Monday, June 29, 2009
Just as I thought everything was ok and 2009 is finally giving me a chance to exhale, the earth moved again. Suddenly I found myself in a new space entirely - a clean slate, another beginning. The world as I knew it ceased to exist and the only thing I could be sure of ended up being my global friends and family.
It always amazes me how things can change so drastically in a second and it has been hard to adjust so many times over the last ten years. Yet one thing I have grown accustomed to are these kinds of changes and I know by now that during these times I need the head space to process things and good friends around me to help me keep my sense of self.
So I decide to fly out of Dubai and meet up with my newest close friend Prasanti in the suburb of Sidi Bou Said in Tunis. There couldn't be a better place to start over. The Mediterranean breeze carries the kind of myths and magic that breathes life back into any old soul and the blue and white houses with the sweeping view of the ocean shouts holiday. This time of year everything is draped in waves of bougainvillea flowers. It's a wholly refreshing place to visit. Whether you stay for a weekend or a month.
"You're so beautiful," the souvenir shop house owners tell us and we don't care that it's because they want us to buy their merchandise. We feel beautiful - and happy that they keep their distance but look with appreciative eyes.
I buy a Berber silver bracelet and some perfume bottles while Prasanti chooses a turquoise stone bracelet and painted tea glasses. We eat Italian style gelato (luckily for us the Italian influence is still apparent in this area) and take our breath around every photogenic little corner, admiring the tiles and the colours.
On the way back we stop at an outdoor restaurant recommended to us as a local favourite (it's hidden right behind the gelato shop). After a dinner of fresh fish, frites and fragrant couscous with a group of very sociable travellers, I fall into a deep and rejuvenating sleep, grateful in the knowledge that I am blessed with a life rich in travels and people who are beautiful from the inside out. And that is enough.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Temporary happiness can indeed be bought. Simple things, such as fresh air, lush greenery and delicious food still provide a more pure pleasure. However, for lack of these natural assets in Dubai, the summer sales will definitely do.
Soaring temperatures and too much couch time finally forced me into the malls - and the Dubai Summer Surprises sales are exceptional this year. 70% off designer wear still makes it expensive, but, wow, keep it down to just a few choices and it becomes possible.
I have never been so mad for shopping. Ok, there was this one time in Barcelona about five years ago - but I'd prefer to blame that on my shopoholic friends, ha!
From the Mall of Emirates to Festival City Centre and Dubai Mall (the biggest mall in the world) I have laughed and cried over material things that have no real lasting value at all. I have felt the fabrics against my skin and soon found myself smitten with fashion items that may as well have been designed just for me.
Anna Sui, Alexander McQueen, Manolo Blahnik... God blessed some exceptional people with a generous helping of creativity. There are few things that pleasure the human condition as much as great design. Again, the best ideas are found in nature - but great minds create material things that make our lives easier, highlight our beauty, and make us fall in love.
I am having sleepless nights over a McQueen dress that I absolutely do not have an occasion for wearing, never mind the money. Yet what makes me feel even more delirious is that it is possible in this world to create things that make people like me feel like this.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
As soon as we step on to our houseboat, Prasanti is already practicing for her five minutes of fame by posing with the fruit bowl. I start working on my photography skills but with a little bit of probing end up posing too, with a pineapple on my head - hey, Sarah Jessica Parker also wore a fruit hat on some occasion!
Soon the scenery of the Alleppy backwaters win all our attention. Or rather, it becomes the backdrop for gorgeous snaps of this Bollywood wannabe that I am travelling with.
Our houseboat is made of wild jack wood. It is quite small, with one bedroom and en-suite bathroom, a kitchen, an open air lounge/ dining area and an upper deck. We each lie down on a day bed in the open area and become quiet in the presence of the giant palm tree reflections in the canals between the rice paddies. The soundtrack of birds (especially ducks) and the putt-putting of the boat is soothing.
We stop for lunch at a lagoon in the middle of the rice paddies and the lack of urban sounds is a relief. Our personal chef prepares a meal of curried river fish, okra, coconut green beans, cooked tomato, a heap of rice and ciappati. We eat and eat until we can't eat anymore and it still looks like we haven't touched the food.
This is the life, here. Good food, good friends and the simplicity of nature to heal the effects of fast city life. The further away from the rat race I get, the closer to myself I feel. That night I dream of my friends' babies again - pure eyes looking right into my soul and saying 'Remember who you are'.
Friday, June 5, 2009
The truth is that I haven’t been very well lately. Losing my Mohammed also meant losing my social network and support system in Dubai. Suddenly the heat became unbearable, work stress seemed to weigh down just that little bit extra and the scars in my ears seemed to ache more than usual.
Everything in life comes with a price and I am paying dearly for my dream of seeing the world. A lot of you have been writing to me saying that my life seems so interesting and glamorous – and yes it is, but it’s not easy. For me, the hardest thing is being away from my incredible friends. Not that they are all living in the same part of the world, but here in Dubai I am alone. And loneliness can be a terrible thing.
However, especially over the last few months an unusual young lady revealed herself as a true friend and now she has also become a travel partner. She has had her own share of troubles to bear and the best thing we could think of to help us get back on track was an ayurvedic break to Kerala.
After running around in Kochi to see all the sights, we are happy to surrender to the peaceful atmosphere of the rice paddies in Kumarakom around our Paddy Fields resort. At night the monsoon storms play havoc with the electricity leaving us in utter darkness and sudden light. It could have been quite scary if not for our cheerful conversation and relaxed mood.
We go for Ayurvedic treatments around the corner at the Ayurlakshmi Ayurvedic spa and soon we start to feel more like ourselves again. Rejuvenated, energized, relaxed and full of life.
Ayurveda means ‘the science of life’. This ancient system of healing focuses on prevention and longevity through a spiritual lifestyle and natural cosmetics and cures.
Only since the 70s has the West started to pay more attention to this form of healthcare and Ayurveda is now widely used as part of Integrated Medicine, which combines the latest scientific research with ancient healing practices. Both prince Charles and Richard Branson actively supports this movement which aims to treat the person as a whole.
Prasanti and I have our first experience of the Kerala backwaters on a boat tour to the Kumarakom bird sanctuary and the biggest lake in Kerala. It’s enough to get us really excited about the upcoming houseboat journey which will take us even further away from civilization.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Kathakali is an Indian dance drama involving elaborate costumes, make-up and disturbing subject matter. It dates from the days of the maharajas in the early 17th century.
Prasanti and I are both dressed in salwar kameez, which Gregory David Roberts called ‘the most flattering garment’ in his novel Shantaram. I’m not so sure about the pants though. Although hidden behind the top they are uncomfortable and most unflattering in my opinion. Perhaps it is best for me to mix the tops and scarves with western pants. It could look quite nice with jeans.
We have our first taste of banana chips while watching the show and are instantly hooked. It’s so much nicer than potato chips and perhaps healthier – even though these are deep fried in coconut oil they are at least home made!
What an experience to watch the actors apply their make-up before the show. A rice paste and natural pigments are used to create dramatic character faces with strong features that are, well, just plain scary.
Tonight’s story is called ‘The Killing of Kichaka’ and it is a tale of blood and lust that becomes more and more unsettling, until the end leaves an uncomfortable feeling lingering in the oldest remaining theatre in Fort Kochi. This is definitely not something I would want to watch again but I am also happy that I have had the chance to experience a truly creative art form that has survived in its purest form over so many centuries.
While the maharajas had Kathakali in the 17th century we’ve got BBC and today’s news is even more disturbing than any show could ever be: a swine flu pandemic, bankruptcy and an Air France plane disappearing somewhere over the Atlantic.
It makes me reassess my life and the fact that it can be taken away any second. What would I do if I knew today that I had only a short time left in this world? The answer comes to me very quickly: spend quality time with my friends and family. And travel, travel, travel until I have absorbed as much of this terrible and beautiful world and its people as I can possibly take.