A pink taxi

A pink taxi

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.