Sunday, December 26, 2010

indoor oxymoron?--guest blog by Julian

           OMG!! My mom got our whole family (and Remy) a indoor skydiving for christmas!! Yes, I know i am really lucky and i could tell you all about that OR I could tell you a bit about skydiving. Which one will it be? Skydiving? Okay!

           Ok, it all started when we walked into the Abu Dhabi Country Club: Air Venture building. It was awe inspiring a giant fan twirling at the speed of i don't-know-what  once we walked in my sisters started reading the first magazine we saw: a red bull magazine. Ha! my sisters hate red bull. Once we finished paying and what not our skydiving teacher came up to us. Told us to go to the Bathroom, put on knee pads and put on a suit that looked like something an astronaut would wear. Once we were geared up, at least we thought we were geared up we went up two floor and started our boring training. The training was composed of watching a video about indoor skydiving.

          Once that was over, we all (the family, the teacher and Remy) went to a desk where they handed our  other gear (helmet, goggles and ear plugs), guess what? Dad put on his helmet backwards! Ha! what a fail!!
juji "the epic"
         Once we were actually in the air tunnel the air was so strong you would have to try really hard to roffel. Also me myself leaned forward to much and literally flipped and fell to the ground because not enough air was supporting me. Thank you for reading this blog post by Julian The Epic.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The $11,000,000 Tree

Remy and Pauli in front of ze tree

a special ornament

one stop shopping
Well, actually the tree isn't worth's the ornaments (the tree in fact is a fake...quelle horreur).  If you're looking for the tree, it's not hard to find.  It's just south of the 'Gold to Go' machine in the lobby of the Emirates Palace.  Our own tree is practically worth its weight in gold.  It's not easy to get a fresh tree here--they fly them in from Holland (luckily, before Europe was stymied by a snow storm), but they arrive with snow and ice still clinging to them.  Pretty amazing.  And it's helping us to feel the Christmas spirit.  We've got the carols playing, we've visited ski dubai, and the decorations from National Day are still up (many of them red and green) so if you squint--it looks like, maybe, Miami or Phoenix.  Last year they took them down just before Christmas, but this year I'm hopeful.  It's the 24th and it's Friday (the holy day when almost no one works).  I don't think they'll take them down tomorrow....but we'll see!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

National Day

The UAE was 39 on Friday.  It's not much when you stack that up against Japan or France or even the USA, but they are very excited about their 39 years.  At first blush the celebration definitely looks like redneck universe.  The most popular outward expression of their excitement seems to be lots of lights on the streets and a major car pimping movement.  We saw many many vehicles completely covered in decals (the three 'big' sheiks were the most common decal--Zayed, Khalifa and Mohammed), sequins (my personal fave), ribbons and boas.  There was a whole lot of silly spring being sprayed from cars and a propensity to disconnect mufflers.  All the cars hightail it down to the Corniche where they cruise.  Up and down in one long traffic jam.  It's topped off with a huge fireworks display that we can see and hear a couple of miles away from our rooftop deck.

It's funny though, two days later I'm still thinking about it.  Really how different is it from other celebrations.  In the US we decorate our lawns, front porches and, yes, sometimes our cars.  We dress in red, white and blue.  We have parades, barbecues and fireworks.  In France where we spent many years--there are fireworks, but beyond that, few individuals dress up or even celebrate too much.  This celebration here in the UAE kind of reminds me of home.  They're proud of their flag, their colors, their Sheikhs, their country.  And hey, it doesn't hurt that the decorations are often red, green and black (the colors of the flag)--it makes me feel like it's Christmas...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

india-- part one

This family, we're a pack
We travel all around.
This week we explored India,
Those exotic sites Mom found.

We started out in Delhi,
Seperated into Old and New,
Followed Gandhi's footsteps
Saw a mosque and temple too.

Next day, off to Agra!
The Taj Mahal we did see
Stood on line to look inside
And got there, finally.

Jaipur was our next visit,
We stayed in a palace (number one).
Did you know all their buildings are pink?
The elephants were so much fun!!
in front of the taj

From palace to tents  
We went to the camelfair
We saw them dance and prance
And shopped with care.

Today it rained and poured
outside jaipur
But luckily we were in the car.
Tonight we sleep at a palace 

(number two)
For tomorrow we travel far. 

camels at the pushkar fair

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Turkey, A Julian Orillac trip

     When I think about Turkey these are the words that comes to mind: FOOD and fun, but I am guessing you want to know what actually happened on the trip. So it was 10: 47pm exactly when my grade got onto a bus and drove to the airport. When we got to the airport all I could thing about was Sleep and Food, and any ways I got onto the airplane at 2 am and i am full on sugar like always and cant go to sleep but after 10 minutes I look next to me and my friends were asleep. But here's the funny thing, almost 2 hours into the flight I really had to go to the bathroom I was on the window, food was on the small tables and the people next to me were asleep so i was in a small corner having to use the little boy's room dying thinking of pee. So half an hour later I grew desperate I climbed over the chairs next to me and ran to the bathroom, I was enlightened. 
        Once we arrived in Istanbul I was about as dead as Napolean is and there was a 5-hour layover and I felt like I was about to die so I looked across the gate and saw just what I needed starbucks at that moment this was what I was thinking:
Coffee=energy energy=good. So you can guess what I did, I bought a large Frapachino and drank it down in one gulp. My first.

 5 best things of turkey:

  1. Tunnels, long and mysterious underground tunnels
  2. Rock churches
  3. roommates 
  4. nature
  5. amazing view from airplane

Sunday, October 17, 2010

dining in the desert

With the dips in temperature bringing us into a season of delightful evenings (even if the days are still toasty) we headed out to the desert this Saturday for a barbecue in the dunes.  It's true that Abu Dhabi has some downsides for someone who has lived for the most part in the most cosmopolitan cities--but it does have the desert (and plenty of it).
A short 45 minutes from our downtown villa had us pretty much in another world.  This time we had no one to follow so it was a bit more of an adventure, but when we spotted a troop of camels we figured we were in the right spot.

The camels were completely befuddled when they saw our cars and finally sent an emissary to lead them around the cars.  Once he was safely by the rest of the group followed.  They didn't even glance at the humans...
Our dogs made the journey for the first time -- it wasn't a walk in the Burgundian countryside, but they were pretty excited.  Of course we came back with more than our share of the desert attached to us (this is when the pool really comes in handy) and our dinner was crunchier than usual--it was still an excellent way to spend an evening.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lebanon Days 3 and 4--abridged


Our Lady of Lebanon
We did indeed return from Lebanon (on a flight overrun with extraordinarily loud children left to fend for themselves while the parents sat rows away....but that's another story)--so I'll quickly give the low down on the rest of our trip.

We had dinner in a beautiful mountain town (Bromana) in the outskirts of Beirut with Lebanese friends.  The food was delicious and there was way way too much.  Some of the new entries were raw chicken livers with some lard and garlic (I didn't test this one, but Manuel said it was great).  An interesting tasting cactus fruit which we later found out makes you constipated and of course, to wash it all down we had some Arak.  Arak tastes much like Pastis and is very refreshing.  The couple we were with, by the way, was the epitome of Lebanese tolerance--he is Druze, she is half-Christian, half-Muslim...very interesting take on things.

The following day we travelled to the Jeita Grotto (in the running to be one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world).  We couldn't take pictures but it's an ancient cave discovered by a priest.  The upper chamber is beautiful with it's stalagmites and stalagtites.  The lower chamber is still in water and requires a short boat ride.  Very cool (quite literally) and a break from the ruins.

phoenician ruins of byblos
We then went to Harissa, home of Our Lady of Lebanon statue and a pilgrimage site for Christians.    From there we moved further north to Byblos.  Byblos seems like the kind of historical, laid-back seaside village I could spend some time in...

That night we explored a little bit of downtown Beirut and had dinner at La Plage.  The traffic in Beirut is pretty impressive.  One of the things that cracked us up is seeing the valet parker at KFC.  I guess parking is so difficult that no one will go to Kentucky Fried Chicken if they don't have a valet parker. ...  I hear all my American friends scratching their heads and saying, "hello, what about a drive-thru".  Ironically we didn't see any of those.

Place de l'Etoile, Beirut
All the Lebanese from the stranger that walked us a few blocks to a bookstore we couldn't find, to my Arabic teacher who spent some of her precious weekend with family showing us the downtown area were charming, friendly and welcoming.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lebanon, Day Two

Anjar ruins

Today was a full-blown touring day.  Early this morning we headed over Mount Lebanon and into the Bekkah Valley where we spent most of the day.  The valley between the Mount Lebanon range of mountains and the Anti-Lebanon range is the bread basket of the country and extremely fertile.  Lebanon may not have oil, but it does have water (and ideas!,  the Lebanese are quick to tell you) and they can feed themselves.

  We visited the Anjar ruins first (the lesser ruins if you will.  Anjar is a very pretty town that was settled by Armenians after they were persecuted and thrown out by the Turks.  
The ruins are cool in and of themselves, they are dwarfed by the fame of the Baalbek ruins.


Baalbek was originally a sacred place for the phoenecians dedicated to the god Baal.  It was later a worship site for Christians and later still a fortress.  Baalbek sits currently square in the ultra-conservative Hezbollah region.  The Hezbollah flags (a kalashnikov on a yellow background...charming :) are everywhere as are posters with pictures of their political leader Hassan Nasrallah.  Signs that Iran's money is finding it's way into this part of the Bekkah valley are evident in the new mosques (in particular a beautiful blue mosque just next to the ruins).  The area is heavily pro Iran as they are mostly Shia' .

After a long visit of Baalbek we headed to the beautiful town of Zahle and it's riverfront, tree-shaded restaurants.  Here one of the incongruities of the Middle East hit us when a Saudi man walked in with four young women completely covered in black (unlike the UAE, they did stand out from the crowd).  They sat at the next table and ordered mezze and then proceeded to order nargileh (shisha, waterpipe).  It just seems odd to see these young women smoking shisha in full abaya with their dad/husband/brother (who really knows??)  
On the way back to Beirut we stopped in a winery (Ksar) and then made our way back through the military checkpoints and over the mountains to Beirut (about 45 minutes away).  They say that in winter you can ski on Mount Lebanon in the morning and waterski in the Med in the afternoon.  I'm sure it's true.  One thing that takes away from the natural beauty is the garbage strewn everywhere in this country.  People just throw stuff out of their cars--very unpleasant.

More news tomorrow....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Greetings from Beirut

Eid Mubarak!  The fasting is over let the festivities begin...
Lots of people travel for Eid (this year's hotspots for Emiratis are Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur apparently) and we're no different.   We are in Beirut for three days.  I'm sure many of you are wondering .... why?   as images of an embattled city flash.  We've always been fans of interesting.  So here we go again.

the view from the ferris wheel (thanks Julian for getting me up there!)
pigeon rocks
fisherman in front of the Corniche
First impressions from Beirut:   I haven't seen anyone wear a seatbelt but have heard lots of music and lots of people out celebrating Eid.  Gone are the ubiquitous white flashy four-wheel drives -- we're back in the real world...We walked along the Beiruti corniche and rode a ferris wheel along the water, saw the pigeon rocks.  People are out enjoying the good weather and the start of their holiday.  Not an embattled feel.  In fact, it's got a very mediterranean feel while at the same time being very middle eastern.  Interesting combo platter.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Girls from the Labor Camp

Here are the girls from the Iftar at the labor camp last night.  You can read the article from the National here:

The Home Stretch

We're in the home stretch heading for Eid al Fitr. Last night the Minister of Education announced that Eid holidays will start on Wednesday (ANOTHER day off for my kiddo's...very happy kiddo's), although the end of Ramadan and the actual Eid will either start Thursday or Friday. So we're nearly there! (I would like to say that moments after this announcement there was a waiting list for mani-pedi's at Tips and Toes all the way through Thursday).

Part of celebrating Ramadan is giving to others through zakat (giving donations) or good deeds. I've described how many local families in Abu Dhabi give meals every single night to those less fortunate. My neighbor has done that for two years now. Every night they have a cauldron full of food that dish out for whomever happens by. There are numerous scenes such as this throughout the city.

Last night the girls and I served an Iftar dinner to female workers out in a labor camp in Mussafah. We picked up the donated meal at the Beach Rotana Hotel and drove it all out in a convoy of cars. One of the families with us was muslim. They, too, had been fasting all day, but when it came time for Iftar they discretely went to the car to drink some water and then came back to serve the meal. I know from our own experience with fasting how kind that is!

I remember last year being overwhelmed by all the miniscule laws governing Ramadan...and it seems muslims are often in the same boat. There was a reminder recently from the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (Iacad) that Muslims need to express their intention to fast each day before dawn or their fast isn't valid. about a trap. If you eat or drink by mistake you should spit out what's in your mouth and continue fasting (that seems fair). Nicotine patches are allowed as is acupuncture (you can't smoke while fasting) but they remind people that Ramadan is a good time to give up smoking permanently (except that smoking shisha is a huge part of the Iftar celebrations for many).

We're almost there...I can smell the coffee....and I managed to get a nail appointment!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ramadan 18, 1431--cont'd --Final Chapter

9:39 pm: Home again. Full. Watered. I'm still thirsty though!!
We broke the fast at 6:49 with everyone, first with a date (as Mohammed did) and water (YES!!). And then we had wonderful Arabic dishes--soup with barley and chicken, kibbe, aubergine and mince and yogurt, grape leaves wrapped around squash--so many things. And many many glasses of water. It wasn't a heavy meal. But there were lots of different dishes. I can only imagine the hours in the kitchen.

Words from Julian:
I was so hungry and thirsty that I got bored of video games. And another part is that I can't believe Dad broke his fast in the first hour. Then I ate and I was like woo-hoo. Soon I was full and couldn't even finish what was on my plate (although I left a small space for those two pieces of chocolate cake which I devoured. mmmm).
I ate the cake so fast no one even noticed I had seconds. That about covers it. Until next time. JJ

Ramadan 18, 1431--cont'd

By the way the title of this post is the date today on the muslim calendar.

4:44: Two hours to go. I slept for an hour (thanks to staying up so late last night) and got going on my Arabic homework. Cordelia is back and still in the fast. The girls are ice skating and at the word how they're doing. Julian is still in it. He's tough. The more I think about the way some people stay up late (lots of shops are open until 1am all through Ramadan) and eat and then sleep all makes very little sense. Why not just fast during the night like we usually do if you're going to flip flop the days and nights. Water is still the problem.

6:03: Less than an hour to go. Paulina has fasted all day and Remy has only had a cup of coffee and a piece of gum (she was confused by Manuel eating this morning...) I'm still wanting water.

Ramadan 18, 1431

Tonight we're going to an Iftar dinner to break the fast with our Jordanian friends. So for once we decided to try the Ramadan thing to have some understanding of how our friends will feel at 18:48 tonight when it's time to eat.

It actually helped that last night we were out with our new neighbors until 3 am and we probably consumed a bit more than we should have. It helped in that I didn't get up until 8:45 (fewer hours to fast!) AND I wasn't in the least thirsty or hungry.

I walked the dogs and when I came back I went upstairs to wake Cordelia. Two minutes later I came down and Manuel had already caved. He NEEDED water (apparently he subsequently needed a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese and a cup of coffee). Also at the table was Julian's friend, Jackson, eating cereal. But not Julian. He stayed strong.

Remy caved next...she had coffee.

It's now 11:30 and I'm not hungry but I'm VERY thirsty. Maybe I'll just drink some water....

2:14: I now understand why the emiratis sleep all day during Ramadan. It would certainly pass the hours. I'm really thirsty, but not hungry at all. Julian is still standing strong (playing WII) and his buddy left an ice cold glass of water on the table (on a coaster don't worry :) It's mocking me. Cordelia is at a meeting at school with no food or drink and the other girls are next door....probably drinking water...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The new kid in town

As many of you know my niece is living with us this year and attending school with my kids. We've only been in Abu Dhabi a year, so we're not exactly seasoned veterans of the Middle East (although people here consider a year a long time), but it's interesting to see how the new guys cope. We're surrounding by a lot of "I want to go home" mantras, and very few "I'm embracing the change" mottos. Maybe that's teendom.

Luckily, my newbie is embracing the change and making some very astute observations while doing so. On the first day in Arabic 101 the teacher asked, 'if you could make a wish what would it be'? The new kids all (save one) said they wanted to go home. My new kid said, 'I'd like to be able to breathe underwater.' You've got to love that!

Tonight the kids were discussing class elections. When I asked my niece who she voted for she said, "I got really confused with all the Ahmeds. And I never knew there were so many Alis in the world!"

We went out to the beach tonight to take a swim before dinner and I told the kids they could wear shorts to the club. My niece said, 'I feel naked.'

It's nice to see things with fresh eyes....and it's wonderful to have a pair of fresh eyes spending the year with us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

While the cat's away...

I have to say that I had plenty of time to think on the 13 + hour-journey back to Abu Dhabi last week. I was getting excited about digging into year 2. I still have lots of places I'd like to visit (Al Ain, Qasr al Sarab, Lebanon, Jordan, India, Sri Lanka-- to name a few) and I'd like to settle in more here, improve my rudimentary Arabic, meet some more people, etc.
I was pretty happy as we left the airport which is still small enough that you feel calm there. It's warm and it's Ramadam so people are a little persnickety, but I quite liked Ramadan last year and even if it's 105 degrees -- it's August. Plus it's 68 degrees in Paris which I moaned about for years (11 to be exact). I can't very well moan when it's hot and sunny.

Off we went into the city. It seems the government has been very busy while everyone's been away. First of all, I'm quite sure the government has plastered the city with cctv cameras. They're on every street. And most likely, while they were up there, they also installed more traffic cameras. So the Emirati government will be a whole lot richer when those traffic fines start rolling in. Just what they need. Now they can buy big screen tvs to watch us sneaking tic tacs in our cars (not allowed during Ramadan) at the Corniche and 32nd street.

Finally, we turned onto our street where the government really had a lot of fun. (See photos). They tore up one side of an entire block. People left for vacation with their cars in their garages and when they get back, it will be a LONG time before that car comes out of the garage (as happened to our neighbor in front). The street has apparently been torn up for about a month already. I haven't seen anyone working there after 10 am in the morning and most mornings they're gone by 7:30 (they start around 5:30). So I don't see how they'll be done before Ramadan ends and the rest of the city's inhabitants return.
The real question is what are they doing????
It's clearly city property, but (after a careful poll of the resident experts--various watchmen, maids, waitresses and neighbors--the actual workers don't speak any language I understand) the current theory is that they're going to privatize the parking on that side of the street for the exclusive use of those villas (conveniently owned by a powerful sheikh). This would do away with the one bit of commerce on the street--La Brioche Restaurant. They had a lovely terrace that was always bustling. There was plenty of parking but the locals don't like to walk even ten meters so they'd all double and triple park in front of the terrace. I agree that it was dangerous and annoying. But how about, I don't know, a valet attendant or traffic cop ticketing each night--maybe one of those new cameras could do the work? Surely this wasn't necessary. Anyway there's nothing to be done (there never is). There are no straight answers, no one in charge, no one to voice an opinion to.
I'm just glad I can get my car out of my garage.
Ramadam Kareem.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I fear that sometimes I may paint a dour portrait of the Emiratis--but there are some instances where they really shine. One tradition (I don't know exactly how far back this 'tradition' goes back--it could be as far as 100's (fires around tents) or as few as 10...I'll look into it) holds that when a girl is to be married her family lights up their home in a public display of festivity. Just down the block from our villa is currently a fantastic representation of that. You should notice that it's not just the exterior wall that's lit, but the entire (enormous) villa as well.

So it's
not doing much for their carbon footprint, but it is kind of fun!

Monday, April 19, 2010


So there's big news at Cityscape Abu Dhabi---we're going to get honest to goodness addresses. Yep, that's what they're promising by the end of 2011. They're even talking about such groundbreaking ideas as every street having a unique name, each bldg having a unique number, numbers running sequentially from one end of the street to the other with odds on one side and evens on the other. Isn't this amazing. I seriously wonder how much some planner is going to get for these innovative ideas.
At the moment in order to get my pizza delivery it's a slow dance of circling in on the target. First I tell them, "it's near Liwa Village", they never hear the near. Then they call back (thank God for cellphones) and tell me they're in Liwa Village. I say, "No, I said near. Leave Liwa Village and turn right I'll be outside. They are NEVER in Liwa Village when they say they are. Then there's this whole dance of getting them closer and closer without actually being able to say where I am.

In other progress news....there was a long article yesterday in the paper about how they're going to develop Lulu Island (which is a man-made island that picnic-ers and boaters have long enjoyed). It sits right across from the Corniche and used to have a ferry that would take people over. In the last year there hasn't been a ferry since it's going to be developed--so now it's the playground of anyone with a private boat. They, of course, are going to load it up with buildings and expect 33,000 people to live there. 33,000. Where are these people going to come from? They expect 80,000 to live in Masdar City. I don't know how many on Reem and all the mainland compounds. I just don't see it.

I guess that's progress....but Sheikh Zayed (the founder of the UAE) apparently wanted to have this very beautiful green corniche---would he approve of a mega development right in front of it???

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Have bike, will make money

A few more items on the Syrians and a few more pics...especially of the processions.

The Syrians are industrious people. They don't hassle you, but there are sales waiting to be made. We particularly enjoyed the bicycle tea salesmen and the coffee salesmen in Aleppo.

It was the season of green almonds while we were in Syria. You eat them with a little salt--the almond is inside, but you eat the whole thing. They're delicious.

In AD updates....the Burj Khalifa reopened the viewing tower the day before we returned from Syria (the 3rd). There is, of course, no word on what went wrong in the first place.

The couple caught kissing on the Jumeirah Beach Walk have had their appeal denied. They have started serving their one month sentence and will be deported afterwards (there is a second appeal pending, but they had to start serving their sentence now)