Archive | lost in translation

Mixed Message, Parking Category

Abu Dhabi has a parking system that (mostly) works really well. You can set up an online parking account and then when you park, you just send a text to Mawaqif and presto, you’re paid up. I’ve never had any problems, at least until the other day. I parked, did my text-n-pay, but when I finished my errands, I discovered a little parking violation ticket (PVT) tucked under my windshield wiper.

I went to the parking office (there is one in almost every mall), filed an “appeal” and then today I got this text message:

IMG_1944

Whoohoo, I win!

And then a little while later, I got this message:

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Whoo…hunh?

Clearly the system has a few kinks.

Continue Reading · on January 13, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, lost in translation, UAE

food for memory

I left most of my cookbooks in New York when we moved out here. With epicurious and all the other food websites (dinnerdujour, anyone? or the fantastically named ezrapoundcake?)  I figured I could use that space to pack more of Caleb’s important Sticks and Rocks. I did, however, bring my binder.  A binder with recipes in it, not women (thanks Mitt, for an image that will never, ever die).

At some point before we moved, in a fit of organizational madness, I got tired of all the random bits of paper floating around the cabinet where I kept my cookbooks, so I bought a binder and got all Martha Stewart, with little dividers and thematic details (all the tomato recipes clustered together, for instance). I even had a section for “wine,” a hopeless thought if ever there were one. Mostly I buy “that stuff I had that one time at the place with that tapas.”  And that selection process is a significant step up from purchases made on the basis of whether or not I liked the design on the label.

So I had this binder, jammed full of random bits (because the Martha-method of organization didn’t last more than about six months), and I brought it with me. Before we moved, I weeded out the recipes (was I ever really going to make a seven-layer cake? Not if my life depended on it. Ditto fondant. Ditto anything that involves large quantities of anchovies), and so when I arrived in my new dun-colored Abu Dhabi kitchen, the binder had become a collection of greatest hits, tried-and-true, and the occasional Pulling Out All The Stops (beet napoleons from Cooks Best Illustrated).  I still get recipes off the internet but more often than not, I turn to the binder.

Thanksgiving, of course, requires a lot of binder-time. Thanksgiving, more so than Christmas or birthdays or any other holiday, is when I feel furthest away from my regularly scheduled life in New York. The reassuring – and rather bizarre — idea that everyone (or most everyone) is sitting down to eat some version of the same food, for the same reasons…it’s not easily translated to other countries, most of which lack a parallel holiday. Luckily, we once again this year were invited to a Thanksgiving feast by the friends who took us in last year – and once again, I offer up hosannas in praise of colleagues and friends who are also excellent cooks. It wasn’t my good china on the table and the babies clambering around weren’t related to me, but nevertheless it felt good to be cradled in the comfort of ritual.

As I puttered around my kitchen making my mother’s dill bread, Suzanne’s carmelitas, my aunt’s vinaigrette – all recipes from the binder – Liam wandered into the kitchen and begin to flip through the binder pages, which are transparent sleeves into which I’ve slipped emails with recipes, clippings, jotted recipes gathered from friends.

“This isn’t really recipes,” he said. “It’s like a whole book of memories.”

Maybe that’s the real reason I left the cookbooks in New York but brought along the binder. The cookbooks are just recipes but the binder is history.

As my special Thanksgiving present, the recipe for Suzanne’s oatmeal carmelitas (which for all I know, came from the back of a package somewhere, but in our house, they come from Suzanne):

14 oz bag of light caramels (your basic Kraft are fine); 1/2 cup evaporated milk or light cream; 2 cups each of flour & quick cooking rolled oats; 1 1/2 cup packed brown sugar; 1 t baking soda; 1/2 tsp salt; 1 cup melted butter; 1 cup semisweet chocolate bits; 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Heat caramels in heavy-bottomed pot with cream, then let it cool slightly

Combine rest of the ingredients, except for chocolate chips (and nuts if you’re using nuts) in a large bowl to make a crumbly mixture.

Press 2/3 of mixture into greased 13×9 pan. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes (slightly browned at edges); remove pan from oven

Sprinkle with chips and nuts, pour caramel over top of chocolate chips, then sprinkle top with the remaining oats mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes.  Let cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then chill for 1-2 hours before serving (do not attempt to cut these into slices until they’re really cool, or they will ooze into a gooey (but delicious) mess.

If you can’t find caramels, which is weirdly hard to find in the UAE, you can make your own caramel sauce or use dulce de leche sauce from a jar.

 

 

as you sit there, still reeling from tryptophan, why don’t you click over and see what’s cooking in the yeahwrite kitchens? 

Continue Reading · on November 25, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, food, lost in translation, NaBloPoMo, UAE

Living on Jordan Time. Sort of

It all would’ve been fine if Caleb and Liam hadn’t quarreled about who woke up whom at what time.

There we were at breakfast at the wonderfully named Moevenpick Hotel (say it out loud: move-n-pick, like pick-n-roll but without the ball), just outside the gates to Petra. We’d spent the entire day before climbing around ruins that had been ruins since Christ was a boy—literally—and now my own darling boys were wrangling about whether Caleb woke up at 6AM or 7.

Liam, adamant, insisted it had been six; Caleb, equally adamant, insisted that it had been seven.

Husband solved the problem by consulting the oracle of google,which told us that Jordan had instituted “winter time” (daylight savings time) that night, so that, in fact, both boys were right: it had been seven AND six.

Wicked early, no matter how you slice it, but it stopped the bickering.  We dutifully turned our watches back an hour, took one more look out the windows at Petra’s sandy hills, and then packed our car for the three-hour drive up to the Dead Sea.

So lucky, we told ourselves, that Jordan had turned back the clocks: it meant that we could take our time on our drive, but still have most of the afternoon at our Dead Sea hotel.  We puttered along, in our rented Citroen (has ever a car been more aptly named?), marveling at the view (okay, Husband and I marveled at the view; the boys marveled at the sights unfurling on their iPads. Upside: no bickering, no whining, no whenarewegonnabetheres. Downside: they saw almost nothing of the splendid, ancient countryside).

Indeed, that extra hour gave us more time in the Dead Sea, where we bobbled around until sunset, watching the lights come on in the tiny towns on the opposite shore (Israel, the country that can be seen but not named).

Blissfully scrubbed, skin gleaming from our self-applied mud baths, we presented ourselves at the hotel restaurant for our 7PM dinner reservation.

“Oh no,” said the host. “You’ve missed it. You’re an hour late.”

An hour late? How could that be? We checked our watches, showed him our iOracles, all indicating that it was 7PM on the dot.  We explained that we’d even been so clever as to adjust our clocks back, to account for Jordan’s daylight savings time.

He nodded, pitying comprehension dawning on his face. “There is no daylight savings this year,” he said.  “On Wednesday, the government decided not to.”

Just like that?  Like an entire government of Bartlebys, they simply preferred not to?

Apparently so.  And our oracle, the god google, as is the case with oracles, refused to admit its mistake and could shed no light on why Jordan would simply withdraw winter time; nor would it tell us what time our plane would leave the next day.

Here’s how I see it: if my kids hadn’t argued about who had woken up when, and if Husband hadn’t consulted google and found out about the time change, then we wouldn’t have changed the clocks…And we’d have been on time.  So my children, google, and the King of Jordan are to blame for our confusion.

Our flight the next day, by the way, was listed online as leaving Amman at 3PM.

We arrived at the airport to discover that the flight was leaving on time.

At 4PM.

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on October 28, 2012 in expat, family, Kids, lost in translation, Travel, Uncategorized

in which we discuss unicorns, world religions, and whether barack IS in fact a muslim

About two weeks ago, we got notification from the boys’ school that today, 17 June, would be a national holiday and the school would be closed.

National holidays on short notice. One of the perks of life in the U.A.E.

I’ll give you a minute to think about how parents in a large metropolitan area in the States, say New York, might react to a holiday delivered so casually. The brouhaha about banning soda would pale by comparison.

When the boys came home from school last week, excited for the long weekend, I asked them what holiday was being celebrated today.

Boys: It’s the day that Mohammed rode a unicorn to Jerusalem and met with all the prophets and they had like a prophet party.

Me: A unicorn?

Caleb, emphatic: Yes! Or maybe some other magical creature, no, no, Abdullah in my class said it was a unicorn. And that Mohammed met with God, too.

Me, again:  A unicorn?

Liam, patiently, the way one speaks to the elderly:  The word is buraq and that’s the word for unicorn or any magical creature.

Caleb, unconcerned about translation issues: What is a prophet, actually?

Me, realizing yet again that what my children don’t know about religion (any religion) would fill all the holy books, combined: Well, a prophet is a holy person who–

Liam: Noah was a prophet!

Me: Um…sort of, I guess, and some religions see Jesus as a prophet, but Christians see Jesus as the son of god–

Caleb: Whose idea was it to be Christians?

Me:  The followers of Jesus called themselves Christians but they were originally Jewish —

Boys: JESUS WAS JEWISH?

Me: Yes but in this part of the world–

Boys: Jesus was from ABU DHABI?

Me: No, but this part of the world, the Middle East, is where Islam, and Judaism, and Christianity all began, thousands of years ago.

Boys: So is Mohammed from Abu Dhabi?

Me: He was born in a place called Mecca, which is a holy city to Muslims, but he also lived in a place called Medina.

Caleb, getting at the heart of the issue: Did Jesus ever ride a unicorn?

Me: I don’t think there are unicorns in any Jesus stories. Just donkeys.

The boys are unimpressed. Unicorns are cool. Donkeys, not so much. The boys wander out of the room to worship at the altar of “Star Wars the Old Republic,” which is our household’s primary religion. I turn to my holy book in search of answers to questions about Mohammed and the unicorns.

Wikipedia, praised be its name, says that the unicorn holiday is actually Isra and Mi’raj, which celebrates the night that Mohammed rode a magical steed to “the furthest mosque,” in what we now call Jerusalem. Apparently, at least in the realm of Wikipedia truthiness, this journey is also where Mohammed bargained with God about how often Muslims should pray. God originally asked for fifty times a day and Mohammed got him down to five.

Mohammed’s magical steed was called buraq. You can pronounce it “barack.”

And there you have it. Some Tea Bagger confused unicorns with Presidents.

(And no, I’m not saying anything about believing in unicorns being more or less ridiculous than believing that Obama was born in Kenya.)

Buraq also, according to my online holy book, can be translated as “a beautifully faced creature.”

So while it’s clear that Barack isn’t a Muslim, it seems entirely likely that he could be a buraq. After all, as I said to the boys: have you ever seen Barack and a buraq in the same place at the same time?

 

***

When you’re done reading through these various Wikipedia links, check out my review in The National of Lauren Groff’s entertaining and thought-provoking new novel, Arcadia. For that matter, if you’re searching for a good book to read on vacation this summer, look over there at the Amazon box. No, not the little ordering box, but the long box, with books in it, just to the right. Lots of good reading in that box. Help yourself.

 

 

 

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Continue Reading · on June 17, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Children, Education, expat, Kids, lost in translation, Parenting, Politics, religion

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