A pink taxi

A pink taxi

March 29, 2012

Its 7pm @home

I don't take phone calls. The blackberry sits by my bedside, charging its battery, next to a pile of books I long to read. I am in the midst of chaos.

It is 7pm. The house looks like a train station and sounds like the floor of a stock market. I believe this is the time my kids actually grow, experience and learn the most. The first thing they experience is family dynamics. How to coexist with others under a busy roof. How to make themselves heard. How to express their feelings. How to diffuse their stress. How to make themselves "at home".

They are exhausted at this time and its now time to unwind, to prepare for bed. Dinner in the kitchen. There is always argument about the menu which always emphasises vegetables and protein, perhaps a random carbohydrate. I sit with them, incapable of eating with them lest I get indigestion while arguing. I read to them instead. They all listen, up till the eldest, even though its a children's book, tenth time revisited.

Bedtime stories will follow the showers and the last minute homework. I read in Arabic to the youngest and in French to the middle child. The child who isn't being read to will interrupt his sibling's quiet time intermittently. It is never quiet in this house at 7pm. Somewhere, on a night of good intentions, a violin practice can be heard.

The phone may ring. My mother has a question, or my sister in NewYorkCity is inquiring on her relatives in Dubai. I announce that I am extremely busy, that I am tutoring geology, that I have 2 kids in the bathtub, that the bedtime story hasn't been finished, that I am tucking them in bed, that I have to get ready for a dinner or function and I hate being late, that I plan on going to bed early.

7pm is the worse time to reach me. It gives rush hour a new meaning!

March 27, 2012

What Worked for Me

.........Can work for you.

I use the old recipe for reading for my French educated kids, Daniel et Valerie which goes against the contemporary strain of global reading. I use the syllabic system which consists of reading words for what they sound, every syllable at a time versus the whole englobing shape recognition, which works for speed reading.

But Daniel et Valerie is more than that. It is a window onto old France, before frozen foods and TGV trains. It is rural France with its slow paced life and its farm life. Parents and children live on a farm with a dog called Bobi. They take a bus to the town and visit the fair, the restaurant or the post office. They don't have television or computers. They read books and play dominos. They row a boat and feed the horse. The American equivalent is my mother's reading book, Jack and Jill. What was good enough for her was good enough for me and she supplemented my French Daniel et Valerie which was the trend in 1975 when I was learning French with Jack and Jill which dated from 1950.

I am happy my three children have spent countless sessions with me reading a classic text book. It gave them a taste for retro. A "vintage" reading system I must say.

March 25, 2012

Collector of sentences

Atiq Rahimi, the Afghan writer who won the Prix Goncourt, has crowned me with the title of "ecrivante". He uses this title in our email correspondence. It is a particular word that Barthes used to describe aspiring writers, and it translates literally as a "writing". I am a person who is in the process.

As a blogger, I write almost daily. I compose essays and thoughts. My postings are article vignettes, casual and opinionated. They derive from stream of consciousness. I write freely and my chapters are independent from one another. Unlike Atiq Rahimi who has written novels or unlike Jhumpa Lahiri, novelist and short story writer who has explained how she writes in My Life's Sentences (NYT, March 17,2012).

My sister knows of my reader's reverence towards Lahiri. She also knows of my fascination with words and sentences. I frequently send her writer's sentences by blackberry, as I read along. I take them out of context, without even telling her the narrative of the book I am reading at the time and send them to her like photographic snapshots without explanation. I want to share the magic, the moment, the impact of the sentence. Literary sentences assault me. They bounce off the book or the LeMonde page.

For indeed I am first and foremost a reader. I am on the receiving line. I am the appreciator, the enthusiastic critique, the collector of sentences. Aren't all writers readers? Aren't most artists art appreciators? Aren't singers music fans also?

Jhumpa Lahiri was writing about her activity, about creating sentences while she chopped her vegetables, an activity many of her characters do: much cooking takes place in her stories. She wrote of the bricks, the sentences, that build her novels. These bricks that assault me at red lights as I day dream, or rush to my head with a jolt of caffeine.

She also writes about the books we "encounter at different times in life" as I have Madame Bovary. Realizing also that it is a book that has been shared by millions over the centuries. A book that has been dissected, sentence by sentence. Made sacred.

When will I make the step from collector of sacred sentences to become a writer. When will I exhibit my novels instead of stockpiling them in a vault like Lahiri admits to doing sometimes?

March 21, 2012

The Art Dubai Buzz

Art Dubai 2012, what a success!

On twitter: "International galleries @artdubai are curating their booths with same caliber art they show in Basel and Freize. GCC art market is maturing." by alshroogi

I went with low expectations, shielding myself from disappointment because the specialists' had previewed a spectacular show and I always shy away from superlatives. But the rumors were confirmed and I experienced the buzz!

Art Dubai and by extension the city that hosts the fair has the reputation of being a commercial forum. Moreover Dubai is known for its art galleries, rather than its museums. Many go to the fair to buy, many come from abroad for this purpose. But many come to learn and see and enjoy.

Yesterday, I learned, saw and enjoyed every minute I spent at the fair. Today, I walked through the same halls A and B, gazing and confirming my admiration. I visited my favorite lizard by Joana Vasconcelos. It was sold from night one and I now wonder where the lace adorned reptile will find refuge. Ah the mysteries of private collectors with such good taste and flair!


I can say that the fair was harmoniously designed, the booths well divided and well interconnected at the same time. Each and every gallery brought out their best colours, expressed their personality and gallery-culture with much talent. When I bumped into a friend or another, I would invariably take them by the hand and conduct them to Salem Barakat's Agial booth and profess: "look at how beautifully curated this collection is!" I would then gaze at the trees, the photographed forests, the Nabil Nahas huge black cedar tree bark, the Mohammad Baalbaki installation with its costumed twin Lebanese wood cutters chopping at the symbol of their (my) country with interminable and incessant determination.

Perhaps, and as always, my bespoke criticism is that I would prefer to see more non-Middle Eastern art, which explains my fascination w Portuguese Vasconcelos. But even the Middle Eastern art had its own originality. For indeed, aesthetics gave place to the otherwise constant litany of "war-art".

I think the art dubai exhibitors were more playful this year as best displayed by the three Nadim Karam pieces of which my preferred fox. "Isn't it a fox?" I asked the artist as I pointed to a wild cat. "Are you pinktaxiblogger?" Karam raised his eyebrow in consternation to have met the blogger who wrote obsessively about his work and le Petit Prince.

Some dreams can come true. Who said you can't be a proud owner of the much coveted Haiv Kahraman, at a "smaller" price because the works are ink on paper? Just step into the cutting edge Third Line Gallery! And for those who support "political" art (my preferred Mona Hatoum was missing), engaged art, nothing tops Leila Shawa's Israeli planes over-flying a two-dimensional gardenscape populated by Iranian miniatures!


March 18, 2012

Edward Said's Advise

I pride myself to have been a prospective pupil of the late Professor Edward Said (RIP). I elected the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy for post graduate studies instead of Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Life is replete with decisive choice makings that fork out at various junctions. I am sure earning my PhD at Fletcher where I met my husband on Commencement was my destiny.

I had the same conversation with the esteemed Professor over dinner once, as I recounted how my desire to analyse the influences of French and LatinAmerican novels on the Iranian novels had been in my academic plans but that I had instead become a specialist on Saudi Arabia and its cultural changes. Edward Said had been invited to talk at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. That afternoon he lectured on the eternal and hopeless peace process. He even lifted his shoe and hammered it "a la Nikita Kruschev" in passionate discussion on the lectern.

But what I remember most from that speech, which dates back more than 15 years ago was his advise. Advise that was too late for me to take but which I will dispense onto my children.

"Do not get lost in your cultural ghettos!" he proclaimed to the students in the audience.

He denounced those, who, like myself, had selected our own regional studies as our speciality in American universities. Why have we selected Middle Eastern Studies in the United States when we should be studying American History or Literature? Indeed, I had, mistakenly and with much regret not taken a single American class: neither literature, nor art history, nor politics! Why had I studied in the USA for 10 years if it was to study "my old world"?

Perhaps the answer is that I had been French educated and known more about the series of kings called Louis than the four caliphs! Perhaps because I had studied Romance languages instead of Farsi! Perhaps because I wanted an answer to my political qualms!

As a result, I am tutoring my children "Middle Eastern studies" from early on. I am constantly integrating their "cultural ghetto" studies in their earlier years. When they attend religion classes at school, they are being exposed to their culture and learning Arabic as well. When they will apply to American colleges I will transmit Professor Said's advise:

"Do not get lost in your cultural ghettos!"

March 16, 2012

Love At First Tune

In French its called a Shot of Lightening or coup de foudre. The moment Cupid's arrow hits is always remembered. As I will always remember the moment I was informed that ColdPlay's first release from their album MyloXylato would be played on the radio: Every teardrop is a waterfall.

I remember the exact location and the timing of the first hearing. In fact, I have grown fond of arriving early to school before I pick up the children, because somewhere lost amongst the palm trees and the grass, in that quiet moment of my daily routine, I do remember the poetry of the song.

I remember being enveloped by the music, introduced to the new tune, taking it in, grasping the lyrics, the upbeat rythm, the splendour of it.....and loving it. Not like a random song I take a liking to. Instantly loving it. No need for adjustment. It didn't grow on me. It hit me, like the lightening mentioned by French.

Perhaps I was prepared to love it: the DJ announced she would play it and I have a passion for ColdPlay. But none of his other releases, while pleasing, had the same effect. This particular track bursts with music, like the graffiti on the cover. It sings of waterfalls but reminds you of sadness with the single symbolic tear.

Today, the same DJ played it, 10 months later since that love at first tune, at a similar time, as I drove towards the school gardens. I have since then heard the song innumerable times,on repeat, on shuffle and even live! I have quoted "comas instead of full stops", "caught between two trapeze" and my favourite "cathedrals in my heart". I have pondered their meaning, ran on the treadmill, walked on the beach, driven to it, shopped at Carrefour on it. The music still has a very strong effect on me.

The song celebrates music, it begins with "I put the music up to my.....favourite song!" And always I remember the first time I fell in love with it.

March 14, 2012


"Why would you take extra riding classes if you know how to ride?" asked a friend. If you can just go for desert expeditions, commonly called hacks, in British equestrian tradition.

I mostly enjoy desert hacks. They are non restrictive. I delight in the canter and the promenade in the desert on horseback does wonders!

However people cringe at the thought of taking a horse in the paddock and riding in circles interminably. Don't they realize that I learn so much when the instructor stands observing, correcting and assisting? Don't they realize that it is those exercises in the paddock that exert my muscles the most because I am concentrating and in tune with my body? When I am in the desert, on the other hand, I get very few instructions from the accompanying teacher and I don't concentrate on my body, its performance. I just relax and ride!

I rode for a few years in Dubai as a teenager, and I also attended a riding camp in Vermont for three summers. I never became a horsewoman. However, I learned the basics of horsemanship which sums up to confidence. This is why my children ride from the youngest age, fearless, with the desire to stride foreword, with the supreme feeling of bonding with such a large and beautiful creature.

It took me some twenty years to get back in the saddle and now, as an adult, more than ever, my desire to improve on technique, to exercise with precision. 

March 13, 2012


Six more years before graduation from high school with a French Baccalaureate. In France, they perform a grand final countdown of classes before you reach Terminale! What a name for such an academic experience: it is as bad at it sounds.

My son is in Cinquieme. I was there in 1982 and I remember the feeling with avid details and emotions. It may be one of the easiest year in the tough French curriculum, but it is also a "messy, overwhelming" year. I remember my mind was elsewhere and my course work was spread out, messy, all over the place. How I managed to retain any skills and/or information that year, I don't know.

I believe turning twelve/thirteen is the most charming time of our lives. We are at the threshold of teenager years, still holding on to the innocence of our childhood, but attempting our first independent steps in the huge world. Perhaps this is why the class has been designed to give the students a breather, a time to recollect and especially to learn organizational skills. They are given responsibilities, deadlines, they are asked to take proper notes, to organise their days and their homework. My son, like myself in the day, finds himself with a mess of papers, a mix of deadlines, open ended questions and a search for shortcuts.

Its all part of growing up, maturing to focus on one task at a time, to gather information, to recognize what is important and what is most important, to hold on to precious information without loosing it, to deduct, to analyse, to summarize, to organise.

Eventually he will find his own system, he will make his own decisions, he will take bold steps and make extra effort. Till then, his desk, his school bag and even his head will be messy, disorganized and disparate.....I am surprised I was able to pass Cinquieme, challenged as I was to organise my academic life at a time when imagination drew me away from it all.....

March 11, 2012

Drifting on Lyrics

Did Snow Patrol open for Calvin Harris or did Calvin Harris afterparty for Snow Patrol? To quote my brother who enthusiastically joined with my sister in law, Dubai is now on the music map and Sandance is one hell of a music festival. I have seen Faithless and Example there too! My musical wishes come true in Dubai.

I have only known Snow Patrol for 6 months. I bought their latest album and my children listened with curiosity to this Indie group as we drove the streets of Dubai. This musical experience was supplemented by the regular playing of their older tracks on 92FM. And successfully, at this concert, unlike some other concerts when I don't know every song played, I was actually proud to recognise them all.

In a magical way, Snow Patrol played with the fibres of my heart. I expected their music to render me teary eyed. Cold Play does that to me, especially when played live. However, and in a beautiful way, Snow Patrol's tunes and lyrics left my heart "in suspension": squeezed it but their music is too happy minded to be tear jerking. "Just say Yes!" is what they request!
Three men with guitars, with special effects of a solitary eagle in constant flight on the background screen: it was a perfect night on Palm Dubai as I drifted to their lyrics, surrounded by a large crowd of beautiful people.

To top the night, a single figure, with a very important musical name, Calvin Harris, reigned over the party with his super catchy mixes, a healthy competition to the monopolistic David Guetta. I still remember calling my brother while I was stuck in traffic: "google this song for me: "I feel so close to you right now, I wear my heart upon my sleeve!" Calvin Harris rocks! For me, yes for me only, in that large crowd of 12 thousand ravers......he mixed Paradise by Cold Play!

"Those three words are said too much but not enough" SnowPatrol

March 9, 2012

Le Bonheur Est Dans le Pre

To write a blog about happiness, I went to the public beach. Impromptu destination. Sat on the rocks in an orange shirt. The same one that I wore when I laid on the grass with the youngest and took a snapshot. "The grass looks like a bed of parsley" remarked one of my two favourite cousins.

Radio on my ipod. Because lyrics matter. Because I previewed my favourite DJ about this happy post. Because it is 92FM and they may play either Snow Patrol or Calvin Harris, a combo gig at Sandance that I will party on tomorrow with a couple that know everything about music.

Happiness begins at very early sunrise. With the desert light that filters through the windows of the high rise. With the split moment when the "pinktaxi" engages onto the SheikhZayed Road lane, with 3 kids in tow, Katy Perry, Kanye-JayZ, Example or Eminem blaring, direction OudMetha! With the completion of a pilates class, when my whole body feels stretched and aligned, or after a tough circuit training called Heartbreak that tastes like endorphin instead of lactic acid. When I walk out of Bikram Yoga with the feel of achievement and a red facial glow.

Happiness happens at the precise angle of the riding ring when I press my outer heal and ask Pepper to galop on in Arabic because he is an Arabian! Contact with a horse is happiness releasing, the same way holding a nephew is.

Happiness is reaching to people you like or love, sharing, learning from them, teaching them. Happiness is noticing that any city you are in can be your city for that day. That trees look superb in any season and in any light. That twilight translates as crepuscule in French and both languages convey so perfectly my favorite ephemeral time of the day. That I enjoy the music of vocabulary, chewing on adverbs and complex nouns for hours. Happiness can also come in a perfect cup of coffee while writing a blog.

When I play golf, when I skate with my children, when we open the sun roof of the car so they can stick their heads out while I drive off the beaten track, when I pick up a nephew, or take my father to the beach, or my husband to coffee, when I bench press a heavier weight, when I read leMonde or visit the Beyeler foundation in Basel, when I ride a bike   through the vineyards of Geneva, or hear Paradise by ColdPlay like a daily vitamin supplement on the radio, or watch Roger Federer win or follow Tiger Woods on the course or stare at BurjKhalifa I feel happy.

"Le bonheur est dans le pre" say the French which simply translates as happiness is in the fields.

March 7, 2012

Four Hours

Can you imagine solving math problems for three hours? Or discussing social sciences for that amount of time? We were given literature critique to ponder and analyse for four hours. Frequently, it was a single question: is literature art or is it a social message? Or another question: when Flaubert wrote "Madame Bovary c'est moi?" what did he really mean? We had to remember our sources, quote our poets, explain a book or two, reference Rousseau or Racine. Four hours with a plain page of paper and a fountain pen!

In preparation for the baccalaureat, every French or Philosophy exam was 4 to 5 hours long, the others being 3 hours long. Oh the overtly, overstretched exam hours! I used to hide a red XL bag of Maltezers chocolates under the table, to entertain me and keep me awake.

In graduate school, they thought they were giving us a hard time by handing out take-home, 6 to 8 hours long, thought provoking essays and analysis. I was, by then, used to the "epreuves" of my boarding school. Those long hours of reflective introspection, of decisive interpretation. Similarly and without discounting the importance of my Ph.d comprehensive exams, I depended on my experience as a "bacheliere", otherwise translated as one who has earned her baccalaureat, to convey the knowledge I had accumulated for 13 years of schooling, as I was asked to do for the comprehensives, after 11 years of university.

When I am on the golf course, and we check in at the front desk, usually in haste before the T-time, we understand that we have four hours ahead of us. I think of my 11 year old son, who has become accustomed to this time frame before he has even tasted the baccalaureat preparation and its medley of 4 hour "epreuves", or exams.

March 6, 2012

Madame Bovary, the Reader

Borges' short story about a reader reading a book about another reader reading a book who gets killed while he is reading, makes every reader turn around in fright of an aggressor. It is the Russian doll syndrome where the narrative keeps repeating itself, like an Escher drawing of a hand drawing another hand that is drawing.....

Why are readers so quick in judging Madame Bovary? Why do they label her in half-hazard as an adulteress and stop at that? Why do most readers, even today, react with discomfort at her impulsive behaviour and scream out for scandal?

Madame Bovary was a reader. Perhaps she was a naïve one and she lived in romanticised disillusion. She was so bored in her rural France that she travelled her imagination through books.

Out of naivete she decided to live up to her dreams and her impulses.
It is clear that despite the automatic labelling of Madame Bovary as an adulteress, Flaubert sympathised with his heroine to the point of standing by her cause and side and declaring that "Madame Bovary is me!" Madame Bovary is his reader. Aren't we all readers when we read his novel about a woman reading novels?

Literature must not be censored. I remember how shocked my grandmother was when I told her spontaneously that I was reading DHLawrence's Lady Chatterely's Lover. "Do your parents know you are reading this when you are 14 years old?" she asked. Perhaps my parents understood that if I had the wherewithal to read DHLawrence then I was mature enough to understand that a woman may have a fling with a gardener. My mother forbid me to read cheap romance novels though and I understand her selectivity.

I am dwelling on the reading of this classic Madame Bovary, aware of the coup it made in the mentality and its ramifications for women's emancipation. Here was a woman who was free to read and allowed to imagine her fantasies. This is a great step in XIX century France. Flaubert's style is essentially descriptive. Again, he makes way for the reader to decipher the story through the environment's details. He rarely dwelt about the feelings of his characters, only their actions, reactions and body language. The reader observed and deducted.

It all boils down to the reader: we are reading a book about another reader.

March 5, 2012

Public Geneva

We read a book from the public library on the public bus to the public pool. This is our experience in posh Geneva, where some buy books at prohibitive prices, take taxis at prohibitive rates and swim in private pools in mansions overlooking the lake.

I call Geneva an urban village. Indeed, I agree with everyone that it isn't a city. It is more of a sleepy town. However, despite its fancy reputation, Geneva has an urban edge that matches most large metropolitan cities. My children, for example, live their urban experiences in Geneva, more than they would in Dubai where they are shuttled in a car from one activity to the other.

Here, my children help me carry groceries on our walk from the store. They accompany me to the post office and frequently stand in other bureaucratic lines with me. They take public transportation: shuttle boats on the lake, trains and buses. They know all the bus connections, how to buy a bus ticket (even though we all have our yearly bus passes). They sit on the bus and read the local free press, mix with fellow passengers.

They have visited all the public libraries of Geneva, refusing to limit themselves to the neighbourhood library. These libraries all have extensive children's departments and their library cards allow for unlimited borrowing. This means we have no need to buy any books at all!

How they love Geneve Plage in the summer! This is the public olympic size pool on the lake. Enter post WWII Geneva, where the pool and its surroundings has retained the familial and sports oriented atmosphere of the baby-boomers. The indoor pools are also Olympic. All these facilities have the supreme clinically hygienic norms known to Switzerland. No excuses not to swim our laps!

There are also the public bikes that we can rent for free and the bus tracks that take us through traffic, onto windy paths into the surrounding Geneva wilderness....our public experience in Geneva is nothing but spectacular!

March 2, 2012

Madame Bovary and The Old Man and the Sea

Why do we stop reading classics after graduating from college? Why do we limit our literature analysis to that particular time of our lives, especially in high school, when we really skimmed through, barely understood and hardly reflected on books that become nonetheless milestones in our understanding of academics and life?

I remember overhearing a guy at Starbucks telling his friend: "its a Catch 22...." I had to urge to interrupt their conversation and tell them: "have you read Catch 22? I have tried to read and understand it, but never finished the book because it is a boring book about World War Aviation. Ok you use the term quite openly but I won't allow myself to use it as I haven't earned it. I would rather say: I can't have the cake and eat it." I did read Waiting for Godot. Again a boring read, as best described by its title.

A friend was startled that I was reading Madame Bovary. "A scandalous book about an adulterous woman!" I replied: "Flaubert was the first feminist! He exclaimed that "Madame Bovary c'est moi", thus taking full responsibility for his heroine's actions and feelings. Despite the fact that I read Madame Bovary when I was a teenager, I do remember that the book is more about feelings than about actions, that the woman's "crime" all took place in her fantasies, that she lived by her dreams and her disillusions, that she didn't really deserve the A "scarlett letter" of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I will find out by reading it again, as an adult seeking answers and confirmations to my memories of "immature" reading.

I was even younger when I read The Old Man and the Sea in a summer class in the United States. I remember skimming the book because it was boring for a teenager who only enjoyed books with female heroines. An Old Man? I couldn't understand Hemingway then!
My son selected it as a vacation read school assignment. He read it in French translation, with me in interested tow. We got an audio book and listened to it together and we discussed it. I think he understood more than I ever did when I was a school girl because he had a maternal reading club!

I must mention that Madame Bovary opens with a chapter about Monsieur Bovary, the husband she would eventually betray. He fell for her when he was still married, before his first wife died. And what comes around goes around, she also fell for someone while she was married....but I have not gotten to that part yet!

Flaubert reads rich, but tasty! His descriptions have the brush stroke of Impressionists but carry the detail of the Realists.

March 1, 2012

Vignette: Hand me down, wear it down

"The warmest summer I ever spent was winter in Dubai". This explains our wardrobe: single seasoned, with a variety of layers to ward us against February's desert chill and September's full on air-conditioning. I rarely buy my children any winter coats, sweaters or corduroy pants.

When we travel to colder destinations my children wear the hand me down clothes of their eldest brother. He is the one who lived and schooled through Swiss winter wonderland for four years. I had gotten into good habit of buying next year's winter collection, one age size larger, on the end of season sales.

Thus, my daughter dressed as a tomboy for the most part. Her jeans appeared like boyfriend jeans and her sweaters were frequently khaki or grey coloured. She always added a feminine addition but her brother's essentials were in her closet, so why not wear them?

Imagine the younger, 6 years apart from the eldest, whose clothes he inherited. Believe it, children's clothing do change in fashion, becoming less baggy today than they were at the beginning of the millennium. Also, this boy's constitution is different and he wears the clothes even baggier. Sometimes, I will notice, to my mother's dismay, that the moths did get into a sweater or another. Also, the clothing had been worn so frequently that its wear has become apparent, especially for the high street,less expensive clothing that were worn more frequently. The boots and shoes have now given in. Three children have worn these clothes!

But my favourite worn down clothes are the pjs! The more washed, the more comfy. My kids done the Petit Bateaus of their siblings and perhaps dream their dreams!