Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

Dubai 2013: Week 35

I had my usual gym sessions and work all week but managed to squeeze in some fun too!

On Sunday night a friend and I went to Okku for drinks. Neither of us had been in ages. I tend not to go out on Sunday evenings as I usually have yoga the following morning, but this week I didn’t have a class so decided to make the most of it. Even though Sunday is the first day of the week here in Dubai, Sunday night is a big night at several bars and restaurants. In fact, Sunday night is the busiest night for Okku.

We met in the lobby of the H Hotel at 9.45 – it wasn’t too crowded at that time so we managed to find a spot at the bar easily. I decided I was going to stick to vodka soda all evening – my friend started with a Diablo Martini, then she had a dirty vodka martini, and then she joined me with the vodka soda! The bartender also gave us some free shots – which was nice of him! I bumped into three people I knew (which never happens to me in Dubai – because I know all of 10 people here) – including the friend I met for drinks at La Serre the week before. It turned out that the friend I was with knew him too – it’s such a small world. And I think that world is even smaller in Dubai. We decided to leave at about 12:30 and I was home soon after.

What I’ve noticed in Dubai is that people who live here speak at least two languages: English (usually) and something else. My friend met one of her friends at the bar and I asked him how many languages he spoke: English, Arabic, French, Creole (he lived in Haiti for 12 years), Spanish and German. Bloody hell!

On Wednesday night I went to La Serre for dinner with a couple of friends. My friends were already at the bar when I got there and it was nice that the bartender remembered me from the week before. We decided to go to our table but it took us an hour to order our food as we were busy catching up and couldn’t decide what to eat! The menu is almost identical to the one at La Petite Maison. We were told that they didn’t have any burrata (WTF?). One of my friends had eaten at La Petite Maison for lunch that day and he said they didn’t have any either. We came to the conclusion that there must be just one supplier of burrata in Dubai and now that another restaurant was ordering it, each restaurant was getting less than they needed. Eventually a starter dish was brought to our table by mistake – the grilled aubergine with feta and prawns. We pointed out the mistake to the waitress who brought it but were told it was ‘from the chef’ – it was actually pretty good and not something we were considering ordering. We eventually ordered the tartare de boeuf (beef tartare with truffle egg – excellent) and calamars frits enrobés de plaintain (fried calamari coated in plantain – as expected). For our main course we ordered the bar Chilean grille et haricots de Soisson (grilled Chilean seabass with Soisson white beans – bland and disappointing) and the cote de veau grillée (grilled veal chop – yummy). We skipped dessert but had three bottles of rosé between us over the course of the evening. The wine was called Whispering Angel – and I think we chose it because we all loved the name (I don’t think the sommelier was too impressed with us). I really wanted to go out after dinner but my friends weren’t having any of it (although I could tell they were tempted) – it was almost 1.30 when we left the restaurant…

I spent most of Thursday in my pajamas, working. That evening I met up with a friend at Zuma for what was supposed to be early drinks. We got there before 8pm and the bar was already packed. She decided 11pm would be our cut-off point – she had an early start and I didn’t mind as I wanted to go to the gym in the morning. Well, clearly that didn’t happen. A couple of guys started talking to us at the bar – one was English, the other Irish – and we really weren’t interested. The English guy was already trashed – they’d been drinking since 1pm – and he was slurring and going up to random women and annoying the hell out of them. Eventually, he came back to us and told us that he’d been asked to leave and was escorted out by two bouncers. Why was he asked to leave? Aside from being extremely drunk, he went up to a group of women and asked them if they were hookers. Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to tell in Dubai (I’ve heard of guys playing a game called ‘Pro or No?’) but I imagine these women weren’t too thrilled!

While chatting to the Irish guy, it turned out that he regularly visits Lagos for work. And then it transpired that he knew my entire family – one of my dad’s brothers, my cousins, my mum’s uncles and cousins. It was very weird. He seemed to know more people in my community than I do. My friend decided to leave before 11pm – I think she’d had too much wine. I was happy to stay on with the Irish guy for another drink – that is, until he started hitting on me. And when I told him I was flattered but he really wasn’t my type, he got a bit nasty. So I told him to stop behaving like an asshole and to leave me alone. And he did. Two guys (one English, the other Australian) standing behind us had overheard our conversation and asked if I was OK. I was fine. Irritated, but fine. I ended up hanging out with these two guys for a while and then went home. What a night!

Oh, I also met the DJ properly for the first time. We follow each other on Twitter and send tweets to each other every now and then. When he started playing ‘Never Too Much’ I tweeted him to say I loved Luther Vandross. ‘You’re here! Come and say hi!’ What a nice guy – good DJ too.

I spent all of Friday in my pajamas. Heaven.

My parents left for India on Saturday morning. I went to the gym, pottered around at home and then went to my writing group. I hadn’t been in months. I thought about sitting at home and not doing anything but thought I’d try and be productive. The writing group usually meets at The Pavilion Downtown but that has been closed for renovations since the beginning of Ramadan. Recently the group has been meeting at Book Munch Cafe in Al Wasl Square, near Safa Park. It’s a small cafe/bookshop and it’s so cute:

Book Munch Cafe

Book Munch Cafe

I was the first person to arrive – and they had no other customers. They had a good selection of books too (dangerous for me!). The menu looked interesting (everything from all-day breakfast to burgers and chips) but I didn’t really fancy anything so I just had a decaf cappuccino. A little while after we started, another group of five people came into the cafe and sat down. The food that they ordered looked pretty good and I was starting to get hungry. Just as we were finishing up, the waiter brought over a slice of carrot cake, a slice of chocolate cake and a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. We thought there had been some mistake and that it was for the next table, but it turned out that the next table were the owners and that they recognised one of the people on our table (he’s a principal at one of the schools in Dubai) and sent us some complimentary dessert. The carrot cake was good (but better at Baker & Spice, I thought), the chocolate cake was too rich for me, and I didn’t try the pumpkin cheesecake.

As for the writing itself, I really should have stayed home. I couldn’t focus on anything; none of the topics we talked about really interested me and I didn’t write anything worth mentioning. During the first exercise I switched off in the first two minutes and started writing about something that was on my mind rather than concentrating on the topic we were given. I was very aware that I wasn’t present the whole time I was there and just wanted to go home. We finished at about 8.30 and I headed home, had some dinner, got into my pajamas and got into bed.

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 23

After my session with Randy on Sunday morning I did some work and then spent the afternoon at the pool. That evening I had a friend and her son flying in from Hong Kong for a couple of days on their way to London. I went to the airport that night to collect them and by the time we got home it was after midnight. We chatted for a while and eventually went to sleep.

My friend’s mum was arriving early on Monday morning (and also staying with me) so we left home at 8am to pick her up from the airport. We got home, I had a cup of tea and then had to go to my Arabic class. We learned:

  • The words for month/s and year/s
  • How to say whether we were married or not – and also the words for husband and wife
  • How to ask someone how long they’d been in a place (and a reply)
  • More pronouns, e.g. his house, her house, their house
  • More random vocabulary: yesterday, day before yesterday, tomorrow, day after tomorrow
  • How to use the tamarbuwta
  • More verbs – to want, to visit, to go, to drink – and how to conjugate them in the first person

After my class, I met up with my friend, her son and her mum at Nando’s and we had some lunch. She and her mum had some errands to run so I took her son to the pool for a while.

That night, the two of us went out with some friends. We went to Pai Thai at the Madinat Jumeirah. I’d never been there and was pleasantly surprised. The service was also better than in many places I’ve been to. I used two Entertainer vouchers as well and we saved about AED 200!

The next day the four of us went to Wafi Gourmet for lunch. I had to go to a piano lesson straight after and my friend and her mum and son were out until the evening. That night the two of us had dinner at Karma Kafe with a friend we bumped into at the airport on Monday morning. Small world! The food was good, as usual – and I used yet another Entertainer voucher. I’ve used so many of them this year already! We got home a little after 11pm and my friend, her mum and son left for the airport at about midnight. It was quite a busy couple of days!

I had another Arabic lesson on Wednesday. We learned:

  • More verbs – to live/reside, to study, to know – and how to conjugate them in the second person (male and female)
  • Random vocabulary – family, parents, people before, sometimes, always, beach, gym, building
  • We learned two new letters and also did some writing practice (still looks like a 3-year-old’s writing!)

I went home, did some work and then that evening went to my second creative writing class at The Pavilion Downtown. We talked about opening paragraphs and how naming characters is so important – names change with generations and different social classes. We were told that we need to be the character we’re writing about and have to know them inside out. We talked about character traits and how flawed characters leave plenty of room for growth. For our homework we were asked to write about people meeting and coming together, perhaps at a dinner party, picnic, or something along those lines. How do they behave? What are their flaws?

I was home all of Thursday and then met up with a couple of friends at The Agency in Madinat Jumeirah. What a night! We ended up having four bottles of wine. When we left we wanted to go dancing, so we hopped in a cab and headed to Malecon. We were only there for about half an hour, and we didn’t drink any more, but we had a great time dancing to salsa music!

I was home the whole of Friday. My head was aching and I didn’t feel like doing very much apart from reading by the pool.

On Saturday I did some reading by the pool and then went to see The Internship with my dad and uncle. It was better (and longer) than I thought it would be – I quite enjoyed it!

I love my life.

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Dubai 2013: Week 22

I had another busy week, but thankfully it was nowhere near as busy as the week before or the week before that!

My Sunday was relaxing. After my session with Randy I decided to do some work and then went to the pool with my book in the afternoon.

Monday was a busy day. I had my Arabic class at lunchtime. We learned:

  • How to ask what the date is – and how to respond
  • How to ask how many/how much – and how to respond
  • Two new letters
  • Random vocabulary – appointment, colleague, manager, husband, friend, teacher, lesson

I feel like I’m learning a lot but my writing is no better than a 3-year-old’s!

That afternoon I went to see a friend who had a baby recently. I hadn’t seen her since our lunch at Okku in March and it was nice to see her kids and catch up.

I left her place and went to a concert at The Fridge in Al Serkal Avenue – piano (Viktoriya Zaharieva) and violin (Nadine Artuhanava). These two women were young – and they were amazing. Not all the pieces they played were duets – sometimes it was just piano or just violin. They played the following:

  • Bach – Adagio and Fugue from Sonata in G minor (first two movements)
  • Chopin – Ballade no. 1 in G minor, op. 23 (I absolutely love Chopin)
  • Grieg – Sonata no. 3 in C minor, op. 45
  • Sarasate – Andalusian Romance for violin and piano, op. 22/1
  • Stoyan Stoyanov – Scherzo – picture (this composer currently lives in Dubai and was in the audience)
  • Bartok – Romanian Folk Dances

Whoever complains about there being no culture in Dubai clearly isn’t looking very hard.

My Tuesday was quiet. I didn’t have a piano lesson so I was home working most of the day.

I had another session with Randy on Wednesday followed by an Arabic class. We covered:

  • Some verbs – I am, you are, and so on
  • Four new letters
  • Random vocabulary – big, small, middle, chair (kursi), welcome (i.e. make yourself at home), thirsty

It doesn’t sound like much, but we’ve started putting sentences together: After Arabic class I have a meeting, or I’ve been in Dubai for 1.5 years and I’m happy, or I want tea with milk and sugar. As our teacher would say, ‘Shway shway‘ (slowly).

I started a creative writing course on Wednesday evening. I’d heard about it through Time Out a few weeks before and emailed the lady who runs the course. It was just 4 weeks in June – on Wednesday evenings – at The Pavilion Downtown. There were about seven or eight of us – we went round the table and introduced ourselves.

The first writing exercise we did was to write something (anything) for 30 seconds, just to get us warmed up. The next exercise we did was taking the letters of our name and then revealing something about ourselves beginning with that letter. For example, with ‘E’ I wrote ‘Ex-Londoner now living in Dubai’. It was harder than it sounds!

We talked about creativity and generating ideas. We each had to write three random words on three little pieces of paper (I wrote ‘desk’, ‘mobile’, ‘cigarettes’), fold them up and put them in the middle. We then had to pick three of these pieces of paper and write something which included all three words. The three words I ended up with were: tea, community, cigarettes. I wrote about someone who’s caught smoking by a senior member of her community while she’d popped out of the office for a cup of tea.

We got some useful tips: always use a clear and readable font, break up long paragraphs with dialogue, avoid using too many adjectives, avoid abbreviations and txt spk! We also got a list of writing prompts which might come in handy if I ever decide to write something and don’t know where to start – an example is: ‘He turned the key in the lock and opened the door. To his horror, he saw…’

It was an interesting evening – and it gave me a few things to think about.

I was home most of Thursday – either working or at the pool. I met a friend for dinner at Loca. We had been there in September and I loved the barbecued lamb wrap they did. I also had some Entertainer vouchers so we only paid for one of our two main courses. Halfway through dinner I started feeling a bit sick and I felt a headache coming on. When my friend suggested we go somewhere else I told her I had to go home – it was only 10pm. Normally I would have loved to go out (as you have probably figured out by now) but that night I just couldn’t do it.

I was home all of Friday, catching up on work – and I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I was home most of Saturday too. It was a quiet weekend.

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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Dubai 2013: Week 9

The beginning of the week was fairly quiet – apart from my usual gym and yoga sessions I didn’t do much apart from work.

On Tuesday afternoon I decided I would spend the afternoon at the pool with my book. I didn’t feel like working at all! I was barely there for an hour but had to come back in as it was just too hot.

That night my parents and I went to Shang Thai on Sheikh Zayed Road for dinner. The restaurant has been open just over a year and my parents had been there the week before with their friends. There were quite a few tables occupied and the service was pretty good. We had soup to start with (I had the tom kha soup). The portions are too big though – I think at least two people could have shared my soup. We ordered a papaya salad to share. For our main course we had the green chicken curry (which was a bit bland) and the steamed fish with Thai chilli and lemon (which we sent back because it was cold). They reheated it and brought it back – it was much tastier than the chicken. It’s a good place if you want a quick casual meal without alcohol.

A friend and I went to an InterNations event on Wednesday night – the last time we’d been to an InterNations event was in October. It was at Clique at Jumeirah Emirates Towers. We got there quite early and found a table to stand at. We were joined by a Greek woman who introduced herself to us and the three of us started talking. We were joined by a French guy and one of his friends. We were then joined by even more people: English, Lebanese, Syrian, American. It was such an unexpectedly fun evening! At 11pm I had to go home. I didn’t want to… but I knew that if I had another glass of wine I’d be in trouble.

My headache the next morning made me thankful I’d gone home at 11pm. I had my piano lesson on Thursday afternoon – even though I felt like a zombie for most of it. I was still working on ‘Solfegietto’ and ‘The Heart Asks Pleasure First’. My teacher gave me a new piece of music as well – the 2nd movement of Mozart’s sonata in C major (‘Sonata Semplice‘). I think this one will take a while to learn!

On Thursday night I met a friend for dinner at Caramel. It was a chilled evening with more wine (but not too much). I do like the food at Caramel, but as I’ve mentioned before it’s just too dark at night! You need a small torch just to read the menu. It wasn’t a late night because I had to be up early the next morning. I spent all of Friday at the Literature Festival – I was there from 9.45am to 8pm! It was fantastic.

That night I had dinner with a couple of friends and one of their friends at Rivington Grill in Souk Al Bahar. I hadn’t been there before but was pleasantly surprised. We shared a selection of starters (Welsh rarebit, Devonshire dressed crab, Eggs Benedict, warm smoked salmon salad). For our main course, two of us shared the beef Wellington, and the other two shared the Rivington burger and the seabass. For dessert we had the apple and blackberry crumble. It was a fun evening – we sat outside and had a great view of the Dubai Fountain. I know I’ve seen it many times, but I still think it’s spectacular.

On Saturday afternoon, my parents and I went to see the Classic Car Festival in Downtown. There were hundreds of cars on display – and some of them were incredible.

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Isn't this so 'Bonnie and Clyde'?

Isn’t this so ‘Bonnie and Clyde’?

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I didn’t get to see several cars as I had to rush off to my writing group at The Pavilion Downtown. There were about 10 of us that evening – and it was a fun group. The first exercise was to describe the room of one of the following characters (they cannot be in the room): a faded movie star who thinks she’s still famous, a student about to drop out of high school, a cashier who has just won the lottery, a paranoid schizophrenic. I chose the last one – everything in his room is covered in tin foil. I’m not very good with descriptions – I always want to go into the mind of the character and explain why things are that way rather than explaining how they look. I guess that’s something I’ll have to work on.

The second exercise consisted of writing a scene or story with three characters. The three characters had to be the personification of your heart, your brain and your soul. In my story, my heart was a voluptuous blonde, my brain was a male psychology professor, and my soul was a classroom adjudicator (silent, but observing everything). The blonde asks her psychology professor if he can explain what goes on in the male mind in 10 minutes, why they say one thing and do another, or why they say one thing and do nothing. We only had 15 minutes so I wasn’t able to write what the professor would have said to her. It’s probably just as well because I’m clueless when it comes to things like that!

For the third exercise we were given a sentence and had to continue the story. I love these – I think it’s the easiest way to start writing. The sentence we were given was: ‘Someone must have slandered Joseph, for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.’ I wrote about a white man living in a small Nigerian town where the locals don’t trust him. Interestingly, the woman sitting next to me was from South Africa, and her Joseph character was a black man in a predominantly white neighbourhood. It’s amazing what different stories you get from just one starter sentence.

I didn’t stay for the fourth exercise – I was feeling rather drained so I left. I was home by 8.30pm. I had dinner, got into bed and read my book.

I love my life.

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A day at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

I enjoyed the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature so much last year I decided I was definitely going to go again this year, especially when I found out Tan Twan Eng was going to be coming to Dubai. He has become one of my favourite authors – I read The Gift of Rain in 2007 and was so disappointed when I found out it was the only thing he’d written. His second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, was published in 2012 and I managed to read it just before the Literature Festival.

I booked my tickets in January and waited. I booked tickets for five different events taking place on the Friday. It meant I would be there from 10am to 7.30pm but I didn’t care. I had originally booked tickets for four sessions but when I realised I had a gap between 12.30pm and 5pm I decided to book something for the afternoon too.

The first session was at 10am and it was called ‘Intoxicating Prose from East & West’. The author panel consisted of Tan Twan Eng (The Gift of Rain, The Garden of Evening Mists), Jeet Thayil (Narcopolis) and Sjon (The Blue Fox). The moderator was Rosie Goldsmith. The first two rows were reserved for ‘Festival Friends’ (I think I might become one) and so I found a seat in the third row with a pretty good view of Tan.

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And a minute later, he moved. As he didn’t have his own mic, he had to sit next to the moderator in order to share hers.

Tan Twan Eng is a Malaysian writer – but Japan and Japanese culture feature heavily in both his novels. Rosie asked him whether he’d been to Japan – he hasn’t. He said he became interested in Japan when he was 16 years old. He was being bullied at school and was looking for a martial art to help him defend himself. He eventually chose Aikido because it doesn’t use any kicking movements (he said he was too fat to kick). For the next 12 years he became obsessed with Japanese culture as understanding it is necessary to progress in Aikido. When asked whether English is his first language he said it must be because he writes in English and dreams in English. He was a lawyer before he became a writer, and he studied in the UK. He also speaks Malay, Cantonese, a bit of Mandarin, and some Afrikaans (enough to know when he’s being sworn at). Rosie asked him if he spoke Japanese? He said he only knew Aikido-related words such as ‘Duck!’, ‘Stop!’, ‘Enough!’ and ‘I’m sorry’. He’s a very witty man – I could have listened to him for another hour. He said he would have to start writing about places other than Malaysia but I wanted to tell him that even if his next ten novels were set in Malaysia I’d still read them (and I did tell him this later on when he signed my books).

I have to admit I’d never heard of the other two authors but was glad to have heard them speak. I definitely want to read Narcopolis. Jeet Thayil’s novel is about Bombay in the 1970s, and takes place in the lowest class of society: opium smokers, drug users, pimps, prostitutes, and so on. He said he was tired about all Indian novels being about mangoes and monsoons and saris, loving grandparents and loved grandchildren. He said you no longer see these things in everyday India, that it’s a country of horrors. You see one horror after another on a daily basis and he wanted to convey that. When asked how he researched his novel, he replied that he used to be a part of this ‘lowest of the low’ in society. He was very open and honest about his past. He was asked how the book was received in India? ‘Viciously,’ was the word he used. Indian reviewers tore him and his book to shreds. When he attended the Jaipur Literature Festival he needed security. He believed it was because modern India doesn’t want to be reminded that such things are still taking place in the country. Interestingly (or typically), he said it all changed until his book started receiving rave reviews from the UK and the US. He said the Indian press then changed its tune about his novel overnight. Jeet mentioned that 50 pages of his novel take place in China but he hasn’t been there either!

Sjon is an Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist. His novel, The Blue Fox, won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2005 and has just been published in Arabic. It tells the tale of a priest, a naturalist and a young woman with Down’s syndrome. Did you know that even today fetuses with Down’s syndrome are routinely aborted in Iceland? Isn’t that terrible? The audience was shocked when they learned that.

After the discussion about their work, each author read aloud from their books. Tan went first with the following passage:

In the last four days the words have refused to come to me when I call for them and I can only stare at the paper. When they do leak from my pen, I am unable to make sense of them. Only when I work at night am I untroubled by spells of word-blindness. So I go on, writing as much as I can before I fall asleep.

Since midnight I have been sitting at the desk, working over the pages in which I had set down the events in the internment camp, making changes to my choice of words and the structure of my sentences. I am wearing my cardigan, but the study is cold, and my fingers hurt.

I get up from my chair and walk around the room, massaging my neck. My body is sore, but it is a wonderful kind of soreness, resulting from hard, physical work. I have started practising kyudo again. After a few sessions I can feel the old lessons I have learned returning to me.

Going back to my desk, I turn a few pages and read over what I have written. Even monkeys fall from trees. Yes, I am quite certain that was what Fumio said to me, before he cut my fingers off.

Memory is like patches of sunlight in an overcast valley, shifting with the movement of the clouds. Now and then the light will fall on a particular point in time, illuminating it for a moment before the wind seals up the gap, and the world is in shadows again.

There are moments when, remember what happened, I am unable to continue writing. What troubles me more than anything, however, are the instances when I cannot recall with certainty what has taken place. I have spent most of my life trying to forget, now all I want to is to remember. I cannot remember what my sister looked like; I do not even have a picture of her. And my conversation with Aritomo by Usugumo Pond, on that night of the meteor shower… did it take place on the day of Templer’s visit or did it occur on a different evening entirely? Time is eating away my memory. Time, and this illness, this trespasser in my brain.

There was pin-drop silence as he was reading and nobody spoke when he had finished. That’s when I realised that most of the audience, including me, and the moderator, and even Tan himself were in tears.

Jeet went next with the opening lines of his novel. He said the first six and a half pages consisted of one sentence, but I think he read just the first page and a half.

Sjon went last with a passage from his book.

After they had finished reading, Rosie asked them what they were working on. Jeet said he was writing a novel called Mangoes, Monsoons and Saris: An Indian Story. Of course, everyone laughed. Tan said he was working on a novel set in China, and it would be called Marcopolis. I’m pretty sure he was joking about his title too.

After the session the authors were signing copies of their books in the main foyer. I told Tan I loved his work as he was signing my books.

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He asked me whether I lived in Dubai and I told him I’d moved from London just over a year ago. He looked at me incredulously: Why?? ‘The weather,’ I said, although that’s not strictly true – it’s the short answer I give people.

My next session was at 11.30 and was called ‘Making it into Print’ with two authors, Kate Lord Brown and Kathy Shalhoub. It was interesting as Kathy’s book came about because she had been writing a blog about being an expat. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t know already though (keep practising, know your characters better than your friends, experiment and have fun, and so on).

I had some free time between 12.30pm and 3pm so I walked over to Festival City Centre and walked around for a while. I’d have stayed at the InterContinental but it was just so crowded I needed some space. I went back to the InterCon at 1.30pm and it had quietened down a bit as some of the afternoon sessions had already started. I wandered around the Dubai Doors exhibit for a few minutes.

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I bought a coffee, found a quiet spot at the end of a corridor, sat on the floor and read my book.

The 3pm session I attended was an hour with Tony Buzan called ‘Maps, Minds & Unlocking Creativity’. He talked about the use of colour when making notes and that the brain pays more attention when it looks at several colours rather than just one monotone colour. Colour is used to: discriminate, differentiate, categorise, reinvigorate the memory, focus the mind, improve the memory, highlight important things, stimulate the imagination. He told us that one brain cell is more powerful than a computer… Something Tony Buzan said really made me laugh. He said that when he was a boy growing up in Kent he was only allowed to write in one colour at school. Not blue ink, not black ink, but blue-black ink. And I remembered when I first went to boarding and we had to have a Parker pen and blue-black ink. Schools really do suck all the creativity out of you, don’t they?

Anyway, we were all given a piece of paper and a coloured pen. We had to write an introduction about ourselves and then introduce ourselves to the person sitting next to us. My introduction is pretty much what it says on my blog: Ex-Londoner now living in Dubai, and so on, except I added I’d been born to Indian parents and spent my childhood in Nigeria. The guy sitting next to me introduced himself first (Canadian-Lebanese), worked in finance, father of two, husband of one. I then read out what I’d written. ‘Nigeria?’ he asked. ‘I grew up in Lagos!’ What are the odds? He used to live in Apapa and went to the Lebanese School. What a small world. He introduced me to his wife who was sitting on his other side.

Our next exercise was to think of all the possible uses of a paper clip other than clipping paper together. I came up with toothpick (gross, I know), picking locks, resetting watches, hairclip. We then had to come up with the most creative things that we couldn’t use a toothpick for (e.g. breathing, food, making a spaceship, the list was endless). We then had to argue that we could in fact use a toothpick for breathing, food and making a spaceship. It was an entertaining session, and the way people’s minds work so differently is unbelievable.

I had an hour free after that session so I went outside and read my book – it wasn’t too hot and there was a nice breeze coming in from the creek.

At 5pm I went to the Ben Okri session called ‘Wild and A Time for New Dreams‘. Wild is his latest collection of poetry and A Time for New Dreams is his latest collection of essays. Rosie Goldsmith was interviewing him.

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I wish I could have memorised every word that he said during that hour. He talked about his family, growing up in Nigeria, his writing. He’s fascinating to listen to – and he has so much to say. The woman sitting in front of me recorded the whole thing and I’m hoping she puts it up on YouTube.

The last session I went to was ‘Stranger than Fiction: Jeffrey Archer In Conversation with Anthony Horowitz’. The queue to get into the room snaked all the way down the corridor and by the time I got to the front of the queue I was nowhere near the front. And then, one of the volunteers said there was a seat for one person in the sixth row. Amazing! I suppose that’s one of the perks of doing things on your own.

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It was a very entertaining hour. Jeffrey Archer talked about how he got started with his writing, the success of Kane & Abel, what he wants to do next (‘I’ve applied to be the next Pope’). He captivated the audience with one story after the other. I haven’t read anything by him in about 15 years but I’m now tempted to pick up the first of The Clifton Chronicles and see what it’s all about. He got a standing ovation at the end of the session.

It was a brilliant (but exhausting) day and I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Lazy

Yes, I know, I know. I’ve been lazy over the last few weeks.

I’ve been lazy about:

  • Going to the gym (I’ve only been during sessions with Randy)
  • Finding a venue for my ‘big’ birthday (right now I wish I hadn’t invited anyone so I could change my mind!)
  • Backing up my blog files so that when Posterous shuts down I’ll still have my content
  • Writing my blog (the last installment of London, the last two weeks in Dubai – so busy!)
  • Writing book reviews
  • Writing anything at all (anything)
  • Reading (I’m already behind on my 20-books-a-year goal)
  • Getting a pedicure (I have hobbit feet at the moment – well, almost)

 I haven’t been lazy about:

  • Going out every night last week
  • Drinking copious amounts of wine
  • The weekly and monthly tarot readings
  • Working

I will be back on track this week, I promise!

2012
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Dubai 2013: Week 4

I was feeling less cranky on Sunday than I had for the previous 2 to 3 days (thank goodness).

I had a session with Randy and then had lunch at the Dubai Mall with my parents. I’d been wanting a steak but knew I was going to have one that night so we ended up at Vapiano instead. I had the penne with salmon (as usual). After lunch Dad went to a movie on his own while Mum and I browsed the shops. I was heading to London soon and needed to take some gifts for all the new babies that had arrived since my last trip!

That night I met up with NP for dinner. The last time we’d met was before Christmas when her son and my nephew had a playdate at the Mall of the Emirates. We went to Ruth’s Chris Steak House at The Address Marina. I walked in and was immediately impressed with the music (George Michael’s ‘Older). It wasn’t very crowded and the service was good. We both ordered the set menu (three courses and a side dish for AED 315 each). We both had the seared ahi tuna to start with (other options were Caesar salad, onion soup au gratin, and mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat); and we both had the 8 oz filet of beef with pepper sauce as our main course (other options were Caribbean lobster tail, stuffed chicken, and caper dill sea bass). We shared creamed spinach and fresh broccoli (the third choice was mashed potatoes) and shared the two dessert options (chocolate sin cake and creme brulee). I think it was pretty good value for money. We also had a nice bottle of red wine (I think it was a Malbec but can’t remember). We enjoyed the wine so much we ended up ordering another glass each after dinner. When the waiter brought our bill we thought it looked surprisingly low and then realised that the waiter hadn’t charged us for the bottle of wine (of course we told him). 

Monday was uneventful but when I woke up on Tuesday morning I couldn’t see out the window. It was a little before 9am but it was like being in thick white cloud. I couldn’t see the Shangri-La just a block away. I could barely see the pool 17 floors below.

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As the day progressed, it got better.

On Tuesday evening a friend and I went to a Lime and Tonic event at Hakkasan. The deal was AED 150 for a selection of dim sum and two cocktails. I was expecting it to be an interactive event like the Secret Gourmet Supper Club the week before so I was mentally ready for that (kind of). We got to Hakkasan and were taken to the separate bar area away from the main restaurant. People were sitting at tables in small groups and we were asked to sit anywhere we wanted. We joined a couple of girls who had also just sat down; they were so engrossed in their conversation so we just caught up on our own. 

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Our dim sum basket arrived with our cocktails. I ordered the Thea martini (vodka, apple juice, ginger juice, lime juice, vanilla/chilli sugar) – it was yummy!

We stayed for an hour and then walked over to The Agency at the Emirates Tower Hotel where we had another drink each. After our drink I went over to Thai Chi at Wafi Pyramids to meet my parents who were having dinner with some cousins who were in town unexpectedly. They were on their way back to Ghana from India and had missed their connecting flight.

The following morning it was foggy again, but not as bad as it had been the day before. On Wednesday night I went over to a friend’s place for dinner. It was a lovely chilled evening – good food, good wine and good music (once we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) figured out how to create a playlist on the computer)!

Thursday was a public holiday (the Prophet’s birthday) and I didn’t have my piano lesson. That night I went to wine club with a couple of friends. This month it was at the Radisson Royal on Sheikh Zayed Road so quite convenient for me! Sadly there was no wine that I really enjoyed that night – and I noticed the ‘Sula’ on the neck of the bottle as the wines were being poured. I have to say that Indian wine is disgusting.

The wines we had were:

  • Lindeman’s Bin 30 Sparkling Rose (Australia): A fresh, lively, full-flavoured sparkling rose. Strawberry and cherry fruit flavours are complemented by a creamy texture. The finish is soft and dry with lingering flavours. If I had to pick a favourite this time, this would be it…
  • Argento Pinot Grigio (Argentina): Pale straw colour; peach and tropical fruit aromas; extra dry palate with medium body and crisp flavours. Serve as an aperitif or with creamy pasta dishes.
  • Sula Sauvignon Blanc (India): Herbaceous, crisp and dry, with hints of green pepper and a touch of spice at the finish, this wine is well balanced with good acidity. Serve chilled at 8-10C.
  • Mancaro Marche Sangiovese (Italy): Ruby red colour with purple tints, fruited, fragranted bouquet with hints of wild berries. Fresh, delicate taste.
  • Sula Shiraz (India): A smooth, medium-bodied red wine accentuated by ripe cherry  and plum fruit, with attractive aromas of black pepper. Pair with tandoori dishes and mildly spiced curries. Serve lightly chilled. Open and allow to breathe before serving. If it were up to me it would be opened and poured down the drain and never served.
  • Argento Shiraz (Argentina): Dark berry fruit, cedar and smoke on the nose. Palate confirms the nose and has moderate tannin in a house style that is maintained from year to year. Serve with lamb, beef, duck and hard cheeses.

There was a good selection of food – some sushi rolls, and a lot of small sandwiches this time round – no satays or anything. There were also some delicious deep-fried cheese rolls. 

We didn’t feel like lingering that evening – usually we’re the last to leave wine club and hang out on one table at the end, but this evening we decided to leave early and go elsewhere. We ended up at the Blue Bar at the Novotel World Trade Centre. We ordered a round of drinks and listened to the live band (who were actually very good). We stayed till after midnight and then decided to call it a night.

Friday was very chilled as well – I was home until the evening. I went to see Argo with my cousin and a friend. What a fantastic movie! I’m not usually a Ben Affleck fan but he was so good in this. And the last 10 minutes – oh my goodness – my heart was beating so fast! What I couldn’t unders
tand, though, is that over here in Dubai subtitles are in Arabic and French – which is fine – but during the movie, in the parts where the conversation is in Persian/Farsi, there were no English subtitles. Luckily I could understand what was happening by reading the French subtitles but my friend didn’t have a clue! A few days later my parents went to see the movie and came home asking the same question: ‘What happened in that bit with the housekeeper?’

After the movie we had planned to eat at the mall but it was SO crowded. Instead we ended up at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Burj Plaza called Yeldizlar – it was average, I’d say. We ordered a mixed grill, some hummus and some tabouleh. The service wasn’t great either. We did walk over to the Dubai Fountain to watch the Fire and Water show at 10pm. 

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We watched for about 10 minutes and then walked back to our table. I was home by midnight.

I was home all day on Saturday until my writing group at the Pavilion Downtown. I wasn’t in the mood to go but decided that I had to go if I was going to write anything! There were 13 of us and I felt that the group was too big. In theory we just sit and write but that particular day people were talking and it was very distracting. There were a couple of annoying characters there who I hope I never see again. 

I got home at around 8.30pm. I had some dinner and had the place to myself for the rest of the evening.

I love my life.

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