Archive | urban nature

in which the universe sends me a metaphor about aging

About a week after I turned fifty (see how easily I said that?), I went for a walk on Saadiyat Beach, which is near my house, with a friend.  Here’s a question: almost all the women I know like to go for a walk. We don’t need a specific destination; we just walk. But ask a man to go for a walk and he’ll say “where?”  Why is that?

Anyway, so S. and I were on our walk and we saw a turtle in the water, which is actually kind of a rare event even though Saadiyat is supposed to be a nesting place for the Hawksbill turtle, which is a critically endangered species.  When the lifeguard pulled the turtle out of the water, it was crusted over with shells that were so heavy the turtle was in danger of drowning.

Et voila, a metaphor. Which of course, I used as the basis for my column in Friday’s National.  Here’s a link to the article, which I would love for you to share all over the social media universe.  In exchange for that nice sharing, here’s a picture of the turtle:


Continue Reading · on February 1, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, aging, urban nature

Gardens of Guilt

I have a garden, which I’ve wanted for years. In New York I had to be satisfied with window boxes and urban tomatoes (they look pretty but oh, those airborne carcinogens, especially if the tomatoes in question grew fourteen stories above a 14th street bus stop).  Now I’ve got jasmine and bougainvillea (a word I cannot spell correctly on the first try, ever), and desert rose, and even a few tiny pots of herbs: lemon mint, peppermint, basil.

Caught up in quasi-tropical fantasies, I also planted miniature lemon trees–one in the corner of the backyard, and two in big pots in the front.  I imagined myself in someone else’s life or a magazine as a lady of leisure, sitting on the patio sipping coffee while the sweet smell of lemon blossoms wafted around my head.  It’s a pretty picture, right?

Would you like to know what happened to my pretty picture?

GREEN WORMS OF LEMONTREE DEATH, that’s what happened.


I had a dilemma. Because of course, the eco-gal I want to be thought, “gosh better get some kind of non-toxic spray, or some soapy water, or….”

But the person who wanted to sip coffee and smell lemon blossoms was chanting DIE DIE DIE.

Here’s the thing (rationalization coming up, be warned): it’s hard to find organic, non-toxic stuff in Abu Dhabi.  And I tried the simple “flick ’em off” manuever,but those green bastards were attacked with millions of tiny caterpillar feet.

Yes, people, I know. But it’s one thing to read your adorable toddler Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and another thing to see those voracious mofos munching down your defenseless little tree.  I mean, where is the tree in all this, amirite?

I went toxic. I went full-bore spray on those green gobblers and the next day they were gone. Of course, so were most of the leaves on my poor plant.

But at least the plants in front were safe, I thought, and then I saw the tell-tale signs on those leaves, too: small, not-yet grown caterpillars. I resisted toxins and instead flicked, and flicked, and flicked. If one of those little grubs landed on a happy patch of dirt, great; if its caterpillar brains were dashed against the pavement, well, sorry dude, karma’s a bitch. Eat my tree, you’re gonna eat pavement.

Now every day when I walk out my front door, I get a whiff of delicate blossoms:


It’s the sweet smell of my life-of-leisure fantasies, which will remain with me even as I am driving to school drop-off, to work, to the grocery store, to soccer practice.

I walk right past those dessicated caterpillar corpses. Don’t even see ’em. I figure I’ve created a buffet for birds, right? It’s all the great circle of life.

But I think that when I’m in the States over the holidays, I’m going to buy a few cans of non-toxic, environmentally friendly caterpillar killer.

Continue Reading · on November 16, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, environment, NaBloPoMo, UAE, Uncategorized, urban nature

Skiing…in the Alps and … inside?

Ici la piste ou ma petit garcon fait du ski:


Which is to say, my twelve-year old son is currently skiing in the French Alps–and I have to say, that’s a sentence I never in my life thought I would write. Let me hasten to add that his French is no better than mine…and his skiing is even worse.

And by “worse” I mean that the only ski slope Liam has been on in his life is this one:


What’s that you say? That the lighting on that slope looks odd…and furthermore, you think you’re seeing something that looks like a…roof?

Yes. That is a roof, and no, I don’t mean the roof of heaven.  I mean the roof. Of the mall. Wherein there is a ski hill. With a chair lift, five runs, a bunny hill, and a “snow park” for people who don’t want to ski. Also? There’s a little enclave inside the snow park where you can gambol with penguins.

That’s right. My son prepared for the Alps on the climate-controlled slope of Ski Dubai, which is essentially a huge metal tube plopped down on the roof of the Mall of the Emirates:

ski_dubai_05image source

I mean, how handy is that? You can pick up a pair of Chanel sunglasses, browse the racks at Harvey Nichols, check out the furniture at Crate & Barrel, and then hit the slopes.  Apres-ski, you can hang out in the chalet overlooking the slopes and have fondue, just like they do in the Alps. , which I’m sure is exactly what Liam is doing even as I type this.

Some might say something about what happens when people have more money than sense, but I’m not going to say anything of the sort. Why shouldn’t a desert-dwelling people learn how to ski?  I mean, if the states of Florida and Arizona can have hockey teams, then why can’t a country where the temperatures routinely hit 40C have a ski slope? Let’s not be winterist about sports, ‘kay?

The place is extraordinarily well-run, I have to say: you can rent everything except winter hats and gloves (both of which are available for purchase at the gift shop, natch).  Snowsuits, jackets, helmets, ski pants…even full-length down coats for abaya-clad women who don’t want to ski but want to watch their kids play in the snow park.

Liam, Caleb, and two friends (also heading to the Alps, also utter beginners on skis) had two lessons during their sojourn in Winter and as a result their “passports” indicate that they’re ready for the intermediate slopes.IMG_6354

When a friend of mine asked Caleb about Liam’s trip to the Alps, Caleb replied, with utter confidence, “oh, Liam totally knows how to ski. His passport says so.”

I’ve often said that one of the reasons we moved to Abu Dhabi (besides things like, you know, jobs and money) is because I am tired, tired, tired of winter.  As far as I’m concerned, winter should be a choice, something you can visit and then leave behind.

I suppose, then, that Ski Dubai is the closest I’m going to get to winter without buying a plane ticket and using an actual passport.

And really, who needs fresh Alpine air and the scent of pine trees, when  you can have Prada and the delicate odor of. . . Shake Shack?


Continue Reading · on February 18, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Kids, UAE, urban nature

water, water, everywhere…

Abu Dhabi, the city, is a bit like Manhattan, in that technically it’s an island, but it’s easy to forget that fact when you’re wandering in the maze of skyscrapers and multi-lane roads. Where Manhattan has New York Harbor, Abu Dhabi has the Arabian Gulf along one edge, and then a series of creeks and canals that separate the city from the mainland.

And then, of course, once you wander away from the Gulf and over the creeks, it’s just desert. Sand blurring out to the horizon, a view that’s vaguely oceanic in size and scope except that it’s, you know, dry.  In fact, in photos of old Abu Dhabi (and keep in mind that “old” here means 1956, 1963, 1971) the desert reaches right up to the ocean’s edge, with roads cut through the sand.

image source

When you’re in the city now, it’s easy to forget, at least briefly, that you’re in the middle of the desert – at least until you realize that the slightest breeze blows fine sandy grit onto every surface.

In attempts to create the illusion of an oasis, the city has built grassy parks with shady walks; there are palm trees and flowerbeds around most of the public buildings; and everywhere there are fountains.

Big public “art” fountains:

And little fountains that spurt out of the bike path with no warning:

And fountains half-hidden from public view:


None of the water (that I tasted, anyway) seemed like salt water. I don’t know if the fountains run with the same desalinated water that comes through the pipes and that is in the process of wrecking my hair (see here for why, but suffice it to say that if we stay here for a long time, I’ll be wearing full hijab because I’ll be bald).

The fountains are beautiful, and they, along with all the green plantings do create the illusion that I’m living in an oasis city, not a desert outpost.

But all the irrigating, the endless miles of hoses and water-lines that criss-cross the city to feed the fountains and gardens…It comes at a price: desalinating is hideously expensive and ultimately damaging to the environment, not only because of the drain on the original water source but also because of what’s done with the chemicals used to treat the water and render it drinkable.  The UAE leads the world in water consumption, despite having so little of it.

The water everywhere makes me wonder if what’s really on display is wealth: you can’t really beautify public space with a crude-oil fountain but the oil pays, in a sense, for all these displays of water-fed beauty.

If the water dries up (or the oil), the sand comes back; it will cover the fountains and the flowerbeds. It’s like the ending of “Ozymandias,” Shelley’s warning about imperial over-reaching and the dangers of believing too deeply in the permanence of your own creations: Round the decay/ Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

Continue Reading · on November 27, 2012 in environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, Politics, UAE, Uncategorized, urban nature

from my window

When we moved to Abu Dhabi, we moved into a furnished apartment. The furniture is mostly fine (once we got rid of the white leather sectional sofa, the ridiculously small bed, and some truly hideous cabinets) but sometimes, nevertheless, I feel a little bit like I live in one of those executive suite hotels.

I will say, however, that a hotel room on the 37th floor overlooking the Arabian Gulf can give a girl a rocking view of the sunset.  And while a good sunset doesn’t eradicate the crisis in the Eastern Congo, or make the bombs stop falling in Gaza, or do anything, in fact, of a practical nature, it does offer a brief, transitory moment of peace.

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Continue Reading · on November 21, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, NaBloPoMo, urban nature

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