Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Best of the First Ten Years 2003-2013 -- SmokeLong Quarterly

It's here! And I'm thrilled my story "When Chase Prays Chocolate" was chosen to be in SmokeLong Quarterly The Best of the First Ten Years 2003-2013. Much thanks to editors Nancy Stebbins and Tara Laskowski. Before I was published in slq, I was a loyal reader. It's no surprise that the story by Michael Czyzyniejewski that got me hooked on the journal is included in the anthology. Some of my favorite writers of flash/sudden fiction are included as well: Kathy Fish, Matt Bell, Steve Almond, Casey Hannan, Jen Michalski, Myfanwy Collins, Randall Brown and Christopher James to name only a few. The list of contributors is intimidating.

Since 2003 SmokeLong Quarterly has consistenly published superior sudden fiction. The concept of the journal is to publish fiction that can be read in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. And they've published quite a lot in the last ten years. I'm doing the math right now. That's over 500 writers? Wow. Thank you, slq! It's always a pleasure reading new fiction in your pages.

Here's the complete list of smoking writers featured in the anthology . . .



I rarely ask IMBO readers to buy anything, but I'm making an exception this time. Please buy this. Please celebrate 10 years of excellent fiction with this journal. You can order it HERE. And after you've ordered it, please go to the site and browse through the last ten years. As Dave Clapper, the founding editor and publisher of slq says, there are just so many great authors who, due to space constraints, aren't in the anthology. SmokeLong is always worth a read--even if you don't smoke.

I must be off,
Christopher

PS: Thank you, IMBO readers, for over 100,000 views a month. Every month. You're pretty.

PPS: I Must Be Off! is hosting its second annual Travel Essay Contest! Go HERE to learn more. Deadline for entries June 30, 2014! 
__________________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Camroc Press Review, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Press 53 Flash Fiction Contest -- Deadline Approaching!



The deadline for the Press 53 Flash Fiction Contest is rapidly approaching. Writers of flash fiction should send us something under 750 words before February 20th. Three winners--announced at AWP in Seattle on February 27--will be published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Prime Number Magazine or Metazen. They'll also receive signed books from the three judges--Bonnie ZoBell, Shaindel Beers and me, Christopher Allen. This is a great opportunity for writers of the short short form. You don't have to be at AWP in Seattle to win, and the contest IS FREE.

Click HERE to find out more.

I must be off,
Christopher

_________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Camroc Press Review, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cruise Review -- Costa Fortuna

First of all, I have to point out that we got a very good deal on this cruise. I also have to point out that this is the only reason we booked it. AIDA is sailing the exact same route but is stubbornly three times more expensive. The AIDA cabin would have been without a balcony; the Costa Fortuna cabin has one.

Every time a balcony door shuts, either yours or your neighbors' on either side--actually they sort of slam--there's a boom that rocks your entire cabin. This happens twenty or thirty times a day and many times during the night as well when your neighbors come home drunk at all hours of the night and want to have a smoke on their balconies. You might even start slamming your own door harder . . . for revenge. Of course I don't. OK, I do.

Some passengers on the Costa Fortuna might find it an elegant ship. I find its interior design overwrought and heavy. The art is heavily symbolic, nostalgic and just plain heavy-looking. I keep thinking about how much all these enormous globes and chunky banisters weigh. And then there are the ships plasterd upside down on the vaulted ceiling in the middle of the ship. Haven't these people seen The Poseidon Adventure? Upside down is just wrong on a cruise ship.

"How heavy are we?" I ask Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector.

"Well," he considers, "You are an insignifcant blip and I weigh exactly 91 kilos." He continues to consider, to calculate blip plus 91 kilos.

"Not us, you warthog. This behemoth of a boat."

"Ah, that would be in the informational flyers."

"The ones housekeeping threw away?"

"Yes. Those."

See, housekeeping--a guy named Roberto--simply threw away the stack of daily newsletters that I was keeping so that I could write a detailed account of our trip. That's why we're on our way now to the customer service desk. I've just tried to call customer service from our cabin, but after 20 minutes on hold (I don't give up that easily), I give up and trot down to the desk.

But while I'm trotting, I'll tell you a bit about the food aboard the Costa Fortuna. We've sailed with various ships, so I feel confident in telling you the food aboard the Costa Fortuna is by far the worst I've had on a cruise ship. Where do I start?

The Dining Experience

Scrambled eggs should taste like eggs. Wouldn't you say so? We are astounded by how odd this pile of yellow goop tastes. No idea what it is. The bacon is greasy and rubbery--everything bacon should not be. The orange juice is orange water. The coffee, while nothing special, does indeed taste like coffee. On the breakfast buffet you'll find some fruit and some meats and cheese, but there is nothing here that lives up to the AIDA breakfast buffet. The Costa breakfast buffet is breakfast on the cheap, and it doesn't get any better I'm afraid.

In the formal dining rooms, clunky architectural spaces, you have around five courses to choose from. It all looks good on paper, and some dishes turn out to be good. I enjoy my carpaccio, gluten-free pasta and pork loin, but I am generally disappointed with every other dish. The saffron swordfish appetizer could use a lot more saffron and a lot less nasty fish taste. The risotto is bland and ungarnished, a big bloop of gray rice. (When serving a big bloop of gray rice, it's always good to put something green on it.) Whoever makes the soups should, well, learn how to make soup. My vegetable soup tastes, and is the consistency of, baby food.


If you don't want to dress up, you also have the option of grabbing a bite from the buffet restaurant. And if you've ever been on an AIDA cruise, you'll notice a big difference. The AIDA buffets--there are THREE to choose from--are incredibly good with so much variety that dinner is a grand pleasure; the Costa buffet--there is only ONE if I'm not mistaken--is like an elementary school cafeteria. The difference couldn't be bigger.

If you like pizza, you'll hate Costa. Why, you ask. Costa serves massive amounts of pizza. There's a pizza buffet that runs almost all day. This ship should be called Costa Pizzeria. Well, the pizza--I was told since I can't even eat pizza--is boring. It's the simplest slab of pizza you'll ever see. But this is an Italian ship, and the Italians pride themselves on their simple cooking. Giusto.Va Bene.

Simple doesn't have to be boring, though. And gluten-free doesn't have to be taste-free. The cooks could put a little wine in the soup. Sherry? Madeira wine? Marsala wine. Wine makes soup taste yummy. And babies don't drink wine. That's what sets soup apart from a pureed bowl of vegetables.

Let's talk about wine. On AIDA ships, wine and beer are complimentary at lunch and dinner. As much as you want. And it's perfectly acceptable table wine. We never had one headache on any of the cruises we took with AIDA. On Costa ships, you have to pay for alcohol. When booking your trip you're told all or none of the people in the cabin must buy the unlimited alcohol package, which costs around 20€ a day. We are three people on a seven-day cruise, so that's 420€ plus gratuity.

"We can't drink that much wine in a week," Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector says.

"Yes, actually we can, but that's not the point."

"The point is . . ."

"The 420 smackeroos plus tip?"

"Ah, yes. Good point."

Once on board, you're suddenly told that you can book other alcohol and drink packages. There are lots of choices--which Costa doesn't really want you to know about until you've already forked out the 420 smackeroos, plus tip. We book a modest package of 4 bottles of wine and 7 bottles of water for around 80€ plus tip. I keep saying "plus tip" because, as with most cruises, a service charge is added to your bill. On AIDA ships, NO SERVICE CHARGE IS ADDED TO YOUR BILL, although of course you are encouraged to leaved a tip at the end of your cruise.

The Atmosphere

Yes, I'm a fan of AIDA. Seriously. Let's get very serious for just a second, and I hope someone from Costa Cruises is reading this. AIDA has a concept that Costa simply hasn't understood. Sailing with AIDA is an event. It's emotional. The Costa Fortuna is nothing more than a hotel. The deck is a tourist bake. These people have come to lie in the sun. That's it. That's the program. When AIDA sails out of a port, Enja sings "Orinoco Flow", setting the perfect mood. Call me a sap, but this sort of thing is the extra touch that sets a cruise apart from a floating hotel.





Be sure to listen to the second song in the video above. It's the AIDA song. You have to imagine leaving a magnificent port and weeping uncontrollably over the rails and thinking how wonderful life is. Yeah, OK, I saw people doing this. Um . . . moving along.

The Staff

On the Costa Fortuna the bar staff swarm everywhere. There is always someone within a couple of meters who'll get you a drink. There must be hundreds of them--because this is how Costa Cruises makes money. But try getting a customer service staff member on the telephone. I try this twice and never make contact. I wait in the queue at the customer service desk on deck three forever before I finally get to share my complaint with someone.

"Prego."

"Ragu. Do you have any newsletters left? I need one for each day. Housekeeping threw mine away."

"Oh. No problem, sir. We have more." No problem, sir? Housekeeping threw my things away. This is a problem, for which I get no apology.

She begins to rummage through some papers. Coming up for air a few minutes later, she says, "What other languages do you speak besides English? We don't have any more English newsletters."

"Tedesco."

"Si. Tedesco." She dives down into her papers again to retrieve the German newsletters. Five minutes later she hands me what I need.

"One more thing," I say.

"Si?"

"See. We haven't vacated the room yet." It's the last day of the cruise a couple of hours before we have to be out of the room. "But housekeeping has already made the bed for the next occupants."

She looks confused.

"I find that odd."

She still looks confused. "Oh, it's OK, sir. If you want to lie down on the bed, it's no problem. Housekeeping will make the bed again."

"That's not really what I'm worried about," I say. "I don't really need to lie down on the bed, but I feel now I have to."

She looks confused. She may always look confused for all I know.

"It's not hygienic to prepare a room for the next guests before the previous guests have left. I actually feel obliged to rip the sheets off that bed so that Roberto has to make the bed again with new sheets."

She truly doesn't understand my point, but she does reply with "The bed is prepared for the next guests?"

"Yes," I say, "complete with that nasty bed spread and leather mat for the luggage. Our things have all been th
rown on the sofa--two hours before we have to vacate the cabin. It's like Roberto is sending us a resounding message." I don't mention Roberto's name because I don't want to get him in trouble. I have since changed my mind.

I must be off,
Christopher

 PS: I Must Be Off! is hosting its second annual Travel Essay Contest! Go HERE to learn more. Deadline for entries June 30, 2014!

________________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. 


  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Abu Dhabi -- Not Made for Wheelchairs

Abu Dhabi, UAE
I've never seen so many kids staring at our wheelchair in my life. They are truly astounded, and there's a good reason for it: I think ours is the first one they've ever seen. Making room for it on the trains in Abu Dhabi is just ridiculous. No one helps and no one gets up for the elderly woman traveling with us. In fact, I don't see any elderly people on the train. Is the UAE like Logan's Run?

Of course not, but I still have to wonder where all the mobility-challenged people are. We're out and about. We're doing wheelies and shit. We're climbing 8.inch curbs because there are precious few lowered curbs for wheelchairs. Seriously. We push our wheelchair rider through the STREETS of Abu Dhabi when we're tired of climbing up and down, on and off, the sidewalks. Abu Dhabi--Dubai is awful too--is no place for a wheelchair.

There are reasons for this. Not very many people walk around in the UAE; they drive around. It's simply too hot to go for an afternoon stroll. But that doesn't stop us. We love walking, Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector and I. We love exploring cities on foot. That's what we do. I'd say that's how we roll if it wasn't such a bad pun considering the theme of this post.

From the cruise ship, we take a taxi to the Marina Mall. Yes, another mall. The United Arab Emirates is the only place outside the USA, with the exception of Singapore and maybe Bangkok, where THE MALL is the place to be. The mall is really an 80s thing in the US, but it's still very very popular in the UAE. To their credit, The Emiratis do good mall. They're gigantic, opulent, swanky and just over the top in so many ways.

But there are rules--which you need to respect:
  • Convervative dress--whatever that means
  • No kissing or "overt" displays of affection
  • No dangerous activities such a skateboarding, rollerskating, etc.
And these rules are displayed in high-tech ads around the mall. You can't miss them.

There are also prayer rooms for men and women and the occasional muezzin's song piped throughout the mall--reminders that you are in a deeply religious country. That this country is also deeply materialistic won't slip by you either. This is, after all, the richest city in the world. Or so I've heard. The conservative dress here doesn't preclude affluence. Yes, the women are wearing a long black Abaya (maybe this is the correct word, but I'm no expert on this), but they're also wearing enormous designer sunglasses and lots of jewellery. The men are wearing the long white Thobe (in Oman they call it a dishdasha, I think). It's all elegant beyond belief. Really. They must think we're all crass rednecks in our shorts and T-shirts. 

The Promenade by the Corniche is good for wheelchairs.
If you ever have the opportunity to walk through the city of Abu Dhabi, you will notice that many of the people here are not from here. Abu Dhabi is a big, international city with problems. Migrant workers come here from all over Asia and Southern Asia, and I don't think they're living in the glass towers. My take: the Tower-of-Babel buildings are sapping the life out of the usual day-to-day life of the city. The four-storey buildings are dying. The small companies can't compete. Among the glistening glass temples, the sad concrete slabs beneath are a few years past the danger of ruin. That's my impression. Abu Dhabi isn't that pretty from the ground. We visit two smaller malls that turn out to be ghost towns.

The Corniche--the beach area--is immaculate though. But goodness and praise the authorities for the rules. Rules Rules Rules. I don't have any pictures of the beach area because taking pictures is strictly forbidden. And as you know, I've gotten myself into trouble before. I have one word for this place: deserted. It's pretty, but no one is here. And when I say no one, I mean no one. Abu Dhabi is still waiting for the tourist boom. Or maybe we're here during off-season? Is it a workday? I've lost touch with the days of the week since we've been in the Gulf of Oman.

If "signage" is a word, it shouldn't be.

I'm I the only one who finds this sign(age) creepy?

Next time I'm going to tell you about the cruise itself.

PS, sweet IMBO readers: If you're dying to read one of my stories, I have a short one in Apeiron Review, Issue 5 that has just come out. It's free to download and on pages 78-79. To read it go HERE.

I must be off,
Christopher

To start the I Must Be Off! A-Z contest and win a book, comment on this post and go to BALI. Comment on all the letters of the alphabet and you'll win a book. Really.
____________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. 








 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Oman Fjords -- a Geologist's Playground

Me. It got hotter. That hoodie came off. Rrrrrr.
And smugglers. Don't forget the smugglers. I'll come back to them. First things first. The first thing you notice when your cruise ship sidles up to the port in Khasab, Oman is that this place is--surprise, surprise--a big pile of rocks. There is no shortage of rockage here.

"The Fjords of Arabia," says Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector.

"The Fjords of Arabia," I snort.

I haven't been to the Fjords in Norway, but I have been to the Fjords in New Zealand. Milford Sound is a dark and magical place with seals and dolphins and trees and waterfalls and . . . mist. The Oman Fjords are blue waters in the baking sun surrounded by big piles of very hot rocks. This place is so hot that teachers won't even come here to teach. That's hot. The children have to sail to Khasab to go to school because Oman can't get any teacher to stay in this remote area long enough to get through the multiplication tables.

The Village in the Oman Fjords where seven families live. Can you see it?
There are only a few families living out here anyway. Oman pays for there electricity and water, which is nice--but why? OK, the hermit in me understands the need to live in a remote place. Sometimes I don't answer my phone. Hell, I didn't even have a cellphone for the last year. Just got that little problem solved last week. Now I have another phone that I don't answer. To be fair, these Omanis have phones and internet, so I'm sure they're keeping up with the Kardashians too.The Oman Fjords, while definitely a big pile of rocks, ain't the moon.

Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector booked us a tour of the fjords. I'm sure he was possessed by nostalgic, idyllic memories of Milford Sound when he booked this extremely boring tour. We sat on top of the boat and baked in the sun for hours with nothing but big piles of rocks for a view. I fell asleep.

Now, I'm not a geologist, but if I were (and let me emphasize that I am not), I would find the Oman Fjords fascinating. I just know I would. See, this is where the Arabian tectonic plate is, um, subducting beneath the Eurasian plate at a rate of 6mm a year. The results are truly (no joke) dramatic, and I'm sure my camera cannot do them justice, but here:



I'm not going to lie to you. The most enjoyable part of this tour is when the boats (dhows) race the dolphins. I'm sure the dhow drivers started doing this out of extreme boredom and possibly for the breeze effect. They perform a sort of boat ballet and then sprint with the dolphins a few times. The tourists erupt in applause and laughter. I wake up. Everyone's happy. We all eat dates and drink Mountain Dew.



Telegraph Island (the rocks on the left)
The destination of this fjords tour is Telegraph Island, a repeater station occupied by the British in the 19th century until the heat drove them crazy or 'around the bend' as the legend has it in the mid-1870s. Now, all that remains are the remains of the fort, some fairly treacherous steps up to those ruins and dhow-loads of sweaty tourists. 

On the way back to Khasab, our guide tells us about the lively smuggling trade. I hope I'm not getting him in trouble. It seems to be a wide open secret. The embargo on Iranian export/import has helped to sustain a thriving mafia, smuggling electronics from Khasab into Iran. A never-ending queue of speedboats transport these goods, reportedly worth over 10 million dollars a day. He also told us something about goats being traded for electronics, but I didn't see any goats. I like goats, so I looked for them.

"Are the goats living or dead?" I ask Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector.

"Alive, I would assume," he replies.

"Don't see any live goats. Do you think 'goats' might be a clever euphemism for, say, cocaine?"

Oxsny thinks about this for way too long. "Probably not. Goats are popular here."

On land, we head off to the town of Khasab to check our emails, which begins and ends my list of things to do in Khasab.

Next time we're off to Abu Dhabi, reportedly the richest city in the world.

I must be off,
Christopher

To continue with the I Must Be Off! A-Z contest, comment on this post and go to Porto. Then continue to the Q post and so on. Comment on all the posts A-Z and win a book. It's that easy. 

__________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Muscat -- the Municipality in Oman, not the spice

Muscat, Oman from our balcony on the cruise ship

Yeah, I thought there must be some connection too, but there's not. Ah, wait. The spice nutmeg is only Muskat in German. And, as it turns out, the Muskatnuss (or nutmeg as we know it in English) comes from Indonesia. You'll also be interested to know that the hazelnut has nothing to do with the wacky yet incredibly efficient housekeeper Hazel from the 60s situation comedy of the same name. This is unfortunate. Now it seems I don't know squat about Muscat or the origin of the name hazelnut. I have some research to do.

An hour later: Goodness. Yet another place the Portuguese massacred, slaughtered and pillaged in the 15th century and then brought the gift of Christianity to it. While the predominant religion in Oman now is Ibadi Islam, there are a couple of Catholic and protestant churches there, as well as several Hindu temples; and while freedom of religion is enjoyed in this region, proselytizing is forbidden--which makes the following exchange seem all the stranger:

"We will never find a supermarket," Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector pants. He's thirsty, and we've been wandering the sad streets of Muttrah for about an hour looking for any sign of a market. Nevermind that a supermarket here goes by the moniker of hypermarket rather than supermarket and little grocers have signs that say 'Foodstuffs' and such. It's all in English, so we have no excuse for our thirst.

'Stop your panting, Oxsny,' I say, 'I'm sure there'll be one around the next run-down, sad building." I snap a picture of some graffiti. The owner of the house is staring at me as I do it, but it's such a good one that I have to risk being dragged into a backroom and beaten up (again). It doesn't happen.

Just before we reach the next corner, a man yells at us from an open car window, "Straight on and then right. The Indian temple!" Now if that's not proselytizing, I don't know what is.

"Thank you!" I say and consider converting if the temple's serving anything fluid. Maybe Pink Fluid? Served by Pink Floyd?

Somehow we miss the temple and the potential of water, but Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector flags down a taxi and offers the guy $20 to drive us around for two hours--first stop being a hypermarket of course.

Oman is a big pile of rocks. This is what I learn from our tour. Piles and piles and piles of rocks. With temperatures above 100F much of the year, it's a pile of hot rocks. And petunias. There must have been a sale on them. They're everywhere and watered automatically of course.

The highlight of our day in the region of Muscat, Oman is lunch. Yes, lunch. We get out of the taxi at Al Qurum resort. This place is a great tourist spot, with beautiful(ly empty) beaches and a few cafés.

Lured by the promise of an Irish pub, we end up sitting outside at the Al Qurum Resort restaurant-cum-sheesha bar. A sheesha is a waterpipe. The air here is fruity from the pipes everyone's smoking. Everyone except us: the white tourists not dressed in a long, white garment called a dishdasha. We stick out. Here's a question: how do these men keep the dishdasha so immaculately pressed? They must be polyester. Not a wrinkle in sight. I would love to have one of these, but I don't think I'd like to iron it. And I've just discovered from THIS website that having the dishdasha laundered costs only around 200 bz (40 cents?).

Back to the restaurant: I order ginger tea, so the waiter asks me if I want the red or the green label.

"Hmmm," I hmmm. "What's the difference? Besides the color of the label obviously."

"I'll bring you the red," he says.

"Perfect," I say.
 
I order the kofta, so the waiter brings me a prawn biryani and tells me it's much better than the kofta. This reminds me of the elderly waitress in Naples, Italy all those years ago who told me I was going to eat a calzone rather than the risotto I'd ordered. What can you do?

The ginger tea with the red label, which is actually yellow, but I've stopped asking pointless questions at this point, is black tea with pieces of ginger in it. I wish people would stop calling this ginger tea. It takes a very long time for the taste of ginger to infuse with tea. By the time your tea tastes anything like ginger, it's cold. That said, the prawn biryani is a dream. For lack of a better word, it's yummy. It's so yummy in fact that when Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector reaches to steal a prawn, I stab his hand with my fork.
Qaboos al Said Palace -- Muscat, Oman

"Waiter," I lilt, "May I have another fork?"

No visit to Muscat would be complete without a stop at the Qaboos bin Said Palace. A bit of history of Mr. Said: He overthrew his father peacefully in 1970 with the help of the British, which might have been a good thing. Since gaining power, Said has improved Oman's infrastructure, created ministries for education, health and social services, had a new port and an airport built, and of course had this wacky palace erected. Illiteracy in Oman is at 10%, down from 18% before Said. Literacy is always a good thing.

Hazel
Ah, the hazelnut mystery. I nearly forgot about it. The hazelunt is called thusly because it comes from the hazel tree. How boring . . . unless the delightfully nutty housekeeper from the 60s situation comedy Hazel got her name because her grandmother named her under the family's hazel tree. That would be a story.

Next time I'm going to take you to Khasab, Oman -- another big pile of hot rocks.

I must be off,
Christopher

PS: I Must Be Off! is hosting its second annual Travel Essay Contest! Go HERE to learn more. Deadline for entries June 30, 2014!

______________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. 



 

  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Five Things to do in Dubai if You're Cheap

Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world
I don't know. Do you enjoy the sun? That enormous, wobbly hot thing in the sky? To be honest, I like it best when it's setting or rising than when it's just hanging there blazing like a bare light bulb in an interrogation room.

I've just come back from six days at sea--it might have been seven--cruising from Dubai to Khasab, Oman and back on the Costa Fortuna (more about the cruise later). For the next few days, I'll be telling you about the trip, the high points and the low. It's going to get hot in here, so shed some of your clothes, don a sexy pair of shades and toss a towel on your sun chair. I'm gonna make you sweat.

Today, let's take a trip to Dubai. Twenty years ago Dubai had one skyscraper; now it has 900? Was that the number I heard? Over 900? That's a lot of empty office space in buildings made of glass in the middle of a desert. Dubai swelters in the winter and feels hot enough to spontaeously combust in the summer.

The first time Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector and I were in Dubai was about a decade ago. We were visiting a wonderful person. It was summer. The temperature was around 50 C (120 F?) outside, so the pool at the Le Meridien was cooled to around -50 C. Our choices were fry or freeze. Nothing in between--unless you go to the mall. Which we did.

And we did this time as well. There are several enormous malls in Dubai, and you might be tempted, as we were, to run for them when it's too hot outside to enjoy a good walk. Here, though, are a few things you can do in Dubai if shopping is not high on your list of leisure time activities.

1. The Atlantis Hotel

Yes, it's a hotel but it's a grand hotel. Situated at the tip of the artificial island called The Palm, The Atlantis is worth a visit. The drive to The Atlantis is a haul, but the hotel has a lot to offer once you're finally there. The aquarium kept my jaw dropped for quite a while. The scene is a sunken Atlantis--could this be the real one?--with lots and lots of pretty fish. Rays and sharks and, um, other ones. Lots of them.

The Acquarium at the Atlantis Hotel

I wanted to sit at one of the pretty blue tables in front of the acquarium and have an overpriced coffee, but Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector x-snayed that. There was even a table free with our name on it.

"I do not see Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector anywhere on this table," Oxsnard says--he's a very literal type.

"It's written in disappearing ink," I say.

"This sound improbable since now someone has taken the table and they have neither my nor your name."

It was true. A family of four were making themselves comfy at our table. Moving along.

The acquarium, though, is not the only thing to do here. There's a water park, which we didn't go to, and lots of great shops and restaurants--none of which we entered. If you're cheap, you can also take pictures of the ceilings. Here are a few of mine:





At some point in the future, there will be a train running from the city to The Atlantis Hotel. This will overcrowd the hotel impossibly, so I hope you get the chance to visit this place before the masses have easy access to it.

2. Dubai Creek

The Creek, with its proximity to the "old town" and other tourist-trap magnets like the gold souq, is a good place for an evening stroll. Don't bother going during the day unless you really want to buy a pashmina or have a guy foist a headdress on you and then beg you to buy it.

The Creek really comes alive at night, and I suppose it is a good place to have dinner. Dozens of dinner cruise boats line the shores, so you won't have any trouble finding one. I haven't tried any of them, but here are a few people who have.

Getting from one side of the creek to the other is easy. There are small boats shuttling people for 1 Dirham (about 20 cents). You'll need to be stable on your feet to climb onto these boats. You'll also need to hold on tight once the boats gets going. Everyone sits in the middle and faces out. When waves come from bigger boats, you feel as if you'll be pitched into the water. Great fun.

Don't miss The Heritage Village in the evening. It's not a grand experience, but if you came here looking for culture this is the place. Entry is free. This is also a bit of a tourist trap, but I didn't feel as if anyone was grabbing at me and begging me to buy anything. Dubai is a gigantic modern city, so a place like this--even if it is a bit hokey and artificial--gives the city back some of its character. With a few performances and demonstrations of traditional cloth making and food preparation, The Heritage Village is worth a visit--especially if you've been walking up and down the promenade at the Dubai Creek looking for the toilete. They're inside The Heritage Village.

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3. Dubai Acquarium

Shhhh. It's another acquarium, and it's in the Dubai Mall. Yes, I promised to tell you about things to do other than shopping in Dubai, but this is really worth seeing. Fish. More fish. Actually, too many fish, if you ask me. The largest acrylic panel in the world. And fish. Lots of them.


It's free if you stand in the mall and simply gawk at it, but you can pay around $16 to walk through it. We didn't pay. We're cheap; you're probably not. But even if you're as cheap as we are, you can enjoy it.

A few facts about the Dubai Acquarium:
  • 51m x 20m x11m
  • Features one of the world's largest viewing panels at 32.8m wide and 8.3m high
  • Squishes together more than 33,000 living animals, representing more than 85 species including over 400 sharks and rays combined. It's like the Calcutta of acquariums.
  • Don't even bother bringing a pole: fishing is not allowed. 

Burj Khalifa
The Dubai Mall is also a good place to take pictures of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. This spire certainly overwhelms the skyline of Dubai. Often on hazy days the top half of the building simply disappears, but I got a few interesting shots. I like the way the clouds seem to frame the structure, which is so tall that getting it into a good shot proved a challenge.

A few facts about Burj Khalifa:
  • At over 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) 
  • More than 160 storeys
  • Highest occupied floor in the world
  • Longest elevator ride in the world 
  • Highest observation deck in the world
  • Hardest building to get a picture of in its entirety with someone standing at its base. Trust me. I've tried.
  • Read more HERE

4. The Burj Al Arab Hotel

Yes, another hotel. But this one is billed as the only 6-star hotel in the world. You won't get anywhere near the hotel if you're not staying in it or on a tour. You can buy tickets online or just do what we did: hang out at the hotel next to it and take pictures of the Burj Al Arab from there.

OR... you can book high tea at the Burj al Arab for as little as 300 Dirham a person. That's only $60. I wonder if they serve gluten-free high tea.

From our table at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

The Burj Al Arab from the entrance to Souk Madinat Jumeirah

If you don't need to see the lobby of the Burj Al Arab--which is reported to be higher than the Statue of Liberty--you can take great pictures of the hotel from Souk Madinat Jumeirah, which is just around the corner. Souk Madinat Jumeirah is also a great place to have dinner or just shop in a traditional but relaxed market.

The Waterways surrounding Souk Madinat Jumeirah


5. The Beaches

Joke! Oh my Lord. Why would anyone want to bake in the sun on one of Dubai's beaches? OK, if 50C-degree heat is your thing, go for it. There are lots of beaches around Dubai. Just follow the rules. Remember this is an Islamic country. But instead of going to the beach, why not cool off by going downhill skiing? Yes, you can do that in Dubai at Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates. They suit you up for the whole day for around $35 a person. And there are penguins. I'm not sure you can get a better deal than this with penguins included. Wait. You could, if you're as cheap as I am, just take pictures through the window and laugh about you aren't back in freezing Munich shoveling snow right now.


Next time, I'm going to take you to Muscat, Oman where--surprise, surprise--it's going to be hot.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.