Sunday, March 27, 2022

What is actually happening

Al Dhaid fort, which they demolished a police station to refurbish to how it was longer ago. Inside were lots of displays about life in Sharjah, which included a graphic taxidermy version of a falcon attacking its prey.
I had gotten lots of random candy and while I gave a bunch away, I was curious about what this was.
So good!! Happy to have a soft cookie rather than chocolate-covered candy.
The reason I was able to travel to UAE is that my Oberlin gig was kind enough to push the workshop a week. It was insane to get home and then immediately turn around to prep the course, as it was the first time I ran the beater for a job. It's always hard to estimate pulp for a given group and the timing kept changing. These are my weights before going to the used sports store: 12 lbs on the left and 6 on the right. I needed another 6 but got carried away and got 11 lbs worth of weight plates, mostly because it was just fun to shop different sizes and they could be useful for other applications.
Because my first two pounds of cotton came out looking like it needed more weight, I overloaded the next batch of abaca AND ran it for two hours, thinking my Valley would be less powerful than a Reina for taking the pulp down to good shrinkage. I was extremely wrong and so my poor students yesterday had to wait forever for their sheets to drain. We had to alternate groups because they couldn't all fit into the studio at once, so it was pretty wild to try and physically move them but also give them enough time to do things given they've never made paper before (save one student who took my Winter Term class, and it was great to have her around to help). I also sprayed myself HARD in the face during cleanup, which meant swapping out face masks.
I hadn't intended to pigment but seeing the crud come off of the roll made me color to distract. And the idea that paper has to be white as default is not an idea that has to live forever. I started these batches and then worried I'd be called out for being political so I did batches of green and dark grey. Based on which were most popular both at the vat and with the colored hanji for joomchi, people clearly love yellow. People love yellow. Why not yellow as a default for paper? Or, maybe they're tired of winter in Ohio. After taking a student out for lunch who had volunteered to help set up and break down, I got home and was so tired I wanted to cry/sleep but was so tired I couldn't cry/sleep. Then I noticed something hilarious. I had worn a handmade dress and during class kept hearing it tear in the armpits, but was so busy that I didn't have time to even look until class was over: the dress had completely shredded, not just at the seams, but the fabric had also torn in front (the risk of sewing clothes with hand-me-down mystery fabric!). My apron covered a lot but NOT that. It was a great visual indicator of how I'm barely holding it together.
School big prep has overlapped with major prep for my trip to California in just under a week. I'll be teaching in San Francisco, giving a free public artist talk, going to an opening (above) for a group show at the Environmental Design Library at UC Berkeley, and tabling at CODEX with the Book/Print Artist/Scholar of Color Collective. Of course what I'm most excited about is seeing old friends and colleagues and being back in the Bay Area after too many years (this gig was originally slated for 2020). I'll be in the studio every day before I leave while also writing my book in the mornings, doing active physical therapy, and prepping the rest of the year. I did this to myself but keep hoping that come fall, things will calm down because I can't sustain this pace for much longer! See you on the west coast!

Friday, March 25, 2022

Final Sharjah day

Before I left for this trip, I thought I would be able to hang out on the beach or poolside for the entire time after I hung my show. We humans are almost purely delusional creatures! I got to the pool once before the show opened and to the beach on my very last morning. This was the section with less plastic trash.
I had taken my final PCR test, which was so easy. One of the heritage institute men who organized the cars rode with me and the driver took us to a nearby drive-thru testing location. SO EASY, no appointments, never got out of the car, results back in four hours or so. When I got back, I wondered what to do and walked the shore for a bit before sitting near the pool to dry my feet in the sun and then back to my room.
Once I could confirm that there was availability for a massage that afternoon, I asked for another car to head to the Sharjah archeology museum. There are so many museums that I knew I couldn't go to them all but as I love looking at old things, it was the obvious choice. Aside from the weird loud audio that came from who knows where of things like wild animals roaring, it was pretty quiet. As this country is on the water, it makes sense that much of the excavations would involve shell piles from eating.
I also love that even thousands of years ago, humans were stringing bits of shells to make adornments.
This judgement was hilarious to me. I love when museum tags don't try to be 100% "neutral."
Can you guess which is the poorly fired jar by an unskilled (and likely unnamed) potter?
This is the kind of tag that I also love, because it's honest: “Ivory bird figurine fixed to an ivory handle of unknown function, perhaps for a mirror, from the tomb at Tell Abraq, 2200-2000 BC”. It's always best to say you don't know when you don't.
And more lately, things that I love to see: bits of spindles,
needles. I returned back to try and prepare final gifts before my massage. I was so glad to get Patty again, and like my first massage with her the weekend prior, she put me right to sleep. I didn't get to relax too much afterwards because I had to scurry to get ready for my final night at the show.
There were always two employees of the heritage institute who had to watch my exhibit, and we'd often let each other take breaks to get coffee or snacks. One of the favorite ones was luqaimat, fried balls of dough covered in sweet syrup (I don't know exactly what it was) and garnished with sesame seeds. This evening, Amal had gotten the ones with cheese inside without telling us and Marwa and I definitely almost burned our mouths trying to eat them whole.
I never got the exact details, but it's clear that to be respectful, you don't take pictures of people's faces unless they've allowed you. At the cooking booths of the people making traditional food, where they were seated on the floor on mats and the booths were made of date palm leaves and rope, I had seen one woman wave at someone to make sure they didn't photograph her. As I waited to get more pakora from the most popular stand by a Bahraini woman, I watched again as the adjacent booth's chef (because that's what they are) put a dollop of batter on a flat hot plate, used a flat plastic tool to spread it very thinly (thinner than a crepe).
Then you ask for whatever fillings you like: cheese, hot sauce, nutella, etc. It's giant so they fold it up and put in on a plate but really you just kind of fold and grab and eat it in it's many hot crunchy layers. I had this twice and that night could easily have had another but had to save my appetite for dinner. I am not used to such late meals but that's the custom here.
The final time I would hear these men drum and dance together with what had become a very familiar song.
Then the three women who had done the lion's share of the work from December to get this entire trip and exhibit together took me out to a grand Thai dinner. Good god, I couldn't believe how many dishes Mariam ordered for us! I love pad thai so I ordered it just to try, which you can see Khadijah at the side pick up to try and feed her daughter, who was past bedtime and didn't like seafood.
Which, as you can see from all the giant shrimp and lobster and so on that this was not going to work out for her, but it was fine since all she wanted to do was sleep.
Mariam did a great job ordering the papaya salad "juicy," which means with plenty of sauce. So much better than versions I've had back home (though we all know the US is not the center of Thai cuisine).
The curry in this coconut was also really lovely, and everything from the starting chips to the right and the edamame to the left was delicious.
This pineapple fried rice also put ALL similar dishes back home to shame. Beyond the fancy garnishes, it was like nothing else I've had with the same name.
Mango sticky rice for dessert. I was surprised after eating what felt like at least ten dishes, I wasn't grossly stuffed. Just looking at these pictures makes my mouth water and feel sad I can't have more.
I had been warned about the intense AC and my friends were right. But we asked them to turn down the AC so that being indoors wouldn't feel like an icebox. It was cold outside, too, and windy. Though cold is all relative, since it would be considered balmy by northern US folks. We were encased in bamboo and rattan.
When I got back to the hotel, I still had tons of packing to do and only got about an hour an a half of sleep before I had to check out at 4am. I don't really think I needed to be 3 hours early to my flight but since I flew business, I was able to nap a tiny bit in the lounge in Dubai. I knew they'd feed us very well on the plane, so I tried to go easy on food, just tea, sparkling water, a fruit cup, and chocolate ice cream. The lounge was so enormous that it made no sense to try and use the last bits of my cash to get last-minute gifts after napping. Because I managed to sleep a bit more on the flight than usual, I thought I'd be okay during my 6+-hour layover in Boston.
I didn't realize until I arrived at Logan that my flights were not actually connected, so I had to take my bags to check-in at ticketing and make sure they had my info correct. This was my first time using Global Entry (I had gotten TSA precheck right before knowing Global Entry was a thing, so I had to wait 5 years to switch over) and it was wonderful to not get interrogated by border guys trained to be harsh. Weeks ahead, I had asked Michelle if she'd be willing to meet me to kill time. By the time I got checked in, I was really drooping, so she was kind enough to come all the way out to the airport while I scouted a location at the attached Hilton lobby. She brought all kinds of amazing and necessary fresh snacks and Korean food and a fabulous book, and somehow put up with my babbling and repeating myself while I got more and more sleepy. After saying goodbye, I headed to get closer to my gate only to find the entire Dartmouth lacrosse team. There were probably more than twice the number pictured there. It felt both scary (bros in training) and hilarious (while most were on phones, I saw at least 4-5 reading real books and talking about what they were reading!! They were studying! What?!).
The next day, after breakfast courtesy of Michelle's generosity, I still wasn't ready to get groceries. So for lunch I unpacked the pakora mix that I had gotten at the Bahraini booth, cut up some onions, and mixed with water. I didn't fry with much oil but it was still SO good. I didn't have the sauce but read that they also ferment anchovies like Koreans, so I used some of my Korean fish sauce with a bunch of other things. It didn't quite work but my hosts back in Sharjah told me instead to try yogurt, mint, lemon, salt, and chili. I did that a couple days later and it was divine.
In the mornings I've been adding cardamom that I grind to my oatmeal to remember. I'm sure that I'll stop later when it feels like I don't have the time for the extra step of dropping a pod into the mortar, but for now I feel satisfied. On the final ride to the hotel after dinner and farewells, I saw we were passing the House of Wisdom, it's iconic sculpture lit up. You can barely see it here.
But I finally downloaded my camera pictures, so here it is from the prior week. A few months before I got this invite, I had a vision of going to a place totally foreign to me, which is one of the reasons I accepted. It was nothing like I thought and certainly not easy, but definitely rewarding and exactly what I needed.

Friday, March 18, 2022

First full moon in middle east

[Already past midnight on the full moon Friday but I got to see it tonight and watched it go from crescent when I arrived to the real deal—just in time to celebrate Laylat al-Bara'ah, the holiday fifteen days prior to Ramadan where people get excited for what is to come that includes giving tons of candy away to children.] Early Thursday morning, I got to the Sharjah Institute of Heritage to set up my workshop.
It was earlier than planned because there was a last-minute invite to tour the manuscripts division, where they make paper, boxes to house objects, and do preservation work. Here is part of the display to show what they do, an insect-eaten book.
A sample of ebru, or marbling
Samples of colored pulps used to make paper in their paper machine that is kind of like a vat and mould in one box.
The blender seems to have been made for hummus!
I was on my feet most of the workshop and really busy + I want to respect the women there who don't want their photographs taken, so all I have is me next to a banner after we did a photo shoot of being given a certificate and gift for participating in the Heritage Days. My students at what I call lunch but what they call morning snack (catered) asked if this is what I wear back home to work. I didn't know there was going to be a photo shoot, I just needed to be warm against the A/C and ready to do seriously compressed jiseung teaching. It was too much/too hard to ask them to do but they actually did quite well considering.
After barely sleeping and then working all day from early morning to late night, I had my final day trip to Dubai as my hosts invited me to Expo 2020. These are only half the flags of the participating countries. The rest are on the other side of the massive gate.
They built an entire site in the desert where there was nothing, including roads and infrastructure, and were ready to go when covid hit, so it was delayed almost two years and closes at the end of the month. Apparently the whole thing will then turn into a brand-new city after this world's fair is over.
It was a busy day and the people I was with (5 adults and 3 children) had already visited two to five times prior and seen most of the good pavilions, so I didn't see any of the blockbuster ones. The one with greenery outside is Singapore, a favorite.
In the far distance, Japan, another top tier one in popularity and already completely booked (not all of them require advance tix but this one did) by the time Expo opened today.
So we went to the ones with no queue, like India.
They had one section with videos all over the walls and this imagery I loved, as it's a close up of weaving.
and textiles, which are seemingly endless there!
Israel was one level, only a circular room with a 360-screen to show a video.
Once outside of Israel's pavilion, you'd climb up stairs or the "hills" and get your stamps: the kids love this, getting their expo passports stamped.
This is the US pavilion, also skipped to climb the escalator right next to it for DP World, representing I guess the port of Dubai.
You go first to the top tier, where you have a big view.
Inside are floors connected by a circular ramp and a waterfall show in the center.
Kazakhstan, from the outside (which is mostly all I saw, which was fine with me as I was on the fence about even going to the entire thing during my whole stay).
The robot that delivers food
Great Britain
United Arab States
Wandering around after losing track of my group
Sweet reunion: spicy chocolate ice cream (yes, a chili pepper to garnish!) before we left. The flavors are SO much better and more interesting than back home. It was a lot after such a giant lunch that we shared of delightful Arabic food. This pic is doing double duty of showing one of my host's sons (who has a delightful personality; when I walked him thru my hanji show, his comment was, "You are very informative"—hahaha!!). He's opening one of the gift bags given to children all day everywhere to celebrate. Full of candy, snacks, and an expo bracelet.

It felt like a family trip to a theme park, and I was so happy that we had perfect weather, cooler (given the heat and humidity of the last few days) and very breezy. Despite us all being worn out and exhausted by the end, as attested to by the children dragging their feet, I was glad to have more time off the clock with these ladies who work so hard to pull of this massive event and take care of me. I dozed a tiny bit in the ride back to the hotel, and took my time getting back to the exhibit. I had a great evening with fascinating visitors. One couple of Sudanese heritage but from UAE came expressly because one of them heard my live interview on Pulse 95 Radio yesterday while commuting home from Dubai. It was amazing to see that they visited just based on that.

Many wonderful conversations since opening, knowing I have learned so much here about here while barely having learned anything at all. But so grateful to have been able to start. I'll be sad to say goodbye but excited for one last full day.