Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

The final few

I had a terrible week. I was so tired on Sunday after a really busy weekend (I’d been out for lunch and dinner every day since Thursday)… Pete texted me on Sunday evening to see if I was ready for some heavy lifting the following morning. I replied that I was!

But I woke up at about 6am on Monday feeling really queasy. I cancelled my session with Pete and by 9am it was clear to me that I had some king of tummy bug. It couldn’t have been anything I’d eaten as I had my meals at home on Sunday, so I asked some friends via WhatsApp if they knew if there was a tummy bug doing the rounds in Dubai. One friend replied that both her parents had had the same thing the week before and another friend replied saying she had the same symptoms. I guess the only consolation is that at least I knew the cook wasn’t trying to poison me. I could barely eat on Monday, I missed my Arabic class, I couldn’t focus on anything and I slept for 2 hours on Monday afternoon/evening.

I felt a bit better on Tuesday, but nowhere near 100%. I cancelled my session with Pete on Wednesday as well.

Basically, I did nothing all week.

Total distance covered this week? Big fat zero.

Low point of the week? Doing nothing.

High point of the week? Was there one?

Weight loss? A bit! But what an awful way to lose it. And once I start eating normally again, it will go right back up!

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Dubai 2015: Week 2

After the craziness of the week before, this week was quite the opposite.

I woke up on Sunday with a scratchy throat. I knew I was going to get sick soon. I left home at about 1pm to deposit a cheque at the new bank where we have our business account. We used to be with Standard Chartered but they closed our account in November last year (but that’s a whole other story). I wasn’t sure how long it would take, and the queue was horrendous when I got there. The waiting area reminded me of an airport lounge – some people looked like they’d been there for hours. Fortunately, the lady at reception told me there was a separate desk for cheque deposits and I was at the bank for all of 5 minutes.

I was meeting my cousin for lunch at Jones the Grocer and I was about 30 minutes early. He was just visiting on his way back to New York and wanted to have a late lunch. I got a table, ordered a fresh orange juice and made myself comfortable with my book. When he arrived, we ordered our food – I had the Jones wagyu burger with truffle mayo (they’d run out of truffle-infused brie) and some fries. He ordered the chargrilled harissa chicken. I also ordered a flat white coffee when we’d finished. After lunch he came over for a while to meet my parents and then went back to his hotel.

That night my mum wanted the three of us to go out for dinner so we went to Madeleine Cafe at the Dubai Mall. As usual, there were several sports cars parked outside the main entrance.

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And once inside the main entrance, there was a Breitling promotion in the atrium.

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Only in Dubai!

I’d never eaten at Madeleine Cafe but my parents wanted us to go somewhere different instead of the usual Wafi Gourmet and PF Chang. I had the goat’s cheese salad to start with, Mum had the escargots and Dad ordered a French onion soup. For my main course I ordered the tagliatelle with salmon, Dad ordered the vegetarian pasta and Mum wanted the quiche Lorraine. While we were waiting for the main course, the Burj Khalifa LED show started. It was the same as the show on New Year’s Eve, but without the fireworks.

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Our main course arrived, but they’d forgotten my mum’s quiche. We were eventually told that they’d run out of quiche and had forgotten to tell us. Mum was actually relieved as the escargots had been quite filling. She had a bit of pasta from me and some from Dad. They also wanted dessert and ordered the Fraise Melba – vanilla ice cream with strawberry sauce and whipped cream. I was so full I couldn’t even bear to look at it. We walked around for a while after dinner, trying to digest our food.

I had another friend in town from London. She was staying with other friends but we’d arranged to have a spa day together on Monday. I’d found an Entertainer 2-for-1 voucher for the spa at the Oberoi in Business Bay and booked two 1-hour massages for 4pm. I wasn’t feeling great – my throat still felt scratchy but I didn’t want to cancel. We met at 1pm at the hotel and went to the poolside. It wasn’t too busy and we were shown to two sunbeds. The weather was lovely and the pool area basked in the sunlight for the whole afternoon.

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After we sat down, the pool attendant came over to us with two bottles of complimentary water, two complimentary Evian facial sprays and even complimentary sunscreen (but we’d brought out own). We ordered some lunch. We decided to share the chicken wrap and the cold mezze platter.

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The food was delicious. After a while, the pool attendant offered us and the other sunbathers frozen fruit pieces served in large martini glasses – also complimentary. We went in for our massages – I opted for the Balinese massage and my massage therapist Ina was actually from Bali. I think she was surprised when I spoke to her in Indonesian… The massage was excellent and Ina gave me some ginger tea with honey for my throat when I was finished. I didn’t want to leave.

But I had to. I got home and got into my pajamas.

I woke up on Tuesday with a cough. I woke up on Wednesday with full-on flu. And I didn’t leave the house the rest of the week. I’d had lunch and dinner plans on Friday which I cancelled, and dinner plans on Saturday which I also cancelled. What a waste of a week! I’m just grateful I work from home and didn’t have to call in sick every day!

I love my life.

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Dubai 2014: Week 11

After another crazy weekend, I was exhausted. I had a session with Trevor on Sunday morning and went to work.

That evening two friends and I had signed up for a Restronaut event at Spill the Bean, a coffee shop at the mall. I’d been on the Restronaut mailing list for several months but this was the first time I’d been compelled to attend an event. The email said:

The Outpost is a Beirut-based magazine about possibilities in the Arab world. The magazine was named by the Guardian as the successor to the Economist. The Editor in Chief is in town for the weekend. Join him in this gathering where he’ll talk about how stories can impact societies and cultures and the quest to create a magazine with a mission to change the world. Join this table if you’re interested in creativity, media and culture. If you’re a writer, artist, film-maker or thinker, this gathering’s for you.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? It cost AED 70 to attend which included a coffee and a selection of cakes and muffins. We got there at 7pm and met a few people at our table – we were supposed to be 11 in total but at that time we were only five. There were a few copies of The Outpost being passed around. I have to say it’s a beautifully produced quarterly magazine, the kind you would be proud to display on your coffee table. It’s printed on high quality matt paper and is very text heavy. I would buy it – and it would probably take me three months to get through each issue. The editor in chief told us that it was in its second year of publication and until now had been financed by himself and a few investors. He was looking for fundraising ideas. Or perhaps he was just looking for money – because whenever someone made a suggestion I don’t think he gave any of them much consideration. I can understand that when you’ve worked so hard and someone tells you to change it, it’s difficult – you have your own ideas of how things should be. But then why ‘invite’ people to discuss these issues? I felt a bit bad for the editor in chief – I think he came under attack by a few people who asked why, if the magazine was aimed at change in the Arab world, it was published in English? Wasn’t that considered elitist? I left at about 8:30pm. I was tired and was disappointed by the evening. I think the description of the event was misleading and didn’t think it applied to writers, artists, film-makers or thinkers. But that could just be me.

On my way home I spoke to my parents. They were having dinner at Silver Fox Steakhouse at Citywalk so I joined them. I was tired and hungry and a steak sounded so good. I ordered the 6 oz. petite filet. It was served with mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables. It was just perfect. We got home, I got into bed and passed out.

I woke up on Monday with a sore throat and fever and was home until Wednesday.

On Wednesday I decided I had to get back to the office – I had so much to do! I met a friend for lunch at the Urban Bistro. I really like that place. We shared the chicken and avocado wrap and the smoked salmon focaccia sandwich. I had a green juice to drink. I really wanted a Coke but they didn’t have any!

On Thursday night some friends and I went to Toko for dinner. I’d been thinking about the beef gyoza since the last time I’d eaten there!

It had been cloudy all day and by the evening it was drizzling. I was worried because I’d booked a table outdooors. I got there about 20 minutes early as my parents were dropping me off so I decided to have a drink at the bar while I was waiting for the others to arrive. It wasn’t very pleasant – it had that stale bar/cigarette/alcohol smell that you find in cheap bars and it really put me off. Luckily my friends showed up on time and we moved to our table.

I have to say the food was amazing. For starters we had the spicy edamame, crispy rice chips (okowa age), nasu dengaku, the warm French bean salad and the beef gyoza. We ordered one dish at a time so we could enjoy each dish without worrying about the other dishes getting cold!

After our starters we ordered some sushi – prawn tempura rolls and spicy tuna rolls.

By the time we were supposed to order main course we were quite full but we ordered the grilled avocado (excellent) and the grilled scallops.

All the food was incredible and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

For dessert we ordered the chocolate and hazelnut fondant. Once we had demolished that we ordered another. Fantastic! Our bill was a nightmare though – between us we’d had 24 vodkas. It would have been cheaper to buy a bottle!

I was home all day on Friday – I stayed in my pajamas, did some work and caught up on some TV shows.

On Saturday I was home for most of the day and then met up with a friend at Iris. They have a chill-out Saturdays where selected wines and cocktails are half price and you get free food between 5pm and 9pm. We got there at around 7pm, it wasn’t crowded and we got a table. I had the rose wine and my friend had the red wine. We were brought a platter of food to share – crudites and dip, cheese, olives, bresaola, spring rolls. It was quite substantial. We were there way beyond 9pm though and I got home at about 1.30am, already dreading having to wake up the next day.

I love my life.

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Dubai 2013: Week 38

The first half of the week was quite quiet as I wasn’t very well – I had a terrible cough and sore throat after the heavy weekend I had.

I was home until Tuesday afternoon when I went for my piano lesson. What I love about the piano is that no matter how rubbish I’m feeling or how distracted by other things, I just forget about everything when I’m in my lessons or practising.

On Wednesday evening I went to a friend’s place for dinner. I hadn’t seen him since his impromptu dinner party back in July and it was nice to catch up. He made grilled salmon, stir-fried vegetables and salad. We had some wine with dinner – and there was Cookies & Cream ice cream and strawberries for dessert. It wasn’t a late night – I was home by 12.30.

I went to a cheese and wine evening at the H Hotel on Thursday night. They hold this event every Thursday from 7-10pm in the Arcadia Lounge and it costs AED150 for unlimited cheese and wine. There were about 20 cheese to choose from (including a fondue) and several different wines too. The friends I was with had two ‘2 for 1’ vouchers so we ended up spending just AED75 each! It was a chilled evening and the guitarist was brilliant.

On Friday I went to a party in Marina as the guest of the friend who had dinner at home on Wednesday. I had a few drinks, met some new interesting people, danced a bit and got home at 4am (or was it later?). It was an interesting evening – maybe one day I’ll write about it and you can read about the types of idiotic men I meet here in Dubai!

I was home all day on Saturday and spent most of the day working.

I love my life.

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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.

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The final few

I had my usual Sunday morning session with Randy.

After I finished my 5-minute warm-up on the cross-trainer I did the first circuit:

I did that three times with a break in between each set. I did another 3 minutes on the cross-trainer, had a short break and then did the second circuit:

I was done! Randy stretched me out and I was done.

That afternoon I went to Shake Shack for the first (and possibly last) time. I was famished by the time we ordered and I had a double Shackburger and fries. And a diet Pepsi (I almost laughed when I ordered that).

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I know, I know – I could have gone for the single Shackburger but I was hungry. My friend tried to convince me that the cheese fries were worth trying but I don’t really like anything on my fries. As I tucked into the burger that I’ve heard people raving about for months, I could see the grease dripping out of it onto my tray. It was kind of… gross. I’m not saying I’d never eat there again, but I definitely would consider other options first!

I woke up with sore obliques, abs and hamstrings on Monday. I had yoga on Monday morning – with more side planks!

I woke up on Tuesday feeling feverish and my throat was scratchy. And my sides were still aching! I took some Panadol and felt better for most of the day but by the time I went to sleep I was feeling terrible. I cancelled my session with Randy and didn’t work out on Wednesday or Thursday. I just wasn’t feeling up to it. I also had a really heavy weekend and by the time Saturday evening came round I was feeling like hell – fever, cough, cold. Not a good week for me.

Low point of the week? Starting the week with a burger and fries and then getting sick at the end of the week.

High point of the week? Starting the week with a burger and fries!

Weight loss? I actually managed to stick to 70 kg all week.

Sick

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Dubai 2013: Week 26

I woke up on Sunday feeling ill again. I felt a little feverish and I’d been up half the night coughing. I apologised to Randy and told him I wouldn’t be able to have my session with him.

I felt OK to go to Sumo Sushi for lunch – it was just my dad, my uncle, my nephew and me. I came home after lunch and got into my pajamas. I thought about having a nap because I was struggling to stay awake, but then I thought I might not be able to sleep in the night. I stayed awake but had an early night in the end.

I woke up on Monday, still coughing. I went to my Arabic class. We covered:

  • Telling time – revison
  • Verbs – to do/make, to write, to read, to finish, to return, to start
  • Random vocabulary – restaurant, homework
  • Sun and moon letters
  • Nunation – double strokes (I still need to get my head around this)

That afternoon I met up with a friend at the Westin Hotel in Marina. We’d booked a couple of massages and I didn’t want to cancel our appointments. I thought it might make me feel better. And it did for a little while. The massage was good, but I think Spa Zen at the Radisson Royal is better. After our massages we went to Oeno, the wine bar at the hotel, for a drink. It was almost 6pm and the place was quite empty. We had some wine and then headed home.

I went to see the doctor on Tuesday. She took my blood pressure (slightly high), temperature (normal), and listened to my breathing. She came to the conclusion that I had mild bronchitis and put me on a 3-day course of antibiotics. She also thought I might have allergies (I don’t know where she got this from) and told me to take Zyrtek at night. And she also prescribed a different cough syrup. I didn’t agree with her diagnoses of bronchitis or allergies, but she’s the doctor, I suppose.

I had my last Arabic class of the term on Wednesday. We covered:

  • Revision of most things we had learned and any questions we had
  • Random vocabulary – birthday, Christmas

We also had to give a short presentation using all the vocabulary we had learned: my name is ______. I am from ______. I’ve been in Dubai for ______. I am a ______ and I work in ______. I am married/not married. I live in Dubai with my husband/children/parents.

You get the idea.

After my class I met a friend for lunch at the Dubai Mall. We went to Cafe Bateel, next to the Waterfall. I’d never been there before. I had the pasta with smoked salmon but thought the food was better at Vapiano.

That evening I went to run some errands with my dad. We ended up at the Jumeirah Centre and I was starting to feel peckish. We saw a new(ish) place called Russo’s where they sell pizza by the slice and decided to try it. I thought it was OK – I didn’t like the way they put the toppings on but it hit the spot. The slice we ordered was big enough for both of us to share too.

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I met up with NP for lunch on Thursday. We went to our usual Jones the Grocer and we both ordered the Wagyu burger. We both wanted the truffle-infused brie but the waiter said he’d have to check whether they had any. And then he just stood there, waiting for us to change our minds. ‘OK, go check and let us know,’ we said (not in unison). He came back a few minutes later to say that they were out of truffle-infused brie. Could we have the truffle mayo instead then? ‘So now you want the truffle mayo?’ Good grief – what was his problem? Maybe he was trying to tell us (and by that I mean me) that we could do without truffle mayo. Our burgers arrived with truffle mayo and they were so good.

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That night I met up with a friend for Dupper at the Fairmont. It’s supposed to be like brunch – unlimited food and drinks from 8-11pm (‘dupper’ is a portmanteau of ‘dinner’ and supper’ but I think it sounds rather dumb). We got there at 7.30pm and were treated to a mixology class by the head bartender. The first drink was gin-based and the second was rum-based, neither of which I would drink over an extended period of time. So I switched to white wine. They had a good selection of food – a huge sushi section, an Asian section (Chinese and Thai), an Indian section and of course an Arabic section. They also had a separate dessert area where they were making fresh crepes. By the bar area they had a separate chilled room full of cheese. I ate mostly sushi and dim sum. For dessert I had a variety of cheeses and then unnecessarily had a Nutella crepe. I was so full after that! The service was excellent. Once Dupper was over we went to the bar and had a drink or two. It wasn’t a late night – I was home by midnight.

I spent the rest of the weekend at home. My brother had introduced me to ‘House of Cards’ and I ended up watching the entire season 1 over the weekend!

I love my life.

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Dubai 2013: Week 25

I woke up feeling like rubbish on Sunday. I’d felt it coming on the day before but hoped it was just one of those 24-hour bugs. I spent most of the day in bed.

I spent most of Monday in bed too and missed my Arabic class. I felt tired, feverish, and had a slight cough.

On Tuesday I decided that enough was enough and thought I’d try a ‘mind over matter’ approach – if I pretended I was OK, I’d be OK. I had my piano lesson, went for a Dermalogica facial at Spaces Salon in Oasis Centre and in the evening went to see World War Z with my dad. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would but found it quite scary! I got into bed that night feeling much better and thought that my new approach had worked.

I woke up on Wednesday feeling a bit under the weather again. I went to my Arabic class anyway as I didn’t want to fall behind. And I’m so glad I went because we covered:

  • Six more letters
  • Numbers from 1000 upwards
  • How to say you’re at someone’s place (similar to chez in French) or invite someone over
  • New verbs – to be able to/can, to speak, to come, to like/love, to read, to understand, to visit, to drive, to work, to eat
  • Random vocabulary – lunch, dinner, sometimes, always, never, usually
  • Telling the time – I thought this was pointless as nobody in Dubai is ever on time anyway. Telling the time is complicated in Arabic – similar to French and Spanish, when referring to minutes from 1 to 20 you say the hour and the minutes, e.g. 3:10 would be 3 hours and 10. If you were referring to 3:50, however, you would say 4 hours minus 10. As in French and Spanish, you have a word for quarter past/to (similar to quart in French) and half past (like demi in French). You also have a word for 20 minutes past/to (this doesn’t exist in French and Spanish). To make things even more complicated, if you wanted to say 3:25 the literal translation would be 3 hours and a half minus 5. No wonder nobody can tell the time here, it’s so complicated. I’ve decided all my meetings/appointments will be on the hour, just to make it easier!

That evening I had my fourth and last creative writing class. We talked about stepping out of our comfort zone by: switching the point of view (from first person to third person or vice versa), changing our genre, writing about something controversial (religion or incest, etc.), switch story settings, face a fear and write about it.

We also talked about dreams and how the subconscious mind can be a powerful resource when writing fiction. I was asked if I had any recurring dreams and I couldn’t remember a single dream I’ve had since I moved to Dubai. I used to dream a lot in London, but here I just don’t dream. Or I don’t remember my dreams.

We then had to write a letter to our younger selves. I hate doing exercises like this – I never know what to write.

We finished off by talking about planning a novel:

  • Your story chooses you – and you won’t know why until you’ve finished it
  • The narrative – the story, the plot, what happens – these are the spine on which the body of your novel depends
  • Think about the arc of your story
  • Every story is a microcosm of the story of life – a cycle of birth, growth, death, rebirth, and so on

Things to think about:

  • Make readers come back to you
  • Build an alternative universe
  • Be the best – keep practising
  • Amuse and entertain – do not preach
  • Don’t avoid dialogue (dammit, that’s what I’d been planning to do)
  • Be prepared to throw away a lot
  • If it’s boring, leave it out!

And that was the end of my 4-week writing course. I’d done it hoping it would motivate me to do some writing but I have to admit I haven’t written anything since then.

On Thursday I felt much better. I had a piano lesson and then decided it was time for some pampering at the Amro Salon at the Shangri-La. I treated myself to a manicure, pedicure and blowdry. That evening I had a friend in town for the night so we decided to meet at Zuma for some drinks – we had quite a few and then went to La Petite Maison where we had another drink (and a shot of Cafe Patron) and then went to Roberto’s where we were joined by a couple of his friends. It was a really fun evening.

I was home most of Friday in the day. That evening I met up with a couple of friends at Vantage at the Sheraton. Luckily we were seated indoors this time. It was a chilled evening and I was home by midnight.

I caught up on some work on Saturday and that evening went to see White House Down with my dad. Very similar to Olympus Has Fallen but I enjoyed it nonetheless!

I love my life.

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Dubai 2013: Week 24

I didn’t have a session with Randy on Sunday as the schedule for my Arabic classes for the week had changed. There would be three classes instead of two – on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday we covered:

  • What our jobs are (engineer, lawyer, teacher, psychologist, freelancer, etc.), where we work (private company, Government, at home) and the verb to work
  • Two more letters

That evening I went to Spa Zen at the Radisson Royal for a massage. I’d used an Entertainer voucher in May and had a free massage to enjoy. I slept well that night!

On Monday I had yoga and decided to go to the gym for a quick workout as well. I was home working the rest of the day.

I had another Arabic class on Tuesday. We covered:

  • Nationalities
  • One more letter
  • More verbs – to travel, to write, to like
  • More vocabulary – here, there, cold water, glass, sure, not sure, of course
  • Practising conversation – Do you like studying Arabic? Where do you study Arabic? Where do you go on Friday? Where do you work? and appropriate responses!

I had a piano lesson soon after my Arabic class so one of my friends and I went to Costa for a coffee and a quick bite to eat. My piano lesson was good – I’m really enjoying it and I’ve even managed to practise regularly recently. I started learning ‘Stay’ by Rihanna.

I had my third Arabic class on Wednesday. We covered:

  • Age – how old are your children, etc.
  • The past tense (briefly) because it’s not for our level (kunt = I was)
  • Numbers from 100 upwards
  • More verbs – to see/look, to come
  • How to conjugate two verbs in a row – if you were to say ‘I like to drink coffee’ my instinct would be to conjugate ‘I like’ but to leave ‘to drink’ as the imperative. Well, that’s wrong. You conjugate both verbs so the literal translation is ‘I like I drink coffee’
  • Four new letters

That evening I went to my creative writing class at The Pavilion Downtown. It had been cloudy all day but on my way to my class I realised how low the clouds were.

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There was a cloud right in the middle of the Burj Khalifa!

My writing session that day was about dialogue (which I’m rubbish at). Dialogue sets the scene, defines characters, breaks up prose. One of Elmore Leonard’s tips is to avoid describing people and places as much of it will come through in the dialogue. Dialogue also creates pace and is the best device for the delivery of information. It pushes the story forward. Silence also says a lot in a story. Some tips we were given about dialogue were:

  • Let it flow
  • Pour it out – make it sparkle later but just get it down on paper first
  • When writing dialogue, write as fast as you can – don’t worry about who said what, just write it all down

We then had to write a dialogue between two people, imagining a third person was eavesdropping. I wrote about an 8-year-old girl whose parents had organised a surprise birthday party for her and were trying to figure out where to tell her they were going.

We then talked about setting and how a place can be one of the characters (e.g. New York in ‘Sex and the City’). Time is also important – a contemporary novel is fairly straightforward but when writing a historical or futuristic novel you need to research: food, fashion, what’s on the radio, conversations at the pub, and so on. We then had to choose a setting and write a short paragraph. I wrote this:

Oxford Street at Christmas always reminded her of the video game Frogger which she used to play as a child. Shoppers, cars, cyclists, buses – nobody cared who they bumped into or ran over as long as they got what they wanted where they wanted. It was the complete opposite of Christmas. She thought of the frog crossing the three lanes of traffic, jumping from one floating log on the river to another, and then finally arriving safe on the other side of the river bank.

She always felt relieved when she walked past McDonald’s towards the relative quiet of Hanover Square. She could breathe again – the crisp air entering her lungs. It was just a brief respite though as soon she would leave the square and end up on Regent Street which she would also have to cross. Admittedly it wasn’t as bad as Oxford Street but by the time she got to her yoga class she was ready to snap off someone’s head.

On Thursday I went to my niece’s 5th birthday party at Chunky Monkey on Sheikh Zayed Road. My dad and I didn’t go for the whole thing though – we got there just in time to cut the cake (and have some pizza and samosas). There were about 20 kids running around and one of the staff shouting into a microphone. Had I gone for the whole party I’d have left with a headache. My 13-year-old nephew came up to me and asked: When are you going to get married?

WTF? Was I really going to have this conversation with a 13-year-old? ‘Why are you asking me that?’ I thought one of his grandparents might have put him up to it.

‘I want to play the guitar at your wedding.’

Aww – that was sweet.

‘How many lessons have you had?’ I asked.

‘One.’

Oh – well, he has plenty of time to sort himself out!

That night I went to wine club which was held at the Sheraton next to the Mall of the Emirates. I went with a couple of friends and met some other regulars there. It was a fun evening, the food was good and the wines weren’t bad either. We had:

  • Banrock Station 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Australia): this displays lifted tropical and herbaceous aromas. On the palate, fresh and soft gooseberry flavours finish with a grassy lift
  • Chateau L’Aumerade 2011 Cru Classe Cotes de Provence (France): pale yellow with green hues. An intense nose with fresh citrus notes which warm up to reveal tropical fruits on the glass. Medium bodied on the palate with a pleasant finish. Pair with scallops, prawns and white fish. Made from Rolle grapes
  • Dr Loosen 2011 ‘Dr L’ Riesling (Germany): on the nose fragrance of pears, green apples, flowers and slate minerality. A good swirl in the glass brings out the typical lime and lime zest characteristic of this grape varietal. On the palate it’s slightly sweet which tempers the above average acidity. Good summer wine or aperitif
  • Argento 2011 Shiraz (Argentina): Dark purple in colour with violet tones. On the nose look for blackberry, black pepper spice and a hint of vanilla. Long persistent finish with soft tannins. Aged in American oak for 4 months
  • Te Mata Estate 2009 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (New Zealand): this traditional blend of Bordeaux varities is a consistently rewarding, complex wine showing ripe blackcurrant, plum and chocolate flavours with a supple and sustained palate
  • Montes Alpha 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile): extra dry, dark rich colour with slow legs in the glass. On the nose it is an elegant, complex and intense wine with violets and red fruit, blackberry, chocolate, black pepper and cigar box aromas while its affinity with oak lends vanilla and coffee notes, producing a wine in perfect balance of real finesse and class, a real outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon

After wine club several of us went to Vantage, the wine bar at the hotel. Unfortunately the only seating they had available was outside and it was hot. My blowdried hair soon started to resemble Chaka Khan’s. We had more wine and then a few of us went on to Centre Circle Bar at the Ramada Chelsea. We were there till they closed.

Getting home was interesting. At some point in the evening we were joined by an English woman who was new to Dubai – she’d been here 8 days. She’d been at wine club (although I didn’t meet her there) and she joined our group while we were still at Vantage. It was only when it was time to leave the Ramada that we realised how wasted she really was. She refused to go home. She wanted to go out dancing. I explained to her that it was after 3am and nothing would be open at that time. She insisted that she didn’t want to go home. When she realised that we were all leaving, she got into the cab with us. I asked her where she was staying. Her response? ‘I don’t know.’ Jesus. I asked her if she was staying at a hotel – she said she was but she couldn’t remember which one it was. There are hundreds of hotels in Dubai – this was going to take a while. ‘It’s on Sheikh Zayed Road,’ she finally said. Was she aware that Sheikh Zayed Road actually went all the way to Abu Dhabi? I thought I’d try my luck and started listing each hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road starting at the Trade Centre Roundabout and working my way down. ‘Is it the H Hotel?’ ‘Noooo.’ ‘Is it the Fairmont?’ ‘Noooo.’ Is it the Radisson Royal?’ ‘Yes!’ Oh, thank God. ‘Do you know your room number?’ She seemed to remember a room number – I hoped it was hers. When we got to the Radisson, she almost fell out of the cab. In hindsight I should have taken her up to her room, but it was 3:45 at this point and I really needed to get home.

I was home all day on Friday with a stinking headache. I’d have loved to stay home that night but I had a cousin in town from Bombay and I told her we’d meet for a drink at Okku that evening. We had a couple of lychee martinis and my other cousin who lives in Dubai joined us as well. We parted ways at 9pm as my cousin from Bombay had dinner plans and my Dubai cousin and I were going to Ruth’s Chris for steaks with a friend. The steaks there are just so good – and we had some lovely red wine to go with it.

On Saturday I went to Wafi Gourmet with my Dubai cousin, my Bombay cousin and her husband. I wasn’t feeling great – my throat felt a bit scratchy and I felt a little feverish too. I went straight home after lunch and took it easy.

That evening my dad had invited one of his banker friends and his girlfriend out for dinner. We went to Tong Thai at the JW Marriott Marquis. It’s a lovely restaurant, and very big.

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The staff were very attentive. The food was great, quite spicy, and the portions are large. My dad and I shared a tom yum soup but four people could have shared that as a starter. We also had two salads as our starters and ordered one chicken dish and one pad thai for our main course. Halfway through dinner I suddenly felt exhausted. I couldn’t wait to get home, take some Panadol and get into my pajamas. I knew I was getting sick.

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.

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