The Saturday Tour at Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai

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Ever since I began reading up on Dubai’s vibrant art scene, I’ve wanted to visit Al Serkal Avenue. I held back because I couldn’t quite figure out how to reach the district – which is deep in Al Quoz, an industrial area – and what exactly to do once I got there. How sprawling was the area? Which galleries should I visit? What exhibits should I see?

When I saw an invitation for one of their Saturday Tours on Facebook, I jumped at the chance have these decisions taken out of my hands, and it turned out to be a good call.

Prepping a blank canvas

To begin with, getting to the Avenue was easier than I thought – I took a taxi from Noor Bank metro station, taking care to roll the R on Al Serkal as I directed the cabbie.  The Avenue is actually a gated complex, full of warehouses, many of which have been converted into galleries, studios and cafés.

There were over 20 people gathered at the assembly point, aspiring artists, art enthusiasts, insiders, and I’m sure, novice art lovers like me. The tour was conducted by Victoria, who’s involved in the district’s external affairs, and Luay, who’s part of the programming team.

img_3940Victoria setting a brisk pace on the gallery tour.

Before taking us around the galleries, the duo explained how Al Serkal Avenue came into being and what it attempts to achieve. They told us then, and over the course of the tour, that the area was originally home to a marble factory (the stones being imported from Carrara, no less), how the family had slowly given out the spaces to galleries, how some of the warehouses still went about their regular, non-artsy business, giving the district a true and authentic vibe. There were 12 galleries in the district, as well as many studios, cafés and a theatre.

Filling in the colours

The introduction done, it was time to see some actual art. We covered four galleries in the one hour, and two studios.

We started with Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde which featured the works of two Iranian brothers Ramin and Rokin Haerizadeh. There were video installations, tapestries and all manner of beautiful things.

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The same gallery also had the works of the renowned Emirati artist, Hassan Sharif, who had passed away earlier in the year. As Victoria put it, Hassan Sharif was the best name to throw around to prove Dubai’s credentials as an art hub. She showed us his work that had been featured in the Guggenheim and elsewhere.

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I also loved this clever little sculpture by a Belgian artist, whose name I didn’t catch, sadly. (Diligent googling revealed that it was possibly Fred Eerdekens.) I noticed that quite a few of my tour companions were taken by it too, and all the smartphones were out and clicking away. The squiggles say ‘Forever these words unsteadily will live’.

We then moved on to Gallery Lawrie Shabibi, where the main draw was Pakistani artist Hamra Abbas’ Kaaba-inspired installations and art. In the centre of the room was an acrylic (?) installation, which consisted of blown-up versions of the souvenirs typical to pilgrimage sites, such as Mecca. It took me back to my visits to the many temple towns in India, where after praying, we’d browse through the shiny plastic mementos and jewellery.

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Hamra Abbas’ exhibit inspired by souvenirs she picked up on Umrah. 

There were other exhibits too, so I’ve linked to the gallery page that explains the entire collection here.

Our third visit was to a gallery called Showcase, where the works of Emirati artist Ahmed Al Faresi were on display. Titled ‘We are but one thread’ the exhibition traced the links between native American and nomadic Bedouin cultures.

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This was my favourite exhibit of the entire tour, partly because I’m not as fond of abstract art. The simple colour palette, the cleanness of the work, the theme and the connection to the region could not fail to appeal to me.

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This work by Ahmed Al Faresi had a pelt of fur at the bottom.

Our fourth and final gallery for the evening was Leila Heller, a branch of a New York based gallery. There were several artists on display but I focused on the big canvases by Gordon Cheung.

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Victoria pointed out that the cowboys on bucking broncos referred to the financial markets, and drew our attention to the fact that they were painted over stock listings from the Financial Times.

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A close-up of the work, which shows the stock listings over which it has been painted.

Looking up Gordon Cheung, similar bull-and-bear inspired paintings seem to have been created in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008.

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We were told that this Chinese vase with its drooping flowers, was meant to be a memento mori.

The whole collection was very interesting, and featured many more canvases that I haven’t shown – do read more on it here.

Adding those beautiful flourishes

The tour wasn’t just galleries however, which was good since I was already suffering from something of a sensory overload. We were also taken to two studios. The first of these, Satellite, is the stomping ground of art collector Rami Farook, and is not strictly a studio, but more of an art storehouse and hang out – or so I understood it.

The second was the studio of El Seed, a French-Tunisian graffiti artist, who showed us a video of his amazing project ‘Perception’. The project involved painting Arabic graffiti on the walls of a poor neighbourhood in Cairo, which is also known as ‘Trash City’ for its huge piles of garbage. The graffiti was finally lit up, and it reads ‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly, needs to wipe his eyes first’ – a quote from a third century Coptic priest. The project is fascinating, and there are more details on his website.

El Seed mentioned that growing up in Paris, he did not learn to write Arabic until much later. He spoke of how he suffered from an identity crisis when he turned 16. He is a genuinely world-renowned artist but came off as extremely humble and invested in his art.  Which, incidentally sums up Al Serkal Avenue for me. It was one of the most genuine experiences I’ve had since moving here.

The final touches

All through the tour, cafés were pointed out to us. These were housed in huge loft-like spaces, full of light and epitomizing industrial chic.

The icing, or rather the ganache on the cake, was our visit to a chocolate factory, which produces Mirzam, a UAE-only label of artisanal chocolate.

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A geography lesson in cocoa beans.

Mirzam produces single-origin chocolates made from Ghanaian, Indian, Cuban and Madagascarian (I think I may have made up a word) cocoa beans, as well as other interesting variants. The plant smelled heavenly, with the scent of chocolate wafting out of the door into the street. We also sampled chocolate tea, which was surprisingly good.

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I got myself this one. How gorgeous is the packaging? I love that it references travel, and the word itself is the name of a star.

On that sweet note, the tour came to an end. As I walked back in the fading light, I was already looking forward to my next visit to Al Serkal Avenue, to seeing more of the best art Dubai and the world have to offer.

Harry Potter and the Evening of Laughter

A parody of Harry Potter? Sacrilege, you say. Umm. Not quite.

Just ten minutes into the hilarious show Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Experience, it became obvious that Dan and Jeff, the two comedians and actors bringing this show to Dubai, ­have a tremendous amount of affection for and knowledge of the series.

The guys were in DUCTAC the weekend of September 15, 16 and 17, performing at the Centrepoint theatre. We went for the 7 PM show on Friday, September 16 with kids in tow, because as the promotional material says, the show is open to everyone from ages 6 to Dumbledore.

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I don’t want to give away too much of the meat of the show, so here’s a rough outline of its basic premise. Jeff, who is a Harry Potter fanatic, and his pal Dan (who doesn’t have quite the same fervour), plan to showcase all 7 books in 70 minutes, on stage. Dan has been tasked with hiring the best actors for the job, and coming up with the best sets to keep the audience spellbound. Dan does not exactly stick to his brief and hilarity ensues. Along the way, there’s an actual Quidditch game – surprisingly fun – plus a boxing match, a musical number, a whole host of stuffed toys, cake-eating and even a Powerpoint presentation!

Like all classic comedic duos, Jeff and Dan feed off each other. If Jeff is the straight man, then Dan is his perfect foil as the funny man. What’s quite interesting is that their brand of humour manages to cut across age groups. It is physical and silly enough to appeal to the little ones and smart enough to work for the grown-ups too. Also, the duo threw in many off-the-cuff jokes and Dubai references which made it feel less rehearsed and that much more interactive.

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The stage before the show began – yes, I do think that is meant to be the Hogwarts Express.

I can’t really comment on whether the series will work for folks who aren’t familiar with HP. As a die-hard Potter fan, I’m not in the best position to be a judge of that. Certainly, I think you’ll get more of the references and jokes if you’ve read the books or watched the movies.  My son, who’s as much a Potter fan as I am, was skeptical about the whole thing at the start, and kept asking me how two guys could pull off something this ambitious by themselves. Well his loud laughter from start to finish made it evident that his question had been answered convincingly! So much so that he has agreed to accompany me to more stage performances and is willing to see it as an exciting alternative to his favourite games and movies.

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Two Harry Potter fans prepare to be entertained, and were not disappointed. 

There are some clips of their act on YouTube, but I personally would suggest not watching anything beforehand if you’re planning to catch the show. DUCTAC also requests you not to take photos or film their programmes, so I have no images from the show to share.

Apparently the team also have a show called Potted Sherlock out. I do hope they’ll bring it to Dubai – I’ll be first in line to watch it, eat your heart out Cumberbatch.

 

 

A fine start to thirty-nine

My birthday celebrations this year started with a haircut a couple of weeks before the day. For some reason I always snip my hair leading up to this day. I could say that I do it to symbolize rebirth or re-emergence, but I think it is more to do with a subconscious desire to look good in birthday pictures.

Of course, it starts out sleek and pretty but that never lasts. Anyway, hair in place, the celebrations began in earnest.

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The weekend before my birthday, the four of us went to Dubai Marina, where a street festival was on. We spent some time there, watching knife throwing, juggling and other acts from around the world. Our favourite was this Canadian guy whose hilarious patter nearly outshone his antics with the unicycle.

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We then hopped on the tram and went to JBR, as The Walk has now been rechristened.

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After walking around a bit and sampling some red velvet pastry at the Night Bazaar, we walked into La Dolce Vita, because it looked less crowded than most other restaurants. I had a middling-in-flavour tagliatelle in pesto sauce. We also ordered a Margherita pizza, grilled chicken and a steak, all of which were decent.

I do a lot of research on restaurants before I go somewhere, but I seldom end up where I plan to go. I’d really wanted to go to Frankie’s but was too lazy to hunt for it!

We ended the day with a little stroll on the beach, which was emptying out by this time.

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The next day, my bestie, her daughter and I went off to Boxpark on Al Wasl Road. It’s not accessible unless you travel by car, so I’ve put off going there till now.

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Cafés and stores at Boxpark are housed in old shipping containers. Once I got there, it was JBR all over again – I couldn’t decide where to go. There were so many options, each more tempting than the last. A representative for Boxpark came by and gave us free coupons to three outlets, which took the decision out of our hands. We decided to check out The Brownie Box – what else would you name a store that is housed in a box and sells brownies? I got myself a brownie with a peanut butter topping, that was interesting. Not content with that, we also went to Just Salads, where we each got enormous portions at not-very-cheap prices. I’m not complaining though, I had enough to last me for an evening snack over the next three days!

With its rustic footpaths and outdoor seating, Boxpark seems to have been created just to give you the opportunity to take pretty photographs, and of course we rose to the challenge!

I’ve mentally bookmarked the Marimekko café, a fondue joint called The Melting Pot and a pretty Italian place called Bianca Mozzarella to check out later.

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My birthday was a working day, but it went off pleasantly, with no major disasters. I tried to dress for the occasion by wearing the nicest thing in my wardrobe, a Zara dress. The girls prettied up my table, the team bought me cake and generally made a fuss of me.

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In the evening I met the family at Dubai Mall for dinner at Social House. I’d had too much birthday cake at this point, and so made do with a ratatouille, which was very well-made. We managed to get seating in a room facing the famous dancing fountains, and watched as they roared into life accompanied by song.

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We walked by the fountains at the foot of the Burj Khalifa for a while and then took a taxi home.

All that’s left now is to get on with the last year of my thirties, and make it as memorable as possible!

Following a train of thought

In the four decades of my life, I’ve not travelled much, but I’ve still racked up a whole lot of miles.

My parents worked and lived in a small oil town across the country from my home state. And when I say across, I mean across. Their home state was in the very south west of India, and their new world was in its northeastern-most corner.

I can only wonder how my mother, one of the most resourceful women there is, undertook the journey every year with my sister and me in tow. I call it a journey, but it was more like a week-long stately progress with multiple stops. It all began with a three-hour drive at the crack of dawn past tea gardens. This was followed by an hour-long flight, a two-day train ride hurtling down the East coast, and a change of trains for a quick overnight journey, before we could finally deposit our battered, 1980s suitcases on my grandmother’s front porch and run to hug her.

This was an annual affair and I don’t remember ever being bored by it. We’d look out of the window, read books, irritate each other, eat the god-knows-how-unhygienic-they-are meals at various stations, wait eagerly for river crossings, watch cities and states dissolve into nothingness, try to decipher the strange scripts on sign boards or crane our necks to see the whole train as it curved ahead of us – the pastimes were endless and rewarding.

My mother still marvels at the confidence – or foolhardiness – with which she embarked on each trip. This was the 1980s and telephone calls in our part of the world were still reserved for important occasions. Our town only had an intercom, and making calls to other cities was not common practice. More often than not, we descended on our relatives with minimum ceremony. There was no question of asking if it was convenient for them to receive us – there would be a car waiting for us at the station, and that was that.

Unlike me, the few times I’ve travelled as an adult, she carried no medicines and packed no food to eat on the journey. But we still got on fine, and arrived unscathed at our destinations.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our fair share of adventures.

There was this time a cyclone hit the coast and destroyed the railway line that was on our route. Our train re-routed and our two-day journey ended up being a five-day one. We had no idea when our train would eventually reach its destination, and I’m sure the relatives who we were meant to stay with had no idea either. But I was blissfully oblivious to it all, and thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected joyride through new bits of the country.

I remember waking up one morning and seeing large steam locomotives at a huge train station, and being served tea in clay pots. I’m quite sure this happened at two different times but in my mind it is mashed up into one memory. On that same trip, we passed through remote forests and people on our train began pulling the stop chain and disappearing into the night, as though they were on a local bus and not on a train with fixed train stations.

Another time, the cable on our train’s engine snapped, and we were stuck for several hours on the line, ironically just a few kilometres away from our final destination.

Now before this post gathers steam and gets away from me like a runaway train, let me direct it quickly into my college years.

I went to a college just a couple of hours away from home; it became my practice to board a train after class every Friday. The adventures did not abate. There were distasteful moments (dealing with lecherous types), scary experiences (boarding the wrong train and going on an unexpected jaunt through unknown territory) and downright terrifying ones (being all alone in a compartment at 9 pm, which in that part of the world, is tantamount to suicide).

Now, many years later, trains have rolled back into my life in a big way. I take the Dubai Metro to work and back. People who drive (most of Dubai, it would seem) ask me how I can stand the tedium of the journey. While it’s not always been smooth sailing, the metro runs on time, is clean and fast, and people in it usually smell good and dress well – what’s to complain? I usually lean against a door (not recommended) and read. In fact, once or twice I’ve missed my station because I’ve been so engrossed.

Whether I’m three or 39, I don’t see the train journeys ending. Let’s hope that they will lead to new landscapes and new discoveries in the years ahead!

I regret that I have no photographs to accompany this post; but if you could see the images in my head, ah this page would be colourful indeed.

 

 

Graduating from the food court

When four people in a family each enjoy different things, and one is a vegetarian besides, the easiest and cheapest way to enjoy a good meal is to go to a food court. But after a point, the crowds irritate, the choices pall, and the kids grow more adventurous. That’s when it’s time to check out the hundreds of cafés or affordable restaurants around Dubai. You’ll have to shell out a good hundred or so more, but surely, it’s worth it for good food and ambience.

I’m not talking about the Zumas or Nobus or Wheelers but the far more accessible The Paul, Carluccio’s, and PF Chang’s – chain restaurants which still manage to stay away from bland, mass-produced flavours.

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The Paul

The Paul is one of my very favourite places – apart from my room – to be in the UAE. Its ambience is everything I could ever ask for in a café. There aren’t too many choices for veggies on their menu, and I found their goat’s cheese quiche and croissants very eggy. I did love their crepes, and my caffeine consuming philistine friends swear by their coffee.

I haven’t tried their few veg salads, pastas and sandwiches yet, and that’s only because I adore their soups. I can’t resist nipping in each time I pass by and asking them what their soup of the day is, and if it’s vegetarian as it most often is, I treat myself.

I’ve feasted on their potato and leek, red pepper, tomato, cream of broccoli, and lentil soups. Of course, I choose to ignore the fact that they aren’t strictly vegetarian as they contain chicken stock, but the taste is by no means obvious.

Your soup order comes with a basket full of delicious rustic breads, and little pots of yummy tapenade and creamy butter. You can make a meal of it and I certainly do!

Il Forno, Sahara Centre

My friend and I had a sudden craving for Italian food, and Il Forno was chosen as it was halfway between both our homes. My friend ordered a beef lasagna, while I picked the ravioli which had come highly recommended on Zomato. One of the reviewers had suggested that diners ask for the pink sauce, a mix of their arabbiata and alfredo sauces, which was off-menu. I did, but not only did our rather unfriendly waiter deny that they could do any such thing, he also warned me against ordering the red sauce and looked very put out when I said I wasn’t keen on the white. This was mainly because it was a spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli, and I didn’t want more cheese in my sauce.

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However, the arabbiata came with a huge layer of thick mozzarella floating above the sauce. The ravioli was average, the sauce was tasteless and the mozzarella overload was nauseating. Personally, I like Parmesan or other cheeses – even a bland, processed cheddar – anything but mozzarella, with pasta. My friend’s lasagna got much better feedback though.

Bennigan’s, Sahara Centre

At Bennigan’s, which is an Irish American pub, it was the opposite. Service was excellent, and I loved my order, a filling potato and lentil soup, followed by a Meditterranean Salad with a delicious balsamic dressing. bennigans2

However, the non vegetarians were less then enthused with their steak orders. For one thing, they were unaccustomed to getting their sauces out of bottles, instead of drizzled on their plates. bennigans1

Predictably, portions were huge – my soup came in a tub, and the haloumi pieces in my salad were the size of tea coasters. My husband and son could barely finish the steak let alone the sides, and the beef was pronounced to be tough and chewy.

Gazebo, DCC and Mirdiff City Centre

Gazebo is one of the most popular upscale choices for Indian food here in Dubai, and its reputation is well-deserved. My husband swears by its dum-cooked biryani, while my kids love the kebabs. I’ve had yummy stuffed mushrooms and paneer preparations here.

Carluccio’s, Deira City Centre

Carluccio’s is a tad more expensive than the other eateries on this list, and the ambience of the Deira City Centre branch could certainly be a little more luxurious. We keep going back because we have our favourites here. The beef medallions are delicious as are the lamb cutlets. Be warned though, portions are small and each order is good only for one person.combo_Fotor_Collage

The pastas are more plentiful and my daughter and I often split them. The spinach and ricotta ravioli comes in a delightfully light sage and butter sauce, unlike at Il Forno, as does the pumpkin tortelli. I’ve sampled the rosemary potatoes and the penne arabbiata too, and both are good. But my favourite veg dish here actually comes as a side with the lamb cutlets – the eggplant caponata, which is a slightly sweet, pine-nutty preparation with a distinct olive oil taste. I break my rule of not touching anything that’s been on a plate with non-veg dishes, as soon as this lands on our table.

 

PF Chang’s

We’d been meaning to go to PF Chang’s for well over a year before we actually did. It is almost always packed. Luckily, this New Year’s day, we managed to find a spare table for a late lunch.

pf chang1The males in the family are not too fond of Chinese cuisine, or rather, what passes off as Chinese cuisine in most places. I love it; it is extremely kind to vegetarians, for one thing. PF Chang’s is a far cry from the greasy “Manchurian” served at every small eatery in India, however it is mainstream enough to appeal even to less adventurous palates.

We tucked into veg Lo Mein noodles, garlic noodles, Sichuan asparagus (me obviously) and Mongolian Beef, which came with sticky rice. We closed the day with a pot of fragrant mandarin spice tea.

pf chang2Everything was plentiful, delicious and affordable, and I sincerely hope that’s how my year is!

 

 

Madame Butterfly at DUCTAC

— In which I turn cultured for an evening– IMG_20151113_173738396

I had my very first brush with Opera at DUCTAC yesterday – the Italian Industry and Commerce Office in the UAE had organized a staging of Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly at the Centrepoint Theatre.

Growing up in the eighties in small town India, we reveled in our books, friendships, and rich imaginations. One of the pleasures of my childhood was flipping through the World Book Encyclopaedia – a black and white edition from the early ‘50s. We had volumes A, B, C, D, F, N-O, S and WXYZ with us – all that my mother could carry with her easily on her 3000-odd kilometer journey across India after marriage.

This meant my sister and I were very well informed on subjects such as Cats, Dresses, Flags, Flowers, Shakespeare, World War II, and of course, Opera. We’d pore over the long section on Opera, read the synopses of Aida, Carmen or The Barber of Seville and imagine a world of beauty, art and enchantment. So fascinated was I, that when I would play with my small army of dolls, Lady Angela Crawleigh could often be seen taking her rigid plastic body and nylon auburn hair off to the opera, clad in a black lace gown and fur muff (repurposed from my sister’s best baby frock and an old toy dog, respectively).

IMG_20151112_195344948As I grew older and got over my first mild shock of hearing an actual aria, the fascination continued. Like my first face-screwing taste of Cabernet Sauvignon, I acquired a liking for the music itself, albeit in a light casual way. Pavarotti’s sublime renditions at popular events like the Three Tenor concerts paved the way but I was by no means a true or knowledgeable fan.

When I saw the poster for Madame Butterfly outside DUCTAC, I was extremely excited. I was also a bit disappointed that it was that particular one, because it was one of the operas my sister and I had dismissed as soppy. But when I looked it up, and listened to Duvonque al mondo and Un Bel di Vedremo, I realized that it was one of the best operas for a beginner, with accessible and melodious music. I went online and quickly booked myself a ticket, one of the nosebleed ones high up in the balcony, for the only day it was playing in Dubai – Thursday, 12th November.

As the day approached, I was faced with many dilemmas that I’m sure Opera goers in centuries past never had to contend with. While they worried about which corsages to carry with their dresses, or whether their beaux would visit their boxes during the interval, my thoughts went like this:

  1. What if there is a dress code? How am I going to dress up for an Opera to work and not look silly?
  2. Will my bus come on time? What if the connecting Metro doesn’t run properly?
  3. What if my boss suddenly keeps me back at work?
  4. How do I get back home after it ends? Will it run so long that I miss my train?
  5. What do I do about dinner? Do I go to a restaurant or get a croissant from the metro café?

To make matters worse, the day of the opera dawned and it was rainy and windy– Dubai has only two or three days of rain every year and it HAD to happen on the day I had plans. Again, we had some mini crisis at work and for a minute I could feel tragedy begin to envelop me much as it did Madame Butterfly herself. However at six, the clouds – both metaphoric and real – had cleared, and I was on my way, feeling my excitement mount. In the ladies’ loo, I swapped my blazer for a silk stole, dabbed on some make up and swished my way to DUCTAC’s Centrepoint Theatre.IMG_20151112_192558143IMG_20151112_192532159

Dubai’s Italian contingent was out in full force, including the Consul General and his wife, who most emphatically were not in nosebleed seats. There were many women in black or maxi dresses with pearls and wraps, and even a few in pants and silk shirts. I had a brief chat with a lady who was there by herself like me, and she very kindly took the photo that accompanies this post. I have no pictures of the opera itself since we were forbidden to take any, but I did see a few later on Instagram.

Before each act, a narrator – Geetha Prodhom – would give us a gist of the action to follow. The production had focused on the main storyline involving Pinkerton, Cio Cio-san, Sharpless, Suzuki and Dolore, omitting Goro, Yamadori and Cio Cio-san’s uncle and their pieces altogether. Although I didn’t understand much beyond “Mi esposa”, “Butterfly” “Retorna” “Verra” and “America Forever” the entire time, the action and emotion were easy to follow. In the first act, we watched Sharpless and Pinkerton talk about Butterfly singing their peppy duet, with its Star Spangled Banner-inspired intro, Duvonque al mondo. Both Gianluca Pasolini who essayed Pinkerton and Gianfranco Montresor, the baritone who played Sharpless, were fabulous.

Then there was the affecting love duet between Pinkerton and Butterfly. The second act went by with Butterfly pining for Pinkerton and this was the least interesting bit of the opera for me. Even Un Bel di Vedremo which I had been looking forward to all evening, was a little uninspiring. But Monica De Rosa Mackay was back in full force in Act Three, which was simply magnificent. She was affecting in the scenes with her son Dolore, and in her final death scene. The humming chorus sounded amazing and the stage transition to show the passing of a long night followed by a new day was well done. Unfortunately the magic of that moment was ruined by someone’s cellphone ringing – and the annoyance in the room was palpable.

Agata Bienkowska, the mezzo soprano who played Suzuki had a powerful voice and got the role of the demure Japanese maid down pat. A key reason (see what I did there?) for the evening’s success was the proficient pianist, Piero Corradino Giovannini. His music set the scene skillfully. The crescendo before Butterfly stabs herself was awe-inspiring. I’d read that Puccini had skillfully woven in Japanese melodies and I could pick these out especially during the sequence where Suzuki is praying.

Act Three came to a close all too soon for me, with Pinkerton’s last look of anguish at Butterfly and Dolore. The curtain fell to thunderous applause – as the cliché goes. The cast came and took their bows one by one and then together, several times to prolonged clapping. I enjoyed this bit as much as the opera itself because the cast had worked so hard and so strenuously to put up a great performance and this was our little performance of appreciation in return. I clapped extra hard for the tenor because I had enjoyed his singing and voice the most.

Watching an Opera live, even if it is not in an Opera theatre but in an ordinary one, is an experience in itself. Nothing you see on TV or on Youtube or hear on audio recordings can prepare you for the impact it has in a large yet closed space, where it reverberates off every wall, fills each corner and rises high to the very rafters. I remember Richard Corliss of Time describing the art form as both sublime and ridiculous. Not to be pompous but I think Opera cannot be contained in the tiny spaces and contexts of our iPods and every day life – it needs its stage and space to blossom. Sign me up for the next one!

A quick nip into Ailuromania Cat Cafe

ailuromania cat cafe 1This past month, my daughter, whose brain is usually taken over by cats and DIYs, has had exams. Her daily fix of Cole and Marmalade was replaced by triangles, polynomials and acceleration-due-to-gravity.

All that hard work, of course, deserves a reward. A purring, furry, cuddly reward to be precise.

For people like me, who aren’t ready to commit to owning a cat just yet, Ailuromania Cat Café is a good alternative.

Ailuromania Cat Café is in Jumeirah, not far from Burj Al Arab. Get off at Dubai Internet City Station if you’re travelling by metro and take RTA Bus 88 till you reach the Wild Wadi Stop. As you catwalk into the café, you’ll see some furry models strutting about.

Even though I’d looked at the café’s website I couldn’t tell most of the cats and breeds apart. There were regular shorthaired domestic cats as well as Siamese, Persian and other breeds. Or to put it more simply, kitties of the fluffy, fluffier and fluffiest variety. ailuromania cat cafe 3

The café has a cat room and a non cat room, and charges AED 50 per person. Small kids (those at cat height, I presume) get in free. You can order food worth that amount once you’ve paid up. The fare is standard café stuff – croissants, sandwiches, brownies, macarons and so on. The real treat of course is having your fill of cat company. An LCD screen helpfully identifies the different cats, and states whether they like to be petted or played with.

ailuromania cat cafe 2Inside the cat room, we picked a table that looked like it would be frequented by the residents. Mylo, a large Persian, had already claimed the comfiest chair by it and barely moved the entire time we were there, oblivious to all the stroking, ear scratching and even toy waving he was subjected to. Other cats lounged on sofas, daybeds, table tops, wall shelves…every conceivable nook.

If you aren’t deeply fond of cats, you may be put off by having them in close proximity to your food. Rest assured they are well behaved and do not attempt to snack from your plate.

However, when food does arrive, you’ll notice that the cats begin to congregate around your table. An adventurous one may will even leap on to your table or sit on your lap. Which is good, right? ailuromania cat cafe 4

The café is quite packed, so call ahead or book using their website. Ailuromania, for all of us non-latin speakers, means ‘Love of cats’ in said language. You can read more about the café here in a nice article in The National. And here’s another one from What’s on Dubai. And here’s a cute cat video while we are at it.