The Bab – Then and Now

Welcome to the Bab Eva the Dragon April 2013

Bab means gate in Arabic.

The Bab Al Bahrain was the entrance gate into old Manama’s market place.  Thirty years ago, outside the gate, there was not land for an asphalt lot with one hundred, parking spaces and pigeons.  The turquoise sea lapped around the fisherman’s harbor.  Like the rest of the world, man’s technology has literally changed Bahrain’s landscape.  Dredgers reclaimed the Arabian Gulf, extending the island nearly a half a kilometer beyond its original edge.

Clock tower downtown Manama Eva the Dragon 2013

Today, Bahrain is no longer a harbor for fishermen or pearl divers.  Pushed by the first discovery of Gulf oil in 1932, Bahrain became the Gulf’s original, industrialized country.  Oil brought Europeans who brought air-conditioning.  Air-conditioning, Bahrain’s cultural openness and the Saudi-Bahrain causeway created the right environment for foreign banks, insurance companies and the first Gulf tourism.

In 1999, we visited Bahrain and stayed at the downtown Sheraton.  Carrying my six-month old baby, I did not want to walk the few blocks to the gold souq.  I hailed a taxi cab and explained I wanted to go gold shopping.

The taxi driver said, “Madame, I know where to take you.” And he drove away from Manama.

I wondered whether or not I was being kidnapped as I felt like he was taking me out into the hinterlands.  In the distance, the Meridian Hotel sat on the ocean shore.  He turned in its direction and dropped me off at the Marks and Spencer entrance at the new Seef Mall.

“Here is where you want to go,” he informed me.  “You will find the gold shops inside.”  He was correct that the gold shops were there.  But I was looking for the souq experience and haggling with the shopkeepers.

Bab street in the old Days photo from souq

Inside the air conditioned souq today Eva the Dragon 2013

Bahrain’s several malls have threatened the old souq with extinction.  To save the souq, the government recently invested in a roof and air-conditioned the Bab’s main street.  Old-time shopkeepers were given the opportunity to be part of the new souq, but many could not afford the increased rent.

Map of Bab Al Bahrain and surrounding area

Despite the ongoing, souq arguments published in the local paper, it is fun to go down to Bab Al Bahrain.  I drove over last week while everyone else was at the Formula One.  The weather was not stifling.  The streets have been cleaned.  The parking lot car washers and taxi drivers were friendly.  Throughout April and May, the Ministry of Culture is promoting small, local businesses by sponsoring art and musical events in the “BAB”.

musician playing oud in the bab al bahrain Eva the Dragon 2013

Entering the Bab in the old days photo in souq

Don’t let the soldiers carrying machine guns intimidate you.  The Bab guards have been carrying guns for awhile.  Unfortunately, all over the world, the guns, like the landscape, have changed.

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Even God Benefits from the F1.

grand mosque gets into the formula one bahrain

The Formula One brings in enthusiastic tourists who slap down millions of dollars in the host countries.  In Bahrain, between races, or when the spectators’ palms and pockets are empty, this ad points out there is another place to visit which offers free Love – the Al-Fateh or Grand Mosque.

Recently, an Italian friend was visiting Bahrain.  A group of us met at the Grand Mosque, left our sandals at the door and donned the required abayas and head scarves.  Our guide, an Egyptian woman named Ghada, gave us the half-hour, building tour.  Knowing my friend loves the Virgin Mary, I asked Ghada to explain Mary’s place within Islam.

Looking at our smiling faces, Ghada suggested, “Why don’t we sit?”

We made a circle of chairs and she pushed up her glasses, smiled and set her hands in her lap.

“In Islam, Mary, Mariam in Arabic, is considered to be a very righteous woman just like Fatima, the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) daughter.  Mariam is the only women mentioned by name in the Koran.”

“Can you tell us how many times she is named in the Koran,” I asked.

“In the Koran, there is an entire surah (chapter) about Mariam, number Nineteen.  She is mentioned about forty-five times in the Koran.”

“More times than in the Bible,” I added.

Ghada nodded in agreement.  “She was the perfect woman, if not the greatest woman of all time.”

We had a lively discussion about Mary’s virginity, divinity, and dreams.  Several among the group made positive comments about Ghada’s informed and open views.

“Because I want to understand what all people believe, I have read the Bible, both the Old and the New Testament.  After reading them, I still felt more drawn to Islam,” she said.

As we ended our visit, she told us, “You are an unusual group.  Normally, I do not have such discussions.”

“It is because we are women, and we all love Mary.”

The Formula One, which attracts people from around the globe, is a great opportunity for us to meet others who share a common passion.  I go to the F1 to watch the people as much as the race.  I believe events like this help break down cultural stereotypes.

Every time I have visited the Grand Mosque, I have had a delightful docent and have learned something wonderful about Islam.  Visiting the mosque is an excellent way to understand Christianity’s, Islam’s and Judaism’s common beliefs.  It is a quieter venue that, similar to the F1, highlights our common humanity.

ABOUT THE GRAND MOSQUE

The Grand Mosque in Juffair is one of the places I always take my visitors.  It is often the one chance people visiting the Middle East have to see a mosque.   Most mosques in the Gulf limit admittance to Muslims.  The al-Fateh Mosque is open to people of all faiths.  During Ramadan, al-Fateh hosts free events.  During the rest of the year, it is easy to pop in any time and find a multi-lingual docent who will take you on a tour.

There is a library and free materials about Islam.  A good representative for Islam, Ghada has written several interesting pamphlets which are available at the mosque.

Women must wear an abaya and a head scarf to enter.  The mosque has a closet full you can borrow.  Or you can bring your own.

The Grand Mosque is opposite the Gulf Hotel Complex.  Sitting near the sea, it is easy to see from the main ring road.  The trip can be combined with visits to the new Islamic library, the National Museum and the new, National Theater.

April the Month of Earthquakes and Art

Earthquakes in Iran

Iran’s 6.3 earthquake and the 7.8 “after-shock” today were felt all the way around the Gulf.

“Why are we feeling them?  What’s does this herald?,” people are asking.

Focusing on the positive, perhaps all the art exhibits opening this month in Bahrain are causing the excitement.

RE exhibit

AWA Visons 2013

Divine Feminine at World Beat Fitness

Big Red House Exhibit  April 27

extraordinary ordinary at la fontaine invite

elephant clues

Image

Opening her eyes, Susan asked, “Are we at the elephant park yet?”

“Do you see any signs?” I asked.

The Julia Club

Finishing the 500-odd paged Dearie I started thinking about how French cooking changed the lives of authors Julia Stuart and Julia Child.

Classic French dishes were the inspiration for their first books: sole meuniere for Julia Child and a haricot bean and meat cassoulet for Julia Stuart.

In Stuart’s The Matchmaker of Perigord the story starts describing a son’s devotion to his mother’s thirty-one year cassoulet and its crucial element: a preserved duck leg.  So important was his mother’s recipe that a village feud started over a cassoulet’s proper ingredients.

‘Monsieur Moreau,’ she began.  ‘Forgive me, but it is a matter of utmost importance and a true Frenchman such as yourself will know the definitive answer.  Should a cassoulet have tomatoes in it or not?’

According to Dearie, co-Authors Julia and Simone Beck, aka Simca, nearly came to blows over the proper cassoulet for Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  They tried twenty-eight recipes with and without goose before agreeing on the final version – which did NOT call for tomatoes.

In Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo and the Tortoise, the Tower ravens ate the tail of Beefeater Balthazar Jones’ 181-year old tortoise for lunch.  Although the famous ravens ate it raw, right off Mrs. Cook’s fleshy backside, Julia Child suggested adding mustard and grating a little cheese to enhance steak tartare.

Stuart’s most recent book, The Pigeon Pie Mystery is about an Indian cook who uses a 1897 recipe for pigeon pie.  Her problem began after she altered the instructions.  Instead of carving innocuous leaves into the pastry’s top, she garnished the pie with three bird legs pointing towards the sky ensuring it was eaten by the Major-General Bagshot.

Roasted pigeon was the first Cordon Bleu dish Julia Child served to her husband, Paul.  And it was one of the first dinners she prepared that didn’t nearly kill him.

There are other similarities between Julia Child and Julia Stuart.

Both women were “trailing spouses” who followed their husbands overseas.

Neither Julia aspired to be an Expat Houswife.  Without ever having written a book, both women fearlessly changed her business card to Author and devoted eight-hours a day to her new-found passion.

When Julia Stuart asked English authorities for permission to do research at the Tower of London, they denied her access.

Disguising herself as a Tourist, she took another route to research English ghosts like Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury,

“who was chased by a hacking axe man after his first blow failed to remove her head.”

After interviewing Beefeaters, Stuart incorporated the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace apartments into her story then filled them with eccentric characters.  Her clandestine research made English history interesting – especially for Americans.  Today the English edition of her book, Balthazar Jones and the Tower Zoo can be purchased in the Tower of London’s gift shop.

Julia Child succeeded despite the famous stand-off with Madame Bressard.

After passing her Cordon Bleu exam she went out, and with her French allies Simca, Louisette Bertholle, met every famous French cook.  Together they gathered their secret recipes then tested each one for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, converting the French measurements into something useable for American housewives.  Fifty years later, the cookbook continues to sell to new generations of cooks.

Neither Julia is or was a professional actress but on camera their breathless enthusiasm and laughter makes me want to join in on their fun – whether cooking, visiting places or meeting people that inspired them.

Even if my mother did not name me Julia, I will join their club – the club of women who get lost in the maze of their dreams and persevere until they eventually and successfully find a way out.

Julia Stuart’s video tour of Hampton Court can be seen on YouTUBE.

While in London we missed Hampton Court but spent a beautiful afternoon at Kensington Palace.  Julia promised me she would show us around the next time we visited London.

A Mojo Two Degrees of Separation Story

We cruised the Fiesta food stalls contemplating the Mexican fare.  When Mojo was told “we are out of shark jerky”, the dedicated carnivore set out to track down the beef ribs.

By the time our fish tacos were ready, Mojo was sharing a table and chopping on ribs.  The other diners scooted closer together to make room for our plates.

We started chatting and discovered the Filipino couple lived in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.  They worked for the same oil company Mojo had worked for many years.  Like us, they were vacationing in Santa Barbara to escape the summer heat.

Of the 20 odd tables Mojo could have chosen to sit at, he gravitated to the one most connected to him.

Summer Color In Santa Barbara

Vendors selling cartons of colored eggs lined State Street.

For months the women patiently opened the tips of eggs letting the yolks and whites dribble out.  They carefully cleaned, then painted the shells, before filling them with confetti and covering the hole with tissue paper.  These were not Easter eggs.  The women prepared them for LA FIESTA.

The official name was Old Spanish Days.

But in mid-summer, everyone in Santa Barbara called out “Happy Fiesta” and asked whether your outfit was ready for the celebrations.

Created in 1924 by a city council trying to attract tourists to Santa Barbara, the festival honors the area’s Spanish and Mexican history.

Religion and culture are mixed together for five days of parades, church services, dancing, eating, drinking and shopping for all things Mexican.

Mexican Ponchos labeled with favorite team colors

Even Hello Kitty gets a little jalapeno.

Men dressed in their black mariachi uniforms can be seen carrying their vihuelas along the crowded streets.

A colored version could be found in the market.

But I thought the people having the most fun were the locals who planned and practiced all year for La Fiesta.

And anyone who loved cracking eggs on their friends’ heads.

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