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.

Exploring Dubai – a few favourites

Life in Dubai can perhaps be measured in two-year increments – which is the usual duration of a visa. Now that I’ve been here two years, this is a good time to look back at some of the interesting things I’ve done.

  1. Dubai International Writers’ Centredubai intl writers centre 2

The Writers’ Centre is an initiative by the organizers of the Emirates Literary Fest. Unlike the festival, which is on every March, the Writers’ Centre is a permanent institution that holds talks and workshops by authors, especially those with a Middle Eastern connection.

dubai creek writers centreThe centre is in the historic Al Ghubaiba neighbourhood and the creek is just a step away.

There are old buildings, cafes and even camels lounging about in the area, and the whole atmosphere is quaint and cosy. dubai intl writers centre

All three of the talks I attended were in the picturesque courtyard of the centre, which seats about 50 people.

I attended two discussions by Tim Mackintosh Smith, whose Ibn Battuta Trilogy I’ve read and loved. He was every bit as charming, modest and humorous as his books suggest.

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I went back late one evening in June to attend a chat by Rawaa Talass, a young Syrian art major who curates the excellent aRTproject page on Facebook. Her chat was about the early Syrian community in New York – who once lived in the area near World Trade Centre.

dubai intl writers centre 1Rawaa explained at the beginning of her talk that the word Syrian in this case was meant to cover people from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine – one of whom was Khalil Gibran. She had a treasure trove of old photographs with her and it was deeply fascinating.

dubai writers centre tim mackintosh smithHighlight:

It’s hard to pick one moment, but getting Tim to sign my copy of The Hall of a Thousand Columns was great! He was thrilled to know we were from Kerala, and spoke at length and with fondness of the Zamorin of Calicut.

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2. The Icons of Art Exhibition at Opera Gallery

I’ll always remember this day, for it was when I saw my very first Renoir – or indeed impressionist art – live. The Opera Gallery is near the Ritz in the Dubai International Financial Centre. It’s housed in a posh little glass and steel enclave which is home to numerous galleries and high-end restaurants like Marco Pierre White’s Wheelers, to name just one. I however, feasted on the Renoir, Deux Filles dans un Pre, a few large and luminous Chagalls, some Picasso and Matisse sketches, a couple of colourful Miros and bronze casts of Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. I was drawn to the work of Raoul Dufy, whom I was hearing of for the first time.

Unfortunately, I only took a photo of the Renoir, which I don’t have any longer. But here’s the catalogue.

Highlight:

Standing in front of the Renoir, tiny though it was.

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streetnights the walk3. Street Nights at The Walk, Dubai 

I try to go on my jaunts around Dubai using public transport. Taxis are plentiful here, but it can be a challenge to hunt down places in a taxi. I picked The Walk because I could go by Metro and Tram, and it looked like fun. streetnights the walk6

The weekend I went with my daughter, there was a street festival on, with food trucks, stalls selling colourful knick-knacks, music performances, live graffiti painting and other fun doings.

The Walk is a long promenade just off Jumeirah Beach, flanked by designer stores and restaurants.

The promenade is cobbled and all the cafes have outdoor seating. It’s a great place to people watch, and when we went in May, the heat was not yet stifling.

streetnights the walk2We walked about – what else – and after a small argument about what to eat – I wanted savoury, she wanted dessert – we sat down in the shade at Napolitana restaurant and demolished a bruschetta platter and some gelato.

It was too early for a full meal, but the assorted bruschetta with mushroom, goat’s cheese, breasola, and cherry tomato toppings were just right.

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Highlight:

As part of Street Nights, the Book Munch stall had put up a big blackboard where passers-by could each contribute a line to build a story. My daughter did her share, and the board was a little more than half full when we left.

I believe the entire story was read out later at the Book Munch Café.

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4. Art Dubai 2015

Dubai is a very visual city, highly committed to the arts. The city is home to serious investors and collectors; the presence of Christie’s proves it. art dubai 2015 6

Art Dubai is a fair where galleries from different nations exhibit their artists’ wares – most of it new and contemporary. It’s held in the lovely Madinat Jumeirah, which is well worth a visit for its own sake. art dubai 2015 3

The two hours we spent drifting across the various stalls and pavilions was nowhere close to enough. Also, I made the silly mistake of not writing down the names of my favourite art or at least photographing the name cards, which means I was left with a jumble of imagery with no context. art dubai 2015

I was most attracted to the art which connected to the region.

Hopefully, next year I’ll do a better job of understanding and recording the art on display.

Highlight:

Chatting with the staff at the gallery that sells Jitish Kallat’s work. As Kallat is the curator of the Kochi Biennale, we felt an immediate connection. We loved the work for its own sake too. art dubai 2015 7

PS: The fashion scene at Art Dubai was outstanding.

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5. Dubai Museum

This was one of the earliest trips of discovery we made, and certainly the most touristy.

dubai museum2Also part of the Al Fahidi Historical neighbourhood, Dubai Museum is an old fort that doubles as a museum. The fort is small and exquisite, made of gypsum and quite unlike any other I’ve been to.

Inside, there are exhibits of old weaponry, tableaux of life in the Dubai of yore, and various historical displays detailing Dubai’s past as a pearling centre. dubai museum3

At the souvenir shop, I bought wall decorations with the Hamsa, coasters resembling mini Persian carpets, and other gee-gaws to gift to relatives back home.

Then, in the spirit of the day, we repaired to the Bastakiya Café in the Arabian Courtyard Hotel opposite, and tucked into lentil soup, Mezze (of which I chiefly remember the excellent Babaghanoush and the less-than-stellar Tabouleh), a platter of Arabic mixed grilled meats, and Arab bread.

dubai museumHighlight:

The working model of the wind tower at the Al Fahidi Fort was ingenious – I’d assumed until then that these towers were just decorative.

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6. The Dubai Fleamarket

I’ve already written about it extensively here, but I hope to go for one of the night markets or ripe markets whenever they’re on next.

Summer’s drawing to a close (although temperatures still hover above 40). Winter is a fun time in Dubai, with loads of concerts, exhibitions, outdoor events and food happenings. I have a long list of places to explore – what about you?

The Old Library, Dubai

If you’re a book lover in Dubai, what are your options? If you’re looking for a way to read without repeated demands on your pocket, or the assistance of an electronic device, then you must get yourself a membership in Dubai’s oldest and best library, called – but of course – The Old Library. Located in the Mall of the Emirates, the library is tucked away in an annex off the second level, next to the performing arts centre, DUCTAC.

oldlibrarydubai1They say the pursuit of knowledge is hard. With my terrible sense of orientation, finding The Old Library wasn’t all that easy either. It did take me twenty-odd minutes of walking and many wrong turns, the first time I visited. Luckily, there are helpful security guards in every corner of the Mall, and they’ll direct you to the correct escalator, next to the Fashion Dome.ductacdubai

Walking past the Gallianos, the Bottega Venetas and the Marc Jacobs, you’ll arrive at the corridor that leads past the washrooms and out into the sunlit annex, which has a delightful old world charm that’s in sharp contrast to the glittering modernity inside. Other than DUCTAC and The Old Library, there’s an art shop and picturesque outdoor seating.

Becoming a member at The Old Library is painless. All it takes is 250 AED for the entire year, and you can borrow up to eight books at a time, and keep them for four weeks.

IMG_20150818_132648332_HDRThis is far more generous and liberal than many other libraries I have been to. You don’t have to pay rentals for individual books and while they do have fines, they’re the not ruinous sort. Once you show them your ID (Emirates ID in my case) and fill out their – mercifully short and sweet – form, they’ll issue you your library card. oldlibrarydubai3

Though the library itself is not huge, the collection is pretty wide ranging. They have sections for fiction, nonfiction, biography, romance, classics, young adults and children. Books are arranged alphabetically using authors’ last names and are quite easy to locate. There’s a MENA section which I plan to explore – it features writing from and about the region. Special books, as their new books are called, are displayed on a rack near the entrance and you’re allowed to take only one of these out at a time.

It’s a good idea to check the online catalogue before you drop in – you’ll be able to figure out if the book you need is available or has been lent out. The staff, like they tell you proudly on their website home page, is made up of volunteers. They are always on hand to hunt down a book you want, or exchange views on your favourite authors. The library is fairly busy; I did notice however that there were more children than adults borrowing books. oldlibrarydubai4

So what are the negatives? Practically none. They may not carry every latest release, but it becomes available soon enough. I see from their Facebook page that they buy new titles often. They have few – sometimes single – copies of each book, which means you may have to wait a bit for your turn. But they’ll reserve it for you and you can have first dibs on it when it’s back. Indeed it only reminds me of a time when everything was not available for instant consumption, when a book couldn’t be got at the touch of a finger, or when you couldn’t become an ‘expert’ on any subject merely by googling.

Have you been to The Old Library? What are other good places to buy or borrow books in Dubai?