Thursday, October 28, 2010

Death of a monarch; life in a monarchy

Yesterday heading out to my favorite lunch spot, I noticed this --

It's hard not to notice when one of the tallest flagpoles in the world has its flag at half-mast. And when I returned to work I quickly learned the reason was that Sheikh Saqr al-Qasimi had died (he was 90 so it seems of natural causes). He was the ruler of Ras al Khaimah, one of the seven emirates, which we recently drove through for the first time on our way to the Musandam Peninsula. The UAE is now in a seven-day mourning period.

I began reading a bit about Sheikh Saqr and found his life to be pretty inspiring. He was one of the longest-reigning monarchs in the world and saw the UAE through its entire transformation from barren nomadic territories to bustling metropolises.

Reading about his legacy I was struck by the use of words such as “bloodless coup”, “dynasty”, and “line of succession.” These are concepts that don’t affect my daily life in any noticeable way, so it’s somewhat jarring to think about them describing not some far off place once upon a time, but the here and now. It suddenly hit home that I live in a monarchy.

What's more, apparently there has been a bit of royal family drama surrounding the Sheik Saqr’s succession. I won't go into the details here, but it's the kind of stuff you read about in history books or fairy tales (before the happy ending), and include words like "depose" and "exile." With all that is circulating online, and the UAE government's disinclination for divulging its dirty laundry, it's difficult to know the hard facts. Whatever the case, Saqr's fourth son and Crown Prince, Sheikh Saud, has been appointed as the new ruler of Ras-al-Khaimah. Next week the flags will be raised and life in this monarchy will go on.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Home is...

I was recently introduced to the music of an up-and-coming ensemble called The Head and the Heart. They have a folksy, quirky sound rich in instruments and vocal harmonies (which I love), and I’ve found I particularly connect with their music because the lyrics include themes about being on the road, missing home and not missing home, and feeling generally uprooted or out of place. Apparently the band is based in Seattle but none of them is actually from there, and as you would imagine they are constantly on the move trying to make it as musicians.

For a few weeks now, the refrain from "Cats and Dogs," a song on their debut album, has been looping periodically on the soundtrack in my mind (at any moment in time I always have a song playing in my head – is that just me?). Fortunately, this one is a tune I like, and the words are “My roots have grown but I don’t know where they are.”

I think it encapsulates how I feel about my current state in the world. Living as an expat I’m often asked two questions: 1) Where is home for you? And 2) Will you move home when you’re done here? I always feel a bit shady and evasive when facing these questions because I still haven’t quite worked out how to respond. People think it's cute but are never satisfied if I say that home is wherever Sam is. They smile and say, "but really, where are you from?"

My turn to ask questions. What does “home” mean? Is it where the heart is? Is it where you hang your hat? Can you ever go home again? What if you don’t know where that is?

In 31 years of life I’ve resided in approximately 15 houses or apartments in 8 cities, 4 states and 2 countries (and no, I’m not military), and about one-fourth of the last 14 months saw me living out of luggage. I’ve never stared at the same four walls for more than four years. I don’t own any property, not even a car. When people meet me they can never place my accent; usually they guess Canada or Ohio. I lived in San Antonio for the longest consecutive period of my life, but I wasn't born there, and my parents have moved four times since I graduated high school (huh, wonder where I get it?). Their current home, while nice to visit, has for me lost the trail of childhood nostalgia. I rent a storage unit in a random suburb of Boston for the odds and ends that didn't make the cut during our move to the UAE. I have a couple of boxes stored in my sister’s closet in San Antonio that may contain some photo albums and old stuffed animals...actually I have no idea what's in them. Most of my family lives in Texas, but I also have "people" in Chicago, Seattle, Denver, parts of Virginia ...and Italy. As far as lifestyle goes so far I’ve felt most comfortable on the East Coast. In view of this disjointed history, where would you have me call home?

It occurs to me that I have something in common with the semi-nomadic Bedouin culture on which the UAE was built. In the words of Kerouac, I am “always travelling, never arriving,” at each stop leaving something or someone behind, but also amassing experiences and friendships and memories to make the next destinations richer. I am certain that my thoughts on this subject will evolve over time, but my conclusion for now is that I may be homeless but I’m not rootless. In fact, my roots are growing. It’s just that I don’t know quite where they are.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Arabian nights at the movies

I love movies. Many of my most fond and vivid childhood memories relate to them in some way. Examples: 1) the electrifying thrill when my dad came home from work with an undisclosed VHS tape in hand and put it into our brand new VCR…Return of the Jedi…the sonic explosion of John Williams’ score almost put me into cardiac arrest; 2) realizing even at the tender age of twelve that Nick and Nora Charles (of Thin Man fame) were just about the coolest couple ever to grace the movie screen; and 3) watching the Oscars every year with my family as we enjoyed grilled hotdogs, heavily buttered popcorn, and movie candy (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for me).

Well, just as fine dining is a scarce commodity here in Abu Dhabi (see Shannon’s merciless entry here), so are quality films. Movie theaters are ubiquitous to be sure, but typical offerings are Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters rather than the more cinematically adventurous and thought-provoking films I have come to appreciate in adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for movies meant primarily to entertain or whisk you away from your troubles, but I believe there is also a time and place for movies which challenge you emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

So I am thrilled to say that we are currently in the middle of the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival! Alhamdulillah (Arabic for “thanks be to God”)! This week literally hundreds of independent films from all over the world are being shown in a number of different venues, including the seven-star hotel of hotels, the Emirates Palace, where the red carpet opening ceremonies were held (Julianne Moore, Adrien Brody, and Clive Owen were in attendance!).

Just before the opening credits at the Marina Mall Theaters

Two nights ago, I attended the screening of a number of short films made by Emirati and Qatari students which provided some fascinating insights into the culture here in the Gulf. One film, Second Wife, explored the love so many Emirati men have for their cars, even to the point that some fall into significant debt. Shannon wrote about this fascinating phenomenon in a previous blog entry. Personally, I think this near obsession with the fast and the furious stems from the Bedouin code which highly values courage (hamasa) and manliness (muruwa).

Another Emirati film explored a further reason many Emirati men steep themselves in debt: the dowries that they pay to their bride’s family. The Dowry showed that even though the late Sheikh Zayed (the UAE’s first president) established a fund for dowries to avoid this very thing, “bride wars” and the impossibly high expectations for extravagant weddings which have resulted are creating some social stresses as newlywed couples find themselves in debt from the get-go.

I was impressed with the way in which a few of the films fearlessly tackled some real hot-button issues here in the Gulf. Am Arab looked at the degree to which students in the UAE are learning English at the expense of Arabic, and to such an extent that most graduate from university here with a better knowledge of formal English than formal Arabic. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true! In the English classes that I teach I have high-performing students who are afraid that they’ll fail their Arabic courses. They have no problem speaking in their own dialect of Arabic, but they struggle with reading and writing in classical Quranic Arabic. A debate has been going on here for a while between those who say that the students need to be well versed in English in order to compete in the global marketplace and those who believe more emphasis on Arabic is required to preserve cultural identity, especially in a country where the Emiratis constitute just 20 percent of the population.

I was particularly interested in one of the Qatari documentaries, Lady of the Rosary, which examined Qataris’ perceptions of a Catholic Church on the outskirts of Doha. My interest was piqued because of the recent Ground Zero mosque controversy in New York which grabbed so many headlines a few months ago. Of course, a Catholic Church on the Arabian Peninsula, home to the centers of Islam, Mecca and Medina, is bound to encounter some criticism, but I was surprised by the number of those who believed that Christians in Doha have every right to worship as they desire. For many, their “Golden Rule” like logic was simple: countries with majority-Christian populations provide places for us to worship as Muslims so then we should provide places for them to worship according to their own faith. Of course there were those who opposed the church’s placement in Doha, but they were in the definite minority of those interviewed.

I realize that everything presented in the documentary was anecdotal and not based on scientific polling, but it was still refreshing to hear these voices. And I can say that here in the UAE, I have felt free to worship as a Christian. In fact, Sheikh Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, has pledged a very generous donation to help pay for our church compound’s renovations!

Overall, I must say that I was impressed with the documentaries. Many of them were pleasing to the eye, ear, and mind. So far, so good. This evening, Shannon and I will be seeing Miral, a multigenerational saga directed by Julian Schnabel (director of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) about four Arab women living in Jerusalem from the late 1940s to present. Perhaps I’ll have a word or two to say about that, but until then, the majlis is closed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A foodie in the UAE: no place for a foodie

You know that phrase “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink”? Between Abu Dhabi and Dubai there exist hundreds of restaurants, scores of which are labeled “fine dining” in the local restaurant guides. Yet, with one shining exception, the label seems to apply to the interior design more than the food. Most of the establishments are more suitable to be reviewed in Architectural Digest than Food and Wine, and in fact, the reviews I’ve read in Time Out Abu Dhabi typically spend a paragraph or two describing the décor before food is even mentioned, if at all. Literally, I have read restaurant reviews where they did not mention the taste of the food.

Anyway, not only did Sam plan the aforementioned weekend in Oman, he also surprised me on my actual birthday (which fell on a Wednesday) by taking me to what has been locally lauded as the best French restaurant in Abu Dhabi as well as the most romantic. Isn't he sweet? I promise that what follows in no way reflects how I feel towards Sam, for he was truly thoughtful in his selection.

Here I go with the compulsory paragraph on design -

The room is small but wrapped in windows and has an Old World charm – plush carpets and elaborate draperies in muted blues and gold, accented with opulent chandeliers. The tables are well spaced for intimacy and the whole effect is quite warm and inviting, despite its pompousness. My first impression when we walked through the door is that we were underdressed (I still in my work clothes and Sam in jeans and button-down), and in any other city we probably would have been, but we actually fit in just fine with the other customers. My second impression was the overwhelming sweet aroma of lilies. Remember that.

We were greeted promptly and offered complimentary champagne. How charming! I thought as we toasted each other.

Next we were presented with a tiny glass jigger of nearly clear liquid, announced as “tomato consommé – to cleanse the palette.” We each knocked it back like a shot, and then both fell silent. Yes, but should it taste like cleanser? I wondered. Or perhaps more accurately, like the soapy dishwater left in the sink after soaking a pot used for tomato sauce? Not an auspicious beginning, but I didn’t voice anything yet.

The menu was explained to us in detail by one of the attentive wait staff; Sam decided on the 5-course Chef’s “blind tasting” and I went with the traditional French 4-course tasting. I was warned this would include escargot and frog legs, but as I am an experienced cosmopolitan diner, I said confidently that I could handle it.

While we awaited the first course we received an amuse-bouche, which was a tiny ball of what appeared to be fried polenta on a giant toothpick poised over a puddle of creamy sauce. It might have been interesting had it not been so difficult to eat – the way the ball was mounted you could not dip it in the sauce, so you had to eat the elements separately, using a spoon for the sauce. No matter, because both were equally bland with a greasy, olive-oily aftertaste. Curious. I started to think at this point that someone in back was “playing kitchen,” trying to re-create fanciful touches they’d seen at restaurants abroad without actually knowing how.

My musings were broken by the arrival of my snails. And I call them snails rather than escargot, because in this case they were simply a dozen dark brown snails on a plate, a few of them precariously stuffed into a puff-pastry. De-shelled, yes, and probably boiled. But the presentation made me think I had stumbled upon a snail colony. Tiny streaks of sauce decorating the plate had the unfortunate look of slimy wakes that such critters, had they been alive, might leave behind as they creep about. I admit I am no connoisseur of escargot, but the couple of times I’ve had it the snails have been enveloped in a frothy, buttery cream sauce, disguising much of their reptilian-like features. But these were laid bare, and oh, even writing about them a week later my stomach churns. I ate four of them, regrettably, because I was embarrassed not to give it the old college try. They were sinewy and gritty, and tasted exactly like snails doused in garlic and olive oil.

Sam’s first course was perhaps less “Survivor-esque” but no more enjoyable. The “blind tasting” is supposed to mean that the diner dines blindly, allowing the chef to prepare whatever suits his or her fancy. But we soon joked that perhaps this place interpreted the phrase to mean the chef cooks blindly. This would be the only explanation for the large, pale-pinkish square of what looked like extra-firm tofu and was pronounced to be foie gras. If foie gras were to come in pre-packaged snack cake form, this would be it. And it was the worst combination of blandness and heaviness, so that you felt it sitting in your stomach even though you hadn’t tasted much going down.

My next course was the frog legs, sautéed in a red-wine reduction and topped with microgreens. But again with the overpowering olive-oil! Fortunately with a bit of salt they tasted like chicken. 

Sam’s second course was scallops baked inside green ravioli swimming in an overly-saccharine lime sauce. I wrote about a dining experience this summer during which the chefs challenged our palettes with surprising combinations of flavor. This scallop ravioli may have been a similar attempt at gastronomical experimentation, but the desired effect was not achieved. Sam’s reaction, and mine, was to say “what’s up with the lime?”

Then came the fish course, which was fishy, and you guessed it, tasted like olive oil. Sam’s fish came with what the waiter declared to be “black mashed potato.” Intriguing. Until we determined it was mashed potato that had been blackened by mixing it with briny seaweed. Morimoto might be able to pull this one off, but not so our blind-folded chef.

My fourth course was veal cutlets with mashed potatoes and sweet peas. I’m not a huge fan of veal, but this at least was a decent plate of food. The veal was a tad dry but tender, the potatoes smooth and buttery (and not mixed with anything off-putting), the peas providing fresh bursts of sweetness. Alas, Sam’s fourth course was a roast beef tenderloin, which prepared at “medium-rare” was in fact indistinguishable from old shoe leather. I’ve seen Sam eat a lot of questionable things, and often in large quantities, but this he could not finish.

At this point we had been sitting for three hours and were exhausted from simply trying to stomach the food. But we still had the dessert course to go. The wait staff by now had sensed we were less than thrilled, and one young server even asked specifically why I had not liked the snails. Um, how long is your shift? I wanted to say, but knowing it wasn’t his fault (unless he was doubling as chef, a scenario I have considered as an explanation for this dining fiasco) I simply said I was used to eating them with cream sauce. I wasn’t supposed to get dessert with my meal, but I was brought a very rich chocolate something-or-other, so I think he felt bad.

Apart from the excellent service, the one shining beacon in the evening was Sam’s crème brulee, which was perfectly sweetened and ultra creamy without being heavy. We ate every bite of it, and it helped soothe the nausea that had been hovering in my stomach since the snails.

But then came the bill, and my nausea returned with a side of regret.

As Sam and I reflected on the experience we wondered whether the free alcohol and scent of lilies were attempts to distract us from the fact that the chefs can’t cook. Whatever the case, we now know that reviews published locally can’t always be trusted, which means they can't be trusted. An expensive lesson learned.

Oh, and the name of the restaurant: Bord Eau (no "x"), inside the Shangri La Hotel, Abu Dhabi.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Norway! (of Arabia)

For my birthday Sam arranged for a weekend getaway in the Musandam peninsula in Oman, more specifically at the Golden Tulip resort just outside the village of Khasab (about a five hour drive from Abu Dhabi).

As you can see above, the hotel is built on a hill jutting into the Persian Gulf, but since we arrived after dark Thursday evening we only experienced the full impact of the view from our room when we pulled back the curtains Friday morning. Check it out-

We spent most of Friday on a traditional Omani dhow cruise through the fjords which have earned Musandam the nickname, “Norway of Arabia.” The tour included a stop at Telegraph Island for snorkeling, a delicious lunch of local fare, including freshly-caught fish grilled right on the boat, and ample time to soak in the sun and scenery, swim, and enjoy the occasional dolphin sighting. It was possibly the most relaxing day I’ve ever had. The coastline of Musandam is stunning in its intrinsic beauty and also its wildness; it is a land yet to be touched by the kind of extreme development we see in the UAE, so for now anyway, you can experience the natural beauty of the fjords and surrounding waters without much interference.

Telegraph Island

Feeding the fish from the dhow

Fresh from our snorkeling adventure


The guide said we would probably get to see dolphins, but we had no idea the dolphins would be waiting to put on a show for us! The action was too quick to capture with our amateur photography skills so bear with me as I now share a “home video.” And yes, the person you hear laughing in the video is me – apparently I was quite delighted by this unexpected birthday present!

Ellen, we thought of you!

Before driving back to Abu Dhabi on Saturday morning, we stopped at a couple of beaches to take more pictures and just enjoy the sound of waves crashing ashore. True, we do live on an island, but the city of Abu Dhabi is protected from any real waves by a manmade breakwater offshore, so our beaches, while lovely, do not have quite the same effect.

Happy birthday to me!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A foodie in the UAE: gross

I usually ignore fast food billboards. I rarely eat at fast food chains, so their ads just kind of blur into the scenery as I drive by. But in the past month I have begun noticing the most disgusting concoctions being hailed as the latest and greatest in culinary perfection. By virtue of their grossness, these ads have been jumping off the roadside and into my consciousness. It makes me wonder, first of all, is this going on back home as well? I mean, I realize Americans eat a lot of garbage, but at least it usually looks appetizing. So maybe (hopefully) these particular food items are just part of these chains’ Middle East divisions. Even still, it saddens me to think this is is being passed off over here as American cuisine, when actually we have such a rich culinary tradition to share, even when it comes to inexpensive food.

The second thing it makes me wonder is who is coming up with this stuff? Have the chains all hired a group of teenage boys and let them create whatever concoctions come to mind? Or maybe the industry has a sick curiosity to find out just how far it can push the limits. Perhaps they're sitting around at corporate headquarters looking at profit margins and laughing maniacally, "Ha, ha, the dulled masses will eat anything we put in front of them, as long as it's part of a meal deal!" 

Exhibit A: Burger King’s Pizza Burger (this one, please note, starred in a recent article in our local paper – take a look; have a laugh).

Exhibit B: Pizza Hut's Crunchy Cheesy Bites Pizza (I guess regular old stuffed crust pizza was too dull – now you can pretend your pizza is a medieval torture victim and pull off its fingers one at a time).

Exhibit C: McDonalds’ Pizza McPuff (I’m noticing a pattern here…apparently plays on pizza, while wholly unnecessary, are very en vogue. But this one was most perplexing to me. Why would someone pay McDonalds to heat up a hot pocket in the microwave? Don't people go out to eat so they don't have to eat frozen dinners?) 

Sam read a first draft of this post and decided I needed to do a bit more research before publishing such harsh criticism, so I came into the kitchen last night to find this:

"It was only 2 dirhams," he beamed. (That's about 56 cents).

So here is the carefully documented research process that followed --

Shannon takes a bite.

All her criticisms confirmed, she passes the rest on to Sam.

"It's not so bad," he says. "Kind of spicy." Pause. "Is that a pea?"

Yes, yes it is.

Okay, done with my rant. But seriously, people, wake up, and stop being gross. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lunch-break language barrier

Today I ate lunch at one of my new favorite spots – a tiny strip of manmade land, no wider than a two lane road that juts out from the main island of Abu Dhabi. I can park my car right along the water and get an unobstructed view of a small bay and the Gulf beyond. It’s still too hot to eat outside so I had to stay in my car with the ac going, but it was worth it for the change of scenery (plus I could listen to a podcast of This American Life while I ate).

The view from my car—

You’ll agree it’s a big improvement from where I spend the rest of my work day and often find myself eating lunch (there’s a whole other story behind that, and it’s not because I have too much work to do) —

Notice the “privacy panes” lining the 360 degrees of glass walls surrounding my desk. Do those stripes remind you of anything?

But I digress.

After I finished my sandwich I decided I could brave the midday sun for a few minutes and snap some better pictures of my surroundings. So I got out of the car and took these—

That's Marina Mall in the distance, our home away from home when we first moved here and were furnishing our apartment.

I grew tired of the mall, but I never get tired of that turquoise water.

Just as I snapped this last shot I heard the voice of a young man call to me from behind, “Hey!”

I ignored it at first, assuming it wasn’t meant for me; but, there it was again, “Hey!” 

I turned around to find a fancy white SUV, driven by an Emirati male, about 19 or so, attended by two of his buddies. He waved me over to the car.

I don’t usually go up to cars full of men when I’m by myself, but this was a very public place in broad daylight. I could tell their intent was friendly, so I walked a bit closer.

“You take picture,” the young driver said in broken English.

Trying to interpret his meaning, several scenarios quickly played in my mind: a) He could be commenting on the fact that I was indeed taking pictures (too obvious for words), b) He could be asking if he could take my picture (not likely given what I know of Emirati men), or c) He could be asking that I take a picture of him with his friends (except he wasn't holding out a camera to me).  

As the wheels in my head were turning, he kept repeating “You take picture,” with a goofy grin on his face.  Finally, I got it – “Oh,” I said, “you want me to take your picture and send it to you?”

A flash of confusion crossed his face, but he nodded slightly and repeated his phrase again, this time gesturing towards my camera.

I was also confused. What an odd request. I mean, now I would have to write down his email address and remember to send it to him, and then he’d have my email address and that would be awkward and probably inappropriate. As if to confirm my analysis, though, he said emphatically “You won’t forget.” And I thought, how presumptuous of him to ask for this favor and then demand that I follow through.

But it seemed he was determined so I figured I'd take his picture, and then try to discuss the logistics. I raised my camera to three smiling faces and said, “Cheese.”

Notice the Ray-bans and the Calvin Klein t-shirt. 

The driver asked if he could see the photo, flashed a huge smile of approval at what he saw on the camera viewfinder, handed it back to me, and just as I was about to get down to the business of obtaining his contact info, he drove off!

All at once it hit me what had just happened. He had noticed me taking pictures of the water, assumed I was a tourist, and thought he’d give me the best gift of all, a snapshot of a real live group of Emiratis in traditional dress. When he said “you won’t forget,” I thought he was telling me not to forget to email him the picture, but actually he was saying, “I will allow you to take my picture so you won’t forget your experience in Abu Dhabi.”  

Again, I thought how presumptuous he was, but kind of sweet in his innocent assumption that I would want this. And I do. So I guess he was right. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Autumn in Abu Dhabi

I hesitate to admit this, but as part of my morning routine I typically spend a few minutes reading the latest posts on the Facebook Newsfeed. Coffee in hand, I find it fascinating to read what my friends back in the States were talking about while I was sleeping. I guess it helps me feel connected to my cultural roots. When you do this over a period of time you begin to notice themes, and over the past two weeks that theme has been the arrival of fall -- chilly weather, the Topsfield Fair, Halloween costumes, college football and tailgate parties, pumpkin spice lattes -- and I’m certain it won’t be long before the first mention of apple-picking. Just reading these topics conjures a particular kind of nostalgia for me, probably because of our experiences living in Princeton as well as Cambridge, both towns that I adore, both of which boast spectacular, sensory-overloading fall seasons.

The weather is also turning cooler here in Abu Dhabi, though this may be where my former expectations for fall now end. In the afternoons we’re down from the daily 117 to a respectable 102 or so, and last weekend we even ate a late dinner outside, sweating a bit but mostly comfortable. So for us fall no longer produces images of falling leaves or pumpkin patches, but rather it signals that we can emerge from our air-conditioned igloos and venture into the sun midday without vaporizing. Today, it being the first weekend of October, we thought we’d test the waters, so to speak, and see if we could survive a day at the beach.

It’s funny to be forced to wait out the summer for such an opportunity, given we live in the land of perpetual clear skies, and on an island no less, that is lined with white sandy beaches and surrounded by shimmering crystal-clear water. But we had waited long enough, and this morning we stepped onto our balcony to feel the air – a balmy 84 degrees at 7:30 – and decided if we left by 9 and lathered plenty of sunscreen we might be able to stay on the beach for an hour or two.

Arriving at our beach of choice we were greeted by this sign:

Not sure if it’s meant to be an invitation or a warning, but prophetic it was because bake we did. We had come prepared to sunbathe atop our giant beach blanket, but by the time we walked the quarter of a mile from the car to the beach, and then the 200 yards across the hot coals cleverly disguised as sand, we opted to spring for the lounge chairs for hire complete with oversized umbrella. But even sitting in the shade it didn’t take long for us to seek further refuge in the water, which looked and felt like a massive heated swimming pool. Not refreshing per se, but did the trick to take the edge off the intensifying sun.  

It was brief, but we made the most of our first beach day of the season, alternating between reading our respective novels and observing the odd collection of fellow beach-goers around us, listening to the distant buzz of jet skis and occasional peals of laughter, and reveling in the specific kind of calm that, for me, can only be found beside a body of water. As we returned to our car-slash-oven for the ride home Sam said to me “well I’m glad we did it but I’m glad it’s over.” True, it wasn’t the most pleasant of beach days, but the fact that we were able to go at all means that fall in Abu Dhabi has officially begun.