Archive | environment

in which we learn to redefine “bad weather”

It was going to be glorious. A full moon kayak expedition into the mangrove forests that grow on one side of Abu Dhabi island (what’s that you say? you didn’t know Abu Dhabi is an island? It’s an island sort of like Manhattan is an island: easy to forget when you’re deep in the scrum of traffic and tall buildings but then you get up into one of the skyscrapers or out to the shore road and WOW look at all that water!)

The kayak trip was part of the consolation celebration of Husband hitting what some friends characterized as the 20th anniversary of his 30th birthday—yes, one of those birthdays commonly acknowledged as “milestones” (although “millstones” might be more appropriate).

To acknowledge Husband’s (mostly) graceful aging we had a wee cocktail party (what’s that you say? Cocktails? In a Muslim country? Isn’t liquor punishable with forty lashes or something? Well…technically you’re supposed to have an officially issued “liquor license” to buy booze. Or you just have to look so emphatically non-Muslim that no one bats an eyelash).

A few days after the party we had planned this kayaking trip through Noukhada (they run eco-friendly tours here in town), and then at the end of the week an elegant dinner with friends.  And finally (because turning 50 39 apparently warrants a year-long celebration) we’re thinking about a trip to the Maldives, before they sink into the ocean, but that’s a post and a plan for another day.

Full moon kayaking.  Two nights ago at moon-rise, the light was so bright I could see my shadow (cue Cat Stevens here). I imagined us in kayaks gliding through quiet waters with moonlight gleaming in the trees, the hum of the city far behind us.  I had figured out how to wrap my little camera in a Ziploc baggie and was hoping for a great moonrise photo that I could post for the Wordless Wednesdays meme.

Talking about our trip in an email to a friend, I wrote (smugly, I must confess), a nice thing about living here is that you know outdoor plans won’t be scuttled because of the weather.

Off we went, my newly elderly Husband and I, in a friend’s borrowed car, threading our way through the Formula I racetracks that masquerade as city streets. We had an iPhone GPS, we had printed map directions from the kayak company, and…we got lost. The streets don’t connect; they dead-end in walls of shops and apartment buildings, or circle back on themselves into little cul-de-sacs.  We could see the road we wanted to be on, but like they say in Maine, we couldn’t get theah from heah.

Just as I was fumbling for my phone to call the kayak company to say we were going to be late and please don’t take off without us, my phone rang.  It was the kayak expedition leader, who said that the trip was being cancelled due to…


Husband and I looked at each other, looked out the window. Not raining. No plagues of frogs or locusts (we’re living in an ancient land, here, people, the original angry-gods-smiting-whatever-pisses-them-off country; it could happen); no thunder storms.  It was a little foggy out, a little hazy, but the mist comes with the heat.

I opened the car window, looking for weather.  It wasn’t misty at all.  It was sandy.

Sand finer than talcum whirled in the streets; I saw pedestrians squinting against the wind, palm tree fronds shaking back and forth, and women wrestling to keep their hijabs from being pulled off their heads.  I couldn’t see the moon, though, which means that out on the mangroves, it would’ve been pitch black.

Sandstorm. That’s the bad weather that cancelled our trip.

Sandstorm conjures up Dune (not the movie, the book!), sand-worms, Lawrence of Arabia on a camel squinting his impossibly blue eyes into the impending storm, but alas, Peter O’Toole is not thundering towards me on a camel.  There’s just a lot of grit whistling through the hot night air.

Husband and I admit defeat, make our way back home.  Maybe next month, inshallah, we’ll get our moonrise kayak paddle.

If the weather cooperates.

Continue Reading · on October 13, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, sports, UAE, wordless wednesday

Imissing Irene!

Maybe you’ve heard? A big storm is trundling up the East Coast and is poised to flood the shit out of New York.

Apparently this one is The Big One, folks, the storm of the century, the storm that is finally going to wipe out the den of inquity that is New York.  That sound you hear? That’s not the wind whistling through the skyscrapers. That’s Michelle Bachmann, cheering, with Rick Perry throwing in a wootwoot for good measure.

This hurricane is the wet dream of meterologists every where; it’s the Weather Channel’s new pinup; it’s the raison d’etre for every computer IT guy worth his salt to create dire “here’s what happens when the Holland Tunnel floods” computer simulations.

Okay, yeah, I’m a tad skeptical. I remember the brouhaha that was Hurricane Gloria, back when God was a boy (or 1985, whatever). There was much battening down of hatches and laying in of dry goods and then…it rained a bit. And was windy–totally ruining my huge late 80s pouf of a hairdo.

So maybe Irene will kick Gloria’s ass. She’s certainly scared the bejaysus out of every elected official in about ten states. Evacuations, closures, shutting down the subway. In New York, it doesn’t get much more serious than that.  The subway will still be running when the Rapture hits and only roaches are left riding the IRT.

True, I’m not a Rapture believer, myself, but even a devout agnostic like me raises an eyebrow at these latest manifestations of a pissed-off planet: an earthquake last week and now the mother of all hurricanes? Stay tuned. It’s gonna be frogs and locusts next week, with perhaps a plague of boils for Labor Day Weekend.

I’m watching from Abu Dhabi, via Facebook and Twitter and email, as people do (or do not) prepare for their good-night with Irene. And you know what? I’d sort of like to be there, wrestling the crowds in Food Emporium for the only batteries remaining in a twenty-block radius or hip-checking someone in Whole Foods for the last few limes, because how’s a gal supposed to watch a hurricane without a good G&T?

In part it’s simple story envy: my answer to “where were you during the Big Blow of ’11” will be…um…in the pool, nine time zones away. That’s dull, dull, dull. No high winds, no crashing trees, no flickering candles to illuminate the high-rise darkness.

Maybe I could make up something about finding Muammar Gaddafi hiding in the women’s changing room, wearing an abaya?  That might top a hurricane story.

Nah. Natural disasters always trump toppled dictators.

Good luck New York. Muammar and I are thinking about all of you and hoping you have the 3Ws of hurricane readiness: wine, water, and wellies.

map graphic from NOAA



Continue Reading · on August 27, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, environment, NYC, Travel, urban nature

chicken parts, lady parts, and jonathan safran foer

I had an existential crisis in the meat section of Trader Joe’s.  I was staring at all chicken: chicken pieces packaged separately, chicken pieces in a big bundle, whole chickens, chicken boobs, “natural” chicken, “free-range” chicken, cheap chicken, less-cheap chicken.

On the one hand, I guess you could say, wow! what bounty! Look at all that protein so readily available to me, sparing me from having to get out to the back pasture with an ax and be all with the plucking and whatnot.

On the other hand, wow! look at all that cheap protein, farmed god knows where, killed god knows where by who knows what methods in who knows what layers of shit.

What should I buy? Or should I not buy it at all?

I’ve just finished reading Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer (not to be confused with Jonathans Lethem or Franzen; this Jonathan is the Everything is Illuminated guy).  The book is brilliant; it should be required reading for every human on the planet and excerpts should be plastered on billboards, buildings, and in the subway, forcing us to confront our eating habits.

We all sort of know about factory farms (those huge muddy shit pits that call themselves hog farms, chickens in cages not much bigger than this laptop screen) but many of us–okay, maybe only me–seem to close our eyes when it comes time to doing the grocery shopping.

Because really, who wants to know–really know–the conditions under which most of our proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish) are produced?

Foer’s  book takes a lot of information that’s already been circulating out there, from Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marion Nestle, and others, and distills it into a central question: how can we allow ourselves to eat meat (and poultry and, yes, fish) that has almost certainly been produced under inhumane conditions (at best) and torturous, environmentally disastrous conditions (at worst)?

In the paperback version, Eating Animals has sixty pages of footnotes documenting its sources, but the book reads like a novel; there isn’t a dull moment.  Instead it’s a jaw-dropping account of the infuriating (dangerous, violent, corrupting, polluting) methods used in this country to produce animal protein at relatively low costs, at least in the short term. Long-term costs, of course, include environmental destruction, toxic waste, and tainted food supplies, but heck. What’s that to keeping the price of chicken at under two bucks a pound?

What about my free-range chicken, I hear you say (as I thought to myself, rather smugly, as I read).  Bwhahahaha!  Foer says that “the free-range label is bullshit. It should provide no more peace of mind than “all-natural,” “fresh,” or ‘magical.'”  Free-range, you see, is not defined by the USDA. Free-range simply means access to the outdoors–which can mean that a shed housing 30,000 chickens has one little door open to a five-by-five patch of dirt.  And the door is usually closed. Further, free-range has nothing to do with how those chickens are handled, in either life or death.

We eat lots of seafood, though, a friend of mine said when I told her what I was reading. So that’s better, right? (She sounded anxious).  Well, sorry kids, there’s no Santa Claus there, either.  Let’s choose just one factor in “farmed fish,” shall we? How about…sea lice, which thrive in the filthy water of farmed fish.  Sea lice create open sores and can sometimes eat right down to the bones.  Yummy!  And “wild-caught” fish? Let’s say your fish is caught on so-called “long lines,” which can reach out a distance of seventy-five miles.  The targeted fish are caught, sure, but so are about 4.5 million sea animals, called “bycatch”: sea creatures caught up by the long lines but not used: 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,00 sea turtles, 75, 000 albatross, 20,000 dolphins and whales.

So much for fish. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on May 5, 2011 in environment, food, Politics, ranting

Calamity Songs (with thanks to the Decemberists)

I don’t know about you, but when I read the newspaper these days, I end up wanting to crawl under the bed and hide.  The world seems to be heading to hell in a handbag, and there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing any of us can do about it.

Devastation in Japan, which followed the devastation in Christchurch New Zealand, which followed in the wake of the still-devastated Haiti; the very real possibility of radiation clouds from Japan blowing around, sprinkling invisible deadly raindrops across the world (isn’t this how Godzilla was born?); the very real possibility that Quaddafi will decide to drop ever bigger bombs on “his” own citizens; the violence and unrest in a string of countries across North Africa and into the Arab world…and that’s just the international news.

In my own little world: a friend is having a mastectomy tomorrow to remove the cancerous tumors in her breast. She’s a year younger than I am and has two kids, the youngest of whom is in fifth grade. Another friend’s mother just died after a bout with lung cancer; the daughter-in-law of another friend died last month of brain cancer, leaving behind two kids in high school.  Another friend’s little girl just had a liver biopsy to see if she’s got some kind of auto-immune disorder; my aunt just had major back surgery, and yet another friend is confronting radiation treatments following three unsuccessful brain surgeries.  Maybe it’s me: maybe I am my own little cancer cluster, walking around contaminating people. A person could get superstitious about all this illness, and that starts another downward spiral: the water is dirty, the air is dirty, politicians are dirty, corporations are dirty.  Bob Herbert is leaving the Times (with a scathing last column in which he pretty much confirms that yes: U.S., hell, handbag).  That means that pretty much we’re only left with Gail Collins and Jon Stewart speaking the truth to power these days.

To complete this list of woe, let’s add last week’s New York weather: after a perfect warm sunshiney St. Patrick’s day, we’ve had snow, sleet, rain, bitter winds, and a little snow-thunder-lightning thrown in for good measure.

See? Now you want to get under the covers with a pillow over your head too. It’s the only possible coping mechanism in the face of all this woe.

The other day my students were talking about feeling helpless in the face of what is happening in Japan and North Africa, and while they were too polite to say so out loud, the thought bubbles were clear above their heads “why the hell am I reading Frankenstein?” “why should I care about poetry?” “what is the point of these literature courses anyway?”

Frankly, I’d been thinking sort of the same thing as I’d  made my way to class in the freezing monsoon: I’d been not only wishing I were still home in fuzzy slippers but I’d also been wondering how (and why) I could expect college sophomores to pay any attention to Serious Literature (insert clenched-jaw William F. Buckley voice here). Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on March 27, 2011 in environment, NYC, Politics, teaching

2 geese a-laying …

Every year around Chrismanukah, I get the sense that we don’t score very well on the “giving back” scale . Sure, we donate our stuff to the Salvation Army and shelters, and there are the occasional donations to such liberal causes as catch me off-guard when I’m shopping at the farmer’s market, but other than those things, and the various toy/food drives at the boys’ schools…

Every year I contemplate finding some kind of community service project that we can all do together and every year my initiatives fall short – I won’t bore you with the reasons why other than to say it’s the standard litany of not enough time/energy/there was a soccer game.

This year, though, I got the message. Or rather, I got the twitters from Motherhood in NYC and Mamabird Diaries and a few other places…twitters that reminded me that the gift of livestock is always appropriate and (almost) always fits. One could, if pressed, keep a family of ducks in the bathtub, for instance, or graze your pig in the trash room of your building, probably.

I convened the boys and showed them the websites from Oxfam and Heifer International and we talked about what we might buy as a gift for another family, and how much of their saved allowances they could contribute. They decided that if they each put in ten bucks, they could buy a flock of geese–and then they decided that Mommy and Daddy should buy a goat.  So we pointed and clicked at geese and goats, the boys handed me their money, and voila, we had our moment of community service.

It’s a start, right? I mean, I don’t know that the boys really understand what it’s all about–that we have so much, relatively speaking, and so many have so little–and I will continue to search for more sustained modes of community service, but at least that’s ten bucks that didn’t go to more plastic doodads.

Now I just have to figure out where to put the goat.

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Continue Reading · on December 10, 2010 in environment, Parenting

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