Tag Archives | Paris

Hairdos & Independence Day

Yesterday in the U.S. it was the 4th of July: fireworks, parades, flags waving around, all in celebration of those unlikely rebels who picked a fight about taxes and ended up with a country.  The 4th in Abu Dhabi was ….Wednesday.  But thinking about all those Americans celebrating Independence Day reminded me of a conversation I had a month ago with an actual freedom fighter.

She was an unlikely rebel: not yet twenty, a tiny little person whose eyes (sporting startlingly bright blue contact lenses) looked almost too big for her face. Her abaya, demurely loose, had some slight embroidery at the cuffs and along the hem, and her long hair was secured in a tight ponytail that draped down her back.

Did you see it? The rebellion in that description? I didn’t notice it either, until she herself pointed it out to me: her hair. Proper hijab would demand that the sheyla resting on her shoulders be wrapped tightly around her head and cover every inch of that long ponytail.

“No,” she said. “I am wearing abaya for respect, to be professional, but I do not wear sheyla today because I must also be myself. I must show that a woman can be uncovered and not be – excuse me for this word – a whore. I can be decent Emirati woman and not be covered.”

You might find it ironic that a girl wearing a full-length, long-sleeve black robe would talk seriously about being “uncovered,” but she wasn’t laughing.

She has decided that it is her goal in life, regardless of her job, to show people that you don’t have to dress a certain way to be a decent person.  “People are same,” she said, “what people are wearing should not matter so much.”

On a heavily chaperoned school trip to Paris, this bare-headed girl decided to prove her point. She went to what she called an IzRAELee restaurant, “in the Jewish neighborhood,” without wearing hijab. Two friends went with her, in their black robes, and she said that the older people in the Israeli restaurant stared, but she had a conversation with the younger people. “We were curious, all of us,” she said. “How do we live, you know, that sort of thing. Is important, to know these things about each other.”

What did you eat, I asked, wondering what this Arab girl would eat in a Jewish restaurant in the heart of Paris.

She smiled, triumphant. “Falafel, of course!” Pause. Nodded her head as if conceding a point. “Pretty good falafel, too.”

At the end of the school trip, the Emirati boys in the group told the pony-tailed revolutionary that she’d changed their minds. They’d thought she was a “bad girl” at the beginning because of her uncovered head, but now they saw that she wasn’t bad, at all.  “Some girls, they like this,” she said, plucking at the sheyla on her shoulders. “So okay, but for me, no. I need to be my true self.”

Hers is a small rebellion, a quiet rebellion; there are no screaming protesters or explosions in the streets. But if I were to meet this girl again, I would want to give her a 4th of July sparkler to celebrate the independence of her uncovered spirit.

image source

In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof writes about women he met in Iran, whose are using hijab in their own private revolution.





Continue Reading · on July 6, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, Politics


Being on the road for a month has taken its toll on Liam. On all of us, really, but he’s been having what my mom calls “sinkers” on a pretty regular basis. If he were a girl, I’d say he’s getting his period, but he’s a ten year old boy, so I don’t think that’s the right explanation.

He loved Paris when we were there…until he hated the weird pizza, the strange hot dogs, and the bizarre toilet flushing mechanisms.  And he thought London was great, until confronted by traffic patterns and crosswalks that didn’t make any sense (to him), milk that didn’t taste like the milk at home, and more toilets with bizarre flushers.

At the root of his sinkers, of course, is a mixture of homesickness and anxiety. He misses his friends terribly and has written them postcards and emails, but you know? Ten year olds just don’t find much solace in written communication. Their texts to one another are a mixture of insults and soccer scores.  He’s really worried about starting his new school in Abu Dhabi: the other kids will think he’s a freak because he’s so small (and here’s why) he won’t find a soccer team, he won’t make any friends, when he gets back to New York his soccer skills will have eroded so badly that he won’t be able to rejoin his travel team.

The poor guy: I think his mental image of “London” was just a series of green fields filled with kids playing soccer and that he could just wander over and join a game. Alas, despite all time we’ve spent in parks, both here (and in France), we’ve not seen anyone playing soccer.

On the one hand, I want to shake him and say that pizza tastes weird because in Paris you’re not supposed to be eating pizza; crosswalks make sense for London traffic; hot dogs taste weird under the best of circumstances and milk is milk, so just shut up and drink it.  As for the funky toilets and why they can’t just flush like a good old US potty? I’ve got no answer for that.

On the other hand, of course, my heart cracks for him. It’s hard to live out of a suitcase for any length of time and to do so with the knowledge that you’re not going “home” but to yet another strange place is even harder. And of course he’s worried about starting a new school—we’re all worried about what’s next.

When he crashes and cries, snuffling into his pillow about being scared and lonely and sad, I sit next to him on the bed, rub his back, and tell him it’s all going to be okay, that we’re sure he’s going to make friends, find soccer, like his new school.

Usually I can soothe him to sleep and when he wakes up the next morning, his world looks less gloomy.

His anxieties feed my own, though, so that I lie awake in the dark while every terrible possibility (terribility?) floats through my head and the “what ifs” ricochet around my brain.

I’m sure it’s all going to be fine, I tell myself in the morning.

But in the middle of the night, I think, “what if it’s not?”

Continue Reading · on August 7, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, family, growing up, Kids, Parenting, Travel

Beautiful Weapons

While we were in Paris, we visited Les Invalides, which is an entire museum devoted to weapons and warfare.  It’s the Arms and Armor wing of the Metropolitan Museum on a grand scale. Caleb, our little war-monger, was in heaven. Liam acted all disaffected and snooty about what he claimed was Caleb’s immature love of weaponry, but then he wandered into the rooms of samurai weapons…and he never wanted to leave.

Yes, my favorite museum in Paris is the Rodin Museum, with Carnavelet a close second…but why look at paintings and sculptures when you can look at cannons, armor, crossbows, and daggers?

I did see a lovely sculpture, however, which captured the intimacy of a loving couple:

Where did I see this sculpture, in a war museum? This couple and its duplicate formed the handles on a huge bronze cannon.  Love and war, inextricable, as always.

And in another room, an elaborate carved crucifix, complete with an ivory death’s head:

Seems you pull a dagger out of the top of the crucifix, which serves as a sheath for the weapon inside.  Do with that fact what you will.

Continue Reading · on July 24, 2011 in Children, family, Travel

We’ll Always Have Paris. Sort Of

So we went to Paris for two days before going on to Provence, where we were having a family reunion and celebrating my mother’s seventieth twenty-ninth birthday.  Two full days to revel in the city of light, stroll the tiny cobbled streets, marvel at the enduring romance of a river spanned by bridges, discover sweet little cafes tucked into quiet courtyards, sip chilled rose on the tiny balcony of our apartment and watch the sunset over the Paris rooftops.

Oh. Wait. That would be a two-day Paris vacation with my Husband, or by myself.

Actually? We were on a two-day family trip to Paris.

The last time we were in Paris, Liam was still in a stroller and Caleb wasn’t even the proverbial gleam in our eyes. Maybe because now, in comparison, both boys seem more grownup, Husband and I forgot that family trip is not a vacation (thanks to Cousin Sarah for pointing it out to me).  Thus Day One of our trip was filled not only with cold wet weather (more Novemberish than Julyish) but tag-team whining of the first order. If there were a Olympic whining event, my kids would definitely medal.

In a kind of French version of the Bataan death march (their version) we trudged from Notre Dame to Musee Cluny, to Musee D’Orsay.  It rained. It was cold. Caleb was, variously: hungry, bored, thirsty, persecuted by his brother, TIRED.  Liam wanted to know the French word for pretty much everything , which was charming for the first vingt minutes et puis tres aggravating because then he whined in French: je suis faim, je suis froid, je suis fatiguee, je suis HATE MY BROTHER.  (Yes, like Caliban, in The Tempest: we taught him the language and he learned how to curse).


You know where we ended up? The carnival. Yep. Missed the Louvre—why would you go see the glass pyramid at the Louvre when you could ride the Pirates of the Caribbean for three euros a pop? Well, actually, in this picture you can see one end of one wing of the Louvre, just behind the tall arm of the Ferris Wheel.

Double sigh.

Day Two, Husband and I threw our Paris desires out the window.  Husband and Liam left early to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, while Caleb, Grandma, and I meandered more slowly to the Tower, where Caleb (who insists he dislikes heights) rode the carousel and ate soft-serve ice cream. I tried not to be disgusted by the fact that the ice cream came from a dispenser that had been, a few short minutes before, crawling with bees.
After the Eiffel Tower, le batobus: the aquatic equivalent of a double-decker tour bus. We went from boat to lunch (pizza, of course) to the courtyard of the Louvre, to the boat, to Les Invalides (armor! guns! swords! Napoleon’s huge tomb!), to the metro and home.  Ice cream and small souvenirs were applied at judicious intervals in a way that never would have happened at home.  We are now the proud owners of a small blue Eiffel Tower, any number of commemorative “gold” coins, two small notepads, and a small plastic horse-and-knight.  Plus post cards.

But the boys went to sleep that night saying that they loved Paris, so maybe it was cheap at the price.

I guess Rick and Ilsa were right: we’ll always have Paris…and one day we’ll come back for an actual vacation.

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Continue Reading · on July 24, 2011 in Children, Travel

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