A pink taxi

A pink taxi

February 28, 2012


"You can think up some birds" recommends our favourite "doctor", the Seuss! He uses the verb to "think up" so we can crank up our imagination. Jacques Prevert  wrote a celebrated poem about a bird that distracted every student in us, as we peered out the class window.

Birdie is my favourite golf term. It is simple word, fun and it represents an attainable feat (one point beneath par).Because an eagle, for me, is beyond reach! Your Aunt, otherwise called Khaleh in farsi, may have won gold at the Golf Creek club's Ladies Par3 championships but this only happened twice in a row. Notice the humility!

My mom, your grandmother, by mere coincidence, while this blog post was "work in progress", mentioned she was going to AbuDhabi on a "bird watching" trip with her friend. "Bird watching? How fortunate of you! Did you know that Jonathan Franzen is an avid bird watcher? That he wrote lengthy essays about his passion? That bird watching is an important part of the book Freedom?" My mom laughed at my zoological/literary allusion the same way I would have at bird watching had I not read about Franzen's unusual passion a year ago.

Dr Seuss''"you can think up some birds" has lyrical echoes in the languorous song by Chris Martin "Up with the Birds". This particular song is divided into two parts: the very slow and poetic beginning and the more instrumental and rock second part. Oh how he declares that the "sky is blue!"

My personal experience with birds is that I never fancied caging one at home. But did you know that in your cousins' country Afghanistan, the Taliban forbid the quasi-folkloric pastime of keeping birds in cages, because it translated in love for music?

I also never noticed the variety of birds till Franzen pulled my attention towards them. I now paid closer attention and discovered the variety in Dubai. Indeed, I see them without being able to name them all, certainly not in English. I spot them on the golf course, but also on a random roundabout. In gardens the most impressive peacocks, sometimes a pair of inseparable wild parquets (reminders of the inseparable swan couples I love in Geneva), further in the desert, the majestic falcons, always on the arm of their trainers and my favourite pink flamingos in the marshes of our city. Did you know your toddler cousin calls all birds flamingos?

Dear Nephew, I know with certainty that you will golf one day, because golf runs in the family, on both sides. Your dad is an avid player, as are his brothers and uncle. On your maternal side, I have kept the first generation passion alive by playing myself and watching your cousins, my kids, play too. Before you know it, you will soon perform the attainable birdies and the miraculous eagles.

I cannot believe you are 6 today. This post may be difficult to understand today: complex as it is with its music, sports, poetry and meagre zoology.....but close an eye open an eye, at the speed of flight, you will be old enough one day....to edit it! It is written for you. All these pictures are dedicated from my blackberry camera to you.

"It was nice to sort of pick up birdies along the way" Rory McIlroy.

February 26, 2012


My father calls me Majnouneh (crazy) with affection. It is a new title he offered me this year, as he recognized my transformation.

Majnouneh should be put in a cultural context. What I do or how I act and express myself may not sound too crazy in a Western context. But in a Middle Eastern space, it may appear as alternative, bordering on weird.

Women of the Middle East, in the broadest sense of the term, without counting the multiple exceptions, are not geared to sports, are not encouraged to perform either esoteric exercises like pilates or yoga, or muscle building ones like circuit training.

"Arab women can't jump" sounds like a bumper sticker. But I actually explained the phenomena in a previous blog post (June 12, 2011): I didn't know how to skip rope until I was 40 years old. I am proud to be able to do box jumps now (ok, almost, its a hit-miss....). This is because we are not culturally encouraged to jump. Arab lifestyles do not fit the "iqfez" (jump) in girls' curriculum. And the generations carry the burden.

So it is with this idea in mind that I am called "majnouneh" because I have the enthusiasm for music, writing, sports, books, films, art, and nature all wrapped in one!

And I express it!

February 24, 2012

Chill Out

Golf is one of those many sports that excludes music. It requires so much concentration and precision that music becomes a distraction. Why don't they play music in pilates studios?

I therefore decided to take destiny in my own hands and carry my 1 gram pink ipod with me on the par3 when I played a solitary game. I didn't bother turning it off, left it on PetShopBoys shuffle and put my earphones on. When I actually drove, chipped or putted, I would remove the wires, pause, reflect and play. Then I would revel in the pop lyrics that played during my walk on the greens. I chilled. And I actually played well.

I usually run to my next commitment after my golf game. I walked into the golf club house with self-defiance, ordered their house brewed coffee and watched Roger Federer play (this post was written during the Australian open). I enjoyed every second of the off-road experience. Not having to rush, to run errands.

Chilling out is worth writing a small vignette!

February 22, 2012

The Tip of AbuDhabi Iceberg

"Cathedrals in My Heart" Chris Martin

I celebrate Cathedrals. I visit, study them and meditate in them. In the same way, I revel in the Grand Mosques of the World. I have visited Damascus, Istanbul, Isfahan, Cordoba and the sacred Mecca. I believe that the AbuDhabi mosque follows in their path.

I was awed by the sight of the mosque. Every first time is emotional and stepping into the white splendour of SheikhZayed mosque made me tremble and shed tears. I was engulfed by its tranquil isolating grandeur. I penetrated its interior from the vestibule whose dome had a verse of the Quran that I love in particular . Then I entered the grand prayer room. Its green enormous Persian carpet on which I sat to reflect enveloped me in its edenesque flowered patterns.

What was most remarkable about the mosque was the multiple varieties of Islamic art styles: from the Moghul like architecture, to the Isznik tiles, to the Kufi script, to the Iranian carpet: not to mention the English artist who decorated the huge marble with organic flowers, or the Swarovski chandeliers! They have assembled here are all the artisans of the world, with the finest materials. It all fits in a harmonious whole, albeit an extravagant one.

Some may argue that it is money wasted, that we are socially conscious and must reflect on the expenditures of these places when there is poverty and war in the region. I argue that the light shone in the Middle Ages with the building of Cathedrals and any Islamic pride comes from the monumental mosques that have been built throughout the Islamic Empire and History. AbuDhabi has built a structure that will last longer than the functional buildings in its city, a symbol of pride for its people, a place of worship and peace. More object to the overtly kitsch nature of the design and to the overguilded details. I believe this structure will age nicely, that it retains a certain classical richness, conveying grandeur.

We crossed Zaha Hadid's minimalist, futuristic bridge after our visit. From the bridge, I glanced at the view of the mosque with its onion shaped domes, and again, I sensed the good vibes of AbuDhabi and its slow paced urban development.

When I lived in Dubai for the first three decades of the UAE, AbuDhabi was a conservative, sleepy administrative capital. It has changed in the fourth decade: it began to plan. With its plans came a series of cultural and sports events. We drive from Dubai to attend them.

I know its just the tip of the iceberg. You haven't seen anything yet baby! Abu Dhabi has so much more to offer. I can't wait!

February 21, 2012

Easy gratification Easy gratification

"An ongoing apprenticeship in how to delay gratification"
Pamela Druckerman,"Why French Parents Are Superior", WSJ, 2/4/12

My brother often refers to the "easy-gratification" lifestyle of Dubai, which he explains as followed by "in and out" reactions to pass times. Indeed, the easy availability of things, the wide variety of activities, the luxurious entertainment services that are provided in this futuristic city spoil its inhabitants and especially the children. Children, in Dubai, and to a certain extent in other parts of the world, are over stimulated by "too much" and "too easy". This is an overt over-generalization that will assist me in analyzing the February article in the Wall Street Journal about French child-rearing that may have the same impact as the article about the Tiger Moms.

When the article first came out, my family and friends rushed into summarizing it for me in interested discussion. I had not read it yet, but listening to them and knowing the French all to well for having being reared by a whole set of French teachers: I had one word, easy gratification. That is what French shun.

Everything in the French education, and to that extent, in the French parenting, is about the process instead of the result. They are the descendants of Descartes and have always approached things with analysis and "slowed down" reflection. At school, they ask us to take our time and prove our answers, all the while individualizing our thoughts with our personal handwriting and the slower and more archaic methods of dictionary research and calculator-free class rooms.

French, in their nostalgia, dress their kids as if they lived in the 60s, gift them with wooden toys and classic books. The simpler the games, the better. Old values prevail. The language itself requires a formal conjugation between age groups. I am always reminded of the formality and etiquette when I interact with French children, who call me Madame,  and I try my best to import that element of culture to my own children.

I postpone stages of entertainment for my children. I offer them electronic games, devices, phones in delayed time. Living in Dubai, I take them outdoors weather permitting and indoors into "constructive" and sportive activities rather than quick-entertainment ones. No Kidzania or mall-fun for my kids. They do indoor climbing and iceskating!

When they receive gifts, or if I buy them a toy, sports articles or dvds, they have to DESERVE it, work hard, get a good grade. They have seldom opened a package upon receiving it! If the package has multiple parts, like a Season's worth of DVDs, those DVDs get distributed throughout a course of time: never all at once!

They have always heard "next time...." and they are always looking foreword, relishing the expectations. And French tradition oblige,  they enjoy "dejeuner sur l'herbe". Simple things of life: pick-nicks!

February 20, 2012

I loved W.E!

Madge rocks! W.E was entertaining. Exit the critics of doom who pre-judge and carry their prejudices into the movie theatre.

Okay, Shanghai surprise was a flop. But Madonna was in her twenties. She was in love with sexy Sean Penn. Okay, Dick Tracey was horrendous, she was enamoured with sleazy Warren Beatty. Okay, Evita was a musical, but she had to get over the Antonio Banderras syndrome. Here, Madonna is clearly inspired by her British ex-husband Guy Richy, culturally, albeit not his uber alternative style

W.E. coincides at the cineplex with the successful Iron Lady starring M.Streep as Margaret Thatcher. That film was perfect in conveying the Britishness of Thatcher's interiors, her dresses and accessories. Iron Lady is a serious film with superior acting. But the story and movie going experience are more conventional, less entertaining than Madonna's flick.

"Sit back, relax, enjoy and be entertained" is what Madonna offers with W.E. Isn't that what movie-going is about? The filming is deliberately hazy, scratchy. The pace is quick, some shots are phenomenal. "Its like her prolonged music video" remarked my cinema partner. I rejoiced in Madonna's gorgeous sense of style: all the extras seem like models stepping out of Vogue glossy pages in Prada or Badgley Mischka dresses. The hairstyles are equally extravagant. Her portrayal of Wally is very resembling and the famous jewellery is worn in beautiful context. Kudos to Madonna for this film!

The initials are not a mere coincidence. It reads as WE or US. Its a celebration of romance. It reminds me of the doodles on the corner of homework notebooks while I day dreamed in class , or on the back of Kleenex boxes while I gossiped with my  girlfriends on the phone. The initials I still long to etch on tree trunks!

Which girl won't try the lipstick trick after enjoying Madonna's flick? I also close this post by informing my readers that I watched Desperately Seeking Susan a dozen times and I had the dress code and dance moves down to a t.

February 19, 2012

House of Stone

I tried to cut and paste and shorten and send. It just didn't work on twitter. I think twitter is an amazing forum for sharing and discussing. Many had suggested I move from blogging to twitting.

Twitter is for headlines, snapshots, quick impressions. I tweet about my fitness and diet plan, about the music titles I love, about the events I attend, about the quick thoughts I have. "I tweet therefore I am" has surely been pronounced.

But there is no poetry in twitter unless it is a single lyric, a simple quote, a clear picture.

Today, I wanted to share a powerful paragraph by Anthony Shadid (R.I.P). I tried to cut it in three tweets. Even that didn't pass the mandatory short number of characters. I therefore have elected my blog as a more appropriate place to post his splendid words:

"In Arabic, the word "bayt" translates literally as house, but its connotations resonate beyond rooms and walls, summoning longings gathered about family and home. In the Middle East, bayt is sacred. Empires fall. Nations topple. Borders may shift. Old loyalties may dissolve or, without warning, be altered. Home, whether it be structure or familiar ground, is finally the identity that does not fade."
Anthony Shadid, House of Stone, New York Times, February 19, 2012.

This paragraph is about identity, bond, strength. Its described in rich language. With "resonating connotations", "summoned longings" and "non fading identities".

We live in a day and age of abbreviations, of rapid connections, of nuclear families. Yet, for most of us, the Middle Eastern thinkers of today, ranging between the age of twenty and seventy, we belong to Homes, to sub-tribes, where we have grown and been nurtured.

In my attempt to reclaim my identity, in my voyages to the fatherland, I have looked for my heritage, my family stories and memories. Only recently I bbmed a friend describing myself neither as Lebanese nor as Iranian, but I hyphenated my paternal- maternal family names and appended it to my identity. Indeed, Houses of Stone offer tradition, history, culture.

The Spirit of the House may get diluted with inter-marriage, each new generation cultivating a paternal-maternal unique nuclear spirit, carrying with it the power of novel experiences and vanguard steps.

The Lebanese in me permits me to blend into the environment I live in, be it American, European or GulfArab. Yet, at the core, I have the preceding inhabitants of the House to look at, the politicians, thinkers, workers, artists, sportsmen, entrepreneurs, mothers, and pioneers.

This is the spirit I abbreviate in a nutshell, when I headline the ideas of a day, in a twitter message.

photo by Nadine Kanso

February 17, 2012

The Journey

I break dawn on a friday and head to the only remaining patch of desert in the center of Dubai: Nad elSheba and Meydan. DJ Nathalie's voice and choice of music warm the february cold morning. I take my neighbourhood DIFC roundabout, turn onto royal Zabeel and before I know it, I am on the ribbon highways that circle our city. An overpass leads me over the flamingo lagoon. The day has risen and my short journey to Meydan is overwhelming me. I can anticipate the smell of saddle leather. I enjoy my journey to Meydan, by dawn, or by morning and also before sunset and its precious twilight as much as I love the horse ride itself.

The penultimate part of the journey is the drive off the beaten track, as so to speak because its signage reads: private access. In the desert midst, with its rarified plants are the monstrous electric pylons: the electric wires are unseemly (editor's note the word unseemly is incongru in French and is the precise meaning). I recognise them from Syriana, the George Cloony movie. They add urban delight to my desert escapade.

The journey to an anticipated activity is always a pleasure. Even my evening drives to Club Stretch, for bikram yoga, are pleasurable. By this time, I have organised my family before I left them. The feeling of accomplishment and self-awarding accompanies me. I can relax in the traffic, isn't that an oxymoron? I can tune in for new lyrics on the radio. My journey to zen begins in the car.

"Always ask pink taxi where she is and where she was and where she will be." Sms I sent a few days ago.

February 15, 2012

Living With Art

I walk by the Venet "bouquet" daily and my mind takes happy record. I catch it from the corner of my eye or stop and stare. But always that same feeling.

The feeling is akin to the one I felt when I devotedly sat by the Henry Moore reclining figure in the Geneva park, when I was a teenager. I still do. But my affair with that sculpture is decades old.

I wake up and sleep to the pastel colours of Farhadian, to the four women who stand in pose. To the flamingos in the indifferent background. Why do flamingos always appear pink and indifferent? The painting I hung in my bedroom speaks to me daily. I interact with it visually.

When I tutor my son, and I wait for him to solve the problem, I gaze at the politics of my region, at Beyrouth bombings or at the Dome of the Rock and its juxtaposed Tel Aviv ravers.

As a child of the seventies, with the eccentric imagination of the times, I imagined stepping into the wallpapered images people put of forests and sunsets in doctors' waiting rooms or even in their dining rooms. In my living room, a white snowed forest grows. Daily, I trudge under its desolate and delicate branches and I remember Farideh Lashai's company and philosophy.

February 14, 2012

Diet Hypnosis

I had to fill a food plan for two days: write whatever I put in my mouth in the minute details. For breakfast, I wrote: boiled eggs, broccoli, black tea and witch brew. "Witch brew? What's that?" asked the trainer who also follows my nutrition.

Witch brew is the "green protein powder" I am obliged to swallow every morning, to my kids delight. They love to watch me swallow it with difficulty. "You won't see results unless you combine a strict diet with your training" he had warned.

I have been dieting for almost 2 long months. I had a midway break, a Garfield sort of dinner: lasagna! I aimed for that dinner. I wrote the date on a mental calendar. Lasagna in the horizon. The next break will come when I travel to Europe, where pastries, pizza and pasta are really worth the cheating.

But on Valentine breakfast I decided to feast. We broke dawn and ran to the closest manaesh bakery for the all-too-missed thyme Lebanese pizza. Granted I shared with the kids, but the 3 hours of working out with three different instructors justified the carb fest. I defied the nutrition conscious trainer: "so I had a carb fest, shoot me!"

The whole idea behind this hypnosis diet where he convinces me each time he weighs me in to remove one more desirable item off the meagre menu is that on the days or times that I do cheat, I am fully conscious of it. "I am cheating" as you swing by Tom Horton's for a tiny small donut ball, is better than a casual, almost unconscious dunkin' of a whole donut in a cappuccino! Indeed, even the cappuccino froth has been relegated to dreamland.

"Would you like some water with your water?" asked a friend at the movies. It has been a long time since I have refused to eat cinema pop-corn that another friend demystified by equating its calories to a whole burger. You won't get me close to a burger! It was the simplest way to stop me from eating cinema pop corn.

I therefore will continue this hypnotic diet which consists of no-carbs, no-sugar, no-dairy, no-poultry while I train with the guy who promises "measurable" results. If you want to see "the glass half full" it means I can eat all the vegetables I want and all the varieties of fish (but no canned processed tuna). I didn't cheat for a long time. But as time passed, with bad peer pressure, with infrequent mood swings, with random mood of defiance, I have cheated and I have bounced back on. Candy doesn't have sugar, does it?

February 12, 2012

The Marriage Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides's Marriage Plot opens on a still life:a bookshelf whose contents are detailed. The focus grows larger on the graduation morning at Brown University. I can relate to such a day for having experienced graduation no less than four times!

As an aspiring writer, I couldn't but notice how the novel begins: banal and slow. Yet crystal clear. The style resembles that of Eric Segal Love Story more than the enigmatic Virgin Suicides or the denser Middlesex. And so I thought: just continue writing your sketch of a novel. Marriage Proposal does read in the same way as I attempt to write. Simplified expressions of experiences and states of mind. When I finished the novel, I realized that the narrative was about character development rather than about a story in itself. Nothing happens and yet the urge to read persists.

Its an all American novel like Franzen's Freedom or Salinger's Franny and Zoey.
Its the college experience that we had if we studied in an American university in the United States (not the ones abroad).

When I read the novel, the 90s soundtracks of Erasure, REM and Moby accompanied my imagination because they were the soundtracks of my college days. Some of the scenes resemble Kate Perry's crazy, let-loose party atmosphere in TGIF, but the difference is that the party kids here are Ivy-Leaguers.

Before I knew it, I was hooked. Hooked in a way Murakami never succeeded to grab me even though his cult book 19Q4 was sold out. Marriage Plot became the novel I didn't want to finish. I slowed down to relish. And as my reading flowed, I mentally highlighted more and more quotes, I shared them with those who were reading it with me and those who weren't. I even had to tweet a few!

The chapters on Europe convey the feelings of "cultural shock", the acute perception Americans, and myself included, that Europe is a different world altogether. The differences are conveyed with much better subtlety and literary prouesse than they had in the book I love to ridicule: Eat,Pray,Love.

What makes Eugenides a talented writer is his way of constructing the narrative. As a reader, I want to turn the page, again and again, to study the interaction, to follow the narrative. Eugenides has grabbed my attention....again!

I HATED the ending. I HATED it! I am so so so mad at Eugenides! How will I ever go to sleep? My "reading partner in crime" added: "The ending was a mega disappointment, I agree. It was like whatever, dismal, minute, scrawny."

February 11, 2012

Golf Evangelist

Why do I encourage all my friends to play golf? Why have some succumbed to the spell?

Golf is not what it seems. Golfers are not, as a majority, male beer-belly smokers. These are the guys that loiter in the golf club houses and restaurants instead of being on the course! Golf is played by all types of people: young, junior, senior, fit and unfit, eternal beginners and super pros. The fun part is  that everyone can play together, mingle the ages and levels and you still get a game!

Golf is a relaxing sport. An addictive pass time. Once you get past the few needed lessons, once you play the par-3 frequently, you can make your way to the grand course where all the excitement happens! 18 holes to play, physically and mentally. Every hole is a challenge. I used to come out of the game with my brain "fried", concentrating and making technical decisions for four hours. Eventually, when I got the hang of it, I relaxed during the four hours. I took in the superb landscapes. I enjoyed being away
Dubai is the place to golf! Seize the opportunity. There is no requirement to become a member of the luxurious courses. There are so many clubs to choose from. The courses are at our doorstep, very centrally located and further away ones are certainly destination places!

Learn how to play golf now and you will be certain to remain fit all your life. What other sport can you practice when you are retired and old?

February 10, 2012

To Savasnah or not to savasnah

I used to believe in naps. I got into the habit to nap every weekday morning. I put everything aside to nap. It was a priority for me to rest. I refuelled. I could barely operate without it.

The philosophy behind the nap came from yoga, which requires savasnah, rest period, between two exertions. I was a busy active mom and I enjoyed the tranquillity of my morning nap. I took it only in the absence of my kids, when they were at school. Upon their pick up, they found a rested mom and a rather enthusiastic one too.

It took me an instant to fall deep asleep. I just needed to set my head on the pillow and as instructed in yoga, relax the body fully. Shut off my busy mind. Rest. The delicious sleep followed. Frequently a cat nap. The alarm was set for 20 minutes, or 30 minutes or if I was fortunate for an hour.

I still believe in naps, but I rarely take them now and like anything else, if you loose the habit, you loose the urge or the dependency on it. My fatigue sometimes urges me to take a nap. I still remember how to fall instantly asleep. Besides, I follow my grandmother's preaching: suffice to close your eyes to rest, even though you don't fall asleep. The stillness does the body and mind good.

But today I prefer to stuff my days with more activities. Spend time with a relative or friend. Have a supplementary coffee to conceal the effects of fatigue. I can't have the cake and eat it, can I? How could I add horseback riding to my routine if I took a daily nap? Wouldn't I prefer to read a novel?

And savasnah is merely a state of mind and body. Take a few minutes to relax, to zen out, find your happy place, in a coffee shop, with your friends, alone under a palm, with your nephew at the zoo, on a horse, at the beach.....just relax!

February 8, 2012

A Typical LeMonde Article: Mahmoud vs Hamid

Dallas at Kandahar?

"In the Karzai family, Mahmoud handles business. And he is mad with his President brother Hamid, who, from his palace in Kabul, incarnates Afghanistan in crisis, poor country bleeding after 30 years of war. The entrepreneur Mahmoud lives in Kandahar, the "capital" of the Pachtoun South and the tribal fiefdom of the Karzais. He receives, not in a palace, but in an enclave of rich villas, baroque haven of which he is the promoter, upper class oasis surrounded by yellowed heath in the desert. The flowered citadel has been baptised with the glorious name Aino Mina or Residence of Aino in Pachtu, Aino being the heroine of royal Afghan epic story. A green lawn grows at the steps of the verandas. In front of the garage doors shine armoured SUVs. Useful precaution in this city of a thousand torments, spiritual birthplace of the Taliban movement, front line of the ferocious battles between the Marines and the insurgents who get their support from close by Pakistan.

Mahmoud therefore pesters Hamid, the older reprimands the younger. He is here, in his office of Aino Mina, squeezed  in a sofa that is covered by a crimson carpet. A plan of the residential compound - alleys, lots- is spread on a coffee table. Swimming in his shalwar kameez, ample traditional clothing, Mahmoud Karzai brushes, between two gusts of anger, his chestnut graying fringe. Listening to him, things are very bad in Afghanistan. The diagnosis is shared with many in the country, but we were expecting a more correct message.

Quite the contrary. "This government is completely incompetent, he got carried away. We are in a totally medieval system!" The corruption of power is at the source of his fury. He, the boulemic businessman, juggling his hundreds of industrial and commercial projects, cannot stand the racketeering of the predatory bureaucrats. "Afghanistan will never make it with such a corruption level, he grimaced. Only 1% get rich, an extreme minority. This is how the Taliban recovered their influence."

And this bothers Mahmoud all the more because his brother turns his eyes away, or closes them. "His philosophy is incorrect, he regrets. He protects his ministers and his allies. He supports people he knows are inherently corrupt. He has other problems than to clean up the country and to solve the problems." We could be listening to declared opposition. In fact the indignant of Kandar admits that it has dawned on him to climb on a small scene and to preach resistance against the palace of Kabul. "If he weren't my brother I would have mobilized the largest political movement in the country."

Mahmoud's bad talk make Afghans smile. For he is one ungrateful brother. One of the wealthiest businessmen in the country, what would his destiny have been without the lever offered by the ascension to power of his brother in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban regime? Before returning to the country, Mahmoud was a mere Afghan emigrant restaurantor in the United States. In Chicago, Boston, Cambridge, Baltimore or in California, he had bought restaurants serving Afghan, French or Mexican cuisine. Business was good but his return to an Afghanistan that was headed by his brother gave him a different calibre of business.

He now heads a small empire, with real estate, banks, cement, car imports, coal mines. An ascension at the speed of lightening that he doesn't owe to his mere talent. This does not prevent him from dropping a "I have lost all faith in my brother." The turning point, he confesses was the Kabul Bank, one of the principal private banks of Afghanistan, of which he was a minority shareholder. The establishment was literally "pillaged" -according to a Western diplomat- by his management, that took fantastic loans, which many used to buy villas in Dubai, with falsified documents. Mahmoud Karzai was also the beneficiary of suspect loans. He claims that he has reimbursed them all today. "I am the cleanest person in Afghanistan" he claims. But he is mad at the presidential brother who didn't defend him against these accusations: "they didn't make a difference between honest people and thieves!"

This dark affair leaves the Karzai family in a pitiful state. Like the political dynasties of south Asia (Nehru-Gandhi, Bhutto...), the Karzais are shaken by often tragic spasms. The patriarch, Abdul Ahad Karzai, father of Hamid and ex-chief of the Popalzai tribe, of royal stock, was assassinated in 1999 by the Taliban while he was exiled in Quetta, in Pakistan. Hamid was enthroned as the successor, but when he reached the Kabul palace, he left the reins of Kandahar to his younger brother, Ahmad Wali (...) The man of the provinces was assassinated in turn in July 2011. Another brother, Shah Wali, replaced him, but he is shy and without experience, and will take time to impose his power. Remains Qayum Karzai, the eldest of them, waiting backstage. Mahmoud credits him with a radiant future because he is seeking a successor to Presidential Hamid, the big disappointment. In the Karzai family....."

I have tried to convey, in other translated articles, in lengthy essays, why I am addicted to the reading of LeMonde, why I pay a hefty 15dhs (4 dollars) a day, to get the hard copy of the French daily delivered at my door. I have explained how I read it cover to cover, how I fold it to my favourite article of the day, and savour the reading.

In the past, I have translated Frederic Bobin's description of Kabul Zoo. The correspondent in Afghanistan's style attracts me, not because of the subject matter, but by his style. This article, dated December 10, 2011, could be about Nicaragua: its description is very rich. Again, I apologise for the approximate and rapid translation. It certainly was an article to share.

February 7, 2012

On a Pinktaxiride with Yaya

My Auntie Yaya is a cabbie. She frequently passes by my trapeze-form concrete highrise to pick me up for a ride. I get fastened in the car seat, either alone in the car with her or with a large number of other kids that are all related to me.  I call her Yaya like my dad did when he was my age.

The music is a constant. She pianos on the radio dial, between the four main Dubai channels: no, she doesn't stay locked on more alternative 92FM. At a red light, she will turn to her passengers, in the back, and will beckon them to lipsynch with her.

The coffee cup is a constant too. Still hot or actually very cold and old, she nurses it. Apparently, it all tastes bitter anyway now that she has switched to black coffee with her dietary constraints.

She takes me to the zoo and on the way, she repeats the word Zoooooooo again and again: but I can say crocodile and flamingo. I point to every bird and say flamingo. Its her obsessive fault!

She has taken me on a ride just last week: first to pick my only female cousin from school. She gives me a golf ball to play with under her trees of predilection: the palms! No sooner is my cousin out that she "flies" her to ballet. She had barely put her tennis racket down!

My father says that Jumeirah one is a sleepy neighbourhood. Just step into the Ballet Center and you are in a vestige of Dubai (which has starred in the film City of Lights). My cousin is prepping for the Royal Board of Ballet examinations and she takes her dancing very seriously. No sooner was she dressed that we dashed out to go to the zoo.

On other days, Yaya will take me to her cousin's home where I can flirt with the all female triplets. I jump on the trampoline and play in the garden while she tutors them French. They are a year older than me. Age won't matter in a few years!

She has taken me to the beach on the windiest day! She knows I am Canadian so she just requests that I wear a hooded sweater and we spend a few good hours listening to the wind and watching the waves and the seaguls. I have had "manaesh" (thyme pizza) on that beach with her and her artist-friends.

I much enjoy the trips to the violin teacher because the neighbourhood is quiet enough where she will open the sunroof and beckon her little kids and my cousin, her nephew, who is frequently part of the gang, to jut their heads out and catch the breeze. I envy them so much that when the car is parked she will also carry me so I can see the world from the vantage point of the roof her SUV.

She has taken me to Carrefour. We have danced in the aisles, opened cookie boxes right there and then, weighed fruit and veggies, visited the fish monger, played ball with a potato, pretended to buy loads of Snickers! She stopped at her usual halting post: Barrista and despite the dietary restrictions, she had a cappucino.

Up and down SheikhZayedRoad her taxi commutes. And sometimes she takes me for a ride.

Did she write this blog in honour of my second birthday?

February 6, 2012

Blog Subjects

In this virtual space sometimes themes stand out; a taste for coffee, green boxes from La Durée, music, skiing, and of course growing family.
                   Anonymous commentator

Obsessive behaviour takes place on my blog. I claim to tackle many subjects ranging from literature to sports. However, in those subjects and the many others: gastronomy, art, music, education, film, travel and Dubai, I constantly return to the same details, the same players, the same detailing of the details.

I have written at least 50 posts about bikram yoga, another 50 posts about the radio, another 50 posts about my family history, some 25 posts about Cold Play, 25 posts about Franzen, 25 about Pamuk, 25 about Roger Federrer, 25 about Tiger Woods. I am exaggerating but those subjects have been examined in minute details and zoomed attention.

These are the subjects that I select on this blog. They are picked and elaborated because I live them constantly, I experience them in routine, in constant practice and interest. How can I miss Tiger Woods if he sets his foot on a green in the UAE? How can I not convey my emotions when I turn the dial of the radio at all times of the day as I cross bridges, highways, examine architecture and feel the pulse of my city?

Every trip to Geneva, no matter how melodiously slow-paced the city is, calls for a portrait of the quaint Swiss lifestyle, of the gastronomical gems, of the art exhibits I visit and the artsy films I view there. Every event in the UAE, musical, artistic, sportive demands a post! I attend two film festivals, two golf tournaments, two art fairs and countless music concerts in the UAE in a single year.

As a mom, my children take me on a roller coaster ride, forcing me to educate them, entertain them, follow them, listen to them, observe what they do. Again, I cannot help blog about this experience.

I live most of my activities as if they were events rather than routine affairs. I learn something new every single time, I see things from a different angle, I question my past views, I experience a story, a thought, a reflection. I sharpen my skills and take my observations out of context and apply them to another aspect of my life.

And always I will think by association and I will write by stream of consciousness, thus tying one subject to another, albeit unrelated. How did I manage to toss music, golf, riding, pilates and writing in a single blog-salad and title it "Nuance"? I even added a dash of French to it. The post ended up as anything but nuanced!

My motto is to write with a twist. To mention a memory but put it into perspective, to analyse art but make it approachable, to write about fitness but make it analytical, to dwell on literature but make it digestible! Blogging may be "graffiti literature" but that is what makes it light and I hope readable!

February 5, 2012

Reclaiming My Identity

With the transformations that occurred this fall, as I turned 41, came the rediscovery of my identity. This was not a sudden Eureka! moment. It took me a long time to come to terms with my Lebanese identity.

First came the intent. Last october, I made a deliberate effort to reclaim my city of birth, Beyrouth. Before my trip there, I recognised it was mine to claim because I was genetically, historically and culturally tied to it. Very close to my father, and by extension to the family whose name I still carry, I have always been in contact with the country of my origins, with its language, its people, its food, its art.

I retrieved my broken identity on the last two trips to Beyrouth. I celebrated my childhood, basked in my memories, commemorated the places and feelings. With renewed energy and optimism, I looked around and found much to get attached to.

Perhaps writing about 1982 on this blog, understanding the brutality of the Israeli invasion that highlighted the ugliness of the war, exploring my memories of an exiled teenager, trying to understand things from the silk cocoon of Dubai, made me come to term with my guilt of being Lebanese without having really earned the epithet. Haven't I described the membership of those who speak the Lebanese slang?

I have discovered the artistic expression of contemporary Lebanese art. Ayman Baalbaki, touched me with his evocation of a war torn country. His collapsed buildings were my reality as well. He had experienced the war and had painted my own distant imagining. The works of Nadine Kanso depicting the overtly burlesque lifestyles of my compatriots, juxtaposed with the street graffiti that had jolted me, added to my conviction that I have been observing my country through the right prism. Fouad AlKhouri's photographic reels of soldiers and news footage told me that we had all been experiencing the "trauma" together.

There also is Lara Baladi's coffee cup collection. A series of close ups of the "art of drinking turkish coffee". Only her series depicted the coffee visitors drank at the bedside of her dying father. That series of photographs affected me because Turkish coffee had also carried the weight of mourning for me and reminded me of the bitter taste of muddy black coffee after my grandmother's funeral services.

Yet, when I casually received a photograph from my cousin in Lebanon of a coffee cup paired with a glass of cold water, on a small tray with a lace cover, I lived the experience differently. His caption read "tfadaleh". The single word of hospitality, the tray of coffee placed on a side table in a February living room I knew too well for its tasteful surroundings, its warm hearth, its watercolours by Omar Onsi, the doyen of Modern Lebanese Art, epitomised what I loved most about my country. Perhaps I had ceased to mourn my grandmother, and by extension my war-torn imagination. Perhaps I look upon my country now with more Proustian nostalgia.