HER – an exhibition by Matilde Gattoni

Gulf Photo Plus, Al Quoz, is showcasing an exhibition of photographs titled HER by award winning photo journalist Matilde Gattoni till Oct 31. Photographer Matilde Gattoni’s career has spanned 15 years in which she has travelled to over 35 countries and four continents. She has encountered and photographed thousands of women from all over the world — from war refugees in Kenya, Lebanon, Syria to Tsunami survivors in Indonesia to women accused as witches in India. Matilde shares that even though the stories of these women are disparate they all are symbols of courage and resilience. Shunned by their countries the women are the backbone of their families.

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Rabiah, a Syrian immigrant was photographed by Matilde in Lebanon in 2012. Then only aged 15 she had left school and a life of fear to escape to a new country. Syrian women at that time had lived in constant fear of being killed and kidnapped. “I wake up crying and screaming,” she had said, remembering her constant nightmares.

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Forty four year old Bhudni Tudu cannot cope with what happened to her. “I don’t have any hope for the future. I want to kill myself,” she said. A resident of Birbans, Jharkhand, India, Bhudni was accused of witchcraft by her family and forced to flee the village.

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Matilde captured this young lady enjoying a splash in the sea in Indonesia, where the Tsunami had made most residents fearful of venturing into the sea.

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Matilde’s exhibition featuring many such women is a tribute to their bravery in times of insurmountable challenges during wars, natural calamities and prejudices.

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Dubai Butterfly Garden

I am seated on a wooden bench surrounded by bright flowers and green creepers, the chirping of birds in the backdrop is music to my ears. In this natural paradise flutters in a blue butterfly. Her wings, the colour of the sky, settle on a piece of sticky banana slice kept amidst a pot full of white chrysanthemums. All around me several colourful butterflies sit pretty on flowers and creepers. I experienced this blissful atmosphere right here in Dubai at the Butterfly Garden. Opened in March 2015 it is located adjacent to the Miracle Garden. This indoor air conditioned park is spread across four domes and is open all through the year.
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Around 20,000 pupae are imported from Costa Rica, Philippines and Colombia every week. These pupae are then introduced into the garden. The life cycle of a butterfly is only for around two weeks that means the new pupae need to be introduced to keep butterflies numbers in motion.
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Although you are not allowed to touch the butterflies the park authorities do not object if the bugs willing come and sit on you.
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One of the butterfly garden domes also has a few varieties of caged birds.
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Yet another attraction at the park is a gallery with butterflies in frames. Here is one that creates the face of Sheikh Mohammed.
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Cafe Ceramique

The whole idea of sipping tea while creating your own work of art is so charming that it’s easy to fall for it. At Cafe Ceramique in Town Centre, Jumeirah, you get to choose from a wall full of ceramic pieces and a menu listed with sandwiches, burgers and desserts. You also get a variety of paint brushes and assorted colours to unleash the Picasso in you. After much deliberation we picked a car shaped piggy bank among mugs, tiles and figurines displayed on the shelf.

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Messy fingers and work in progress

The cafe glazes the art work and heats in a kiln. The creation is ready to be picked up in about a week’s time.
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And oh yes, their desserts are delicious too, but the artwork is what everyone heads here for.

A talk on Baniyas Square

Think of Deira and most Dubai residents will utter one word — congested. Along with its serious dearth of parking space it is also a locality that lacks the chic and urbane look of the rest of Dubai. But therein lies its real charm. Although renovations and restorations have reshaped Deira there still exists a slice of the past in many of its alleys. Each visit to the spice souk along the Deira creek with all its trappings of an old bazaar has been memorable. Last week I got an opportunity to know more about Deira from a local resident who had witnessed the transformation of the area over the years. As part of the Artists-in-Residence programme, photographer and culture writer at the culturist, Hind Mezaina, conducted an informal talk at the Baniyas Square in Deira. The square, which was earlier called Al Nasr Square, houses some of the old iconic buildings of Deira on either sides. While on one side is the Phoenicia Hotel http://phoeniciahoteldubai.net/index.html that boasts of a popular Ethiopian restaurant the other side has the Deira Tower and the Dubai Tower. A recently renovated old fountain surrounded by a patch of green is at the centre of the square. Thanks to the metro station the Baniyas Square is easily accessible and adds to a constant flow of people. That evening a bunch of young boys played football even as tourists and residents idled on the park benches. deira2 deira Hind, who is part Emirati and part Egyptian, grew up in neighbouring Port Saeed. Before it became Nasr Square, Hind shared that the area, was known as Cinema Square after an old cinema in the area. The Cinema Square was a bustling and sought after trade centre for old residents. She often accompanied her mother on shopping trips to the area. “We would buy our spices, school uniforms and many other essentials here before ending our outing with a meal of shawarmas. Jashanmal, the first departmental store in the UAE, opened here as well.” The square was also the hangout of the engineers and workers who dredged the Dubai Creek in 1963, which allowed bigger ships to get in and out, says a newspaper report. Today Hind visits the area to enjoy a meal at Phoenicia and to hangout with friends at the Garage Club.

Cafe Aroma

Enroute the churches on Oud Metha Road is the leafy Cafe Aroma. We have been here a couple of times and have always come back feeling refreshed. More than the food it’s the cafe’s ambience that impresses. Formerly called Aroma Garden Cafe like its name suggests it gives visitors the joy of sipping tea amidst a lot of greenery. There are creepers all along the walls of the cafe and around each table are several pots of assorted indoor plants. As the cafe also serves shisha, it has a separate seating area for smokers, at the entrance of which stands a lovely landscaped fountain garden. cafe

We ordered a chicken pizza, a Fattoush salad accompanied with bread and hummous with of course pots of tea

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Sharing some pics of the interiors.

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Abra ride & Spice Souk

A flock of seagulls and dark clouds accompanied us along the abra ride one evening at Dubai creek. A friend was visiting and we were on a customary souk tour. For me an abra ride is always a refreshing experience, one I never get tired of. Most tourists too seem to enjoy boarding the wooden dhow, sharing space with scores of daily travellers and most of all soaking in the sights of old Dubai, that seems so remote as compared to the high rises and glitzy malls they just stepped out of. The cool breeze and the twinkling lights from other dhows added a dash of old world magic to the short boat ride that took us from Bur Dubai to Deira in less than 10 minutes . abra The first souk we visited after alighting from the abra ride was Deira’s spice souk on Baniyas Road. The covered souk has lanes of tiny shops with Iranian traders selling sacks of colourful spices. Yellow hues of turmeric merged with the stark brown cinnamon sticks and dried buds of pink roses vied for our attention along with sacks of fiery red chilies. 20150117_181521 We bought a few spices, among them was a packet of dried lavender that can be fermented to make tea. Beyond the spice souk is the glittering gold souk. Not big fans of gold we still ogled at rows of chunky necklaces and bangles. Back home with stacks of memories and packets of spices, a mud oudh burner and chocolates that looked like little pebbles, the first packet we opened was the lavender tea and we were not disappointed. lavender tea

Parachuting Championship

Grey skies, cool breeze and a holiday — meant a perfect day for a picnic. Instead we headed to watch some adventure in the air. At Skydive Dubai the international parachuting championship brings parachute professionals and amateurs from world over for a spot of fun in the skies. We watched a spellbinding canopy formation awe struck at their timing and dare devilry.

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Taking place along the Dubai Marina the 5th Dubai International Parachuting Championship is on till Dec 7 and has free entry.

Trip to Khor Fakkan

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No, these are not pics from holiday spots in Maldives or Seychelles but from very own neighbouring Sharjah. Like you I too was surprised when I first caught a glimpse of the pristine Khor Fakkan beach. Clear blue waters, a white sandy beach along a lush green park with rugged mountains in the backdrop — what more could a holiday seeker ask for? Pack a picnic hamper and enjoy this view or fly high with para sailing here. Khor Fakkan, which means, Creek of Two Jaws, is just a two hour drive from Dubai.

Meeting Joanne Harris at Emirates Lit Fest’14

It’s the season of Lent and I am off meat and desperately trying (but failing miserably) to cure my sweet tooth. Rich, silky, nutty, soft and flavoured — chocolate is a passion. A decade ago French actress Juliette Binoche brought alive the dark delights of chocolate in the movie Chocolat. It was again during lent that her character Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk move to a French village and open a chocolaterie tempting the fasting residents. I had loved that movie that also starred Johnny Depp but never got around to reading the book it’s based on by Joanne Harris. So, when the Emirates Lit Fest 2014 featured Joanne as one of the guest speakers I did not waste time to book a place.
Looking cheery in a pastel skirt and top Joanne Harris looked just the sort of person who would pop in chocolates while writing from her desk (but I read later that she prefers cheese and chillies over chocolates).

During the talk Joanne spoke about her writing schedule, views on publishers and her inspirations. A widely loved author since Chocolat became a famous movie she has written several notable books.

Writing from a shed in her garden Joanne’s books have a fair share of witchcraft and food as integral parts. A typical writing day for her starts with a big breakfast and reading aloud portions she had written a day earlier. She also prefers to write in chunks. Her 15 year old association with the close knit academic community greatly inspired her books initially. After she quit her job as a teacher she admits travelling to book fairs, meeting people and listening stimulate her creativity. She also got a hypnotherapist friend teach her to remember her dreams. Not one to listen to audio books and bow to pressure from publishers she says, “Publishers want to make money. I want to write because I want to.” A charming and friendly author she made me break my vow of not buying more books until I finish the ones on my bookshelf. Here she is posing with my signed copy of her latest short stories collection titled A cat, a hat and a piece of string.
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Street festival at Dubai Marina Mall

The Rain Gods have been very kind with the intermittent showers (so uncommon in Dubai) making April evenings pleasant and breezy. Add to this weather some free entertainment and some scenic views — voila it turns into a perfect family day out. Thanks to the annual Dubai Marina Mall Street Festival we enjoyed an evening strolling along the lovely Dubai Marina promenade watching jugglers, acrobats and fire artists performing. The Street Festival is on till April 12th.

That's Japanese artist Ryunosuke Yamazumi performing his unique juggling stunt  on a pole

That’s Japanese artist Ryunosuke Yamazumi performing his unique juggling stunt on a pole

A very agile acrobat

A very agile lady acrobat

Loved the foot tapping music and the dare devilry of this fire hoop artist

Loved the foot tapping music and the dare devil act of this fire hoop artist

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