h1

The Blog Tour: My Writing Process

August 23, 2014

NOTE: This website is currently under reconstruction, so like a first draft, it’s a little disorganized.

In 2005, I went to the Squaw Writers Conference in what I only partially realized was an attempt to escape the LA screenwriting world and discovered the sweeter side of writing–novel writing. It may pay less and probably fewer people will read your work than see your work, but there are so many fewer human beings to suck up to in the process–and they are overall nicer human beings. Like Patricia Dunn (http://www.patriciadunnauthor.com/2014/08/) and Myfanwy Collins (http://myfanwycollins.com/blog/), who I met at Squaw Valley and who are both the reason I am taking part in this blog tour. Both have great YA novels coming out this year. So proud and honored to have them as friends and writers.   

Patricia and Myfanwy are outstanding editors, as well as writers—and I think that is in large part because they are big readers. Their feedback on the first draft of The Night Counter was so vital. And Pat has been my guru on so much in my life, including helping me shepherd my middle grade novel into the world, along with her best friend and fellow writer Alexandra Soiseth (http://soisethwriter.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/my-writing-process-blog-tour/)

Squaw Valley is also where I met Alma Katsu, the incredibly prolific fantasy writer of the Taker Trilogy. Alma’s just plain sharp, and it could be all those years working for a mysterious organization. She’ll be answering these questions next week, along with one the funniest writers I know, Amy Bridges, whose Texas/Alaska upbringing is as entertaining as her hijinks in LA today. (See more about them below)

1) What are you working on?  

I wish someone would tell me how respond to this one today. The best answer is somewhere between nothing and too much. I am either cursed or blessed–or somewhere in between—for loving to consume and write television, films, fiction and magazine articles. I even like the orderly, mechanical process of writing academic articles and recipes, but that is my escape

paperbackfrom the stress and chaos creative writing causes. Luckily for the world, I don’t do music lyrics.  

Today I’m reworking from first to third person a middle grade novel about a girl trying to have the perfect Christmas in the small town in Minnesota where she lives with her immigrant Arab parents. It only gets worse when a vision of the Virgin Mary is spotted on their driveway. I’m also drafting my next novel, which involves Abu Dhabi but doesn’t have any camels or oil wells in it so far. I’m also going to spend a lot of time logging footage from The Golden Harvest, a documentary that is a multi-country project that has always bound my family together—olive oil. Any of the above could be a screenplay, too…in the meantime, they’re just tearing at my heart and soul, demanding I focus.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

We are all as individuals our own genre, made up of all the things that have happened to us, that we hope will happen to us, and that our own individual brains juxtapose together. Sometimes for me that juxtaposition comes out as fiction or non-fiction, written or filmed.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Because it comes out of me—it tells me at some point, “Please write about me” and I try to respect the request. I have also written purely for money but that stuff isn’t worth discussing.

4) How does your writing process work?

I move a lot so getting a process down is hard for me, as time zones and cultural clashes and day jobs dictate making adjustments to the different worlds. But I can speak to what have been the elements of my ideal situation, which I am really trying to capture now as I start this new novel.

  • Wake up when it is still dark outside and neither my head or the road is rattled yet. And then I write for a fixed amount of time without stopping even for chocolate, say two hours. Or until I write a thousand words. This early morning joy has been hard for me to capture in the Middle East, where social life often begins at 9 pm, making going to bed early not so easy.
  • I reserve afternoons for re-reading or editing. And for reading the millions of things in this world that I want read.
  • I tell myself I can go to yoga as soon as I am done writing.
  • I tell myself I can watch my latest TV obsession when I am done writing
  • I tell myself a lot of things to stay put at the desk.
  • When all of the above fails to happen, I clean my house. I have a very clean house.

 

Look for these blogs next week:

Alma Katsu’s debut, The Taker, has been compared to the early work of Anne Rice, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining the historical, supernatural and fantasy in one story. The novel was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by the American Library Association and rights have sold been in 16 languages. The Reckoning, the second book in the trilogy, was published in June 2012, and the third and final book, The Descent, published in January 2014. The Taker Trilogy is published by Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster and Century/Random House UK.   alma

Ms. Katsu lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. In addition to her novels, Ms. Katsu has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly and an occasional contributor to The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University, where she studied with John Irving. 

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank. http://www.almakatsu.com/

Amy Bridges is a Los Angeles based writer and blogger at www.jurassicmom.com.  Amy’s work has appeared on TLC, HGTV, and Discovery Health. She is a Hedgebrook alumnus, and the recipient of the First Prize Fiction Award at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Her play, Women ofthe Holocaust, was published by The Kennedy Center and The Northwest TheatreJournal. Her play, The Day Maggie Blew Off Her Head, received first prize inthe Edward Albee Prince William Sound Playwriting Lab, presented by EdwardAlbee. Her work has been nominated for The American Theatre Critics Association’s New Play Award as well as The Osborne Award for an Emerging Playwright.  Her creative nonfiction has appeared on The Nervous Breakdownand has received publication by New Lit Salon Press.  Currently, she isworking on a collection of essays. And of course, living in Hollywood, it is required for her to always be working on a screenplay. Follow her on Twitter @rattleprincess and Facebook at amy.bridges.12@facebook.com.

 

h1

The Celebratory Pancake in Abundance

July 12, 2014

In their modern day interpretation, most religious holidays that are about deprivation and/or sacrifice are counterbalanced in their present day celebration with gluttony. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Diwali and yes Ramadan. Newspapers reveled last year in stories about hundreds of people being hoisted onto emergency room stretchers in Qatar, Jordan and elsewhere, due to complications from overeating during this month of fasting. One could even go further and say that there is gluttony in the grab for power and oppression across the Middle East at this time, particularly surrounding Jordan, where I am writing from now.IMG_1972

Part of that greed has resulted in arrival of refugees, rich and poor, from neighboring countries, most noticeably in the past three years of Syrians, who have not only brought their broken hearts—they have brought their Ramadan efficiency. Damascus and Aleppo are known as food capitals in the Arab world, having held that reputation for centuries. However, it’s not the old traditions that got my attention the other day. It’s rather how those traditions have become so much easier to mass produce. Take for example the grandness of the atayif machines, making it cheaper and easier for us all to eat more atayif, machine that can produce 60 atayif a minute. Atayif (qatayif) is the desert of Ramadan. It’s a pancake that is stuffed with cheese or walnuts or a clotted cream sort of thing and dunked in syrup, a basic principle that carries over to many pancake recipes around the world and to Arabic sweets in general. Few nations are without a pancake of some kind, but most of them are made at home. Atayif is rarely made at home—it is bought at bakeries and stuffed and baked at home. They are actually easy to make, but when you’re fasting all day, why bother when they are so easy to buy.

Sometimes you can still find bakers on the sidewalk making them on their griddles. But mostly today, there is the atayif making machines. I wonder where these machines go and hide the rest of the year—they could be used to make some many other semi liquid batters into yummy things, perhaps say crepes. Although, an embrace of former colonial rulers’ baked goods seems to be out of vogue at the moment in Middle East.    IMG_1969

I enjoy the watching the larger machines at work—well actually it’s bakers standing in the sun making them work. Batter goes in, atayif come out—orderly, predictable, comforting. The big machines are a big part of the newly opened Syrian bakeries. It’s likely the machines were designed in Taiwan (ANKO), maybe Lebanon, and they dwarf the smaller machines found in Jordan, never mind the griddles.

When baked, atayif is a simple food, not too rich in complications or calories–f you eat only one or two. But the machine makes it so easy to make more faster, and for some of us that means eating more faster.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe we didn’t make food machines so efficient, not only would emergency rooms be less busy, our heads would be clearer, and we’d have time to think of things that were more pressing than our adequately filled stomachs. Beyond hunger, food is an easy, relatively inexpensive way to sedate oneself—or a nation–whether it is to fill up loneliness or as a numbing device to shut out the din around us that asks us for questions that most of us feel helpless to offer, as we have no answers to solve them.

IMG_1976

 

Aatayif (if you want to make a small amoutn)

1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

13/4 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina

6 tbsp. milk

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

10 tbsp. butter, melted

 

For the filling:

11/2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped

4 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

 

For the syrup:

2 cups sugar

1-2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Orange blossom flower water (optional)

 

1. For the pancakes: Dissolve yeast and sugar in 2/3 cup warm water in a

small bowl and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Combine flour and

semolina in a large bowl, then add milk and 1 cup water and beat on medium

speed with an electric mixer until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Add yeast mixture

and continue beating until batter is smooth, about 1 minute. Combine baking

soda and 1 1/2 tsp. water in a small bowl and beat into batter on medium

speed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot until

batter is foamy, about 1 hour.

2. For the filling: Combine walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and

set aside.

3. For the syrup: Put sugar, lemon juice, and 11/2 cups water into a medium

saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often,

until sugar dissolves, 2-3 minutes. Keep syrup warm over lowest heat. A spoon of rosewater or orange flower blossom water can be added to the syrup at this point.

4. Preheat oven to 350°. Heat a medium cast-iron or other heavy skillet over

medium heat until hot but not smoking. Brush skillet with a thin layer of

oil. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter into skillet and swirl skillet to spread

batter out to a 5″-wide pancake. Cook, undisturbed, until bottom is browned

and top is covered with bubbles and no longer moist, 1-2 minutes. Do not

flip pancake. Transfer pancake to a clean surface and cover with a clean dry

dish towel. Repeat process with the remaining batter to make 12 pancakes in

all, brushing skillet with more oil as needed.

5. Put 1 pancake, browned side down, on a clean surface. Spread 2 tbsp. of

the filling down center of pancake, fold pancake in half, and press seams

shut to enclose filling completely. Repeat process with the remaining

pancakes and filling. Brush both sides of filled pancakes with melted butter

and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake until warmed through and cheese nice and gooey, 5-6 minutes. Dunk

pancakes, 1 at a time, into the warm syrup. Serve with remaining syrup on

the side.

h1

Another Place the Deer and the Antelope Roam (or Why Abu Dhabi is Called Abu Dhabi)

June 10, 2014

I’ve been spending a lot more time around animals lately than I ever thought I would. And if you asked me to guess where I might one day be maximizing my time with deer and antelope, I probably wouldn’t have picked Abu Dhabi. Especially as I lived in a place called Minnesota, where people hunted them for fun and for stew and where I was much closer to the North Pole and Rudolph. I also always thought Bambi needed a forest.

Arabian Oryx at Preserve

Arabian Oryx at Preserve

But next time you’re in Abu Dhabi, take a look at the 50 dirham bill. It might not go far in the mall, but it will get you a cup of karak tea, a few Chips Oman sandwiches, and the chance to see look at the Arabian Oryx inscribed on it.

Dhabis

Dhabis

The Arabian Oryx was just about extinct until the late founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, began a conservation project to save them more than a decade ago. Today, they are getting released into the wild again, but good luck spotting them in the vast, desolate horizon of rolling sand dunes. Today, the best place to see them is at the Al Ain Zoo. Unless you are lucky enough to be my senior class, who has spent the last several months working on a documentary about the vets/zoologists/international cowboys working on the UAE’s Oryx preservation project. (more on that to come).

Baby Oryx

Baby Oryx

When you see your first Oryx, he or she will look you straight on—with eyes that are the stuff of poetry. In Arabic, tell a woman has the eyes of an Oryx, and you attesting to her she has captivating beauty.

But beauty is not only what meets the eye: the Oryx have mastered the desert–they travel in herds, they are a symbol that water is near, they can outlast a camel in the heat, and they don’t let it slide if you try and mess with them. They can prance agilely at 90 kilos. And beauty is power, too. Watching what they do to each other’s horns when they fight, you know you don’t want them coming at you with them.

In a desert, these are all beautiful qualities.   Something worth being named for. Indeed, Maha is a rather common name throughout the Middle East, and it is the Arabic word for the Oryx. And Maha is not alone. There is also Reem or Reema, another popular name and gazelle. And the cute little one called the Dhabi, which yes, is native of Abu Dhabi. There are lot of stories about how the dhabi helped the island of Abu Dhabi get its name, kind of like there are abundant legends about places in the US named after bears and beavers. And just maybe while English language countries don’t name baby girls after deer, gazelles and antelope, it got me thinking the word “Dear” and “Deer” in English perhaps are not that far off from each other. A rather dear deer thought that failed the test when I discovered ‘dear’ is from something that is extinct: old Norse.       Oryx Relatives

h1

Nut Cases in Jordan

April 30, 2014

In the Red Sea port of Aqaba, you can relive the romance of Lawrence of Arabia’s adventures on and off film. You’ll discover the CIA-esque intrigue of being able to see Israel/Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia from the same spot. Indeed, it is a grand opportunity to take in a vista of all of the Middle East mess at once. Then there is the pristine diving in the Red Sean and taking advantage of the luxury resort boom—or ordering the delectable local dunise and faridi fish eying you at Ali Baba Restaurant while the camels eye the tourists. All these are legitimate reasons to go to Aqaba, reasons that bring thousands of foreign visitors a year.

But when I ask Jordanians what excites them about Aqaba, they often tell me it’s the nuts. Nuts don’t have a double entendre in Arabic, so they don’t mean the opportunity to hangout with crazy people. That is unless you find it crazy to buy bags of nuts by the kilo on a beach vacation. But that’s what most Jordanians do when they go to Aqaba.    IMG_1447

All these fine nuts are purchased in the downtown shopping souq at the Al Shaab shop. Actually, the Al Shaab shops. There are eight branches to choose from in Aqaba, and conveniently six of them are on the same street selling the exact same nuts in the exact same heated cases and bins. Three of them are separated by only one other shop. It’s a business model that should defy logic, and yet every one of the stores is teaming at all times with customers, who eventually leave with kilos of the nuts, seeds and Turkish delights stuffed into the shops’ bright signature red and yellow plastic bags. The bags show up everywhere in Aqaba in their post nut-transporting duties as all-purpose totes.

The mom and pop nut shops that are scattered across the souqs and malls of the Middle East make you feel like a kid in a candy store– but with nuts and seeds instead. There are bins and bins of intrigue, each bin magically keeping the nuts toasty warm and freshly roasted. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and of course the king of nuts, the pistachios—in nearly countless flavored mixes and matches. There are pure pistachios or pistachios tossed with almonds and hazelnuts and cashews. Or in another combo, the cashew may reign supreme, with the hazelnut coming in second. The almond can be the leader of the pack, too. Sometimes the nuts are salted, sometimes raw, sometimes smoked.

Like everywhere else in the world, peanuts are price reducer. But the biggest way to cheapen the bag is the addition of pumpkin seeds. These are the big, salt crusted white seeds that Arabs seem to be able to crack open for the meat and still spit out the shell while doing just about anything, especially playing backgammon, drinking coffee, and smoking shisha in a café in Aqaba. The also popular watermelon seeds require even more crack and spit skills, which is why the uninitiated just chew on them, like me.   I blame my incompetence on the fact that I didn’t grow up with nuts serving the same purpose as my Arab relations.  They don’t say it, but nuts are a habit at a gathering of people, like coffee is, but they are also a way to pass the time–crack, spit, chew.  And in so much of the Arab world it feels like people are gathering to pass the time because there is nothing else to do with time.  And maybe nuts provide an entertaining diversion–yes, sometimes it’s a fun challenge yourself to see if the seed will actually come out of the shell.

Al Shaab Nuts

Al Shaab Nuts

The peanut is often in the mix, but it is actually a bean, and in Arabic fuol Sudani (Sudanese bean) is the word for peanuts. And it’s not the only bean in the shop. There is seemingly not enough you can do with a chickpea. Those craving sweets can enjoy the pink and blue sugared edomi, which are dry roasted chickpeas. I prefer them salted than sweet. Beyond the crunch, there is the comforting pasty quality. For more sweet, there is of course the sugar coated Jordan almonds, which do not have the descriptor “Jordan” in Jordan or the rest of the Middle East, where they are ubiquitous on silver platters at weddings and holidays. For an even bigger sweet tooth, raha, a range of rose and orange blossom flower infused Turkish delight-esque squares packed with pistachios and walnuts, is the big seller. I like them best when they are rolled up in dried apricot wrappers. But my favorite is semsemia, the squares of gooey or crunchy toasted sesame with sugar and honey.  Unlike nuts in a bag, semsemia is a comforting sugar rush that makes you want to go out and conquer the world.

Today, peanuts are also sold in candied form, which is not traditional. Peanuts are named for the Sudanese peddlers who once roamed the streets of the Levant and North Africa in more peaceful times selling hot peanuts. I’m less sure why pistachios are called fousto halabi (which means Aleppo nut), because they mostly come from Iran. But I can only imagine how much more confusing it would be for Asians to find a variety of coated peanuts and nacho-flavored crunchy balls, called Asian crackers or Japanese crackers or Chinese crackers, depending on the shop. And the American corn nut and wasabi peas are mainstays these days.

So the Jordan nut shop has globalized itself.  There are ever more ways to pass the time.  As I watched people get onto the bus as we were leaving Aqaba, their overnight suitcases sometimes seemed dwarfed by the kilos and kilos of Al Shaab nuts they were also toting. On the four-hour drive back to Amman as my Kindle bounced around on my lap, I heard people munching on Al Shaab nuts and seeds. No one else had a book. As I heard a kid get yelled at by his mom for trying to open a closed pistachio with his teeth, I thought about how if those eight Al Shaab stores were bookstores, they’d be empty. And thus the nuts win in the Middle East.

Or the Beach

Or the Beach

h1

The Sweet Spot in Arabia

March 25, 2014

I have never heard an Arab woman call her sweetheart the Arabic word for honey—or vice versus–even though Arabic is a language with scores of other terms of endearment. I have never read any Arabic children’s stories about goofy bears getting stuck in honey pots, and I’ve never seen honey come in cutely shaped squeezable bottles at the souq. And yet honey is the queen bee of foods in the Arabian Peninsula, specifically in south Saudi Arabia, a region that is on a perennial honeymoon with honey.

Honeycombs at Abha Souq

Honeycombs at Abha Souq

The word honeymoon does in fact exist in Arabic, and women in Arabia prepare for it meticulously, including buying the skimpiest silkies at enough lingerie shops to make Victoria’s Secret wonder who really knows the secret. But the honeymoon is a relatively modern practice and a literal translation based on, depending who your source is, a 16th century British cynic’s observation that marriage is really only joyful for its first moon cycle, an ancient custom of newly married couples imbibing aphrodisiac honey wine (mead), or a Babylonian practice of a groom giving his bride’s father all the mead he can drink during the first month of marriage.

This Babylonian story is closest to home geographically, but under Saudi laws, no one today is making honey wine, at least not legally. Not that honey is without its legal loopholes: Undocumented Yemeni workers have been caught peddling honey from their homeland—legend or desert myth has it that honey smugglers transport coveted Yemeni honey across the border either as is or with other goodies, from weapons to drugs, nestled in its highly prized gooeyness.

Abha Honey Farmer

Abha Honey Farmer

In the souq in the southern Saudi city of Abha, honey is the most competitive product being hocked, with vendors calling out the virtues of the local honey—color, thickness, taste—to veiled women who discreetly lift up their niqabs to take a tasting from the plastic spoon offered to them. Not even dates (as in the food) can compete for attention. People will go by chickens being de-feathered and piles of greens, but just like the flies, they can’t ignore the honeycombs on the sidewalk.

I read somewhere once that along with the Germans, the Saudis are the world’s biggest consumers of honey. But I never thought of honey as an art form until I got to the Abha souq. After sampling a few, we discovered that every beekeepers honey has its own color, texture, and nuanced sweetness—and sometimes even its own bite and acquired taste.

Honey shops across the Middle East will tell you that the best stuff comes from Yemen, from the sidr tree. It often costs three times as much as other types in the region, even more than the much-loved samar honey, which is culled from a thorny tree the blooms for only a month or so. What Gucci and Pucci are to the Dubai Mall, samar and sidr are to the world of honey, both luxurious in complexity and alleged through their rich minerals and vitamins to prevent cancer, skin disease, hair loss, weight gain and diseases yet to be discovered. I’ve been recommended honey at different stages in my life to resolve dry hair, acne, headaches, cramps, and insomnia. (As a hair or face mask, messy, messy)

Yemeni Honey Vendor

Yemeni Honey Vendor

Samar honey, which comes in various shades of gold, is sweet and light, stuff you can easily understand Winnie-the-Pooh trying to score. But with the red-toned sidr honey, my first spoonful was like medicine, a layered pungency with an overpowering smell that made me say “yuck” out loud.

People seemed genuinely offended by my reaction. To be fair, it was just that sidr. It was thick and slightly waxy, which I learned fro a Saudi honey seller meant that it was processed, not raw. Sitting with his honeycombs, he offered a sampling of his sidr honey, which was thin and lush and melted on your tongue like butter on a hot day. (The weather in Abha is actually not that hot because of the altitude)

The local version of butter is indeed honey’s sweetheart here. “Every morning we eat honey with samna,” a Saudi painter with a studio in Abha told me. Samna is clarified butter or ghee from sheep’s milk. It is definitely an acquired taste I didn’t wish to acquire beyond the first try. At the souq, the samna is sold in mosaic-patterned containers or in skin sacks the size of small lambs.

For all the honey of Arabia, there is little creativity in its culinary use in Abha: It is simply the kick to various forms of bread and porridge, which are topped with honey –and often samna. The breads and porridges are not sold at the souq, but many originate from the valley’s rich wheat fields.

Selling Samna sacks and Jars

Selling Samna sacks and Jars

When I brought home the Abha honey and put it up against the other honeys in the kitchen, it was, as the vendor I finally settled on promised, so much richer than the others, not in color or thickness but in the purity—not sugary, not waxy, just a sweet flowery, lively smooth spoonful that takes one to a green field somewhere, full of sophisticated gradations of flavor and life.

h1

How Dubai Stollen Christmas

December 21, 2013

Bloodshed, flooding, people fleeing persecution, the fodder of biblical stories from the Holy Land.  Only sadly they’re not ancient stories trotted out for the Christmas season. They are present day Christmastime in the birthplace of Christmas.  But Noel in its current incarnation is supposed to be about fun.  And really, why shouldn’t it be? A virgin birth isn’t a downer, after all.  But this season’s headlines from Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, those places that fill up religious texts, are hardly the stuff that make you want to decorate cookies and write a letter to Santa Claus asking for a new Xbox One.  You can understand why Christmas-celebrating people around the world choose to tune out the modern day Holy Land stories.  They are not fun.

Stollen Day

Stollen Day

But there is a part of the Middle East that didn’t make it into the holy books, where not only is it peaceful enough for one celebrate the holiday season, one is encouraged to do so.  By shopping.  I love Christmastime in Dubai. The weather is the usual sunny stuff but the heat is pleasantly mild, and the humidity is usually on holiday somewhere else.

If you’re more hardcore about needing a Christmas TV special atmosphere, there are the heavily air conditioned malls, which year round feel like a blizzard is just around the corner.  Plus, the malls are festooned with some of the best Christmas decorations south of the North Pole, including the finest fake snow and ice on earth. Certainly enough that Santa Claus feels at home at Dubai’s Christmas parties.  And if you insist on real manmade snow, there is the indoor ski slope, transformed into an Alpine Christmas village. (Normally, it’s just an Alpine village where the snow never melts.)   Forget Moses crossing the desert—in Dubai, he’d do it in style and without breaking a sweat.

Best of all, not far from the ski slope, there is stollen day at the Mall of the Emirates, when tables as far as the eye can see from Harvey Nichols down past Tiffany’s and beyond, are lined with stollen. People in elf hats even offer us free stollen samples, this sweet roll that is the greatest invention of Germany after cars and gummy bears.  Dubai Christmas follows the city’s principle of do it big or don’t do it at all.  It can’t be a little fun.  It should be a lot of fun.  It can’t be 100 stollen but rather hundreds.  Dubai does birthday parties big, no matter whose  birthday we’ve decided to celebrate.

The religious has been deleted from Christmas—there is no devout imagery, no crèches, no wise men.  Just wise shoppers.  And some reckless ones, too.  No pretense of anything else but keeping Christmas commercially honest. Competition between the blinding number of sales signs and billboards and the Christmas decorations is friendly and beneficial to both.

This isn’t to say that Christmas doesn’t bring out the best in Dubai.  Profits from the stollens are for charity.  And the festive season builds some multicultural community fun for everyone, including for those who can’t afford most of the items the malls, which in reality is the majority of the population.  Including the workers who built the malls and the team making the stollens, who are Filipinos not Germans.  No one talks about the floods in the Philippines or other troubles in the rest of the world and we all get along.  Indeed, in this country where 100% of the native population is Muslim but every religion invented has people living here, the absence of religious depictions works out great.  Without the religious icons on display, everyone joins in the true spirit of fun and oblivion without feeling left out on faith grounds.

Stollen Charity

Stollen Charity

I heard a story once that the shape of a stollen represents the hump on the camel caravans that carried presents to Jesus when he was born. The dried fruit and raisins represent the jewels and gifts.  Who knows if there is any truth to that stollen story, but if you need a gift, there are plenty of places to get one here. And if you’re looking for a camel, better to exit the mall and go to the Al Dhafra Camel Festival, which at this time is gearing up for the camel beauty pageant.  And for a while you can forget about camels and people elsewhere who 2,000 years later still need a caravan to bring them good news. Now that’s a holiday season everyone can hope for.

h1

Rooftops

November 24, 2013

An Algerian film by celebrated Algerian director Merzak Allouache called Rooftops was probably my favorite film at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival this year.  Of the films I saw, it’s the only one that kept my full attention.  Just like rooftops get my full attention in real life, especially in the Mediterranean areas of the once Arab/Moor empire.  Rooftops is about life as lived and viewed from the rooftops of Algiers.  People live, eat, sleep, fall in love, and kill themselves and others on rooftops.  That’s the Arab flair/flaw for melodrama in art and life.  Or if I were to do an ad campaign for them, I’d have a peppy announcer say rooftops are fun and informative places to get to know your neighborhood, with a little Flamenco music playing in the background as we watched a lady get confused while she watched a gay couple fighting three rooftops away as she hung up laundry.  In real life, I was the one watching the lady watching the couple.  I was watering plants.  Laundry, watering plants and carpet beating are the great “no excuse required” reasons for being on rooftops.    Palace

Granada's most famous rooftop

Granada’s most famous rooftop

In the past month, I’ve been to places with great rooftop viewing—Granada, Tangier, and Amman. From these rooftops, we know where life is more organized, what people eat, what they wear at home, who they hang out with.  We know where life is more regulated by what is openly allowed on rooftops, more “modern” if you will, and especially more aware of where TV is still king by the number of satellite dishes obstructing our views of each other.

I used to think as a kid in Beirut the best part of being a maid—maybe the only good part—would be hanging the laundry.  That’s when she could be on the rooftop or its poorer sister, the balcony –in fresh air—mixing with the othcloseup

Carpet Cleaning in Tangier

Carpet Cleaning in Tangier

er people inhabiting the neighboring rooftops.  I know this because I used to watch the maid across the way hang laundry while I hung laundry for my mom.  We both had our own music on our portable radios, but I still could see there were specific people she kept track of, including a guy always fixing a broken bike.  So I started to keep track of what she was keep track of.  I knew she was in love with the bike guy.  But rooftops don’t tell everything.  I never k

jordanroof

Waiting for Bus in Amman

new if she got to see him other than when she was hanging laundry. The rooftop w

as also where we had to drag my aerospace obsessed brother away from perfect views of air raids.

lookingatSpain

Morocco Looking at Spain

Windows are not the same. Take Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant Rear Window.  Jimmy Stewart was a voyeur looking into people’s apartments,

olive

Olive Groves from the Roof

being nosey.  But on a rooftop, you’re doing your life’s business, so you have a natural cover story.  Your voyeurism is legitimized.  They are the best observation points—not just for the military reasons of the great forts of Andalusia, but for observing everyone else’s business while doing your business.  I like that clothes dryers are still not the norm in this region because it gives us a chances to be on rooftops.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,022 other followers