Tag Archives: coffee

Coffee and Wine

Going out for a coffee is not a simple thing here. Yes there are the Starbucks and the Costas, and these are always busy. There is even an annual barrister competition, if that is any indication of coffee seriousness.

But there are also the cafes where attendance requires some embellishment, normally of the large sun glasses, glittering head scarf and fabulosa heels variety. We wandered into one divine cafe where the scene, at 10 am on a Sunday morning resembled a post Paris fashion show. The men wore their heaviest watches and silkiest Thobes, but it was the women of the towering heels and reddest lips brigade who really shone. The perfume mingled nicely with the warm almond croissants and roasted coffee beans. With an iphone in one hand and a blackberry in another, it was hard to pick at the ‘Oeufs aux fines herbes’, and carry on a conversation with a best friend at the same time, but they managed.

Maybe it is because this is, by and large, a dry society that coffee is taken so seriously.

Handsome wore a F1 fluorescent orange cap and shorts.  We felt decidedly underdressed.

Then it was onto the next stop: the liquor store. Now, I’ve mentioned before that alcohol is permitted in Bahrain, and in fact some Saudi’s depend on it, but it is not readily available You can’t find a beer or bottle of wine in a super market, nor in a “cold store’ the equivalent of the Quebec depanneur or the corner store. There is no Off License, nor SAQ, nor LBO. I thought Quebec was funny with its rules about where you can buy wine or not and the hours that it is open, or not.  But then I had never been to a liberal country in the Gulf.

Well here it is a whole different story, and one that often comes up as dinner party conversation. “ Where did you find that,” and “ you said how much? I am going tomorrow!” and “ they have that here now”? So far, as much as we can discern there are three shops that sell alcohol and they are not advertised. One is in a hotel, ( with a drive through featuring tons of Saudi plates), one is on a compound and can only be accessed through a sliding sheet metal door or Mondays and Thursdays between 1 and 3 pm. And the third is this one:

Inside it feels like a clandestine affair. There are shifty Indians with bloodshot eyes clutching whisky and fistfuls of crumpled cash. There are the odd expats, scanning the aisles for something new and cheap. There are the newbie expat dads waiting in line for their special discount card that is given out on a whim. Everything is paid for and wrapped in dark bags lest they be seen by a passing opinionated Muslim.

Everything is over priced and falls somewhere between ‘dep wine’ ( ask a Montrealer) and ridiculous vintage French stuff for the people who never look at price tags.

Like those ladies in the coffee shop.

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Filed under Bahrain

Bahrain by night

Laptop back and running, routine is commencing and 3limes is returning to regular blogging practices. It’s about time! Are you still there?

My trusty laptop is terminally ill and most keys have no discernible letters, but still, it is home from the IT hospital and I can once again type. How many of you thought I had donned black and gone local? No I am still here and between hammering holes into my new walls, driving proudly around the island and starting my brand new job I am alive, thriving in fact, eyes wide open and amazed.

I can’t help but compare, who wouldn’t? After two years in Uganda it is hard not to be stunned by the differences laid out before me on a daily basis and it is not just about the number of Ferraris and sparkly malls, the wide open deserts, the overbearing colour of sand, the concrete and steel architecture, the empty, long highways or the long traffic jams at 9pm. No, what strikes me now is the depth of culture here, something ancient and immovable.

Everything is different. Some simple observations have led me to see that Arab culture is concerned with good smells and tidy bottoms. Every bathroom has not only the ubiquitous hand help shower head to assist one’s personal hygiene, but also a bidet in case further washing is necessary. One hotel even has a delightful toilet that sprays warm water in an oscillating fashion followed by a gently warm heat. Some have admitted to finding this quite enthralling.The malls have more perfume shops that I have ever seen, and even extravagant, opulent silver mini trunks to store the perfume within. Men here may cover up the hair on their head but beards and side burns are groomed with some imagination and effort. Women who are draped and nearly disguised focus closely on makeup. eyebrows, and sharp heels that click away, peeping seductively beneath the Abaya. Everyone looks neat, smells divine and has paid some homage to the gods of vanity.

And yet, unless they are peering subtlety at one another, there is no flirting between the sexes, in fact no mixing at all, even after dark.  This is a culture that lives at night. Traffic is intense here at 9pm, and whereas back on my ranch pajamas and TV might be in order, here it is time to go out. The night is cooler, the finest grooming is revealed and the city shines.

One evening Handsome and I slipped out after dinner, leaving Trooper and Princess in the capable hands of Friends re-runs, to a very popular and exquisite coffee shop. This was no Starbucks. Instead we were transported as the ornate menu directed us to be, to belle époque late century Paris, where plush red velvet and tinkling chandeliers reflected the chattering classes beneath. Yet in the Paris of Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge there would certainly have been Pernod, even Absinthe sipped by ladies with coquettish eyes. Here the menu was gateaux, cappuccino and fruity juices served in gorgeous tall glasses. Men sat together, some in traditional garb, in this case starched white resplendent with shiny cufflinks and headscarfs flicked up like mighty sails. At different tables women sat, adjusting their headscarfs, beautifully knotted and dotted with Swarovski crystal. There was not one mixed table, no couples, no mixed friends. I couldn’t help thinking how any Saturday night in London at 11 pm would have seen a rowdy bunch spilling out of the pub, having “pulled” some willing member of the opposite sex, who, with enough booze, might be persuaded to come over for a quick shag.

And there Handsome and I sat, the only mixed table, quietly talking, sharing a divine pistachio and chocolate mousse and sipping coffee.

There was something exciting in its foreignness and something so elegant. Where was the loud boozy laughing, the overtly sexual looks hanging over the room?

Bahrain was starting to sink in and I could now see that beneath its sandy and materialistic exterior there was tradition, deep habit, customs dating back centuries and above all, pride.

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Filed under Bahrain, observations

Three tourists came into a bar… or a cafe…

At coffee the other day, on my last day off, always a bittersweet day, I had to laugh. The cafe was full of tourists. Tourists here fall into three categories.

First we have the young and intrepid. Generally tall, fit and almost always handsome and attractive with that glow of youth and expectation, they all dress the same. The travelers garb here is aglow with African print, in the fabric of their bags, the beads of their flip flops, the headbands that hold back their hair. There are tattoos, baggy trousers with too many pockets or soft skirts purchased in a market soon after their arrival. The jewelry was bought then too, with the excitement of a new purchase in a foreign and new land. They all look brave and weathered as if they already bungee jumped and done all of the rapids. Now they are bargain hunting for the next adventure and they are off to see it, find it all.

Next are the earnest and fresh faced missionaries. These young couples have come with some connection to a church and are planning to stay awhile and volunteer. They are almost always blond, the men often sport beards and they wear no jolly prints of jewelry.   They might be in Kampala to get supplies or perhaps they are on their way up country but they have the look of people on a mission. Literally.

Then there are the middle aged do gooders. These people, often from the middle of Canada or Kansas have retired and want to go on an adventure. Combined with a stint at an orphanage or school, they have come dressed for the part. I imagine when they were packing what must have gone through their minds. “ Shall I bring the denim skirt or the kakhi? Perhaps both.” “I am not sure I can find trousers with elasticated waists over there so I’ll bring 4 or 5 pairs, just in case.” Yesterday took the cake, and the cherry pie. The woman who walked into the cafe was dressed entirely in denim, top to toe, the soft overly washed kind, and slung over her shoulders was a giant fish. Yes. This woman had a bag in the shape and colourful splendour of a super sized Nemo. Behind her, she had a friend who carried an enormous Disney Land bag. It could not have looked better coming off a Carnival Cruise ship in Miami.

Of course, they took a table right next to the young travelers, blond, Danish and dressed in beaded flip flops. sliver bangles and the ubiquitous African print head band. Perfect.

Am I terribly cruel? Hope not.

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A simple list


I have not been feeling happy. So to knock the blues on the head I have decided to try the old fashioned approach and twist my head the other way.

Happiness is:

An excellent cup of coffee, not filter, not instant, real expresso.

A day at the beach. Any beach, even it is cold, windy and the waves are cross. But even better if it hot and empty.

Slowing waking up and realizing there is a soft princess in bed curled up beside me.

A breakfast buffet in a 5 star hotel.

New shoes.

Seeing a daughter looking beautiful and excited as she heads out to a party

Toblerone

Eating outside, al fresco

A good book and nothing else to do than read it.

Fresh, unopened juicy magazine filled to the brim with pictures, articles, stories. Think New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Oprah.

A snow day , everything closed, a guilt free day at home.

Bottle of chilled white wine, good friend, no work tomorrow.

Dark cinema, film that envelops, comfortable chairs, popcorn and M&Ms.

Sushi with my sisterhood

Taking a fantastic photo.

The smell of puppy paws, crushed digestives and milk.

Gelato.

A class of kids that looks up at you, in silence, and you know that they are all there and they get it.

Seeing your kids smile and laugh in the company of really good friends.

Having a good friend where you can invite yourself over for tea and stay for dinner.

Getting 3 facebook messages from ex students on the day that Salinger died to say they were thinking of me.

A sunday with no rain.

Dancing to a little Bob.

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Filed under I love food, I miss shopping., Sisterhood, When the rose tint fades

The little things

It is the little things that make us crestfallen. The real little tragedies are the things that were just ever so close.

Like the time we were just about to press play on a marathon night of Entourage and the power just went out. And then when I thought “ No problem we can play it on my Macbook!” we couldn’t get the DVD out of the machine. ‘Cause the power was off.

Or imagine the power going off in the middle of an urgent MSN tween chat with your best friend in the world! Tragic! ( Try explaining Ugandan power supply to a 12 year old at a time like that.)

These are the little things that matter so much.

How about the time I decided to have a rare after school nap and just as my head made contact with the pillow the electric saw and Mr. Mosque started their duet.

One time I arrived at the club excited for my latte ( please don’t even whisper Starbucks, I will hear you) and the expresso machine was broken. Just then, and only then.

I was crushed.

Chocolate doesn’t taste the same here. The Cadbury we get is either made in South Africa or Kenya and who would know geography can alter the taste of chocolate so much? It is not even the same food! Only 2 kinds taste similar and when you want a chocolate bar as a matter of some urgency and those two kinds are not available for love, money or wishes; it is truly, deeply sad.

(By the way many things taste different. Funnily the Alpen tastes of cinnamon.)

Right now I sit here very disappointed. Just a highly strung bundle of wants. Could someone please send over a Tall Non Fat Extra Foam Latte and a large yellow Toblerone?  Pronto.


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Filed under When the rose tint fades

London calling. Day 2.

Time to get a coffee in Trinidad: 12 minutes.

Time to get a coffee at Pret a Manger, London: 30 seconds.

The shock continued as we approached Selfridges food hall. Some people think this is simply a place to purchase fine food. They are wrong. What it is, in fact, is Food Porn. I walked about with open mouth, drool dripping on the fine polished marble, smudging the glass encased food displays, wanting, wanting, wanting…

foodhall

Was it always this amazing? I am just seeing it with new eyes?

cheesecounter

Cheese counter. (swoon.)

When I thought the sight of food couldn’t get much more exciting, the porn was yet to continue as I stepped down a small flight of stairs into the candy section. Or perhaps it was just a movie set? A simulation of sugar coated fancy simply set up to drive me crazy. But then I was offered a sample. Samples are one of the delights of shopping in Selfridges. Gladly I took one and then another, especially since the box to purchase said pink balls of bliss was $30. For a small box. I kid you not.

candy

See those pink balls? (yum.)

I then pranced about on a small sugar high twirling my magic wand in the direction of $400 sunglasses. After a pleasant half an hour of pretending I was part of “lifestyles of the rich and famous” the sound of my wallet crying in my handbag pulled me to my senses. When I woke up I was standing on the street looking bewildered.

Money spent in reality: negligible.

Money spent in my dreams: obscene.

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Filed under Might be funny, observations, Travel

A different cup of coffee

How do you start drinking beer in a coffee shop? 

My friend Robert is a tall, lanky Italian New Yorker with a crinkly smile, twinkling eyes, high forehead and a tanned, friendly face. He likes to talk to every body. Not just his fellow teachers, Americans, students or expats but also the little boy on the beach who sells oranges, the family who sell him his fruit and the girls in the coffee shop. Robert is a man who, during his four years in Trinidad swam gently in Trini culture. He loved the beach and was once caught saying that he reckoned he spent way more time in salt water than regular folk. He would leave school, peddle his bike through the sticky heat to the beach and luxuriate in the water until the sun set or he ran out of beer. He loved this country deeply because he talked to the people and being a guy on a bike it was far easier to chat to the locals than an English teacher in a dress. He could spend hours at the local Rum Shop, or Roti shop listening to the tunes, chatting to the guys. He even started talking like a Trini, dropping all insignificant danglers and instead telling us that the beach was “lookin’ real nice today” or perhaps texting me to inform that he was “walking down de road”.

So one day after school he was doing a little grocery shopping and decided to stop for a coffee at Rituals on the way home. Rituals is the Caribbean Starbucks, albeit slightly different. For a start there is no dairy industry here so the milk is boxed. This greatly affects the taste of a latte but you get used to it, sort of, if you have no choice. Rituals is also different because the concept of a quick coffee to go has not quite sunk in. I have checked and for the record the longest wait for a cappuccino so far is 12 minutes.  Patience is not just a virtue, it is a necessity. No one seems to be complaining so I have trained myself to breathe, just breathe. The girls making the coffee have plenty to talk about so often we need to wait until a particular anecdote is told.  Robert was a big fan of Rituals, spending hours nursing a coffee, reading a book, fidgeting with his nails. He got chatting to the girls so that when he would go in they would know immediately what he wanted and he would pass the time with them, saying his hellos.  

His groceries always fit in his familiar orange back pack but the 6 pack of Carib beer had to go by hand. When he walked in with his beer and ordered a coffee one of the girls offered to keep his beer cool saying “ I can put that in the chiller for you.”  Sure, he thought handing the beer over.  He walked over to his usual table and put his backpack down, pulled out his book and unfolded the corner of the page he was on. After a few minutes he looked up to check if his coffee was ready and noticed that the girls were giggling.  Finally with his coffee in hand, he always took a real cup, every the conscientious environmentalist, he settled back to his reading with some intermittent people watching. Robert always remarked that Trinidad was the best place in the world for people watching and the beach, closely followed by Rituals was a fine place for the sport.   

As his coffee was nearly sipped dry and he was thinking about leaving the girls came over to his table, three coffee cups in hand. “We’re taking a break!” They told him, smiling. Looking into his cup he noticed the familiar amber of Carib beer.  He smiled as he took a sip. There he was with three girls sipping beers out of coffee cups!  Only in Trinidad, only in Rituals. 

You can imagine the process. He’s walking in, beer in hand, their eyes flicking open, their minds quickly working, a lime brewing in their midst.

That’s how you end up drinking beer in a coffee shop.

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Filed under Might be funny, Trinidad & Tobago