Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

Dubai 2013: Week 28

I started my Beginners II Arabic course on Sunday morning. It was an intensive Ramadan term – 30 hours in 4 weeks. I didn’t want to wait until September as I thought I would forget what I’d learned, especially the alphabet! I also knew I’d be travelling in October and would miss about 3 weeks of classes – which seemed pointless. So I thought I’d continue while it was still fresh in my mind. I had originally signed up for the 12-2pm class which would take place four times a week from Sunday to Wednesday. About a week before the course was due to start I was told that there hadn’t been enough demand for that time slot and the only other one available was from 9-11am. Jesus, I thought. It would probably kill me, but I decided to go for it anyway.

Luckily I had the same teacher as my Beginners I course – and I think she’s a great teacher. It was a full a class – 12 people from all over – India, Pakistan, Venezuela, Brazil, the UK, Poland, Spain, Turkey. Our first session consisted of revision of what we had learned in Beginners I – it had only been 10 days since my last class but it’s shocking how quickly I had forgotten a few things. As it was Ramadan, we weren’t allowed to eat or drink in the classroom. I was used to making a cup of tea in the break and sipping it throughout the second half of the lesson but I couldn’t do that any more.

After Arabic I had a session with Randy and then worked the rest of the day.

In Monday’s Arabic class we did some more revision and learned a few new things:

  • Directions – what area you live in, what building, next to/opposite, road/street, turn

Our teacher told us that after the first week of Beginners II she would no longer write in phonetics and all her writing on the overhead projector would be in Arabic. Uh-oh.

Tuesday was a busy day. We learned more new things in Arabic:

  • More directions – close to/far from, roundabout, airport, traffic, flat/apartment, giving directions to your home

I had a piano lesson that afternoon. I had paid for the whole month (five lessons) but my piano teacher told me he’d be travelling the following week and wanted to cram three lessons into the same week. I didn’t mind having two lessons that week, but three seemed a bit much!

That evening I went to an Iftar at Mizaan at the H Hotel. I can see why people don’t lose weight over Ramadan. The selection of food is astonishing. And the desserts were incredible – not just Arabic dessert either – cheesecake, wheat-free chocolate cake, regular chocolate cake, it was all there. After dinner we decided to have a drink at the bar just off the lobby – One on One. It was freezing in there. I had a glass of wine and went home. I was tired and had to be up early the next day.

More Arabic on Wednesday! We learned:

  • More directions – first, second, third, floor, ground floor, in front/behind, straight
  • Verb conjugations
  • More random vocabulary – hotel, tax, trade centre, language(s), to know, to travel

That afternoon I met up with my cousin and his wife and kids who were visiting Dubai for a few days.

That night I met another cousin for dinner. We went to PF Chang and had our usual favourites – hot and sour soup, dynamite shrimp, Mongolian lamb, brown rice. The menu never changes.

We ended up at The Cheesecake Factory for dessert. I had the Red Velvet Cheesecake and felt quite sick afterwards.

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I had my second piano lesson of the week on Thursday – it would be my last one for a month. I’d felt like I’d been making some progress over the last couple of months and thought a month of no lessons wouldn’t be good for me!

That evening I went to wine club. We’d been told that because of summer and Ramadan there wouldn’t be another wine club until September but demand was so high that the organisers arranged for wine club to take place without them! It was held at Vintage at Wafi Pyramids. The format was a little different – instead of having people sitting at tables of 10 as usual, we were given six tokens (labelled A to F) and had to go to the bar to collect our drinks when we were ready. I think many people (myself included) weren’t happy with the quantity of wine being served – at a table you get one-tenth of a bottle but here we were lucky if we got one-tenth of a glass! And I didn’t really enjoy any of the wines we had:

  • Rosemount ‘O’ Moscato (Australia) – spicy, grapefruit aromas. Palate delicately sparkling this wine displays luscious, sweet fruit flavours with beautifully balanced acidity – like biting into a cool, crisp grape. A light, fresh and zesty style with fruit sweetness ensuring flavour, balance and intensity are retained when served over ice.
  • Boukenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge Viognier Grenache Blanc (Coastal Region, South Africa) – an unusual blend of white grapes, reminiscent of a Rhone blend, partially fermented in French oak. The aromas of ripe apricots and spicy floral aromas dominate the nose, while the palate is made more crisp by the Grenache Blanc, with a streak of minerality.
  • Yalumba Viognier (Barossa Valley, Australia) – this is a full-bodied dry white, with a gorgeously perfumed floral scent and a ripe, peach and apricot fruit, with a silky palate-feel.
  • Nicolas Rossignol Bourgogne Rouge (France) – 100% Pinot Noir. The fruits are soft and silky in the mouth with a touch of raspberry with fine tannins. The finish is firm but fresh. Excellent pairing with game, red meats, roasted vegetables and risotto.
  • Dourthe La Terrase de la Garde (AOC, Pessac Leognac, France) – intense ruby red in colour. The typical Pessac-Leognan bouquet offers abundant fruit-laden character, revealing black cherries, plum and a trace of smoke, lifted with a hint of spice. Generous and dense on the palate, with a noticeable tannic structure, with no hint of aggressive character, evolving towards a powerful, savoury finish.
  • Marques de Caceres Reserva (DOC Rioja, Spain) – a dense bouquet of toasted aromas, red and black berries, luscious fruits and spices with a rich, layered body of spicy black fruits and succulent red fruits with integrated tannins, fresh acidity.

We stayed on for a while, ordering a couple of bottles of wine for a few of us, and some food. I met the manager, a lovely Spanish lady and we had a long conversation in Spanish. I always speak better Spanish after a few drinks – I think it unlocks a part of my brain and I suddenly start remembering random vocabulary! After we left Vintage, four of us ended up at McGettigan’s. It was a really fun evening.

Friday morning was not so fun. I felt like hell. A friend and I had booked massages at the Palace Hotel for later that afternoon. We met at 4.15pm and went to the spa.

The relaxation room

The relaxation room

My 80-minute massage was amazing. When I was finished I was lying down in the relaxation room when a woman walked in. I was a bit bleary-eyed from my massage and thought it was my friend when she lay on the bed next to mine. I looked closer and realised that it wasn’t her at all. We started talking – she asked me if I was staying at the hotel (she was), I asked her where she was from (Kenya), when I told her I grew up in Nigeria she mentioned someone else she knew who grew up in Nigeria but who now lives in Hong Kong. It turned out that she knew a very good friend of mine who I’ve known since we were babies! This is the same friend who stayed with me in June… What a small world! We swapped numbers – my friend and I invited her to join us for dinner later but she was jetlagged.

My friend and I decided to get ready. I saw this notice in the changing room:

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We walked to Souk Al Bahar and ended up at Left Bank. We got there just as the cannon went off and she started sipping her water. We both ordered the fish and chips (a huge portion which I couldn’t finish). I was surprised when my friend asked the waitress what time they started serving alcohol because she was fasting! I guess everyone interprets the rules differently. I asked her how she could drink and then fast the following day – wouldn’t she be hydrated? She said that she would go home, have 2 litres of water and be fine the next day. One of my friends joined us for a drink and we ended up ordering a bottle of the rose. Another friend also joined us after a little while.

After dinner we walked over to Karma Kafe but decided we wouldn’t stay there. We ended up having cocktails at Sake No Hana. I’d heard mixed things about the food, and sure enough the restaurant area was quite empty, but the bar is lovely! I’d definitely go back again. It wasn’t a heavy night and I was home by 12.30.

I spent all of Saturday at home, catching up on work. My Mum arrived from India that evening so we spent the evening catching up.

I love my life.

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Dubai 2013: Week 19

What a week!

After my usual session with Randy on Sunday morning I met up with a friend for lunch. We thought we’d try Fuego, the new Mexican place at Souk Al Bahar. We got there a little after 2pm and apart from one other table, we were the only people in the restaurant. We ordered the Salsa Fresca (which was made at our table) and the Fuego Sampler (mushroom quesadillas, chicken flautas, homemade guacamole, tortilla chips and sour cream). For our main course we shared the beef fajitas. I thought the food was average. I’m not a huge fan of Mexican food though, so perhaps I’m not the best judge!

On Monday I had lunch with my cousins at PF Chang and then worked until the evening. I went to the fourth History of Islamic Art session which was all about Persian painting but covered Islamic book illustration all the way to miniatures. These are some of the things we talked about:

  • Calephs collected books – Islamic books, Greek texts, they had it all – and they translated everything into Arabic
  • Early Islamic books – the Koran of Ibn al-Bawwab (1000-1001), a calligrapher and illuminator; The Book of Fixed Stars (1009), an astronomical text; De Materia Medica by Dioscorides (13th century); Kalila wa Dimna (12th-13th centuries), a collection of morality tales
  • Ilkhanids – Rashid al-Din’s Compendium of Histories (Jami’ al-tawarikh) (14th century), an entire history of the world. It was produced in Soltaniyeh, Iran but there is no complete set in existence
  • Timurids – Book production expanded during this period; Diwan of Khwaju Kermani (1396), paintings by Junayd (you can see the Chinese influences here); Anthology of Poetry, Music and Chess by Baysunghur, a prince from the house of Timurids
  • Safavids – There were two centres of book production: Tabriz (bright and colourful) and Herat (more traditional); Rustam sleeps while Rakhsh fights the lion (1515-1522), attributed to Sultan Muhammad; Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness (1531-1533) from the Divan of Hafiz, attributed to Sultan Muhammad
  • The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) (1525-1535) – until 1959 a complete copy of this volume existed. It belonged to Edmond de Rothschild who had so carefully preserved the work that the miniatures had not even been exposed to light and  had remained intact in the same way that they had been made centuries ago. It was sold to Richard Houghton who dissected the book into sheets – he displayed several miniatures at the New York Metropolitan Museum and donated 88 miniatures to the museum to avoid paying the tax he owed to the US government. Some of it was auctioned at Christie’s. After Houghton’s death in 1990, the Houghton Foundation exchanged the remaining Shahnameh with De Kooning’s Lady No. 3 which had been rejected by Iranian officials for public display as they considered it anti-Islamic (but the Iranian government still owned it). Fascinating story!

I was home all day on Tuesday but Wednesday was busy!

My mum left for India that morning, I had a session with Randy, and I also had my first Arabic class that afternoon. I’d been meaning to take some lessons ever since I moved to Dubai but of course had done nothing about it for ages. I finally sprung into action and found out about classes. I eventually decided to go to the Arabic Language Centre in the World Trade Centre Tower. They had six sessions to choose from – ideally the afternoon class would have been great but it clashed with my piano lesson. I settled for the lunchtime class on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are 10 of us in the class (nine women and one man) and we are from everywhere: UK, India, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, USA, Korea, Australia, Russia. Amazing. Some have been here a few months, some have been here for years and finally decided to learn Arabic.

In my first class we learned how to say:

  • Hello
  • My name is…
  • What’s your name?
  • How are you? Fine, great
  • Nice to meet you
  • Thank you / you’re welcome
  • I want tea / coffee / water with / without milk / sugar
  • Other random vocabulary – left, right

We also learned four letters and practised reading and writing them. I love languages so I’m really going to enjoy this!

That evening I had my meditation class. It was a 2-hour class instead of the usual 1 hour. We did a meditation practice to begin with. It was called ‘Closing the curtains on the day’ where you take your mind back in 2-hour chunks (e.g. if you start your meditation practice at 7pm, you think back to what you were doing between 5 and 7pm, then you think back to what you were doing between 3 and 5pm, then you think back to what you were doing between 1 and 3pm, and so on. Once you’ve gone back to the time you woke up, you start moving forward. So, think ahead to what you’ll be doing between 7 and 9pm, and then between 9 and 11pm, and so on). It wasn’t my favourite meditation practice, I have to admit. Once the day is over, I usually don’t want to relive it!

In the second half of the class, our teacher had brought sandwiches and other snacks for us, and we listened to a selection of music we could listen to while meditating. The music was varied:

  • Classical (Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo, has always been one of my favourites)
  • Western devotional songs (Sarah Brightman singing Lloyd Webber’s ‘Pie Jesu’)
  • Eastern devotional chanting (Krishna Das)
  • ‘Spa’ music
  • Subliminal music
  • Synthesized music that imitates brain wave patterns coming into harmony (Meditation by Eberhard Schoener) – this actually made me feel like I was in an episode of ‘Lost’

After my class I went home and got ready for dinner (I told you it was a busy day!). I had dinner at Zuma with my dad and some of his friends. The food was fabulous as always and I’d have loved to have had a tuna tataki all to myself!

I had a piano lesson on Thursday afternoon and then had wine club that night.

I always look forward to wine club – it’s one of the best nights out each month – but this time it was awful. The venue chosen was the Media One Hotel in Media City:

  • The room was so dark, you couldn’t see who was on the next table
  • It was an L-shaped room so even if the lighting had been better, you wouldn’t have been able to find people you knew
  • The portions of food were ridiculously small – each table of 10 was given a platter containing 3-4 sliders, 3-4 pieces of sushi and 3-4 pieces of chicken
Wine club - it was so dark I could barely see my wine

Wine club – it was so dark I could barely see my wine

The wines we had were:

  • Folonari Soave, 2010 (Italy): pale straw colour; light citrus aromas; crisp citrus and mild almond flavours; crisp dry finish. Excellent as an aperitif, with light finger foods and seafood
  • Antares Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 (Chile): from the warm Central Valley, south of Santiago. This is a refreshing and floral wine, with tropical fruit flavours and mouth-watering crisp acidity. Pair with fish, shellfish, green salad, asparagus and artichokes
  • Italia Pinot Grigio Rose, 2011 (Italy, obviously): a delicious Pinot Grigio Rose showing delicate red fruit flavours. A true rose made from Pinot Grigio is a rarity, as it can only be made in years when the hot autumn sun turns the grape skins a copper colour. When pressed, the grapes give the wine a pale pink tinge, floral aromas and soft red fruit flavours. Perfect with fish-based pasta dishes
  • Chemin des Sables Rose, 2011 (French): still one of the Loire Valley’s most popular wines. Flavours of peach, strawberry and cherry in a light, easy drinking style. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau
  • Gabbiano Chianti Classico, 2009 (Italy): this matures in oak for 18 months to soften the tannins giving a complex wine that’s bold and spicy on the palate, and attractive berry aromas. Food pairing is best with pasta or red meat
  • Folonari Valpolicella, 2011 (Italy): sister to Bardolino but slightly further East. The spicy, cherry accents are much the same, with slightly more weight. A blend of Molinara and Corvina grapes. Pair with dark poultry, red meat, pasta and mature cheeses

We usually all catch up at the bar afterwards and go elsewhere but I just couldn’t wait to get out of there. Three of us went to the the poolside bar for a drink (The Dek on Eight – don’t even get me started about the spelling of ‘deck’). The crowd was quite young, but the music was great – lots of 80s and 90s music. We had a drink there and then went to Calabar to meet up with another friend and some of her friends. That was much better!

I was home all day on Friday, catching up on work. On Saturday I decided to have a massage at Spa Zen at the Radisson Royal. I went early, had lunch by the pool, read my book and then had a hot stone massage. Amazing afternoon.

That evening Dad and I went to see The Big Wedding. It had a good cast, but what a pile of shit. Still, I suppose it wasn’t as bad as Oblivion. We had Iranian kebabs for dinner and then headed home.

I love my life.

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Dubai 2013: Week 17

I got back from Vietnam late on Monday night. I was home by about 2.30 but chatted with my mum for a while before passing out. I can’t remember the last time I was so tired. I would have gladly spent all of Tuesday in bed but had a piano lesson that afternoon!

I also had loads of work to catch up on as I hadn’t done anything (including check my email) while I was away.

On Wednesday evening I went back to my meditation class. We started with another Tibetan breathing exercise, a standing one this time. It involved standing with your feet apart, and rocking from one foot to the other very slowly, extending one arm at a time, depending on which direction you were rocking in (if you’re moving to the right, extend your right arm). I preferred the walking meditation from the first week though.

We then talked about our experiences with the 4x4x4x4 meditation from the week before. I told the group I really hadn’t enjoyed it and the fact that I wasn’t supposed to inhale for 4 counts made me more stressed than anything else. The teacher explained why: inhaling equals life, exhaling equals death. We then talked about death and various religious/spiritual views on what happens to us once we die. We then did the meditation exercise we would have to practise for the week: alternate nostril breathing. I do this in yoga all the time but found this much more relaxing. I’ve noticed I sleep so much better on the days I go to my meditation class (and the days I manage to do the meditation exercises)!

On Thursday I was taken out by NP – it was her birthday present to me: lunch at Zuma! We started with a glass of champagne (I know, even I didn’t think I’d be able to manage a drink for a while after Vietnam – I was wrong). We both had the set menu but then ordered a couple of things from the a la carte menu to share (including tuna tataki – my favourite!). And of course the dessert (green tea and banana cake) was fabulous as always.

That night I had dinner with a friend at Left Bank in Souk Al Bahar. I had some Entertainer vouchers and I’d never been there so we thought we’d try it. We didn’t order any starters and just went for the main course and a bottle of white wine. I ordered the sea bass and she had the fish and chips. After dinner we walked over to Karma Kafe for a drink and had a couple of glasses of wine. It was a nice evening and I was home before midnight.

A few weeks ago I’d seen an offer for Friday brunch at Latitude at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel – buy one, get one free – so three friends and I had booked it and had been looking forward to it. We got there at 1pm and were shown to our table. The selection of food on offer was impressive (but nothing like Al Qasr) – I had sushi, dim sum, a couple of duck rolls, and a grilled red snapper. I also had some cheese and some cheesecake. And of course alcohol was unlimited. The one thing that was disappointing was the service – they clearly didn’t have enough staff and we soon realised that our waiter was the only one in our section of the restaurant. I expected more from a 5* hotel!

On Saturday afternoon a friend and I went to Spa Zen at the Radisson Royal on Sheikh Zayed Road. We sat by the pool for a while and then both had 90-minute massages. It was fantastic. I will definitely go back for some more pampering. I had an Entertainer voucher for the spa so we got two massages for the price of one.

I was home the rest of the day, just relaxing and catching up on work.

I love my life.

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Dubai 2013: Week 15

Wow, I’m so behind with my writing!

So, after my exhausting weekend when I got locked out, I met my friends from London for lunch at Jones the Grocer. I had the rocket and feta salad with grilled chicken. I was tempted by the burger but decided on the healthy option (for once!).

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After lunch I dropped them back at their hotel and went home. A little while later I started feeling a bit queasy and fluish but hoped it was just temporary.

I woke up on Monday feeling even worse. I took some Lemsip and spent much of the day in bed. I felt much better on Tuesday after resting.

I had a piano lesson on Tuesday afternoon. I left my flat and waited for the lift. I got into it, and just as the doors closed I heard a loud rumbling noise. I thought there might be workmen moving furniture in one of the other lifts. By the time I got to the ground floor it had stopped. My mum called to ask if I was OK? Erm, yes – I only just left home. ‘There’s been another earthquake,’ she said. She and my dad were terrified on the 23rd floor – she said the whole flat was shaking. I was glad I hadn’t been there but I don’t think the lift is a safe place to be at all! As we drove to my lesson, there were hundreds of people all leaving their buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road. I started to wonder about that – if there’s a serious earthquake, wouldn’t you be safer indoors under a desk rather than outside surrounded by tall buildings, most of them made of glass?

On Wednesday evening I started my meditation course at the Osteopathic Health Centre. One of my friends had done the course in January and February and I was keen to do it too. Meditation is something that I’ve been interested in but have never actually done. In February 2012 I bought a book called The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg. I’m embarrassed to say it’s still sitting on my desk, unopened. I’m hoping that once I finish the 7-week course I’ll get round to reading it.

So, in my first meditation class we introduced ourselves. There were four new people and one person who had done the course already (once you’ve done the course the first time you can attend as many future courses/classes as you like). We talked about why we wanted to learn about meditation – one of the women said her brain was like ‘a pinball machine’ – I thought that was such a great analogy! We talked about what we thought meditation is (and isn’t). We talked about where in our homes we would have our meditation space – would it be light or dark? Would you have music or not? Would you light a candle? When would be the best time for each of us? How would we be able to time ourselves?

Our teacher then taught us a cooling breath: sitting in a cross-legged position, make an ‘O’ shape with your mouth and as you breathe in imagine you’re sucking on a straw; put your chin on your chest and count to seven; look up and exhale slowly through your nose; do this seven times in total and then breathe normally again. We all went at our own pace and when we had finished she asked us how we felt. I said I felt refreshed, someone else said she felt a bit light-headed, everyone had a different reaction.

We then learnt a simple walking meditation: begin by stepping forward with the right foot by placing the heel then the toes slowly on the floor and lifting the back heel; move your weight forward to the right foot; rock your weight back into the heel by lifting the toes of the right foot; move the weight forward again onto the right foot and lift the back heel at the same time balancing and stepping the left foot slowly through the air; place the left heel first then the toes onto the floor and lift the back heel; continue for 10 minutes. We were told to move as slowly as possible and focus all our attention on the rocking movement. Our teacher told us to let any thoughts just come and go.

We then did a seated meditation where we had to imagine our mind was like the inside of a cinema and that there was a screen inside the mind behind the centre of our eyebrows. We had to imagine that we were sitting inside our minds on a chair just watching as thoughts came and went, without trying to fix or change any thoughts. If we got distracted we were told to focus on our breathing and the cinema screen.

Our homework was to practise the three techniques for 20 minutes each day – it was up to us to decide how we spent the 20 minutes. That evening I downloaded an Android app called ‘Meditation Helper’. I set it to chime at 20 minutes, with a chime halfway through as well. It’s a very unobtrusive noise, just a single chime. What I like about the app is that it keeps a log of your meditation sessions and even sends a reminder if you haven’t meditated (of course you can always change the settings so you don’t get any reminders). The other thing it does is it silences all the other sounds on your phone – you won’t get any other notifications.

After my class I met my parents at the Dubai Mall for a quick dinner in the food court followed by a movie. We went to see Oblivion, the new Tom Cruise movie. Oh. My. God. It was painful. Actually, the first half was OK, but once he met his clone I just switched off. It reminded me of Top Gun in a way – he flies a plane, he rides a motorbike, he wears sunglasses – but that’s where the similarity ended. I spent most of the second half of the movie chatting to a couple of friends on BBM.

Thursday was a busy day. I’d bought a copy of The Entertainer Body edition and wanted to take advantage of the deals they had. A friend and I decided to go for massages at the Armani Spa. We got there early and spent some time at the pool while we ordered some lunch (chicken shawarma wraps – disappointing, and tasted more like chicken tikka).

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We then had our 80-minute massages. My therapist was called Titi and she was Indonesian. She was fantastic. We relaxed in the post-treatment room and then decided it was time to head home.

I could have done with a nap after the massage but I had to get ready for wine club! It was at the Radisson Royal and I found most of the wines disappointing:

  • Valdo Prosecco Edizione Oro: Glera (formerly Prosecco) is the name approved by the European Union (EU) for the green-skinned Prosecco grape of north-eastern Italy. The name change occurred in 2009, when the Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region was promoted to DOCG status and the Italian authorities decided that Prosecco should only be used as a geographical indication. Glera, an old synonym of the Prosecco grape, was chosen to avoid confusion between the Prosecco region and grape variety. The grape’s origins are debated between Friuli and Veneto, but it seems plausible that the variety is named after the town of Prosecco on the Italian border with Slovenia. As far as the Italians (and the EU) are concerned, Prosecco may only be produced in the Prosecco DOC region and two Prosecco DOCGs (Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Asolo Prosecco-Colli Asolani). Anything else made from the same variety must be referred to as Glera. Italian wine produced from Glera is almost always either slightly fizzy or sparkling (in Italian, frizzante and spumante, respectively). A few still wines are also made from Glera, but on nowhere near the same scale as the sparkling wines that are so exported around the globe. The worldwide thirst for Prosecco has resulted in many imitations of the style. In the vineyard, Glera is a highly productive grape that ripens late in the season. It has high acidity and a fairly neutral palate, making it ideal for sparkling wine production. Glera’s aromatic profile is characterized by white peaches, with an occasional soapy note. The wine is light-bodied and low in alcohol (8.5% is the minimum permitted alcohol level for Prosecco), well-suited to drinking in the summer months or as an aperitif. Outside Italy, Glera is grown in Slovenia and Australia, in particular the King Valley.
  • Producteurs Plaimont 2011 Colombelle L’Original Blanc White: A blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc, this is crisp and lively. It has a wonderfully fruity tang, and is packed with flavors of citrus fruit and green apple juice. The blend here is 80% Colombard and 20% Sauvignon Blanc and Ugni Blanc and the SRP is $10. In the glass, the wine was a pale silvery lemon color. The nose was very aromatic with white grapefruit and grapefruit peel with a bit of pear fruit as well. On the palate, the wine was light bodied with high acidity. There were flavors of tart lemon, white grapefruit and sour pineapple. The grassy herbaceous character extended through the palate as well. The wine was clean and very refreshing with a stony minerality to the finish. This wine would be a great stand-in for those looking for a substitute for Sauvignon Blanc or anyone looking for a tart, high acid aperitif. For $10, this is an outstanding wine that would be great with shellfish or light chicken dishes.
  • 2011 Laroche Rose de la Chevaliere, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France – Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. ‘De La Chevalière’, or ‘of the knight’s lady’, is a reference to ‘Mas La Chevalière’ which is literally the ‘farmhouse of the knight’s lady’, the Laroche winery in southern France where this wine is produced. Sourced from across the Languedoc region: Syrah from the Cévennes; Grenache from Béziers and the Cévennes. The Cévennes is a maze of deep valleys with winding rivers of clear waters, steep slopes covered in forests and jagged rock cliffs and ledges. More than a mountain chain, the Cévennes are in fact a multitude of many-sided open spaces which form the southern part of the Central Massif as it veers towards the Languedoc. Maritime and mountain influences provide cooler night-time temperatures. Vineyard orientation is south and east; the soil is varied, with limestone, slate, marl and schist predominant. An excellent vintage in the South of France. Very complex aromatics.
  • Producteurs Plaimont 2011 Colombelle L’Original Rose: A deliciously fruity rosé, brimming with smiling red-berry flavors and enhanced by a lime-like tang. It is just what a light summer rosé should be.
  • Producteurs Plaimont 2011 Colombelle L’Original Rouge/Red: With its black currant intensity and a soft, slightly stalky texture, this fruity red is for summer drinking. 60% Tannat, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon with an SRP of $10. Tannat is usually a very fierce grape in its youth, so to soften it, the winemakers used a technique known as micro-oxygenation, which is essentially like sticking an aquarium bubbler into the wine as it is fermenting to introduce a lot of oxygen very quickly which reduces the tannic bite of a wine and makes it more approachable in its youth. The technique is not without controversy, but you can go watch Mondovino or read any number of other writers if you’re interested. In the glass, this wine was a medium purple ruby color which wasn’t all that deep, but which was very intense. The nose was nicely aromatic with black cherry and dark plummy fruit with a noticeable bell pepper edge to it. On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity and low tannins. There was juicy cherryish fruit with some bell pepper herbaceousness and some dark, earthy undertones to balance it out.
  • 2011 Rigal The Original Malbec, Vin de Pays du Lot, France: Vin de Pays du Lot (renamed Cotes du Lot in 2011) is the Vin de Pays (VDP) title for the Lot administrative department in south-western France. It covers every vineyard in the department, irrespective of terroir. Long before Argentina brought Malbec to the masses, Cahors in the South West of France was the home of Malbec. This grape variety expresses itself on its own terroir of Origin in its finest and fruitiest characteristics through an intense black colour and an exceptional aromatic complexity at a fraction of the alcohol levels produced in the New World. Aromas of blackberries, cherries, plums and spices, and well-balanced with supple tannins, a touch of vanilla and a clean, long finish.

After we were finished several of us went up to Icho, on the 50th floor of the hotel, and stayed there until closing. We had more wine, there was dancing, it was a fun night!

And as usual I woke up feeling like rubbish the next day. I stayed in my pajamas all day!

I had another piano lesson on Saturday to make up for one I’d missed earlier in the month. That evening I went to my writing group at The Pavilion. We did four exercises of 15 minutes each. In the first one we had to write about a person who had no sense of smell. I started writing about a chef but then remembered a funny story about someone I knew in London whose mother had no sense of smell – they got away with so much! The next writing exercise had to begin with the sentence: ‘The garden was overgrown now.’ I wrote about a person going back to their childhood home after 20 years. The third exercise had to be a dialogue between two or more characters where they’re trying to find something that is buried. I wrote about someone who had written a postcard to PostSecret but hadn’t yet sent it and couldn’t find it anywhere. The fourth exercise was writing about a fashion model who refuses to have pictures in her house. I really couldn’t think of much for that one – I just thought photos bring back memories which make you realise that time is passing and and that you’re getting old(er). It was pretty dull, if I’m honest.

And that was my week!

I love my life.

For more updates, click here.

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Bali: Week 7

I can’t believe I spent 7 weeks in Bali – the last 2 weeks we were there just flew by!

I woke up on Sunday feeling much better than I did the day before. While we were having breakfast, our butler Sucipta suggested we go to Echo Beach for lunch. My sister and I had passed a sign for Echo Beach on our way back from Tanah Lot – it sounded familiar to me because we had considered renting a villa there for part of our time in Bali. Sucipta also suggested having a look at the Canggu Club which was on the way. So we took his advice and left home at about 1pm.

It took about 15 minutes to get to the Canggu Club, a private members club – and it was definitely worth visiting. I asked the receptionist if we could have a quick look around as we were considering membership. As it was Sunday there were quite a few people around (mostly expats), and there was a game of cricket being played on one of the lawns. It was very colonial – it reminded me of the Ikoyi Club in Lagos when we were growing up – we spent our Sundays at the pool and eating suya. The Canggu Club also has villas available for rent so I’m going to suggest that the next time we go to Bali! It was really lovely.

Echo Beach was about 10 minutes away from Canggu. We walked up to the beach and chose a restaurant – there were several in a row. We went to one called… Echo Beach!

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I had the warm goat’s cheese salad to start with and pasta for my main course. They did have a big selection of barbecued seafood but after feeling so ill the day before I didn’t want to risk it. Mum ordered the snapper and Dad ordered a tuna steak. My food was great. Dad ended up sending his tuna steak back to the kitchen because… they’d forgotten to cook it! It was covered in the sauce but was ice cold. He was so upset. Mum and I looked at each other and burst out laughing as these things only ever seem to happen to him! The staff were very apologetic and brought him a new (cooked) one.

It was an overcast day and there were several surfers in the water.

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The sun did try to come out from time to time.

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Next to the strip of restaurants was a small temple. Mum and I walked over to have a look.

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That evening I had a massage and then Harry came over and we went to Potato Head Beach Club for a drink before dinner.

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We didn’t want to have dinner there and ended up at Rumours – on Jl. Kayu Aya, a few doors down from Trattoria. The music was loud and it was too noisy to talk in there. I ordered the Indonesian beef curry but the waitress told me they’d run out. I asked about the Indonesian chicken curry but they didn’t have that either. I ended up ordering a burger and not eating the bread. I wouldn’t go back there for dinner – but I would for drinks and a game of pool.

On Monday my parents were out running some errands so I had the place to myself. I sat by the pool and read my book. That night we went to Bali Nikmat in Kuta for dinner. The family had been there while I was in Phuket and had enjoyed it. The food was amazing – much better than Furama! Dad and I shared a hot and sour soup, and we had the chicken with dried chillies and black pepper beef. I thought the chicken was a bit too sweet but the beef was excellent.

On Tuesday my parents had more things to do so I sat by the pool and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Once they were back Mum and I went to Kuta Square to check out some of the sports shops. I’d been want
ing to get a new pair of running shoes but hadn’t seen anything I liked. The selection in each store was useless and the staff were no better. If I asked to see something in my size, they would bring me something two sizes smaller (or bigger) as they didn’t have my size. It was annoying and I soon gave up. I have little patience for shopping as it is! I went home and had a massage to relieve me of the stressful afternoon I’d had.

That night we went to Chat Cafe on Jl. Sunset Road for dinner. We’d driven past it so many times and wanted to try it. It turned out to be just OK – I don’t think I’d go back again although my pizza wasn’t bad.

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When we finished dinner we decided to walk home. The usually busy streets were deserted due to the Galungan ceremony/holiday that was taking place the following day.

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We stopped at a bookshop (I didn’t buy anything) and continued walking to Jl. Raya Seminyak where we stopped for ice cream and looked at a few shops. It would have taken us about 15 minutes to get home so we got into a cab. I finished packing and went to sleep.

On Wednesday morning I was picked up at 6.30  for my trip to Komodo. I got back on Friday morning in time for breakfast! We had lunch at Menega Cafe in Jimbaran – I wanted to go before we left. The food there is just out of this world.

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After lunch Mum and I went to Jl. Raya Seminyak to do some shopping. I picked up a couple of dresses and then rushed home. After trekking in Komodo my legs had been aching so I booked a massage for Friday evening. That night Dad said he wanted to have Chinese food, so we went back to Bali Nikmat. The food was still great.

I was up early on Saturday so decided to do some work before breakfast. I sunbathed, swam and then Mum and I went to Trattoria for lunch. I think I’d been there six times this holiday! After lunch we went to Discovery Mall in Kuta. I was still looking for new running shoes and flip-flops and Mum needed a couple of things too. I managed to find a pair of trainers I liked at Nike and the staff were more helpful than they were at Kuta Square (but that’s not difficult). The flip-flops I liked weren’t available in my size but I’m sure I can find a pair when I’m back in Dubai. On our way home we stopped at Gloria Jean’s Coffee. Apparently there are three in Bali, but I’ve only seen two so far.

Back at the villa I had another massage (wow, that’s four this week!) and then did some packing. Harry came over and we went to Warisan on Jl. Raya Kerobokan for dinner. What a beautiful restaurant!

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And the food was so good. I had the lobster ravioli to start followed by a steak (well, it was our last night there!). I skipped dessert!

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There were some musicians there too – a guitarist called Lianto and a vocalist who was his daughter. They were both brilliant and it turned out that Harry knew them so they came to meet us when they were finished. It was a lovely last evening in Bali.

I love my life.

To read more about Bali, click here.

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Dubai: Week 18

After my 100s workout with Rama, all I wanted to do was go back to bed. Instead I had to make a trip to Lulu with Joy. We left with Kaleem at almost 12.30, got whatever we needed, and were back home by 2pm. It makes such a difference having a driver – none of that waiting around, hoping for a cab to show up!

Dad and I decided to have lunch at the Dubai Mall – we both fancied a steak. By this time I would have eaten anything as I hadn’t had breakfast and walking around all that food in Lulu had made me ravenous. We went to the Outback Steakhouse on the second floor. I wanted the spinach and artichoke dip to start with, and Dad wanted the onion rings. So of course we ordered both. We each had a steak which came with two side orders – we both had the house salad and the jacket potato. 

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Next time I won’t order anything to start with – I was so full by the end of the meal. I didn’t finish the starter, the salad or the jacket potato. I was so full that I almost didn’t want a coffee at Gloria Jean’s, but had one in the end. We got home at around 4.30 and I just wanted to go to sleep.

I’d booked a massage deal through Cobone at Chelsea Tower – just a few minutes away: ‘Experience tranquility with a 60-minute Swedish massage for AED99 from Chelsea Serano Spa and Wellness Centre at Chelsea Tower Apartments’. I was looking forward to it as I hadn’t had a massage in months, maybe even a year. I went up to the sixth floor and the masseuse showed me to the spa. The ‘spa’ consists of one therapy room, right next to the main reception area and gym. I could hear everything that was going on outside the room and it was very distracting. When she started the massage I remembered why I rarely have them – I’m so ticklish that I’m usually more tense after the massage than I was before it. Then I thought that maybe if I kept coming back, she would eventually figure out where I was most ticklish and avoid those areas. 

When I turned over she said, ‘You have baby?’

‘Excuse me?’ 

‘You have baby inside?’

‘No.’ (F***ing bitch.)

‘You married?’

‘No.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Thirty-nine.’

‘THIRTY-NINE?? Why you no married??’

Oh, FFS – just shut up and do the massage! I wanted to wring her neck. Or kick her in the face. Or both.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Thirty-nine? Or twenty-nine? You no look thirty-nine.’

‘I think I know how old I am.’

Well, that decided it for me. I was never going back there again.

Monday and Tuesday were uneventful. I had yoga on Monday morning and that evening Dad wanted to go out for dinner. Being a vegetarian day we went to Sukh Sagar in Bur Dubai for an early dinner. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a dosa and I’d avoided having one so far because of all the carbs. We started with paneer tikka.

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Dad also had pani puri (which I didn’t have). I then had a palak dosa. I’d never heard of this before, but instead of the dosa having a potato filling, it was spinach. And it was so good. The portions are very big and next time I’m not going to order a starter unless one or two others are going to share it. We also had mango ice cream for dessert. Everything was so tasty. Our bill for the whole dinner was AED 87. Amazing.

On Wednesday I had a session with Rama in the morning. I told him about what the masseuse said and he burst out laughing. That afternoon Dad and I went to the airport to pick up my mum and grandmother. My mum had left in the middle of February and was finally coming back. My grandmother was coming to stay for about a month – her last trip to Dubai was in 2001. She also brought a helper with her as she needs assistance with various things.

Dad and I waited at the airport for ages – we had a coffee, browsed in the book store (yes, I did buy something), and finally they came out of customs. 

I had a busy day on Thursday – I had been invited to my first party in Dubai! It was a friend’s 40th and she’d booked the whole of At.mosphere (at the top of the Burj Khalifa) for the occasion. So naturally there were preparations to take care of. By 5pm that day I’d been manicured, pedicured, blowdried and waxed to within an inch of my life. It was tedious. 

My cousin and I went together. We got there at about 10.45pm and I think we were still one of the first few people to get there even though the invitation said 9.30. That’s Dubai for you. Nothing starts on time, apart from the movies. I’d met many of the women before, at lunches and teas, but it was the first time I’d met their husbands since I’d been here – even though I’ve known some of them for years. It was a fun evening, the view was spectacular, and the music was brilliant. Some of it reminded me of being at Bacchus in Lagos in the mid to late 1980s. I told our hostess this (she grew up in Lagos too) and she said that’s exactly what she had in mind when she hired the DJ. We left at about 1.45am and headed home. 

I woke up with a headache on Friday, took some Nurofen and went back to sleep. We had lunch at home, I spent a couple of hours at the pool, and that evening we took my grandmother to Mercato Mall. It was the busiest I’d ever seen it – I’ve only ever been there in the day time during the week, but on a Friday evening it is packed! We had an al fresco dinner at Bella Donna – great food – and were home by 10pm. 

On Saturday the hairdresser was coming in the morning as a friend had a girls’ lunch at Hakkasan. This hairdresser has been to me a few times but I think I’m going to have to find someone else as he’s started getting a bit sleazy. He’s also one of the most unattractive men I’ve ever seen and smells like an ashtray. This particular morning he told me he was single (I wonder why). He asked me if I had a boyfriend. I said I did. ‘In Dubai?’ he asked. ‘Of course in Dubai,’ I said. I hoped he didn’t ask to see a photo because I hadn’t thought that far ahead.

Anyway, back to lunch. There were nine of us and it was really nice. When I got there, the waitress looked at me and asked if I’d been there before. I said I had. ‘I remember you from last time,’ she said. I’m not surprised – that was my third time there for lunch in April. After lunch I went home, needing a nap. I ended up doing some work instead.

That evening I was going to a new book group. I’d found the Bibliophiles Dubai Book Club online and decided to join them. They meet at Caffe Nero in DIFC every three weeks – it was perfect as it’s not far from where I live. For some reason, I thought they met at 7.30pm so was dilly-dallying at home – and then I checked my email and realised they actually met at 7pm! It was already 7.05 and I was going to be late. I got there at 7.30, made my apologies and sat down. We were 12 people and it was an interesting group. There was one other person who was also there for the first time. The book being discussed was The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize). We finished at 9pm and I went
home. Another weekend over!

I love my life.

See more Dubai updates here.

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