Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

Three months in…

So, I moved into my own apartment exactly three months ago yesterday. The time has flown by and I’m still loving being on my own. I love days when I can just sit around in my pajamas and get on with work or reading or writing. It is total bliss.

I have finally put up my paintings and mirrors too – so the flat is really starting to take shape.

I still hate cooking – but eventually came up with a solution. I spoke to a couple of friends about meal plans which are delivered to your doorstep on a daily basis. I made a few enquiries and ended up going with Daintree – because they have the option of delivering just one meal a day. Every Monday they send out the menu choices for the following week, I fill in the form online, and then six evenings a week, one main course, one side dish and one snack are delivered to me. My breakfast is usually tea, almonds and a banana, and one meal I can manage on my own – pasta, cottage cheese and crackers, or whatever. And then one meal is a proper hot meal. The meals are all healthy and low-carb and I’m happy with that.

I’m loving not having a TV. By the end of January I was already on my fifth book of the year – and my goal for the year is to read 30 books. A friend asked me if I’d perhaps be able to finish all the unread books on my shelves. I told him that if that pile of books was Mount Everest, I’m not even at base camp yet! There’s a long way to go. And I still need to sort out that second bookcase.

I’ve discovered I quite like plants. I inherited my mum’s curly bamboo, but have also received two orchids, one Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides), a prayer plant (Maranta) and some basil. The basil was brought by a friend from Spinney’s for a small get-together. I put what we didn’t use in a pot and it hasn’t stopped growing. Miraculously, all the plants are still alive.

Basil (left) and Sybil – the prayer plant (right)

I have some very intriguing neighbours. One guy walks around naked/semi-naked most of the time. Seriously, he needs curtains more than I do. I actually quite like not having curtains and I think putting them up will make my room seem smaller – but I do need to sort that out at some point. When I buy mine, I might buy him some too.

Oh, and the laundry guy has not dared to show his face at my front door.

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On my own…

As I mentioned earlier, I moved into my own place just over seven weeks ago (I’m loving it) and my parents left exactly three weeks ago today…

The last few days of my parents being in Dubai were frustrating – they seemed to be aiming for the most disorganised move in history (and I’m still dealing with some of the fallout from that, such as DEWA deposit refunds, etc.) and I was looking forward to them leaving so that I could enjoy just ‘being’ in my flat.

But, when we got to the airport and said our goodbyes, I bawled my eyes out… which led to my dad getting upset (Mum seemed fine)… And thinking about it now still makes me a bit teary. On my way home, I was debating whether to attend a friend’s 40th that evening. I just wasn’t in the mood. But when I walked in the front door and took a look at the boxes (of junk, admittedly) that Mum had left behind in my living room, I rolled my eyes and got ready. And I’m glad I went – it was a fun night.

The next morning I felt fine – I woke up in my quiet flat and knew I’d made the right decision not to go with them.

But then I suddenly had to think about what to have for lunch. And what to have for dinner. And then repeat the process all over again the following day. And the day after that. I’ve discovered a few things:

  • I absolutely hate cooking. Cooking for one person is a complete waste of time. Even making a simple salad is tedious – washing vegetables, chopping vegetables, making the dressing – and ten minutes later it’s all gone and you have to clear up. I’ve made eggs, stir fries and pasta – but I don’t like the heat of the open flame on the stove either. I do seem to have mastered brown rice though (without the rice cooker).
  • Don’t use the salad spinner on the kitchen counter. This might sound like common sense to you – but as I put the leaves in the spinner I wondered where the water went… and five seconds later I had my answer. Right out of the bottom of it! I did laugh out loud though. At my own stupidity.
  • Don’t go to the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. I already knew this but had reconfirmation just before the New Year. I thought I’d stock up on a few items before VAT kicked in and I think everyone had the same idea.
  • IKEA has ruined my dream. When I moved here, I bought an Expedit cabinet/bookcase – 185 x 185 cm – for my books… and my plan when I moved was to get another one to go next to it in my living room so I could have my wall-to-wall books. Well, Expedit no longer exists. It was replaced with Kallax, which is almost identical, except it’s 182 x 182 cm. Can I live with that difference of 3 cm and the shelves being 1.5 cm lower on one side of the wall? No, I don’t think so. I need to find other options (I’m currently trawling Dubizzle, hoping someone is selling off their old bookcase).
  • I love sitting at home with the balcony doors open and the birds singing but the flat gets so dusty so quickly!
  • My new laundry guy has been scamming me for the last six weeks – charging me more than I should be paying. I only discovered this because he was away and someone else who works there dropped off the laundry. Oh, just wait until he gets back…
  • Zaatar w Zeit don’t deliver to my new address. I can’t describe the devastation I felt.

Well, I think that about covers all the important things I’ve learned over the last few weeks. I’m sure there will be more revelations as time goes on, so watch this space!

 

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Dubai 2016: Week 5

After the gym on Sunday morning, I went to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch with my parents and some friends who were visiting from out of town. After lunch I went to Go Sports to get a yoga strap – and I also ended up picking up a new zip-up top from Nike and a t-shirt from Under Armour. Mum wanted to go to Kinokuniya (honestly, it wasn’t my idea) to look around (and I ended up buying a book).

On Monday I had my piano lesson in the afternoon and finished recording a piece called ‘Elements’ by Ludovico Einaudi.

I also had my Arabic class that evening.

On Tuesday I went to the gym and then took my parents to Jean-Georges at the Four Seasons. It was my mum’s birthday and neither of them had been there. The weather was lovely so we had a table outside, in the shade. We each ordered a glass of Prosecco and shared a few starters: truffle pizza, hamachi, crispy sushi, warm prawn salad.

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We ordered our own main courses: I had the ‘simply prepared’ grilled sea bass, my mum had the lamb chops and my dad had the roast sea bass. For dessert I ordered the cheesecake for all of us to share, but they also brought out a little chocolate mousse cake with a candle for my mum (I’d called the day before to see if they could organise something).

After lunch we went to the Virgin Megastore at the Dubai Mall as Dad wanted to get a new printer. I ended up getting some new headphones (Yurbuds) for my iPod, for the gym. That evening Mum and I went to see Sisters at Mercato (Dad went to play poker) – it was a funny movie if you’re in the mood for a chick flick. We had planned to grab a bite at Mercato after the movie but we were still so full from lunch so we came home and had some soup instead.

I had a session with Pete on Wednesday morning and my Arabic class in the evening.

On Thursday evening I went to the Capital Club for a friend’s birthday. I got there at about 7.30pm and met a few of her friends. I’d met a couple of them before, but it was mostly a new crowd. They were a fun group and there was a lot of vodka. I left at around 2.15am (several of them were still there) and it was only when I got home that I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch – apart from some peanuts at the bar…

On Friday afternoon, I went to Spa Zen for a massage with my friend who had celebrated her birthday the night before. Our massages were at 4.15pm but we met at 3.30pm and chatted in the relaxation room until our appointments began. Luckily there was nobody else in the room! After our massages, we carried on talking until 7pm before deciding it was time to get ready and go home. I got home, ordered some sushi and got into my pajamas.

I was home on Saturday, doing some work and generally lazing around. In the evening, my friend picked me up for our usual walk on the beach. We got there a bit later than usual but still managed to catch a gorgeous sunset! I was home by 7.15pm and had a relaxing evening at home.

I love my life.

For more updates, click here.

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Dubai 2015: Week 47

I was home all day on Sunday until the evening when I went to a Sculpt Yoga class at Rawr Yoga in Media City. The class is run by Chandra, my friend who organises the Jamaican yoga retreats, so I went along and then the two of us had dinner together afterwards. We went to Circle Cafe in the CNN Building in Media City. The weather was lovely so we sat outside. I ordered a fresh juice (carrot, ginger, orange) and an Asian chicken salad. Chandra ordered the green juice and the goat’s cheese salad. The portions were huge! I’d heard a lot about Circle Cafe and was glad I could finally try it.

I had a session with Pete on Monday morning and a piano lesson that afternoon. After my piano lesson, I had a massage at Spa Zen at the Nassima Royal Hotel. I’d booked a 90-minute massage and it was just fantastic. I think I even fell asleep at one point. I didn’t want to get up and go home when it was over!

I was home all day on Tuesday until the evening. I joined a friend at her swing yoga class at Voyoga in Tecom. Oh. My. Goodness. It was really tough!

I didn’t have my session with Pete on Wednesday as the gym in our building is closed while they give it a makeover. That afternoon, I went to a secondhand bookshop called House of Prose in Jumeirah Plaza (shop 5-B). I’d been looking for somewhere to donate some books and a friend told me that they buy books from you. I took about fifteen books and the lady in the shop went through them while I browsed the shelves (dangerous).

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She told me they only buy the books they need – and the ones that they don’t need can be donated to charity. Perfect! She also told me that whatever books I bought from them could be returned and I’d get a 50% refund. Amazing! I did end up buying a book (I just couldn’t help myself).

My parents got back from India on Wednesday evening so I spent the evening at home with them. I was home all day on Thursday too – I went to the gym in the morning but worked the rest of the day.

On Friday I was out for brunch with some new friends at Hanaaya at the Jumeirah Mina A’Salam. What a spread! I stuck to sushi and the Lebanese stuff – I probably should have eaten more as I had a lot of wine. After brunch we walked over to Bahri Bar and had a few more drinks there.

I didn’t know this but they have a little turtle rehabilitation project at the Mina A’Salam and you can watch the turtles at play…

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I got home at around 7.30pm and then had dinner with my parents at Yabani at City Walk.

I spent all of Saturday at home, in my pajamas ūüôā

I love my life.

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Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2015

The Literature Festival is definitely my favourite event in the Dubai calendar and I look forward to it every year like most women look forward to the Harrods sale. I became a ‘friend’ of the Festival last year and decided it was worth doing again: you get use of the outdoor lounge, complimentary tea and coffee, reserved first and second row seating at all events and early discounted booking on all Festival events. I bought my tickets in January and once again, couldn’t wait for March! I’d booked four sessions on the Friday (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Markus Zusak, David Nicholls and Jung Chang).

On Thursday night I sorted out my books – I had three books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun, That Thing Around Your Neck), The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Us and The Understudy by David Nicholls, and Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I took them all with me on Friday so I could get my copies signed!

My first thought when I got to the Festival this year was that it was packed. Much more crowded than the year before. I got in the queue to see Chimamanda. Her session was from 11.30 to 12.30 – and she spoke to a room of 500 people bursting at the seams. I had a front row seat, but a little to the side, and I recorded the session on my phone but the quality wasn’t great so when I find a YouTube video of it, I’ll post it here. After listening to her talk, I feel like rereading everything she’s ever written.

After the session, I got into a seriously long queue for her to sign my books. I had a dilemma at that point. The Markus Zusak session was starting at 1pm and it was already 12.45 and I was nowhere near the front of the line to meet Chimamanda. I ended up skipping the session with Markus Zusak and waited in line. An hour later, I finally got to meet her and she signed my books. I told her I’d grown up in Nigeria. ‘Really?? Where?’ she asked. ‘In Lagos,’ I replied. ‘Wow! What school did you go to?’ ‘The American School.’ We chatted for a few minutes and then our time was up. (At 2pm, Chimamanda stopped signing books – not because the queue had come to an end, but because she had another meeting and they needed the space she was at for another author whose session was ending.)

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By this time it was 1.40pm so I got into the queue to meet Markus Zusak. As his session hadn’t finished yet, there was no queue and I was third in line. The woman at the front of the queue looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. ‘Amreeta?’ she asked. ‘Er… yes?’ I had no idea who this person was. And then she introduced herself – she was someone I’d been to school with. In Lagos. At the American School. Which I’d just been talking about with Chimamanda. Is there such a thing as coincidence? I hadn’t seen her since I was 11 – we’re Facebook friends but hadn’t really kept in touch, and when I moved to Dubai we spoke on the phone a couple of times but never got round to meeting. I wouldn’t have recognised her at all. We chatted until Markus Zusak showed up – he signed my copy of The Book Thief and I went to meet my friends for lunch.

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We thought we’d go to Jamie’s Italian (where we ended up last year) only to find that it had closed down. Most of the waterfront area seemed to be under construction so we ended up eating at Choix at the Intercontinental. I would not go back there again. The service was terrible, the portions were tiny and they didn’t serve any alcohol. The three of us ended up ordering the risotto – and when it came, the portion was so small you could eat the whole thing in four bites. After ‘lunch’, we decided to go to Vista, the bar, for a drink – as our next session wasn’t until 4.30pm. We got a table outside and ordered some Pinot Grigio. The waiter poured us a taster but it wasn’t chilled so we sent it back. The next bottle he brought still wasn’t cold (I’m pretty sure it was the same bottle) but by this point I’d given up on every restaurant/cafe at the hotel. We drank our wine and then went to the David Nicholls session.

I’d seen him in 2012, the first time I’d gone to the Festival – and he was just as funny. I didn’t record the session but now I wish I had. I did meet him afterwards and signed my two books for me.

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The last session I went to on the Friday was with Jung Chang. I’d read Wild Swans when I was 20 and still had my copy from back then. I’d started reading Mao: The Unknown Story when it was first published but I really had no idea what was going on and I gave up about 40 pages in. This session was about Chang’s latest book Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. I hadn’t read the book but it sounds like a period in Chinese history that is so fascinating – I’ve added the book to my list. I also managed to record the session and met Jung Chang afterwards – she signed my old tattered copy of Wild Swans.

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When I was younger I used to write my name in all my books – but these days I’d rather the authors did it themselves ūüėČ

It was a fantastic day out – and I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Dubai 2013: Week 37

I had a really busy week with work and it was a heavy social week too!

After my session with Randy on Sunday, I had a few errands to run – send out a transfer from Standard Chartered Bank in Mankhool, pay one of my mum’s bills in Karama, and meet a friend for lunch at the Dubai Mall. I actually got to the mall early and browsed in Kinokuniya (dangerous!) – I ended up buying the new Jhumpa Lahiri book. I met my friend for lunch at Shake Shack. It’s just opened and is on the first floor next to the Waterfall.

I’d never been to Shake Shack but my visit to Burger Fuel over the weekend had whet my appetite for another hamburger. I mentioned I was early, but my friend was running late so by the time we ordered I was famished. I had the double Shackburger and fries. And a diet Pepsi (ha!).

Double Shackburger and fries (and diet Pepsi!)

Double Shackburger and fries (and diet Pepsi!)

It was so good but as I was eating it I could see the grease dripping out of it onto my tray. Definitely for cheat days only!

I worked the rest of the day. That afternoon I got a call from the bank to say that the IBAN number I’d provided on the transfer form was wrong and I’d have to come in and submit a new form. For goodness’ sake – isn’t that something the woman checking and stamping the form is supposed to do? When I went back on Monday with a new form and the correct IBAN number, she said, ‘Oh, you’re back again.’ ‘Yes, stupid. If you’d done your job properly I wouldn’t be here,’ I replied. Well, OK, no, I didn’t say that. But I sent that to her telepathically.

I woke up on Tuesday feeling feverish and my throat was scratchy. Great. I took some Panadol and felt better for a while. I had a piano lesson on Tuesday afternoon. I’m still working on ‘When I Was Your Man’ and ‘Primavera’. My teacher also gave me the music for¬†L.O.V.E by Nat King Cole and told me to ‘play around with it’.

That evening a friend and I went to Karma Kafe at Souk Al Bahar. They were launching an event called ‘Sake in the City’, an after-work alternative to ladies’ night every Tuesday. Women get three tokens for free drinks (either wine or a choice of three sake-based cocktails) and there’s also 50% off selected items from their a la carte menu all evening. We got there at 7pm and ordered some cocktails. I can’t remember what the cocktail I had was called but it had sake, vodka, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, lime and who knows what else. It was yummy. We also ordered some food – edamame, spicy tuna rolls and a dim sum basket. A little while after we got there the two women on the next table said they were leaving and gave us four of their tokens. We ordered some more drinks (I stuck to the cocktail the whole evening while my friend switched to Pinot Grigio) and some crispy duck rolls. We basically had four drinks each – we didn’t get round to using all our tokens! When the bill came we each paid… AED80. That’s just under ¬£14. How crazy is that? I think we’ll be going back there a lot! There were a few photographers there from various magazines and we had our photo taken a few times.

I still wasn’t feeling great on Wednesday but really fancied some pasta from Vapiano so I went to the mall for lunch and came straight home.

I felt better on Thursday and went to wine club at the Sheraton MoE that evening. The first three wines were white, the next three were red. I didn’t particularly like any of them. I tried the first white and thought ‘Ugh, this is Chardonnay.’ I tried the second and third and thought the same thing. Surely they wouldn’t have three Chardonnays in one night? My fears were confirmed at the end of the evening when all the wines were uncovered:

  • Catena Chardonnay from Argentina. Ripe tropical flavours, white stone fruit and citrus notes, lively floral notes, strong mineral character and excellent acidity.
  • Finca el Origen from Argentina. Bright greenish yellow in colour, aromas of tropical fruit, pineapple and melon, light floral and citrus. Round velvety texture on the palate, a refreshing acidity and elegant finish.
  • Kumeu River Chardonnay from New Zealand. Elegant citrus and peach fruit aromas, along with a touch of hazelnut that is typical of quality Chardonnay. The palate also shows nice ripe peach flavours with fine, flinty acidity that gives the wine a refreshing long finish. This wine is perfect to drink with fish and shellfish.
  • Robert Giraud La Collection Saint-Emilion from Bordeaux, France. Seek out a rich dark ruby colour, aromas of blackberries and other fruit mingles with oak and a little spice. On the palate, a moderate body with a medium finish. The palate should confirm fruit found on the nose.
  • Chateau de Moulin Neuf from Bordeaux, France. A well-crafted authentic Left Bank Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (for structure and power) smoothed with elegance and finesse of Merlot. Deep red appearance with ruby highlights. Reveals delicate aromas of ripe raspberry and blackberry, with hints of soft spices. Melting tannins introduce a well-structured wine on the palate, with a great balance and dark fruit flavours. Its elegant length makes it a great accompaniment for roasted or grilled meat and soft cheeses.
  • Montes Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. The classic series-intense ruby-red colour. The nose has layer upon layer of caramel, cinnamon and candy with hints of mint, but without any dominance of oak. A spicy, full-flavoured wine, with good body, fruit and firm tannins and an engaging strong finish. Drink now or cellar for a few years.

After wine club a few of us went to Vantage, also at the Sheraton, where we ordered more wine and were there until closing. On the way home, three of us stopped at Burger Fuel for a bite to eat.

I felt like hell on Friday. I was home all day and would have happily stayed home all night but had a friend’s 40th to go to. I met my cousin at the Fairmont where the two of us and one of her friends had a drink before heading to the party – in the ballroom of the new Oberoi hotel. There must have been at least 200 people there – and several of them were from out of town. I met people I hadn’t seen in years and had completely forgotten about! At the beginning of the evening, I really wasn’t sure how long I would last – my head was aching and I was so tired. But after a few glasses of champagne, I got my second wind and was actually there until 5am! The DJ was amazing – he played loads of Prince – and I told several people I’d seen Prince in concert nine times (whether or not they were interested). Ha! When we left at 5am, the party was still going strong, champagne was still flowing and breakfast was being served (omelettes and shawarmas).

If I thought I felt like hell on Friday, I felt even worse on Saturday. And I had a cough. My original plan had been to spend the day at the Radisson Royal and have a massage in the evening. When I woke up, the last thing I felt like doing was sitting out in the hot sun with a pounding headache. I ordered some Chinese food for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon in bed. Dad arrived that evening so I spent some time catching up with him before going back to bed!

I love my life.

For more updates, click here.

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20 books in 2013

For the last 2 years I’ve aimed to read 20 books a year. I almost made it in 2011 (I got to 19). I thought that once I moved to Dubai I’d have more time to read but in 2012 I read only 11.5 books (that’s not even one a month – pathetic).

This year, however, I’m pleased to say I’m well ahead of target – I’ve finished 13 books this year, six of those in June!

Fall Giants

I started Fall of Giants by Ken Follett late last year and finished it in January. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who wants book recommendations (along with Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End). This summer I’m going to read Winter of the World (once I finish my current book).

Brande

I then read Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. I read this many years ago, but thought it was time to re-read it. I’ve decided this will be the first book I read every year (so from now on I don’t think I’ll include it in my ’20 books a year’ goal).

Tan Twan Eng

I wanted to read The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng before going to the Emirates Literature Festival. He has become one of my favourite writers and I’m waiting for his next book! It was fantastic to meet him and I got him to sign my copy of the book along with The Gift of Rain.

Understudy

My cousin in London lent me her copy of The Understudy by David Nicholls while I was there earlier this year. I laughed out loud a lot – and a good laugh was just what I needed at that time.

Circus

In March/April, I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I enjoyed reading it at the time but when I look back at it a couple of months later, I don’t really remember much about it. Yes, the circus comes to town, it pops out of nowhere, people never age, there’s a weird challenge between magicians…

Monk

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma was next. I’d heard about this book over the last few years and finally decided to read it. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. I thought the message Sharma was trying to convey was great, but I felt it could have been presented in a different manner. As a writer (almost) I struggle with dialogue. The thought of writing an entire book based on a conversation between two people over one night would fill me with dread. I’m glad I read it, but it was a little disappointing.

Wonderland

I got several books for my birthday. One of them was Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I started reading it, thinking it was set in the 2000s (if not later) and was surprised to find that it was originally published in 1985. The ideas in this man’s head astonish me. It’s a sci-fi mystery – with two stories being told at the same time in alternating chapters: a data processor recruited by a mad scientist who lives in a cave. The scientist and his granddaughter ask the man to help them avoid the end of the world. The other story is about a man arriving in a quiet village surrounded entirely by walls and fields where unicorns graze. This man is forced to leave his shadow outside the village walls where it will surely die on its own. Bizarre stuff but I loved reading it. I’m still not sure I get how the two stories are linked but I keep thinking about it.

And then came June. I’ve read a lot this month, partly because I’ve spent most of my weekends (and some weekdays!) by the pool with a book.

Gatsby

I was in two minds about seeing The Great Gatsby and knew I’d want to read it before I saw it. Can you imagine I’d never read it? After reading it I decided that I wouldn’t see the movie – some people have raved about it, some have said it has absolutely nothing to do with the book. Maybe I’ll watch it one day. ‘Gatsby’ fever has even hit my piano teacher – I’m learning ‘Young and Beautiful’ by Lana del Rey in my piano lessons!

Monkey Business

Another book I got for my birthday was Monkey Business by John Rolfe and Peter Troob. It’s not something I would have chosen to read but I think this friend wanted to introduce me to the world of finance (and then borrow the book!). I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. I read the book in 5 days – I didn’t want to put it down. It did make me wonder why anyone would want to work in banking. I laughed out loud in parts. My favourite paragraph was this:

As the crowd continued to pour a river of liquor down its collective throat, the dance floor began to fill up. The spectacle that ensued was solid evidence that if there’s one thing that money can’t buy, it’s rhythm. When it comes to pure foolishness, a room full of drunk investment bankers prancing around a dance floor pushes the limits of the imagination. To this day I pray that it’s a sign the civilized world will never be forced to witness.

Hilarious!

Gone Girl

I did a short creative writing course in June, and in the first session the woman conducting the course said she had finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and couldn’t put it down. I’d bought it when I was in London in February and started reading it that weekend. She was right – it was a gripping story. Basically, a man’s wife goes missing on their 5th anniversary, there are signs of a struggle at their home, all the evidence points to him, but is he really a killer? I won’t ruin it for readers who haven’t read it, but I thought the end was a little disappointing but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I read the next two books in the space of 3 days.

Headhunters

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo was an easy read. It’s about a man who’s Norway’s most successful headhunter but also an accomplished art thief. He’s introduced to a potential client who claims to own one of the most sought-after paintings in modern art history and he plans to steal it. I couldn’t put this down – I read it in 2 days. It’s very different from the Harry Hole series (The Snowman, The Leopard) but just as thrilling.

Dinner

I read The Dinner by Herman Koch in one afternoon by the pool. Two couples meet for dinner at a trendy Amsterdam restaurant to talk about their children. Each couple has a 15-year-old son – the two boys are united by a horrific act which was captured on camera, posted on YouTube, and has launched a police investigation. What starts out as a civilised evening soon disintegrates as each couple shows how far they’re willing to go to protect their children.

Hosseini

Two nights ago I finished reading And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I bought it in Kinokuniya a few weeks ago (with two other books – I really should not be allowed in there!). It begins in a small village in Afghanistan in the early 1950s. Abdullah and his sister Pari are children from their father’s first marriage and they have a very close bond. One day their father takes them to Kabul – they have no idea that their lives will be torn apart, never to be the same. The novel takes the readers through generations and continents – Kabul, Paris, San Francisco, the Greek island of Tinos – up to the present day. Family bonds, sacrifices, choices – it’s all here. It’s a great read, but I didn’t think it was as good as A Thousand Splendid Suns.

So, that’s where I am! I’ve just started reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I’m slowly working my way through my unread books…

I’m sure the website goodreads.com isn’t new to most of you – I’ve been using it for a few years. I recently downloaded their Android app though – and it’s fantastic. It has a barcode scanner so you can just scan the barcode of the book you’re reading (or want to read) and it brings up the details of the book. No more searching for authors/titles/editions!

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Dubai: Week 39

It started off as a quiet week but soon changed!

I had a session with Randy on Sunday morning and then decided that as I’d spent most of the weekend working I wasn’t going to do any work that day. I sat by the pool for a while, I got into bed and read my book. I did check my work email once but didn’t reply to any messages or do anything else work-related.

On Monday night I went out with a friend and a few of her friends. I’d met two of them before, at the end of September when we went to Karma Kafe, but the other two were new to me. Six of us met at La Petite Maison. We had a drink at the bar and then moved to our table. There was lots of burrata. We also ordered a bottle of¬†ros√©. The waiter came back to say that they didn’t have the regular size available but would we like the magnum? Why, yes. Yes, we would. The guy sitting on my right was concerned that it might be too much wine, but we finished the wine before we even finished our main course. We then decided to switch to Tomatinis (tomato martinis). I’d never tried one, but the girl on my left let me try hers before I ordered mine. Wow. No wonder she didn’t want any wine! It’s like a chilled gazpacho sprinkled with black pepper. I had two. After dinner we decided we’d order dessert at the bar. We switched to vodkas with soda. I had two. It was a fun evening. It was just what I needed. It was also the most expensive meal I have ever had in my life!

I woke up on Tuesday with a headache. I got out of bed to make some tea but got back in for the rest of the morning. I had a conference call with the new publishers that afternoon – the three women I spoke to seemed pleasant and professional. When I asked them how long they thought they would need me, they said it would be about 4 to 6 months – which is better than what I’d imagined.

That night my cousin and I went to The Meat Co at Madinat Jumeirah for dinner. We both had steaks – I had mine with a jacket potato, she had the mashed potatoes. I hadn’t planned on drinking alcohol but ended up having some red wine with dinner. It was a nice evening – and we saved 100 dirhams each as I had an Entertainer voucher for the restaurant.

On Wednesday I had a meeting with a potential piano teacher. I finally got round to calling him on Monday and he suggested I meet him for a chat and he could explain his teaching method. My appointment was supposed to be at noon. I was walking towards the car when I got a text from him asking if we could postpone to either later on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday afternoon. I called him and said I couldn’t do either of those times. We eventually agreed to meet at 12.30 – in the meantime I went to the supermarket, dropped my groceries off at home and then went to meet the teacher. His studio is in Saeed Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road – very convenient for me! I got there a bit early but he hadn’t arrived yet so I waited in the corridor. He was 10 minutes late.

Anyway, we sat down and he explained that he didn’t have a conservative method of teaching music. He said that as adults, people expect to progress faster and he had a method which would get people playing immediately. I was a classically trained pianist (even though I haven’t played properly in 20 years) and my old piano teacher would probably be turning in her grave if she heard what he said! I spent hours practising scales – major, minor, chromatic, a third apart; arpeggios; tearing pieces of music apart bar by bar – hands separately, then together. Hours. He told me he didn’t teach that way but he did say that his method would have may playing all my old clasical pieces on my own quickly. Of course I want to play all the George Michael and Prince in the world, but I still love Chopin and Schubert and would like to get back to that level at some point.

He made me sit at the piano – he asked me to play something I could remember, just so he could see how my hands moved. I couldn’t remember much but played a few bars of a Chopin waltz. He then played some chords and asked me to sing the notes back to him. He then asked me to play a Mozart piece that was open on the stand in front of me. He said I would progress quickly and that daily practice would be important. I wasn’t sure how his method of teaching would work for me but I decided there was only one way to find out. I’m scheduled for lessons every Tuesday afternoon from now until the end of the year. I may even upload some recordings later on… You have been warned.

I met NP for lunch on Thursday. I’d been craving Jones the Grocer so we went there. It was good to see her and catch up – I hadn’t seen her since our dinner at Zuma soon after I got back from Bali. I couldn’t decide what to have but each time I’ve been there I’ve told myself that next time I’ll have the Wagyu burger. We both ended up having that – it was fantastic. I don’t think I’d have it every time I went there, but I’m glad I finally tried it.

That night was wine club. This month it was held at Origami at the Radisson Royal on Sheikh Zayed Road – convenient for me! The venue was nice – a big room, round tables, and it was for wine club members only. The wines were average – there weren’t any that I particularly loved, and there were a couple that I really didn’t like (but still drank, of course). The wines were:

  • Veuve de Vernay Brut Sparkling Wine-NV: Pale straw in colour, fresh, fruity and floral on the nose. The palate is full with delicate apple and pear fruit flavours complimented by smooth velvety bubbles. This wine is perfect served as an aperitif or with salads, fish, white meats and fruit desserts. Colombard 40%, Sauvignon Blanc 40%, Chardonnay 20%
  • Lamberti Pinot Grigio: Very crisp, a little light, citric, bright and clear, if somewhat short in the finish. Pair with light foods or as an aperitif
  • Robert Mondavi Private Chardonnay: These Central Coast of California Chardonnay grapes enjoyed an extended period maturing on the vine, resulting in fruit with impressively concentrated flavours and richness. Serve with light meats or cheese dishes (Chardonnay? Enough said)
  • Sidi Brahim Rose: Made in North Africa, bottled in France. Second most popular selling imported brand of wine in France as of 2005 (I can’t think why). Made in a New World fruity style. Consists of 40% Cinsault grapes and 60% Grenache Gris
  • Robert Mondavi Private Pinot Noir: On the nose, lovely rose petal, violet, and red cherry aromas mingle with complementary scents of smoky vanilla and nutmeg. Very soft and round with good length and richness on the palate, the wine displays supple, silky berry and cherry jam flavours
  • Antares Merlot: From Chile’s Valle Central, a major grape-growing and wine-making region of central Chile. ‘Lovely, sweet and complex cassis fruit. Delicious follow-through – a perfect glass for uncomplicated pleasure’ (Lies)

As usual there was some mingling at the end, and I ended up going to Icho, the bar at the top of the hotel, with a couple of people where we had even more wine…

I spent all of Friday in my pajamas. It was awesome.

I thought I’d venture out on Saturday so I went to the Dubai Mall. I had lunch at Vapiano and then browsed in Kinokuniya (the book store) for ages. I walked from one end to the other, just checking out what they had: a ridiculous amount of books on how to have a healthy relationship or a ‘happy’ divorce, business books (How to Make Partner and Still Have a Life – I’m serious), the usual fiction (including the 50 Shades trilogy which I thought was banned here), and I was surprised to see they even had a small Tarot section (but I have most of those already).

After that I went over to a friend’s place for a cup of tea and then headed home. I was supposed to be out for dinner but that was cancelled at the last minute – which was annoying, but c’est la vie.

I love my life.

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Dubai: Week 35

What a busy week! I had my usual work and gym sessions but it was pretty busy otherwise as well.

On Sunday afternoon, Mum and I decided to go out for lunch. We ended up at the Cheesecake Factory – I really enjoyed their herb-crusted salmon the last time we went and I wanted it again! We shared the spinach and cheese dip as a starter and then I got my salmon. Mum ordered the Caesar salad – and even though she ordered the starter portion she had trouble finishing it. The portions are huge there! We skipped dessert though – we were both very full.

That night my cousin invited me to her book group as a one-off. She had asked me when I moved to Dubai whether I wanted to join them but I declined. She had told me they weren’t a serious group and I wasn’t sure it was for me. Anyway, the reason I went on Sunday was because they were discussing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and I’d already read it a few years ago for my book group in London. I told her to let me know when she finished it so we could talk about it – so she invited me to join them. It’s a fantastic book – if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do so. It’s a quick read and even though I¬†read it in 2 days, I haven’t been able to forget it.

I knew all the girls at book group already, apart from one. There was wine and appetisers followed by a full dinner. We discussed the book from time to time, and there was also more discussion about schools, Diwali, and 50 Shades of Grey. I think the trouble with meeting for the entire evening is that it’s easy to digress and come back to the book (several times). I much prefer book groups where you meet for an hour or so, discuss the book, and hang around at the end if you want to. I didn’t get home until midnight.

Monday was uneventful.

On Tuesday night I had dinner at Spectrum at the Fairmont with two of my cousins. It was quite crowded. We skipped the starters and ordered main courses only: black pepper beef, Thai green chicken curry, pad thai. We didn’t have dessert either. After dinner I rushed home to collect a parcel and then went back to the Fairmont to meet a friend who was leaving for London that night. We had a drink at Bridges, the sports bar at the Fairmont. I was home by midnight.

I didn’t sleep very well on Tuesday night and was quite tired on Wednesday. It was a long weekend here in Dubai, due to the Eid holidays. Thursday and Sunday were both holidays.

I stayed in on Wednesday night – I was in bed by 11 and passed out by midnight.

I was home for most of Thursday. That night a friend invited me to someone’s house party in Marina. It was a fun evening – but you would think I’d have learned by now not to mix my drinks. At about 2am, six of us headed to Amika at the H Hotel for more drinks and dancing. We left when they closed and I got home after 3.30am.

I was up earlyish on Friday but then went back to sleep as my eyes were burning! I eventually got out of bed at 1pm. All I wanted was houmous – it’s my new favourite hangover food.

Mum had some errands to run so I went to Mercato with her at about 5pm. After that we walked over to Choithram’s to pick up a couple of things for her trip to Jamaica and waited for a cab on the main road. There were none. We waited 20 minutes and then decided we’d start walking. Mum suggested going back to Mercato and waiting for a cab there but I’d seen the queue for taxis when we left and it would have been even longer an hour later.

We ended up walking home. It took about 40 minutes which is fine, but it was hot. We were sweaty and my hair looked like a nest. We got home just after 7pm, I got ready to see Enrique and then left a bit before 8pm.

At midnight after the concert, my friend insisted I go to a house party in Rashidiya with her. I wasn’t even dressed for a party – I was in jeans and a top. Plus, I was tired after walking home and standing throughout the concert. She told me that the guy whose house it was worked in the restaurant industry and there would be good food there. That worked. I’d barely eaten anything all day and I told her I’d go for one drink only.

Well, that’s not what happened. We got there, I sat at their bar and was spoiled rotten by flowing champagne and dim sum, and a fun group of people. Guests included: a sommelier at a top Dubai restaurant, a chef at another top Dubai restaurant, an Emirates pilot, and several other interesting people who were very welcoming.

I got home at 5.30am. What a night!

Saturday was painful. I’d only slept 3 hours and we were meeting my cousins for lunch at the Dubai Mall. The mall was a zoo – we ended up having lunch at PF Chang, outdoors. It was quite nice but I could barely string a sentence together and just wanted to be left in my zombie-like state. When I got home I got back into bed and tried to nap.

That night my cousin and I had dinner at Spectrum (yes, again). We ordered a bottle of wine – I couldn’t believe I was going to drink again after the two nights I’d had. We had the hot mezze platter to start and shared a chicken biryani for our main course. I was home by midnight.

I love my life.

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Review: The Other Hand

Cover_-_cleave

I’d never heard of this book or its author, Chris Cleave. I was in the bookshop at Dubai Airport in April, waiting for my mum and grandmother to come out of Customs, and I saw this. I read the blurb on the back. It told me nothing

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there… 

Intriguing. 

I don’t think knowing a little about what the book was about would have ruined it for me. It wouldn’t have stopped me from buying it. Anyway, it’s about two women: one is a Nigerian refugee in the UK, the other is an editor for a popular magazine. It’s about the day they met, and how their meeting changed their lives. 

I was hooked from the beginning. I started reading it by the pool and before I knew it, I’d read one-third of it. I read the whole book in four sittings. I didn’t want to put it down because I had no idea what was going to happen next. It has so far been the best book I’ve read in 2012 and it will haunt me for some time to come.

And that’s seven of 20 books I intend to read in 2012. And because I bought it this year it doesn’t count towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

 

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