Archive for May, 2009

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The Best View Of The Ski Slope In Dubai is at…

May 30, 2009
Shish Kebab and Skis

Shish Kebab and Skis

Dubai has now become the international destination for indoor wonders, but the Atlantis,  Palm Jumeriah, the Burj Dubai (tallest building in the world), the seven star Burj Al-Arab,  and all the other more recent developments don’t seem to come as close to the excitement that people seem to have at seeing modern Dubai’s first wonder, the indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates.  This from skiers and non-skiers alike, people who have lived in snow and people who have never even seen real snow, let alone the machine-generated kind.

If you’re not going to ski, then you just want to look.  And the best view is at Karam Beirut, the Lebanese restaurant overlooking the whole expanse of the ski slope.  You get the feeling you are at an Alpine lodge, despite the Arab music and decidedly Middle Eastern menu and an outdoor temperature in the car it took you to get here at about 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

I’ve only been to Karam’s twice, once with my friend Rachel and her colleague Michael, appropriately enough both working for another fantasy maker, Disney, and the second time last week with my friends Rola and Ashraf, a reporter just having left the less fantastical reality of Gaza and Iraq.   We all know each other and more importantly Middle Eastern food, and Karam is probably the best, and not just for the view.  It is a chain out of Beirut and its grilled meats are just fine.  But in my opinion, you judge an Arabic restaurant by the quality and variety of its mezze (appetizers), and that’s where Karam really shines.  If offers many options not traditionally served at restaurants outside the Levant, like hindbi (dandelion greens), shanklish (preserved yogurt), and more than one kind of kibbeh, including a raw kibbeh that Rachel declared the best ever (I don’t do raw beef, but I’d trust her word).  The place has a heavy leaning towards fresh zataar (wild thyme), and the zataar salad and the zaatar with white cheese are my favorites.

Service is as unpredictable as  Lebanon, but  hey, if the shish kebab is late, there’s always Arabic music to hum to and the skiers –and an eclectic mix of citizens of the world-to watch.

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From Publisher’s Weekly…The Night Counter’s First Review

May 27, 2009

NIGHT COUNTERJacket“In this captivating debut, Yunis takes readers on a magic carpet ride….[A] sometimes serious, sometimes funny, but always touching tale of a Middle Eastern family putting down deep roots on U.S. soil.”

—Publishers Weekly

It was a 120 degrees in the car today when I left work, but the heat didn’t bother me because I was so excited to hear that The Night Counter got its first review, and according to my publisher–never a group of people to use words lightly– it qualifies as a “rave.”  I couldn’t tell because it’s a little overwhelming to have gotten this far.  I’ve sweated over this book more than I do in the Abu Dhabi sun, and that’s really saying something, trust me.  At first you can’t believe all it took you to write a book, you don’t know where the words came from by the time you have written and rewritten it–and the hours and hours at your computer, and then you can’t believe that there could be anything worse in publishing than looking for an agent you actually like and respect,  and then you can’t believe there’s anything more nail biting in publishing than working with your agent as she pitches your book, and then you can’t believe all there is to do when you start working with your editor, fabulous as she is, and then and then…more on the other thens later.

The most frustrating thing for me to hear when someone finds out I have a novel coming out:  They don’t say congratulations or I’d like to read it (or any other book).  They say, “Yeah, I think I’m going to write a book, too.”  While they do that, I’ll climb Mount Everest and work with Obama to establish Middle East peace.

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Who Says We Ain’t Got No Culture Here?

May 23, 2009
Habana Son Music Club

Habana Son Music Club

When I decided to move to Abu Dhabi, one of the frequent comments I got was how could I move to such a cultural wasteland. This from my friends and acquaintances in L.A., which may seem ironic to some of you who have the same perception of L.A. However, just as L.A. is a lot more than the beach and Sunset Strip (one of the largest collections of museums in the world,the Walt Disney Center, the L.A. Times Festival of Books and so on), Abu Dhabi is a lot more than oil and camels.

In fact, I’ve probably been to more global scale cultural events here than in any other single year in my life–events people in cities from Washington, DC to Paris to Sydney have paid $100 to attend, and not even for the best seats in the house. Best seats in the house in Abu Dhabi? Same price as the worst seats. Free, just please come and take a seat–that’s the policy here. Most of the events take place at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, built in the early 80s, making it one of the old buildings in the country (yes, I mean the 1980s)

My favorite event has been the Paco Pena Dance Company, with Paco Pena being considered one of the best flamenco guitarists in the world and the dancers were just wow (I admit I’m not a good reviewer of the performing arts, so wow just really means “wow, how can he move like that”). Other amazing performances by global acts have been Habana Son Music Club, Yamandu Costa (considered the top Brazilian guitarist), Richard the Third in Arabic (which debuted at the Kennedy Center), and WOMAD (the international music festival that brought Robert Plant to town amongst several other world renowned performers). Somehow I and whomever I’m with get pushed along in the crowd until we end up with one of the best seats in the house, and it’s always a nice break from work and life.

All this of course is Abu Dhabi building up its reputation as an art epicenter, a warm up to the opening of Saadiyat Island in 2018, which will be the home of the new Louvre and Guggenheim and several other cultural institutions. And if gets a little too high brow at times, there is always the indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai to escape to.

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Cartier Comes To Campus

May 19, 2009
Pretty Jewels

Pretty Jewels

Today I could have put my name in for the raffle on campus, but I felt that I’d be taking away something from a student if I were to win (not that I’ve ever won a raffle). And I’m not sure I needed the prizes: four Cartier handbags, not the $20,000 plus alligator skin one on display on campus this week, but rather the lower end$1,200 to $3,000 variety. That’s how we roll here in the Persian Gulf.

Amnesty International and the Humane Society don’t come to campus with their hands stretched for donations to support human and animal rights, as they do in the U.S. Cartier comes to campus, intent on proving its commitment to the young women of the UAE. They set up a salon with fresh flower arrangements worthy of any royal wedding, brought in knowledgeable and attractive sales personnel from one of their corporate offices, the doormen dressed in the red traditional uniform welcomed you to the campus’ main lobby, where the jewels, encased in glass boxes. In a generally brilliant marketing strategy,  Cartier customizes its jewels for its target markets, including a special Arabian horse watch made just for the Gulf. And the stories of love and romance spun around the jewels for the students has been worthy of any Harlequin Romance. The stories were dreamy, as one girl described, wondering where the prince to her Wallis Simpson was waiting–and would he know about the Cartier love bracelet?

But these students are not so naive–they’re almost hypersensitive to luxury sales pitches, having been a logical target for them most of their lives.  Nonetheless, the jewels were certainly pretty to look, very sparkly I must say, as was the 5 kilo book on the history of Cartier they generously gave out, a book whose printing is probably more expensive than any jewelry I’ve ever purchased.

(And not to beat up on Cartier –they did help fund an amazing exhibit of historical photos of the region that is going on a global tour, including one that shows Mr. Cartier himself sitting with the ruler of Bahrain, one of Cartier’s favorite places for collecting precious pearls, pearls that fishermen in pre-oil days often died retrieving for only a negligble fraction of the profits they would fetch in Europe.)

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Tabouli: Derogatory or Funny? (Plus Some Tips)

May 13, 2009

Tabouli has been my number food group since coming here–easy, healthyish, and familiar, in that I stop by  the Lebanese Mill to pick it up, and it’s just one of those places where everyone knows your name.  But I can’t say that tabouli inspires enough passion in me for a song, as it does these dudes in the link below.  The beat is good, sure, and it’s funny in that way that Seth Rogen is sort of funny, but is it derogatory,too–not to tabouli but rather to Arabs, particularly Arab women?  So some people say.  Most would say it’s not art, either.  But I’ll give it creativity, kind of the way I’ll give Judd Apatow credit for creativity.

Go to http://www.youtube.com and put in Tabbouleh Song.   Bon appetit.

My Tips for Making Great Tabouli:

-Keep it five parts finely chopped parsley (always flat leaf) to one part finely chopped mint.  You can use the food processor but be careful not to get parts of it to puree.  That’s just yuck.

The Way Tabouli is Supposed To Look

The Way Tabouli is Supposed To Look

-Very finely chop the onion and mix with lemon and soaked bulgar wheat (the fine grain kind)

-Use a lot less bulgar than an U.S. recipe calls for and make sure soak it for at 20-30 minutes before you add it.

-For that extra something something:  a couple of dashes of allspice.

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The Differences Between Abu Dhabi and LA, or the lack thereof

May 6, 2009

Abu DhabiEver since I left Los Angeles nine months ago, I’ve been saying to myself, “That’s something I should blog about.”  Now that the opportunity has reason, I can’t think of any of those somethings.  In fact, there has never been a time when this writer has been left so wordless.   I even left this blog to go take care of some travel things, thinking I would come back with words.  But I still don’t  have any.

So I’ll just make a list, a list of things about L.A. that I miss:

1. The people–not all of them, but the ones I liked and loved I miss more than I thought I would.  The ones I didn’t like so much still make my stomach turn so I can’t even say I miss not liking them.

2.  Aitch, who really knows how to cut my hair, not to mention that of the  Kardashian girls and Monica Lewinsky, and  when the relatively poor and the famous (take your pick between the other tw0) and the infamous (again, you choose) can all share the same hair stylist, that is true L.A.-style democracy.

3. The weather–I no longer think L.A. is stifling in August and September

4.  Rain.  Anyone who says it never rains in Southern California hasn’t been to Abu Dhabi.

5. The food–for a town so terrified of and horrified by fat, it does have the world’s best, based on what I’ve seen of the world, like tacos at Don Antonios, hanging out with friends at Gaby’s in Marina del Rey, all the cake at Doughboys,  annual dinner with my brother at El Cholo, sushi at Asakuma’s, splitting a tuna melt with my mom at the Broadway Deli, just being at Papa Christos, dorso bibimbob (without the egg) at my favorite place in Koreatown whose name I can never remember.

6. All the organic stuff–health and beauty products, especially–they just smell nice.

7.  Green things, like trees and grass and plants:  Abu Dhabi is very beautiful, but as many parks as it has, I still find myself blown away by the greeness of places like Jordan when I get a short vacation, never mind Santa Monica bluff walks with my friends.

Things About L.A. I Don’t Miss Because They’re Right Here:

1.  Americans:  I think there are more of them here than in my neighborhood in L.A.

2.  Quirky People From All Over the World:  They got plenty here, also plenty with big dreams of making it in the film business.

3.  Crazy Drivers and Pedestrians From All Over the World:  The worst being the Pakistani Group Chicken Run on Sheikh Zayed Street

3. The Water:   The Gulf and the Pacific are both pretty quiet, but there are even times here when it’s not too cold to go in.  I just wish certain Europeans would stop wearing those gut-slicing Speedo bikini trunks.

4.  Yoga:  At first I missed the Cirque du Soleil aspect of the yoga in L.A., but I’ve come to appreciate my teacher here, who although he is Indian, never uses the Sanskrit words for the poses, and always makes me smile when he says “Raise your right arm. Now raise another arm.”

5.  MacDonald’s, Popeye’s, TGI Fridays, Burger King, Chilis, Papa John’s, and so forth:  But where is the Taco Bell?

6.  An Apartment Without a View:  But now my view is blocked by a solvent bank building, as opposed Tyrone I’m Still On Parole’s bedroom, so that’s a big upgrade.

7. Students:  Still fascinating, lovely, troubling, disturbing, tiring and inspiring.