Sunday, December 5, 2010

Disco 82 la la la

It's a rainy night in chennai and we've just returned from a fabulous day trip south of the city. We got completely drenched, ate fish curry and fried rice, bought handicrafts. Got home late and decided to stay in and enjoy our hotel. We're staying at the Park, which used to be the site of a famous film studio and our favorite hotel chain in India. We just ordered room service and what's this on tv? "Amar, Akbar, Anthony" classic Amitab Bachan! What a perfect way to cap off a perfect day.

Friday, October 29, 2010


From October 26 to 30 the Doha Tribeca Film Festival lights up the city. I've been to a number of films so far but last night was my favorite. Not only because the film was compelling and well made: "The Two Escobars" but because the venue was spectacular. The festival erected a gigantic screen on the beach of the Four Seasons Hotel. We kicked our shoes off, sunk our toes in the sand and our butts in canvas sling chairs. The stars and the moon above were like twinkly lights and there was a gentle breeze coming in from off the water.

The opening gala took place on the main stage, Katara, which is a 2000-seat open air auditorium overlooking the water. The Festival opened with a film about the Algerian fight for Independence, "Hors du loi". We took a DTFF shuttle from the Grand Hyatt hotel (and ended up walking home afterwards...) Traffic was murder. Well, for Doha anyway. Once we arrived, getting in was a bit of a circus. "The perfomance is free but you need a ticket. And there are no more tickets." So much for an open-community-event. We eventually scammed our way in (and there were plenty of empty seats) but it was a hassle. As a result, I've resisted the main stage -- despite the fact that is is a beautiful setting -- and opted for movies in more accessible venues.

In one of the main city cinemas I saw "Bhutto" which was more a tribute film produced by one of Benazir Bhutto's best friends in the world than an objective documentary. Their access, research and archival footage was extensive, I'll give them that. And while it was a fairly comprehensive (if at points clearly re-written) precis of Pakistani history, the film makers had no business saying it was a balanced film. And they were quite miffed during the Q&A following the film when several people in the audience called them on it. Um, hello, when the Producer of the film is one of the main narrators and is crying in the movie, your credibility as an objective documentarian diminishes.

I've lived in other cities with film festivals but not since my university days have I been able to see so much so easily. Someone left an anonymous comment (anonymous? how lame are you. If you have a comment, state who you are and own it)on my last post suggesting that I don't write more because I live in Doha. I disagree. Doha gives me a quality of life I could never dream of in the crazy, fast paced, rat race cities of my past. I have space, I have time. I have access to so many international events. Small is beautiful, baby. Now lets see if I write.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Everyday I don't write the book

I started this blog as a place to record my reflections on our life in the middle east. But I also wanted to use it as a vehicle to work my writing muscle. I wonder then, why -- when daily I am bombarded with new and notable experiences -- I don't write everyday. Is it laziness, lack of discipline, self censorship? I'm interested in finding out how people out there are keeping their momentum.

Talk to me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Get your motor running

What is there to do in Doha on the weekends, you might ask? This weekend was the Second Annual Qatar Bike Show.

I must admit that I was fairly disappointed when the bikers rolled up in leather chaps, boots and vests adorned with pins. Traditional Gulf headgear was replaced by Harley bandanas and helmuts decorated with skulls and demons. Half the reason I went was to see a few hiked up dishdashas and boots underneath.

Bikers rode in from a number of neighbouring GCC countries. The crowd was a sea of t-shirts and vests emblazened with "Desert Warriors", "Exile MC" and "Iron Camel Biker" replete with red and yellow flames licking the letters.

It turns out the biker scene is big here. But it is definitely its own hybrid. For all the global borders biker culture may transcend, there's no denying the stregnth of local influences.

In the outside exhibition area, Harley engines roared and bikes kept pouring in to take their place in the line up. The Costa Coffee shop was doing a booming business, overflowing with leather-clad bikers checking out the competition while sipping lattes and cappuccinos. Inside the hall, owners were proudly displaying their shiny bikes, some with glow in the dark paint, others with Louis Vuitton seats and mudflaps. Biker chicks were fully covered and standing respectfully beside the bikes, keeping a comfortable distance from the numerous young men coming up and asking if they could have a picture with them. Instead of lamb-chop side-burns many of the bikers had neatly trimmed beards. And even though the exhibition hall had a constant stream of loud house music, we saw one group of leather-clad bikers doing a traditional Saudi dance.

My favorite was the guy in a bright yellow linen suit, black shirt and dress shoes who seemed to be everywhere we were throughout the show. He made my evening when he let out a loud yelp as one of the bikers gave him a speedy lift to the end of the parking lot. Now that's a badass.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cannot stop watching

The Chilean miners' rescue. 14 rescued and counting.

Each reunion of miner with loved ones (wives/ children/ parents) live on TV chokes me up. Number 15 just rescued as I write this. What I would give to be the one editing their inevitable memoire. 69 days underground with your co-workers. No light, no food or water, scarce air and little hope of rescue. What would any of us do? I cannot even begin to imagine their joy today as they are reunited with family, friends and the world above ground. Just incredible.

Ok, gotta get back to the live coverage. Latest live-TV wow-factor: a capsule-cam showing the POV rising out of the rescue shaft. No reality TV in recent memory can hold a candle to the drama of the images and stories presented on my flatscreen today.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Unlikely contraband

The other night, we went for dinner in the Souq, the fancy one designed for tourists/ upscales. Afterwards, we went walking BEHIND the souq to the alleys filled with Indian and Philipino shops, newsstands, kebab and chaat stands. Wandering through those back streets, my husband got a craving for paan -- something I was reminded of on our latest trip to London where he and our friend DRK ate paan BEFORE dinner. Hard core.

Anyway, back to Doha and our quest for paan here. We asked politely in one shop. Reply: "Er, no sir. Try.... Salman's paan shop, behind the next roundabout." So we trek to the next roundabout (bearing in mind that even tho it's night time, it is a sweltering 38C) but no Salman. We ask a tire repair guy, all the while speaking in Hindi and he looks around, a little nervously and says: "Maybe the next street. Ali's newstand. No paan here." It will come as no surprise that we go to the next street and there's no Ali's newstand just another lead towards the next street/ roundabout/ corner.

After a few dead ends and a LOT of wandering, my husband the journo decides to go into a corner shop and ask the guys in Hindi if paan is illegal. Bingo. Now, who would have thought such a harmless thing could be off limits? It's just a leaf filled with yumminess, is that so wrong? I did a little digging and it turns out the Qataris aren't the only ones that don't want us to have our after dinner treat. The Brits are not too keen on it either:

Paan ban in North West London. My favourite quote from the article: Councillor Gavin Sneddon, of Brent Council, said: "Paan staining is unsightly and contributes to a negative image that Wembley is dirty and rundown, which can lead to increased levels of crime and anti-social behaviour."

And here I thought it was a harmless digestif. Silly me.

Good thing we were staying with DRK in East London. Mmmmm. Paan. I'll have a sweet one please. And pass the spittoon.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Debits and Credits

Another milestone in our settling here in happy Doha: a bank account. I don't have my papers yet (or an income to deposit) (yet!) so my husband sets up a joint banking account. Cool, right? Cool indeed. Husband sets up account with the Royal Bank of Qatar (I am sure that's what it is called) hands me my bank card and we go on our merry way.

La la la. We live our life. It's Ramadan and there's not a whole lot going on. It's 41C outside (52C if you factor in the humidity) so my options are limited. I live across the street from a mall. It has air conditioning and people to watch, so I often trundle over there and do a cruise through. Sometimes I'll buy a few things and wander around until the time difference does it's magic and it's early enough to call friends and family back home. And countless times through the day I, of course, call my loving husband at work. You know, just to say hi and touch base.

Husband: "Hey how's your day going?"

Holder of joint bank account card: "Great! I went to the mall to get a few things and I also withdrew some money from the atm."

Husband: "Yeah, I know."

HOJBAC: "What do you mean you 'know'?"

Husband: "I get a text message every time you use the card."

Er, excuse me? The bank TEXT MESSAGES my husband any time I use OUR money.




Do I get a text message when HE uses the card? Uh, yeah. I didn't think so.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Like Miami...but without the fun

We're back in Doha -- three months to the day. And surprisingly, I am happy to be back. Seriously. I had a great summer (back blog to come) and did a great deal. But there is something to be said about having your stuff around you and sleeping in your own bed. Could it be that I'm not an incurable gypsy after all? hmm....lets not get crasy. Gimme a week here and we'll talk. For now I'm just glad to be home.

Which brings me to the latest thrill in my life: our new home. My fabulous husband found us an amazing apartment while I was gone. I absolutely love it. It's bright and airy with a killer view. From our window the blue sky meets the turquoise waters of the Gulf, framed by a long stretch of sandy beach (that we cannot access cos it belongs to the embassies). The only major thing to get in the way of this view is a pretty attractive blue and white sky scraper which is completely empty (kind of the story of most of the new towers around here) and which ends up shielding us from the early morning sun and allowing us to sleep a little longer: so thanks for that. I can spend a lot of time just staring out our window at the twinkling blue waters that are only disrupted by occasional jet skiers and police boats. It's Ramadan so things are pretty quiet -- unlike Cairo, I often look out the window to see the roads completely empty in every direction. And as I mentioned, since the beach is off limits, we barely see any activity down there. So it's all surprisingly serene and oddly unspoiled. The water is beautiful and the combination of the clear blue sky and this sandy wisp of a sand dune/ island in the middle of it all makes it quite a sight. Who knows, maybe it's just my mad jet lag but I thought I would write this as I feel it now at the beginning of our life here in Doha. It's certainly not Miami by any stretch of the imagination but if I just stare at the sand and the sea, I can appreciate the natural beauty of the place and let my imagination take me where it will....

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Major Tom to Ground Control

Last night we had a dinner party at my best friend/ bride-to-be's place and one of the tasks was to enlist the guests' help in choosing a play list for the dj at the wedding. Dinner at 8.00, bring your iPod.

The groom-to-be conscientiously scrolled through his iTouch, selecting thoughtful and powerful music. Music that meant something to him and symbolised pivitol moments in his life and their relationship.

Meanwhile, me and the ladies were blasting Michael Jackson, the Go-GOs, Outcast and the Clash. Rock the Casbah, baby!

He, much like my own husband, is very serious about his music. And I could just see the palpable horror on his face when all the girls jumped up from their seats squealing for joy when I cranked the volume on "Gold digger" by Kanye West and Jamie Foxx.

I can totally understand that the music at your wedding is somewhat reflective of you and your taste. And clearly, he's cool guy. But we girls were just having a little fun. I explained that at weddings it is entertaining to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Some songs just instantly get folks on the dance floor. He didn't look convinced. I assured him that we would talk to the dj and include the groovy tunes he wanted as well as a few crowd pleasers. It would be a healthy mix, I promised. He look at me with deep skepticism but let it go. I was his fiance's best friend after all and until now, I had been displaying pretty sound judgment on most things. But you could tell that he was deeply disturbed by our choices in music. Is this the girl I am marrying? Why do her friends have such pedestrian taste in music? Will I have to listen to Eurotrash-pop for the rest of my life? Someone please help me.

I am continually amazed at how differently women and men approach, well, just about everything in life.

When I put on Abba, had we not had our little chat... I might have bounced my self right out of the bridal party. As things stand now, I'm running out to buy me some dancing shoes! "See that girl, watch that scene, digging the Dancing Queen - ooooh ah."

I ask you: HOW could anyone get married with out that?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I Heart New York

I'm currently in NYC for my best friend's wedding. I always say that NYC is like a boyfriend I really loved, like from the bottom of my heart, in a crazy, unreasonable way -- and then he broke up with me. Baby, it is for your own good. This isn't the right time for us. It hurts now darling, but you'll thank me in a few years. It's not you, it's me.

For a very long time, I couldn't watch "Friends" or "Sex in the City" or read forwarded articles from the New York Times -- it was just too painful.

I've been back a few times since I moved. This time though, is the longest since I left. And this time, maybe I am more settled in my own life so I have a different perspective on the city. And it IS like an old love. A deep love. Of a place I know and that brings out something in me that no other city does. It's such a cliche to write about New York in this way and I always used to complain that living in New York was like being in a cult. Everyone had to be blindly on-board or the city wouldn't able to get away with all the things it does. "A studio apt with a view of a wall and only a hot plate for a kitchen for $2500. Hmmm. It's two blocks from the Park? Of COURSE I'll take it!"

Never mind my love affair with New York, it's been so good for me to be in North America. After all the moving and flux of the past few months, being here is the tonic I needed. I did not appreciate how much mental stress is alleviated when you speak the language, know the culture, money, subway system and vibe. Don't get me wrong, I would not give up our international expat lifestyle for the world -- it is just nice to take a break once in a while to recharge my batteries.

My best friend and I have been up and down Madison and 5th Avenue shopping for the perfect accessories for her big day and all the while musing about life. Now and then, we stop for coffee, a chat and some people watching. We ride the subway where all of the layers of the city are crammed in together and jostling for personal space. We walk endless city blocks, passing places that bring back memories and stories of our life here together. Half the time she and I are doubled over laughing and shrieking with glee when one remembers something the other has forgotten. And no one gives us a second look. There are so many crazy people on the street, why do we deserve any special attention? Her fabulous apt on the 31st floor has stunning floor to ceiling windows and a spectacular view of the city and the Hudson river. The energy of the city pours in just like the vibrant sunshine twinkling off the water.

We've been in wedding mode all day, every day and I basically told all my friends here that I am not available until after the wedding. But last night, we really needed a break from it all. We hit one of my all time favourite restaurants in NYC: Raoul's. I don't know what it is about that place but it's been my standard for over 10 years and it always delivers. Tuna tartare, scallops and lobster finished with a creme brulee and an accidental coconut creme caramel that our charming waiter just threw in for fun. "Oops! My bad, ladies. I got your order muddled, you're going to have to eat both."

I left the city last time exactly when I needed to. It was time to go. I had badmouthed the city and talked about all the negatives of living here. It's excessive and superficial, the traffic and pollution are out of control, people are self obsessed and egotistical. How else could I have left it? If I talked about how I am the best parts of myself when I am here, how every part of the city has a different character and feel, how the people are friendly and energetic and inspiring. If I talked about all of that, I would not have been able to let go or move on. Now that I am back, with all the life I have lived since I left, all of those protestations seem so meaningless. My fussy noises seem unnecessary and irrelevant. Now I see that New York and I can still be friends. Friends with benefits? Give me another week here and I'll let you know.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reverse culture shock

In my zeal to get a good ticket home for the summer, I searched by price not dates. As a result, I accidentally purchased a flight leaving one day after my visa expires. Oops.

1) change my flight and leave a day earlier. Unfortunately, the ticket prices had gone up $4000+
2) pay a fine of 500QR for over-staying and face possible heat upon departure
3) Go to the visa section today and get a visa extension for 100QR

Not only was number 3 the cheapest option, I had braved the Mogamma in Cairo how hard could this be?

I barely need to write about this. A far cry from the circus in Cairo, this visa section here was a well-oiled machine. There were still a few Pakistanis and Egyptians who didn't want to wait in the orderly and quiet line, but there were enough law-abiders to scold them when they tried jumping the queue.

We were in and out in less than 10 minutes. All the counters on the visa payment side were run by efficient Qatari women, all with hand held credit card swipers. I punched in my pin code, they deducted 100QR from my account and sent me to the other side of the room, where a neat little sticker was printed out (in the time it took me to cross the room. Impressive.) and placed in my passport. (The man who processed mine was Officer Adul Aziz Hideous. I swear to God.) So I am legal again. Phew. No fuss, no muss. A nice change from sweating it out in France or the insanity of Cairo. I almost found myself disappointed by the anti-climax.

Every time Brits and Aussies ask us how we are adjusting, I force myself to pause and think about my response. I know they'll think I am nuts if I say that I am in awe of the shiny new-ness of the place or the technology and organization. They want to commiserate about beening dumped in the desert where nothing works. They haven't come from the epi-centre of lively chaos and colourful insanity like I have. I have to remember that before I speak. So, not to disappoint, I just smile and say how beautiful the sea and the sand is and that it'll take a little while but I'm sure we'll get used to the place.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Keepin' it real

Showing 1: "Hi there, just calling to confirm our 1.00 pm appointment -- give me a call when you arrive, I'll be waiting in front of the Ferrari dealership."

Showing 2: "I'm calling to confirm our appointment to see the 2 bedroom, 3 bathroom at 3.30pm. Lets meet in front of the Rolls Royce dealership. If you reach the Armani, you've gone too far."

uh. Yeah. One might argue the whole development has gone too far but that's just the middle class Canadian in me talking....

So that's our potential new neighbourhood: Missoni, Canali, Jimmy Choo, Armani, Hermes, Kenzo, Maze by Gordon Ramsay, Casa del Habana -- I could go on but I think you get the picture. Gorgeous, no doubt. And certainly plenty of inspiration to keep me from going out in flip flops and my favourite ripped cargos on a Saturday morning.

So after we saw the apartments, YK and I were strolling along the boardwalk to check out our potential new "hood". We were admiring the designer boutiques and 60 foot yachts moored in the private marina and - stop - what's this? Is that what I think it is? I am sure my eyes are playing tricks on me... In the middle of the most glamourous and exclusive real estate development in the Middle East: a COFFEE TIME. Only someone from Ontario can appreciate the hilarious irony of this. Coffee Time is the skeeviest coffee shop in Toronto. Seriously. Joe for crack addicts and winos. I've only been in one ONCE and that was because we were in the middle of nowhere and I really really really had to pee. And no, I did not sit down.

We were doubled over laughing and HAD to stop, buy a coffee and drink in the irony: the most upmarket area in the region enjoying a decidedly downmarket slice of Ontario.

Ahh, maybe all this designer lifestyle and sheeshy-fabulous is fine as long as we have Coffee Time to keep us grounded. This could be the place for us afterall.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

House hunting begins

Katrien is the very glam and charming property manager/ real estate agent we met this morning and she was the first person to show us around Doha. She is super fun, bubbly and young and really seemed to get us.

Flat one: 2 bed, 2 bath, with views of the sea and the biggest mall in Doha. Spitting distance from the W hotel and the soon to open Kempinski. It has everything; from a cleaning and laundry service to a spa on the ground floor.

Flat two: a 2 bed, 2 bath townhouse in the Pearl, Doha's most exclusive development. It's a little out of the way and I felt we were on a holiday resort but there was no denying it's luxury. From the livingroom and bedroom you can see the following: yacht club complete with 40 ft yachts and a promenade lined with restaurants, cafes and boutiques, including a huge Jimmy Choo. Visible front and center from the bedroom window. My credit card did a little backflip in my handbag. Downstairs, there's a shopping arcade that includes designer boutiques including Canali, Giorgio Armani and all sorts of uber chic european designers I have never even heard of. A little sheeshy for our blood but we're keeping our options and our minds open.

Then we saw a bunch of really cool flats a villa and a place in a compound that have blurred a bit into each other because we were seeing them in the heat of midday. Katrien was a super rock star and always had her car a/c blasting and tried to keep us as cool as possible.

I'm trying to embrace the process, as stressful as it can be. Certainly, Doha is an entertaining place to look for a place to live. Stay tuned for news on what we decide and please send good vibes!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Doha: Beachbums and Mall rats

Day one: husband goes to office. I stay back (we were at a beachfront InterCon resort with it's own private lagoon, why would I leave?) When he returns, we order room service, pig out and head to the beach where we hang out and listen to the waves lap and watch the jet skis until well after sunset.

Day two: eat a huuuuuge brunch, take our tea/ coffee to the beach. Stare at the incredible turquoise waters. Talk crap about how we're going to finally get into diving and get fit. Check out of our 5 star la-la-land and move to our temporary company flat. Unpack a little and head to the mall. We sort of don't know what else there is to do in this town yet, so....the mall it is.

First mall: City Center. We spent waaaaaay too much time in there but I was blown away by the sheer choice and availability of -- everything! After years of living in Cairo where we desperately asked friends to bring cheese, conditioner, zip lock bags and sea salt. Where every trip to the grocery store was an adventure because you never knew what might or might not be there....I was overwhelmed by how very much there is to BUY here. Even Carrefour (which is the biggest nightmare in Cairo) was fairly civilised and offered produce the likes of which I haven't seen since we lived in London. And instead of the free-for-all it is in Cairo, this one had aisles and prices.

So we've eaten Pizza Express (halleluya! I don't ever need to go home) and we're looking for a place to get our visa photos taken (blue background, svp). We look down into the atrium and there's a huge skating rink. Yep. Men, women, children in short sleeves and helmets, gliding on ice. In a mall. In the desert. While it is 35C outside. Ok, ok, we get it: you are rich. But a skating rink in a mall, isn't that a bit excessive?

Heading to another mall today. This one has an indoor canal with Gondolas.

ps -- just returned from the Villagio mall. Very very very trippy place. As if the canal with Venetian gondolas wasn't enough, they too have a skating rink. In the middle of the food court. So that you can eat one million things and watch people skate by. We were in the mall for several hours but it's so huge that I am not sure we even saw a quarter of it. The ceilings have all been painted sky blue with clouds. Each section of the mall represents a different time of day, so you walk from early morning to afternoon to sunset and early evening. If it wasn't for the balloons that have floated up and stuck there, you would think you were walking in the open air....there was a sandstorm raging outside, of course, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to have some delicious chinese food with a Krispy Kream chaser. Mmm-mmm yummy comfort food (we would never touch this crap back home but here...)I'm sure there is a lot of culture out there (we can see the impressive Islamic museum and the old souq from our apt) but for the moment, I think we'll ease into this place eating junk food and indulging in a little retail therapy. When in the Gulf....

A new chapter make a long story short: we've moved to Doha, Qatar. About 72 hours ago, to be precise. Our departure from Cairo was smooth and incident free. Though our shipment was hilariously moved from our apt to the moving van in and on a rickety black and white cairo taxi. Turns out Maadi doesn't allow big trucks into residential areas without a permit. Apparently our movers didn't have a permit. So they parked the moving van on the shoulder of the Ring Road and made multiple trips in a black and white cab, our belongings stuffed inside, on top and sometimes held outside with the workers' bare hands. But something worked because the shipment arrived safe and sound and ahead of us by several days. Mash'Allah.

I feel like that trip was a metaphor for all of Cairo: just barely hanging on with the tips of it's fingers but miraculously, getting it's shit done.

A special shout out and thanks to Madame Layla and her incredible crew of packers. I feel we could literally play football with all our belongings, they packed them so thoroughly and with such care. It means we have about 10 boxes more than we would if we had packed ourselves...but malesh, hopefully it means our stuff survives the journey to our new home. TBA.

I have LOVED Cairo. And was extremely happy there. I miss our flat and it's leafy view with birds chirping and my wonderful neighbours and friends who were like family to us. Cairo remains a place that holds a special and beloved place in my heart. Who knows, maybe one day in the future we'll live there again. Stranger things have been known to happen.

I will write more about our departure but I just wanted to let you know that this blog is relocating to Doha, Qatar. I think now that I will always remain a Cairomaniac, I'll just travel the world a little.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Awkward declarations of love

1. On the phone:

Me: "Okay, so we'll have our next lesson on Monday?"
Teacher: "Perfect, Habibti. See you then. "
Me: "Ma salaama"
Teacher: "Bye bye! I love you!"
Me: "Um, yeah, ok, sure. See you Monday. Bye!"

2. At local hair salon:
Hair salon owner (middle aged Egyptian man): "You like your hair?" (smile)
Me: (enthusiastically swishing my new do around) "Yes! I love it!"
He looks down and then looks back up, raising his eyebrow: "And I love YOU." (meaningful pause) "Really."
Me: "Um (nervous laugh) yes well, thank you again. Bye!"

Monday, March 8, 2010

World famous

Me, last night, in a cab, heading downtown along the Corniche:

Me: "Lau-samaht (Excuse me) could you please close the window?"
Taxi driver: "Eh?"
Me: "Min fadluck (please) can you close the window and turn on the air conditioning" (insert pantomime of me, rolling up window and pointing to the a/c button)
TD: "Eh?"
Me: "Takeef (air conditioning)"
TD: "Ahhhh -- takeef "(nodding, acknowledging that he understands what I am saying)
Me: "Moomkin, takeef ON?"
TD: "Why?"
I point to the many many many cars that surround us and plug my nose: "The air outside is not nice."
TD: "Not NICE?! (he takes his hands off the wheel and turns around to me gesturing wildly) People come from all over the world to drive here, on the banks of the Nile. (He sticks his head out the window and takes a deep breath) Ahh, nice! Nice nice air, Nile, nice."
I point to the distant banks of the river, barely visible that time of night: "Nile nice, yes. But look, hundreds of cars here. Nile far away. Cars and pollution close. See?"
He looks at me thoughtfully.
He rolls up my window and says: "Hmmm. No takeef. I don't have the electricity for takeef. I close your window. I keep mine open. But look, see? Nile, it is world famous."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

And the crowd goes wild

Canada just won Olympic gold in men's hockey, defeating Team USA 3-2 in overtime. I can practically smell that unmistakable mix of hockey rink aromas: hot chocolate, ice, metal, rubber -- and now VICTORY!

I almost never miss home (sorry home) but I cannot find words to express how much I wish I was in Canada at the moment celebrating this medal.

Here are the details:
We are the champions of the world Buuuuuyah

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Does Fatafeat eat babies?

I love Food TV. Be it the Food Network, BBC Lifestyle, or even the annoying Rachel Ray. If there's cooking on it, I'll watch it. I may be aging myself here but I think it all started with this low budget cooking show from my childhood called "Wok with Yan". I never have made anything he did (which can be said about most of the cooking shows I watch to this day) but the possibility was there that I could. If I followed the recipe and did what he said, I would be guaranteed success in a half hour. Mmm-mm, yummy food made with colourful ingredients under flattering studio lighting. What's not compelling about that?

As I grew up, it became obvious that I was a serious foodie and I've spent most of my disposable income on dining out and cooking ever since.

I lived in London when Conran brought dining as entertainment back into fashion and the phenomenon of Celebrity chefs gathered pace. I ate at places like Quaglinos, Meza, Cantina, and the Bluebird restaurant and then started stalking Chefs like Marco Pierre White. I wouldn't dream of spending £20 on clothes but I didn't once look at the bill when we went for dinner. It was food, afterall. It was experience and it was worth every penny.

When I moved to New York, the food madness continued. My salary had increased and so had the number of restaurants from which to choose. I became less of a name-chaser and found my own favorite spots like Raouls on Prince street, Casimir in Alphabet City and old faithful, Calle Ocho on the Upper West. I still went to all the trendy places as they cropped up but my tastes matured and I ate at spots I loved regardless of what people were saying about them.

I joined my husband here in Cairo three months after he started his job. I arrived late at night and he had already left for work when I got up. I was a little disoriented and woke up wondering what the hell I'd done, crossing the world to live in a country I knew nothing about. There was a lovely breakfast set out for me on the dining table with the remote control and a note: "The Food Channel is number 8." Sigh. It was going to be alright afterall. As long as I had Giada, Jamie Oliver and the Chairman, I could face anything.

The channel is called: Fatafeat. And it is great. All my favorites are on there: Iron Chef, Everyday Italian, The Naked Chef, Barefoot Contessa and Nigella-I'm-too-sexy-for-this-show Lawson. I've even discovered a few new favorites: Andrew who makes Philly Cheese Steaks in Arabic and Dania who doesn't really cook but travels around the world translating as others do.

The only thing that disturbs me and leaves me quite puzzled is that all the promos are shots of little babies smiling into the camera, drooling, giggling, lying alone on a blanket and being bathed. Why are they featuring babies alone? Are they preparing them for something? If any of you out there have an in with Fatafeat, please let me know. I am prepared to go to their HQ and get to the bottom of this: are you showing us babies in your promos because you want us to eat them? It is the only conclusion I can reach. What else are babies doing on a Food channel? They can't cook, so they must be part of the menu....

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Happy New Year - Part 1: Kerala without a Houseboat

We just returned from a three-week trip to Southern India. We arrived in Fort Kochi, Kerala on New Year's day. We stayed in a great hotel by the ancient Chinese fishing nets, first installed on the coast by the grandson of Gengis Khan. It was hot. And it was humid. And the mosquitos were the size of small children. So, instead of cruising the backwaters on a houseboat as planned, we got into an Ambassador and travelled up the mountains to spend a few days in a guest house on the Madupatty tea estate in the Kanan Devan Hills Plantation. It was breathtaking. Rolling hills of sharp, bright green as far as the eye could see. The air was clean and crisp. The mist rolled around the mountain tops and the wild flowers that lined the roads were like vibrant firecrackers. The people were sweet and hospitable, without exception. We had Kerala breakfasts every morning (featuring all the coconut chutney I could eat. Yum!) and masala chai every afternoon.

We (ok: I) decided to go for an "authentic ayurvedic massage" - more like let me slather you in oil and ask you questions about your trip. My husband kept pointing out to me that there was nothing "authentic" about the place we were going. Notice, he pointed out, that there are no brown people on any of the adverts. There are no locals in the waiting room, just wide-eyed foriegners. It had all the hallmarks of a classic tourist trap. But I didn't care. When in Kerala, I insisted. My hair is still a little greasy and the smell of the ayurvedic "herbs" linger in my nostrils...I am sure that there is genuine ayurveda in Kerala. But where we went wasn't it...

Our trip up the mountain coincided with the morning bath of local temple elephants. We saw three: one 40-year-old female and two little 5 and 6 year olds. They were so close to us and completely tame, having lived in the temple all their lives. After watching fearless little kids approach them, I too gathered the courage to get close, touch their skin and say hello.

I've included this picture with the Uncle in the jaunty white suit and healthy moustache because he managed to get into every one of my elephant shots. That's the thing about India, if there is something interesting happening, there's little to no chance that you'll be experiencing it on your own. But then again, there is so much happening you don't mind sharing it. More to come on our trip - stay tuned.