Friday, August 19, 2011

How Well Does Your Lover Know You?

I can't think of anything better than when your significant other, lover or boyfriend, makes an observation about you that prompts a reaction of, wow, you really do know me. I mean the 'you' that you think you're hiding because, perhaps, it's just a wee embarrassing.

That's intimacy. And it's everything. It's what I strive for. It makes me feel loved, listened to, and paid attention to. And let me just say, I need quite a bit of attention. But isn't this what we all want? At the most base, what else is there?

I can overlook a shitload of negatives and annoyances, if that's in place. We all have our values and priorities, and this is one of mine. When my significant other, lover and boyfriend, calls me out, it triggers something deep within, and I can feel myself melting into the truthful words, and I am light and comforted.

I like to think that I'm a great big mystery. I'd also like to think that I can get back my C-cup breast size. However, as evidenced by the following, I am as transparent as a sheet of transparency paper. And I love it.

My friend and I went to Abu Dhabi last week, which turned out to be the hottest day of the summer. It's also Ramadan, and the road was full of hot and hungry drivers. Not a good combination. We brought food with us, but not wanting to get pulled over and fined, we kept ducking beneath the dashboard, taking bites of our bananas and pint size pears. It kind of reminded me of dating in high school. Whole other story.

Our main objective was to take a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We got lost several times, as there aren't any signs reading Mosque This Way. This is odd, since it's probably the only tourist attraction in Abu Dhabi and it's one of the biggest and greatest architectural structures in all of the Emerites.

After driving around in circles for about an hour and a half, we made it to the Mosque, just in time for the last scheduled guided tour. We were told that we had to wear a black Abaya, which is a robe-like dress, worn by some women in parts of the Islamic world, as well as a head scarf.

There was an actual coat room, or Abaya room, as it were, where a woman handed me an Abaya in my size. My Abaya was a bit long and I kept tripping over it. Now if I had worn some heels, there wouldn't have been a problem. But I digress.

We tried not to think about how many armpits had sweated in our Abayas, and proceeded to a changing area. I brought my own scarf, (always thinking ahead) which I wrapped around my head like a pro. My friend had her own scarf as well, but when she wrapped it, she looked less like a Muslim woman, and more like a chemo patient. Sad but true.

There was something about wearing the Abaya and scarf that made me feel very 'local and authentic." We left our shoes with the hundred or so others outside the Mosque. It was a beautiful sight and we were both glad that we had made the trek.

The main prayer hall features the world’s largest chandelier under the main dome, weighing over nine tons. The Mosque’s seven gold-colored chandeliers, from Germany, feature thousands of Swarovski crystals from Austria and some glass work from Italy, and cost about US$8.2 million.

The 99 names (qualities) of Allah featured on the Qibla wall exemplify traditional Kufi calligraphy. It is also stated in the Quran that Allah has 100 names minus one, as the last one is too great and you will only find out what it is on your judgement day. There is one blank area above the center name for that “minus one” name.  

There is a 17,000 square meter courtyard which is decorated with white marble from Greece. The Mosque has approximately 1,000 columns in its outer areas which are clad with more than 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones, including lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and mother of pearl.  

Cleanliness which is ablution, or wudhu, has been made compulsory before each prayer and in certain cases even a full bath has been made obligatory before prayer. The bathroom was beautiful, and I had no problem eating my hard boiled eggs on the toilet. 

We decided (okay, I decided) to take the Big Bus Tour of Abu Dhabi, just like the one that I took in Dubai. My friend wasn't as excited as I was, and even suggested that, since we had seen the Mosque, she'd be fine if we drove back to Dubai and had lunch. I have a thing about not wanting to miss out when I'm traveling. Besides, we were already there.

We sat inside the bus, as it was death outside, and waited to see something worthy of our time and money. Unfortunately, it never came to pass. It was the most boring tour I had ever been on. And I've been to Colonial Williamsburg.

It became painfully obvious that we were traveling the same roads, passing the same sights, as we did when we were getting lost hours earlier. There wasn't anything to see. Every potential stop, where we might have hopped off, involved being outside and eating. Perfect.

We passed what was called, the carpet souk, which was more like a few carpet stores in a mini mall. There was another souk (outside) that carried restaurant supplies, large plastic garbage pails, and ceramic planters, that I was sure was from China. Two women hopped off to 'shop'. Now they were stuck for 2 hours until the next bus arrived. There's just so much junk one can sift through.

Two long hours later, we headed back to the Mosque to pick up my car. Unfortunately, the Big Bus couldn't drop us off near my car, so we had to walk. We took a chance and went into one of the Mosque's underground parking lots and sweet talked a security guard to let us take a short cut, and an elevator, up to where my car was parked.

We were so happy to be back in front of the Mosque that I asked my friend to take one last picture of me. A split second later, a security guard was yelling at us. We weren't allowed to take pictures, in our civilian clothes, with our heads exposed, in front of the Mosque. I think he actually asked me to erase the picture. I thought he was going to confiscate my camera. We apologized and scurried to the car.

When I got home, I told my boyfriend about my day. He thought I looked cute in my Abaya and commented on the Mosque's beauty, after I sent him a picture. I was in the middle of telling him about the uneventful Big Bus Tour, when he asked me why we didn't drive around ourselves. Before I could answer he said, "Because you paid for your ticket when you bought the Dubai one, right. And you didn't want to waste the money."

Pleasantly guilty.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Think I Poisoned The Preggos

I seriously need my head examined. I had my prenatal class today and decided that we’d do arms and mat work, instead of the Reformer. This meant that we needed to work in one of the yoga studios. As the women were arriving, I walked into the studio, to start setting up and a stench that could’ve knocked out both Godzilla and Mothra, smacked me in the face, and took a ride down my lungs. The fact that I didn’t immediately switch gears and move us into the Reformer studio, is why I need my head examined. What, in the name of all things pure and simple, was I doing?!

My instincts and relative intelligence told me to abort the hand weight workout in the noxious yoga studio, for the sweet smelling Pilates room. However, this ‘other’ self, that I’m ashamed to even admit that I own, took over and I conducted the class in the toxic room.

In all fairness, I did ask the women if they would rather move to the other studio. They're the pregnant ones. Shouldn't they know what is unhealthy for their unborn offspring? No one said anything. I know this isn’t an excuse for my obvious stupidity, but I just thought I’d offer up all of the facts before you judge me. And you will judge me. I'm judging myself right now.

And then, in the middle of a biceps curl or a lat raise, I almost said the following, “If anything happens to your babies, please don’t hold me liable.” WHAT? Let me say that again, WHAT? What I did say was, “Please don’t hold me liable.” That's so much better.

There is something seriously wrong with me. I’ve said it before, I should not be put in charge. It’s too much pressure for me. I need to work with women who are in really good shape, not with child, and who can do somersaults, and stand on their heads. 

After class, I tried to get out as fast as I could (I’ve got my own lungs to protect). I heard one of the women say to another that she felt light headed. Oh, dear Allah, really. They said that the fumes made it hard for them to breathe. The f'd up thing about this conversation was that I didn't hear any animosity towards me (which I so deserved) in their words or tone of voice.

Why didn’t they say anything? I can’t possibly look like I possess any ounce of authority.

I pretended that I didn’t hear what they were saying and ducked out. I sprinted to my car, hoping that they’ll forget all about it by next week's class. Or better yet, they all deliver their babies and can’t come back for two months.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ramadan Kareem: Now I'm Hot AND Hungry!

As I draw back the curtains in my studio apartment, because it's Ramadan and I don't want anyone to see me eating my chick peas, a sense of contentment and gratitude washes over my sweaty white T-shirt (I just finished teaching and participating in four hours of Pilates) I'm learning about the do's and don't's during this holy month, and I feel fortunate to be in Dubai for the experience.

There's absolutely no eating in public, including drinking water or chewing gum in your car. You might be stopped and given a warning if you're caught. I mentioned eating cereal in class this morning and then apologized to those that were fasting. Exemptions are made for children under 12, pregnant women and those on medication. And just one impure thought breaks your fast. Oy.

More on Ramadan as the month progresses.

I went on a desert safari last week and had a smile on my face the entire time. My cheeks genuinely hurt at the end of the night. I was picked up by a driver from Arabian Adventures. I can't remember his name but I liked him as soon as I got in the car. My fellow adventurers were a family (mom, dad, daughter) from the UK and a man from Brazil. I controlled myself enough not to show off the three Portuguese words that I've picked up in the six years being with my Portuguese lover. Let's just say that languages are not my thing.

The ride out to the desert was very informative. Mr. Driver gave a nice history of the roads we traveled as well as the multitude of construction, that has either been abandoned or in progress. There are so many plans for Dubai. Dubailand is supposed to have Universal Studios, a Tiger Woods Golf Course, Six Flags, and other such entertainment complex worthy attractions. It's completion date is scheduled for 2020. I guess we'll have to see what happens.

The first stop was a water break in the vast desert. We stepped out of our 4x4's, took off our shoes and 'walked in the desert'. I felt like Peter O’Toole. There were about 30 Arabian Adventures cars in our convey. It was a picture perfect moment, out there in the desert, so I asked a stranger if she would take my picture. She took a picture of her thumb. The wind was whipping and I have to say that my hair looked pretty good. Apparently the dry wind knocked the frizz right out and knotted it up to a perfect mess. 

The sand bashing, as its called, in the 4x4’s, was like riding a roller coaster. You never knew when you were going to go downhill. There were definitely some high pitched screaming in the car, (mainly from the Brazil man) but after awhile you got used to the feeling of the sand and the turns. Still, I found it all exciting.

We stopped again, this time to watch the sunset. Again, we hopped out of the car, discarded the shoes and found a nice spot at the top of a slope. The English family opted for a photo shoot from one of the 15 or so professional photographers that were accompanying us on the tour. They're hired to photograph the tourist's every move, so that at the end of the evening, they will want to buy the pictures. There's something to be said for knowing aperture settings and lighting. Really, ladies, isn't it all about the lighting!

As I sat on the hill with my fellow travelers, watching the sun disappear from the sky, I felt strangely alone and calm. The desert has a meditative energy, and gives off a blissful aura. I missed my Portuguese lover because having him next to me, sharing this blissed out experience, would have made the moment just about perfect.

No time to linger. We were clearly on a schedule. As soon as the sun went down, we were back on the dunes. About 10 minutes later, we arrived at base camp. Waiting for us in the so called parking lot, were 20 camels and their wranglers.

Before I took my camel ride, that was included in my safari package, I wanted to hold a Falcon (also included). And yes, another photo op. C'mon, when was I going to have a chance to hold a Falcon? I've since learned that this is a common tourist attraction at several different locations around Dubai.

Not caring, I took my place next to the Falcon wrangler, who guided my hand into a sleeve, or muffler type of thingy, with the Falcon and it's HUGE ASS talons precariously close to my hand. As I slipped my hand in, the Falcon decided that this would be a good time to try to fly away, and in the process grazed the side of my head. Suffice it to say that I flinched.

Once the wrangler calmed the Falcon down, I was again guided into the sleeve muffler thingy. I couldn't help but stare at the bird, but the photographer was calling to me, not unlike the calls I get on the red carpet (in my head). "Over here. Look over here. Just look at the camera. Don't look at the bird, look at me." Oh, my god, so much pressure. Relax photo man, a Falcon almost took my ear off! And with that, the picture was snapped. And it's good. Again, great lighting.

When I heard that there would be camel 'rides', I pictured a ride through the desert. Why wouldn't I? I had been on a camel once before, on a family trip to Egypt, but I couldn't remember what it felt like.

First of all, they put me on a camel with a 12 year old boy named Alex who was from the UK. And I had to sit in the back. As I said earlier, I was smiling the whole time, even at the second hump. The 'ride' consisted of the camel wrangler walking us in a circle, the size of a bottle cap. It was like a pony ride at the zoo. Alex and I chatted during our three minute stroll and now I have a lovely picture of the two of us, to remind me of the wonderful, yet short time we spent together.

The camp's set up looked like the inside of "I Dream Of Jeannie's" bottle on steroids. Buffets lined the perimeter, open bars, Turkish coffee and dates, a Shisha den, and gorgeous Persian rugs on the sand. The food was scrumptious, Hummus, Tabouli, salads, tandoori chicken, and lamb. It was the best meal I’ve had to date.

I didn't want to waste a minute, so I quickly got on line to get my (free) Henna tattoo. The two women were certainly artists. I decided on ring, that attached to a bracelet. I’m thinking of doing this on a regular basis, like getting manicures.

About an hour after we arrived, the belly dancer made her entrance. She was good. I mean nothing to write home about. I think if I had the outfit (which I’m buying at the open air market as soon as the temperature drops lower than 100) I could belly dance. Looking around, I laughed because the scene made me think it was the Middle Eastern version of a Hawaiian Luau.

As I halfheartedly watched the show, I stood in line to pick out my pictures. It’s a good thing that I only opted for the hawk and the camel, because some of these people were sifting through hundreds of pictures and poses. I think they were getting a head start on their Christmas cards.

I almost forgot to take advantage of the Shisha den. Shisha, or hubbly-bubbly, is the tobacco (often flavored) which is smoked through a water pipe (Hookah). The tobacco is heated by coals and the smoke is purified and cooled through the water, and emerges through the suction tube, from where it is smoked. The lights in the camp were turned off for star gazing, and I smoked and I gazed.

When the lights came on, we gathered ourselves together, bid the desert adieu and climbed back in the car.

It was a long night and even longer for our driver, who had to do it all over again early the next morning. He must not have been that tired, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for joke telling. The jokes were at the expense of certain Pakistani people, who were portrayed as lazy and dense.

I felt bad for laughing, but hearing jokes from a Pakistani man (with great timing I might add) in Dubai, generalizing an entire people, reminded me that we are not so different after all AND that there are lazy and dense people everywhere.