If you live in a Muslim state there are multiple dietary restrictions. Well, you don’t find ingredients in the grocery that I once took for granted. Soy sauce! The Filipinos don’t use the type I use. Trust me, it’s very different than what I get in NY. There is no bacon or ham – no pork is eaten in Muslim culture. My departure from Jeddah was more rushed than planned. I gave away a lot of groceries to the Filipino nurses who had befriended me. I hope they like bacon. How do you get it into the country. You put it in your luggage and hope the Saudi inspectors don’t squawk. And I got caught! They triumphantly held up my bottle of soy sauce from my bag. Wine?! Alcohol!? Nope, soy sauce, ha ha, the look of abject failure was obvious as I snatched back the bottle from the Saudi cop. He missed the bacon. It doesn’t show up on x-ray. Yes, my home appliances were given to the nurses too. Ok, I take pictures of everything? My pantry? Ha ha, yes. Imagine that, portrait of a package of bacon.
Did you ever?
… eat in a restaurant called Ketchup? Would you? We did. It was in Jeddah. Why? The name, of course. It was a Middle Eastern restaurant. Of course, it was. Good? I have no recollection. So, I guess, forgettable.
… eat, deep fried kale? Preserve, Annapolis. It was a restaurant recommendation at another store. Spectacular! And messy! I tried it at home. Kale splatters oil all over the place. It is the quintessential poster child for “Don’t try this at home!” Good? Spectacular! Have we been back? No, it is, alas, (it’s) bad for you. But boy oh boy, was it good!
I’m just spinning back the image files to the year 2016. Nightfall, at 35,000 feet. I’m over Long Island headed back to the Middle East. The glow of lights below outlines civilization. There is no blankness in the landscape. I am amazed at the image. It’s not perfect. But, detail is there in the glow of sunset… enough to appreciate the curve of the earth?
Reality? Can you feel the heat of the desert? There are no trees… few. And the crowded streets. It’s barren and foreboding. It was a great adventure. I’m glad to be gone.
Here’s a shout out to Shutterfly. They took over Kodak a while ago. And my photos have been preserved with them. Of course, I did not load pictures without keeping the originals myself. But where? I could no doubt find them in a little bit. Or, I can be tempted by their solicitous email. They send me memories from years back and I am supposed to respond by getting prints. For some reason the idea works counter-intuitively for me. Nice. They post my pics as a tiny file. I can’t take the file and actually use it. Is that right? Thank you. I can post them. No harm no foul. The issues open for discussion are too numerous to count.
Kids! Mine! They visited Jeddah five years ago. Hence, the abaya. How time flies! It was a special trip, the last I had with both my kids alone. Jules is married now and almost a new mom. Saudi Arabia does not allow tourists. They make their millions from the penitent to Mecca. So, it was unusual that my kids were allowed to visit me, pretty much a one time deal. So, this is a memory on many levels. A few years, only a few.
And street photography. It seems that my camera was a magnet. This group of kids was perfectly happy to ham it up while I took their picture. It was a request. Theirs! Thank you too.
This was my view landing in Jeddah. In the 11 o’clock position (in the traffic circle) is the world’s tallest flag pole. Yes! They made the traffic circle just for the flag. Urban planning? Yup! There is a traffic jam going ‘round that circle every single day and night that lasts for hours and hours. No one can complain to the king? When he goes through his motorcade has a path cleared by the police. It’s nice to be king. Oh! No trees either. There are lots of people.
And now, it gets dark at night. My weather changes. And at night it gets really dark! The view is unpolluted. There are lots of trees. I have to look closely to see any lights in the dark. Nice. I can do this for a while. Serenity. Don’t mess with mine.
Last Supper – It’s the people you know
Not quite. I’m not religious. Particularly. In Saudi this view does not fly. So, say nothing. I was advised to do so and for this particular time I did so. So there is no upcoming crucifixion. However, there is always a last supper. My last night in Jeddah, well next to the last, I ate out with the people who cared about me and meant most to me. It was “bye.” We had a very nice peaceful subdued dinner in a Korean restaurant. My circle was complete. I taught Khalid how to use chop sticks in about ten seconds. He’s good. I’ll be missed. And I will miss them. A lot of history was shared these past four years. To paraphrase – what happened in Jeddah, stayed in Jeddah. Or, if you have something nice to say do it. No one likes to hear complaints. To which I can only add, “We sure did some interesting shit.” Yes, that’s the operative word.
Street photography – you don’t aim or compose, you just press the shutter. The idea is to catch spontaneity. It’s mostly because you are afraid or shy to ask to take a picture. Or you are afraid to have an angry objection. And if you are in a foreign place it is wise to be discrete. Auto focus! It works. Aim in the general direction of your subject. Hope for the best. At night I use auto ISO and shutter speed 1/125. Otherwise things will be blurred. They tend to be. So I try to lessen the error.
I had an errand to do in the old city. It’s September and still hot as blazes. The humidity is high. And still, it does not rain. You go out only at night. Daytime is instant meltdown. I live in A/C. My villa has never seen the A/C off in four years. Power outages are very rare. Once it lasted for more than an hour and my friend left to go to a hotel. He did not tolerate heat. Wuss! Well, me too. But for some reason we were on different circuits and my power was on. No, he did not want to stay in my messy villa. As soon as I exited the air conditioned car my camera lens fogged up. I did not realize it. So for a moment, until I checked, everything was fogged. It was an interesting effect. And the shot I could not get… the man in the chair had sweat dripping from the tip of his nose. Sorry. Couldn’t get that. It’s street photography! There are shots I saw that will ever be on my mind. I missed it. But I saw it. If you didn’t get it, you didn’t see it. But I did. Like the eggs. Some days you are in the right place at the right moment. And just a bit later on, you miss. Yes, a drop of sweat, right on the tip of his nose. “Plain as the tip of your nose.” Missed!
Baa – Language
What lamb in Arabic? If you don’t know it will not help you to sat baa. Ogden Nash wrote about the language of dogs. They bark differently in different countries. Woof is not universal. French dogs do not necessarily “bow wow.”
When I arrived in Jeddah I could not speak Arabic. And I still cannot. Thankfully all the Filipino waiters speak English. We tried a Malaysian restaurant the other night. Tried. Failed. The staff looked vaguely oriental which meant to me that they were likely Filipino. Nope. My nurses were embarrassed. They could not speak with or get a translation for the menu. We were stuck in a place with cuisine I was not familiar and with no one to guide us. We went to an Indian place instead. My nurses have never eaten Indian food. Imagine? I ordered us up some good vittles. Mmmm….
This picture? I was in the mall. I saw someone eating. It was a stew that was eaten with fresh made flat bread. I went to order up some too. And the Arabic speaker behind the counter was mystified. We could not speak. At all. I pointed. He shrugged He asked in Arabic. I pointed. I said baa. I said moo. He smiled and shrugged again. I got beef. They don’t serve pork. And I never clucked.
Now? I get on the phone to my assistant. I tell him and he speaks on my behalf. A lot of hospital staff have asked me for help and I use this method to be sure I am understanding the problem. No, I did not learn enough Arabic to be conversant. Yes, I am shameful. I still eat well. And mostly Filipinos wait on me. I am not learning a new language but I have adapted. Bow wow.
There is a style here. Dinner. It’s traditional. Which is to say that after the first several times I attended, it has a recognizable pattern. This typical dinner in my compound was attended by men. Females, even physician colleagues are not invited. A lamb is prepared – grilled – and then served over rice. Picking at the meat with your bare fingers to get to the succulent parts is an accepted norm. Eating with your fingers is common. Forks are provided. No knives. The usual dessert is a sweet semolina cake that has cream or mozzarella cheese in between the layers. In Mexico it’s called arepa. My friend Nasser – we call him Kideida – dressed in traditional formal garb in celebration of the occasion. I wore my golf shirt. Ha! I don’t golf.
I attended a welcome dinner. Two physicians joined our department. I live modestly in hospital housing. This was an opportunity to see how the other half lives. It’s a separation of sexes. No females were in attendance. Someone brought their son. Otherwise it was a banquet of males. Lamb is roasted on a skewer. Standard fare. The sides included lots of rice, salad, and fruit, followed by dessert. Afterward our host played traditional music accompanied by his son. From the outside, the walls are high and drab. Inside, the accommodations are quite the opposite. Elaborate and ornate, it reflected a long life of collecting the trappings of wealth and success. Me? I’m living in two suitcases, ready to go if it’s imperative. The bulk of it will be my dive gear. I’m of the opinion that you can’t take it with you…but…. you can sure store it somewhere else. To be fair, I’ve got a lot of junk sitting around somewhere else… Please don’t laugh too hard.
Sometimes When We Touch
It’s a song title. I’ve been hoping that Lulu and Casi will be friends. Lulu was all fur flying and hissing when Casi walked through the door. Jealousy?! I think so. I was Lulu’s human. And she was not sharing. At this point they coexist. The share space. They have divided me up. One or the other will hang near me. At night one sleeps close by to my right, the other to my left. Yes, they sleep on the bed. It happens after a while… Casi prefers to sleep under the covers. She feels safer.
There are encounters. And even some playful cuffing goes on. I do not think I will ever get a portrait of the two of them together sharing in any gossip. I belong to them. They share. But they are not happy about it. I will therefore stop short of discussing the Muslim belief here that you can have up to four wives. Did you know? They rotate. The first wife goes in order to make room for the fifth. That is how they get around the limit. Cats! I’m still waiting for them to be smiling in the same image together.
This is the best…
…Chinese restaurant the I will never return to eat in again. I’ll start with an aside. I don’t eat sushi. But when David graduated from USC we had dinner where my niece’s boyfriend worked. It was the best sushi ever. Perfect. After that anything else would be downhill. Bonnie made a touching random act of kindness and invited me to dinner. She had told me the food was outstanding. It was. Even the rice was soft and fluffy. I don’t wax on about rice. But the very basic staple of every Chinese meal was done to perfection. The noodles are hand pulled. Or, as her husband, Daniel, said – “homemade.” Big difference. But same. (He’s German – language/translation ww) The noodles start as a ball of dough and then as a lump it is pulled into a single thin long noodle strand. The trick it is to find the two ends before you eat it. That would be “Chinese luck.” Suffice to say the meal was outstanding. Rosewood Hotel – Noodles – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. No, you can’t go either. Travel visas are hard to get. Which means that most folks will never get to eat there either. I don’t show you any food pics. It was not that kind of meal. The other gal is Jen, my OR nurse. We almost did not eat there. My colleague Farid was invited. He does not like Chinese food so we were almost set to go to a Lebanese place. But as it turns out, he had to go to parent teacher conference and the invitation was aimed at me. So, yay! We ended up in the best place I will never return to eat. No pictures of the food. What you really remember is the company. Now, read between the lines. When I was studying English and literature, we had to parse the meaning out of everything the writer was saying, analyzing what was not on the written page.
It rains in Jeddah and the city of 3 million or so people are paralyzed. Kids get sent home from school like a “snow day.” Traffic is snarled for hours. People don’t do weather here. Maybe they have never turned the wind shield wipers on? Whatever! It rains about once a year. It might rain for an hour. There is absolutely no drainage system for water to run off. Why? It only rains once a year! The rest of the time, why worry? Infrastructure! I’m told a prince stole the money earmarked for the drainage system. Ah! One part of the government stealing from the other. How quaint. It seems to be a habit.
I guess there is nothing that beats the pleasure of riding your bike in the rain and raising hell with the puddles. After all isn’t that a basic rite of childhood?
There is a genre – street photography. I’m shy. And I dislike encounters. And I don’t want to ask. And I don’t want a pose. And I don’t want to be giving someone money to take a picture. You may not like it, but in America, anyone on the street is fair game. Commercial use is a different story. But for personal use, it’s all good. Here’s what you do. It’s simple. (Somehow people don’t object as much to iPhone. But I use a camera.) Use your camera on wide angle, set the shutter speed to about 1/125. Then do what it says – point and shoot. Don’t look. There is the flavor of an imperfectly composed shot. It works. You hit. You miss. Sometimes you win. If you are unsure shoot more than one. Don’t stop moving. And don’t let anyone catch on that you are taking pictures. Slices of life, unposed, unpretentious, natural…it’s more for me to have a flavor of life to recall. In Jeddah the heat of the day has everyone indoors. Some shops are open. But at night the whole tenor changes and the streets of the old city are teaming with activity. The heat of the day is lowered to simply unbearable as opposed to daytime hell. And digital allows you to take images I could never do with film. There’s a vibrancy to night life in the city.
Push carts abound. Vendors will sell any kind of produce. The big supermarkets – nope – people buy, sell, and bargain – probably illegally. But there is definite supply and demand.
Sugar cane – it’s crushed and the liquid is served up as a drink. It’s bland. Almost yuck! You need to add lime and ginger when you crush it. That’s a drink! Jules and I learned this in Zanzibar. She drank the whole thing and left me a taste. So I know from that small sample how to fix this. But nope, not in Jeddah.
Sticks – there is vendor in this spot, his spot. And now there are a couple of others – competition. They cut them and bundle them. They are to rub your teeth – like a toothbrush. No Crest, Colgate, or Tom’s of Maine. Buy a bundle. Share them or use them yourself.
Sewing – the tailors use a fairly unsophisticated machine to do their magic. If you are native, you wear a thobe and someone has to make them. It looks like he has made lots. And overwhelmingly they are white. And, abayas are black. Who’s the biggest loser?
Life in the city. It all happens at night. There are huge super malls. But what’s new there? Everyone has seen a mall by now? Online shopping! Walmart is scared! Amazon rules? Imagine the next big thing….
Shisha – it’s what they smoke. I know it as a water pipe. Hookah, another name. It connotes smoking through water. I read that the dose of toxic nicotine is equivalent to hundreds of cigarettes in a single session of smoking shisha. Don’t do it! It’s bad for you.
It started when I passed a store that sells water pipes. It was the tip of the iceberg. Around Jeddah there are stores which will sell you custom made thobes. The stores are congregated in a few places. There might be a dozen or more shops side by side competing for business. There is another location for honey and another for olive oil, dates, and so forth. It’s silly economics. All the prices must be comparable.
The water pipe stores are on a narrow street. And then, much to my surprise, an artisan was right there. He was working away in an open shop with horrible fluorescent lighting. I paused, he looked up, and I did something I never do; I asked if he minded if I took his picture. And he was okay with it. And I got a couple. I did not try to overstay my welcome. Yay! It’s street photography and ordinarily I just shoot and look like I’m doing something else. But we were eye to eye. There was no hiding intent. And he was gracious and I said thanks. We had our moment and I moved on. I’d buy one. They sell his product next door. But, I don’t smoke. So, no…
Never ever! Never ever fly through Riyadh. I said it twice. You have been warned!
It’s a beautiful airport. It is a transit hub that funnels passengers to Jeddah/Mecca. Flights leave from multiple airlines continuously. I arrived from the US on a 6PM flight. My connecting flight to Jeddah was at 9PM. Plenty of time. I watched the board for announcements beginning an hour before the flight. Ten minutes after my flight departed, they posted – “Departed” – on the flight status board. No gate. No warning. No last call. Nothing. They never announced the gate number. This was the start to the nightmare. I caught a flight out at 1AM. Flights leave every hour. My plane was half empty. So go figure. I got to Jeddah airport and was met by the hospital driver. We threw my bags into the trunk. The driver turned to me and asked if I had the keys. No! He called another driver – for a spare key? No! For tools to break into the car! At 4AM we are in the parking lot breaking and entering. Really! It was a long flight made longer by a series of errors.
Never ever fly through Riyadh to make a connection. I have heard horror stories from others. If you feel inclined to ignore the warning….
Of all the things we never imagined, Jules visiting Jeddah would be right up there on the list. But she really does love her dad. I posted a nice lead picture. Women hate humor in their photographs. (Just wait.)
She came for a visit. You have to wear an abaya. I borrowed one. She wore it. It’s like your own personal steam bath. She even wore the scarf although that is pretty optional for non Muslims. Sort of… No Jules did not go over the top with heat stroke. She wanted to see camels. And we thought there were some on the other side. Dopey? Yup, I guess the heat did get to her. She let me take this awful pic. One looks very interesting out of context wearing a dive mask on dry land. It’s not awful. It’s just not flattering. Right? She teaches Little kids. Sharing? Nope.
This was a raspberry macaroon. She ate the whole thing and never offered me a taste. That’s revenge! She’s still my favorite daughter.
The experiment lasted until evening. Then I tested the waters and Bidi left. She’s much happier. So much for my theory about being out in 100 degree weather with a fur coat – it hot! Right? I think that she might have come around. But hey!
Meanwhile, I’m back to Lulu and Casi. Suddenly they get along better. Imagine that. Neither cat disliked Bidi. But seemingly the inside cats are closer since Bidi left. Bidi is back outside and lurks by my door to await food. We’re all good around here. You can’t win ’em all. Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.
No Fish…picture… again
It often find myself looking at the background of the photo.In that case you will see my computer screen. I go to Amazon and read the NY Times. And the article is about mean things said by supporters at Trump’s rallies. Cats are curious and like to get in my business. And I tolerate a lot. How else could you get such a photo op?
No diving again. I was almost there and got the word that the waves were too high. Darn! I headed home. What to do? Ah! Cats. I have lots, too many, pictures. Only a few select can be posted. Picture fatigue. Funny, some folks don’t mind my prose. And then David complained the other day about my not giving him sentences. It was messaging. You don’t use sentences? I’m old. The protocol and communication via email and social media are lost to me. Fine! He was asking if Freeport was worth a visit. He never said that. It’s an outlet center. Shopping. LL Bean. That store is open 24/7. Really! Oops, no sentence again. Drat. Darn. He’s on his bike trip to Nova Scotia. There is no margin to carry extra weight. “Don’t go,” I advised. He messaged back later, “It’s a nice town.” Following advice seems to run in my family.
Anyway, I got a lot of cat pics after I brought Bidi in. It’s suddenly quiet. And then only Lulu and Casi appeared when I made noises to draw out any cat’s curiosity. Bidi was hiding. Ah! She’s got Casi’s old spot. And suddenly Casi and Lulu get along. Imagine that! No, no, no, fish not cats, I’m a fish person. I shoot fish. Repeat and repeat again, I shoot fish. Oh my! Those are pinned back ears. Lulu has been admonished enough that she checks with me before she is about to eat Casi. … no cats were harmed in the making of this photo.
Why Can’t I Learn?
Why can’t I learn? Enough is enough. Back to my regularly scheduled posting. The answer to the answer of the first question is that I like to poke the bear. “Don’t poke the bear.” I have my indoor cats. And then there are outdoor cats. For a while now Bidi has hung around my door. She has been right there when I opened the door. She is under the hedge and waits for me to come home. She’s a regular and eats just like Lulu and Casi. Those two are in A/C comfort.
You can see where this is headed. Yup, I scooped up Bidi and put her down inside the door. Lulu to her credit was not fur flying hissing up a fit. I think she may remember Bidi from when they were outside together. Sniff…Casi was timid but curious.
Both watched Bidi explore and mewl. She was a while getting used to being inside. About an hour, no noise, no yowling, no blood, no fur, gee! Am I glutton? Well, this way it’s easier. And Bidi will eat as she pleases instead of waiting in the heat for me to show up. I’m really doing everyone a favor, right?
You have three kids. Which one is your favorite? Trick question! But there is always a soft spot for your first. And then there is the consideration of who photographs the best. Sometimes graphics triumph. But, I’m not taking sides here….
Eating is sport. Run, dodge the traffic.
The first months I spent in Jeddah were pretty clueless as I look back in retrospect. I had no transportation. So I walked around in the high heat and ducked into any willing A/C place. Traffic is all fast. They swerve to avoid you. It’s so they don’t have to do paperwork. Guys get run over all the time. It’s a video sport too. Hit the dashing pedestrian. The ladies in their abayas are bulletproof. They step off the curb and mosey, just saunter into the street, and the traffic all swerves magically to avoid them. I like to walk with women! The malls all have food courts. And for a long while when I first arrived in Saudi, I ate in them each night. I was not cooking. You had portioned meals, vaguely healthy, and the prices were not too bad. After my first six months I have not really eaten in a mall again. It gets tiring and boring in a hurry. Also, I eat way less salt and sugary drink that way.
Recently I had to walk through this mall. Revisit. Almost four years later, this was a nostalgic trip. Most of the fast food places had closed and been replaced. One or two remained. Same place, some of it same, much of it changed, I was curious but not sad that I no longer get sustenance there. The crepe place is a standard around the world. Nice. I like chocolate and banana. Closed. Gone. Hmmm….wonder where to go?
Eating is sport. Do not underestimate the folks in Jeddah. There are those who know how and where to eat. Churrascaria is Brazilian style. Bring an appetite and expect to eat a lot of meat. It starts with an extensive salad bar. Fill up, but save room. And then there is a disc – red or green side. Red light green light. Go. They bring cuts of meat right from the grill.
The server slices it off and straight onto your plate. Eat till you are full then red light. They grilled pineapple covered in cinnamon sugar for dessert.
This night Faisal was the host. Great guy, wonderful sense of humor, He’s part of the morning exercise group. This night – eat! Keep the grill coming. For some reason it’s like a rite – men, meat, caves. There is a family section. But this is more a gathering of men and appetite – guys night out.
Sataya – Closed
I love the graphics of this wall in a Manhattan restaurant that closed before I ever got a chance to eat there. Open – close, restaurants have a short survival. Some, less than others, close pretty quickly. Ambience is a big factor. So this place is stunning. Midtown Manhattan, great location, plenty of foot traffic, it is a sure fire deal. Nope! Gone in a year. I don’t know why. Bad food. Failed health inspection? Who knows? Another will replace it shortly. But I was very surprised it was shuttered the next time I passed. Of course, I had never personally been in there myself….
In Jeddah restaurants come and go too. Junk food rules. McD forever! A great concept place shuttered – Churros! They were terrific. Good stuff, great confection, fattening, sugary, cinnamon, chocolate dipping sauce – how could it possibly fail? Shuttered.
There are restaurants way overpriced. They don’t last. Two Italian restaurants sat side by side in Jeddah. The pricey one was just gone one day.
Location – if you are in the traffic pattern, lots of people see you and come to visit. My current favorite restaurant is relatively out of the traffic eye and has few customers. I hope they last. But it’s never a good sign when I am usually one of few customers eating and the waiters know you by name.
Mosque – Sunset
Did I mention Saudi Arabia is Muslim? And they do not allow any other religious symbols to be displayed. No cross or bible. They are confiscated. And the censors….well I was on Saudi Airlines and a scene was edited with blurred bubbles. What? It was a cemetery. And there were crosses. And all the tombstones were blurred out. Geez. Actually it’s amusing to watch censored movies. You see there is considerable latitude for the particular censor and the movie he blurred. Some will blur a woman’s bare neck. I’m not talking cleavage. Anyway, there is hardly a block where you don’t see a local mosque. My hospital has one built in and available on the ground floor. Hey! Catholic hospitals have chapels. And the minarets are striking and picturesque.
And sunsets are spectacular. A water treatment plant is nearby spewing lots of pollution. My partner always said sunset in Bayonne was spectacular because of the pollution… The minarets all have speakers that blare out prayers at prayer time. Five times a day starting at dawn, they pray. Well, not everyone prays each and every time. But there is plenty of call and plenty of opportunity.