detail? Had I not confessed every single memory?

The blog remains a constant in my life. I will always feed the furnace with my ideas, my insight, my funny experiences, my quirky emotions. Life is to be lived. Fully.

The writing itch or the itch to live. They don't contradict each other. They flow together. Yet living more or less intensely will not affect my inspiration. On very busy periods of my life, in activity-full seasons, I can write daily, squeezing time, stealing from my sleep to write. On long breezy relaxing days, I can write frantically, as if under the pressure of time, yet really pressed by the musing. Then come the busy days when I do prefer to read instead of writing, or the emptier days when I prefer to watch a movie, interact with another person, instead of retreating behind the screen and keyboard.

My favourite posts are usually the humorous, anecdotal ones; I also prefer the ones that express the serenity of my days because I am "addicted to a certain kind of happiness". I try to distill its essence in my writing, to convey it through my descriptions, to colour the vibrancy of the moment.

Impulsive writing is my favourite. I shout my message over the rooftops,self promoting 'my song' on twitter and from word of mouth. However , my writing sometimes requires the slight push that will get me started.

I put my newspaper down, my children's text books, the novel, or the twitter account and I express myself....hello, readers!

June 13, 2012

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I lead a double life.

I attend a pilates studio, where I remove my colourful sneakers at the door and walk in graciously, to a silent room, where concentration and meditation are de rigueur. I have been doing this for 7 years now. The movements and the effort are second nature now. Still, perfection remains an unattainable goal. Still, I work on body improvement, chisel, chisel, chisel, chisel.

At Club Stretch, pilates is a science. It is taught in an orthodox way and the various adjustments through the years have come because the purest version is yet at hand. I have learned to listen, to breath, to edit the drama, to abandon the smallest body language rituals, otherwise called tics.

Every class follows a rigorous choreography. Every transition is supposed to flow. Yet every class remains different because I have learned a detail, focused more deeply on an area of my spine or my core; added my arms and legs as other factors in the exercise.

Sometimes I am reminded that I am not at the gym. The place that has bulked my otherwise elongated muscles. It is frequently after the pilates class that I done my colourful sneakers and run to work out, to train.

When I walk into Evolve, which is at a stone throw from the pilates studio, I am focusing on my mood. I remind myself that I am here to express my energy, to test my strength, to "heal my wounds."

At the gym, music replaces silence. Drama facilitates performance. Here, limits are tested and boundaries are crossed. Time is against you, instead of being in harmony with you. At the gym, you are swimming against the current.

Sometimes I am reminded that "this isn't pilates!"Yet, I solicit my core strength, I hold my balance, I brace my spine. I am aware of the principles of pilates at the gym, in the same way as I focus on my muscular strength in the studio.
I belong to both worlds, caught between a rock and a hard place.

June 9, 2012

Do You Believe in Fairy Tales?


My 8 year old daughter asked me the same question this morning while I read Little Mermaid to her at breakfast. "Do mermaids exist?" I answered in the affirmative, with a determined white lie. In Denmark, they believe in mermaids and they have made a statue of the little mermaid!

As I read the fairytale I knew so well, I noticed how rich the language was. Indeed it was literature I was reading to her: as classic as it gets. Fairytales are part of the French curriculum. They illustrate history, especially medieval history when knights,famines and kingdoms existed. They also build a common base for our imagination. We all trampoline on fairytales that bounce us in different trajectories, but we can all refer to the same stories.

In fact, we interpret fairytales in our own ways. When we are small, we take it literally. Later, we begin to use them as images for life. This is why we give "frogs" and "beasts" a chance for they may be hidden princes! This is also why we drop a shoe, a mere excuse for the suitor to come chasing. Sleeping beauty is an image for patience, "the time will come". And mermaids? Good encouragement for us to take up scuba diving.

SnowWhite and the Huntsman met my expectations as an entertaining film. I had seen Red Riding Hood and I was in for another gothic, dark, medieval and "vampiresque" fantastic film. In fact SnowWhite's role was played by the Bella of the Twilight with her characteristic new century attitude of virtuous, courageous and independent teenager. In this film too she gets caught in a love-triangle, an indication of how far interpretation can take you.

Yes, I believe in fairytales and I feel sorry for the very few who have been deprived of them during their childhood. Not believing in fairytales ends up catching up with you...