Saturday, June 14, 2014

all that glitters...

A colleague and I took a chance on a groupon for gold facials, it seemed a very Dubai kind of thing, super bling. The photo with the groupon made it especially temping. But it was a groupon after all and we paid less than $20 and it was at a place called the Boutique Beauty Saloon, nope, not a typo on my part, not Salon, Saloon, in the Al Karama neighborhood. Karama being known mostly for its sprawling market selling knockoff designer handbags and watches. More on that in a bit, suffice it to say, we headed off for the facial knowing it was likely to be a bit of an adventure.
picture from ad for the facial

It's hot now. Really, really stinkin' hot and the humidity makes it unrelenting. Actual temperatures are reported as only right around 100-105 F but with 60-70% humidity even a breeze or moving into the shade doesn't provide that much relief.

[A quick side note on measurements: I'm doing well with the miles to kilometer conversions and I love my weight in kilos! But I can't get my brain around the Fahrenheit to Celsius thing. Just a few degrees difference in Celsius converts to bigger differences in Fahrenheit- or bigger differences in my perception of how hot it is at least. It seems to me that since I came in December, I've experienced highs between 75 and 105 F but I swear, on the radio they've only reported highs between 28 - 38 C. I hear that there's some general agreement toward rounding down the high temps in the broadcast media...]

entering the Saloon
do we look golden?
So it's only a block or so walk from the metro station to the Saloon, however, we turn it into a bit more of a walk because there are no addresses here, things are described as being near other things and if you can't spot those other things easily... anyhow, we arrived dripping sweat at the weird little hole in the wall that was our destination. The staff handed us elastic waisted skirts that we were supposed to put on hitched up under our armpits instead of our tops and we were herded into a room with an unused pedicure station and no door to change. OK, now on to the treatment room which consisted of a couple of massage tables draped with plastic and a contraption on wheels that was combo steam wand, lighted mirror, make up table. A little low on the whole spa atmosphere and vibe. The Saloon ladies were pleasant and really, so was the facial, if a little goopy (the facial, not the ladies.) Lots of products applied and massaged (nice massage techniques employed, pressure points and all of that) into our skin, wiped off, and steamed in. They used ice used to cool down the application of some products. Finally the gold! Which was a peel off mask. We took many selfies as the mask dried, hoping to capture that golden bling look but we mostly just looked shiny and slick with goo with maybe a touch of sparkle or jaundice, depending on the angle. At least wearing the armpit skirt thing gave our shirts a good chance to dry before heading back out into the soup.

Next it was off to the Karama market. A little more aimless wandering through blocks of low rise apartment buildings with lots of laundry on balconies and dripping aircon units hanging out over the sidewalks. Very different from the sleek glass and metal highrises where I live or the walled suburban villas of Mirdiff where Sarah lives. We knew we were getting close to the market area as we were approached by guys offering "handbags? watches? Coach? Louis Vuitton? sunglasses?" I learned last week at DragonMart about how there are knockoffs and then there are knockoffs. How the really good fakes are not on display in stores but are stashed in nearby apartments because selling fakes that real is not totally legal. It was way too hot to consider a foray off to some apartment storehouse and I wasn't energetic enough for the haggle and game and process involved in finding a great fake today. Another time. [Another quick side note, this time on safety: people think "oh scary Middle East" when they hear you're living in a Gulf country but I swear, the biggest danger about life in Dubai is the danger
i had ice cream with unidentifiable fruit. wikipedia tells me it's sapodilla
of getting fat from brunches and inactivity and of growing too accustomed to cheap housekeeping services. It's not really dodgy to head off to random apartments, or to walk through lower income housing blocks alone. In some places you might get stared at, but personal crime is remarkably low and if the newspapers are any indication, most violent crime takes place in the home between husbands and wives or maids and employers.] We shopped a few souvenir joints and browsed some others mostly for the AC in the shops before decided we had to go try to find (more confused wandering, this time down an alley that required a scramble over a small wall) an Indian ice cream place I'd heard of in Karama near Burjuman Center. Flavours is a little shop selling tasty and unusual ice cream, I had two scoops of ice cream with names and tastes I couldn't really identify: rajbhog (which when searched in google generates links to several sweet shops or companies making sweets and pictures of fried Indian dough balls in syrup but, in ice cream, tasted a bit of saffron) and chicky chikoo (which featured chiku which seems to be a fruit called sapodilla but tasted of dates or raisins.) We agreed, Karama would make a great neighborhood for a longer wander in cooler weather but that this sweaty adventure was a good preview!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I moved to the middle east with a little Arabic carpet buying experience under my belt from travels in Morocco, Turkey and Jordan and I knew that being here in the middle of the Arabian peninsula, I'd be feeding a lovely, if sometimes spendy, addiction with some regularity. And so it has come to pass that in the 6 months I've been here I've purchased 9 carpets! Two were gifts and one is only borderline considered a carpet- I currently have it on my dining room table- it's a delicate little embroidered thing that won't really spend time on my floor.

souk is 2 buildings connected by bridges
I've purchased the vast majority of these from a great Yemeni vendor named Rashed who operates the Sheeba Iranian Carpets shops in Sharjah's Blue Souk. It's good to have a carpet guy. And it's good for the carpet guy to have us- a handful of expat shoppers with friends and colleagues we'll bring along for the experience of buying. And it IS an experience.

gold shop window
The Blue Souk is a pretty building designed in an older style, plunked down in modern Sharjah (the Emirate/city just to the north of Dubai.) It's featured on the five dirham currency note. Carpet shops abound there, as do shops for pashminas, souvenirs and gold. The carpet shops hang beautiful knotted carpets, often in silk or sometimes wool, with fantastically intricate patterns in all colors. The hanging carpets conceal tall stacks of folded and rolled inventory which doesn't stay hidden for long when shoppers come looking.

We arrived fairly close to opening on a recent Saturday, around 10AM. I'd called to let Rashed know we were coming so he was there to greet us. These things start out a little slow... we sit, are offered a
knotted wool
tea or water or soda, we start talking about what we might be looking for in terms of size, style or color and then the rugs start flying. Over the course of a few hours 2-4 people look at dozens of rugs, I should keep count some time, I wouldn't be shocked to learn we'd looked at over 100 rugs, over 200. Some it's easy to say, "No, not that." Others get draped around the sides of the room as "maybes" for awhile, sometimes later being taken down and put in a "no" pile, sometimes getting buried under other, more likely "maybes". Meanwhile, on the floor, the piles get thicker. This last visit we started with knotted wool carpets and I had a couple of strong contenders draped on the sides. Then Rashed suggested we consider some kilim (woven wool) or hybrids with carpet and kilim in one rug. I found the one, or OK, I guess the two, among those selections.
Rashed standing on a hybrid maybe that became yes

While we were there, a couple from Europe came in. They were interested in some of the larger, finely done, knotted silk carpets. We were waiting on a guy to come back from the remote storage with a few carpets featuring a certain shade of blue and so we sat around and watched a bit of their carpet shopping as well. The colors on the silks are so amazingly rich and the designs so delicate. Also, it's really lovely to walk around barefoot on the silks. The wools are quite pleasant as well, don't get me wrong. Actually, my last trip to Rashed's netted me the rug under my dining room table which is a lovely soft soft wool taken from the necks of camels!

Carpets selected, deals made, extras (like getting a channel of cloth sewn on for hanging smaller carpets on a rod) negotiated and it was already lunchtime. Rashed invited us, the European couple, another random American guy who hangs out at the shop now and again, and an Irish woman who does a little PR work with him out for lunch
the silks
at a traditional sit-on-the-floor Arabic place. It was fabulous and it's just that kind of impromptu and deeply ingrained hospitality that makes me love the people of this region. Yeah, there's commerce and good business sense in building relationships with repeat customers who bring others in but there's something else too. Just a genuine sense, I think, that it's a pleasure doing business together.

all carpets require the butternut seal of approval