Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Homecoming 2014: Friendship, Cleavage, and Bad Shrimp

Catawba Ad Bldg 2013

This past weekend I attended my college’s Homecoming festivities, as I do every year. I made the 4-hour journey with one of my dearest friends (we’ll call him “G”) who has a much nicer car than I do. I arrived at G’s house mid-morning so we could grab a late breakfast and be on the road early enough to avoid the worst of the Friday traffic through Charlotte. It was a good plan, and it mostly worked; we had a fashion emergency and had to stop at a mall on the way, but we got to the hotel in plenty of time for me to lay down for a few minutes before getting all dressed up for the evening.

And dressed up I got. I wore a black dress I’d bought some months earlier that I’d not yet had occasion to put on. It’s a wrap dress with a side tie, and because of the way it draped, it exposed quite a lot of cleavage. I almost didn’t wear it because of that; I tend to keep the girls under cover. Not because I have a moral problem with cleavage, it’s just that I’m generously proportioned in that area and I feel incredibly conspicuous, and therefore uncomfortable, with my tatas on display. But that night I figured “What the hell!” and put on the dress.  I curled my hair and used my smoky eye shadow and red lipstick. The patent leather pointy-toe slingback shoes went on last. My jewelry was understated, just a pair of earrings. I figured I didn’t need anything else to draw attention to my breasts. They were pretty much out there all by themselves.

Thus bedecked I went in search of G. The plan was to meet some friends for an early dinner and then go to an awards ceremony and reception at the school. The restaurant that had been chosen by the group was just steps away from the hotel, which was fine as we didn’t have a lot of time.

Some of our friends had arrived earlier and were already working on their entrees when G and I got there. G sampled the broiled shrimp on one of the plates and determined that it was rubbery and flavorless, and should be avoided. I for some reason decided to throw caution to the wind (as evidenced by my skin-revealing attire) and order the fried shrimp. G told me not to. I did it anyway. I figured it was fried, how bad could it be? I was also ignoring the fact that in the past three months I’d cleaned up my diet significantly; I hadn’t had anything fried in a very long time. But I was feeling reckless (as I imagine women who routinely wear low-cut dresses must feel), and I ate the shrimp.

I didn’t realize what a colossal mistake I’d made until about five minutes after I finished the half-dozen butterfly shrimp on my plate. Suddenly I felt flushed, and my stomach gave a huge lurch. We paid the bill and I somehow made it back to the hotel, but at that point, my big night out was over.

I’ll spare you the details.

The next day I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything, but I did get dressed and go tailgating with everyone.

Normally I’m all over the place at the Homecoming game. Mind you, I never actually go IN the stadium to watch the game, I just wander around the parking lot talking to people. That day, though, I wasn’t feeling up to much, so I stayed where I was. Most everyone I wanted to see came by and hung out anyway, so I didn’t miss much. What did happen is that instead of being an instigator, my shaky physical condition forced me to take on the role of observer. A good bit of the time I either sat or stood watching other people and listening to them talk either to me or to others. What I saw didn’t surprise me; it only reinforced to me why I make this trek every year.

We love each other. We might not even know each other very well, or maybe we haven’t seen each other in a long time, or maybe we didn’t particularly enjoy each other’s company when we were in college, but now, all these years later, we come together and tell our stories, past and present, and we wrap each other up in the sure knowledge that no matter what happens we can always come here and find Home.

I spent a good part of the day with a woman who had been my suite mate for two years; we’ll call her “S”. S and I weren’t close friends when we were in school together, but we always got along, and even though she was a year older than me, for some reason I felt protective of her. I never told her that because it was a strange thing to feel about someone you don’t know very well, but I always sensed a vulnerability about her that triggered that response. It was great to reconnect with her, and to hear more about her journey. I had forgotten what a good storyteller she is, and I so enjoyed hearing her voice again and knowing that she is happy in her life. At one point she loaned me her ticket to the football game so I could use the most proximate ladies room, and as she dug it out of her pocket and handed it to me I spontaneously said “I love you!”. She looked at me and said “I love you, too.”

That’s why I go every year, without fail, no matter what else is going on. So I can love and be loved by these people who either share my history or something very similar to it. We understand each other because we’re the ones who got it. We all drank to Koolaid and got on the bandwagon and swallowed the same pill. That means that deep down where it counts we have something fundamental in common. I’m not sure what that is – values, beliefs, aspirations – but whatever it is, it binds us together. I know that not everyone who attended that school feels the same way about it. I guess they never felt the love that suffuses the place. I feel sorry for them. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

 

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Dubai – The Emerald City of the Middle East

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The Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel

I’ve been away for the better part of the last two weeks on a trip to the other side of the world. My business partner lives in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates. It’s on the coast of the Persian Gulf, tucked in between the capital, Abu Dhabi, and some lesser-known emirates. The UAE itself is bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman. Iran (f/k/a Persia) is just across the gulf.

Here’s a link to a good map. Go ahead and take a look; I’ll wait.

Yes, it’s a very small country. You can drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in an hour (traffic permitting). Dubai itself is long and skinny; most of it hugs the coastline. That makes sense because you don’t have to drive far in the other direction until you’re in the desert. Way out in the desert.

I went to Dubai to get some face time with my partner and friend; it had been at least 2 ½ years since we’d seen each other. We’d done all of the foundation work for the business mostly over Skype. We’d accomplished a lot, but we’d reached a point where we really needed to spend some time in the same room. So, armed with a pile of airline miles, I made my way to the Middle East.

To say I didn’t know what to expect is an understatement. My friend has lived there for the past ten years; she’s British, and has always said that, for the most part, she likes it. I was curious and a little nervous about going to an Arab country for the first time. I’m aware that Americans aren’t wildly popular in a lot of places in the world, and I always feel as if I have to be on my best behavior, just in case I have the opportunity to change somebody’s mind about us. And I was really not looking forward to the heat.

My first impression of Dubai was that the parts I saw, which initially were the downtown area and the marina, don’t look entirely real. It looked to me like some futuristic version of what somebody thought a city should look like. As we were driving into downtown one afternoon it struck me that if you bunched up the buildings a little more and painted them green, it would look a lot like the Emerald City from “The Wizard of Oz”. See for yourself.

Dubai skyline Wizard 6 Emerald City

Ok, well, maybe that’s just my fancy getting the better of me, but I did feel like Dorothy come to Oz. Everything was new, and fantastical. But also unsettling in a way I wasn’t prepared for and couldn’t identify at first.

It took me days to figure out what was really bothering me about the city, but I finally realized it’s because everything is new. Nothing I was seeing was more than 15 years old. Not one skyscraper in the marina area had been there only twelve years before. This is the skyline I mean:

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Let that sink in a moment. Not one of those buildings was there in the year 2000. I don’t know why, but that thought gives me shivers.

The other thing that made me feel off balance is the sheer wealth of the place. There is crazy money there, so much money you can almost see it floating on the gulf breeze, or hanging in the shimmering heat. Or being sucked into the air conditioning vents (which is where a lot of it must go – keeping the denizens of Dubai cool is a colossal undertaking). I don’t live in that world of luxury high rises and expensive cars and marathon shopping. It was hard for me to not feel self-conscious about my modest means when surrounded by so much opulence.

My friend, thankfully, lives in the real world, so staying in her home was a welcome refuge from the overwhelming excess I saw every time we went out. Her house is lovely; it’s in one of the “older” neighborhoods, which means she’s only minutes away from anywhere. Her villa is surrounded by a high white wall (as is everyone’s) which encloses the house, the drive, and the yard. In front of the house is a beautiful tree that is full of birds; you can hear them singing even through the sliding glass door. One evening as I stood looking out at the tree, the sound of the birds chattering underscored the call to prayer from a nearby mosque, and the mingling of those songs gave me an unexpected moment of joy. After that I started to feel friendlier towards the place.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Dubai, it’s just that I couldn’t relate to it. Until I got into the old part of the city.

Dubai was originally the home of fishermen and pearl divers. The oldest sections surround what the locals call the “Creek”, which makes that body of water sound much more modest than it really is. Here’s a picture so you know what I mean:

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Finally, I found something that looks like what I you’d think a Middle Eastern city should look like. I was so relieved! Here are some images of the city I could finally relate to:

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Dubai has a lot of history if you go looking. The culture is deep and strong and beautiful. It is truly a melting pot; different people began coming to Dubai long before they found oil under the sand. There is a lot to recommend it, truly. And don’t let me fool you, I did get a kick out of some of the crazy new stuff, like the indoor ski slope (“Ski Dubai”), and I was completely obsessed by the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. I couldn’t quit gawking at it. It’s amazing, an incredible achievement in design and engineering, and worth the trip just to see it towering above the downtown skyline.

But being totally honest, I can’t say I loved Dubai. I liked it, and I’d like to go back, but I didn’t fall in love the way I love other places. London is my home away from home. New Orleans is my favorite city in the U.S. I left a piece of my heart in Venice. I’ve been so blessed to have been many places and to have had so many experiences, and I am constantly grateful for them. I find I’m intrigued by Dubai, but I’ll never be more than a tourist there. Or that’s how it feels to me.

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All photos except “The Wizard of Oz” and Dubai downtown skyline (C) 2014 Amanda Taylor Brooks

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