Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some thoughts for the New Year from the Dalai Lama

Earlier this week, a friend of mine posted some quotes from the Dalai Lama on Facebook. Regardless of what religion you practice or subscribe to, you cannot help but something insightful here.

Hope you all have a Happy New Year and wonderful 2012 full of love, health and happiness.

1- Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.

2- If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

3- If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

4- My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

5- Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

6- The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis.

7- We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.

8- We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.

9- Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

10- If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.

11- If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.

12- Human potential is the same for all. Your feeling, “I am of no value”, is wrong. Absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself. We all have the power of thought – so what are you lacking? If you have willpower, then you can change anything. It is usually said that you are your own master.

13- We must recognize that the suffering of one person or one nation is the suffering of humanity. That the happiness of one person or nation is the happiness of humanity.

14- Through violence, you may ‘solve’ one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.

15- As people alive today, we must consider future generations: a clean environment is a human right like any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility toward others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than we found it.

16- To conquer oneself is a greater victory than to conquer thousands in a battle.

17- There is a saying in Tibetan, “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.”
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.

18- The creatures that inhabit this earth-be they human beings or animals-are here to contribute, each in its own particular way, to the beauty and prosperity of the world.

19- A spoon cannot taste of the food it carries. Likewise, a foolish man cannot understand the wise man´s wisdom even if he associates with a sage.

20- In our struggle for freedom, truth is the only weapon we possess.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tom Cruise is a Bad Ass

I always say, say what you want about Tom Cruise, but as an actor, he is awesome.  Yes, its crazy to swing from the Burj and all that, but he did it and it was entertaining.

An image I took of Burj Khalifa
back in Dec 2009 before it was open
Sometime last year it was announced that the new Mission Impossible film would be shot in Dubai.  Pretty exciting.  Even though there are a a fair amount of films shot around this region, to have such a blockbuster wouldn't be such a bad thing.

So one day in November 2010 I come home from work and look out the window at the Burj Khalifa.  I see a man scaling down the tower with way too much finesse to be a window washer.  I had my suspicions and thought this might be something to do with the film.  After all, how can you not shoot an action movie here and not feature this massive structure that is 828 meters / 2,716 feet high?

The following weekend I looked up as I was having my breakfast and low and behold there were a few people swinging and running up and down the Burj as a helicopter hovered over.  As we know Tom Cruise likes to do a lot of his own stunts, I would have bet money that was him.  Reports and pictures later confirmed it was.

Its a bird, its a plane, no its Tom Cruise!
I don't have any kind of zoom that can reach that far, but I still took a few snapshots.  - So excuse the poor quality and noise in the images further down.

Wondering how to explain this to my son who was only finishing age 2 at the time, I didn't really have to because he was more interested in the helicopter than the fact that there were some crazy guys playing on the tall building.  I accept he is a risk taker, but I don't want to feed too many crazy ideas in that department just yet!

It was impressive because they were at it all day, all weekend.  I heard they also continued the following weekend, but we were traveling, so didn't see it.  So at least 3 or 4 days of filming for just a few seconds, or a minute of a thrilling scene.

We finally went to see the film on Christmas Eve.  I like a good caper film and a little action is always welcome.  In my opinion, it delivered.  It was fun and I would be lying if I said I was not interested to see my apartment building from that angle.

Tom came back to Dubai to open the movie at the Dubai Film Festival in early December of this year.  The press said that he invited all the extras to the movie.  I thought that was really decent.  Based on all the buzz and snapshots in the newspapers about him, he seems like he is a decent guy.  While he came here to make money and do crazy stunts for his movie, at the end of the day he worked hard and earned it.  He didn't have crazy publicity stunts where people paid thousands of dollars to have dinner with him and then sneak out, nor did he come here looking for his new best friend for a "reality" show, he just came here and did his job.  Not just a bad ass, but a classy one too!

Be sure to check Google images as there are
way better images of this out there than mine!
Yes, Tom Cruise is that spec on the outside

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dubai Architecture

I am finally going to take the plunge and put up some of my pictures. I have wrapped up another course in my pursuit of a Masters in Photography at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I am doing this as a distance program online. Don't underestimate online education - it is no joke if you are at a good school. This explains my blog hiatus.

I have many many images .. some not bad, some really bad. But, a girl has got to start somewhere. I have toyed with the idea of a proper website for this, but I am still not quite sure what the goal is, so for now I bring you a few architecture images from Dubai in my latest series.

It is only within the last 10 years that Dubai has become known for its larger than life architecture. This is amazing considering that before the discovery of oil and gas in the UAE building materials were rather primitive. Typical homes and buildings were made with mud blocks, fossilized coral bonded with sarooj (a mixture of Iranian red clay and manure), or a lime mixture derived from seashells, and plastered with chalk and water paste. In addition to availability, these materials also have very low thermal conductivity, so they were ideal for the intense heat of the region. My series presents some elements, or details of traditional architecture in Dubai. Some from the original structures, others are new structures made in the traditional style.

Sunlight was essential to make this happen because the traditional structures can be quite plain as a result of their function - first for climate control and secondly for privacy. There are many walls, so the beauty is in the detail, which is often very simple and minimalist. 

An old wind tower
A nice ray of light in the Bastikya area
A lantern in Bastikya

Jumeriah Mosque

More Bastikya

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Typical Thanksgiving Outside the US

Not in the US to celebrate Thanksgiving?  Well celebrate it anyway!

Feeling like a real baker rolling cookies at 5am!
In the past, when I first left the US we would gather with American friends and rather than cook, go out to a restaurant that was serving Turkey and the other traditions and enjoy a nice dinner.  These were always fun.  The food was great as well as the company.  However, we would always find ourselves reluctantly the last to leave as restaurant staff were mopping the floors and stacking chairs on tables.  This is what motivated me to start cooking at home a few years ago.  Now with a child who is growing up with parents from two different cultures living in a third, I also think this is a good way to expose him to some American culture.  Our closest friends join us every year.  

I really enjoy this so much more than eating out, and I think part of it is that I have surprised myself with my ability to cook a Turkey.  I can bake, but I am not a big carnivore so any kind of flesh coming out of my oven always impresses me. I can’t take all the credit – Butterballs are pretty much foolproof.  Yes, you can buy them here around the holiday season.  There are more American products readily available than you would imagine. 

I do pumpkin pie, pecan pie, stuffing – yes, I stuff the Turkey and fear no salmonella.  I cook the extra stuffing in the pan, but it is always too much and I end up giving it away.

For the pumpkin pie I tried a Williams Sonoma pie mix that I picked up during my US visit.  It wasn’t bad, but didn’t taste so traditional to me so I mixed it with my “traditional” pie mix (the one on the label of the pumpkin can is fine) and that did the trick – and it created enough mix to fill my gigantic pie dish.

Le pumpkin pie
Pecan pie is so much easier to make than I ever thought it would be.  After the first time I made one about five years ago, I kept searching the recipe frantically – that can’t be all?!!  This year, I did not have any Rum, JD or other fancy versions of moonshine to put in the mix.  What to do – add a little single malt scotch!  I am not sure which brand, but I think any will do.  I was told by one guest that this was the best pumpkin pie ever and I think the scotch had everything to do with it.   That and adding less sugar than the recipe calls for.  I do that with most recipes now because the taste just seems so much more balanced as a result and not overly sweet.  Try it - cut back about 1/4 to 1/2 the suggested sugar measurement.  You may like your recipe better.

Cranberry sauce. Check.  Although I was challenged this year and could not find cranberries anywhere it was a mixed berry sauce, but it got the job done.  I made an amazing roasted sweet potato recipe I got from my stepmom.  Basically roast the cubes, add olive oil, a little white vinegar, salt, pepper and rosemary – hands down the best sweet potato dish ever.  They were not sweet or covered in marshmallow goo.  Green beans, salad, bread from the oven and lots and lots of wine – a little for cooking, more for drinking.

Since Thanksgiving is obviously not a holiday here, I usually do dinner on a Saturday since our weekend is Friday – Saturday.  This year my husband had to travel early Saturday for a meeting so I did it on Friday.  Thankfully we (son and I) were still super jetlagged from our US flight so we were up at 5am Friday.  I was basically Erin’s sous chef as we made all the pies and sugar cookies for the kids to decorate that evening.  It was so fun because he was so into it.  But why wouldn't he be - baking is really just messy play and he is a boy.  The only thing I prepared the night before was a pumpkin roll – which I love more than anything.  My childhood best friend’s mom would make these and I loved them so much.  It has been so long since I made one that I forgot and rolled it with the filling before it cooled.  We can't all be Julias or Nigellas, but no need - it still turned out fine.

The moral of the story - do not use a cheese cutter for desserts!
So come 7:30-8:00 the apartment started filling with friends.  Just like every year we ate, drank and were merry.  We were thankful.  Traditionally, we all take our turn saying what we are thankful for.  2011 had its share of ups and downs, but we all have so much to be thankful for.  I didn’t get a chance to explain the story of Thanksgiving to the kids, but we’ll get there eventually.

So not in the US for Thanksgiving? It doesn’t change a whole lot except your geographic location.   Ok, not everyone can physically be together sometimes, but there is still so much to celebrate and be thankful for. And there is the added bonus that you are not bombarded with Black Friday advertisements and its related horror stories!

Angry Bird

Saturday, November 26, 2011

UAE National Day

In 6 days the UAE will celebrate it’s 40th birthday.  I enjoy being here every year to witness it.  There is a lot to celebrate because as a nation they have achieved quite a lot in a short period of time.  I hear the traffic in the Jumeriah area can get a little crazy with the young locals and their crazy string spray and driving, but hopefully that is the extent of it.  Because it is the 40th, decorations have been going up for the last two weeks.

The fire station I pass daily has opened one of the ladders on top of their fleet and hangs a large flag for all to see.  Almost all businesses seem to have lights, flags or some other kind of red, green, black and white decoration up.  I saw one building near my office draped in streamers in the number 40.  I am told at the parade near the Burj Khalifa they will release 40 x 365 balloons.  It should be a very festive atmosphere that day.  If you are around and want to enjoy the festivities there is a nice website with all events.

Even when I bought my coffee today, they sprinkled the number 40 on it!  Ok, the zero is kind of a coffee bean, but its cool.  Since I’ll be 40 in only a few months, I wonder if they will keep the decorations up?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Visit to Ground Zero

The last time I was in New York was 1996 or so.  As a tourist, I was in awe of the city and hit all the major sites – including the observation deck in the World Trade Center.  Like probably everyone else who has visited New York post 9-11, I went to Ground Zero. 

There are really no words to describe how overwhelming that day must have been for those in New York.  I took the train from Central Station.  The whole ride there I could only think of all of those people who started their day just like any other day expecting a normal day.  Out of the station I was faced with all the policemen and women on standby for the Occupy Wall Street movement.   One block in the opposite direction is the massive site where the Twin Towers once stood.  I could only cry.

My visit was so long ago that I could not recall exactly where they stood.  All I could see was the massive reconstruction going on in the area and empty sky that used to be full of two towers and other buildings.  I did not go into the memorial area as they were limiting visitors to those who only purchased tickets online due to construction.  I did not need to go in to feel the weight of what happened there.  The hole in the sky was enough....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Mac Daddy

I paid a visit to the Apple store in New York.  I later learn it is one of three in the city.  This one is just between the FAO Schwartz and Plaza Hotel on 5th Avenue.  As you approach that open area, there is a rather large, 32 ft glass cube with that unmistakable piece of eaten fruit.  From there you descend into Apple world.  I was in shock when I saw the inside.  There were so many people inside you would think they were giving away the latest gadget for free.  But no, this was a slow day the helpful employees tell me.  

The interior is simple IKEA like tables and bar stools with accessories on the walls throughout.  Florescent lighting and no windows, there is nothing sexy about it considering how sexy their products are.  Even the staff are dressed in simple jeans and matching T-shirts.  At each table are several MacBooks and iPads for people to try or to play with while they wait.  It is truly insane in an interesting way.  There are enough people to start a riot, but yet they sit around happily in an organized chaotic kind of way waiting for something.

The employees are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable.  Young, friendly and amazingly calm considering the chaos that could potentially surround them.  This is the next uber tech savvy generation that is leading the world into an exclusive Mac time.

The only downfall in the store for Apple were the leaks as a result of the rain.  Nothing major, just a few drips.  I can't help but wonder if this is also patented as another glass Apple staircase was in 2006.

It is amazing to me that a company that makes just five products has such a cult-like following.  I myself love their products and use them.  As a music lover, I was sold at iPod, but all of their products are awesome and I am always amazed at the speed of my MacBook in comparison to the Windows platform I have to use for work.  I give credit to Steve Jobs and whoever worked with him to develop and market these.  To create such a global response to a product and now a place where people from all walks of life come to congregate in a no frills basement near Central Park is truly amazing.  I am sure New York is happy to have such a signature store here because it is such an important landmark and tourist attraction.  However, it may be stealing it’s thunder a bit and giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “The Big Apple”.   May the Mac Daddy rest in peace.

If you are into architecture and curious about the layout, visit Apple's site here.  It also has beautiful pictures in comparison to my rainy day snapshots!

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Week in Status

Is this park as close to Pam’s car as possible week?  I never knew the benefits of yoga could reach as far as the parking lot - and several times in one day throughout the city.

Thank you Waitrose for carrying Halloween decorations and reminding me I am a working mom.  This means I have no time to really go elsewhere, so I accept your selection.   You turned my guilt to shame with your astronomical mark up on these products.  I really need a personal feasibility study.

Wow… a poor girl waiting for a bus was struck by lightening in Fujeriah.  As my office colleague pointed out to me, that is really bad luck because not only is your chance of getting struck by lightening incredibly low, but in the desert is even more so.

You know you live in Dubai when your son can point out Ferraris on the road on the way to school… This is our morning game on the drive to school – Find the Ferrari.  I hope this does not influence the teenage car request – it certainly does not influence the answer if asked.

There was a crazy sand storm in Dubai. This means good weather is upon us – the calm after the storm.

Don’t mess with the motherly instinct to protect her child.  You will never win.

Google has some new product called You+.  I imagine its going to be like Facebook?  I am curious, so I went to sign up.  It requested my gender – I see the selection is Male, Female and Other?

I have a photography project to shoot and have very little time left to submit.  I need a good monochrome, all tones of grey image with no black or white.  I really wish I owned a grey cat about now!

Don’t always assume it’s about you.  If you have done nothing wrong, and someone suddenly starts acting strange or aloof, it most likely has nothing to do with you… I have been reminded this of several times in the last few weeks and months…in both directions.  Be sure.  They have a lot going on.

I love the teachers, nurses and staff at my son's nursery. They look after him and educate him so well.  At “graduation” this year, not only will I cry because it means he is growing too fast, but I really hate he will have to leave that wonderful team.

My son told me once he was afraid to go into his bathroom by himself.  He is at that age where we are encouraging him to be more independent for big boy school, but he insisted I go.  Why?  He tells me he is afraid of the red tide.

Yeah, beach weather is finally here in Dubai!

The dreaded school application/lobby to get my son into a school time is here.  I barely have time to get the applications there, forget about the schmoozing!

Can someone please tell me why my ipod will play Yellow Submarine normally at home, but in the car I cannot hear the Beatles sing it?!!  I am serious and it is werid!  Sadly my husband did not believe me and assumed I was either going mad, or pushing the wrong button.  He forgets he is talking to a music maniac who knows what is on her ipod!  We know I am already crazy, so it can’t be that one!

My son likes Arabic music!  Can’t blame him  - the drums and beat are pretty catchy.  Yalla Habibi.

Perhaps the only non-embarrassing thing as you watch someone pull your car out of deep sand: Knowing that you didn’t drive it in there.  I am sure it was added value for the crowds when Erin and I arrived with his beach shovels to help dig.

Two of my dearest friends had a new baby.  He is lovely…

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Last weekend was my wedding anniversary.  It has been 12 years. Wow.  As we all know, time flies.  I am lucky I have such a great husband and such a great, sometimes stranger-than-fiction life with him.

I think it all started with our first dance at our wedding…or maybe before.  We did live together a few years before that.  Me, not intending to marry.  He, thinking it was the right thing to do.  It just did not seem right to refuse his proposal when I had already moved across the world with him and we had been  shackin’ up for the previous two years.

I wanted the short and sweet wedding. He wanted a “Big Texas Wedding”.  Knowing that planning a wedding abroad would be insane in a country where you have to reserve everything at least one year in advance; and in an attempt to con our friends into visiting one of the coolest places on earth, we agreed to have the BIG party in Istanbul.  This was actually in July, the summer after we were legally married in September, but that’s another story.

In retrospect, it was a great celebration and I am glad we did it.  We were also so pleased that 30 or so guests travelled to join us.  It was a week of a wedding - so much that I had no voice at vow time.

We chose a great song for our first dance.  What a Wonderful World.  When we met the dj and he inquired about our preferred version, we told him we were okay with either.  After all, such a beautiful song would be great in any arrangement.  Right?

Come show time the music began…. “Don’t know much about history… Don’t know much biology…”  WTH?!   Where were our “trees of green” and “red roses too?”  At that moment, we learned there were two songs with this name.  While we anticipated the Louis Armstrong version, or at least that song and lyrics, we ended up with the 1958 Sam Cooke song by the same name!  A song about a guy trying to win the love of a girl!  A moment that I am quite sure we passed long before our wedding.

Our first dance
One of my bridesmaids who knew what the song was supposed to be leaned over to me and whispered “That’s what makes it memorable”.  Not wanting to make a scene, we rolled with it - or should I say Sarper encouraged me to keep dancing.  So, just as we have two wedding anniversaries, we have two wedding songs.  Well, sort of. 

Fast track 12 years later.  Last week I started a local photography class.  Session One: drive into the desert to shoot night and sunrise images.   I had not met the instructor before, but he was the only local photographer I could find offering more than a beginner class.   He calls me the day before to see if I am ready to go.  Eagerly hoping to meet more people into photography I ask “How many other students?”.  None.  Just me.  

I am scheduled to meet a stranger at 1:00am and get in his car and drive into the desert with him for photography.  I am sure the guy is legit, and nice (and he is), but where I grew up you just don’t typically get in the car with strangers and if you do, you do not want to drive into the middle of nowhere.  When I learn this, I ask my husband if he would mind coming.  Without thinking twice about it, he is on board.

That night, after a local charity dinner, we run home to throw on something more appropriate for camping and head out to our agreed meeting place.  The instructor arrives late.  Unbeknown to us, his car is having some problems, so he asks if we can drive.  Of course we can.

Which direction?  Take the Al Ain road.  After about 30 or so minutes into the desert, my husband asks which exit he should take.  Keep going straight, we are going to Al Ain.  What??!!  Al Ain is a two hour drive from Dubai, near the Oman border.

It is beautiful and known for Jebel Hafeet, a mountain that is perfect to watch the sunrise.  Apparently this was a minor detail that was left out of the class agenda.

We arrive around 3:30am or so and my class began.  Sarper proceeded to roll out the yoga mat and take a nap.  The class and sunrise were great, but I did not sleep at all.  Sarper slept on the hard ground for only about two hours and then as soon as the sun was up, we proceeded to head back to Dubai because we had a full day ahead.

It was definitely not the night we expected, and our guy friends who have heard this story have all confirmed my husband must be crazy as there is absolutely no way they would do such a thing for their wives.

So thank you canim for being such a trooper.   I am forever grateful for your never-ending love and support.   How we find ourselves in these crazy situations I will never know, but I guess that is just what makes it memorable.

Sunrise at Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beware of Pide!!!!

Wow.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been back less than a week now.  Work this week is full on.

I miss Istanbul.  I miss Turkey.  I miss walking through the city.  I miss the countryside, the weather and, and… and my gosh the food, dare I say.

Much to my surprise someone came up to me at work today and said “Girl, you’ve lost a lot of weight.  What did you do?”.  My response: “I went to Turkey and ate everything in sight”.  I also walked through the city every day.  No need for a car.  This is the difference in Dubai unfortunately.  But back to the food…

The food in Turkey is amazing. There are no words to describe it because you have to taste it for yourself.  I am not kidding – lick your plate worthy and get seconds. Technically, you don’t even need a plate because the produce is so amazing who needs to cook it!  - But that is another blog post.

Despite all that amazing rawness, there is a huge danger that I must warn you about if you ever visit Turkey during Ramadan.  It is a force much more powerful than you or me – it is called Pide.  Do not even try to conquer it.  It is impossible.

Fresh from the oven!
Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  Pide shows up around sunset and it is irresistible.  Pide is fresh bread that is only served at Ramadan with the Iftar meal at sunset for those who are breaking their fast.  I have yet to see it make any appearances at Dubai iftars.

Years ago I ruled out most carbs.  I am not training for anything, so I do not need all that bread.  But give me a fresh pide from the oven – bread fast is over as we know it.

We did not indulge too much when in the city (because we were too busy eating other things!) but be sure… at my mother-in-law’s we ate it every day.  You either go to the bakery, or firin, and stand in line with everyone else and wait.  Or, in the case of Şarköy, everyone would pick one up for everyone else.  As a result of all that neighborhood hospitality we were never without and even ended up with three fresh, hot pides one night.  One whole one for each of us!  I still do not know how people that are fasting are able to stand in line and smell that amazing bread, then walk home with it hot in their hands.  Yes, it is only the strength that can come from a much higher power.

The local firin in Şarköy
And you don’t just cut it and eat it.  If you are hard core, and as in our case (and not fasting) you break out the butter immediately as soon as you get home.  Forget about waiting for dinner because you will not be able to.  I would bet money on it.  After eating some of the best bread you will ever have in your life - hot, butter melted just right - you can then enjoy some more with dinner.

If you do not finish it off for dinner, then you can heat it up in the toaster for breakfast. It is amazing with all those great cheeses and homemade jams! One of my foreign friends I met in Turkey used to make homemade pizzas out of it. The possibilities are endless.

Everyday we would try to cut back, but really it is impossible. It is the wrath of pide. Fear it, but enjoy it as it is only around one month out of the year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Heart Şarköy

I am in a village.  In most summers that we come to Istanbul, if long enough, we try to head out to my mother-in-law’s summer place in Şarköy. (pronounced Sharkoy).  There are no sharks     We have come here for many summers and after the modernisms of Dubai, it is a welcome break.  

While many Turks like to holiday for the summer in Bodrum or Çeşme, sometimes we enjoy the downtime here. Don’t get me wrong, those places are incredibly awesome, and we also enjoy them, but Şarköy is still simple and not crowded. It is not the posh Riviera that the other places have become as Istanbul flocks to the latest and greatest. At the end of the day, it is a village. I look to my left and see the Marmara Sea, to my right a field of sunflowers. The occasional shepard passes by. There is nowhere to go and be seen, no need to dress up. Everything is natural.

Şarköy has been around for a while. Like many cities in Turkey, it has some ancient history connections. I know Wikipedia is not a real reference, but I’ll invest faith in that statement that there have been discoveries in this land that date back to 1200 BC. With Troy not that far away, it is no surprise.

In Ottoman times it was a source of produce and wine to Istanbul. Wine is still produced here today as well as some of the most amazing produce. (Note to wine drinkers, there is a fall wine festival.) Much to my surprise it has the longest beach in Turkey and the 12th longest beach in the world.

It is about a 3-hour drive from Istanbul toward Gallipoli. I call this “Where the sunflowers meet the sea”. After you exit the main road, you must drive about 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) through rolling hills of farmland - grapes, olive trees and sunflowers. The landscape is very Tuscanesque, and it really is a village. The local farmers all come by and sell their goods, or have roadside stands. If you need more you can walk or ride your bike to the nearest market. When necessary, go into town, or go once a week for the Tuesday open market.

The view on the way to Şarköy
The last time we were here it was only for 3 days, but we felt so rested we realized we needed more. So this year we were here for a week. And, in our quest to ensure that Erin does not grow up thinking that everything is shiny, modern, new and easy like Dubai, it is a good place to just be.

My mother-in-law’s home is in one of the sites, or neighborhoods by the sea where the same people have come every year for many summers. They bought this place when their children were small - all are now grown and come with their children. There are maybe 20 homes here. Neighbors are always incredibly friendly offering to bring something from the market for each other. Passing the time drinking tea or Turkish coffee, playing card games. Everyone here has a story. They are the most interesting characters!

Typical highlights of the week for us included:

  • Eating the amazing, local fresh fruit and vegetables 
  • My mother-in-law’s cooking that included many amazing olive oil dishes with that fresh produce 
  • Sitting in the hammock (which I did not get to do much – perhaps had something to do with me working remotely from here) 
  • We got my son his first bike. It’s a perfect place for it. 
  • Taking trips into town to go to the local market 
  • A visit to one of the neighbor’s properties. He has collected over 99 different types of grapes from all over the world and grows them in his garden. A lovely afternoon. 
  • Walking to the local “café” for tea. Or in Erin’s case for ice cream. On our last day he decided he could stay here because they have chocolate ice cream, his latest food interest. 
  • The night time carnival in town 
  • The day trip to Guneyli, another nearby seaside holiday town. The water is so cold and clear, and it is not that crowded. It is as clear as Oludeniz, but without the crowd. 
  • The trip to the local barber. 
  • A day trip to the local wineries and a seaside drive that led us to the most secluded village. 

It was pretty busy for a week in a village! I am tired and think I need one more week!

Mısrcı (the guy that sells corn) on the beach in Guneyli - really some of the best corn I've ever tasted!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Midnight Express

Two nights ago while my husband was channel surfing he saw that Midnight Express was on TV.  “Are they still showing this?" he said.  Since it had just started, I said let’s watch! Released in 1978, Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay that Alan Parker directed.  It is based on a true story that is no longer in print.

I have always wanted to watch this film, as it has often been so legendary in discussions about Turkey.  Not so much in Turkey, but more in the US.  If you haven’t seen the movie, the main character tries to smuggle a few kilos of hashish into Istanbul and gets caught.  He then goes to prison and the movie is about his time there and his great escape.

I had high expectations of the controversy because I had heard many Turks complain about the huge conspiracy to use this movie to deface Turks in the West.  I heard two times as many references from Americans who would advise people to not get in trouble on their travels to Turkey because they did not want to end up in Turkish prison.  Enter sarcasm here: Because if you tried to smuggle drugs into any other country in the world you would be welcome with open arms.

Honestly, I find both camps a bit over reactive.   I say this without having read the book or knowing much about the real account of what happened to Billy Hayes during his time in prison.  I am sure being in prison in a foreign country for smuggling drugs is beyond awful, but I don’t think that the movie intended to say Turks are bad.  The Turkish prison guards in the movie were bad, but I do not think that is worth a generalization of an entire country.  Prison guards aren’t universally known for their hospitality, regardless of origin.

There were some Turks who said that the cast was intentionally Greek because the Turkish accent was incorrect.  I think the issue was that the Turkish characters in the film were all played by actors with names like Paul Smith.  They did not know Turkish and just had really bad accents.  Even though the languages are different, a Greek accent would have been more convincing.  

I am also surprised at the raving reviews this film still continues to get as well as the controversy around it.  For example, many things I read on the Internet have noted it as highly accurate and documentary-like.  Even though it won several awards, including an Oscar for best screenplay, a few say Oliver Stone’s account is not accurate.  It was not clear if they were referring to the adaptation of the book, or their own personal experience in Turkish prison.

In some parts that I am sure were not intended to be comic relief, we laughed out loud. The film is intense and supposed to be about Billy’s pain and suffering, but suddenly two men doing sun salutations naked in prison followed by a Broke Back Mountainesque shower scene changed the tone.  This was taken to the next level when Billy’s girlfriend came to visit him and smashed her naked breasts against the divider.  How could anyone have taken this so serious?

I was very interested in my Turkish husband's reaction to the film.  He had never really watched the whole film - only bits and pieces when it was on TV in the past.  Its reputation for depicting Turks in bad light was so strong he never really sat down to watch it from beginning to end.  After it finished, he was also left wondering why the big deal?

It caused him to further question the American reaction to the film.  When he first went to the US in 1989, he received a lot of “So what about Midnight Express.”  He never really knew how to answer that.

What I think the film should be noted for is its great job of creating cultural misunderstanding.  There were also many things happening at that time that helped contribute to these conclusions.  For example, in the 1970s people did not have as much information as they do now, nor did they travel as much.  Such a film probably created some fear of the unknown.  The recollection of a Turkish-Greek conflict over Cyprus in the same decade this movie was made – of course Turks would be sensitive to something that they thought made them look bad in the West.

The moral of the story:  Don’t do drugs, don’t smuggle drugs.   Hollywood production does not equal reality.  Do not over react to label a country or take defense as the result of one film.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yes, I Forget Birthdays

This morning at breakfast my husband told me “Oh, we missed a birthday on Saturday.”  What?!!  He was just in Istanbul last weekend, so did he not know?  Yes, he knew and saw his niece on Friday before his flight so got to say Happy Birthday in person.  Well why didn’t he remind me of this important fact on his return?

Which raises the more important question, why didn’t I remember.  I am unfortunately notorious for this.  I just do not really remember birthdays - or any dates for that matter. I do not write them down or use an automatic program to remind me.  Maybe I should, but then it doesn’t seem natural.  It becomes too much like the way I have to follow up with people at work and it just doesn’t seem right.

For sure I remember my son’s birthday.  In all fairness, if another human being comes out of you, be sure - you tend not to forget that experience.  And it is in the mommy job description.   Even though I remember the day very vividly, if I am brutally honest, there have been a couple of times where I have had to think about it or do the math to remember the year.  Maybe I can blame it on age, everything just kind of blends together after a while?  That, and the years really do fly by sometimes.

I am sure I would probably forget my own birthday if my husband’s was not the day before mine!  There is always an event or dinner or something to remind me.  It’s not that I mind getting older, in many ways it is just another day.  Technically, every day should be celebrated.  At the risk of sounding too cliché, everyday is a gift.

So for all my dear family and friends if I have ever forgotten your birthday, please do not take it personally.  While I do not remember dates, I think of you on more than one occasion throughout the year.  In fact, several days a year, and not just one out of 365.  If I only thought of you on this one day a year, that is only 0.27% of the year!  Be sure it is much more frequent than that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Presidential Flop

One day while walking with my boss into another department in the company he whispers to me, “I hate that”. I knew in that instance exactly what he was referring to. There, a woman in the office wearing flip-flops - and not even fancy, dressy sandals with a heel. This was the rubber kind you wear to the beach. I very much appreciate the business casual approach, but I do not think beach casual is synonymous.

I am one of those people who truly believe that shoes say a lot about someone. Open shoes on women just seem too relaxed in some office environments for me. My issue is not just with flip-flops. I have always had a little inside jaw drop every time I see a professional woman wearing some kind of summery flip-flop, sandal-type shoe. In some places like the East, it is cultural and this is what women wear. I get that, and it is probably quite comfortable to them. I have even tried it myself with nice sandals years ago, but I got cold and just felt silly. I own shoes like this for evening, but they do not seem to work with my suits for work.

When I see a woman who is client facing, or making a boardroom type presentation and they are wearing sandals, it sends the wrong message. Will your audience take you seriously if you are giving a presentation with your cute sandals and well-manicured blue toes? If you work in a creative industry, then that would probably go over well. For a corporate, I am not so sure.

There is a time and place for sandals. But they should also be appropriate for what is worn. I saw some pictures from the Kentucky Derby this year. One image stuck in my head was of a woman in a nice dress, hat and thick black flip-flops. This is a shoe that I am sure would work well with jeans, but in this case they drew more attention than the huge hat on this woman’s head.

I was reminded of my deep aversion to this very popular look last week when reading the newspaper. There, in an almost half-page sized image is Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Representative, formally announcing her campaign for the US Republican presidential nomination. She is wearing a nicely tailored dress and matching jacket, and what?! Yes my friends a pair of floppy sandals. Now some might say they are dressy because they have a small heel on them. I just do not find them presidential. While I would probably not agree with a lot of Bachmann’s politics anyway, her shoes motivate me to avoid learning more about her and her platform. How can I take her seriously? For one of the most powerful positions in the world, one needs powerful shoes.

International Herald Tribune, 28 June 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011


The new place we chose to go this year was Stockholm, Sweden.  Why Sweden?  I’m not sure – perhaps after several scorching summers in Dubai, we decided a little cooler weather and greenery would be good.  So, I leave you with 30 random thoughts...

1. The first thing I noticed was the amazing blue sky. Even though there was a chance for some showers and it rained a bit, behind those clouds was one of the bluest skies I have ever seen.

2. Sunrise at 3:30am, sunset at 10:30pm. Fabulous. And we used it to the maximum. However, the reverse of that in winter would be a challenge to say the least.

3. And while the sun was out all day, I was still cold most of the time. It was chilly! (Maybe 20C or 68F..brrrr).

4. Such a long day with a slow moving sun means more beautiful light for that magic hour of photography!

5. Even without the lighting, Stockholm is a very photogenic city.

6. The people are also photogenic. I often felt like I was looking at the pages of that fashionable street photography book The Satorialist.

7. We arrived during the Midsummer holiday. We went to the local park Skansen, which was quite crowded with Swedes folk dancing and enjoying a day out with family.

8. Bicycles everywhere. Even after the holiday weekend when everyone was back to work there were still very few cars on the road. After learning Sweden was one of the early adopters of the bicycle it makes sense. I found some statistic that about 150,000 people commute to work in Stockholm on their bikes. I’d love to live in a city where I could use a bicycle without risk of death or dismemberment by speeding SUV or sport car.

9. Fresh salmon and other seafood – amazing.

10. A day trip to the nearby, small island Fjäderholmarna was very nice.

11. I found all of the people we encountered to be extremely nice. They were always kind and helpful. The service was genuine everywhere.

12. While we didn’t bike, we walked everywhere. I desperately miss that.

13. I did not see a single IKEA.

14. Nor did I see anyone from the group ABBA. Not that I would probably have much luck in recognizing them.

15. On this trip I learned my son had a lot in common with birds – they love to splash around in rain puddles.

16. I later learned of my fondness for puddles as I began using their reflections in pictures.

17. Sharing an ice cream in the park with my son was memorable. However, he did not want to share right away. And who can blame him - it was good ice cream!

18. The resident squirrel at the open-air bar we stumbled upon was an added value of entertainment.

19. It felt like it had been ages since I saw a rainbow.

20. A parade at the Royal Palace was a pleasant surprise.

21. You gotta love technology. I downloaded a great application that had some highlights of Stockholm. We had a good laugh when trying to find the location of the Photography Museum when we finally realized Google Maps kept pulling up the museum in Paris.

22. We ate at a place called Fem Sma Hus (Five Small Houses). Five houses which have been connected to form a restaurant. You keep going down through cellars, which are now floors of the restaurant. The food was amazing. Interestingly, our waiter was Indian and spoke Turkish!

23. My son found a pub he liked near the boat station. When we passed again in the afternoon after having been there that morning, he said, “I need to stop here and have a milk”. And so we did.

24. There was a huge line waiting outside a Peak Performance – for a special sale I assume. This is an odd phenomenon to me. I saw the same in Hong Kong outside a high-end brand. In all defense of the Swedes, if I lived somewhere with sub-zero temperatures, waiting in line to get proper clothing at an affordable price is probably not a bad idea.

25. I noticed the bees in Stockholm were orange in color compared to the yellow I am used to seeing – I do not know why this is.

26. This trip only reconfirmed my love for clogs.

27. The weather was so nice we walked everywhere. However, the pictures I’ve seen of the subway system are amazing – the stations are truly a work of art.

28. A visit to the Nobel Museum was very interesting - all that advancement captured in one room.

29. I ate so much fish that I was incredibly full. So full, I had no desire to go into the amazing hand made chocolate shop I passed on several occasions! Yes, I know.

30. I read somewhere that Stockholm’s slogan is Beauty on Water. I think this is very fitting. The morning we were packing, my son openly confessed that he did not want to leave, and neither did I.

    Thursday, June 30, 2011

    Lessons Learned

    Last week my father retired.  Below is the toast I wrote for his dinner.

    Everything I needed to learn for work I learned from my dad….

    Lesson 1:  If you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.  I don’t think this has ever needed to be directed at me, but I think of it often when people start complaining.  I am not fond of people who complain – especially because I have never seen a complainer who really has it that bad.

    Lesson 2: Be Neat.  Many years ago, my dad was helping me with some school math homework.  The accountant in him insisted that I line up the numbers.  This could have perhaps made me anal now about presentations and such, but it is true.  Your work is a representation of yourself and I am always amazed at how many people out there don’t care about what their work looks like.

    Lesson 3: Take Responsibility.  If you are going to take on something, then take it on, but know you are responsible for it.  This would explain why I moved a schnauzer from Texas to Turkey, and two cats from Istanbul to Dubai.  No animal left behind!

    Lesson 4: Solve Problems Creatively.  Not that long ago I learned that in order to break my toddler pacifier habit, my dad rubbed it in dirt and told me the cat pooed on it.  Needless to say I did not want to touch the thing again.  I have not resorted to such methods at work, but these psychology techniques could come in handy.

    Lesson 5: Organize Your Space.  Actually, I don’t think this was ever verbalized, and for good reason.  When I walked into my dad’s office one day I saw this sea of papers spread across the desk.  But yet, he knew exactly where everything was.  I think this is a genetic thing.  Be sure if my things are organized, I cannot find anything.
    Lesson 6:  The Early Bird Catches the Worm. I am sure there is a lot of truth to that, but I am not sure this one ever caught on with me.  As you know, if the gym employees were smart, they would have given my dad a set of keys to open up for them by now.  I have had to kind of modify this one to keep up with my husband’s Mediterranean background and the Dubai work pace.  In Turkey the early bird will fall asleep at dinner and in Dubai the early bird never gets to leave the office any earlier.  However, I still think there is a lot of truth to it even though I don’t like worms.

    Lesson 7:  Learn to do it yourself.  While I may not be able to change my own oil in a modern-day car engine, I do know how to take care of myself and do not expect others to do it for me.

    Lesson 8: Use your Noodle.  Yes, if only people would use their brains and think!

    Lesson 9: Earn it.  Don’t expect handouts and work for what you want.

    Lesson 10:  Work now, play later.  All those summers I worked through my youth while my friends were travelling and what not…  I’m not sorry I worked, but I think it is important to play too.  

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Another Dubai Mall Experience...

    The list of things to do is never ending isn't it?  I needed to run a couple of errands, so I stopped by the Dubai Mall on the way home tonight.  Errands finished, I proceeded to look for a place to get my hair cut as I am letting it grow back long again and it needed some shaping.  Once again, I confirm why I am letting it grow – I have yet to find someone in Dubai who really gets short hair.

    The mall is crazy crowded.  I see the summer sales have started.  I don’t know if it is Summer Surprises, but its too busy.  At the same time there are many activities throughout the mall.  A great reminder of how much there is to do here in the summer.  I know it’s a great time to visit family and escape the heat, but I really do not mind it.  Like everyone, I have those moments where I want to be outside all day, but we get that for a good 7 or more months out of the year, so nothing to complain about.  Just as if you lived in an extremely cold climate you would be indoors just as much as you are here in the summer.

    As I was walking back to my car I came across a photography exhibit in the mall.  Ah, National Geographic.  Earlier this year they launched an Arabic version, so I think this is to promote that in Dubai.  While the quality of the prints were not very good and they were not presented in the best venue for viewing, the narrative and emotion of each one was still incredible.  Even presented badly these images were all so moving!

    The more I looked, the more my heart sank.  While I saw beautiful images, I also saw poverty.  Extreme poverty.  People without food who were getting donations from militaries, people with out homes, schools that were nothing more than mats on a dirt floor, people facing winter without warm clothes.... The sick irony of me viewing these in the midst of materialism was unnerving.   I was further saddened as I was the only person who stopped to look while I was there.  

    As I was looking, the evening call to prayer came on.  (Yes, it is typically played in the shopping malls at prayer time here).  It doesn't matter that I am not Muslim, the timing was uncanny and only emphasized what I was thinking.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Ode to Mini

    Today is kind of bittersweet for me.  I sold my Mini Cooper.

    I bought it after I started working in Dubai because I had always wanted one since they started to make them again.  I was in Istanbul, which is the perfect city for one (small, hilly, winding roads), but cars are expensive there.  This is largely a result of the tax.  Since there is no tax in Dubai, many cars are much more affordable here.  We are also fortunate about the price of gasoline here.

    I had the Mini for two years before my son was born and really enjoyed it.  I’m not that into cars and things, and love public transportation, but it is not that effective here so you need a car to get around.  My previous cars were always out of practicality, or what was affordable at the time.  This was the first time in my life that I bought a car that I wanted to enjoy.

    It was great.  Cooper S, I picked the color I wanted (red with white top), even waited 3 months for a manual transmission.  As I wanted – except for the sunroof I “had” to get because either that or a convertible was “desert package”.   I think it’s a disguise for what I call “desert mark-up” to get customers to buy unnecessary features that you don’t want, but don’t tell them I said this.  They probably don’t mind anyway because in the end I had to settle for a sunroof so the heat of summer could shine down on me and heat my car to some crazy temperature much to the air-conditioning’s dismay.

    When I discovered I was pregnant, I knew I would probably have to get something a little larger.  After all, the modern day stroller is about half the size of a Mini.  Add all the other things you tote around for children and there is not much space left for the child!

    My son was born about one month earlier than expected.  I hadn’t even packed a ready-bag for the hospital much less bought a new car.  His arrival in conjunction with the revolving door of family visiting only concluded the inevitable – a “seven-seater urban assault vehicle”, as my friend Tasha so eloquently put it, would be necessary. 

    I tested many and in the end went with a Volvo.  It wasn’t the model of Volvo that I was considering.  I actually found it kind of ugly at first site, but it was available, and my husband liked it.  He even convinced me to get red because “we wouldn’t loose our cool factor”?  Three years later this still almost makes me laugh out loud when I think about it.   It is great that it is easy to find in the sea of white cars in the parking lot here, but outside of that I don’t think it offers much for our cool status.  As my son is already a lover of sports cars at age three, if we continue to drive this vehicle it will have a diminishing margin of return on our appearance.

    My husband drove the Mini for a while until he would find his next car.  At about the same time the economy crashed.  In Dubai there was suddenly an abundance of cars for sale as people were leaving town and liquidating.  We decided to wait to sell.  I knew I would eventually sell it as we do not need the extra car, and I do not feel safe having a child in a small car here.   This was confirmed one evening shortly after I moved to Dubai while driving my husband’s car down Sheikh Zayed Road.  An SUV of some sort went past me so close and so quickly I felt like a plane buzzed by.  I am not exaggerating – it shook his very heavy, German car and I do not flinch that easily.

    I know selling it was the logical, responsible thing to do, but I miss it.  I didn’t expect to miss it, but I do.  Sadly, it is now in Abu Dhabi with a nice Croatian woman, who like me is a fan of the Mini Cooper.

    If I am honest, maybe my sadness is not about the car, but more about the reality of what the car represents?   Shortly after I bought the Mini, a friend of mine told me she read an article that stated people who buy Mini Coopers are buying into a lifestyle.  At the time I wasn’t buying into a lifestyle – it was my lifestyle!  So now I drive a Volvo, and that is my lifestyle and technically has been for three years.  I no longer have another car to escape to where I can listen to my playlists and pretend otherwise.   It is what it is, but with any luck someday I will drive a Mini again.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Belly Dancing

    I think I have witnessed one of the best belly dancers ever!  I feel fairly confident with my ability to say this, but I was not always a fan.

    The first time I witnessed a “real” belly dancer was when I joined my husband at a company meeting about 12 or so years ago.  He was working for a company based in Ankara.  At that time and they had a meeting at a popular ski resort in Turkey.  At the end of the dinner, much to my surprise, the music began and out came a belly dancer!  Flesh and all.  I have no issues with flesh, I have no issues with belly dancing, but at the time I did not think it was appropriate for the workplace.  I was appalled.
    Belly dancing, or “Oriental Dance” the more historically correct term, is likely to have originated in Egypt.  There are even belly dancer images that have been found in pyramids.  However, it is very common in Persian and Turkish history, and other cultures throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.  

    Rumor has it that belly dancing made its way to the US for the first time in Chicago at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.  Even though there were no mid-drifts showing, it was so scandalous that there were many objections and politicians tried to shut the show down.  This eventually became a burlesque-type thing, which is where stripping evolved from.  So having grown up with the very idea that belly dancing and stripping are one in the same, I was quite shocked.

    The thing that surprised me most about my first exposure to belly dancing was the number of women who jumped up to dance as well.  No one took their clothes off to match the belly dancer, but while the men enjoyed it, the women were enjoying it more.  I totally did not get it.

    Over time I saw more belly dancers and was shocked when organizing a medical congress that the highlight of the Bosphorus boat cruise would be a belly dancer.   But hey, “When in Rome”.  I became used to this important cultural experience and somewhere along the way I was won over by the whole concept.  I do not recall my exact turning point, but I think it had something to do with watching an extremely good belly dancer and understanding the difference.  By that time, I watched many belly dancers at meetings, parties, and even once at a wedding.  In retrospect, I think the wedding thing was a great idea and wish I had had one at my wedding as the guests had so much fun.

    I came to love it so much, in fact, I am now one of those women who are out there with all the rest enjoying the music and not thinking twice about it.  I even had one come to my house once for a going away party for a friend.  That usually doesn’t happen, but my husband convinced me that my American accent would win them over – and he was right.  Much to my surprise, the restaurant where this woman worked kindly let me hire her for an hour.  She was fabulous.  I think she thought she would show up, dance a song and then go home.  Much to her surprise and mine, no one wanted her to leave.

    Since moving to Dubai, I can say that in general, I usually do not find the belly dancing that great here.   Particularly in tourist places it is usually quite bad, which is unfortunate for tourists.  There are many Russians who are talented dancers who work here, often as belly dancers, but they do not really have the same cultural background and movement to feel the dance.  They can dance well, but there is something about belly dancing that comes from the inside.  In the case of places like Turkey and Egypt, these dancers are growing up with that rhythm in their blood.

    At my sister-in-law's last visit we took her to a Moroccan place here named Shu Fiy Ma Fiy, which means “What’s Up”.  They had live music and much to my surprise a belly dancer.  I was surprised because we had been before and there was no entertainment, and this would be my three-year-old son’s first experience with the art of this dance.

    The food was great and the entertainment even better.  The music was excellent, and even though my son was more into the band and instruments, I can say this belly dancer was one of, if not THE best I have ever seen.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it and could have watched this woman dance all night.  And this was not just my opinion.  I was with Turks who have seen more belly dancers than I have. 

    Before we left, I asked the band where she was from. Kyrgyzstan.  What?  While Turkic in origin, it is a former Soviet Republic.   Not only was she beautiful and amazing, she completely blew away my concept that someone who is not from a culture where belly dancing is the norm is not convincing. 

    Please note, since this post was written, Shu Fiy Ma Fiy has closed.

    History references from shira.net and wellesley.edu