I’m sitting reading Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur on the shores of the Kahlid Lagoon in Sharjah. I’m savouring words like, “Our backs tell stories no books have the spine to carry”, whilst sipping a coffee after lunch at the stylish Al Rawi restaurant at the Al Majaz Waterfront.
For those who are visiting or living in Dubai there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to satisfy every palate but if you venture just a few kilometers to the neighboring emirate of Sharjah you will find this super designer space, a book shop, and restaurant. Not only does it provide a tasty breakfast and all day menu you get to enjoy the setting with decor and interiors designed by Pallavi Dean. Events and creative workshops are held regularly with cookery demonstrations and talks by esteemed chefs and if you are a fan of cookbooks, there are plenty to flick through and purchase among a vast array of books.
For lunch, I share the Za’atar and pumpkin salad that brings a hint of the flavours from the Middle East to the plate. Many local households keep their Za’atar blends a secret but we know its a mix of oregano, thyme and a hint of sumac. It has been heralded as a health food for centuries, long before the term superfood was coined. It is a rich antioxidant with a tangy taste and instead of the usual bread this time it is scattered over a fresh salad with goats curd. Then, for a taste of Thailand, we tuck into the char sui beef which is lovely and tender and the sweet and salty marinade blends beautifully into the meat on a bed of black rice that gives it a perfect texture. Char sui ( caa siu叉燒) means ‘fork burn’ and refers to the fork-like metal skewer that holds the beef over the heat. It’s a filling dish with lots of interesting flavours accompanied by a refreshing apple and saffron cooler to quench the thirst sitting outside enjoying the waterside view.
Sharjah may not be the obvious choice of Emirate to visit when you have Dubai and all its finery next door, but it’s worth the short drive (it took me less than 30 mins from Dubai Mall) if you fancy a slower pace and a ‘bite’ of culture. There are concerns about traffic delays but I visited on a Saturday and had no issues. Sometimes its good to just go see, who knows what’s out there to whet our appetites and what will lead us to our next story to share. As the title suggests, Al Rawi means, ‘the one who tells stories’, in Arabic, and it is doing just that, reworking the lines that tell a new story within the UAE food scene.
Following a passion in life and work sometimes means going against the grain as I learned from the people behind some of the places I visited in Paris.
Paris is a beautiful destination in the spring or summer but we can enjoy the city in the winter too. It may be chilly and it isn’t the cheapest of cities to be visiting so close after Christmas but I like a city break in the winter, fewer crowds, less queuing, and you can often get better room rates, and the flights are cheaper within Europe too! Plus the shops have sales. The main reason I chose Paris was to meet and spend time with my 21-year-old nephew, Albert. He is a student and has long holidays (I have no excuse) so we thought a couple of days in Paris might be fun to soak up the culture and for him to brush up on the language.
We tested each other on what comes to mind when we think of Paris. Style, fashion, art, gastronomy, romance, baguettes (I once saw a guy riding a bicycle through a busy street in Paris biting into a baguette, I swear he was wearing a beret and a striped shirt!) and smoking. It seems like everyone smokes and even though I’m not an advocator of smoking (though I loved it when I was a smoker some 20 years ago) it is one of the few places left on the planet that makes the act of ‘fumeur’ look cool. I have visited Paris a lot in recent years and it never fails to deliver. Like New York, it feels like walking in a film set and with the beautiful buildings and streets to explore, it makes me think of those who have trodden the cobbles before me and with such a rich history of artists, designers, writers, and actors to shout about there is many a famous footstep to retrace.
3 Steps to take when visiting Paris
1. Shakespeare and Company
Situated on the Left Bank at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, this bookshop is charming and steeped in literary history. If reading books is a diminishing pastime the memo hasn’t reached here and it’s nice to step into a book shop again to explore the shelves and leaf through the pages of modern and classic stories, fiction and non-fiction. It also feels like stepping back in time to the days when writers like Joyce, Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald sought inspiration in Paris.
The book shop was opened in 1951 by American George Whitman under the name Le Mistral, in a building that was originally a monastery dating back the 17th century. Whitman renamed the shop “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 as a tribute to the admired Sylvia Beach and her bookshop, the original Shakespeare and Company (1919 – 1941) and to mark Shakespeares 400th anniversary of his birth.
George Whitman left the states to pursue his passion for travel ending up In Paris in 1946. He enrolled at the Sorbonne and with a love for reading and books he traded his G.I. rations for other veterans’ book allowances and went onto accumulate a large number of books. The story goes that he left his apartment door unlocked, so anyone could go and read the books whether he was home or not and this lead to him eventually opening the book store.
I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations. —George Whitman
Shakespeare and Company has been a meeting place for English speaking writers and readers ever since, a place to buy books but also find refuge and people like Alan Sillitoe, Ethan Hawke, and Geoffrey Rush have been among the thousands to have discovered the shop and its supportive community, some even sleeping there among the books. Whitman named the guests, Tumbleweeds and likening them to ‘rolling thistles that drift in and out with the winds of chance’.
It was Albert who led me there and it was refreshing to be surrounded by people young and old and different nationalities, people who love a good book or a mooch around. No computer can make up for the touch and feel and smell of a bookshop, but more importantly the way it makes us feel. Calm. Looking, reading, thinking, moving around others, lost in thought and time. Wonderful, and all the more so after learning about Whitman’s legacy. He died in 2011 at the age of 98 and the shop is run now by his daughter Silvia Whitman and partner, David Delannet. and it continues to grow and flourish.
My purchase: The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.
2. Theatre DeJazet
I love a bit of comedy theatre and I thought to watch a play in French might be a nice way to immerse ourselves in the lingo so I was delighted to find a show close to where we were staying at Theatre DeJazet. On enquiring to the gentleman at the theatre reception what was currently playing we came to learn the play was Le Faiseur De Theatre with Thomas Bernhard, the theatre itself one of the oldest in Paris dating back to the 1700s with Marie Antoinette herself passing through the theatre doors. On further inquiry I came to know the gentleman on reception to be Jean Bouquin, owner of the theatre and who back in the 1960s was fashion designer and stylist to Brigitte Bardot. Interestingly both Bouquin and Bardot retired from their professions before they turned 40 at the height of their success to pursue other passions, Bouquin in purchasing and renovating Theatre Dejazet to its former glory and Bardot as an animal rights campaigner.
Albert and I sat through the play that evening, understanding very little of what was being said but I enjoyed it anyway. I felt like we experienced a little slice of French culture away from the commercial hot spots. To imagine the building was founded in 1770 by Comte d’Artois who was later crowned Charles X and the building survived the French revolution. Situated in the Boulevard du Temple (it was once known as the ‘Boulevard du crime’, but not anymore), I would highly recommend the area around Le Place De La Republique to stay or visit.
3. Onion Soup
The provenance of food is a nice way to gain insight into a country and in tasting and focussing on ingredients we are often retracing the culture of a place or country. On our first night, I felt for something warming so it had to be the classic, soupe a l’oignon. We found Bistrot Pop a charming corner side cafe bar on 3 Avenue de la République. Onion soup is an ancient dish popularised in Paris (though the Lyonnaise claim it as theirs) during the 1800s and it makes for a super starter or dish on its own. Renowned chef and businessman, Michel Roux, when writing about onion soup, said it is all about the subtleties, from the bouquet garni to the cooking of the onions that give the soup its richness and flavor. I really enjoyed Bistrot’s serving with lumps of grilled bread (croutons are also acceptable) and lashings of melted cheese (a Comte or Gruyere is recommended) all beautifully baked together. And as Roux points out in an article in Saveur, this is a soup to savor and savor it I did. Perfect on a cold January night in Paris, vivre la belle vie!
Tips for transport:
Taxis are in abundance outside the airport or pre-book a car via, Get Transfer or Viator, prices around 40 Euros.
I pre-booked an airport shuttle from Orly to my hotel in the centre of Paris, that can take up to 90mins depending on the other passengers and scheduled drop-offs. In this case, there weren’t any other passengers so it took less than an hour during rush hour from Orly to Republique. Total ticket price 18 Eur.
On my return, from Republique to Orly Airport I took the Paris Metro to Gare du Nord and changed onto the Paris RER to Denfert-Rochereau where I took the bus (directly outside the station) to Orly. All tickets can be purchased at the Metro station at the beginning of the journey, the connections were smooth in morning rush hour with a duration time of 70mins. Total ticket price 10.20 Eur.
For more on Paris (and patisseries) listen to my podcasts French Butter
Out with the old and in with the new, 2018 has been a year of transition settling into a new home and country, a new way of working as a freelance writer, broadcaster and trainer whilst continuing to enjoy international travel (this year I racked up seven countries) and producing food features for radio. All in all, there is so much to reflect on and feel thankful for but one of the things I enjoy the most, the simplest of things, is walking and here in the Serra de Monchique, I can walk the hills and valleys daily. Walking, sometimes walking and talking has allowed ideas to flow, new friendships to be forged and most importantly the exercise has allowed my body and mind to breathe.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
5 Reasons I love walking
Walking and breathing in the air clears my mind
I find walking is a simple way to de-stress, so instead of staying in my chair glued to the computer screen searching for answers to problems or somehow thinking that the longer I sit, the more efficient I will become. Instead, I step out and start walking and very quickly everything feels better and I when I return to the screen I am usually more productive.
Walking awakens my senses and puts colour in the cheeks!
I’m building stamina both physically and mentally walking up hills and sometimes mountains!
Sleep is easier and more satisfying after a good walk.
2018 seen through my walks around Monchique.
Why not include walking every day in your goals for 2019? No matter where you are if its 10 minutes or two hours open your senses, breathe deep and explore the environment around you. I recently took up swimming so I will be adding that to my list of healthy pastimes for 2019 so watch this space for updates, no pictures 😊.
Whatever your choices in 2019, I hope they bring health and happiness and that you enjoy the journey along the way.
Today marks the 5th anniversary winning the Sharjah Government Communication Award for Best Radio Talk Show for the show I produced and presented on the side effects of prescription drugs. I felt honoured as a western woman to be acknowledged in my field in the Arab world with a sensitive subject addressing mental health issues, overprescribing and the possible side effects of meds. I sat down with a psychologist, psychiatrist and heard from people who shared their stories and concerns living with anxiety and depression and we addressed the treatment options available. The show not only gave an insight into what life is like for people living with mental health issues but it also helped raise awareness bringing mental health to the forefront of conversation so people realise they are not alone and they do not have to suffer in silence.
It was one of those weeks, you know the ones when nothing seems to be going right? Work wise, I had a couple of frustrating situations with financial ramifications then my car got a puncture so I had to buy two new tyres and to top it off maintenance work needed doing on my flat in London (kerching). So with a niggling mind, I was driving home from the garage when this happened. A huge bird of prey swooped down and flew alongside the car, it was so close, with the window open I could reach out and touch it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The bird with its huge wingspan dipped and then flew up in front of the car into the trees. It happened so fast but long enough for me to know it was special. Putting aside any plans, I pulled over and parked. Looking up to where the bird was perched I saw a way of climbing over some rocks to get a closer look, so that’s what I did, but I was careful not to get too close so as to scare or disturb him.
I came to know, after the event, that this was a Griffon Vulture probably a juvenile by the look of his down like feathers around his neck and the fact juveniles often go AWOL on their maiden flight migrating to Africa. If you are lucky you can see hundreds of them in the sky in the Western part of the Algarve around October, November time. For me that day, I only had eyes for one.
I sat looking at him, looking at me and watching him dosing in the winter sun as it peaked from behind a cloud, and as I sat there, amongst the greenery a sense of peace washed over me. I felt calm and somehow reassured that regardless of the challenges that come with working as a freelancer and living on a mountain it feels like the right place for me, nestled in beauty. As I mentally bid him farewell on his journey I felt sure he would find his way. He may be lost now but he is resilient and nature has a way of looking after itself. Life rarely takes you down a straight road, but usually, in the end, you get to where you need to be.
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
People find solace in nature and it is proven to be a healthy way to de-stress. It’s important to have a ‘go-to’ place either in your mind or physically to help you unwind. Maybe you have a poem or mantra, a choice of words that help when you are having a bad day? In the words of Billy Ocean, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and we all need somewhere to retreat, just like my Griffon vulture.
I just finished watching JANE about Dr Jane Goodall, conservationist, primatologist and anthropologist, the documentary directed by Brett Morgen with the musical score by Philip Glass, revealing previously unseen footage shot by Hugo Van Lawick from the National Geographic archives discovered in 2014. It shows how Jane has lived the life she dreamed of, living with animals in the wild which in itself is inspirational but also how she opened a window into the little-known world, at that time, of chimpanzees. We follow Jane as a 26-year-old in Tanzania patiently studying the primates until they begin to trust her. Through her eyes, we see how they are similar to humans and how they are different and what we can learn from them. Jane brought the research and information to the world that chimpanzees, like humans, they have the capacity to love, to be jealous, to fight and to be cruel and what surprised the world back in the 1960s they, like humans, have the ability to use tools with their hands. This is a story of love, the natural world and of primate and human behaviour. As she looks into the eyes of a thinking wild animal we feel the connection towards a family of chimps and a sadness that resonates as humans as the trials and tribulations of parenting, ageing, loss and bereavement unfold. This is a testament to a life well lived and as humans, we can do better to protect the wildlife that walks this earth.
In 2015 I had the pleasure to meet and interview Dr Jane Goodall on Dubai Eye 103.8 when she visited the UAE promoting her Roots and Shoots programme in schools. I interviewed her again a couple of years later. The pictures here show me after practically stalking her at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. I was about to do a live broadcast when my producer told me she was in the building and I raced around the exhibition hall to find her. I waited patiently as she was being shown around by dignitaries before politely catching her eye and managing to record a few minutes with her to play out later on the show. She is a true inspiration.