A month of reading on the Dubai Metro

September 11th

It’s a day of coincidences. I’m leaving work when the elevator doors opposite open and a pretty brunette comes out in crutches. Not so long ago, I was that person with an ankle brace and crutches at work. An ankle fracture, I ask. I don’t often talk to people I don’t know, but over the last few months, as I went from immobile to hopping on two crutches, to one crutch and finally limping around unsupported, it dawned on me that ankle fractures aren’t that common and that no one around me knew anything about dealing with one. I really wished then that there was someone I could talk to, who had been through something similar.

In the Metro, I open The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami to page 76. I quickly lose myself in sixteenth century America. After a while, I notice a young girl in a pretty navy dress. She’s reading, which is not that common a sight. A few stations later, she sits down. She’s facing me, and I can see her from the gap between the seats in front of me. She holds up her book, and I gasp. It’s The Moor’s Account.

The friend who lent me this book has quite unusual tastes, and usually suggests books I wouldn’t come across in the ordinary course of things, so I’m really intrigued to see this girl reading it. I instantly feel compelled to take out my phone and write about this coincidence. As we head out of the train, I catch the girl’s attention and we compare notes. For the second time today, I’ve spoken to a stranger. I’m so pleased by this experience that I decide to chronicle it. Then it strikes me, why not chronicle other readers and books in the Metro over the course of, say, a month? I feel confident I’ll have enough material. It seems like there have been more readers on the Metro over the past year than before, and besides, I’d just spotted one yesterday. I decide I’ll start my chronicle from the day before, and go all the way up to October 10th.

September 10th

Rewind to the previous day, when I sat down opposite a man with beard, reading The President is Missing by President Bill Clinton and James Patterson. I’d never heard of it but having just read a James Patterson book a few months ago, I was pretty sure I knew what to expect. It’s a pass for me.

September 24th

Just when I’m wondering if this idea has any legs, a woman from Islamabad strikes up a conversation with me. I’ve moved on to War and Peace, my project for the year, and she says she read it in 1996.

I ask her what she’s been reading lately. She replies that she doesn’t read anymore except for work, which is something finance-related. The last book she read was Family Matters. Rohinton Mistry? She shrugs and says she doesn’t remember the author, but that he was Indian. Then, she narrows her eyes and gives me a little lecture on being focused and avoiding distraction (I assume she means that my reading fiction is a distraction, and it is of course, and thankfully so).

I mentally note her beautifully applied eyeliner and thick coats of mascara, as well as her rapid style of talking as she flits from subject to subject. She recommends Dostoevsky to me, though she considers it “depressing”. And Anna Karenina which again is, “depressing”. I’ve read both, but I don’t say so, as I fear another lecture.

September 30th

I don’t have my book today, so I decide to reply to a friend’s email. If I’d found a place to sit, I’d be asleep. A man my age with greying hair stands before me, reading. He’s standing just far enough that I can’t read the print. I just about make out ‘Foreword’, and I’m mildly impressed that he hasn’t skipped it. I catch the words “philosophy per se” and think it’s perhaps self-help, which is usually the most common genre on the Metro. Then he shifts his book so that the cover is backlit and I can read Murakami in reverse. I’m pleased. But which one? It’s too slim to be Kafka on the Shore, The Windup Bird Chronicles, IQ84 or Norwegian Wood, which are the titles I remember at that moment. I can’t remember the name of the slender one I’ve read, so I resolve to google it, and all the others I haven’t read. After 10 minutes, I give up my attempts to see the title.

At some point I lose track of Murakami-fan-san (as I’m calling him in my head) but then notice a tall, sharply dressed European chap engrossed in a thickish volume, right across the train from me. I consider moving closer to him to see the title but just then, I finally get a place to sit and that is that. I spend some time thinking of the rarity of not one, but two men reading.

When I exit four stations later, he’s still reading and it’s the most recent Dan Brown. Judging by the look on his face, he’s really into it.

October 2nd

To the young Indian girl in the orange top, sorry for the creepy behavior I’m about to relate. I spot her as soon as I enter the train, leaning against the Metro door, engrossed. She’s halfway through her book and I’m slightly envious as all my reading still hasn’t made a dent in War and Peace.

As always, I’m too far away (or too nearsighted) to read the title. For some reason I feel that the book is not in English. I resolve to inch closer to her under the pretext of queuing up to exit. Thanks to some nimble footwork I end up right behind her and tail her doggedly as we change trains, like a creep at the cinema or a private detective, depending on your point of view. But no matter how much I squint, I can’t read the book that she’s now swinging as she walks. It is in English though. Finally, I catch the words Correa, then Lucas Correa, Golden Girl or perhaps German Girl. I have no data so I’ll have to wait till I’m at work to google.

I look it up later and the book is German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa, and it sounds really interesting. It moves from war torn Germany to Havana and then New York. I had not thought of the Metro as source for book recommendations, but it is turning out be quite effective in that respect.

October 4th

My book encounter in the morning is brief. I glimpse The Eight by Katherine Neville while waiting for the tram. Goodreads tells me that it is a historical whodunnit. Damn, Metro folk, you impress me!

The same evening, I’m on the green line train, a few stops away from home. I look at this girl because her outfit’s so chic and then do a double take because she’s reading. Having spotted someone reading in the morning, I haven’t bothered to survey the crowd in the evening. Then follows the now-familiar routine of straining to read the title. The font is large and I make out This is… She’s even holding it up and not obscuring the cover. I do think, briefly, that I should be reading my book instead of trying to see what she’s reading. However, Tolstoy has Pierre joining the Freemasons right now and I’m a bit uninterested. I move closer eventually and read: This is not Your Story. I think to myself, all book covers should feature such large titles. It’s by a Savi Sharma and Goodreads files it under ‘Indian Urban Novel’, a genre that has its share of duds. Now, I’m secretly hoping this is the last book I see, as this piece is getting very long.

October 7th

Nope, I spot another book. After the dry spell at the start, it’s positively raining literature now. The title du jour is that old favourite of the aspiring marketing professional, Freakonomics. The aspiring marketing professional in this case is a girl in her twenties. I’m still at page 350 or so with Tolstoy, and I despair of making progress just as much as Princess Mary despairs of her father ever believing in God.

October 8th

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Now we’re talking! I’ve long believed that the average DXB reader is mostly into motivational books. This sweeping conclusion is based on minimal empirical evidence from the Metro, but since I started this exercise my theory has been given the lie. Right now, I’m in a special bus on my way to Ibn Battuta mall for a store visit. I admire people who can read in the bus, like the blonde before me, and secretly wish her much enlightenment and ability-to-deal-with-life-ness.

October 10th

It’s the last day of my book experiment, which has proven to be more prolific than I imagined. The Metro ride itself is uneventful but there she is in the connecting tram, a woman in her twenties, her book held aloft with its arresting black and white cover and red font. I inch closer (I’m blasé about this now). The book is Millennium 5 by David Lagercrantz. In French. I know this is the much talked about continuation of Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander books. I’ve found the original three not especially well-written but extremely enjoyable all the same. I resolve to give the sequels a whirl sometime.

It’s been a fun and illuminating ride this past month. When I started out, I expected to see a few books at the most, and I would’ve bet they’d be motivational stuff or pulp fiction. While not entirely wrong (hello, Dan Brown), I’m pleasantly surprised at the depth and amount of reading I’ve spotted. As for me, I’ve made good progress on War and Peace, reaching page 481 of my 958-page edition, with its tiny print.

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ELF’s Festival in a Day: Of Jackson Brodie, Dolphins and Medusa

Last Saturday, I attended a special screening of sessions from the Cheltenham Literature Festival at Novo Cinemas in the Festival City Mall. When I first saw the notification on the Emirates Literature Foundation’s Instagram, I thought for a minute that Kate Atkinson, David Attenborough and Mary Beard were going to be in Dubai. Then sanity prevailed, and I read the finer print.

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That these three amazing personalities were not present in the flesh did not in any way detract from the quality of the event. This, as Ahlam Bolooki, Festival Director, Emirates Lit Fest mentioned, is meant to be the first of many such screenings from Lit Fests around the world. (The Emirates Literature Foundation organizes the Emirates Lit Fest every year in March). I’ve also been fortunate to attend intimate, salon-like sessions in their heritage headquarters in Fahidi, featuring Tim Mackintosh Smith and a young art student, Rawa Talass, in the past.

Right outside the theatre, Magrudy’s bookstore had a little stall featuring works from all the speakers. I picked up the new Kate Atkinson, Transcription, as well as two of Mary Beard’s works on the classics and Rome.

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The Magrudy’s stall at the Festival 

All the sessions were transmitted live from Cheltenham, with 45-minute breaks in between. The clarity of the transmission was top notch, and the presence of erudite moderators enhanced the experience. In each session, there was a shoutout and wave to Dubai, as well as a question (vetted in advance) from the Dubai audience.

Kate Atkinson

Atkinson started off by reading a humorous passage from Transcription and then answered questions posed by the interviewer, Sam Baker. The book is set in 1940, in war time Britain, and the protagonist is a secretary in MI5. It is based on true events, on a long running operation by the MI5 to identify British fascists and Nazi sympathizers. (I immediately thought of Diana Mitford and Oswald Mosely).

But the conversation was wider ranging than that.  Atkinson spoke a little about Life After Life and A God in Ruins, as well as her Jackson Brodie series of crime novels (yes, there’s a new one coming out soon!). She touched on the rather strange and patronizing New Yorker review of Transcription, which while mostly complimentary, contrasted her with Rachel Cusk (who’s highly acclaimed novel Outline, I found unreadable) and called her a matron, which she thought was “not just sexist, but ageist”. In response to Sam Baker’s observation that she’s one of the few authors who’s both popular and critically acclaimed, she said she is bewildered that her work is labelled as ‘women’s writing’ or ‘family stories’. The latter, I can personally attest, is complete nonsense, no less ridiculous than if Evelyn Waugh were to be accused of doing the same.

On being pressed, Kate spoke a little about her “process”. I was reassured that she finds the whole writing and artistic inspiration business mysterious. Unlike other author lists of definitive dos and don’ts, her tips felt quite nebulous. She likes to start with an interesting title, going so far as to fit her ideas around it. She generally has a beginning and an end in mind and then sort of works out the middle.  While she always has one or two story ideas bubbling beneath the surface, she likes to let them marinate (her word) for a bit before she starts writing. The longer her ideas marinate, the better the story is likely to be.

David Attenborough

This was without a shadow of doubt, the main draw of the day. In fact, though the ticket covered all three sessions, many people chose to attend only this one.

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Sir David was interviewed by Emma Freud, great-granddaughter of Sigmund and niece of Lucian, the artist. (She’s also Richard Curtis’ wife but clearly an accomplished woman in her own right).

Ms. Freud had the famed naturalist, who was there to promote an updated edition of his book Life on Earth, reminisce about his early days in the BBC, which were also the early days of the BBC itself. Initially, he said, programmes were broadcast rather than recorded because the Beeb didn’t have funds for film. When he went on to become programme director for BBC 2, he, and other likeminded individuals, commissioned a wide variety of programmes to cover a broad range of interests, even niche ones. He contrasted that with today’s ratings-and-revenue mentality.

As always Sir David came across as humble and funny, even more so than on his Graham Norton appearances. He agreed with Emma Freud that people probably adore him because they project their feelings about the natural world on to him.

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Full house for Sir David’s session

There were many observations of interest. He mused on how all the advancements in technology that allowed him to shoot increasingly sophisticated shows were made possible by military research – night vision, heat sensitive imaging and drones to name a few. He also said how in spite of all his achievements, he still feels like an imposter, as he’s not scientist or a researcher making new discoveries in the natural world, but “merely” a creator of documentaries.

Answering an audience question, Sir David said he thought animals in Africa were the most endangered, largely because of population growth and the resulting encroachment into animal habitats. In response to another question, he said he would most like to converse with Dolphins, who he said were highly intelligent and socialized.

Much was also made of how he’s seen more of the earth than any person alive today.

Mary Beard

This was the session I was the most excited about, having watched Professor Beard’s Rome documentaries, and read her LRB pieces. Her book Women and Power is an expansion of those two articles, Women in Power: From Medusa to Merkel and The Public Voice of Women. In these lectures, as in her book and her session on Saturday, Beard draws on her extensive knowledge of antiquity, particularly the treatment of women down the ages. Much of what is below is covered in those pieces but it’s worth repeating. Examples of misogyny she mentioned from literature include:

  • Telemachus shutting Penelope down because “speech is for men”
  • The Medusa story and how it’s all about a strong woman (ergo, a troublemaker) needing to be shut down (decapitated) by a male (Perseus). She tied this to the horrible imagery from Trump supporters that superimposed Hilary’s face on that of Medusa and Trump’s on Perseus, printing it on mugs, tees and more. She said more than anything else, she objected to the normalization and “domestication” of such imagery, as though it was something mundane and so, somehow ok.
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel Herland, in which women found and run a country entirely without men, one which is utopian in how peaceful and progressive it is. The women still believe however, that they’re doing a bad job and that the men would do a better job of it.

Professor Beard, who is active on Twitter, and is famously known for engaging her trolls, also spoke about #metoo. She believed the real test of the movement’s effectiveness should be measured in how it changes the lives of ordinary woman, especially 10 years down the line. In her words (loosely paraphrased) it should make a difference to “the woman being pushed up against the wall next to the copy machine”. The question from the Dubai audience asked about her views on the power of women and feminism  in the Arab world, and she took the time to answer it with grace and thoughtfulness, saying that Westerners often think that Western liberal feminism is the only template for a woman to navigate the world successfully. She also spoke about the veil and her words showed a deep understanding of cultural nuances.

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Excited to get started on these!

There was some fun between sessions, once when someone from the audience decided to play ‘bad lip reading’ with two Cheltenham audience members, and another time when the mic was accidentally left on at Cheltenham and we were treated to a blow by blow account of someone’s cat giving birth. After the David Attenborough session, a mic was passed around amongst the Dubai audience. One woman said “He’s the most inspiring person I have ever seen, and I am 83″, upon which a collective gasp ran through the audience.

The entire evening, dubbed Festival in a Day, was reasonably priced at AED 120 and tickets were available on platinumlist.com.

 

Top things to do in Dubai – La Perle

There’s much less to do in Dubai in summer – but for that very reason, you’ll find excellent deals on many activities that may be too expensive during the peak winter months.

One such deal we found recently was for La Perle, the stunning water acrobatics show that has taken the city by storm since its launch in July last year.

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The pool that forms the centre of the action at La Perle

Famously choreographed by Franco Dragone, an impresario who has worked with Cirque du Soliel in Las Vegas, La Perle is a fabulous spectacle that unites song, dance, acrobatics, sets and visuals and kept us entertained without missing a beat, for nearly an hour and a half.

So what are a few things you need to know about La Perle?

1. Getting there

La Perle is staged at its own custom-built, eponymous venue near the St. Regis hotel in Al Habtoor City (not far from Dubai Mall). There are 2 shows every day, one at 7 PM and one at 9:30 PM. La Perle is in the same complex as the character-filled The City Grill restaurant – a meat-heavy South African place we’d stumbled on accidentally last year. We ubered it to La Perle, but the venue does offer valet parking. Though we were really early, we were let in and permitted to go upstairs almost instantly. By the time we ordered nachos and popcorn, made trips to the loo and forced the menfolk to take a couple of pictures, it was time to be ushered in to the theatre.

2. Where to sit at La Perle

The La Perle theatre is rather like an ellipse, and at the mouth of the ellipse is the stage. Towards the centre is a round pool that plays a very important part in the proceedings. The seating is arranged all around the ellipse. Before buying my tickets, I’d looked at reviews online and all of them were unanimous in saying that one didn’t need to buy the most expensive tickets to get the best experience. Since my wallet only permitted bronze tickets for four, this was a godsend. The thing to watch out for while booking is whether the stage is obstructed. The round pool in the centre is visible wherever you sit, but the far end of the stage, at the mouth of the ellipse, is obstructed if you sit on either side of it.

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A glimpse of the stage and seating as you book

In the image above, everything below the black line is obstructed. The red line shows where we sat. While booking I’d seen the legend ‘stage obstructed’ and ‘stage partially obstructed’ while hovering on the seats, and without fully understanding what that meant, I bought the ones just outside that (as marked in red). All along, I’d assumed the pool in the centre was where all the action happened, when actually quite a lot of it happens in the open part of the ellipse above, where the arrow is positioned. As it so happens that part of the stage was still not 100% visible from where I sat, but that’s fine.

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A view of the far end of the stage, which was slightly obstructed from our seats

Other than that, however, you can sit just about anywhere and enjoy the show. It’s not like other events I’ve been to where my faraway cheap tickets have significantly lessened my short-sighted enjoyment of the show. In fact, the bronze tickets give us a much better overall sense of the show. There is so much happening that from the lower gold and platinum seats, you’re almost too close to the action to gain full perspective.

3. The plot and the show

While the show follows a loose storyline, it’s not really important to understand it to enjoy the whole experience. All I got was that there was a young girl (in a Snow-White-style haircut), who found a pearl, lost a pearl, found the pearl again, lost the pearl again, found the pearl…and this goes on for a while till the pearl is well and truly found. There’s an evil king, who turns out not to be evil (was he evil though? I thought him pushing someone in to the pool was pretty mean), a minister who actually is evil, a hunky rustic type who is Snow White girl’s love interest and some evil musclemen.

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One of the beautiful acrobatic moments during the show  

The show has something to please everyone – a gorgeously put together soundtrack that apparently features live musicians; light and sound effects; motorcycle stunts; trapeze artistes, jaw-dropping diving moves, rain (yes, rain!) and much more. Like any good composition, it has moments of excitement alternating with moments of calm; heightened emotion leavened by lighter feeling; and action balanced by reflection.

4. How to get tickets to La Perle

It’s only after you watch the show you understand why the tickets are priced so high. Quite simply, quality doesn’t come cheap. Whether it’s the skills of the performers or the expertise of the crew, everything works so smoothly that you never see the tremendous effort behind it all. If you follow them on Instagram like I do (laperledxb) you’ll see great behind the scenes footage. Apparently each show is different, so props to them for nailing it each time.

I bought my bronze tickets off platinumlist.com and they were at 40% off. There are regular discounts and offers, so watch out for these on social media. Each ticket cost AED 252 after discount.

5. The dress code

This was something I really struggled with. I saw conflicting information everywhere. I guess as long as you don’t wear shorts and flip-flops you’ll be fine. I did not see anyone being turned away because of their attire. There were many people casually dressed in jeans and sports shoes, but equally, there were folks who’d bothered to dress up. A semi-formal dress and a blazer would be perfect.

My final takeaway? La Perle is quite unlike any other show in Dubai. It’s over the top but tastefully so, a spectacle when you’re watching it and an unforgettable memory once you’re done. Do go see it for yourselves – you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

A few Dubai habits you pick up as time goes by

I’m nearing the end of my fourth year in Dubai and here a few observations about what the city does to you, or more accurately, what it has done to me.

In my first year, I was mostly at home freelancing and had not entered into life in the city as yet. But now, a few years into a steady job, Alhamdulillah, as they say here, I’ve fallen into the rhythms and pace of Dubai.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed:

  • Your appearance becomes much more important, especially if you’re already careful about it. It becomes next to impossible to step out of the home without some makeup on. I never owned a hair iron and fussed much less about chipped nails when I lived in India. Salon blow drys and Gelish appointments are still not routine as far as I’m concerned but I will plump for them if I’ve got an event coming up. However, if I start using false eyelashes, I know I will need an intervention.

 

  • You’ll order in a lot more. Maybe this is just me and from working with significantly younger people, who generally don’t seem to cook. And also because I get lazy every now and then.

 

  • Everyone owns an iPhone. About 10.5 people own an android device of some sort. You were once one of those people, and you now think of the old you with distant affection.

 

  • Your wardrobe will become 70% black or 70% white, depending on which way you lean.

 

  • You’ll start to suffer from serious weekend FOMO. Come Wednesday and everyone starts throwing out ridiculously exotic plans, one fancier than the other. Staycation! Champagne brunch! Skydiving! Sorry, lunch at the mall just won’t cut it.

 

  • Talking of which, everyone will moan about how much they hate going to the mall. This, after spending a whole day at the mall.

 

  • If you socialize, you’ll scour Groupon or Beam or Entertainer or just about anything that offers you deals. You’ll take great pride in whatever discounts you score there.

 

  • You’ll get to sample cuisines from different cultures, not just from restaurants but if you’re lucky, your colleagues’ lunch boxes.

 

  • And when it comes to restaurants yes, Dubai has one for every cuisine, but quite a few of these do still feel generic and blah.

 

  • You’ll start to pepper your conversation with Yalla, Inshallah, Alhamdulillah (see above) and habibi even though you know no Arabic whatsoever.

 

  • You’ll hear people around you moan about culture, lack thereof, and wonder why they don’t do their research and make an effort to look beyond the gloss.

 

  • As a woman, you’ll appreciate that men don’t lech at you the way they do in parts of India. I’m afraid to jinx it but I have to say you’ll feel safer here as a woman than in many other places.

 

  • At some point, you’ll go on a yacht cruise around the Marina and even a stretch limo ride at midnight.

 

  • You’ll be amused by friends raised in the city who scream at the sight of a moth or fly.

 

  • You won’t be able to deal with dirty bathrooms or broken pavements ever again. Nope. Nuh huh.

 

As you can see, this is quite a silly little list, and quite a few things are missing from it – the ubiquitous Friday brunches and Tuesday’s ladies’ nights for instance as I’m not qualified to talk about those at all. Nor can I speak to the coffee habits or exercise fads that grip the city. A friend once likened Dubai to Disneyland and that comparison is quite apt as life runs so smoothly here. While we’re constantly reminded of how ephemeral it all is, we tend to suspend thought and simply go with the flow.

 

 

Around the open-air markets in Dubai

With temperatures hovering just below 50 degrees centigrade, this is an odd time to talk about the various open-air markets in Dubai – unless you’re shopping around for sunstroke.

But to misquote, if summer comes, can winter be far behind? From October to March, the sun still shines (on most days, hello cloud-seeding), temperature stays in the cool early 20s and there’s a pleasant breeze. It’s when everyone is outdoors 24/7, and naturally that means eating, drinking, shopping and strolling outdoors too – all the things you take for granted in other parts of the world.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen many different markets pop up on my Facebook feed. Do they live up to the hype? Here’s a quick look at a few I’ve been lucky enough to go to, a few of my finds and hauls, and my thoughts on what experiences and memories are worth bagging and which ones you should trash.

And oh, one thing to remember is that none of these markets – except the flea market – is especially cheap, so definitely go after payday!

Ripe Market

This is arguably the most famous and nicest of the markets, hosted by Ripe, an organization that sources and sells fresh organic produce. The market itself is built around its vegetable and produce shop, however there’s a lot more than just carrots and greens on offer.

The edition I visited (admittedly a couple of years ago) was the outdoor, morning one usually held in Zabeel Park on Fridays. There’s also a Night Market at the Pond Park in Barsha and an indoor version in summer.

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Vibe:

Laidback glam. Pretty white marquees, bunting and trestle tables, all arranged around a path in the park. Folks lounging on blankets under trees, while littler folks throw Frisbees around.

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Go for:

An abundance of food stalls, a couple of food trucks, kiosks selling interesting merchandise, music and plenty of winter sunshine. Things to buy ranged from jewellery to clothing, accessories and tchotchkes.

You won’t miss:

Ripe is on the pricier side, with most of the food stalls organised by the trendier cafés in town. A lot of the merchandise is expensive.

Truckers DXB – Food Truck JAM 

As the name suggests, this a food truck market. Truckers travels across the emirates and pops up in different venues, but I went to the one where the festival is parked more often than not – The Emirates Golf Club.

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Vibe:

Slumming it, champagne-set style. Think pretty sunsets, expansive green lawns, fairy lights, well-dressed folk, colourful trucks, stalls of knick-knacks and magic in the air.

Go for:

A host of food trucks covering a range of cuisines. There were Indian, Italian, Asian, Mexican, Arabic and Fast Food choices when I went. Plus shisha and beer for those who were so inclined. The food was all mostly affordable and well-made, whatever we tasted at least. The ambience was amazing, with several musical acts stepping on the makeshift stage that evening, as the crowd sat on upturned packing crates arranged in rows.

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You won’t miss:

Truckers is not easily accessible by public transport, especially when it’s deep in the heart of the Golf Club. You’ll need to drive in for sure.  Also it can get a bit chilly, so don’t forget to wrap up.

Arte Market

An indoor crafts fair, Arte is the place to be if you’re looking for something unique for yourself or your home. Dubai is a great place to shop but unfortunately, most of the wares are either high street or designer. There really isn’t a whole lot of mom-and-pop stores or independent labels of the sort you’ll find elsewhere. Arte is really the best way to fix that.

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Vibe:

Boho and crafty, with the effect unfortunately being a little diluted by the event’s location within a mall.

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Go for:

Tons and tons! There are stalls dedicated to scarves, clothing, art, handmade curios, preserves, baked goods and even, cloth sanitary napkins. My favourite seller was Audrey’s Cat, which stocks vintage jewellery, especially brooches.

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At the end of an hour at the Arte Market, I was poorer by a few hundred dirhams and weighed down by a hand-painted tray, homemade granola, a box of blondies (white chocolate brownies), one bottle of an amazingly yummy sun-dried tomato spread, and a stunning Lucite brooch. It’s a hard life, that’s for sure.

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You won’t miss:

It’s not strictly outdoors, and you’ll find yourself buying a lot more than you need!

Fashion Swap Shop

This seemed to be an interesting concept when I saw it online, so a friend and I decided to check it out. We went when the fair was right next to us at Media One, at one of its open air restobars. To explain the concept, there is a swap rail where you can leave the clothes you want to donate. You’ll then be given tokens, one for each piece you give. You can use a token to pick up an item of clothing that someone else has left on the rail.

Vibe:

A chic but rather generic affair. Overhyped.

Go for:

Other than the swap rail, there are a few sellers of handmade items and clothing. I got a pretty collar from a Turkish lady whose wares were made by her sister. There was a beauty salon that does your hair for free as well.

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You won’t miss:

Maybe it was just that particular night, but the swap rail was more of a flop rail. For one thing, people trickle in, which means that at any given time the rail is rather bare. Once you’ve handed in your items, you’ll need to hang around on the sidelines as people come in with their products. You will also need to be pretty quick to jump in, go through the 3 or 4 new additions that each person brings and take your pick. I wasn’t unhappy with the things I got, but unlike the flea market, there really isn’t that much to choose from. There’s a lot of waiting time, which you can kill with a little tipple and finger food like we did, but it’s still not really my glass of wine cup of tea.

Other than these four fairs, I’ve already written about the Dubai Fleamarket here. Box Park is a great open air venue too, in winter. There are a few that I haven’t seen, and by next winter, there’s sure to be more. Until then, I’ll just sit here in the AC and plan away…

 

Afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, Dubai

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A view of the tea room.

As my daughter and I walked into Fortnum and Mason Dubai, I worried a little that it would be one of those snobby Dubai places where you’d be judged by your clothes and designer togs (or lack thereof). Considering we were walking in carrying a large plastic bag from Daiso’s, I assumed we had every right to be worried. Add in the fact that the original store in London counts the Queen as one of its regular patrons, we clearly had no business there.

Or so I thought, and was proven pleasantly wrong. For one thing, the kindly English hostess patiently explained the whole menu to me, an absolute afternoon tea virgin. I thought I’d be expected to order two afternoon teas, one for each of us, or at the very least place a second order of a little something, but she said it was unnecessary.

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A sunny corner. You can also choose to sit outdoors.

She seated us at our table with a pristine white table cloth in a pretty corner of the sunlit tea room (well duh, this is, after all, Dubai in April!) The interiors reminded me that my daughter and I were at Fortnum as much for the atmosphere as for the food. There was pretty china in their signature green, silverware that was clearly aged but in the nicest way, glass jars and more. The menus were gorgeous and I wish I had taken a picture, but I was far too conscious of the waiter hovering.

As part of the tea, you get served a pot of tea, five finger sandwiches, some mini desserts and cakes, scones and a full-sized wedge of cake.

To begin with, we selected our tea (Assam) and moved to the cake display to choose our full-sized cake slice. There was a Victoria sponge, a Battenburg cake (which I was forced to reject as it contains marzipan, which my daughter hates) and a chocolate cake. There might have been a fourth choice but at this point my eyes glazed over. We went with the Victoria as it seemed to be the safest bet.

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Clotted cream, preserves and my cup of tea. 

Back at our table, our clotted cream and preserves had arrived as a precursor to the main dishes. Our server poured out the Assam tea using a wee strainer, and then placed a three tier cake tray in front of us.

As a vegetarian, I could eat only one of the five finger sandwiches – mint and cucumber. In retrospect, I should have saved it to leaven the sugar overdose that was to follow. My daughter ate the rest; salmon, beef and egg among others.

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The entire service in all its glory with my daughter caught in mid-chomp.

The two scones were plain and raisin respectively; we tried them with the clotted cream, raspberry preserve and strawberry preserve as was recommended.

By now, the rest of the dessert offerings were beginning to look at me with a menacing eye. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but my daughter polished off a mini macaroon, a little red velvet thingy, and an itty-bitty chocolate cake. She also ate half of the massive Victoria sponge while I marveled at her dessert-eating abilities. I picked at a little of the cake, ate the apple crumble, demolished most of both the scones and swore not to eat anything sweet ever again in this lifetime. However, I did absolutely love the fruity pannacotta. It was sweet yet tart and just perfect!

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All the mini-desserts, plus more chomping in the background. 

Now that I’m done with my first afternoon tea experience, I believe that the whole experience is better suited for a long and leisurely afternoon with friends, delicately nibbling on sandwiches, popping down a mini-dessert or two (but not more!), drinking copious cups of tea while debating the state of the world (or botox, as the lovely women at the next table were doing). For the two of us, it was a bit of a struggle (in the nicest way) to finish everything laid out before us, but ah well, first-world problems!

 

These are a few of my favourite things

I wrote a while back about my grandmother’s filigree brooch, which is one of my most treasured pieces. Very few of my other pieces have that pedigree – although I do have some antique gold tucked away in a locker across the seas, and loads and loads of the of-the-moment pieces that Aldo, Claire’s or Accessorise see fit to churn out.

But what of the pieces that have some personal history, carry interesting associations or are linked irrevocably to friends and memories?

I’ve always had a fascination for precious stones – rubies, diamonds and emeralds especially. So the first of my modest collection of what I’ll call interesting jewellery, is this, a small pair of ruby earrings belonging, once again, to my grandmother. It was in the very same glass bottle that I mentioned in the post on the brooch. IMG_9061

I wore these for my wedding, attached to a longer, more traditional pair and I remember asking her what stones they were. She shrugged and said “Good red stones” – by which I understood she thought they were rubies. And so they were, as I confirmed many years later, on one of my rare visits to a jeweller. I love the beautiful deep colour of these stones, and the unmistakably old-fashioned and untrendy setting.

IMG_2508But before we consign my grandmother’s glass bottle to the steel armoire, there’s one more little treasure in there – a black opal. Part of a set of loose stones she got from Australia, this stone was hurriedly set in an old gold ring, to make my wedding trousseau look a little more substantial. The opal itself hasn’t been polished to achieve the iridescence and colour of black opals I’ve seen elsewhere, but I love it all the same. Its liquid beauty and simple oval shape make this a classic as far as I am concerned. Also, I have only her word for it that this is a black opal – it might be a chip of marble for all I know.

IMG_4886I bought myself these emerald earrings after having saved up for them for a long time. I’d joined one of those monthly installment schemes, and shortly after I did my financial situation took a nosedive due to various circumstances. So, when the scheme matured, having struggled all year, it was with a sense of deep satisfaction I went in to buy these. I had a choice between really tiny diamonds or more substantial emeralds and I thought these earrings were just perfect. I don’t wear them as often as I should, but consider them an elegant addition to my closet.

IMG_2457This little scarab pin was gifted to me by my little cousin – not so little actually, considering she’s all grown up enough to go to Germany on an exchange programme, visit the Egyptian museum in Berlin and pick out an interesting piece of jewellery for the constant companion of her childhood.

I wear this quirky little creation on the collar of my shirts to add a touch of interest.

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These oh-so-pretty pink topaz earrings were gifted by a close friend in the early days of our friendship. I’d moved cities not long before that, and begun a new job where I was thrown in with a set of wonderfully intelligent yet intimidating women, whose conversation, laced as it was with wordplay and references regularly went over my head – a feeling I am not generally used to.

By the time I got this on my 36th birthday, however, I had firmly become one of the inner circle. That year is always enshrined in my memory as a priceless one of self-discovery, good food, great wine and the best conversations.

FullSizeRender 12This one is a recent acquisition, bought from Lynda Kirby, a seller who specializes in all things vintage. It was one of my favourite finds at the wonderful Arte Market. Considering my budget, my choices were this pretty lucite leaf and an oval cloisonné brooch in black and gold. Her entire collection is gorgeous. She stocks vintage dresses, hats, rings and more. Lynda sources much of her stuff from England, where she’s from. I’m looking forward to going back and picking up more, when time and my purse permit.

As a bonafide magpie, I have my eye on a ton of other shiny things. More brooches, for instance. Something – anything – with the distinctive interlocking Chanel Cs. A pair of earrings with the pearl drops like this, or this brooch. Some real, creamy pearls or even good looking cultured ones – the list goes on an on.