Archive | surat al-sabt saturday snapshot

Saturday’s Snapshot (surat al-sabat): لقطة السبت

True, it’s Sunday. But I took the photo on Saturday, which must count for something.

When people visit Abu Dhabi, mostly they see big shiny buildings, and big shiny malls, and big shiny hotels. It’s the land of big shiny things, except when you’re in the desert, and then it’s the land of vast and shining sand (and the sand really does shine, sometimes blindingly).

On Saadiyat Beach, when you walk away from the hotels, however, you leave the big shiny behind: rocks pile up, probably raked away from the tourist beaches; the cranes swing above the site of what will eventually be the Louvre; and debris from who knows where comes to rest.

No, that’s not my soccerball football, or my flipflop, and yes that’s a water-logged pineapple down there in the corner.

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Continue Reading · on January 19, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, environment, surat al-sabt saturday snapshot

mary, mary quite contrary … how does your garden grow?

Fifty years ago, Abu Dhabi looked like this:

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The key feature of this landscape? Sand.

And now?

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Green, green, green. If you look closely, every tree and flower has a little hose coiled at its root; hoses run under every lawn and green space. Forget the oil industry: if you want in on a lucrative franchise, get in on the hose industry.

Irrigation systems use reclaimed wastewater; tap water uses desalinated water from the Gulf–and none of these processes are very ecologically friendly. It’s a desert: it’s not meant to be lush and green.  The greening of this desert island strikes me as a supreme exercise of human will: we want green space and so, voila, green!

Our new rental house, which we moved into in June, was built as part of a new development just outside downtown Abu Dhabi.  The development got plopped onto a parcel of land that looks like that first photo: flat and sandy as far as you can see. The desert here isn’t the undulating dune scape of the Empty Quarter or Liwa, where the dunes gleam orange. This is desert as lunar landscape: dun-colored, flat, scrubby.

Our house came with a little backyard, a “garden,” as the Brits call it. The garden looked like this when we moved in:

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It felt a lot like our house had been set down in the middle of a big ash tray.

We started having grass fantasies, people. Not the wacky grass but the other kind. The kind with dirt and ants and tickley bits on your toes; I wanted jasmine and frangipani.  Before I moved out here, I’d spent the last twenty-five years or so living in apartments–high-rises, low-rises, tenements–with no backyard, no green space at all, other than the flowerpots perched on my window sills.

So I chucked my environmental worries out the window and waded through the bureaucracy of the management company: Fill out the form on A4 paper. A3 paper. Fax it. Email it. Get a signature. No, a different signature. No, three more signatures. List the flowers you’re using. List how much water your irrigation system will use. More signatures. A3 paper, please.

A plan was made, a price agreed, and work began. First? “Sweet sand” got poured on top of our existing…what? Bitter sand?

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And then bricks were put down on one side to make a little patio. No cement, just pounding the bricks into a tightly locked pattern.  Then we got our own set of hoses to criss-cross the yard and wind along the sides, where we wanted flowers.

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After the hoses were in place, the guys unrolled big carpets of grass, dug pits for the plants and set the little drip-spigots next to each root bed, and then? Hey presto, it’s a little suburban backyard, like I live in LA or something. Or Scottsdale.

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In my ecological defense, the irrigation system runs for about 9 minutes in the morning and again at night: it just can’t be using that much water, right?

I know it’s contrary, to have a garden in a climate like this one; I should have done something with rocks and zen rakes and little bonsai trees, maybe a few bent twigs.

But frankly? In the morning, when I sit outside before the day’s heat kicks in, and I smell the frangipani and the jasmine and the now-exotic scent of wet grass? It’s pretty blissful. I’m fresh out of pretty maids, but I’m thinking the next time I go to the plant souk, I should look for some silver bells and cockle shells.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Continue Reading · on November 4, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, ranting, surat al-sabt saturday snapshot, UAE

Saturday’s Snapshot (surat al-sabat): لقطة السبت

Today I found the plant souk: a long row of seemingly indistinguishable shops selling–yep, plants.  Caleb and I explored, walking past booths crowded with greenery and men saying “yasmeen, madam? frangipani very nice, madam, you want? inside and outside plants, madam, come and see.”

For 140 dirham (about thirty-five dollars), Caleb and I got two desert rose bushes, a jasmine bush, a small mint plant, and three bags of white rocks that I’m going to use to hold down some of the sand blowing around the front walk.

Here’s something I didn’t buy, although I suppose a person could always find use for a tripod, especially with the Eid holiday coming up:

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we’re pretty sure that’s a leather representation of an animal ready for grilling and not, you know, a real animal

 

 

Continue Reading · on September 28, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, street notes, surat al-sabt saturday snapshot, UAE

Saturday’s Snapshot (surat al-sabat): لقطة السبت

Okay, sure, things have been a little slow over here these days.  There’s been nothing here but ostriches and while ostriches are always appropriate, sort of like champagne, I can understand that looking at the lady ostriches settling into the dust might be a little bit dull after a while.

I did have a column in The National last week, about forks, so you could click over and read that if you’ve got nothing else to do.  And I am guest editing on the yeahwrite site, (last week and this) where there is a give-away featuring the book that I’m in–and what do you mean, you didn’t know I had an essay in the number-one-with-a-bullet-new-release-on-amazon?  You could click right over there and order yourself a copy of You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth–hell, order two, maybe three–because it’s wicked funny and you might want to share. Or have a copy in every room. Whichever.

There are posts coming – about Liam and his sudden, not entirely pleasant, decision to have become a surly teen-ager pretty much overnight; and about this new house we live in, in the equivalent of the Abu Dhabi suburbs, where almost every day a new thing goes wrong, causing us to engage fully and substantially with what you might call the “fix-it” culture of the Emirates. Or make that the lack of a fix-it culture of the Emirates.

In any case. More posts coming soon (I know, I know, your life has been incomplete, a dull void of nothingness, because mannahattamamma hasn’t written anything new).  In the meantime, another animal picture from Kenya. This one has a little more, shall we say, bite to it.  You’re welcome.

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Continue Reading · on September 21, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, growing up, Kids, surat al-sabt saturday snapshot, Travel

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