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!

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A scarf’s tale. (How it has unfolded thus far.)

I was born with a great thundering, clanging and whirring. As I wove into a perfect, sensuous square of midnight black, scarlet and green, I imagine some nameless, faceless silk worker mopped her brow and turned me over to the next task in the assembly line.scarf4

Not that I know much about assembly lines. In fact I barely remember my time in the store after I was packed and shipped, as I hung out with my kind – it is all a haze till I found myself in the discount bin.

No doubt, it was the 50% markdown that did it, because, as Bluey was to tell me later, OM loves pretty things, especially if they’re in her budget. I’m sure she looked at the ‘Pure Silk’ tag and immediately had visions of herself as Miranda Priestly with her signature Hermes Scarf.

But I get ahead of myself.

My first few months were lonely. I didn’t lack company, but it was never quite the right kind, till I found a kindred spirit in Bluey. I was consigned to a dark cupboard, not far from the underwired bras and the Plebs – a bunch of cotton stoles in bright colours – classless hybrids that were neither scarves nor shawls. There were longer stoles in faux silk in the most dubiously ordinary colour combinations.

scarf2Or there was the loud, garish cotton thingamajig that OM reached for surprisingly often – long and voluminous, Bluey told me it was used to hide OM’s sometimes often flabby belly.

Look I do realize I can never be as distinctive as the Gucci linking Gs, as recognizable as the Burberry checks, or as wildly luxurious as Miranda’s favourite Hermes. In fact there are times when I realize I am almost as common as the Plebs, with my generic, inoffensive design.

However, what I lack in edginess, I make up in texture and colour. If I say so myself, I do class up the joint. scarf5

Here I am with Bluey, who is a silk like me, but in pinks and blues instead. Her fair complements my dark, and together we’re like Monica and Rachel.

Considering how many times OM has taken me out and stroked me, she wears me disappointingly little.  I think she worries over how exactly to carry me, what to match me with – or she’s usually in a tearing hurry.

scarf3Occasionally, however, OM will feel a little jauntier than usual, or spend too much time surfing beauty and fashion blogs, and that’s when she usually remembers me. She’ll team me with her favourite beige Mango top, or her dark green button-down with the gold details, and when she’s not feeling too creative, with one of her black tops.

Then she’ll dab on her favourite Mac Retro lipstick and Mac Sunbasque blush, slip into her black heels and feel fabulous for a while.

Note: The scarf was picked up from Splash Fashions two years ago on sale, for 25 AED.  

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To fleamarket, to fleamarket, to fleamarket we will go

To many people, Dubai is defined by its massive malls, its super-tall buildings and its perpetual glitz and glamour.

There’s always a shop on sale, and the AC is on full blast, so it’s no wonder we all turn into mall rats before long. But there’s more to Dubai than that.

At the Dubai Flea Market this Friday (August 7), the bargains were cool even if the temperatures weren’t.

We got to Zabeel Park just before 6 PM, when the sale opens, and found that the crowd had already begun to mill around the tables.

Let me quickly describe the scene before me.

fleamarketTables were arranged on either side of the tree-lined pathways of the park. Rows and rows of hangers full of clothes were lined up everywhere. It was like waving a red flag at a bull – only in this case, the flags were chevron printed, trimmed with lace or in the colour of the year, Marsala.

There were also home appliances, books, shoes, bags, jewellery and stuffed toys. I spotted a stall selling Biriyani, and an ice cream cart. But clothes more than anything else.

fleamarket3So here are a few things I learnt from my maiden trip to the Dubai Flea Market.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the ware. Most of the pre-loved clothes, shoes and bags were remarkably free of obvious damage and had either been used minimally or not at all. No one had used the occasion as an excuse to get rid of their grandma’s knickers. Dubai being trend conscious, most of the things displayed were very much in fashion.

fleamarket1By all means, bargain. However the prices, which range from 5 AED to 25 AED for most pre-loved items, are low already, so don’t overdo it. Where else will you find a silk Banana Republic dress for 20 AED?

Carry change. Because – well, see above.

Don’t let the low prices turn you into a maniac. Stick to your style aesthetic, never mind how tempting the bargains. Ask yourself if you would buy the same thing if it were available full-price in a mall. If the answer is yes, pick it up.

And to contradict myself, experiment. Even if something you buy ends up not being quite right, you haven’t thrown away too much money. So that fur collared shrug or that lace backed dress you may otherwise stay away from? Pick it up!

Sizes can be tricky when you can’t try on the clothes. The labels are no help either, since these clothes are from all over the world and different sizing standards apply. Besides, one woman’s Medium is another woman’s XS. It may help to carry a measuring tape along instead of relying on your eyes alone. I didn’t carry one, but my guesstimates paid off because I stuck to silhouettes that I knew would work for me.

fleamarket5Move fast. Linger too long at one table, digging deep into every carton, and you could miss interesting stuff at other tables. There’s so much stuff that you’re never going to be able to view or evaluate anyway.

fleamarket6Be polite. The sellers are friendly and on Friday, they were smiling and helpful even in the 40 + heat. Considering how crowded it got, things were pretty orderly. Don’t jostle, don’t drop things on the floor, snatch them out of people’s hands, and so on.

Strike up conversations. The sellers are interesting people. I’m not generally chatty, but the bohemian vibe of the market and the sheer riot of colours calls for it. Some of the sellers have Instagram accounts or websites, and this can give you more leads.

Carry a stole with you. When you’re done rummaging, spread it on the grass and cool off in the shade. Now’s the time to catch your breath, compare purchases with your crew and crow over every Dirham and deal you scored.

As the cliché goes, when you get home, your shopping bags will be full of memories too.

My grandmother’s vintage brooch

brooch1Growing up, I spent years with my grandmother.

She lived to be 80, and so she was a constant, though not always steadying, presence in my life.

She was strong-willed and larger-than-life; quick to love and quick to anger.

While I battled it out with her as a teen, I also knew she was my biggest champion.

By the time I was aware of her, she was old and set in her ways, usually dressed in drab white, with lank hair.

But every now and then I caught glimpses of a different life.

In the sepia albums of her youth, she’s thin, solemn, and interesting, though not precisely beautiful. Her hair is glossy, her blouses trendy, her sarees elegant and her mien, aristocratic.

She loved Norma Shearer as Juliet. Not many people in our little town watched English movies at that time. She also had a notebook in which she’d written down the names and dates of all the movies she’d seen.

She read Russian novels, but I suspect her real love was for moralising Victorian tales such as East Lynne.

She’d tell me about the French nuns in the small town convent where her father worked.

She told me about the time her father went for a 10-minute ride in a glider. And how he wrote his will before he did. That was in the 30s, when air travel was new. He also had a Chevrolet, which thundered by her school every day to pick her up – it was dubbed “Meenakshi’s aeroplane” by her classmates.

She spoke about going shopping as a newly wed, her first time in the big city.

She spoke about how she ruined her eyesight creating an intricate beaded border for a saree, labouring away in the semi dark at times.

She talked about how she’d tried tampons as a married woman, and sanitary napkins, telling me how they were in those days made and sold by individual medical stores.

But we never spoke about this brooch.

In fact, I was not really aware of its existence when she was alive. I know it was hers, because it was in the same glass bottle in which she had hoarded a few treasures – a pair of ruby earrings, a few Australian opals, and other odds and ends.

brooch 2I chanced upon it a few years ago when my mother was rummaging among my grandmother’s things.

I fell in love with its delicate filigree lines, and its muted silver glow.

The dent in the centre, I felt, added character.

(I’ve always been a sucker for anything that’s old and has the least bit of pedigree to it. Which amuses people around me no end.)

With a little pin superglued to the back, and a little scrub with a toothbrush and polish, it is as good as new.

When I wear it, I am intensely aware of the age and ownership of the brooch. I’m also intensely aware of just how quickly the superglue could give way!_20150730_201818

There are several similar brooches that I found online, here, here and here. Some of them seem to be from the thirties, which makes sense. The sprays and pearls in the centre make me wonder if perhaps there was some embellishment like that on this brooch too?

My grandmother’s brooch, I assume, must have been used to fasten the folds of her saree. Where was it made? Where did she buy it from? Did she pick it out herself, or was it gifted to her? Where did she wear it to?

Another mystery lost in the mists of time.