|Norooz in Dubai
First holiday in our lives where we didn't actually feel ready to go
April 10, 2002
Varinder and I have just returned from a 'snatched' week in Dubai. It was unplanned,
impulsive and slightly irresponsible since we had to delegate our own work to colleagues
who were already under pressure with their own work.
I have never been to Dubai, except en-route to Sri Lanka on our honeymoon in October
'99 and it would not have been our first choice for a holiday destination. But given
the short length of break available to us, we decided to give it a try, even if we
hated it, it would only be for one week. I kept a diary of sorts which starts at
London Heathrow airport:
What is it about duty free shopping which makes people temporarily lose touch with
reality and use their credit cards like it is their last day on earth? I received
the usual warnings from V about how much we owed on our credit cards and how we never
managed to save any money. She then made me sit down and look after the bags while
she 'stretched her legs'.
When she returned 20 minutes later she was carrying a new pair of sunglasses, new
trainers and a bag full of cosmetics. Her cool, unapologetic explanation was that
she had run out of cosmetics and had forgotten her sunglasses. I tried to 'stretch'
my legs too but our gate number was called before I could even walk across to browse
my first shop.
Arrived at most opulent hotel (Royal Mirage) I have ever seen except for the Rambagh
Palace in Jaipur, India. We didn't even have to check in. While we had mint tea in
the beautiful lobby they processed our passports and swiped our credit cards. I felt
like minor royalty, rich and powerful, nothing could ruin my mood.
V calmly looked at me, smiled, and said, "I hope the card isn't rejected. I
think I gave them one of the full up ones." I didn't have time to lose my temper
or get depressed before the receptionist returned our successfully swiped card. We
were led to the Gold Suite and introduced to Michael, our personal 'taker carer of
First shock was that none of my Gap shorts from our Sicily trip only 6 months ago
would fit me. I had packed three of them and had to resort to wearing my Chinos wherever
we went for the next seven days.Thankfully my swimming trunks stretched.
We headed for the Hotel's beautifully manicured (yes, manicured) private beach where
V informed me that I was the fattest person in sight. So our first afternoon on the
beach was spent comparing my stomach and her bum with variously shaped people walking
up and down the beach.
My first dive into the sea rendered me deaf in my right ear for the duration of our
holiday. A disability that V kept cruelly exploiting by telling me that someone was
knocking on our room door and making me walk over to see who was there. No one was
there, and when I turned to V to tell her that no one was at the door I would find
her rolling around on the bed laughing.
Got my head slapped hard by V when I decided to have a little fun with her by pulling
her too fast (in her high heels) down the marble staircase en-route to the restaurant
on the ground floor of our hotel. It was a really hard 'pas kalehee' which gave me
a headache for the rest of the evening.
Went to a Persian carpet shop in a large shopping mall called City Centre. Whenever
I enter a Persian carpet shop I feel like a fish out of water. V, on the other hand,
suddenly becomes the most dangerous kind of customer -- the kind who thinks she is
an expert but clearly ain't...
"How many knots per square inch?" she asks
V inspects the back of the carpet thoughtfully. I know that, like me, she has no
idea whether 760 knots is good or bad.
"Is this silk or cotton or both?"
V and I both run our palms across the carpet while working our eyes across it to
make the shop owner think we are seasoned buyers. In fact, all we are thinking is
how pretty the pattern is.
"Where is this from?"
We both move away pretending to inspect another carpet.
V whispers, "What does 760 knots mean? Is it good?"
"I think so... but I'm not that sure..."
" Where is Kashan?"
"It's a famous carpet centre?"
"All the carpets look factory made."
"I think they are usually factory made..."
"What about the pictures of pretty maidens weaving with looms?"
"I think those pictures are for the tourists but I can't be sure."
Was that a smirk on the owners face? Could he tell we were totally ignorant? The
worst part was sitting in a cafe with V afterwards:
"We were ripped off - they saw you coming..."
"Hang on, what about you?"
"But you are the Iranian - you should know everything about carpets."
"You were the one who haggled for 20 minutes over £5!"
"If you don't haggle they just think you are a typical naive customer from abroad
with not one inkling about carpets"
"But we are..."
"I tell you we were ripped off." She started all over again.
V spotted a large Iranian family on the beach who must have been staying at our hotel.
In my eagerness to meet and say hello to fellow Iranians I bounced up to them, smiling
and asked the husband (in English) if he was Iranian. "Yes" he replied
cautiously, "Man-am Irooniam!"
I boomed back, expecting their world to light up. They seemed only mildly interested
in holding a conversation with me and who could blame them. They were probably trying
to escape from all things Iranian (I discovered they had come from Tehran) and the
last thing they wanted was to have me running up to them like a happy Labrador to
strike up a conversation.
I felt completely deflated and V further aggravated me by saying, "I told you
not go running up to them with your hairy belly wobbling about like that. Did you
see the way he took up a defensive posture thinking you were going to Sumo wrestle
Day 4 afternoon
I have borrowed V's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus or is it the other
way round? What a revelation. I now believe I know how to interpret her every mood,
word and action. I demonstrate by explaining to her that when she complains that
I never listen to her, what she is really saying is, "Hold me in your arms,
kiss me and tell me you will be mine forever so that I can feel secure..."
V threatens to confiscate the book if I continue to misinterpret it.
My stomach feels permanently stuffed. The daily cycle varies between stomach so full
that I have to undo my trousers, feeling slightly less full so I can raid the Gold
lounge complementary snack area to feeling somewhere in-between so that every time
I belch acid floods my throat. The only way of reducing the acid seems to be by eating
more bakhlava and dates.
The highlight of our trip came about by accident. We were at a loss as to what
to do on Wednesday night so I suggested to V that we sample one of the many Iranian
restaurants. Our hotel's sales and marketing director, Tarek, had recommended the
Hyatt Regency with its excellent Iranian restaurant called Shahrzad.
We asked Michael, our taker carer of everything,, to make a reservation only to discover
that we had been extremely lucky to grab the last remaining table during what was
a Norooz evening party. Since we rarely celebrate Norooz I had completely forgotten
which day it fell on.
We arrived at 9 pm to find the restaurant empty. The maitre d' reassured us that
the evening was booked solid and by 10 almost every table had been taken. The female
guests ranged between modest dressed chador wearers to those wearing sexy low slung
glittery tops and mini skirts. Everybody looked stylish - including the Iranian chefs
and Indian waiters.
I quickly began to feel like I was in Iran: Iranians everywhere were making their
familiar noises and laughter to a backdrop of wonderful music. I felt very emotional
and suddenly wanted to get back to the UK and organise our passports, Islamic wedding,
etc. so we could visit Iran and show V the real thing.
The band (in my limited experience of Iranian bands) was fantastic. The luscious
singer even managed to bring a tear or two to my eyes as she sang Gol-e-saangam,
my dad's favourite song.
"Are you crying?" V asked while straining to see me in the semi darkness.
I laughed in an attempt to hide my emotions but, instead, only succeeded in making
a few of the tears roll down my cheeks. "Stop crying or you'll make me cry"
Later on that same evening V and I were drinking for the Punjab.
"Let me tell you something," she said, "This wine contains no alcohol
- its just grape juice."
"Are you sure?"
Once we had finished most of our delicious food, V made me push our table to the
wall (and knock our wine bucket full of water and ice to the floor in the process)
so that we could make space to dance. And so we did, fuelled by two fine bottles
of Pino Grigio between us V made me wave my arms and swing my belly 'til 2.30am.
I have to say that all of the guests had left by 1 am and we had an unlikely audience
of half dozen Indian and Arab waiters who would smile and clap at the end of each
song -- egging V on.
Day 7 early morning
"Honey, I feel sick -- I feel really, really woozy
and everything is spinning," V cried in the back of the taxi on our way home
from the Norooz party.
"Are you going to be sick?"
"Not yet but I know I will be later."
We got back to our room and sure enough I could here V throwing up for a full 10
minutes in the bathroom. She walked into the bedroom half smiling.
"I feel a bit better now."
I did a double take of her face.
"You have burst all the blood vessels around your eyes and cheeks"
"Go take a look in the mirror."
V started screaming that she looked like I had punched her in both eyes.
"You look like I've bitch-slapped you," I laughed.
The two most fantastic places to chill and snack were a) the first floor Lebanese
restaurant at Wafi shopping mall - fantastic outdoor balcony on which to gorge oneself
with delicious food, smoke a kick-ass Shisha (or qalyoon as we call it) and spot
beautiful people with V. And b) the Arabic garden/courtyard of our hotel, the Royal
Mirage, complete with water features and lit palm trees in our hotel. Nothing really
compared with sitting there having mint tea and watching the world go by.
I tried my first shisha on the Lebanese balcony at Wafi Mall. There are waiters there
whose sole job is to prepare, serve and refresh the shishas. I was offered a choice
of apple, grape, rosewater and many more flavours. I played safe and chose apple.
It is worth saying that V and I are extreme anti-smokers. No one is allowed to smoke
in our house, and we will leave our restaurant table early if people at the table
next to us start smoking. Yet here I was blowing apple scented smoke at V while she
inhaled mouthfuls and agreed how pleasant the smell was.
After half an hour or so, V would become restless and
ask, "Are you going to sit there silently all night with that thing in your
mouth looking like a dick?" Which would bring me down to earth, forcing me to
make conversation with her. All I really wanted to do was to sit there silently watching
the people go by.
This was the first holiday in our lives where we didn't actually feel ready to
go back. We wanted more time, food, sun and song. The Royal Mirage was the perfect
place to blow large quantities of money and feel that every penny spent had been
worthwhile. In fact, the whole experience has made me crave for my homeland.
I really, really want to go back to Poshte-bagh-e Naderi in Mashad and see if Mamad
Agha is still there running the corner shop (I have heard he is still alive). I really
want to have Chelo Kabab on the Chaloos road and I really want to be squashed with
other customers in the back of a Peykan taxi.
On the flight home we even flew over Shiraz and Tabriz with me staring down the whole
way wishing that the pilot would have to make a sudden landing or something. Then
I would have made a dash for it... perhaps not. The only thing I need to do is to
apply to the embassy for passports for V and myself and have an Islamic ceremony
for an Iranian marriage certificate so we can travel together. I will chase this
up and report back to you. See photos