Hidden Gem

Muharraq is where one can find a place many casual cafés and restaurants that serve brunches with Kadak Tea and Turkish Coffee. Though some places are not advertised much, a wanderer-of-streets finds them anyway; either by chance or through a casual recommendation from a friend. But the one located in a narrow by-lane, that just let a car pass by, blew away most of the cafés in terms of ambience, authenticity and the traditional food served.

The place serves only traditional Bahraini breakfast which includes ful, eggs with tomato, balaleet, beans, breads and more. Fresh juice or coffee compliments the food served.

Lanes of Muharraq are also best places to hone the art of driving while they offer several photo opportunities to those interested in photography.

Advertisements

Harissa

Roses are red.
Fragrant, too.
Roses can touch your heart.
They convey deep feelings.
Sometimes even make you cry.
So is Harissa (həˈrēsə).

The words Harissa dances and flows in the mouth quite effortlessly.
It brings many cherished images to the mind.

But what is Harissa?
Harissa is a fiery hot condiment and seasoning from North Africa and the Middle East. It is a paste of dried red chilis, garlic, and olive oil, with other spices such as ground red pepper, caraway, cumin, caraway, coriander, fennel and mint. It is most closely associated with Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Makes Tabasco and Sriracha take a distant second and third places when it comes to a chili sauce contest.

[Recipe for Harissa cannot be more simpler than this…

About 50gm dried red chilies
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
Salt
Olive oil

Mix all together].

But the fiery red sauce is not for the faint-hearted.
Not even for the moderately-brave.
It takes a real courageously-daring one to even attempt to even think about making Harissa paste at home.

Therefore
I decided to make the recipe at home amidst all the usual naysayers.
“Can’t be done”.
“Not for Indian cuisine”.
“You need special ingredients… secret ones… how will you find them”.
“Why bother yourself when you can just add chili powder?”.
“We got SriRacha in the fridge”.
“Since when did you started experimenting with North African cuisine”.
So on.

First things first.
How many types of chilis are there in the market?
A few.
Wrong.
Many many.
Wanted to learn all about them before deciding which one to buy.
World of chili was so exciting that the first learning was that it might take longer than a weekend to learn.

So decided to choose
a dark, long one,
a reddish-brownish medium one and
a cute, round one.
(The intended ones were Pasilla, Guajillo & Cascabel. Must learn which is which).
Also used four different types of chili powders: Cayenne, Paprika, Red chili and Kashmiri chili.

Soaking the chilis in hot water was easy.
But the deseeding and destemming part took a toll as a not-so-easy burning sensation on the face.
Food-grade gloves and medical-grade face mask were used.
Not to mention industrial-grade eye-glasses.

While the chilis were soaking, garlic was de-skinned and crushed.
Coriander, cumin, fennel, caraway seeds were ground using pestle and mortar.
The four-chili paste was prepared.
Dried mint leaves kept aside.

From now on, it must be a breeze. So I thought.
Soaked chilies, drained well, went to the food processor.

Warning: The first buzz will fill the kitchen with the volatile component of the chili oleoresin that one must expect and take precautions.
From mildly uncomfortable runny nose and eyes to uncontrollable sneezing could occur.
So please be forewarned.
(Note: Harissa preparation will make onion slicing chore feel like a seventh heaven).

Having survived that grinding to paste stage, spices and mint were added and mixed.
Some balsamic vinegar was added to the paste. Lemon juice, if you so prefer.
Finally, the food processor was run at very slow speed while a stream of Olive oil was mixed in the emulsification process. The processor was stopped once the mixture achieved the desired consistency.

Due to the watery-eyed environment, many photo opportunities were missed.
But the few that were taken can be found here.

In short, the home-made sauce was a real unforgettable experience in the kitchen.
But if you ask em if I would repeat the experience, I would not reply without a bit of hesitancy.

While the runny-nose tells me no, the beyond-the-words taste of Harissa in fish and chicken urges me “you must”.

Extremely Useful Emptinesses

“We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.”
– Lao Tzu

The Potter, a man in his forties,
sat there on the wooden, tall stool
by a table
with a shapeless lump of clay.
Smiling.

He had a few kids and their parents as his audience.
Wide-eyed kids.
I’ve-seen-it-all-eyed parents.
Deep inside,
the parents wanted to mould the clay as much as their kids.

But
being elder to the kids, they appeared to show more restraint
and even scolded the kids for their impatience.
Potter smiled.

While his fingers and palm
moved around the wet clay,
and the people thought of how relaxed the man was,
his legs were tirelessly working.

Pushing the heavy flywheel
under the table
that held the platform
that rotated
the clay…

I wondered
how many kids must have seen the hard work
of the legs
that is needed for a clay pot?

Potter continued to smile.
Perhaps he could listen to everyone’s thoughts…

National Museum

Located in the waterfront near the Marina Club, Diplomatic Area, National Museum is one of the popular monuments with visitors. A few hundred meters away resides the newly built National Theatre. Exhibitions and cultural talks see the National Museum as its venue attracting the art lovers of Bahrain and from neighbouring countries. The entrance leads to a vast hall almost covered with the sharp aerial photograph of Bahrain.

National Museum
National Museum

pic-5628

National Theatre
National Theatre

pic-5639

pic-5640

pic-5652

National Museum, left
National Museum, left

A complete detailed visit could easily take about half-a-day. Exhibits are meticulously labelled in Arabic and English.

Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art

Visual Islamic Art excludes the depiction of realistic human and animal figures. Geometric patterns that transform one to another world often become the focus of attraction. Precise reasons for geometric pattern becoming so central in Islamic decoration remain intriguing to many minds. Predominance of aniconism within monotheistic Abrahamic religions could well be a clue towards an understanding of the prominence of such patterns.

While geometric patterns that are simple and pleasing to the viewer dominate Islamic art, calligraphy and the minimum usage of foliage patterns of the arabesque (Islamic biomorphic patterns are usually called arabesques) can be seen within private spaces of homes and palaces.

The need to defend the unique status of God’s position as the ultimate power holder against idols, which were seen as threat to the uniqueness, led to the spread of the practice of aniconic art.

Geometric patterns make up one of the major nonfigural types of decoration in Islamic art; other two being Calligraphy and subtle vegetal patterns. The extreme complexity of geometric patterns within Islamic art is generated from such simple forms as the circle and the square. These simple patterns are combined, duplicated, interlaced and arranged in intricate patterns extending almost infinitely.

Reiteration of Qur’an implies that the divine nature of God is experienced through the divine word. Therefore, the absence of icons within a mosque is justified. However, the words of Qur’an is often extensively depicted on the walls and ceilings of mosques, palaces and homes giving rise to the rich traditions of Islamic calligraphy as an elevated form of architectural decoration.

Calligraphy manages to combine a geometric discipline with a dynamic rhythm. In the Islamic world it takes the place of iconography, being widely used in the decorative schemes of buildings. Seen below is a benign wording written in Arabic.

Vegetal ‘arabesque’ compositions are as common in Islamic decoration as geometric patterns. Similar to the geometric patterns, these are found across a wide range of mediums from illustrations in books to plaster work both interior and exterior and even in carpets and textiles. Leaves and climbers are the closest one can find in this kind of art form as the depiction of any creation with a soul is forbidden.

The basic shapes, or “repeat units,” from which the more complicated patterns are constructed are: circles and interlaced circles; squares or four-sided polygons; the ubiquitous star pattern, ultimately derived from squares and triangles inscribed in a circle; and multisided polygons. It is clear, however, that the complex patterns found on many objects include a number of different shapes and arrangements, allowing them to fit into more than one category.  The basic shapes are then repeated in many ways – the process known as tessellation – to create complex patterns that are so simple at its core. A tesselation is a decoration of a two-dimensional plane using the repetition of a geometric shape with no overlaps and no gaps; generally it can be extended infinitely in all directions.

ade

Muqarnas (system of niches and projected ‘stalactites’, used as a transitional and decorative device in architecture), Mishkah (niche for a lamp), Lazo or Band-i-rumi (interlaced geometrical pattern) are some of the unique characteristics within Islamic art.

Other than stone, brick, wood and paper, stucco or plaster was widely used in Islamic Art. Plaster, a singularly useful material that lent itself to moulding and carving in a variety of ways, became a staple of Islamic architecture. Perhaps because of its plasticity as a medium it was less frequently used for purely geometric designs, and was more often used in vegetal-arabesque arrangements.

Stained or coloured glasses are used to create a heavenly experience within homes, palaces or places of worship. Designs the permit sunlight in the morning hours to enter the room from outside while providing a beautiful window view to an observer from outside during night time was mesmerising. The glass comes in four basic colours: red, blue, green and yellow. Movement of coloured patterns with the sun from dawn to dusk creates a dynamic ambience within the living space. Glasses are also used to decorate ceiling lanterns or wall lamps.

That the intricacies of infinite geometric patterns starts from a simple straight line, a point and a circle is perhaps the most unbelievable fact in the entire gamut of this marvellous form of art.

 

Ghriyba Marocaine aux Amandes

Weekends are cooking days. Sometimes the daughter joins in but mostly it is alone.
Bahrain feels like the best-of-Europe with it’s mild weather. While sunny and bright in the day time, the temperature stays at around 12-14 deg C. The weather was never lovelier before than today.

Rib-eye Steak with Mushroom Sauce served with Mashed Potatoes and crisp, sautéed Mangetouts for the lunch.
Thai Green Seafood curry with Jasmine Rice for dinner.
[Ed: Those posts are for another day].
But the highlight of the day was Moroccan Almond Cookies or Ghriba.
The sweet from Marrakesh took everyone by storm.

Most of the dishes tried at home were tried before in a restaurant or at a baker’s.
Ghriba was an exception. Came to learn about the sweet from a beautiful blog in WordPress https://thetaste0flife.wordpress.com/

Ghriba is something unlike any of the sweets.
It does not use any flour (wheat or rice, eg.)
Sites those talked about Ghriba mentioned the Moroccan Mint Tea that goes well with the sweet.
[Ed: Forgotten to make mint tea, by the way].

Almonds eggs caster sugar lemon zest lemon juice almond extract orange blossom water.
The taste was much beyond the realms of any sweet tried so far.

Started off with zesting the lemon after keeping the oven to heat-up to the required temperature of 350F (180C).
Prepared the baking tray with parchment paper and kept aside.

photo-1

photo-2

Almond flour and sugar were then blended in a food-processor briefly.
Baking powder, vanilla extract, almond flavour, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest were whisked in.

photo-3

Egg yolks were then added to the above mixed using fingers taking care not to knead towards bread consistency. However, as the four eggs were added, the dough was bit like a bread dough.

photo-4

Added less caster sugar though the recipe asked 125 gm as the cookies are going to be rolled on icing sugar before baking.

photo-7

Baked at 350 deg F just till cooked… a cookie unlike any cookie. Inside the oven, the cookies began to crack about 12 minutes into the baking process.

photo-5

photo-9

The oven was switched off soon after the cookies started to crack.
Rest of the baking happened in the subsiding heat and for about 18 minutes.

Final note:
Mildly crunchy outside and soft,chewy inside, the Ghriba was loved instantly at first bite. There sure is a lot of room for excelling and the pursuit of excellence makes the baking process more challenging and therefore enjoyable.

Reviews say that the cookies can be stored in airtight containers for 2-3 weeks. May not be applicable at our place. Confluence of flavours will take several hours was a maxim seldom listened to by the end users. Thus, the cookies finished fast. But their taste remains.

75b Rue d’Orchampt

The Man Who Walked Through Walls by the French writer Marcel Ayme begins:

“In Montmartre, on the third floor of 75b Rue d’Orchampt, there lived an excellent gentleman called Dutilleul, who possessed the singular gift of passing through walls without any trouble at all. He wore pince-nez and a small black goatee, and was a lowly clerk in the Ministry of Records. In winter he would take the bus to work, and in fine weather he would make the journey on foot, in his bowler hat.

Dutilleul had just entered his forty-third year when he discovered his power. One evening, a brief electricity cut caught him in the hallway of his small bachelor’s apartment. He groped for a while in the darkness and, when the lights came back on, found himself outside on the third-floor landing. Since his front door was locked from the inside,…”

wall

Set in Paris’s Montmartre district, the stories by Marcel have spawned a number of films, including Jean Boyer’s 1951 classic Garou Garou, le passe-muraille and Yvan Attal’s Les Sabines starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, as well as a musical, Amour, which won the Prix Molière in France before an English version conquered Broadway.

Today in Montmartre a sculpture of The Man Who Walked through Walls, created by the legendary actor Jean Marais, can be found in the Place Marcel Aymé, paying tribute to the great author and his work.

Home baked!

Spend months looking for the best recipe.

Ingredients were all hand-picked from super market baking sections and grocery stores.
Befriending chefs from the bakery section; picking up pearls of wisdom.

Best possible dry fruits… Medjool Dates, Dried Figs, Sundried Apricots, Glacé Cherries, Golden Sultanas, Dark Raisins, Cranberries, Black Currants,… all soaked in very special old pale brandy for weeks and months.

Then those, ah,
Chopped Brazil nuts.
Slivered Almonds.
Halved Walnuts.

Mixed with freshly milled flour, free-range eggs, butter@room-temperature, dark muscovado sugar… with a touch of Treacle.

Not to forget the nutmeg, cinnamon and mixed spices.

Oven pre-heated to a modestly warm 150 degree Centigrade (300F).

Patience.
Patience.
Patience.

And then, three and a half hours later… where did the mittens go? Whole family assembles in the small kitchen…

Moment of truth.

cake

_DSC0296

_DSC0308

They say this cake will last for months if kept in an airtight container.
Yet to see one last that long.

Entertainer

The Cello player at the street corner
turned many a heads
and sharpened
many a ears…

cello

As the bow rode
over the taut strings of the Cello
Many ‘brows became bow-like,
sheer annoyance.

A few paused,
confirmed all is fine
before continuing on their way
to their own felicity.

Few others
stalled their stroll
consigned to oblivion for a moment
got lured to the four strings.

To that single bow,
the moving hands,
the quivering fingers,
on a gold-lit night.

That made music
so heavenly and deep
mildly squeaking but mostly stringy
with random pitch et al.

Rising now, falling then
Nuances of the notes…
An enflé here, a coulé du doigt there
Plainte, a-plenty.

All in a train
moving along merrily
reflecting on the face
of the Entertainer.

P.W Rushton

MyRefractions.com met Peter Rushton in his 11th floor offices at the World Trade Centre building in Diplomatic Area, Manama, Bahrain recently. MyRefractions.com wish to thank Mahmood Al Awadhi, a good friend and a capable Administrator for initiating the meeting with Peter.

Peter was recovering from a mild stroke but was so kind enough to share his life experiences and how it feels to be a creative source of positive energy.

DSC_8222

Some excerpts from our conversation… some images of his paintings… and himself.
Please scroll down for more.

Is there an artwork here you are most proud of? Why?
There is a painting that I dearly cherish which has been in many an exhibition I have entering, but has not included a price tag. During 1978 when I was in England and were unsure of my future direction at that time, I had a vision in my mind of a beautiful young lady with who wore a head scarf. She had a tanned skin and vivid blue eyes. This was at a time when I was using an airbrush which needed a lot of preparation and precision in technique. I look back now and the painting was depicting of what lay ahead of me for the years to come. After 19 years in the Middle East, I should have questioned my visual ability a bit more seriously.

– What inspired you to become an artist?
From the time that I could draw properly I had a passion. I grew up wanting to express art in various ways, allowing the subject matter dictated which technique I adopt.

2014-03-04 20.46.04

043

059

064

078

098

106

108

112

114

129

149

154

155

157

169

177

180

185

207

262

280

2014-03-04 19.25.54

2014-03-04 19.39.50

-What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I have a number of tools that I use in most paintings, namely a wide variety of brushes and sponges. The tool that seems I can’t live without; certain in my studio are my knives. This includes a pallet knife up to a bread carving knife from the kitchen! Mostly, I use acrylic paint as it is faster to use than oils however, you can get the same depth and textured when the paint is being applied by a knife.

– How did you get where you are today?
My influences are first and foremost everything I see, feel and experience, but I’ve always loved the unexpected. My love is the rhythm of life and how it can be represented. Plus a lot of hard work, commitment and dedication!

– What is the main challenge you face when beginning a painting?
I’m never without a creative thought as I am constantly being inspired by what is around me; sometimes the thoughts are left in my mind and other times they develop into more in-depth ideas and detailed images.

– At what point in the process of the painting do you begin to feel like the painting is almost completed?
A painting tells me when it’s finished, in fact, there have been times when I could not put another stroke on the canvas; the painting would not let me! A painting develops its own life as it being created.

– How has painting influenced your life?
During my years in London where I exhibited and also became a critic at private shows, the exposure to various subject matters and styles of art has played a significant influence in my creative approach today.

– What qualities do you look for in other artists whom you would like to work with?
I would say that I wouldn’t want to work with other artists as I have done that before and I believe there needs one Captain of a ship. If I would to critic the qualities of what makes a good painter, I would say they would need to be Inspiring, concept driving, emotional, original and passionate.

– How do you manage balancing work/life?
It is difficult. However, my day to day function demands that I use my creative ability and use the experience that I gained being Creative Director for Advertising Agencies throughout my career. I naturally employ these skills with the Team and the Agency we work with. Thinking original thoughts and guiding those that need them makes up some ways in equalizing the balance.

– What do you like most about your career?
I didn’t intend to be a contemporary artist but over the years, as my portfolio styles naturally evolved from a photographic illustrative style to looser acrylics and people started to review my work at International Exhibitions, the descriptions started to emerge and I began to notice a style I hadn’t intended but am now pleased with.

-What are you working on at the moment?
As most appreciated in my last exhibition, I am drawing to the close of a painting which features two sunflowers which adopts a style that was very well received. At the same time, I have two canvases which I am starting for a project that I am really looking forward to. I see them as a pair, working together and creating a harmony in their form.

-Where else can we find you? (Blog, website, twitter, facebook etc)
I have utilized a website for a number a years and I am just updating my site. What with the Social Media leading the way, I am in the process of uploading my work onto my Facebook site for ease of visual access.

-Do you admire any artists / photographers?
The artist I most admire is Salvador Dali. For me, he was a genius before his time in conceptual thinking and technique.

-What is your favorite…

Color:
One of the Jewel colours appeals me most; a ‘charoite’ sits well with most other colours and yet is very unique in its vibrancy.

Animal:
I have two Golden Retriever dogs, a mum (Sophie) and her daughter (Sunny). When they play, you know they are around and yet when I am being serious about painting, they quietly sit in my studio and keep me company.

20150214_123121

Season:
As a gardener, I enjoy the blossom of plants that have lasted the winter. Spring adds colour, shape and form and adds life to its environment.

-Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others?
“Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.”

Calligraphy and Fashion

Calligraphy can often be a rare confluence of beauty and enigma.
Strange mystery is held by each piece of calligraphic art.
Sleek trailing lines that merge with life.
Broad, bold lines that changes its shape in a graceful curve.
The pen made of bamboo with a tip that thickens and thins out the script.
In short, it was magic to watch the artist come alive with the art.

Calligraphy is an ancient art form.
Kings in the Middle East often had their personal Calligraphers
who had their favorite styles or fonts.
They send their messages through the scripts between them.

MyRefractions.com recently met an artist who excels in her forte: Njood.

She talked of how it all began…

“When I was 11-12 years old, I used to watch my Father – who is a Calligrapher – work on various designs and styles. I love art. So from that point onwards I had become a Calligrapher”.

untitled-3

cal3

ccea90af1104501c5168d28324be6890

Njood was kind enough to display many styles of writing…

untitled-6

untitled-9

“There are lots of Calligraphers in Bahrain but most are men. The support for a woman Calligrapher is less… but then I met Jassin Al Hamadi who promised to make me a great calligrapher if I attend his classes. That is where I learned Ri’qa – a beautiful style. One must never mix two styles, warns Njood with a serious face, her smile to return only too soon. I had also visited so many artists and their exhibits with Suhair… I started designing logos and other works on my own from 17”, says Njood.

cal1

cal2

cal4

untitled-1

Hamra added that faults and mistakes in fabrics are common in the initial stages of learning but one must be willing to make mistakes and learn. HA had taken a bold step in accepting a challenge by choosing Njood to be her designer in Calligraphy. Njood was beginning to try her designs on fabric for the first time ever and Hamra works mostly with fabrics. Usual media for a Calligrapher are paper and canvas. Hamra says she loves Njood and “she is as beautiful as a song” which makes Njood smile.

Farsy, Deewani, Thulth are her favourite styles which also includes Naskh, Sunbly, Kofe, Al Naskh Taleeq and several other free styles.

Streets of Madurai

The streets leading to the magnificent Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple was full of life with families and vendors. Children played but they were hushed by their watchful parents at the slight on-sight of mischief or a noise. After all, are they not near the most powerful deity?

untitled-27

untitled-19

untitled-18

untitled-17

untitled-16

untitled-14

untitled-10

untitled-9

untitled-7

untitled-25

untitled-5

untitled-23

untitled-22

untitled-21

MyRefractions approached a policeman on guard duty to obtain formal permission to photograph the insides of the beautiful temple. Knowing the behavioral patterns of an exhausted policeman who is almost the end of his duty, MR was taken aback by the humbleness and soft words of guidance by the guard-on-duty. A senior officer walked in and was also equally humble with the words. Do they hand pick soft-spoken officers or they change to becoming soft-spoken near the temple. Anyway, the answer was a polite negative.

Most of the captures were from the street. But the beauty of the thousand-legged tower, the sanctum sanctorum, the fragrance of fresh camphor and the flowers… all embedded in that clear bell, alive in the minds of all.