Monday, December 28, 2009

Holidays

This is a picture of my family, which was made into a christmas tree ornament by a neighbour we knew when I was growing up. My gorgeous baby sister is missing, as she wasn't born until like ten years later, but I love this photo anyway. Mom looks so happy, Dad looks confident and handsome* and My brother is innocent, smiling and cute, a far cry from the driven, competitive, hard-core Badass he has become today. I'm the girl climbing the tree in the background.



I can still remember the day the photo was taken, and I can still remember the way the bark of the birch tree in the front yard smelled and would leave my skin and clothes dusted in flaky white Birch dust. The woman who took the picture shares my name (was I named after her? I don't remember) and she stiched and embroidered my mother a shirt a million years ago. I stole the shirt from mom, and wear it all the time, because it makes me think of mom, and the woman she was before we, as kids with incessant demands and unrelenting selfishness made her a Mom-Person. Your Identity; the ultimate sacrifice of motherhood.

Now that my sister is safely off in Grad School, and flashing through her exams like a freight train (Straight A's!!!) Mom and Dad are tentatively finding their feet and rediscovering whatever it is that the people they were before we arrived might look like now. We give them grief, make cruel jokes about mid-life crisis etc.. but secretly, we are thrilled for them.

A blog post about other stuff, and how (some but not all) Omani's celebrate Christmas, soon.

* and that beard fantastic, no?

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Open Letter to the Times Of Oman

Dear Sir,

I must vehemently disagree with the viewpoints presented in Fahad Al Ghadani's article (Need for Dress Code at Beaches, Times Of Oman 19/12/09). I, for one, would like to see more foreign women in inappropriate clothing and revealing swim suits on our beaches and in our shops. The scantily clad western tourists provide me and thousands of other young men with hours of entertainment weekly, as well as what is, likely, our only current opportunity to interact with a real semi-naked woman.

Given the lack of any suitable entertainment options for young Omani men in the capital and villages, Girl-watching keeps many of us busy and out of trouble, when otherwise idle hands could turn to crime. It is also worth noting that the revealingly dressed tourists are assisting in confirming the useful stereotype that western women are skanky and easy. On Behalf of young Omani Men everywhere, I beg of you, please do not encourage such dress codes on the beaches.

-Said Al Sardi
AKA Subruban Muscat

Monday, December 14, 2009

Detroit, city of choice for discerning people like Me and Stone

Over Eid, Stone and I went to Detroit, leaving the baby in the care of mom, dad, and the housemaids. We had an absolutely fantastic time. Detroit is one of the coolest cities in America, full of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. We went there for the first time last summer, and liked it so much we bought an apartment downtown.

I think Detroit gets an unfair rap in the media and the minds of Americans, at least in part due to racism and classicism. The city of Detroit is like 82 percent black, and according to studies, boasts an illiteracy rate of 45 to 50% among ADULTS. The city has been repeatedly victimized by decades corruption and incompetency in local government, and though the new Mayor seems honest and competent, he has a difficult road ahead of him.

Stone and I think there is a great deal of hope for Detroit. Even overrun with abandoned skyscrapers, burned out suburbs, and urban prairie taking over old neighborhoods, we feel that Detroit is full of hope, and opportunity. Detroit is awash in interesting architecture, funky pocket neighborhoods, activities for kids, kind people, ample semi-skilled labor, a thriving arts and music scene, great restaurants, low costs of living, and wonderful downtown parks. I could go on, but you get the idea. I do not believe Detroit is too broken to fix.

Moving on, I thought I would post a few thoughts on our trip to Detroit, and a few vignettes of our time there.

  1. What is it with the total assholes that work the immigration desk in the US? Just Once I would like to arrive in the US, hand them my passport, and hear "Welcome Home Suburban!" . Instead, every single time, I get some asshole who feels like interrogating me for fifteen minutes because I'm not a "Genuine" American. I mean, would you guys just fuck off and let me come home? Is there a factory somewhere in Washington that cranks out these dour, soulless Ass-wipes who are everyone's first point of contact with the United states?
  2. Interestingly, the only Assholes we met during our entire week in the US were the US immigration authorities. Everyone else, even the crackheads and homeless people were the very personification of charm.
  3. We had the pleasure of eating twice at the Best BBQ place in the city, SLOWS It's three minutes out of downtown, in the corktown neighbourhood, directly across from the beautiful and decrepit abandoned train station. They have absolutely fantastic food, the fried catfish was so good I could eat if every day for the rest of my life. They also have an amazing selection of Micro-brews all sorts of outrageous porters, wheats, lagers, cask conditioned ales, and more.
  4. Our (straight) Realtor and some (non straight) friends took us to an awesome gay bar one night. (How Awesome is our Realtor?) For a 2 dollar cover charge you get a giant mason jar of Pabst Blue Ribbon, some really really really famous DJ's spinning, graphic homosexual art on the walls, guys danging around in leather, and a genuinely friendly crowd, even to boring straight people like me and Stone. I wish I could remember the names of the DJ's because the music was so fantastic.
  5. We went out to dinner at this place Called the Harbor House, which serves Alaskan Snow Crab. It is insanely delicious stuff. for 18 RO (Including tip) Stone and I could eat Two pounds of Snow crab with drawn butter, a really gourmet salad, fries, baguette and cinnamon butter, and have two Micro-brew beers each. That is Value Bitches.
    Yes, that is a real crab. Yes, they are really delicious.
  6. The guy from the rental car company picked us up in an Brand New Dodge Ram Pickup. I was all, Dude, this is a Sweet Ride! and he was all "Hi Five!" His name was Anton, and he was hilarious. Instead of the crappy tiny pickup we were planning on renting, he upgraded us to the giant, Red Ram for free. Look for a review here soon.
OK, this post is too long already. Needless to say we had fun. I'll post some of the funny stuff we did and saw in a future post. and some more on the British invasion of F1 later in the week. I"m not sure how to write it all up without alienating every one of my British friends. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Formula 1, Day 2, part 1

I never sleep well on the first night of an event, and this one is no exception. After a night of tossing and turning, I roll out of bed at 05:00 and walk through the endless rows of porta cabins towards the office. The office is locked, but there are seven rough looking guys nursing lukewarm Heineken around a table in the carport-turned evening mess. From the looks of it, these are my sort of people.I sit down at the table, introduce myself, and one of the guys hands me a beer, confirming my suspicions that yes, these guys are definitely my kind of people.

Over breakfast beers we chat and watch the sun rise, and it emerges that these guys are firefighters from the UK. They arrived late last night and are some of the 350+ British volunteers from Silverstone to assist with the Marshalling and trackside safety. Etihad airways has provided the flights for these volunteers, as they are more experienced in the running of F1 than the local crew. More on that, and them, later.

Following a couple of beers, my new friends and I head to the mess for breakfast. Breakfast is a congealed mass of grey eggs, questionable fruit, Hot dogs and unidentifiable animal parts. It will be my only breakfast in the Camp mess. At a quarter to seven, most of the team I'll be working with arrives, and the first problem of the day presents itself.

Access to any area of a F1 race is strictly controlled, and Abu Dhabi is no exception. Sadly, the Abu Dhabi police force don't seem to be up to the task, and have created endless obstacles for the race organizers. For me to get the first of four (yes! four!) passes allowing me access to to various localities I needed to submit the following:
  1. A Three page questionnaire covering everything from where I was born, to who my immediate family members are.
  2. A copy of my Passport, and any relevant residency visas.
  3. My Omani Driving license, International driving licence and american driving licence.
  4. My Omani Iqamma.
  5. Ten million passport photos on a white background.
Late last night(58 hours before the racing starts), the Abu Dhabi Police rang up everyone and said that EVERY SINGLE PASS needs to be taken back from the marshalls and event staff, and delivered to the police station to be cross checked with records and have a shiny round sticker stuck to it. 58 hours before the racing starts. The Colonel in charge of F1 security has made it clear that anyone found to be lacking a shiny little sticker on their badge will find themselves in a not too shiny jail so fast it will make thier head spin.

Most of the 800+ passes under our control have been distributed already, so for the morning, our unhappy task is to try and get as many passes back from people as we can. By noon, we have 400 passes in hand, and some poor bastard has been sent off to get started on the stickers at the police station.

Off to the track, where I get to meet the guys I'll be working for for the next 5 days. The guys seem nice, and refreshingly unpretentious, but we can't do a system and regulations walk through as planned. This is because our office has been taken over by 17 Pakistani guys who are frosting the glass.

Which brings me to something that impressed me throughout the entire event: In Abu Dhabi, it is so easy to get someone with a brain and skills to show up and do their job. In my day to day life in Muscat, that Never, ever, ever, ever happens. It seems almost everything is a epic struggle that leaves me nearly suicidal, and usually drunk, angry or in a police station.

In Abu Dhabi however, getting a company to do the thing you need them to do takes one step: pick up a phone and ask. Yesterday, my office was a gigantic, clear, fishbowl. In two hours, my office will be a gigantic, opaque fishbowl, with window frosting seamlessly applied by the expert hands of guys how know how to FROST FUCKING WINDOWS. Every request or emergency thing I needed throughout the race was dealt with by a honest, knowledgeable, polite person, who arrived at the appointed time with the things he or she needed to fix the problem at hand. How Novel.

I spend the rest of the day wandering around jaw agape, checking out the facilities, sorting out administrative odds and ends, and meeting some of the other people who have come out to run the event. Most are lovely, your standard motorsport weirdos, witty, strange, all with great stories to tell and easy to talk to about everything from the mundane to the transcendental. Really great people.

But there are like 15 or 20 other people, all British, who are really weird. Bossy, arrogant, condescending, dinosaurs, who to top it off, are really funny looking. All of them! There are three guys, who I think were born some time in the mid Jurassic, who look and act almost exactly like the old guys in the balcony from the Muppet Show. Despite showering them with talent, charm and kindness, I have yet to receive a kind word or so much as a smile from any of them. They are part of an experienced contingent from the UK who are here to "help" us run the race. They are also annoying as hell.

Now that I"m typing this, the British people need a post all their own, which I'll write up as the next post.

We finish up in the office around 9 pm, and head back to the labor camp, where the staff welfare comittee has hooked up a sound system and has an excellent selection of music playing. The carport has been strung with fairy lights and disco balls, and the catering company has laid on a fantastic feast of Fresh Shwarma, falafel, salads and gooey desserts. I load up a plate, head over to a table packed with old friends, someone hands me a gin and tonic, and all is right with the world.

An hour and three gins later, the first of the buses with the remaining 300 or so British marshals and the balance of the Medics shows up. And things get interesting.

Formula 1, Day 2 part 2 coming later in the week.


Friday, December 4, 2009

A belated love note

Chef Doug taught me everything I know about cooking. He taught me to treat a tomato right, how to love pork, how to eat salmon raw. He taught me to compulsively prioritize each and every item on my to-do list, never let anyone catch me fucking up, and to never accept anything that was less than perfect.

Chef Doug also taught me a lot of what I know about drug addiction, he taught me how to snort a line of cocaine, how to use a bullet to deliver the perfect kick of Ketamine when I was coming down, and how to push a refrigerator over in a fit of detox rage. He also taught me a little of what I know about making love.

Every time I cook I think of Doug, every single time I see a endive or a heirloom tomato, or a lamb lion or a wheel of gorgonzola or even when I serve my family a dinner that could be better, I think of him. I worked for him for four years, off and on. I met Doug because I used to borrow ingredients for the small cafe I worked at. I went in to his super fancy restaurant one day and asked for a case of portabello mushrooms, ten pounds of parmesan, and a job.

Doug had always smoked pot, but I don't know when he got mixed up with the really serious drugs. He started to get weird at work, throwing pates and hot pans at the girls, missing for hours during a busy shift, storing kilos of the drugs he was selling in the walk-in cooler. I must have brought him to the hospital overdosed on a combo-platter of coke, ketamene, vodka, and meth fifteen times. Even from a hospital bed, still puking charcoal, he always swore he had it under control.

During a busy dinner rush, Doug once looked over at me and said, " I shine brighter because I burn the candle at both ends. Baby, you'll never understand what it is to live like I do." I told him that I would say that at his funeral one day. I feel like a total ass now for saying that. The drugs eventually cost him his job (another story, interesting) , and after that he disappeared from my world for almost a year.

A freezing januray morning in 2001, my phone rang. Doug was on the other end of the line and said he was too drunk to drive and could he crash at my house for the night. I let him in, and asked how he had been. He said he had stopped using coke, how he was totally clean, totally over that bullshit scene. He asked if I minded if he smoked, and I said no problem. He pulled out a glass pipe, and mixed a crack-meth cocktail and smoked it right there on the end of my bed. I rolled over and went to sleep, when I woke up the next morning, Doug was gone. I never saw him again.

Doug died in a single vehicle motorcycle accident, in late 2005. He's dead and buried, but I can hear him inside my head every time I pick up a knife.