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.