Friday, June 30, 2006

Entrada Nueve: Knickerless in Manchester

Shameless Tabloid Title! Hola Guys.

I'm here and it's lovely, even though I'm whacked. I calculated that from getting up for work on Wednesday morning, to climbing into my comfortable hotel bed at 12.30 a.m. this Friday morning, I did a 44 hour day yesterday. Licence to ramble more than usual. I'd skip this morning's entrada if I were you, cos I'm writing it all down before I forget it.

Got everything done as hoped, and left work at 2.30 yesterday, having promised poor Habibi Í'd knock off at 2. Had to do it, Habibi! Sorry!!) Big job done! Yay!

Down at Jebel Ali Club at 3 for fish & chips and a pint of the golden apple with Habibi. Pleasant afternoon light shopping. Pleasant evening doing pre-hol household stuff, and relaxed packing while watching 'Rip Girls', Hawaiian teenage surfing rites of passage movie. Creeping realisation that I have to leave Habibi behind - yes I already knew this - which meant that he wasn't coming too - yes I already knew this too - butbutbut 11.00 taxi and time to go butbutbut..... I discovered that it's one thing to go away on my own for a conference or a course, but it's quite another when it's a holiday, even a working holiday. ¡sniff! Soppy bit. (MY blog - I can be soppy about my habibi if I want to!) OK. Done that.

Turkish Airlines have a romantic new advertising campaign on the airwaves (Where else?). I flew budget, so expected basics, and got basics. Basic check-in queue about which desk crew appeared to care very little. But I felt very sorry for this group of nine Indian workers trying to get home to Mumbai. All waving tickets, but nine passengers into five seats will not go. I noticed them because they started off at the Yemenia check-in desk next door. All waiting in a patiently subdued posse as various others talked over and round them, heads turning and holding in group formation like meercats. Poor things. They got moved to the Turkish Airlines desk. Then somewhere else. Who knows.

Not sure what type of plane, but certainly sardine class from Dubai to Istanbul. Pretty upholstery, nice cabin crew, naff food, and if we left 40 mins late due to a late connecting flight, the pilot must have pedalled hard, because we were only 10 mins late landing. (Note: their A/C couldn't cope with tarmac-strength power. We sweltered. Get one of those little handheld fans. A woman two seats ahead of me sat fanning her husband almost throught out the 4 hour + journey, mind you, he struck me as a domineering individual.)

However, time was obviously critical for luggage transfer: letter to Manchester Airport Customer Services

Hello there,

Your Ref.

I flew in from Dubai via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines yesterday and they appear to have left half of my worldly goods sitting on the tarmac en route. TK165/29JUN/TK1993/29JUN. I gather from the very professional and kind red-headed guy who was on customer rescue service yesterday that this is something they do a lot. I suppose the upside is that you get lots of practice at retrieval and return, which gives me hope of being reunited with my underwear in the next twelve hours.

OK. I´m the one that was flying on to Málaga with no forwarding address until I'd found one. Here it is: Pension La Mundial, Hoyo de Esparteros 1. 29005, Málaga

I was told that there are three services to Málaga after T.A. land in Manchester at 12.30 p.m. today. I don´t have a phone, and will be out doing fun stuff today, not sitting in my hotel room letting TA ruin my holiday! The manager knows that I've got a lost bag coming, so please instruct your courier to sign the bag over at reception.

Thank you for your time.

Yours in hope, Mama Duck (Names changed to protect the simple-minded)

Got a bus from the aeropuerto to the central estaçion de autobuses for E1.50, to check that there is a domingo service to Loja. There is, so I'll stay tres noches in Málaga. I bought a map and asked the woman in the shop in execrable español about hostales baratos (cheap). She directed me to those between the estaçion de autobuses and the estaçion de tren (¿¡Are you getting this?!). Useful for Sunday (and for the RENFE service when Habibibaba and I head out for Valencia). I subsided onto a chair at a pavement cafe facing the RENFE station, and studied the map over the very good cafe americano the grumpy owner brought me (Bloody English can't string a simple sentence of Spanish together...).

I decided to ask at a couple of places along that stretch, but thought that I'd probably find winding streets and cheap places in the Centro Historico, quite close to the places I want to visit. €54 a night (about the same in $. App. 250Dhs.) Too much. I folded my map open and started walking, heading for the Puente de Esperanza, which I felt had been put there specially for me. I found Pension la Mundial just across the bridge. All they had was a double room, not a habitaçion individual, but it was only €25 - €75 por tres noches. OK, let´s look further in.

Further into the centro was very handsome, with old buildings refurbished, or in the process, and public sculpture all over the place. There are wide pedestrian areas too. Trees. Space. Husbands and wives walking hand-in-hand and arm in arm, and occasionally giving each other a kiss. A five year old in a pink tutu walking home from ballet class with her mother. People sitting and standing in bars and cafes chatting and laughing. I have noticed how quietly lively this place is. Not rowdy, but wherever you look there are people sitting talking, standing talking, walking and talking.

Not just here. At Manchester Airport (which I liked very much: not glam like Dubai airport, but with more open spaces for people, not broken up into outlets and lounges). It was so alive! Mind you: this was afternoon, and the last time I was there was for a red-eye, and quite different! There were two hen parties there. Beck and her girfriends were en route for a high time in Tenerife, according to their orange tee shirts. Beck´s tee shirt was green, and she had a cute mini veil and tiara for identification purposes. The other bride-to-be was in hot pink, right up to and including her wedding veil, which also featured horns. Don´t know where she and her friends were going, but her sash said they were going for a GIRLS' NITE OUT. It´s going to be some night. Also on the plane was a group of ladies in their 50s, all wearing England flag stetsons trimmed with sequins. One of them had a hot pink feather boa. Odd pink ostrich feathers marked her movements on the plane. Beck and co in 25 years. Great fun.

Good flight with I was brain-dead, but that was ok because I wasn't driving. Lots of photos of clouds, England´s green crazy patchwork broken by classic fluffy white clouds and grey cloud shadows.

Slept over France.

Blue blue Bay of Biscay in holiday mood.

Brown patchwork of Spain.

Moving south above fields and fields of olive trees on mountains and plains. Black dots on more patchwork of tan, rust and beige. Little white rectangles of farmhouses, some with their own reservoirs: circles and rectangles of dark green water. From that height it was like a dot matrix image. Who was it did the pop art? Reminded me of being on a bus with one of those advertising decals on the outside.

Further south and greener, greener, greener, lower, lower, lower. Cloud formations straight out of Roger Dean's portfolio. And now I'm here! I walked for four and a half hours last night, exploring (ok, lost!) carrying a 6.5 kg backpack and another couple of kilos of stuff. Not much, but enough! Good night´s sleep.
Desayuno in a pavement cafe, with Málaga having its own breakfast, buying its lottery tickets, browsing shops, heading for work. All well-groomed, right down to the squawky old lady in floral print who walked stiffly and purposefully across the piazza with her metal crutch, to disappear down a narrow calle on the other side. She reappeared a little later with a wad of lottery tickets clipped together with a wooden clothes peg, and sat down next to an old man on a bench within spitting distance of a Lotto kiosk. Next time somone walked past her, she shouted at him, 'Ayayayay!' She was selling lottery tickets too! Anyway, the memory of breakfast prompts thougts of lunch. I'm on holiday, you know! Loose plan for the afternoon: Alcazabar and the Castillo G. The Arab connection for the new arrival from the Middle East!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

One day

A Google Image search for Málaga yielded this!

Oh - My - G-..............

In mesmerised disbelief, I clicked on the site, and was happily surprised to find a really excellent introduction to the city and the region, courtesy of Ignore or enjoy the second language typos; the information is comprehensive but not overwhelming, and conveys affection and and some pride. I don't drive, but on the basis of their website, I rather like the sound of CarMalaga.

But I also rather hope that these colours are more accurate!

Both are shots of the Plaza Toros de Málaga, but this second one is from the Spanish language tourist site, Sevilla

Not that I shall be visiting the bullring. Done that.

I had an au pair job in Biarritz in the summer of 1979, and one day the family took a trip across the border to Santander; my one and only foray into Spain before last summer.

I remember the canopied quayside restaurant which served the most delicious seafood. Oh yeah. Sitting by the water on a breezy sunny day, eating bouillabaisse in good company. Oh yeah.

I think that part of my passion for seafood is that I do associate it with the smell and sounds of the sea. Family camping holidays in Whitby and Robin's Hood Bay. An early morning ride out from the campsite with my father, when everyone one else was still asleep, to watch the fishing fleet come in to Scarborough - of course they were already in by the time we arrived, but the morning was fresh, the gulls were wheeling and shrieking, I was on an adventure with Daddy, and it was lovely! Years later Habibi and I lived in Liverpool, by the Mersey, and Bristol, by the Avon, and visited perfect Poros, and somewhat less perfect Corfu. The English and The Seaside. Altogether different from 'the beach'!

Anyway, at Santander they took us, including 6 year-old Cyrille, to a bullfight. I watched, but really didn't see the point of terrorising and weakening a powerful animal to create a more equal contest for a snazzily dressed man with a cape and sword: to me, this sort of entertainment belonged to the past. Cyrille's reaction was interesting. He was neither excited nor upset - physical distance creating emotional distance? He was just baffled. What were they doing? Why were they doing that? Why were we there? I left the family to explain that one.

Another strange and vivid memory from that day is of walking down a narrow and very respectable residential street between high walls with small, grille-caged windows, and finding one wall daubed with a crude, life-size, black paint graffiti of six stick-men cut in half by a spray of red paint bullet holes. Incidental terrorism - a silent reminder for all the people who happened to pass it on their way to school, or the baker's, or to do any of the normal things we should be able to take for granted, that they could not. Basque territory.

I was familiar with such images from TV footage of Belfast, but it was a sobering experience for a summer day-tripper in Sunny Spain. Of course now both the IRA and ETA appear to be moving on. Regimes do change. Armed struggle does become redundant. Peace is possible after all.

And I'm going to Spain veeeeeery soon!

Have I shopped? Not yet, but I've made a list.
Have I packed? Not yet, but I've ironed everything.
Am I really going to be ready in time? Of course!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Two days to go afore I go

I have tickets! Thursday 2.30 a.m. Turkish Airlines to Manchester. Then to Malaga. (Hadn't heard of them before, but definitely easiest, clearest budget airline website to navigate.) Find hostal. Dump stuff. Buy phonecard. Phone Habibi and try not to sound too outrageously pleased with myself. Find tapas bar, sit, order small yummy things and a glass of wine, and ver pasar a la gente (watch the world go by - straight out of the dictionary!) til bedtime.

Friday plan: walk, sit, walk, sit, walk, sit. Saturday plan: ditto. If I'm feeling energetic, there's the Alcazabar, a fortress-palace begun in the Eleventh Century; the Castillo de Gibralfaro, which I think was was begun earlier and finished later; a Roman amphitheatre at some stage of excavation (though after four amphitheatres in Jordan, it's not exactly a priority); the new Picasso exhibition; and the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares. If I'm not, there's the new Picasso exhibition, and lots of ver pasar la gente. And I'm going to find some tourist flamenco, because I'm a tourist.

So there you go: stroll in the sun, sit in the shade, visit cool and ancient castles, a gallery, a museum, squeeze into a flamenco bar, and probably blog it while it's fresh in my mind! That will do me.

And on Sunday, I'm heading for El Molino La Ratonera for a month's work on land, orchard and vegetable garden, and tending their biscuits. I am so excited I'm almost airborne! Go see - it's a very interesting set-up, in a beautiful place, and they do holiday lets.

Howsoever, I've stayed up far too late, I've got to be up for work in the morning, and there are only two more days in which to get everything done before I GO!

Buenas noches.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Words & Picture

Too busy/idle to read the papers this week, but I can still look at the pictures. See this one in Emirates Today. Just about sums things up at the moment!

........ 1 minute later...... I didn't mean to get the whole paper! (Didn't even want all of Page 4, actually.)

Sigh.... Click on Page 4, Home News, and scroll down. And, for everyone else who can't read the caption at this scale: TRADITION CONTRASTS MODERNITY - Camel trainers run their camels past construction developments opposite the Nad Al Sheba race track in Dubai. Lots of high rise developments are planned in this area as part of the city's growth.

OK Since we've got the whole thing, this is a particularly varied & interesting issue, whether you live here or not, including local & regional news and: P7 ad for 'The Summit' which is fairly typical of what 's going up; p11 feature on falling groundwater levels in the UAE; p18-19 the work of Dubai's censorship department; p20 the deployment of British paratroopers in Afghanistan; p21 Red Bull Creativity Contest; p28 promoting AIDS awareness.

So this is my souvenir copy of Emirates Today.

I've still got a year to get the mosque alarm clock

......and a cuddly plush Modhesh.

....I shall really miss this place.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Wines I would drink just for the label!

We popped into our local MMI yesterday. (Actually, no-one has 'popped' into Ibn Battuta MMI, House of Prose, Sasha Beauty Salon or any of the other units on the outside of 'Andalucia' for months, not since the outdoor carpark was converted into a large hole in the ground and construction began on Ibn Battuta Gate. (Gate? Who knows?).

Since that time, you either walk (always fun at over 30 degrees with bonus fun humidity); or insert your vehicle very carefully between the other, parked, vehicles, and the fence; and crawl forward maintaining a steady 2cm on either side, and then proceed to turn right at the blind right-angle turn into what's left of the carpark, sincerely hoping that there isn't someone about to turn left onto your front bumper. Not many drivers use their mobiles on that stretch!


While Habibi was buying some beer, I was browsing the red wine shelves. We usually buy a box of Coolabah Dry Red, because I enjoy a glass of red in the evening, but can't handle more than one unless it's the weekend and I'm staying up late. (My sister famously gets completely puddled on one glass of wine!)

Anyway, (Tangent alert: going back a fortnight now.) anyway, since I've never developed a taste for beer or lager, Habibi bought a bottle of Sunrise Merlot a couple of weeks ago, to take to our friends' place to watch the England Paraguay match. I like Merlot, but this was something else: raspberries, blackberries and chocolate, and smooooooth as a dream. I'm telling you!

Usually, I don't understand all those descriptions on the back label, but this. Hmmmmm. I remember that I was distracted at virtually every sip of this miraculous stuff. Sunrise Merlot - it's Chilean - they also do a Shiraz and a Chardonnay, neither of which I've tasted, and the label is plain golden yellow. I have to say that the second bottle we bought (England v. Trinidad & Tobago!) was pleasant, but not extraordinary, so they may be from different batches. Still, worth tasting glory even once!

So I was browsing the red wine shelves yesterday! And saw these. Do you remember when wine was Deeply Serious, with the exception of Liebfraumilch, Mateus Rose and Spanish Plonk? Back then, there were those who Knew Their Wines; and then there were the rest of us, who hoped for the best at the off-licence on the way to dinner with friends, or read the mystifying little cards on the supermarket shelves (Oak notes! Woody! Tar!) before grabbing some vin de table because it was safe and inexpensive. Wine is much more fun nowadays. So here are the labels, and links to growers or sellers. And if anything appeals, you can pop into MMI at Ibn Battuta!

This is on the label of the Simon Gilbert Cabernet Merlot. This is a very sexy website, and I suggest you take a look.

Damn! Just lost the Cudgee Creek label with its cute frog, and can't get it back! The Chardonnay is described by one seller thus: "Great Value! The wine maintains a fresh palate this is well rounded, with perfect balance of flavors.." It's from a small vineyard in the 'Murray Darling' region. I know a man called Murray....

Here's a page of other interesting Australian labels to delight your eyes. This is from a Swiss personal site featuring 'hundreds of nice wine labels from all over the world'. I'd look further, but I have to get off this machine some time today!

It's ironic that Australian Aborigines a) can't metabolise alcohol properly, b) don't own vineyards - I may be mistaken about (a) but I'm pretty darn sure about (b) - and c) having been relieved of their old ways, and generally failed to adapt to the new, remain marginalised in their own country; yet so many of these labels are aboriginal-inspired. It's understandable though: Australia takes on the Old World to produce the wines the Old World produces. Fab wines aren't enough - at least, not until we know they're there! - so there has to be some assertive and canny marketing. What are the Australian icons, for us foreigners -sorry - the export market!? I think of kangaroos, koalas, Sydney Opera House, Ned Kelly, Ayers Rock, Aborigines, and Crocodile Dundee. On balance - I think I'd go for the unique, and instantly recognisable aboriginal art.

The Swiss collection contains a beautiful Jindalee label, but look at the Jindalee site - really - go now! The home page says, 'Jindalee Estate - a little wild'. If you never hear from me again, it's because I've doctored my passport to lose a decade for Oz immigration, or stowed away with Qangaroo Air, and gone off to work with these people!

Two from Cumulus Wines (Oz again): 'Climbing' Cabernet Sauvignon, and 'Rolling' Cabernet Merlot.
Blurb for your pleasure:

"Cumulus Wines grow and make wines of elegance and power from this cool climate, high altitude region. ................. Climbing (Orange) represents the altitude of the Orange region with character and life. In its continual quest for adventure, Climbing stands confidently in its individuality, showcasing a premium yet accessible range of elegant wines................. Rolling Wines are sourced from the Central Ranges region of the vineyard. The continual cool temperatures coupled with high-land sunshine gives the fruit incredible colour and vibrant flavours. "

And the handsome Mad Fish Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot label. How evocative is this name of the rich, sensual pleasures of the grape.........
The website says, "MadFish wines are pure, fresh and clean in which the flavour of the fruit is the primary character."

And if you want to know more, click HERE!

OK. That was fun.

For some reason, I can't load pics of Goats du Roam (Paarl Valley, South Africa), Papio (Californian - another fun site - I now know that Papio means baboon, by the way.) and Massaya (Lebanon). Maybe another day. By the way, I have actually drunk GdR, and it's good!


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Indonesian Puppets

Indonesian Arts Network Wikipedia wayang





H is for Hopper

A couple of years ago, our friends hung a large framed print above their dining table. It was Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, and I didn't like it. Too dark, too cold, lonely, resigned. Nope, didn't like it.

However, out and about later that year, I came across a booklet of postcards of Edward Hopper's work, and bought it for Bill, because Nighthawks was his choice, and he loved it. Flicking through the pics on my way home, I was very surprised to find that I really liked most of them and, in the context of these others, I began to 'get' Nighthawks. So here's a selection of Edward Hopper's work.

I found this Artchive profile interesting too: not an easy man to be with (or to be?) but it's apparent where the paintings come from; they're definitely him.
He painted Nighthawks in 1942, so it's not surprising that it reminds me of Raymond Chandler novels and movies. Think of The Maltese Falcon (Chandler? Not sure.) or The Big Sleep. Can you hear Humphrey Bogart's sardonic commentary? Is that Lauren Bacall, or Rita Hayworth at the end of a long day's filming, taking the weight off aching feet? I am also reminded of the end of the Helen Hunt/Jack Nicholson/Greg Kinnear movie, As Good As It Gets, when Melvin and Carol take a walk in the small hours, and the Turkish bakery is just opening. Not so lonely after all. Love that film.
I believe that this was the postcard print that made the difference for me. I have an applique book somewhere that explains that colours can be categorised as hues (pure colour), tints (with white in them), shades (black) and something else that I can't remember, but they contain grey! Hopper's paintings, I think have that grey tone (Ah! Tone. Not sure, but that might be it.) and I think that's the most basic, unprocessed reason why some of them repel me: and the reason for that, I think, is my perception that while life is full (FULL!) of pretty coloured lanterns, just beyond and around the pools of light, there is shadow. Hopper lets the shadow into his sunniest pictures. And this is one of them.

I enjoy the literal edginess of this painting (Rooms by the Sea, 1951), because being by the sea has this strongly defined quality. By the sea, I am fully aware of air moving restlessly on my skin and in my hair and clothes; of the variety and texture of the sand, shell, gravel and bottletops underfoot; of sea that stretches so far and so thin that at the horizon it metamorphoses into sky and curves up and over, high overhead, to curve down far behind me, where all the other stuff is; of the smell of the sea, too vigorous and elemental to be parcelled into subtle, self-conscious words like aroma, fragrance, perfume - it's not just my nose that absorbs the smell of the sea, it's my skin, my eyes, my ears; and the sound of the sea, and moving air, and the voices of birds and people floating in the breadth and height and depth of it all like small balloons. This must be the source of the speech bubble!

If Hopper had painted someone in these rooms, I don't think that I would feel the same way about it, because his people are as sharply defined as his landscapes and interiors: they might all be in the same painting, but they are all separate. I have a sense of being in his 'empty' paintings, but of observing isolation in his peopled (?) canvases. Hmm.... fancies herself as an art critic this morning... probably should have gone with Plan A, Go to the Gym. But I've had these pics on the hard drive for ages, and I really wanted to get them up here before I go away!

Here's 'Gas', 1940. Not lonely! I like this very much. For me, the mood is of that quiet absorption in doing a routine job right. There's a feeling of a natural rhythm of life. The trees are dark, and the shadows are long, but isn't that what you want at the end of a busy day? Finish off, and go put your feet up with a cup of tea, some music, and a good book.

Cape Cod Evening, 1939. What do you think?

And I love this! The Lee Shore, 1941 Wheeeeeeee!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

10 good things about today

1) I had a perfect fried egg sandwich with lime pickle and mayo (Try it!) and a Turkish coffee for breakfast this morning.

2) My bank was very helpful (They always are.) and efficient (Not quite so common.) and sorted out exactly what needed sorting out.

3) I saw almost all of my IB students to wish them a happy summer.

4) We had a very pleasant goodbye assembly, and everyone went off happily.

5) We were allowed to leave at 1 instead of 3 - Shukran, shukran, shukran. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

6) I had a really good kip on the sofa.

7) It's only 60Dhs for my tetanus shot, which I'm about to go get. (It's been 14 years since the last one: I'm very sensible because I am a grown-up, you see?)

8) Our government clinic is just down the road, and they have excellent, thoughtful doctors.

9) It's the Summer Solstice, which means La Fête de la Musique, all over the world. Yay!

10)This year, Dubai's Fête de la Musique has moved from the Alliance Francaise, which is right across town from here, but has always been fun, in a humid and crowded sort of way, to the Madinat Jumeirah, which is a lot closer. Yes! I don't know where they're going to put everyone, but we're going, so we shall see!

So if you have no plans for this evening, it's there, it's free, and there are new musicians and singers - some Dubai based, and others brought in for the occasion, amateur, professional, old, young, Arab, European, Asian - every 10 or 20 minutes, in a continuous celebration that began at 15.30 and will continue til after 22.00. It's always good, and I never miss it.

So, cultured pagans all, pull out your wolfskin, slap on the woad, wrap some mistletoe around your good oak staff, and allez y!

Here's an excerpt from an English page on the French website:

"When, in October 1981, Maurice Fleuret became Director of Music and Dance at Jack Lang's request, he applies his reflections to the musical practice and its evolution: "the music everywhere and the concert nowhere". When he discovered, in a 1982 study on the cultural habits of the French, that five million people, one child out of two, played a musical instrument, he began to dream of a way to bring people out on the streets.

And thus, in a few weeks' time, the Fête de la Musique was launched on June 21 1982, the day of summer solstice, a pagan night which recalls the ancient tradition of Saint John's feasts.

Given the immediate success of this popular and largely spontaneous event, this gathering of professionals and amateurs musicians, with its new focus on all kinds of music, was the incarnation of a policy striving to give an equal place to amateur musicians, to rock, jazz, singing and traditional music, all of which were given a chance to be heard alongside so-called "serious" music.

The free concerts................ and participation of an ever increasing share of the population...made it one of the major French cultural events, in only a few years.

It began to be "exported" in 1985 (the European Year of Music). In fifteen years, the Fête de la Musique would be taken up in over one hundred countries throughout the five continents.

Though the European dimension remains the most visible one, now that Berlin, Budapest, Barcelona, Istanbul, Liverpool, Luxemburg, Rome, Naples, Prague and the French Community of Belgium, Santa Maria da Feira have signed the "Charter of the partners of the European Festival of Music", the Fête has also taken root in San Francisco, in New York this year, in Manila, and has practically become the national feast in many African countries, not to mention Brazil and Colombia."

last day of term

This is our last day of term. There are people criss-crossing outside my window, but the clusters have broken up, and the numbers have dwindled under the onslaught of an astonishing surge of humidity. I'm lurking here in air-conditioned solitude, watching the stragglers drift off. I love these kids. I'm glad it's over, but I shall also be glad to see them again in September. I don't know how I'll feel this time next year.

We've had a half day, finishing with an assembly with awards and speeches - much more relaxed than the usual assemblies through the year. Students and teachers have been hugging each other, laughing and teasing, all so ready for a break, but also not quite believing that we won't all be here again next week. Not possible after a year together!

In fact, we teachers have another week to go, and I have a ton of stuff I want to get done before the end, but right now I've caught the holiday mood from the kids.

Coffee and sudoku, I think, to restart brain and motivation. This afternoon's project: the preliminary theatre use calendar for next year. Our theatre is used so heavily by Primary, Junior and High School for productions, concerts, presentations, music and drama lessons, drama assessments, assemblies and staff meetings, that it is necessary to be able to book a period, a break, a lunch, or time after school and weekends; and then there are outside bookings. My, we are busy little bees!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Home thoughts

I blog too often and too long. This is because I have no life. I admit it. It's ok: I'm used to it!

I have a very interesting job and working with kids in their teenage years is completely absorbing. But at the same time, I don't think it's ethical to blog about my job, either with anecdotes about individuals, or with the goss on the workings of the school. I'll track the Delhi project, which we're very excited about; and one of these days I'll get round to stills from the Kabuki performance recordings, but I haven't asked permission to put students' pictures up here (and I don't particularly wish to direct their attention here, either), so I try to choose pics that are interesting, but not of identifiable individuals.

BUT if I don't blog about work, I'm stumped really, because that's where I put all my energy, and where I get my satisfaction. (Hence all the amateur psychology, philosophy and politics!)

The bottom line is that I've never really adapted to life here, and by now I've used up all the devices I've invented along the way to maintain the illusion that I live here. I don't. I live in my head. In the past. In contact with, and thoughts of, distant family. In an imagined future. In hopes of a different life in a different place. And increasingly, in the blogosphere, where other people also live at least part of their lives. Thank Google! Two weeks in Spain and nine days in Jordan have kept me afloat since this time last year, first steps in the direction of our new/old life. It has surprised me that I am, ultimately, so inflexible, because when I encountered this in someone else - my mother-in-law - I found it both very sad, and very hard to comprehend. Now I understand a little better.

My father- and mother-in-law, and all their brothers and sisters, were born into a Durham mining community in the far north of England. However, by the time Habibi was born, the pit was pretty well worked out. Soon enough, his father got a new job at another, expanding pit, in Yorkshire, about a hundred miles south. Once he was secure, the family moved down to join him. At six years old, Habibi found himself in a new village, and a new school where the local kids thought he was Chinese, because his accent was so alien to them. By the time I met him, he was a Yorkshireman, though his parents, of course, retained their 'Geordie' accent, which I adore!

For his father, I guess that a change of pit wasn't so drastic, particularly as lots of Durham miners moved to 'Yorkshire Main'. The work was the same, the social life was the same, and he had an allotment where he grew the best - the absolute best - onions I've ever tasted. Legendary, they were! (And 'were' is the operative word, unfortunately, as he gave up his allotment years ago.) So he has been quite content with his lot - and his allotment - I think. A hard-working, sociable, family man, with a legitimate bolt-hole whenever he wanted a bit of peace.

But when I met Habibi-mama, who was lovely - so kind, determined and creative - but so shy, it was a different story. After twenty five years, she still missed 'home', her mother (who lived to be 93!) and her sisters, and had never settled in the 'new' place. She was a quiet dynamo who redecorated the house herself when it was due, who made all the costumes for years for the local Majorettes (marching band) who competed all over the country, and wore sashes absolutely laden with medals. (Think of the piles of coins in a penny arcade machine - that kind of density.) And when the sewing machine was put away, she knitted. ('She never stopped!' Habibi says!) That's where he gets his talents from; the difference is, of course, that he belongs to a working class generation that had choices, and he got to go to university; his mother didn't (Nor, I think, would she have wanted to. But that's another matter.) Anyway, this lovely, lovely woman (maker of world-class pease pudding, and source of our scrumptious wedding cake recipe) got right on with being a good wife, mother and grandmother, and doing her bit in the community she had been transplanted to; but she never put down roots, never made close friends, always missed 'home' - and should have had shares in the tobacco industry! I couldn't quite understand how she could live twenty-five years in a place, raise three children, be so essential to the functioning of the community, and not feel at home, at ease. Didn't all that constitute a life? A home?

Before and after we met, Habibi and I moved around England quite a bit, what with studies and jobs. Once we'd been together a while, I realised that I had a pattern (nothing as organised as a strategy!) of working hard at nesting and networking to begin with, so that we were part of the landscape by the time we'd been in a place six months, and part of the neighbourhood in two years: taking it for granted - having adapted to local conditions - and just getting on with life.

When, after we'd been here half a dozen years, and Dubai was still an uncompromisingly exotic dancer smack in the centre of my field of vision, instead of an eccentric uncle in the background, I thought first that it was the place, and then that it must be me. I know now that it's both, with a generous measure of particular circumstances thrown in!

Isn't it ironic, though, that I and my mother-in-law, apparently so different in temperament, and literally a generation apart in terms of opportunities and options, should turn out to have this major element in common: we do best in our particular soil; we make an adequate show in the wrong part of the garden, but our roots are shallow. I'd really better get out of here before I run to seed!

Voy a espańa la semana próxima! Voy trabajar con unas gallinas. Jajajaja! (Spanish laughter! =D)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Las Tormentas y Los Granizos

I've been a little concerned about how I'll cope with farmwork in the south of Spain in July. The average temperature may only be 30 C, when we're used to 40+ in Dubai, but who goes out in it? Not me! Got my hat, my shades & my boots. Camelback next payday, and a party-pack of rehydration salts.....

So I was shocked at RTVE news reports from Andalucia yesterday, with footage of car windscreens reduced to heaps of broken glass, a barn roof that looked a lot like a colander, and someone holding two hailstones the size of golfballs. Cave Renovator posted some atmospheric shots of a snowy landscape last December, but this is JUNE, isn't it?

I tried to find info online yesterday, but the only snow story dated from February. It looks more like Northern England than southern Spain.

Here's today's online report on Granizos gigantes - and if your Spanish isn't up to it, here's an excerpt from an email I got yesterday:

"We're fine, but the river is roaring again and there's a tidal wave coming over the waterfall. Yesterday was very dramatic and the river, normally a metre wide stream, expanded and rose dramatically. All afternoon we listened to the roar of boulders hurtling over the waterfall and the river landscape has changed dramatically with many of the trees wiped out and the river course and profile jaw-droppingly different. Our Spanish neighbours say they have seen nothing like it before with olive trees damaged by the hail and huertos flooded and ruined."

Isn't it awful?

Menorca got battered as well - upended broken boats adrift or sinking in the marina, or tossed up on the walkway.

In case you thought I was exaggerating..... These fell in Brazil, in June 1999 and September 2004, respectively.

.........and I've just remembered a hailstorm we had here one April, maybe 1995 - when Dubai took a rattling, but Sharjah got absolutely hammered. Dented cars everywhere. Sore heads and shoulders.

I remember someone describing how they'd recently moved into their villa, and left an empty steel chest, big enough to climb into, outside the kitchen door. The hail came down inches deep - and then melted, because this is a hot country you know, and the next thing they knew, their steel trunk was at the bottom of the garden, having floated down on the meltwater!

But who would imagine that a storm would reshape the landscape in landlocked Europe? World weather seems to have more sulks and tantrums than a really bad soap opera.

Friday, June 16, 2006

GLUM FRIDAY - but pretty good Thursday, all things considered!

So tired by end of week (UAE=Wed) that Thursday feels exactly like a night of insomnia.
Friday suffocated by unrelieved queasiness attributed to strange tasting chops last night (x 2: Habibi afflicted too, and worse because I’m more jumpy about ‘off’ flavours, and only ate half of mine).
Day spent sitting with stomach lightly squozed between table and chair for illusion of comforting hug.
Habibi working a.m., then down to club in hopes – disappointed - of light relief; afternoon spent snoozing or drooping over ‘Driving Over Lemons’ about a man who moves to a smallholding in Spain!

Not done: marking, reports, ironing, washing up.
Done: reading, blogging, watching Spanish TV.
Prospects for tomorrow: SSDD.
General mood: bring on the violins, but only in the next room, with the door shut, and they’d better be in tune or else.

Wednesday evening phone call from long-time-no-see (working-in-Dubai syndrome) Simon Cory-Wright, minus a story-teller at Bookworm for Thursday morning and could I fill in for old times’ sake. Fun prospect!
Complete lie-in failure at 6.30 Thursday morning means several hours on the sofa with fascinating Heritage of Spanish Cooking, for me, the definitive Spanish cookbook.
Habibi unexpectedly availabile (I love that man!) to drive me down to Bookworm, Simon’s delicious children’s bookshop in the Park&Shop complex off Al Wasl Road.
Arrive to find Bookworm absolutely stuffed with tempting stock and crowded with parents and children.
An hour on cushions and beanbags reading stories and getting the children to join in: we get through We’re Going on a Bearhunt, Can’t You Sleep Little Bear?, Room on the Broom, one about a little girl who tries to make a plant grow by feeding it strawberry icecream and pizza, and an entertaining dinosaur pop-up book. No time though (or voice) for Q-Pootle-5, The Gruffalo, or The Wolf Is Coming!
Urge to offer repeat visit next weekend quashed by realisation that it will be last weekend before departure for SPAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNN!!!!!!
Lunch at ‘Paul’ in Mercato, for the first time since took Dad last November: smoked salmon and cream cheese crêpes blanketed in melted cheese, with a pot of the special house blend tea. I love that tea, and you can actually buy it to drink at home, but Thé Paul is part of the pleasure of going to Mercato and Emirates Mall!) so I never do. Such sense and restraint.
Mercato visit curtailed by awareness of death struggle between legs and brain over which will quit first.
Homeward bound for several hours of big ZZZZZZZZZZZZs.
Brew a cup of wake-me-up Turkish coffee. Perfect this time.
Some online research on Andalucian cave-houses.
Ten minutes’ hysterical laughter: combined effect of unvanquished fatigue, Turkish coffee and discovery that the Dutch word for cave dwelling is grotwoning, while the Danish is: hulebebyggelse. Aaaaaaaahhhh!!!
Every time I get a grip, I catch sight of bemused Habibi and crack up again. Hoooowwwwllll!
Visit friends to watch England versus Trinidad & Tobago. The match itself doesn’t qualify as a good bit: having have spent almost an hour in traffic and humidity on the Construction Highway, it’s irritating that the fans seem to be making more effort than the players. I count the second England goal and the Trinidad & Tobago goal as good bits, though. And I gather that it was humid, so I sympathise. When the hums are up, I don't move much either.
First quarter of Sweden versus Paraguay looks promising without really going anywhere; Habibi’s snores are competing with ‘Sverige! Sverige!’; my eyes are closing, and our hosts are sinking fast.
Rapid taxi ride home.
Bed! Flat, smooth, air-conditioned.

Shame about this morning’s 7.30 wake-up (Habibi 6.30……) and the rest.

Habibi’s given up and gone off to bed, but I feel better for writing yesterday down!

Total plug for BOOKWORM, a triumph of vision, teamwork and tenacity.
It’s Simon Cory-Wright’s shop, but he and Ruth Kiernan have realised this dream between them.
Bookworm isn’t a large unit, and it’s right at the end of the Park&Shop complex, round the corner from the hairdresser’s and the video shop, so for a long time, hardly anyone knew it was there, but it’s a treasure store, and word has clearly got round!

Hands up: Habibi designed the interior, realising Ruth’s ideas – so of course it’s gorgeous!
The books represent a Who’s Who of the brightest and best children’s publishing houses from the long-established giants to the likes of Barefoot, Dorling-Kindersley and Usborne; and range from pre-school board books to teenage fiction by Lemony Snickett, Gillian Cross and Michelle Magorian, and excellent reference books. (Did I mention that I used to work in a children’s library?)
Their sidelines are imaginative, stimulating and well-made – puppets, hobby-science kits and the Klutz activity range. They were the first bookshop in Dubai to do story-telling sessions, and those have run every Thursday morning right from the start – back in the days when hardly anyone knew they were there, and we might get only two little ones! They do bookfairs at high schools, junior schools and nurseries. They introduced French and Arabic collections.
These are hard-working people!
The first year was touch-and-go.
The second slightly better but hard on the nerves.
And now – it makes the heart glad!

(Sorry) (Sir) You CAN'T COME IN!

Woke's a clever bunny. Spot the difference between the pic on the Gulf News racist doorman story

and his version on his post 'The First Strike' in the UAE Community Blog.

And since it's the weekend, here are my complete ramblings in response thereto! (Compressed version in Woke's comments.)

Racism is endemic here and just because almost any nationality is allowed in doesn't mean that everyone is valued equally. I am not taking a shot at the UAE, either: racism is a world-wide phenomenon, one of the darker elements of human nature. The deep-rooted ignorance and prejudice Woke ascribes to corporations unfortunately begins with individuals, and attitudes we absorb or develop without thinking. I'm as guilty as anyone else, and have to accept that my genuine desire to be open and fair comes from this self-knowledge. Oh dear.

Our sense of self naturally includes our membership of particular groups who have shared habits, traditions and attitudes - some more inclusive than others; I call it a comfort blanket of what defines 'us'. However, it must also define those with different habits, traditions and attitudes as 'them'.

I don't think this is a bad thing. How can everyone be the same? Why should we be? Let's hear it for individualism, cultural diversity and tolerance, for goodness' sake! Less of the suspicion, anxiety, and secret (or not so secret) desire to get other people to do it our way! (Thinking about governments as well as groups and individuals).

Most multi-cultural societies start out with clusters of enclaves, barrios, ghettos, quarters - so many terms for the same phenomenon! We could also call them halfway houses, perched between the old country and the new. With time, the edges blur as succeeding generations qualify for passports from their parents' adopted country, mix at school, at work, sometimes in marriage, and forge more inclusive identities, as Italian-Americans, Anglo-Asians, etc. And as one community comes of age, and moves on and up, the next wave arrives. Easier said than done, of course.

Even so, racism - the dark side of the comfort blanket - is difficult to eradicate; which is why most countries are eventually obliged to legislate against racist behaviour, and be seen to enforce their anti-racism laws.

The UAE is a special case, because the 85% foreign population is a transient labour force, not encouraged to remain after our working life is over, and national policy, quite naturally, is to encourage nationals to marry nationals.

Even so, many of our children grow up in schools and neighbourhoods which bring them friends of many nationalities and cultures: Emirati, Scottish, Indian, Tasmanian, Iranian, Croatian, South African, English, Serbian, Australian. (I'm running through the friends Habibi had in eleven years here.)

Some of these friendships last, some don't, but in these expat children we have a group of people who cannot, in conscience, make blanket assumptions about Emiratis, Scots, Indians, etc. etc. ETC!!!! because experience has shown them individuals - with various similarities and differences, and perhaps as importantly, they have seen themselves and their own culture through the eyes of individuals from other cultures. It may not always be easy, but it has to be a good thing!

Even if the 'melting pot' doesn't exist; even if the kids who go to single nationality schools and live in single nationality neighbourhoods never mix with other nationalities; and the housemaid phenomenon means that some categorise certain races as servant class, and others as Sir or Madame -on balance, the expat experience Dubai offers is a gift for the future to wherever Dubai's Emirati and expatriate children live their adult lives.

Returning to the present (and without wishing to criticise the specific hotel in the newspaper story) it is all very well for the General Manager to protest (quite sincerely, I’m sure) that they can't be racist when they employ forty three nationalities; but there are many who make a distinction between those they will employ and those with whom they will socialise.

In addition, racist attitudes and/or practices among employers seriously limit the spending power of some nationalities; meanwhile others have considerable spending power, and a drinking culture that keeps bar tills busy. I for one believe this is a factor in the unwritten but well-established door policies of some clubs, which makes entire sections of the expatriate population the victims of double discrimination.

It's a sign of the progress here that racist door policy - or behaviour - is being reported. 'Members Only' door policies have been applied in Dubai clubs for years, as Deepak testifies (but I can't find the thread - If you read this Deepak, where did you post about arriving here?). What has changed is that people now feel able to protest to authorities, and that the authorities act.

Of course, doormen can have prejudices and policies of their own.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

IB & me - secondary education

Here in the UAE, all state schools teach in Arabic, as you would expect. Rashid School for Boys and Latifa School for Girls are private schools for UAE nationals where British curricula and exams are delivered in English, although all Arab students study Arabic, and must pass the national exam in order to graduate from high school.

My own international school offers I/GCSE and the IB, while other schools offer I/GCSE & A Levels to international students, or cater to particular nationalities: I know of Indian, American, German, Japanese, Russian and French schools each following its own national programme. No doubt there are more besides.

The IB Diploma programme is based on the belief that specialising too young limits the individual’s options. Accordingly it is modelled on a hexagon with five specialist compulsory subject groups, and one group of electives, which includes all arts subjects plus additional humanities, languages and sciences……sigh……. Will education ministries and society in general ever accord the Arts equal status with academic subjects?

(Oh come on, let’s call them commercial, shall we? Unfortunately, the Arts have become hostage to commercial interests - to be consumed not practised; but that's just one of my hobby horses, so let it trot off for now.)

Other requirements are: a Theory of Knowledge course, an Extended Essay, and a minimum 150 CAS hours over two years, which is to say 50 hours of Creativity, 50 Action and 50 Service. It’s a built-in guarantee that in between their studies everyone will get some exercise, have some fun, and think about other people’s needs!

On the other hand, I think that many students get stretched too thin, as over-enthusiastic or over-anxious teachers (and I have my moments) try to bring A Level depth to IB breadth. How much does an eighteen-year-old have to know to gain access to the next educational proving ground? Overkill 101, anyone?

Further reading of the IB school lists (looking at job opportunities: see previous post) revealed that, while all schools must offer an art in the hexagon, they don’t necessarily offer all of them. Theatre Arts requires considerable resources, and only makes economic sense if Drama is provided lower down the school. Damn! Even so: France, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Netherlands, Greece – the list rolled on!

I don't actually mind what art a student takes at IB, as long as they take one, something just for them, to expand their spirits and lodge something in their make-up that is not about achievement, responsibility, and all the burdens that begin to descend upon their shoulders only a couple of years later, as their desired university place brings their first serious debt. But I would like a job teaching those who want to do Theatre Arts!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Vamos! Vamos!

Of the primarily English-speaking nations, only Australia appealed enough to outweigh our desire to be closer to home without actually living there. (We British are famous grumblers – complaining is different, see, not at all British! - but what most home-based English people seem to complain about these days is that everyone in England is so miserable! The ‘Let’s live anywhere but here’ magazine market is huge nowadays.).

Europe then.

Since getting a job in a foreign country is obviously less complicated than setting up a business, we started with me. I’ve run informal drama activities, done productions, and taught drama right across the age groups from four to seriously grown up, so I could go anywhere that requires drama teachers. The only thing is that I am very happy teaching 11-18 year-olds, really love teaching IB Theatre Arts, and really don’t want to give it up!

So I logged on to the International Baccalaureate Organisation, to check out IB schools around the world: it turns out that there are 1,834 of them, in 124 countries.

OK then…. I was looking for English-speaking schools because, although the IB programme is delivered in English, French and Spanish, I know I can’t polish my French or learn Spanish to an appropriate standard for teaching. Still, most of Europe remained open to me, though it was generally private schools, like the one that I teach in now, rather than state schools.

(After posting this last night, I realised that it was actually two posts, so I've removed some IB/education stuff and posted it separately.)

France, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Netherlands, Greece – the list rolled on!

Quite apart from the practicalities of earning a living, I wanted to return to Europe and be nearer family in England, Scotland, France and the Netherlands, but also to retain our links with Arab culture – we’ve been in the Middle East a long time, and our son is more at home here than in England.

In the end, our choice of new pasture came down to a mixed bag of criteria: climate, economic development, culture, openness to foreign nationals, legal and governmental transparency, cost of living, property values, language, membership of the EU (taxes, health, pensions, law, human rights) – and a feeling!

So: Spain. Not sunbaked Spain or wet Spain or tourist Spain or British Spain (Enough of the expat – we wanna feel like pats one day!), but Mediterranean, historic, cosmopolitan, colourful, crazy, traditional, cautiously post-Franco, self-assuredly forward-looking Spain.

So: Valencia. Characterful but not defensive or chauvinistic; thriving and expanding but still a big town, not a vast city; midway between Andalucia and Catalunya, with the heartland of Castilia y Mancha, Extremadura, Castilia y Leon and Aragon to the west and northwest; and the rest of mainland Europe to the immediate north and northeast.

Valencia appeared immune to the corruption apparently endemic on the southeast coast, but there is a serpent in paradise after all, in the form of the now-notorious Valencian ‘land grab’ laws. Still, we plan to give ourselves two years to settle, become reasonably fluent in the language, establish Habibi’s business, my proper job, and a venture of my own, do plenty of WWOOFing, and generally become part of this place we’ve chosen to spend the rest of our lives in: and if the land-grab issue (now before the EU, I believe) isn’t resolved in three years’ time when we’re ready to buy our patch, we’ll be in a position to look elsewhere. Ha!

I remember when ladies of 50+ wore crimplene, carried shopping bags that bulged in solidarity with their ankles, and were definitely set, like over-cooked Yorkshire Puddings, into a shape and state which I knew instinctively would remain more or less unchanged until they got frail and translucent, with white, blue or lilac hair and walking sticks, and lived out their lives in excessively tidy rooms behind netted windows overlooking lawns edged with flowering annuals that no-one would ever be seen to weed. It didn’t bother me. I thought it was normal. Now that I’m older, and still very much alive inside, even if the vital signs have been a bit dodgy this week, my perspective is somewhat different. Vive la différence!

Vamos a la gran vida!

Going! Going!

Habibi and I are not noted for our forward planning, but after over a decade here in Dubai even we thought some sort of exit strategy might be called for, so we scratched our heads and came up with - a date! Impressive, huh?

Habibi does that 24/7 thing that they don’t warn you about at entrepreneur school; but I make up for this with a frivolous part-time occupation called teaching, which, as everybody knows, is all about the holidays. So I picked 07.07.07, or about twenty minutes after the end of the next academic year. Habibi liked it, and thus was born the beginning of The Plan.

Next question: where should we go? Having been disappointed in his hopes of being a kept man by the age of forty two (I have no idea where this came from, but he claims I promised. See what he has to put up with? A dilettante and a fibber!) anyway - Habibibi wanted to move somewhere with a sufficiently developed economy to guarantee demand for his finely honed skills in developing and delivering fab websites on time and within budget (Did I cover everything, honey? – oh –) with proper support and other stuff… (OK - that will have to do….) and where 24/7 actually pays. I wanted to go to Oz and be a permaculture Earth Gardener in a strawbale house with solar power; grow fruit trees, fruit bushes, vegetables and flowers sustained by mulch, green compost, stored rainwater and recycled domestic water; and have chooks, duckies and a house cow. Habibi liked this too because he’s got secret hippy leanings and actually got involved with Liverpool's Rice Lane City Farm, and later with an experimental housing project long before I’d heard of such things. (This article about reduced funding for the farm explains its importance to the local community.)

So: Australia. I liked the look of the area around Adelaide, with its lively arts and sports scene, varied geography and vineyards. Habibi thought we’d do better in Perth or Sydney. Habibibaba didn’t mind because he was growing up fast, and the world would soon be the mollusc of his choice. We were getting quite excited; and then I went online at one of those evaluation sites, and discovered (at the age of forty-four-and-a-bit) that if you’re over 45 you get nul points on the immigration grid unless you’ve got Ozzie blood relatives, or more money than we have, and/or intend to employ more Oztrelians than we’re going to. So that sort of fizzled out.

Still, Oz is even further than the UAE from everyone we love, and distance has been a source of much sadness over the years, so part of me had no problem with the inozpitality of Oz. And Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Baz Luhrmann, Heath Ledger, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Kylie Minogue, and all those sportsmen with the funny shaped balls, dreams of ashes etc. etc. have come out to play Up Top; and I can still get the excellent permaculture and sustainable-living books and magazines online, and apply them someplace else. We’ll get over it!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ready to WWOOF

In my first post, I wrote about our plans to move to Spain and have a smallholding; and how Habibibaba and I wanted to work on a Spanish organic farm this summer so that I can get some practice, and he can escape London for a while. (WWOOF was started to match green-starved city-dwellers with organic farmers in need of cheap and friendly temporary labour.) We're in the process of applying, and it's remarkable how many organic farms there are in Spain - 171 potential hosts on the WWOOF list alone.

Since Habibi and I want to move to the Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia, capital of one of Spain's historic farming regions, I hoped for a summer placement there, for an induction into local crops and methods. However, the majority of WWOOF farms are in Andalucia, which is further south, hotter and more arid, or further north in Catalunya, around Tarragona, Barcelona and Girona.

In fact, there are WWOOF farms throughout Spain, from Cadiz (Andalucia) within waving distance of Morocco, through sun-baked Extremadura and Castilla-y-Leon to lush green Galicia.

Within that, there are lone farmers, family holdings of one to fifty acres, guest houses, collectives, yoga and meditation centres, a riding school, research centres, arts colonies and hands-on teaching centres in sustainable development and permaculture. Crops include olives, almonds, carob, oranges, lemons, figs, quince, cork, wheat and barley. Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores catered for. According to experience and abilities, WWOOFers can tend poultry, sheep, horses and pigs; rebuild acequias (irrigation channels similar to falajes); weed vegetable gardens, prune orchards, build strawbale accommodation, keep house, press oil and clear land. Up a mountain, by the sea, or on the edge of desert! In return, you get board and lodging, good company, and a complete change from the 9-5 - usually an agreed number of hours' labour per day or week. Accommodation offered includes in-house, self-contained chalet, caravan, tipi and yurt! Well it appeals to me, and thousands of others all over the planet, since WWOOF was first set up in England in the 1971.

On the website, there's a list of countries where WWOOF operates, and lists of hosts. When you join, you get contact details and guidance on what to do and how to do it. Help is needed all year round, and you should contact potential hosts a month in advance.

BTW on one of my applications I happily declared my desire to keep patitos y galletas. I should have said patitos y gallinos, which means ducks and chickens. I seem to have signed up to tend ducks and biscuits. Ah well.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Marine Myth?

You've probably seen this. It's probably a nurban miff. I don't care: it just creases me!

ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. This radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on 10-10-95.

Americans: "Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision."

Canadians: "Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision."

Americans: "This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course."

Canadians: "No, I say again, you divert YOUR course."


Canadians: "This is a lighthouse. Your call."

Picture of the Week!


Friday, June 09, 2006

This week's hot air epic. A culture of complaint?

I could do a word count on this but my nerves wouldn't stand it. It started off as a comment on a UAE Community Blog posting, and sort of continued. If you've been here before, you know the score!

Thanks to Woke, for linking to this 'Aqoul piece. ' There's a link to 'Aqoul, and other community blogs, in the top right hand column of the UAE Community Blog.

Someone - I can't remember who - sorry! - SOMEONE blogged recently on the phenomenon of the complaining expat. Surely when there's absolutely nothing that you can say or do to improve an unsatisfactory situation, the only harmless option is to grumble? It might not help the listener or reader to get through another month, but it surely releases the mental and emotional pressure in the complainer.

It's a shame that there is no mechanism by which the general population - Emirati and expatriate - can be heard; that we are regarded in much the same light as ants or bees, whose sole purpose is to build, and then give way to the next generation.

The trouble with suppressing and ignoring the popular voice is that resentment and cynicism eventually supplant contentment and optimism. It is hard that expatriates are so readily castigated as materialistic, grasping and self-centred, with no personal investment in the development of Dubai, when in fact we are actively discouraged from feeling that we belong here.

When I first came here, there were institutions created by expats on land generously given by the ruler. These institutions were about community, not profit, and so they continued year after year, charging modest subscriptions, and relying on volunteer or basic wage workers: individuals came and went, but the cricketers, the rugby players and the sailors continued, uniting adults, occupying and training children, entertaining the city, supporting charity.

Other groups - the animal charities, the charity challenge group, the choral societies, the drama groups, the bands and orchestras, the art centre, the social clubs, the lending library - have rented space for years.

Individuals of all nationalities, not just expats, but ordinary Emiratis too, volunteer in charity shops, prisons, special needs establishments and schools; organise and participate in the Terry Fox Run, the Walk Against Hunger, and raise funds or donate goods to relieve the suffering caused by natural disasters in the region.

All of this activity, the good will and energy that engenders it, and the satisfaction, the friendships and the ethos of organic community arts, sports and humanitarian action engendered by it, constitutes a vital part of 'Dubai, The City That Cares'. Dubai Centre for Special Needs, Rashid Paediatric Therapy Centre and Al Noor School have all benefited enormously, for decades,from the activities of expats who believe in 'putting back' into the community. BCAF (The British Community Assistance Fund) and support groups and organisations from other nationalities - Filipino, Sri Lankan and Indian cultural and charitable societies, the churches, the Russian School, the Japanese School - all these organisations, and others like them, help us foreigners to maintain our identity, but also enable us to contribute to the diversity and humanity of this place we live in.

Culture begins with community, and a community is a living organism, its parts interconnected and interdependent. Destroy the connections by shutting down or bankrupting socially beneficial organisations and visibly stratifying and segregating the population by income or nationality, and you get umpteen variations on 'us and them'; hardly the best social model. Now we have blogs and letters pages, but no-one's listening. Gifts have been taken back, and living groups cut off, cut out, because there's money to be made, and there must be no obstruction to the making of money. Who's materialistic, grasping and self-centred, with no personal investment in the development of Dubai? What a betrayal of goodwill and decades of selfless effort. What a waste of human resources.

Perhaps the fundamental problem is one of scale. The old, small Dubai was run by the ruling family, and individuals could bring issues, concerns and suggestions to the majlis, knowing that they would be heard thoughtfully and treated fairly. It was a paternalistic social order, in which father and children had a direct personal relationship; it might reasonably be called quite democratic.

It certainly worked as well as, if not better than, many another system.

However, as the family has grown, and all the foreign cousins have moved in, the father, though admired and loved by many, appears to have become more remote.

It has not happened by design. In terms of community, Dubai has become a victim of its own success. The analogy of the over-achieving executive comes to mind: working so hard to give his family the life and opportunities he dreams of, that ironically they start to feel that he only cares about his job. His children reach adulthood, surrounded by the things he's bought them; fit and well, with straight teeth; enriched by education and experience; but resentful of his preoccupation, his apparent assumption that they are not sufficiently responsible, intelligent or imaginative to know what's good for them.

Meanwhile his doctor is talking bluntly about over-exertion and blood pressure. So much effort, such good intentions: how did he end up being the bad guy with the heart problem? It's not fair. End of apparently endless analogy.

Hissy fits in newspaper interviews and letters about ingratitude, subversion and disloyalty will not silence the complaints or settle the discontent they reflect, nor will PR, however stylish and ubiquitous.

Eventually there has to be a system of conference, a mechanism for sharing ideas and points of view for the general good. Not an off-the-shelf import of an Nth generation system which has evolved to suit an entirely different culture. (None of those systems are perfect anyway, and transplantation would only magnify the flaws.) On the other hand, studying the successes and failures of others, and applying the lessons, is the Dubai way.

A new majlis for a new era?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


It's been a long week, which has paradoxically flown by. I've decided on The Merry Wives of Windsor for Delhi, and done a preliminary edit for fifteen actors doubling nineteen proper roles plus assorted servants and fairies. It's not bad, but needs more work, and I'd better be quick about it because we're auditioning on the 17th of this month so that we can have a read-through with the full cast before we break for the summer. BTW there are several good Shakespeare sites, some slanted towards Shakespeare as literature, some as blueprint for action (plays!) and still others full of those essays that get the lazy and foolish kids every time. Every year someone plagiarises and gets a zero - fortunately, usually in their first year of the GCSE course, and I make a huge fuss, and the whole year group decides that it's not such a good idea. Unfortunately, the occasional twit will do it with final coursework, and get a zero on that. How not to get a good grade. OK Back on track.

I used , first for synopses to help me choose a play, and then to download scenes for editing, after which I could print when I was satisfied. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm more comfortable with a hard copy and a pencil, than a screen. I've had kids in for briefings, and done letters for parents - and why am I writing all this? All I meant to say was, my brain hurts so I've been re-reading Gone-Away Lake, a childhood favourite by Elizabeth Enright. (Can't be bothered to link, but it's on Amazon).

And I liked this bit:

Mrs Cheever's kitchen was calm and cool. Mr Payton, in a chair by the window, was reading a very old newspaper. "Old news is more soothing to read about," he said. "You know that you lived through it all right."

Atypically Topical

Pre-Raphaelite painter Fredric, Lord Leighton,
and the artist lovingly known as
Flaming June!

(One for Habibibaba. Look what's in Holland Park.)

Thanks Pater, for parting with one of your great auction finds!)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Colours may vary

Prints, plates, webpages - better than nothing, but I can't help wondering what the original looks like.

Da Vinci Lode

I eventually gave in and read The Da Vinci Code. I don't like the way Dan Brown writes, and as far as I can tell he's only written one book, because a quick look at the other one - something about bones or blood? I forget - soon told me that it was DVC all over again, but with Illuminati instead of Opus Dei, a professor instead of a curator, a niece instead of......need I go on?

(A friend said he wrote the Illuminati one first, and DVC is actually an improved rehash. Two sets of royalties for one book - not bad. Something for those who buy one handbag in three different colours?)

What interested me, being female and having been brought up Catholic, was all the stuff about the suppression of 'the feminine'. I already knew that St. Paul and one of the St. Augustines had a lot to answer for. So I did a bit of research. Nothing. Nada. Nyet. Or at least, nothing to support Dan Brown's so-called truth. Opus Dei exists. Not secret. The Priory of Sion does not, having been invented by a French charlatan, Pierre Plantard. Quite disappointing really, as I was working up a nice head of steam about the sexism, if not mysogyny, built into the operations and directions of the Roman Catholic Church. Ah well.

So all this hoohaa from Christian groups regarding first the book and then the film strikes me as bloody stupid mob rule. Honestly! All that superiority about Muslim outrage about cartoons that most had not seen, and then this! Islam prohibits the depiction of the Prophet (pbuh) even (especially) in reverence. The 'west' has no such dictate, and in fact celebrates freedom of speech and freedom of the press (including all the media). For Christians to insist that we should not be permitted the opportunity to read a book or watch a film, when all the counter-arguments are out there too, for those who care enough to check their facts, is arrogant, hypocritical and downright self-indulgent.

There was the same fuss about The Life of Brian about a million years ago. (If God made us, and in his image and likeness (not in our bodies, but in our souls) does it not indicate a divine sense of humour? Er... not about making us.... unless all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players, and we're coming to the climax of a century-long black comedy?)

The Roman Catholic Church abolished The Index (a list of banned books) a long time ago (I think! Good grief! Could it possibly still exist?) in support, I believe of the principles of Free Will and personal responsiblity. Anyone who would ban books is very suspect in my view.

Children must be protected.

Adults have the responsibility to make choices, and do their homework about those choices.

Hmph. I will now get down off this soap-box before I hyperventilate.

In case you were wondering, this started when a colleague sent me an email, 20 Big Lies in the Da Vinci Code. I found it on-line in a Christian magazine. If you're still interested.

(P.S. I preferred the film to the book.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

G is for Gris (This guy could paint! Just look!)

Juan Gris was someone whose name I'd come across, and could probably have identified as an artist, possibly even a Spanish artist, but that was all. In Barcelona last summer I saw Gaudi's and Miro's work around the city, visited the Picasso Museum, and saw postcards everywhere of the work of Velasquez, Goya and Dali. It was only when I was back in Dubai, watching the Spanish satellite channel TVE, that I saw Juan Gris' work for the first time, in a feature on a major exhibition.I fell in love with it then and there: the soft colours, the shapes, the clarity of it all.

So G was always going to be for Gris, but when I started browsing for images, I discovered that the exhibition had presented only a part of his range. And he did so much: still lives, views from windows, portraits and pierrots. Juan Gris died far too young, but painted like a man who knew his time was limited.

I confess now that all of the images here are from World Painting Gallery, which means that they are all reproductions, but there are two good things about this: first, you can have the pleasure of tracking down the originals; and second, these - and plenty more - are all available to buy online. Go see!

The Web Museum, Paris, has this to say,"Juan Gris was the Third Musketeer of Cubism, and actually pushed Cubism further to its logical conclusion until his ultimely death in 1927 at the age of 39. His pictures are a joy to look at! " See for yourself.

This is Glass, Cup & Bottle (1914) I love the richness of the blue and those red browns with that dazzling white, all those broad curves, and the way the contours look etched more than painted. Look at the grain of the wood and the sheen on the bottle! Happy! This is a lazy, sensual weekend with warm crusty rolls and fragrant coffee, the features and leisure pages from the newspaper, and all the time in the world, carefully packaged to fit into the two treasured hours you actually have between the weekend chores!

This is something else again! Fruit Bowl and Fruit, 1916. I like it because it reminds me of Edward Hopper's work and I like Edward Hopper! (He's H, by the way.) Look at that green! I have to admit that I'm not entirely clear on what's what, but I like looking, and I think that if I keep looking, it will come to me. I read that the essence of Cubism (Le Cubisme - what an eccentric sounding term - Le Cubisme!) is to show all facets at once, so perhaps to 'get' it, you have to make yourself relax and let your mind make sense of what your eyes present it with, rather than examining and rationalising? Why not?
I chose the Portrait of Madame Josette Gris (1916) because to me it's gentle and meditative, as if the artist was completely absorbed by his subject, both her physical appearance and her character, to the extent of creating a tone poem of colour. Pretentious? Moi? I don't care! It's beautiful.

I really enjoy haikus because a perfect haiku - rare, but worth everything - can capture a moment so perfectly that it remains alive, and every time you read those seventeen carefully crafted syllables, you return to that moment of recognition, of discovery all over again. Some paintings are like that. I don't know anything about Juan Gris's relationship with his wife, but I like what I find in this painting.
And now, from the man who brought you Glass, Cup and Bottle; Fruit Bowl and Fruit; and Fruit Dish, Glass and Newspaper, I give you........... Bottle and Fruit Dish (1919) !!!! Yay! ! But it could hardly be more different from the others, could it? Wow, but this man understood colour, and form, and all that stuff that I don't really know anything about but really really appreciate! Aren't you glad he lived and breathed, and didn't decide to become something respectable and socially responsible, like an accountant or a greengrocer?

The subject matter here may support that argument. Here we have Bananas (1926), and World Painting Gallery have listed it as Sculpture Style Expressionism. I wouldn't know, not being a fan of Expressionism, but it's one of many paintings that I like, and I've included it for its red. If you follow the links, you will also find Juan Gris's landscapes of harvest-yellow fields, but I have to stop somewhere, and this is the place. Enjoy!

P.S.Another plug for Mark Harden's Artchive (never met him, don't know anything about him, but I've had lots of fun on his website, so why wouldn't I tell everyone?) If you want to find out more about a particular artist, or just take time out from the needful, and browse for a while, the Artchive is an excellent study resource and online gallery. He has asked visitors, " buy fine art posters [from] is a key supporter of The Artchive, and by patronizing them, you help to support the site. I can personally vouch for the excellence of their customer service, selection and prices." So there you are.

P.P.S. Mark, if you or your lawyers are reading this and muttering about copyright, I'm a fan! I'm harmless! And hardly anyone reads my blog anyway....though I think it makes them happy....... grovel, sheepish grin, bloody cheek....................

Saturday, June 03, 2006

How not to do it.

Interpreting signs.

'So you want to be a rock musician? An evening with Rick Wakeman.'
Tongue in cheek phrasing suggests open hands spread wide and big open smile: the shared joke. Laid back entertainment offered.
No-one's taking himself too seriously.

Grosvenor House Hotel.
Hmm. Very posh, as in English elegance, not faded charm.
No genteel Wodehouse aunties in crocheted lace.
Understated but unmistakably grand, possibly sumptuous.

Jim Davidson
Cheeky chappie. 70s British TV comic.
Old school pub and working men's club circuit humour. Sex. Booze. Mother-in-Law. Mysogyny. Racism. Har har haaaar!

I liked a lot of Rick Wakeman's Six Wives of Henry VIII, loved Catherine Howard, and (I didn't know until last night, but having been told thought, "Of course!") the arrangement of Eleanor Farjeon(showing off now)'s poem Morning Has Broken, made famous by then Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam (Aren't you glad to know all this?).

As we also learned last night, Rick didn't get a credit on that recording, nor did he get his £9 session fee (and that was a lot of money in those days!) and has been playing gleeful passive resistance with recording companies ever since.

I was never a great fan of Yes, because there's a limit to how much of Jon Anderson's violin-on-steroids vocals I can take, but oh I loved Wonderous Stories from their Going for the One album.

So, yeah, mixed signals about the gig, but it promised conversation between Rick and Jim, and a few tunes. Go for it. Pay out 300Dhs for old-hippy night out with Habibi.

Grosvenor House Hotel is very elegant, almost brutalist sculptural once inside the blue neon-edged tower block, but softened by velvety browns and creams, and brown and cream velvets, abstract mixed media pieces lit to glow, and lots of charming eager staff. No wonder a glass of wine is 25 Dhs....

Let the evening begin, in widely spaced rows of seats in the Windsor Room, facing a stage containing a magenta sofa, a deep armchair and a grand piano. Up comes Jim Davidson looking well, and beginning what turns out to be some forty ghastly minutes of what is either a warm-up act or an appallingly misjudged ego trip. Does he think we're here to listen to him? To this endless f#&*!ing stream of f#&*!ing s#$t about knobs and canoes (uhuh) and what a middle aged man has to go through to get laid, especially when all that's available is his own age, ugly, and endowed wiv a wooden leg?

By the time he let Rick Wakeman up there for a thoroughly prepared guided tour down Memory Lane (fine - except you could hear how often he'd done it, particularly when Jim prompted anecdotes in the wrong order) I for one was feeling bored, trapped and resentful. So the cosy chat may well have been fascinating, but I was in the handsome Lobby Lounge, reading Hello! magazine.

After the interval, I laughed at Jim's second warm-up. (See! Not a completely miserable cowbag after all, or at least, not after my second glass of wine.) I liked the story about telling the Japanese lady he was a comedian....

And then the big guy was up, with the grand piano and the biggest Roland keyboard that Jim had managed to locate, given the non-availability of the 23 items of kit Rick had specified, his own collection being en route for a gig in the States. This was amusing, until RW began to play (all of the dazzling above) immediately demonstrating the limitations of the Roland, which turned in a pretty good pipe organ for Jane Seymour, but turned Catherine Howard and Merlin the Magician to sugar-dusted marshmallow. RW's work is so lushly layered that it requires threadbare Cat Stevens or androgynous Jon Anderson on vocals to make us listen, rather than float and skip along the surface. And without the other musicians - whether orchestra or band - to balance the pyrotechnic virtuosity of the famous Wakeman digits, we didn't get music so much as, well, pyrotechnic virtuosity. He tried - really tried - but it wasn't what it should have been. And those of us sitting in rows N & O were treated to Jim Davidson strutting back and forth behind us, spitting invective and instructions at the amateur techies he'd got on light and sound.

Highlight? The big piano finish to Merlin the Magician.

On balance: good luck to Jim Davidson for using his career connections to relaunch himself as a promoter, but he'd better recognise his limitations, which were all too apparent all night. Hot role-model tip: take a look at how Phil Duquenoy, the force behind Streetwise Fringe conducts himself. That, my dears, is a professional, ploughing a challenging furrow with humour and quirky grace.

By the way, there was a woman behind us who cackled and squawked (Ok - proved that there is someone out there with a laugh even louder than mine) at JD's every third word, and it's quite possible that all my experience of the evening demonstrates is that I'm a snob. Oops! :P

Friday, June 02, 2006

Climate Change. Global Warming. Guardian Unlimited

And this (dated two years ago, but based on an eight year project in Antarctica) explains what Global Warming is, as well as what it does. It seems that the polar ice caps are melting, and the permanent ice is shrinking at the rate of 9% per decade, at which rate they will have disappeared by the end of this century. Some of that ice is 890,000 years old! Check out the graphics on the Arctic ice, and the likely impact on Bangladesh. There are two projections on global average temperatures for the rest ovf this century, from the UN environment programme(UNep) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Sceptics, and those with vested interests in industries which produce high fuel emissions, may continue to scoff, but if English farmers are now able to grow almonds, apricots, olives and kiwi fruit in the open, (See 'Almonds are the new English roses), you have to wonder!

Where have I found all this? See the infrequent farmer, who has decided to work with climate change. He's in my sidebar, and well worth reading.