Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Dubai Skyline

I happen to come from a city with one of the most beautiful,and architecturally striking skylines in the world so its rare that a skyline wows me. But Chicago's skyline and the rest of the world's, have nothing on Dubai. As the home of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest office building, the world's tallest hotel, the word's biggest mall and the world's tallest office building, over-the-top doesn't even begin to describe Dubai's skyline.

You don't really walk around Dubai because of the scorching desert heat but the few times I did stroll down a street, my jaws started to ache because I was gaping so much. Of course, the cloud topping Burj Khalifa dominates most views of the business district, as you can see from the above image.

But it's not just the Burj Khalifa,the distinctive sail-shaped design of the Burj Al Arab, the most luxurious hotel ever, is also an eye popper. Taking in the clusters of towering buildings felt like watching a sci fi movie. And walking by the soaring structures, there was always a construction site with another building soon to join the others. Dubai and its skyline is unlike anything I've ever seen.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Traditional Emirati Ayala Dance

Dubai is a fascinating city overflowing with larger than life sky scrapers and crammed with people from all over the globe. But Dubai is also located in the desert, with an ancient Emirati heritage that you can only glimpse if you search for it, since native Emirati's are only about 10 percent of the population. One of the liveliest demonstrations of the culture was watching the Ayala dance during a desert safari. Versions of the dance are performed by people across the Arabian Peninsula but the Emirati take involves sticks used to goad camels. Originally, the Ayala, generally known as the stick dance, was a battle dance performed with swords to celebrate repelling attackers from the camp. The formation symbolizes a battle, with the men facing each other and chanting stirring poetry. Today, the dance is performed at weddings and cultural events. A local told me that the dance requires a lot of leg strength because the steps involve flexing up and down, which you can't see under the robes. These robed men chanting and playing traditional instruments greeted me as I entered the safari camp and I found it to be an exciting display of elusive Emirati traditions.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Next Stop: Dubai

For the next week, I'll be exploring the quickly growing city of Dubai. I'm excited to learn about Dubai as well as different aspects of the business travel sector. My trip is sponsored by Dubai Tourism and the Dubai Business Travel Events team. I'll be visiting the famous buildings that dot Dubai's skyline, including the iconic Burj Khalifa, pictured above. I'll also be diving into the souks and learning about Emirati traditional dress. The highlight will probably be a desert safari and camel polo game but I'm sure the city has more adventures than I can imagine. Stay tuned for posts!

Prince's Purple Reign

I remember clearly the first time I heard about Prince. Every girl in my class was totally in love with this cute guy that sang in a breathy, sexy falsetto. But it wasn’t immediately clear that he would kick down so many barriers with his stiletto-clad feet and permanently tattoo his mark on music, when Prince arrived on the scene in 1978. His lush afro and bedroom eyes captured the imaginations of teen girls who helped make his first release, ‘Soft & Wet,” a minor R&B hit from his debut album, “For You”. Filled with sexual references and coos and moans, it was a telling indicator of the musician’s future status as a sex symbol and provocateur but nothing more. The fact that the 19-year-old had produced, arranged and played every instrument on every song should have been a clue to his greatness but it was the end of the '70s. Music genres were strictly defined and its stars neatly boxed in. But things were shifting. Rock was embracing elements of new wave , funk was blending more into R&B and pop was developing a rawer edge. Music was changing but we had no idea that Prince would brilliantly embody all of those changes.

By the time the world glimpsed Prince in his iconic 1984 movie “Purple Rain,” he was already an
musical genius with three platinum albums. The movie and the accompanying album
would make him into a global superstar. But not a cookie cutter superstar: he defied labels, genres,
categories, even fashion. Prince seamlessly blended pop, rock, funk and R&B so that they flowed
into his singular sound. That’s not to say that he didn’t honor and acknowledge his influences,
however. During his Chicago shows, he never failed to pay tribute to blues and R&B legends, He
played a Howlin’ Wolf cover during one Metro after party, featured Chaka Khan at his ‘90s era
Aragon concert and served up an Impressions tribute during his last show at the City Winery, Prince
revered his musical and forefathers and mothers even while he tore apart and reassembled their legacies. He dreamed and dared what nobody had managed to do or get away with before him. He wore heels and feathers and makeup in a genre where masculinity was paramount. He sang about threesomes and race and politics in an era when songs rarely reached below the surface. As Prince’s influence grew, he reached back and guided the upcoming generation, mentoring, and offering musical inspiration.
Prince’s musical legacy is solidly secure, with an induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, seven
Grammys and 14 Platinum albums. He also leaves a legacy for quietly funding charities and causes
and eagerly opening the door for young musicians. That penchant was brilliantly illustrated when he
tapped Chicago-area producer Joshua Welton, and bestowed him with the honor of co- producing
Prince’s last album, “HitNRun.”Welton was the first outside producer Prince allowed in his career
spanning 30 albums. The 25-year-old represents Prince’s wide-ranging influence on everybody from millennials to senior fans like Eric Clapton, who famously suggested to ask Prince when he was queried about how it felt to be the world’s best guitarist.. “My opinion of cool has definitely changed. When you’ve got someone who can hear the flowers bloom, you listen to music in a different way,” Welton told USA Today. We'll always hear music differently, thank's to Prince's Purple Reign.

I wrote this tribute for the Illinois Entertainer. where it originally appeared.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Next Stop: San Juan and St.Croix

I'll never get tired of traveling through the Caribbean, especially since Chicago has gifted us with snow in April. Besides the sun, I'm thrilled to be returning to San Juan and St. Croix to explore Caribbean cuisine at two popular food fests. In San Juan, I'll be visiting Saborea, a four-day festival of  the island's culinary standouts as well as music and culture. In St. Croix, I'll be experiencing A Taste of St. Croix, an island wide culinary competition where I'll also serve as a guest judge! In between all the gorging, I'll also stroll the streets of Old San Juan shown above, and Caguas, to witness the distinct criollo culture. On my beloved St. Croix, pictured below, I'll revisit historic sites like the Whim Estate as well as a few rum distilleries. My San Juan trip is at the invitation of  Puerto  Rico Tourism and St. Croix ,the U.S. Virgin Island Tourism. Expect lots of tasty posts and pix coming soon!

Monday, March 28, 2016

My Fave of Valencia's Fallas Monuments

Spain is noted for quirky traditions and festivals but Valencia's Las  Fallas Festival probably ranks up there in terms of overall quirk. During Fallas every March, the city's streets are filled with firecrackers, gunpowder and towering monuments called ninots. The celebration welcomes spring and honors St. Joseph's feast day on March 19 with a daily fireworks show, locals dressed in traditional Valenican costumes and setting the handcrafted art of the ninots ablaze all at once, on March 19.

Ninots are created by neighborhood teams who spend months and sometimes the entire year, designing  the monuments from papier mache, wood, plaster and cardboard. They are usually satirical or fanciful figures and out of the 350 odd ninots created, one, the ninot indultat (pardoned figure) is spared the fire by popular vote.  The saved monuments are displayed in the Fallas Museum and walking through its halls is like wandering around an animated wonderland. Every saved monument from the last 80 years is showcased and it's overwhelming to look at all the creativity and skill in one room. Going through the museum requires hours but I only had 30 minutes on my tight itinerary. That didn't stop me from choosing my faves out of a sea of magical innovation:

I like the fluidity of this mermaid and the cuteness of the baby mermaids floating around her.

I was drawn to the drama of this figure but it wasn't until I left and looked at the photo that I realized that this is Eve being tempted by a devil.

I thought this monument of Mick Jagger, complete with tight, bulging pants, was hilarious. I can't imagine why a team of Valencian artists decided to work on a life-sized Mick Jagger for nearly a year but they did and were rewarded by a saved ninot

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Real Valencia Paella

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain and known for it's pretty palm-tree lined streets and mix of old world and modern architecture. But I was most excited about Valencia's other claim to fame as the birthplace of paella. If you're like me, you've enjoyed countless pans of paella and eagerly order it whenever you see it on a menu. Well, I took two cooking classes in Valencia (I'll explore the details in later posts) and what I quickly discovered is that what passes for paella in the U.S. is rarely the real thing. There are so many details that are needed to create authentic paella but the most significant is an open fire of orange wood. That's right, paella is a rural tradition and it is cooked in front of baraccas or small country houses. I visited the small farm and restaurant of  Barraca Toni Montoliu. I picked the vegetables that you see Toni cooking over the orange wood in the video. The flavor that the open fire and orange wood gives to paella is a savory richness that I've never tasted in any paella in the U.S. Needless to say, my entire perspective on paella has been changed and I can barely look at versions cooked on a stove.