Friday, October 29, 2010

I told you there'd be sewing....

Thank you lovely readers for your encouraging comments on my last post - oh how I love social networking for its power to cheer you (me) up when you (I) feel low. You cheered me up, and I'm grateful, and I'm glad I made some of you chuckle as well.

So it seems appropriate that today's post is a fabric-y craft one, because I am here in Dubai for the first time in five years, and it's heaven.

First of all, I was waved through at passport control........ which means the niggling little fear I've been harbouring all this time that I might not be allowed back into the country because my old residential visa wasn't cancelled through the proper channels when I left last time, was unfounded. Yay.
And driving along Sheikh Zayed road past all my old haunts brought a tidal wave of nostalgia over me, which I quite enjoyed. Dubai has changed so much, and I have a post about that ready to go, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, the fabric shops are still there in Satwa, right where I left them.

My very good friend Ms Read and I used to trawl the fabric markets in Dubai on an all-too-regular basis. It was our pastime to go and pick up new material and take it straight to Mr Prakash, our tailor near Lamcy Plaza.

Mr Prakash is a genius - I am still wearing clothes he made for me seven years ago. In fact, in honour of the occasion, yesterday I wore a plum-coloured straight skirt he made for me, to celebrate my return.

There was one shop Ms Read and I particularly liked - Deepak's, a wonderful place stocked and staffed in the Indian manner. That is, drinks on arrival, an attendant to shepherd you round the shop and pull out lots of lovely stuff for you, anther man to fold it all up once it was cut, and then a final man to tally the bill and take payment.

On the left, cotton polkadots for daytime. On the right, crepe de chine polkadots for nighttime
Last night, I walked into Deepak's and an attendant came straight over. I was hopping up and down with excitement to be there, and I explained that I used to live in Dubai but it's been five years and I have dreamed about returning and I love Deepaks, etc etc ..... and he fixed me with a gaze, an Indian head-wobble, and said "Oh yes, madam, I do remember you".  

I love the Arabic script on the middle selvedge - I'm going to make a feature out of that somehow

I was sceptical. Five years between drinks and he remembers me? I graciously said Oh, that's very nice but I'm sure you don't.

And he looked at me again and he said "You ask my friend over there. When you came in the door I said to him, the madam has cut all her hair."

I gaped.  He continued.

 "You were often coming in here, very regularly you were coming in here, and you were coming with your tall friend, and you were buying many fabrics." And I'm thinking, well, yes, that does SOUND like me.

"You were taking them to Mr Prakash."

You could have knocked me down with a feather.

"I am remembering your name madam, and it is (insert my name here). Are you remembering my name?"

And I confess I wasn't remembering his name at all. My god, the man remembers me and now I feel embarrassed because I a) didn't believe him and b) don't remember his.

"Ah, but you were remembering my name when you were living here madam. I am Sunil. And I am remembering that before you left you came in and bought one great mountain of fabric to take home with you, many embroidered silks especially in the bright colours."

It's true. The man has a memory like an elephant (while I have one like a goldfish.) How happy and touched was I to feel remembered, and valued - no doubt because I used to spend so much money in there, so it's a friendship based firmly on commerce, but really, who cares? The man remembers me as a valuable customer, five years later!

 I spent a lovely hour looking through the shop and finding a wonderful collection of orange and yellow fabrics to take back to Bahrain with me. Um, 26 metres to be precise. And then he threw in four free pieces as well, as a welcome back gift.

My god I love Dubai, and especially Deepak's, and particularly Sunil.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bloody painful annoying irritating day

...ugh, one of those days today that started out bad and got worse.

Awoke from a nightmare. Failed to go the gym before work. Felt bad about it.

Went to work. Twiddled my thumbs for hours waiting for other people to provide me with things I needed before I could do my part on them.

In exasperation, went to the mall at lunchtime and had junk food for lunch. Felt worse.

Back in the office, tried to get flights booked for an overnight trip to Dubai tomorrow. It was like talking to a brick wall. Resisted the urge to scream down the phone 'DON'T YOU GODDAMN INSHA'ALLAH ME ONE MORE GODDAMN TIME!!!!!!!!"

(Insha'allah means "maybe, perhaps, god willing'. It can also mean "I'm too lazy and I really don't feel like doing this thing you urgently need me to do". It's the Islamic equivalent of the Indian head-wobble.)

Spent what seemed like hours wheedling and cajoling and coaxing just to get the logistics sorted out. Left at 6pm because I couldn't stand it anymore.

Drove home. Traffic bad. Missed the turnoff and ended up in gridlock for 45 minutes. Fuming, consumed junk food again for dinner because I still have no pots or pans to cook with despite having requested them four days ago, while trying to get the tv to work (turned out the cleaner had bollixed something up when she was here earlier today). Resigned myself to no hot water for the fourth day in a row.

Later, accidentally discovered hot water works fine and I've just been using the tap the wrong way. Years of university education under my belt and I can't work the tap.

Sigh. Got confirmation of my flights but no confirmation of the car and driver. No confirmation on my third meeting for tomorrow either. Am going to another country with no promise of transport or purpose. Sigh again.
Only have the glowing red glare of the RAMEE SUITES-2 neon sign for company. Little sniff. Small sob.

I think it's bedtime. Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My life on the set of an adult movie

This post title should pick up some interesting readers from Google search pages! It's deliberately provocative, I admit, and the reality is not quite as the title suggests.

(.... maybe it will help boost my Followers list though, as I seem to be slowly losing followers while I'm over here and writing less about sewing and craft than I used to. Don't worry readers! There will still be sewing! Yet every time I lose a follower it's like a little piece of my heart quietly dies ....)

I'm in a bit of a melodramatic mood today, and I'm sure it has something to do with my environment. I've moved into a new flat, you see, and it is .... interesting.

Here in Bahrain it's terribly easy to find somewhere to live. You drive around the residential areas, and most of the blocks have a phone number on the side of the building. You ring up, enquire about whether there is anything available, and if there is you can usually see it on the spot. Which is exactly what I did.

No jostling with a hundred other people during a half-hour inspection time, no tiresome filling out of application forms with your blood type, shoe size, and offer to donate your firstborn child, no anxious wait to see if the landlord will deign to accept your offer ... just an inspection, an agreement, and a handshake. Done.

So that's how I find myself living in an enormous studio flat on the top floor of a building in Juffair (which is also apparently the suburb where the US Navy is based in Bahrain, ladies - it is overflowing with servicemen, I discovered a few nights ago when I ventured out for the first time).

I love this flat. It is half the size of our house at home, it has everything I need in it, it's on the top floor kind of under the pool area - it's like the little dovecote of Victorian times; the place to go for peace and solitude.

Never mind that it looks like a porn set, then, with its gigantic four-poster bed covered in a slippery satin duvet. And its giant full-length mirror. And its dark, heavy curtains. And its modern, matching dark wood furniture. And its leopard-print shower curtain. And its e-NOR-mous flat-screen tv fixed to the wall.

Never mind that it looks even MORE like a porn set at night, as if that were possible, when the entire flat is gently bathed in the bright red glow from the enormous sign that loudly proclaims RAMEE SUITES 2 from the top of the building nearby.

No, never mind. It's mine, it's perfectly located, it has a wonderful building manager whom I've already got wrapped around my little finger, and for now, it's home.

Now please excuse me while I just do a quick sweep of the place to check for cameras .....

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's the little things.....

Well, I suppose if you are a Sultanate, you can have yourself a National Chip, can't you?
Here in Bahrain there are so many cool things that are Just Like Home ... except for a few little details. I love this kind of stuff because it's what reminds you that I'm not at home in Australia doing the same old thing - I'm off having a Middle Eastern adventure!

So I've decided I'm going to do a semi-regular post called It's The Little Things, where I show you something that's same, but different.

Green salt and vinegar packet instead of pink

Today it's chip snacks. Now, if you know me, you know I love my chips - give me something salty over something sweet any day. And one of the things I love to do in a new country is go and check out the supermarket and all the strange and unusual products they have.

Aren't these subtle differences just great? They give me such a What The moment!

Not Twisties, but .... Fonzies?!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Call me an idiot. Go on. I deserve it.

Oh my god, I've done something really stupid. REALLY stupid. I blame it on the jet lag.

I've signed up for the Bahrain Marathon. I am a stupid, stupid person.

What's worse, is that even though I only have to run a small 3kilometre leg because this is an office-relay thing; I did not check any of the surrounding details.

Like, where is this marathon event to be held? Answer: not on any of the lovely flat, straight roads all over Manama, the capital city here. Oh no. This marathon is to be held in the desert. Up and down the dunes. In the sand. Sand in my sneakers.

And, when is this marathon event to be held? Answer: next week. Next Friday, to be precise. I have exactly 10 days to train.

Moreover, what time of day is this marathon event to be held? Answer: not at 6am, as you might expect for a marathon in a desert, when it is warm and around 26 degrees already. In Dubai, the Samsung 10km run I did as part of the Dubai Marathon event started at 6am, so that people had a chance of completing it.

No, this marathon starts at TEN AM AND GOES TIL THREE. The hottest part of the day! When it will be 35 degrees! And the sun will be out! You know how I feel about the sensation of sun on my skin. My god, people, that is exactly the part of day that it is recommended you stay OUT of, not go running in. I fully expect to crisp up and blow away like a dead leaf.

Apparently last year a guy died from heat exhaustion during this thing. He was 30. It was late November then. So in their infinite wisdom, the organisers have moved it up a month to October, when the temperature is even higher.

I'm afraid. I'm very afraid.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Up with the birds

Five-thirty am, and the sun is slowly rising outside my hotel room window. I know, because I've watched it since I woke at half-past four.

Jetlag still has me in its tight grasp, and I've been managing around five or six hours of sleep a night - nothing near the eight hours I need in order to function effectively. Plus the coffee here is terrible as there's nothing like fresh milk available. I'm using a powdered horror called "Coffeemate" - not MY mate, I can assure you - though the locals use condensed milk. Ugh! No wonder Starbucks is so popular.

One good thing about the the jetlag though is that I'm getting lots of exercise. When I wake up early there's no point lying in bed, as I never go back to sleep. So I've been spending an hour in the lovely resort pool, slowly swimming laps backwards and forwards while the whole place is deserted, though I get some strange looks when the staff come on deck at six am.

On Monday I even asked for the gym to be unlocked for me, and one of the very nice reception staff couldn't quite believe her ears and asked me why, with a look of amazement on her face. I explained the jetlag, and she kind of understood but I think she was still sceptical.

This morning I also have a job interview via phone, for a position back in Melbourne, so I want to be nice and alert for it. I think a good swim, followed by a hearty breakfast, is the best way to approach that.

So, I'm off. The pool awaits.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's the little things .....

…. that make the most difference, really. 
Like this discreet little sign stuck on my hotel room ceiling, 
which points the way to Mecca. Islamic guests use it for 
prayer, because Muslims always face Mecca during their 
five-times daily prayers. 
And that makes this sign totally cool, because it IS the Middle 
East to me, more than anything else. 
Here, I'm woken by a muezzin singing the call to prayer from 
a mosque minaret, rather than the church bell that rings out 
from the convent behind our home in inner-city Melbourne. 
Here, I can put a deposit straight down on the flat I saw today and liked immediately, 
rather than having to jostle my way through an open for inspection with a hundred 
other people and then fill out an application form with all my personal details including 
my blood type, shoe size and a promise to donate my first-born child to the landlord, 
only to then spend the next five days sweating it out to see whether said landlord has 
deigned to accept it. 
 (By the by, the flat's a studio, but it's massive: one third as big as 
our house, and the monthly rental includes all bills – electricity, water, cable tv and 
internet – as well as twice-weekly cleaning. It's perfectly acceptable to rent it for 
three months rather than having to sign up for a year. It's also completely furnished. 
The flat screen tv is twice the size of our clunker at home.) 
Here, when I walk down the street I see people in national dress, which is absolutely 
normal - women in black abayas and men in white thobes; like positive and negative 
photographic images. 
 Here, I will consider making a monthly trip to Dubai to see my old tailor, Mr Prakash, 
because Dubai is only a 45-minute flight away, and I can. 
Here, Blogger is in Arabic (it looks so cool) and reversed, because Arabic script is 
read from right to left rather than left to right as English script is. It's like seeing it in
 a mirror, only with a language that's much prettier – all curlicues and dots and lovely 
It might also explain why the spacing has gone so strange and why I can't seem to fix it...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A brief message from Dubai

From the little I could see as I craned my neck almost out of the plane window, Dubai is a LOT bigger than it was the last time I was here. And that got me thinking.

In 2003 I landed here from Britain on October 9. Today, October 16 - exactly seven years and one week later - I'm back in the Middle East again. Who'd have thought? In some ways I didn't imagine it would take me this long to return, and in other respects I can't quite believe I'm here for the second time.

So let us not dwell too much on that. Here are some brief facts and figures to amuse you.

It's seven am and dawn is just breaking here. The flight only took 13 hours and we flew direct instead of breaking in Singapore at Changi as I had expected we would. When I disembarked here and found my way to the bathroom, there were 23 women in the queue ahead of me, and I waited 9 minutes to get in. A cafe latte to ameliorate my splitting caffeine withdrawal headache cost 16 dirhams, around $4.50 - even more expensive than Melbourne! There is free wifi in the airport so this post is costing me exactly zero dollars, dirhams or dinars.

I have 45 minutes to wait before the next leg of the journey.

I am 92% excited about what lies ahead over the course of the next three months, and 8% wetting my knickers with apprehension. But I am 100% confident that whatever happens, this will be a fantastic experience - one way or another.

I am 11,715 kilometres from home.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Watching Valentino

(The peal of church bells striking the half-hour wakes me up this morning, and as I lie there luxuriating in the hotel bed, my first thought is that this time time next week, I'll be waking to the call to prayer instead.)

The Valentino Exhibition was fantastic, although photography was not allowed so I couldn't take pictures to show you, and the big book of the exhibition had sold out at the gift shop, so I couldn't buy that to show you either. I've ordered a back copy, but it'll arrive after I've gone to Bahrain.

The Sister Of My Heart and I spent a good three hours wandering the halls of the Gallery Of Modern Art, oohing and aahing over the dresses. And the dresses - there were many of them, and they were wonderful!

We each chose our favourites - which ones we'd wear out for cocktails, to a black-tie event, to meet Hugh Jackman that night for dinner. I particularly enjoyed choosing the one I'd renew my wedding vows in and the one the Sister Of My Heart would wear to attend me again.

The magnificence of construction was phenomenal - the detail in hundreds of knife-pleated chiffon panels, the shirring of silk voile interwoven with silk taffeta. There were outfits which looked like Black Widow, Mother-of-the-Bride-Of-Dracula, Star Trek ... and plenty of fantastic stuff from the 60s era which I would *easily* have worn out the door if someone had given me the opportunity.

We talked a lot about the difference between style and fashion. About how a lot of the clothes were very much in fashion at the time they were made, but their glamour has lasted and the clothes could be worn today with no problem because they are fundamental expressions of style rather than fashion alone. And there were some that were clearly in fashion when they were made but SO OBVIOUSLY out of fashion now. Yikes. Plenty of the stuff from the 80s falls into that category.

And we enjoyed looking at the people themselves at the exhibition, because a lot of them - and us - had dressed up especially for the event.  The Sister Of My Heart was wearing a short denim skirt, a teal long-sleeved tee, a shrunken purple trench coat, and fantastic over the knee purple tartan socks that I bought for her in Japan a few years ago. I was wearing a purple 50s dress with pleated skirt, a purple knit cardigan from Cue, and black tights with purple stripes......

......and here we are together, resting our feet for a minute at the exhibition.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wake up Brisvegas, we're here to see the Valentino retrospective

The Sister Of My Heart is still asleep, arm thrown across the pillow as she enjoys a lie-in away from my two gorgeous godchildren. In a shameless violation of her privacy, I have taken a photo of her and here she is.

When she wakes up, we will go out in search of breakfast down at Southbank, and then we will take ourselves off to the Valentino Exhibition at the Museum . We will never mind the fact that is it RAINING here and that it's actually going to be hotter in MELBOURNE than two thousand miles further up the coast, and we will ignore the fact that the weather is clearly out to GET ME and we will just enjoy looking at the lovely dresses in the Valentino exhibition.

Yes, a Valentino exhibition in Brisvegas! Who knew? I certainly didn't, and it's only because the Sister Of My Heart read about it in Spectrum in the Sydney Morning Herald - so thank you Spectrum, and thank you Brisvegas for hosting an exhibit that I would ordinarily have expected to see in Sydney or Melbourne.

In the words of the Museum - because they have summed it up already so I will reproduce their efforts rather than reinventing the wheel - ''‘Valentino, Retrospective: Past/Present/Future’ is a major exhibition developed by the renowned institution, Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris. It explores the work of the celebrated Italian fashion house Valentino, known around the world for its sophisticated, timeless design and glamorous clientele. ""

Dresses! We're going to see dresses! Not just any old dresses, either, but proper haute couture dresses from the first collection designed in 1959 right through to the latest done in 2008. Dresses made when construction was an essential component of an outfit, when sewing was done by hand in many cases, and when a single dress could take a full team of people over three months to create. When dresses were for ladies, and made them look like it.

So, we must bathe and get out of our pajamas and brush our teeth so that we are worthy of such a show. I will report back later.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The best pictures of India

Oooo, I have a small but persistent headache this morning - the consequence of too much vodka last night.

So I've decided today is the day to post my best photos of India. That way, you get something interesting to look at, and I don't have to use my brain too much. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bahrain, baby!

Okay, so perhaps I've had too much vodka tonight. Perhaps it's been honey-flavoured and perhaps My One True Love has mixed it carefully for me with .,with too many springs of mint and too much ice.

But I am FREEAKING EXCITED about going to Bahrain, baby! Bahrain! Next week! On a plane! For three months! Jeez, who wouldn't be excited about that?

Oh sure, I'm a bit nervous too. Nervous in the kind of way that spurs me on and makes me super efficient and scarily effective. And there's nothing like a bit of super-nervousness to make me perform like a trooper, that's for sure. I will be so supercharged by adrenaline that I can't fail to impress.

And if I stuff up, then - well seriously, how much damage can I do in three months? It's a win-win situation. I'm thinking of it as a controlled trial. Thank god for my optimistic outlook.

Now for the big challenge though - to ingest three months' worth of alcohol in the next 7 days .... (though I'm sure there's some kind of rule about drinking and blogging .. like drinking and dialling the old boyfriend ... better not to ... oops, too late .....)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back to the Middle East I go .....

So. One week, four interviews and three job offers later, I've made a decision.

It almost breaks my heart to do this, but gentle readers, I'm leaving you. I'm leaving the pussins, I'm leaving the new thyme lawn, I'm leaving Melbourne and I'm moving to Bahrain.

Wow, it sounds so very final when I say it like that. So do you want the good news? It's only for three months. And I'm very definitely not leaving My One True Love, he is coming over at Christmas-time.

Yes, it's a short-term thing only; during which I will spend a lot of time travelling and blogging more witty and amusing travel posts - I know how you love those - and catching up with old friends who now live in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Dubai of course. Throw in some visits to Syria, Iran, Jordan and hopefully even Turkey, and it's going to be action-packed. I even plan to take my sewing machine for those (hopefully) rare moments of down-time.

It's fantastic to be returning to my old haunts, though strictly speaking I've never actually been to Bahrain before. But how excitement! A new professional challenge, a new personal one .... I can hardly wait! Adventures galore! Exotic travel tales! Fabulous new fabric markets!

And luckily I don't have to wait long, because I'm actually flying out in ten days time. Yes, that's right.

24 hours after that, I will be ensconced in a hotel in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and I will be hot, tired, jetlagged, and no doubt wondering what the hell I'm doing there. 

What did I say last week about job-hunting? It never Bah-rains, but it pours?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Loving the loveseat

 Finally! At last!

I've had this job on my list of things to do for bloody ages. Had I done it, after .... nine months? ten months? No, I had not.

Now, though, I am a lady of leisure and I really have no excuse not to finish those things that have been on my list for, like, forever.

One hard-rubbish day long ago, My One True Love and I were driving through Box Hill. And there, as we rounded the crest of a hill, to our complete astonishment, we saw that some crazy household had dumped their teak loveseat on the curb, ready for collection.

Did we collect it? You bet we did!!

It was practically perfect. The only reason we could see that someone might have chucked it were the teeth gouges all over one of the curved arms. Not human teeth - I don't think so at any rate, but mind you it was Box Hill, and living there might be enough to send anyone a little beserk sometimes - no, to me it looked like dog teeth. Which means this lovely teak loveseat was chucked out because the dog had chewed on it a bit.

Well, we fixed that quickly. A bit of sanding and you'd never know it had happened. And then this adorable seat sat wanly on our back verandah, wearing its crappy old dirty and torn seat covers ... until now.

I tore apart the old ones on the weekend, and used the pieces to draw up a rough (and I mean REALLY rough) pattern.

Then I cut out some of this material, which from memory is an outdoor fabric called "Regenerate" that I picked up here at Calico Corners.
Isn't it gorgeous? All botanical and leafy, but colourful at the same time.

Amazingly enough, when I sewed the pieces together - I even put in a zip in case I need to wash or change the cover at some indeterminate point in the future - they fitted. Total suprise bonus! I only had to use one tiny scrap from my crafternoon buddy The Nutty Professor, to fill up a spot where the edges didn't quite meet.

And if that weren't enough, then I made two bolsters in the leftover bits of fabric, and stuffed them with futon cotton to give them a nice firm shape.

So now I'm loving my loveseat. It looks beautiful, and I can just picture us out there in the warm summer afternoons, lolling about on the gorgeous cushions I snaffled from Babushka Baby, drinking a glass of white wine, admiring the flowers in the garden, sniffing the delightful scent of star jasmine wafting on the breeze, and thanking heaven I finally got off my arse to fix the poor thing up.