Monday, November 28, 2011

What About Sailing, Two

Like Home, but Tropical

Majestic dhows racing for cash prizes
Last week we looked at the Melges 24 for sale. It was in pretty good condition cosmetically, but it’s an old boat; built in 1996. Mark looked at everything, including crawling inside. On the way home, he told me that although a lot of work has been done to the boat, it’s got some structural and rig problems that all of the Melges 24’s of that era have. I have to say, Mark does his research and when it comes to boats he knows what he’s looking at. We agreed that if we bought the boat, we couldn’t expect to either sell it here or ship it home when we leave. We would probably just have to get rid of it somehow, so it’s probably not worth buying at any price. Paul, the owner, is a pilot and usually flies on the weekends; he doesn’t have time to race. His partner David just bought a Mumm 30. Paul told us his motivation for selling the boat is that it should be out racing. So perhaps he might let us charter it?

We decided to take another look at The Club in Abu Dhabi, to see if we could sail the Melges there.

When choosing a sailing club, there’s a lot to consider. Driving distance is important, but so are the type of sailing events the club hosts, the sailing conditions nearby, docks and boat slips, dry storage and launching facilities, clubhouse facilities such as bar and restaurant, club activities, membership fees, and the overall ambiance. The only way to gather such complex data is to visit clubs and talk to members.

As I have previously written, it hasn’t been easy to gain access. Tom took us to the Club on Friday when they were racing, and after some shenanigans at the gate we were able to get inside and talk with the member who organizes the sailing. We learned a bit more about the program. It’s based on a complex point system, where you earn the right to sail a certain boat based on your level of involvement and your racing record. There are cash prizes for clubs team racing at the international events, and that money goes into improving the program. The bar is shared with the dive club.
The Club has something for everyone, not just sailors.

We were told that there isn’t much storage for boats on trailers there. Furthermore, it would be hard to launch and sail the Melges. There is no hoist; we would be using the ramp, and the water is not very deep, especially at low tide. Plus, that area is older and very industrial, being near the old shipping docks. Everything around is being redeveloped. Where would we pleasure sail?

 Mark talked like it would be fun for us to race an RS400, but I had my doubts. Us, on a two person boat that small? Who would pass up beers? Which one of us would drive and bark orders which one would do all the work? Get real, we aren’t dinghy sailors. How wet would we get? How often would we capsize? How much would we argue, with no crew around listening? The two of us alone on a dinghy … in a foreign country … without a motor …

The next day we went to Dubai with the intention of going to the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. First, though, we made a dry run trip to the airport. In a couple of weeks, we’re picking up Peter Cameron, our Wildcard tactician, so he can spend a few days with us on his way to Australia to visit family for the holidays, as he does each year. Mark and I both arrived on our flights from San Francisco when it was dark so it was interesting to see that part of the city and the airport during the day. We navigated our way there using a handheld GPS. I recognized the lobby area where you come out of customs, and the door of the Business Class lounge in front of the black transport cars waiting for passengers. That’s where we’ll pick up friends when they visit.

We had told Paul the Melges owner that we are interested in the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club but we couldn’t get in when we tried to visit. No problem, he said, he’s a member and David is a past commodore there. Just call or text and we’ll arrange for you to get in. Yet when we got around to calling, we couldn’t get hold of him. Remember that the website said you can visit if you are a member of another yacht club? On the way out of the airport Mark asked me, “Do you have your RYC membership card?”  I must have left it at home in Nevada. Why did I do that? Mark didn’t think he had his either.

Nevertheless, we drove to the yacht club and parked outside, knowing better than to drive up to the gate. We tried calling Paul again; nothing. I called the club manager’s office and talked to a very nice woman who told me that a member would have to sign us in, and there was a small fee. Can you find someone? Very sorry, but she didn’t think so. We got out of the car and Mark started walking toward the club with that dogged determination that always gives me a little headache. We walked up to the gatehouse where there were three attendants. Mark explained that we wanted to visit the club, we are considering joining, members at RYC in the US, doesn’t have his card … and as he is halfheartedly fishing in his wallet he pulls out his US Sailing card.

“But I have this! US Sailing!”

The head shed nodded and said “It’s OK. Ten dirhams each.” Ten dirhams! What a deal! The Club in Abu Dhabi wants 140 dirhams each to be a guest. I gotta say, it was a great feeling to walk through that entrance.

Our new best friend
As we walked through the dry storage lot, we came upon a guy rigging his bright green Weta trimaran, so we stopped to chat with him. We quickly found out that he sailed in a regatta at Richmond Yacht Club. “You must know Jason Deal, then,” he said in his Irish brogue, “he was second to finish the Delta Ditch Run!” I’m not sure if he already had noticed, but as we told him we were first to finish the same race, I realized that I happened to be wearing my DDR t-shirt. If you want to join DOSC, he told us, you should get an application today. Mark, who always comes prepared, pulled an application out of the sailcloth folder he was carrying. “I’ll sign it for you.” And just like that, less than ten minutes after we walked in through the gate, we had a primary sponsor.

Yet we still hadn’t seen the rest of the club. As we were walking away, he said, “The Richmond Yacht Club has a DOSC burgee hanging inside the clubhouse.” Is there an RYC burgee here? No? Well, there will probably be one soon.

There were a lot of juniors, coaches and parents on the boat ramp, rigging Lasers; it was a busy scene. We found the door to the clubhouse, went inside, and . . .
We knew we were home.
Clubhouse and deck, view from breakwall and harbor
The clubhouse is charming inside and out. Inside is a bar and dining room that looks out onto the large marina and outdoor bar and dining area. On the other side of a rock breakwater are a private beach and smaller outdoor dining area. We checked out the menu: great, and good prices.
We investigated the harbor, where we spotted the Mumm 30 and chatted with one of the new owners, a guy a bit younger than us. He said that keelboats come up for sale pretty regularly, with the way people move into and out of the UAE.
The Burj Al Arab can be seen to the west across the harbor.
That speck in front of it is a distant kiteboarder.

We were reminded of C-dock at RYC, aka "Beneteau Row."
Saw some interesting old race boats.

As we sat outside at one of the teak tables, drank a couple of Stella Artois drafts and tried the melon and ham appetizer, there was a steady onshore breeze of about 10-15 knots which had been clocking to the east all afternoon. The sailors were coming in for the evening, the kite boarders were out in force. The junior program was setting up an awards ceremony.
It’s our kind of place, all right.

The Burj Khalifa can be seen to the east.
This boat might be for sale soon?
Nice setup for junior awards

You must be an Emirati to race on an dhow.
Mark counted over 40 of these huge boats racing.
They roll crazily, and the crews take the rig down while they're still out on the water.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rigmarole Two: "I Am Telling You . . ."

These documents have
been around the world.

Before I picked up Deb for our appointment to get our certificated marriage licenses stamped at the U.S. Embassy, I looked at Google Earth and determined the best route to get us there, taking notes and bringing them along with me. If I could have printed it out I would have, but we don’t have a printer yet. We turned right off of Airport Road, which is Old Airport Road if you are going in the other direction, but is named Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Maktoum St., although the street sign has a 2 on it so it’s called 2nd street . . .  and we saw the familiar street where the embassies are. So far so good.

Walking toward the building Deb said, “This will only take a minute or two to do. It’s just a stamp.”
“You never know,” I said.
When we got to the entrance we saw two lines, with far more people in them than were there the first time, and they all seemed to have blank looks on their faces. Judging from the way they were dressed, none of them looked particularly American. The security guy approached us, and we produced our appointment confirmation sheets, which Mark and Dana had printed for us at work. Wait here, in front of the door. We stood, trying not to steal looks at all the people waiting behind us. How many hours were they spending there? I read again the sign I saw last time: As of August 1, An Appointment Is Required, Except in Emergency. There must be a lot of emergencies.
In just a minute the door was unlocked and we were ushered into a vestibule where we turned off our cell phones and turned in our handbags, kept our passports, wallets and papers with us, and went through two layers of security. We then walked down a hall, into a nice courtyard, and went into another building. There were at least twenty people waiting in chairs. We got a number – we both used one number because we were both just getting a stamp, you know, the same stamp and it wouldn’t take long. Our number was 611 and, no sooner did we sit than I saw our number illuminated at window number one. This was going great!
We got to the window, where we produced our appointment letters and passports. As we were fishing our marriage documents out of our folders the woman behind the counter asked, in impeccable English, “Are you getting just one –“
“No, we are both getting the same stamp.”
“Oh, you are – oh!” I looked up at her. She had a stricken look on her face.
I couldn't control myself.
Suddenly I knew exactly what I was about to hear and I had the overwhelming urge to laugh. Apologizing, I put my head down into my hands. As I laughed I could hear a voice in my head saying through the telephone, “I am telling you. I have people calling me crying every day.”  It was the voice of the Emirati at the UAE Embassy in Washington D.C. And I knew how those crying people felt because, just as suddenly as I felt like laughing, I felt like crying.

The woman behind the counter couldn’t have been more apologetic, which sort of made me even madder. She explained that they had changed their policy and now . . .
“We have to send these to the UAE Embassy. In Washington D.C.,” I finished her speech for her. Yes.

Deb was more consistent with her emotions.
When we mentioned that our husbands' company isn’t aware of this, and they are telling people that they can get stamped here, she said that they had publicized the information but word hadn’t gotten around, and she finished with a hopeful, “Spread the word?”
Well, I am hereby spreading it. With a bucket and shovel.
As we left, the people in the waiting room and in the lines outside didn't seem to have moved at all and I had the weird feeling that we were the only living people in a land of zombies. But they were the lucky ones; they still had hope.
We immediately called Dana and Mark to tell them the news, which they heard with infuriating equanimity. Deb and I were a little riled up and the words “Oman!” and “now!” and “drink!” peppered our conversations.
So this weekend we are going to Oman, but not for the luxury spa treatment we think we deserve. We’re going to take a one-day road trip with (sigh) our husbands. Since all we really need is a passport stamp, we can go to the Al Ain oasis area, cross the nearby border into Oman, and return the same day. Al Ain is beautiful though, and I’ve wanted to go there so it’s all good.

I couldn't resist trying the exotic
looking dragon fruit.
I found a martini recipe online
but we tried it in a rum drink.
Deb's a pro.

When Mark and Dana got home in the afternoon -- they get home at about 3:20 -- Deb and I were enjoying a drink we made with fresh dragon fruit and watermelon, canned mango, guava, and pineapple juice, and rum, over ice with a squeeze of limon. Since we don't have a blender or food processor, we had to mash and strain the dragon fruit and watermelon. It was messy, but oh so worth it. Delicious! I have a bit of a headache as I write this. Must drink more water; after all, it's the desert.
Mark and Dana said that Tom was going to call James the Marine, who works at the U.S. Embassy, to ask about a rumored courier service to expedite getting our documents to Washington D.C. and back. I have my doubts because the courier service is in Dubai, which isn't very convenient from here, and besides we already got turned down once because we aren't military. But let them try. Then once we finally have the stamp, inshallah, the next step is translation into Arabic. You see, documents must be translated before they can be processed. That’s handled by the company. Who I am not sure I trust any more.
Stay tuned for the next episode, if you can stand it. When I write about our trip to Al Ain, I promise to not even mention the real reason we are there. After all, we’re just getting our passports stamped, which will only take a minute. Insha’Allah.
Also, National Day is coming, the UAE's 40th birthday, and it's a big deal. They are practicing for air shows at the airport next to us, and every public building and Emirati home is being decorated. They do not decorate with any restraint. So stay tuned for some colorful stories about that! 
Dana models a National Day t-shirt. This one is a very low-key design.
Rumor is that some of the women in the office think Dana looks like George Clooney!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rigmarole: a Tale of Two Visas

These two help me keep my sanity.

Noun:   1. A lengthy and complicated procedure.

2. A long, rambling story or statement.

Today’s adventure:  going to the immigration office to get our visas extended. Deb’s is already 15 days expired and mine expires in two days. Both Dana and Mark were under the impression that we had 60 day tourist visas, but no, according to the stamps on our passports they’re only good for 30 days. Which Deb and I thought we knew, but sometimes it’s hard to convince significant others … What’s the penalty for an expired visa? It’s $100 AED or $27.22 USD per day, which can add up quickly.

The rigmarole really began when we learned that we need to have our marriage documents certificated in order to obtain our resident visas under our husbands’ work sponsorship. This process involves stamped and signed official letters from the county and state where the marriage took place, then the U.S. Department of State, and then the country in which you are applying for the visa. It’s all clearly spelled out online, uh-huh. Once you get your local and state documentation, you send it to the U.S. Dept of State and they will send it on to the embassy, in our case the UAE Embassy, in Washington D.C.

Or is it the U.S. Embassy in the UAE?

Just to be sure, I called the UAE Embassy in D.C. Yes, they need to certify it. So I’ll have the State Department send it directly to them, as instructed on the website  

“No, no, no. I am telling you. Do not have the U.S. State Department send the document. You need to send it here.”

“So I need to mail it to Washington, then have them mail back to me, then I mail it to you. Then you mail it back to me. Or … it will be lost?”

“Yes. I am telling you. I have people calling, crying, every day.”

“Can I take it to the UAE with me and have it certified there?”

“No, no, no. You must send it here.”  

But when I explained this to Mark he said no, no, no. The company is taking care of everything. All I need is the State Department letter. Which I was glad of because I wasn’t going to have time to send the document back to the UAE Embassy before leaving on October 24th. In fact I had to have the document sent from the U.S. State Dept. to my daughter Nicole, who would then send it to us in Abu Dhabi.

You following?

Meanwhile, Mark’s and Dana’s resident visas came through. Hooray! Next, they needed their UAE driver’s licenses. I had heard through my AWN grapevine that you are not allowed to drive without a UAE driver’s license once you have your resident visa, and you also need a UAE identification card as well. I told Mark that he wasn’t supposed to drive once he had his visa, and he knew nothing about that. But suddenly the next day, the company PRO was taking him and Dana to get their driver’s licenses.

So when Mark came home with the driver’s license I said, “What about the ID card?” He didn’t know anything about that.

“I am telling you . . .” I said.

Meanwhile, my documents had arrived at Nicole’s, and we went to the UPS office in Abu Dhabi to see about sending them. Here in the UAE people don’t have addresses where things can be easily delivered. Here, they are still transitioning from using landmarks to street names – or numbers. The streets here have numbers, but each one also has several names. So the best thing was to have it held at the UPS office for pickup.

We gave Nicole instructions, and she went to her local UPS office. No, they said, we can’t send it there because it’s a P.O. Box, and UPS doesn’t deliver to P.O. Boxes. What? UPS won’t deliver to their own location? We looked online and sure enough, it was true, the address listed was a P.O. Box. We finally convinced Nicole to go to the main UPS office in Concord and tell them to send it to UPS, Airport Road, Abu Dhabi, UEA. Hold for pickup. That’s it, that’s all. Several hours later she emailed a tracking number and three words: “It wasn’t easy.” Three days later, it arrived.

Mark and Dana took our marriage documents and passports to work yesterday so they could be processed for our resident visas. When he arrived home that afternoon Mark said “You and Debbie have to go to the U.S. Embassy tomorrow and get your marriage certificates stamped.” What? “We spent all day trying to get our ID cards, and your visas. The PRO (the company’s ‘public relations officer’) drove us to the embassy and they said they only do the document certification between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m.”

Meanwhile, as I am writing this, I get a harried phone call from Mark. Are you on the internet? He and Dana are driving, trying to find Kahlifa Hospital. You’re going to a hospital? Yes, that’s where we have to go to get our fingerprints for the ID cards. After a comedy of errors, because everything has three names, or no name, or the same three names as something else, I finally confirmed where they were, and where the hospital was. It still took them awhile to find their way through that maze to the correct place for fingerprinting, which of course had just been moved, and nobody who works there knew where it was.

There is a saying here: “Insha’ Alla” which means “God willing.” Muslims are instructed in the Qu’ran to never say that they will do a particular thing without adding “insha’Allah” to the statement, because it will only happen if it is God’s will. It reminds me of the Spanish imperfect tense, which is really saying “I may be doing this in the future,” because you never really know it will happen until it’s done, and reserving the perfect tense for “I am doing it now.” At least that’s how I remember learning it. I mention this because it may explain the mindset of the Emiratis just as it explains “man͂ana time” in Mexico. I am not equating the two, but rather trying to illustrate that not everyone has the expectation of results in a certain time frame that we Americans do.

So yesterday Deb and I spent about half an hour driving in circles trying to find our way into the Embassy Area. Finally we spotted the American flag, which made us cheer and practically break out into a patriotic song. All of the entrances were blocked, which is normal here. A security guy – they are ubiquitous, and I guess I should be calling them “parking attendants,” pointed to a lot across the street. As we were pulling away he said, “Do you have an appointment?”


We don’t need one, I began to explain, we are just getting a stamp on – never mind, yes, we do have an appointment. He smiled knowingly.

When we got to the door, we found out about the appointment thing. The security guard pointed to a sign that read “AS OF AUGUST 1, AN APPOINTMENT IS REQUIRED.” He gave me a card with a website address and said to make an appointment online. Thanks a lot! Why didn’t the guys and their PRO know about this?

Deb phoned Dana to see if they could make a same day appointment online. HAH! The first available appointment was Sunday, and it was only Monday. At that point we uncovered the fact that Deb’s visa was already expired, and mine was on the brink. Next thing we knew we had a date with the PRO.

So today Deb and I were picked up by the PRO, Mubaruk, a little after 1:00 p.m. We decided to dress conservatively, which meant that I needed to lend clothing to Deb. Have I mentioned that she is a bartender? We were mentally preparing for Deb to get kicked out of the country because of her expired visa. Here are the Tourist Visa rules, per the official website:


This visa is issued through tourist companies and it is valid for 30 days. You cannot renew it or extend it. If the Visa holder (tourist) stays more than the 30 days, then that person has to pay a fine per day plus some charges for an out pass.

As we left Deb’s apartment I said, “Here’s the rules: stay together. If you have to leave, I’m going with you.” Secretly, we were both thinking: “Vacation in Oman! Five star hotel! The company pays!” This was all supposed to be handled by the company, insha’Allah.

Mubaruk was very helpful, and he obviously has “wasta.” Wasta is influence, connections, “clout.” I don’t know how we would have navigated that immigration office scene without him, starting with just the physical site which, believe it or not, is under construction. All we really did was follow him around, sit where he told us to sit, and give him money when he told us to. We each signed one piece of paper and talked to one bureaucrat. We came out with visa extensions, and medical insurance for the next 30 days. Deb’s visa is only good till December 5th, but they forgave 10 days of penalty at $1000AED. My visa is good till 23 December. As we left the immigration offices Mubaruk said, “Tomorrow we will start on your resident visas.”

But, I said, we haven’t gotten our marriage documents stamped here. Oh no, then we have to wait till Monday. This is cutting it close for Deb, so we called our friend Major James Collins, who works at the embassy, to see I f he could pull strings. He couldn’t help because we aren’t military. So we have to wait, and hope that everything works out, insha’Allah.

On the way home, Mubaruk mentioned that he learned to speak English in San Jose, California. That’s where Mark and Dana worked when they met! And Mubaruk has also been to Concord, California. That’s where my kids and my sister live! We have so much in common. Mubarak also told us that there are unmarked police cars on the road that take photos of you breaking the traffic laws, and they automatically give you a ticket. Just as he finished saying that, one pulled up next to us. He also told us that the fines for speaking on your cell phone without a hands-free device, and not wearing a seat belt, are $400AED. Good to know.

When we got home, Deb and I attacked the jug of Cosmopolitans she had that we had been talking about all day as we waited. Mark and Dana were amazed that we got the medical insurance. And they told us that the day we described was exactly like four or five days that they have already lived through.

If  you have read this all the way to here, there will be another exciting post about the end of the story, insha’Allah.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The basis of the design of the Grand Mosque
is Moroccan, but other elements have been added. 
As I watch from our apartment, I can see the setting sun turn the globes of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque pinkish-purple, then dusky blue.

Sunday morning after Mark left for work I realized that I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to go there. I called Deb on Skype; she was up for it. We thought about taking a cab to be sure we found our way to the entrance, but the website recommended against it so we drove. After the usual missed exits, unintentional bridge crossings, and several blocked entrances we finally found our way into a parking lot.
There weren’t very many cars, but there were dozens of buses. Still, the buses were dwarfed by the sheer enormity of this massive, magnificent mosque. It took our breath away as we approached.
No matter how you approach it, this place is amazing.
The marble floors are inlaid
with flower motifs.
Everything is at a grand scale.

Design and construction of the mosque was initiated by the beloved HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, considered the father of the UAE, as a place to “unite the world” and “reflect the spirit of Islam, a religion of peace, education and tolerance.” Conceptual planning began in the late 1980’s, and the cornerstone was laid in the late 1990’s. Artisans and materials were brought in from countries around the world including China, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Morocco, and Turkey as well as the UAE. More than 3,000 workers and 38 companies worked on the mosque but it was still incomplete at the time of Zayed’s death in 2004.

It’s hard to describe how intricately and ornately decorated this place is, yet how simple the beauty of it feels. Even though there were busloads of people, it wasn’t crowded. The mosque is the size of five football fields, and can hold a total of 40,960 worshippers among its three prayer halls, their entrance halls, and the huge courtyard.

We had dressed carefully, observing the dress code on the website:
Dress and Behaviour Code

We kindly ask all visitors to respect our religion and place of prayer by following these simple requests: Visitors must be dressed appropriately on arrival; if not, entry will be denied.

- Modest, conservative, loose fitting clothing; long sleeves, long skirts and trousers
- No transparent (see-through) clothing
- No shorts for men
- No shorts and skirts must be ankle length
- No tight clothing, no swimwear and no beachwear.
- Shoes will be removed before entering the mosque, so we recommend slip off shoes
- Headscarf for ladies is essential (these can be provided when you arrive)

Pretty in Black
But when we got there, we were herded to an area behind a screen. All the non-Muslim women were required to wear abayas and head scarves, which they were grabbing out of a bin. I picked an abaya that looked ample, because I figured there’s nothing worse than an abaya that’s too tight. Deb’s first one was too long and she was worried about tripping on it, but she found one that worked. Both of our abayas had gold printed designs on the sleeves, which were pretty but nothing like the elaborate decorations on some of the ones we’ve seen.

In fact, I even saw one woman wearing an abaya in a mall that said “Pretty in Black” on the back, in sparkles.

It was 11:00 a.m. and the minute we put on the abayas, we started to get hot. Realizing that we needed to remove our shoes before entering the mosque, we added them to the hundreds that were lined up on the marble floor. Ahh! Cool marble on the feet felt great.

Elaborate chandeliers are the norm here but
the ones at the Grand Mosque are something else again
We decided to go inside the main prayer hall, where guides were speaking to small groups that you could drop into and out of. When we got inside the entrance hall and I looked up at the chandelier and around at the marble work, I realized that I was having this emotional feeling. It was the same feeling I had when I saw the statue of David in Florence – wonder and awe at having the privilege to be able to see, in person, something so amazing. It felt like people should be speaking in hushed tones, but they weren’t. And, for once, everyone was snapping photos with reckless abandon, including me. There are so many places in the UAE where you can’t take photos, but they don’t mind it here.
The carpet felt luxurious.

We went into the main prayer hall, walking with our bare feet on the famous carpet – one of the world’s largest. 1,200 artisans from small villages in Iran hand knotted the pieces, and then were flown to fit together the carpet. There are what look like seams but we learned that these mark the rows that worshippers assemble along.

We didn’t want to see too much this first time here, because we wanted to save some of the wonder for when we return with Mark and Dana. So we left the main hall and walked around the perimeter of the courtyard, where we could stay in the shade most of the time. As we got most of the way around we realized that the place was emptying out. The noon call to prayer was sounding – a melodic singing which is broadcast from the Grand Mosque as well as to all the smaller mosques, which are always a short walk away no matter where you are. We were told that we needed to leave.
As we hurried to collect our shoes Deb commented that she felt uncomfortably hot in her abaya, but for me it didn’t seem that bad. I’ve felt more uncomfortable in my foul weather gear sailing downwind.
But I wouldn’t want to have to live, full time, in my foulies or in an abaya.
A familiar scene anywhere on Earth.
Women are constantly adjusting their head scarves;
it's just like flipping their hair.
Deb looked hot in her abaya ... and she was.

Abu Dhabi Art

Street Art, Photography, and Forward Planning
Art? Or graffiti?
This past weekend we went to Abu Dhabi Art at Saadiyat Island where Deb and I participated in a Saadiyat Seascape painting workshop.  We were both excited to go, because we've both studied art and painted. When we got there about an hour before the workshop began we found that most of the exhibits wouldn’t be open till later in the afternoon. That’s how Abu Dhabi time works – like Europe, things begin and end late. Here, it has a lot to do with the prayer schedule.

Mark and Dana came in with us but they were planning to leave, do some errands and pick us up later for lunch in town. Then we noticed this big polka-dotted wall with a slot in it, a huge photo dropping out, and a man rolling it up and taking it with him. Hey what??
This photo booth on steroids was part of “Emirati Expressions,” which explores the inherently global Emirati identity using images of Emirati artists and the public. It’s an ongoing event from October 19 - January 28 and features Emirati artists and guest photographers.
Emirati Expressions photos by JR
Of course we got our photos taken, thinking that they would look great on the barren walls in our apartments. When the photos came out, it was a little horrifying to have this high definition picture of myself, about 10X life size. Deb and I got ours first, and as the initial shock began to wear off she said “Well, this is what we look like now.” And I figure no matter how it feels to look at this photo today, in a few years we’ll be thinking, hey, I looked pretty good back then.
This project is the work of an enigmatic artist who calls himself JR. He’s a French artist who considers the street “the largest art gallery in the world” and he posts his large black and white photos around the streets much like graffiti. You can learn more about this wacky artist at For Abu Dhabi Art, they were posted in the halls and on boards outside. I wonder if we made the display?
I wish I had known more about this before we had our photos taken; we would have come up with some kind of whimsical expressions to wear. (Cherie Sogsti, where are you when we need you??) But it’s such a delicate balance, doing research ahead of time or discovering what a place has to offer by just going there and doing it. And you never really understand the impact of where you have been or what you learned until you have been there and gone, and had time to reflect on it.
The iconic dune-shaped UAE Pavilion was on display at World Expo 2010 in Shaghai,
then relocated to Saadiyat Island this year. It  housed Abu Dhabi Art gallery exhibits.
Manarat Al Saadiyat Plaza and building, where presentations
and discussions were held. Our workshop was inside.
Two kinds of "street art."
Abu Dhabi is positioning itself to be an art, culture, leisure, business, and tourism center that people from all over the world will come to visit. The Abu Dhabi 2030 Urban Structure Framework Plan,did=90378.html is ambitious. Saadiyat Island, one of many islands adjacent to the main island and center of the city of Abu Dhabi, is being developed according to a Masterplan for that area that includes the Saadiyat Cultural District, Beach, Marina, Reserve, Promenade, Lagoons, and Retreat. Plans include a Guggenheim Museum and a Louvre. The Plan also includes two golf courses.
This island is just one of many that are being developed in the greater Abu Dhabi area, and each one could be the subject of a blog post. I studied planning at the University of Nevada, Reno, so I’m interested. Just like South of Market San Francisco when I was writing my graduate paper, things are happening so fast here that if you blink you might miss it. I have the feeling that I am in a place that is on the cutting edge, the fast track. How will it all turn out? It reminds me in some ways of San Francisco during the gold rush, filling San Francisco Bay to create more land. The Emiratis have filled in the edge of the island and moved the Corniche waterfront further out to sea, and they are bringing in loads of sand to fill other places as well. Thousands of workers from other countries have been brought in to help with the building. Certainly, there are differences as well as parallels. There's a lot for a geographer to see and do here.
So, for my art class friends, back to the painting.  It was a blend of what I learned in high school and what I learned from Tina Tyrrell at BAC. We drew a grid on the photo that we were painting and our canvases were primed with orange paint – a complementary color to the blues that we would be using for our seascapes – and they also had a grid. We used only three colors of acrylic paint: red, blue, and yellow, plus white. As I worked, I began to hear Tina’s voice. “Where is your light source?” “You’re working from a photo with poor color reproduction, so don’t try to recreate these colors.” “Connect shapes.” “Use darks to define and describe.” “Don’t put in your highlights until the end.” “Use pure color to make it pop.” And, finally when time ran out: “You need to work in some different values; highs and lows. Right now you have all medium.” Ok, time to go find some acrylic paints so I can finish this painting. But Deb and I are inspired, and we plan to paint more. I found some paint and canvasses upstairs at Carrefour . . .
I would gladly have traded my painting for this gorgeous bamboo easel.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What about sailing?

Racing couple looking for rides

The breeze came and went
The Club, Abu Dhabi
We haven’t done any sailing yet but it’s not because we haven’t tried.  We’re still shopping it. Last weekend we went to The Club with Tom. This was my first time there. The Club is in one of the oldest parts of town near the old port past the souks and livestock market. Founded in 1962 by and for expatriates, it’s also commonly referred to as “the British Club.” It sort of reminds me of Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit, where you drive through some pretty rundown and seedy areas (which is maybe putting it too kindly) to get to the club. But once inside, everyone is relaxing and enjoying cocktails.
The views at The Club have changed since 1962.
It used to be just water and sand spits.

From our lunch table we could see a couple of Lasers and a tender out practicing mark roundings. So after lunch, as part of our tour (which included our discovery of the Club’s liquor store! great prices on Australian wine and Hendricks gin!!) we visited the Abu Dhabi Sailing Club, which is a subsection of The Club.
We talked to the Laser sailors, who were there putting away their boats. They have a large fleet of Lasers and Optimists as well as several Kestrels, and four RS400’s. They have races every weekend, and boats are owned by the Club and assigned to members based on skill. The more races you win the better a boat you get and you’re responsible for maintenance and upgrades on your assigned boat. The handicapping system is based on the boat’s condition and the owner’s skill or racing record. It sounds to me like the handicapping system is designed to keep the bar in business. I can just imagine the meetings and post-race discussions about ratings . . .
The beach has nice padded chairs.
The facilities for kids are splendid.

Mark and I are dubious about joining The Club for a few reasons. First, it’s mainly a drinking establishment for adults and a beach for families. For us, it’s too far from where we live to be a good place to drink. We would be spending a fortune on taxis or be living at Tom and Lucy’s villa half the time. Second, neither of us has ever been dinghy sailors. Not to say that people can’t take it up later in life but, doing the math, we are 115 years old and weigh about 390 pounds. Hey, maybe we can make that argument and get a good rating. The third reason is that we would have to join The Club and pay the initiation, which is $3000AED or just over $800. So that’s a commitment. But we may change our minds if other options fall through.

Dubai Offshore Sailing club

Hopefully you read about our early trip to Dubai and failed attempt to get through the gate at the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club (DOSC.) Mark has done some more research on the website and last night he told me about this rule:


Any member of another bona-fide sailing club residing no less than 80kms from Dubai, may be admitted to the Club premises for one day on presentation of his club membership card together with and payment of the visitor's fee which may be in force at DOSC at that time.

Now I’m just guessing but I don’t think the DOSC security guards have memorized the “Bye-Laws.” And I doubt that people from other clubs stop by very often. So we'll call first next time.
There are a few DOSC racing events coming up that look interesting. They have IRC and one design fleets.
18th November – Commodore’s Cup Series Race 3 (this series runs through May 2012)
8th – 10th December – Volvo Winter Regatta
23rd December – Original Shorthanded Challenge Series (for cruisers, runs through March 2012)

We went to the AD marina but
the Melges 24 wasn't in the water.
Of course we need a boat to crew on or, for the shorthanded series, our own boat. So far we haven’t been able to locate the Melges 24 that’s rumored to be for sale here in Abu Dhabi. The Laser guys we met at the Club seemed to think they know who the owner is, but they said he owns a Mumm 30. Maybe he owns two boats? And Mark placed a notice on the DOSC crew list board. There are a few other notices and they all say “Replies: 0” so I don’t have great hope that we will get any action from that.

Sometimes we hear announcements on the radio promoting the Volvo Ocean Race Emirates team. But since we aren’t linked in with the sailing community yet, we don’t hear much else. We saw a couple of guys at the Marina Mall that looked like VOR shore support types, and they were stealing looks at Mark’s Delta Ditch t-shirt.

Mark told me that Saeed at work says he is a sailing fan but it’s unclear whether he’s ever actually been sailing.
When we get a boat we’ll have to take him out.
It would be tough to take the gang out sailing on one of these.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Marines Birthday Ball

Happy Birthday USMC
Mark, Dana, Major James Collins, and Tom
The U.S. celebrated Veteran’s Day this past week, and so it seems relevant to mention the 236th Marine Corps Birthday Ball that we attended on November 3rd. We got tickets from Tom who, knowing that we would be in town, bought them for us through his friend Major James Collins.

We were excited to go to the ball because it was held in the Emirates Palace Hotel Grand Ballroom. To be sure that I didn’t miss out on any photo opportunities I took two cameras with me. However, in the excitement of getting dressed at Tom’s house and discovering that we couldn’t get a taxi from there because they were all busy, I forgot the cameras in the villa. So the photos you see here were taken with Deb’s camera. I wasn’t upset though because I wanted to enjoy the evening, and not be distracted by my camera.  Photography is a great excuse to go back to the Palace again.

Tom, ever resourceful, drove us to the Intercontinental Hotel nearby and we took taxis from there. He stayed in the Intercon for his first few months until his villa became available, and that’s how he knows many servicemen and expats.

There are 1000 of these Swarovski chandeliers

I’ll save the detailed descriptions of the Palace for later when I have my own photos but I will say that the place is really incredible; I don’t think I’ve seen such opulence since we went to the Vatican.

James was there as a official greeter, and he complemented Deb and me. Realizing that I had no idea how to make my hair look acceptable for the occasion, I had gotten my hair done. Deb and I both were glad we had gotten new dresses, but not gone for the "Miss Universe" style you see all over the malls. They must really dress up under those abayas.

Deb looked glamorous

Once inside the Ballroom, the program began. There was a video commemorating the Marines’ roles in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor and 911 attacks, this year is their 70th and 10th anniversaries, respectively. I’ve never been involved with anyone who was in the service, so I haven’t been around soldiers much. And to see them in full dress! James had told me a few nights before that his dress uniform cost $1200. And worth every penny, to see these guys looking so sharp, if you ask me. By the end of the evening Deb was a little breathless.

A little gold leaf never hurt anyone

After the speeches and cake cutting there was a beautiful buffet complete with desserts trimmed in gold (“I’ll be shitting gold tomorrow!” James gloated.) James and I danced, with a retired general in a pink scarf leading the conga line.

With Ambassabor Michael Corbin

Mark and I had our picture taken with U.S. Ambassador and Guest of Honor Michael Corbin. Our neighbor in Nevada, Federal Judge Charles Wolle (pronounced Wolley,) is the brother of William D. Wolle who was U.S. Ambassador to the UAE from 1979 to 1981. We explained this to the Ambassador, and he said he’d look for “Willie Wolle’s” picture on the wall in his office. It was late in the evening, after we had all been taking advantage of the free beer and wine.

The room was filled with expats, and the only Emirati that I was aware of was the one who sat down at our table at the end of the night. He was security for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. Wow, were we impressed! And probably should have been nervous, but he was a very unassuming guy, very mild mannered. He said he grew up in a big family the countryside, raising sheep and goats. He was in his 40s. Mark asked him how many children he has and was incredulous when he said he was not married. What!? In this country where so many men have more than one wife, you have none? What does your mother think of this? “They don’t say anything,” he replied. “It’s my life.” I wish now that I had thought to ask him about the rules and customs concerning photography here, which I am still trying to figure out. But we were all a little tipsy, to say the least, and I assume that our new friend was completely sober. Wonder what it was like from his point of view, being in a big room with all us expats, “feeling no pain?”
The coats and jackets came off at the end of the evening,
 revealing some interesting shirts.
Are these "regulaton?"