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Tag Archives | traveling

In the suburbs no one can hear you scream

I live in the suburbs now.  From the maelstrom of Union Square in Manhattan to the slightly more sedate “urban” experience of highrise in downtown Abu Dhabi was one shift. But in a weird way the shift from one cityscape to another wasn’t as big a shift as the move from city to the ‘burbs.  It’s so quiet here . . . and when I walk around at night I’m always slightly on edge because my footsteps echo in the emptiness.  But the thing I miss most, weirdly, is hearing the call to prayer, which had become the regular punctuation for my day, when I lived “in town,” as we say now.

In The National today, I wrote about my sense of suburban displacement. You can read the article here and don’t be afraid to share it around: show The National a little social media love (and me, too, while you’re at it).  Thanks.  Would love to hear your thoughts in comments.

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I took this photo of the Grand Mosque last winter during an unusual rainy day

Continue Reading · on November 22, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, NYC, religion, The National, Travel, UAE

my neil diamond christmas

We’re back in New York for the holidays – our first visit home since July, when we moved.  When we left Abu Dhabi last week, the malls were filled with Christmas: fake pine trees, over-wrapped gifts, and big statues of Santa, often just down the hall from the prayer rooms.  In New York, of course, nativity scenes and menorahs sometimes stand right next to each other in the parks but for some reason—perhaps because I’ve lived in New York for so long, I find the collision of menorahs, mangers, and Santa less jarring than the collision of call-to-prayer with ho-ho-ho.

We’ve been away from New York for five months and in many respects it’s as if we’ve never left: the same buildings are still under construction, the same sirens scream through the streets; the same lines form at Trader Joe’s during peak times.  I’m reunited with my beloved iPhone (which doesn’t work in Abu Dhabi) and like all the other New Yorkers, I walk through the streets making phone calls—after all, what could be more private than a busy Manhattan street? Our wonderful community of friends has carved out time for us in their hectic holiday schedules and our conversations seem to have picked up exactly where we left off last July.

Everything is just as it was.

And yet. We no longer have an apartment in the city, so we’re bouncing around: hotel, family, friend’s apartment (thank you Carey!).  The boys look wistfully at our old building and Caleb has asked more than once why we’re not going “home.”  I can still do the city-street hustle, but at the end of the day, I’m exhausted—I’m out of practice, I guess: my life in Abu Dhabi moves more slowly than my (former) life in Manhattan.

In lots of good ways, these past ten days have been a compressed version of our old lives—but the same downside still exists: Husband points out that once again, here we are in New York, where there is so much to see and do, and he ended up having to take the boys to see “Chipwrecked,” which he says may quite possibly be the worst, most cynical piece of film-making in the history of cinema.  In New York, there are a gazillion things to do and we used to be able to do about four of them; in Abu Dhabi there are only about twenty things to do, but we can manage twelve.

Hectic schedules and singing chipmunks aside, however, being here makes me homesick…for here. It’s a strange feeling, to be homesick in the place you call home.  Don’t get me wrong –I like our life in Abu Dhabi; I like the warmth and I’m fascinated by the complexities of modern Arabic life.  It’s where I live, but I’m not sure it’s home—so you know what’s happened?

What’s happened is that this entire visit has me channeling Neil Diamond, circa 1971. I’ve got about the same hairdo, actually, and a version of his eyebrows.  Who knows. Maybe I’m actually a Jew from Brooklyn. But in any case, Neil has it pegged: “LA’s fine but it ain’t home, New York’s home but it ain’t mine no more.”  Swap AD for LA, and Neil’s singing my Christmas tune.

photo source: http://www.portclydeme.com

click here to listen to Neil (and go ahead, sing along. You know you want to)

Neil and I are connecting this post to Erica’s lovelinks. You should click over, sing a bit, read around, then come back Wednesday night to vote.

Continue Reading · on December 27, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, family, NYC, UAE

walking in Jaipur

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  We’d just zipped through the City Palace in Jaipur–carvings, screens, gorgeous mosaics—and the Jantar Observatory was closed, so we thought: let’s just walk through the Johari Bazaar and then meet the taxi driver back at the City Palace parking lot (read: dusty square ringed with small food stands, flower stalls, dogs, cows, beggars).

The taxi driver (who spoke almost no English) said “sure? walking? sure? sure?” (Translation: “are you tourists out of your freaking gourds? walking through Johari Bazaar at rush hour? There are cows in the gutter smarter than you are!”) My Hindi is, um, nonexistent, so I nodded and smiled and nodded, “yes, yes, walking,” the driver and Husband exchanged cell phone numbers, and off we went, on foot, into the scrum.

Caleb’s seven-year-old eyes saw some of the poverty and dirt but mostly he saw only the adventure: look a goat! look a cow! look an elephant right there in the road!

The previous day, we’d been in Ranthambore, the tiny village outside the tiger preserve, where the poverty we’d seen had been, you know, picturesque: we’d been bumping along in an open jeep past roosters walking down dirt roads, pigs ambling along the sidewalks, half-dressed children tossing around a ball, small stone houses with tin roofs covered with ivy and bougainvillea.  Poverty…but pretty. The way tourists like their poverty.

But now we were in a city and the poverty was no longer just local color.  We used to live in New York, so homeless people on the subway or sleeping on park benches are, sadly, pretty typical sights.  My kids are aware (sort of) that not everyone has what they have.  What struck Liam was the sheer scale of what he was seeing: scores of kids begging, babies playing in the dirt, cows munching on garbage, flies everywhere. His grip on my hand got tighter and tighter—he couldn’t see the affluent residents of Jaipur whipping by on their motorbikes or in their tinted-window cars; he didn’t want to see the moon rising over the pink buildings:

he wasn’t amused by the decorations on the elephant wandering by:

or the statute of Ganesha tucked high above an arched passageway:

To get to the actual street of the bazaar you have to cross the traffic circle of death.  You think, oh, it’s just a street, I know how to cross a street. Except…there are no traffic lights, no crosswalks, and no traffic cops. There are, however, tour buses coming this way and tuk-tuks coming that way and motorbikes coming every which way and whoops there’s a taxi and shit there’s a rickshaw and whoa that’s a commuter bus and JUMP! the last two feet to the island in the middle of the circle in order to avoid a car swooping around the curve.

Caleb was scared but excited. He thought it was like a human video game.  Liam burst into tears. I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO DIE. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on November 23, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, shopping, Travel

shampoo and profoundity: trying to write about india

We survived our trip to India: nine days, two kids, four people, one hotel room, three long train rides, many ruins, one safari, a smattering of elephants and crocodiles (but no tigers), a snake charmer, and the requisite souvenirs: scarves, bangles, carved Ganeshas (Caleb’s patron saint, we’ve decided), and a small but exquisite rug (which I’m sure I got for a great price because the salesman told me so: “for you, madam, very good price, the best price”).

I understand now why people go to India and never come back.  They’ve been hypnotized by the whiplash of extremes, seduced by the flash of a hot-pink sari sliding through the crowds at a train station.  The scent of Delhi’s polluted air—a combination of wood-smoke and chemicals—wafted out of our suitcase when we got back and today, three days later, when I found the sweatshirt that Liam had been wearing on our last day in India wadded into a ball under his bed, the smell was still there. It clings, gets under your skin, into the cracks.

We didn’t do anything extreme on this trip, which was eight days in the “Golden Triangle:” Delhi, then a side-trip to Ranthambore National Park for a tiger-spotting safari (hide-and-seek with tigers, tigers won), then Jaipur, Agra, and back to Delhi.  There were tour buses rumbling through each city and idling outside every monument (I guess they figure the air is already polluted, so what’s a few more particulates) but even with this clear evidence of an entire culture being packaged into little postcard-sized niblets, I think we gave ourselves a tiny taste of “real” India (train travel contributes mightily to this sense of authenticity, I have to say).  This taste-of-India trip felt like it was “ours,” but it seems impossible to write about any of it without falling into a deep crevasse of ridiculous cliché.

I’m writing this post while my cleaning lady, a lovely woman from Sri Lanka cleans my apartment and with the haze of Delhi still in my head, I can’t help but wonder what F. thinks of the abundance with which we surround ourselves. Lining the edge of my shower, for example, are three kinds of shampoo (one belongs to Husband), a body soap, an almost empty jar of conditioner, a new container of conditioner, a tub of “hair masque,” two razors, face soap, and a tube of exfoliating  stuff that I got for free when I bought my face cream.  The counter is littered with shaving cream, face lotions, body lotions, and assorted other tubes and tubs and vials.  And that’s just my bathroom.  There’s also the kids’ bathroom and all their cleaning products; and don’t even get me started on the tech in our lives, on the clutter of cords and ipads and ipods and laptops and desktops and television-related boxes and cables and plugs.

But even this observation is a cliché: to return from India aghast at the over-abundance of Western lives.  I suppose to completely fulfill the cliché, I should be giving away all but the barest essentials, but I’m not. I loves me my Frederic Fekkai shampoo, dammit, and his conditioner, and given the desalinated water that comes out of the pipes here, the tub of deep conditioner is a necessity, not an option.  So it’s not like I’m going to go all ashram-austerity here, but still. The abundance of my life means that I should never, ever complain about anything, pretty much ever again. (I can hear my husband cracking up at this last line and saying something about “then what the else will you talk about,” but I’m going to ignore that in favor of higher order thinking.) Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on November 13, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, Travel

(Mostly) wordless wednesday I: quiet in the streets…

I lived in Manhattan in 1992, when the Rodney King verdict was handed down in LA and the riots began.  The university was shut down and everyone was told to go home; the streets were echoed with the sounds of shop-keepers slamming down their store gates and barricading their windows. The entire city shut down and we waited…

And nothing happened. Or at least, nothing even remotely similar to what happened in LA.

Tuesday’s papers were full of stories about rioting that began in response to a police shooting (extraordinarily rare in England).  Most of the rioting–as is so often the case–stayed confined to poorer neighborhoods but the fear rippled outwards to where we are staying, near Portobello Road.  As I walked home Tuesday evening, the usually bustling area of Notting Hill was eerily quiet: fewer cars on the streets and shops boarded up.

This pub usually throngs with people. Last night, it was closed.

We leave for Abu Dhabi on Friday. Funny to think of a destination in the Middle East as…stable.

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Continue Reading · on August 10, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Politics, wordless wednesday

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