I spy with my little eye... Mario Testino in Dubai.

If you have the slightest interest in fashion, you will be excited by this: Mario Testino is exhibiting for the first time in Dubai! D3 created a pop-up space for his large scale photos and he came to Dubai to present it to the press himself. What a privilege to hear him talk about his work!
He had an anecdote for each theme of the exhibition: how Madonna was tired after a morning of shooting but he had to insist because "sadly, I didn't have the right shot yet", how he brought a real bear to pose with Cara Delevingne, how photography is all about light: "you find light, you find what you're looking for", how he shot between 60 and 100 photos before he captured what he was looking for...

But he also opened up about himself: " I tend to pick the people I like to shoot, and then I perform for them. I'm a performer, I make jokes and tease them". He comes across as a serious business man, but he lights up when he talks about his work and the people he collaborates with. The passion is obvious, and you can tell he has fun working his magic: "I believe that photography should never show the effort that went into it, it should look effortless".

The exhibition "Heat" will be hosted by D3 until the 15th April and I cannot recommend it enough!
Hopefully we will see more of him in the near future since he is "discovering more and more about Dubai" and is finding it "fascinating".

I spy with my little eye... a reflection on mirrors and image.

I love when my coffee comes with a side of art! Lots of restaurants and cafes in Dubai work with artists or galleries to decorate their walls, and La Serre is one of my favourite places in town, so I'm always happy to meet with their artists. These days, they have a collection of mirrors by Karma Mirrors, and I have a big crush on the plain copper and golden pieces. 

But apart from the fact that they are pretty to look at, I thought bringing mirrors in Dubai as art was a very relevant choice, so well done to the management team at La Serre! Dubai is a city where the obsession of looks goes beyond my parisian love for fashion and aesthetics. I admire this city, I love the diversity and opportunities, but I am sometimes overwhelmed by the energy, time, money and attention some people are willing to put into their image. I'm all for making efforts, being fit, healthy, using makeup and enhancing your best features, but I cannot deal with long-term technologically induced physical change. This is where I personally draw the line. I don't deal very well with hair or eyelashes extensions, fake nails, breasts, fillers, plastic surgery in general... Of course I understand that a complex can ruin your quality of life, and if you can correct it and make your life better, than of course you should go for it, and I'm not even going to get into reconstructive plastic surgery, these are completely justified. But there is a pretty clear line between one complex and changing the very nature of your DNA. I am not judging or pointing, I am just observing the fact that we forget how props and plastic surgery affect the mind as much as the body. It can make you feel better, it can help you reinvent yourself, it can also make your children wonder why they don't look like you. I think that working on the mind a little bit more could help deal with body issues, instead of doing it the other way around.

It is so easy to throw money at the problem... I would rather learn how to grow my hair and eyelashes naturally than get extensions that might ruin my actual hair. Cherry on the cake? It teaches you patience and forces you to understand how your body works. Same applies to breasts, lips, noses... There is always something to tweak, but I would rather learn to play it with clothes, fabrics, makeup, a bit of research and a lot of patience, rather than get into surgery or long term modification. I would hate for my children one day to look at me and fail to see the resemblance. I would like to feel confident when it comes to teaching them to love themselves just the way they are, and I do believe in teaching through example. I get worried when a 20-something young woman in Dubai vlogs her "first fillers"... I admire the ambition though, these are the first batch people, stay tuned for the next one!

That was a bit of a long post, but that's what Karma Mirrors inspired me, and after all, isn't it what art is supposed to do: start a conversation, open a subject and a reflection? Again, a big bravo to the La Serre team for this selection, I think it is brilliant and very relevant for Dubai!

I spy with my little eye... Charicycles.

In a city where everything is new is shiny, it is so refreshing to find second-hand items so I couldn't help but fall in love with Charicycles: they use old vintage bicycles to make new customised ones, and every time you buy an item, you contribute to funding bicycles for children in refugee camps. Zaina and Rania Kanaan are two Canadian-Palestinian entrepreneur sisters who moved to Dubai five years ago and created Ananasa, an online marketplace for handmade items in the Middle East, but the creative duo didn't stop there: a couple of years ago when Zaina couldn't find a bicycle that would meet her expectations in terms of design and price, she decided to make one! After watching a couple of Youtube tutorials, the two sisters managed to assemble a bicycle using parts from other old bikes and repainting the frame. It got so much attention that their practical and philanthropist minds soon came up with an eco-friendly, sustainable, local, charitable, stylish concept that also promotes a healthy lifestyle (what's not to like?): Charicycles was born!

Please meet Zaina, Rania, and their amazing bicycles!

HOB: If you could live in a painting, which one would it be?
Zaina: "I'd skip the painting and choose Figueres, just because the whole town embodies Salvatore Dali's paintings, his life and his love. It's a surreal place to get lost in, it's a tangent and a never-ending story."
Rania: "The Persistence of Memory, from Salvatore Dali."

HOB: If you could live in a different era, which one would you pick and why?
Zaina: "I'd probably go for the Victorian era, there were so many true romantics practising hopeful love in luscious gardens surrounded by butterflies, wearing stunning dresses."
Rania: "I am too young to have made this decision :)"

HOB: What piece of clothing reminds you of your mother/father?
Zaina: "For my mother: a mustard coloured sweater with illustrations of Middle Eastern olive trees and gardens, her way of keeping us aware of our roots since a young age. I carry it in every closet I've had over 20 years now. For my father: Italian linen shirts, my dad is our Casanova, he knows it, we know it!"
Rania: "Although not a piece of clothing, my mom always has lipstick on rain or shine :) and my father is obsessed with nice Italian leather shoes."

HOB: What scent takes you right back to you childhood?
Zaina: "Lavender and jasmin combined. We had so many of those trees around and it was always the most accurate signal of the arrival of spring."
Rania: "Nabulsi soap, it reminds me of my Teta's room."

HOB: When do you feel on holiday?
Zaina: "When I travel to volunteer. I usually like to go on holiday to grow spiritually, the more relevant experiences the more I grow and learn. I find volunteering especially with children gives a strong sense of freedom and the power to allow me to live in my childhood, purely and innocently."
Rania: "Most days :)"

HOB: What designer would you take on a camel ride?
Zaina: "I'd take the designer of a little cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia called Sister Srey Cafe. The design and energy of that place is unforgettable, it speaks to me in so many ways and it's one of the few places I never feel restless at. I'd think the designer of that cafe would have interesting ideologies and superb energy on a camel ride."
Rania: "Baron Karl von Drais."

HOB: Your favourite recipe to make?
Zaina: "Orange-cranberry eggless cookies. I'm allergic to many food ingredients, so baked treats are out of the question most of the time, except those cookies which I both love to do on a cosy day and love to eat."
Rania: "I am not frequently in the kitchen, but every year, once a year, I cook a Turkey and enjoy it very much."

HOB: Best piece of advice you were ever given?
Zaina: "Never take no for an answer. It made me question life and get much more from it. If we settle for a "no", the road ends. I'm all for stretching the road and peeking beyond the horizon because life should be an adventure."
Rania: "Always send the elevator back down."

HOB: What book changed your life?
Zaina: "The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, I read it when I was really young and every time I pick it up I relate to it differently. And the Forty Rules of Love by Elif Sakaf."
Rania: "The Prophet by Khalil Gibran."

HOB: The movie you've watched 30 times but you might watch again tonight?
Zaina: "Mrs Doubtfire."
Rania: "Aladdin."

HOB: Your theww favourite spots in Dubai?
Zaina: "Bastakiyah, a quiet beach I get to on my bicycle, and my room."
Rania: "The rooftop of my parents house, anywhere on the beach, and Bastakiyah."

For more information, check their website: www.charicycles.com 

I spy with my little eye... a little lingerie inspiration.

Whether you are single or in a couple, celebrating Valentines or not, doing it for yourself or for someone else, lingerie is always a good idea! I am not one for big gestures and demonstrating love once a year, I like little daily attentions. My father buys flowers for my mother every week... My brother in law surprises my sister by flying back home in the middle of a business trip... I like the idea of sprinkling a little bit of attention and kindness everyday, so i don't see why I should settle for once a year (yes I have been spoiled). 
So whether you are doing it for someone else or for yourself: take care of yourself. Each one of us has her own way of doing it: fitness, reading, cooking healthy, travelling, fashion, parenting etc... Lingerie is one of my guilty pleasures, how very French of me! This year I'm feeling cosy, so I am into nude tones. I loved this Powder Pink Miss Coquette Passionata ensemble; it reminded me of chilly mornings in Montmartre (yes that's Montmatre on this drawing, I used to live in the area in Paris so my father gave me this painting as a memory) when all you want is a warm latte and a friend to skype with. I would like to tell you that I used to curl up under a big blanket, with a tea and read a book back in Paris, looking glamourous but that would be a lie: I would curl up under a big blanket, with a latte (I like my caffeine,) and would skype for hours, because I am a chatty woman with friends and family all around the world.

An other piece that caught my eye is this Blossom bra from Passionata. How cute is this plumetis? It looks very virginal and reminded me of Fitzgerald naive character Daisy from The Great Gatsby: decadent, naive, pretty, effervescent. I love how much a simple piece of white lace can actually say so much about you or at least your mood.

Last but not least is this Satine Chantelle ensemble: who said nudes were boring? I am not huge on animal print, but when it's done in such an elegant and discrete way, I can see myself rocking it!

Now for the ladies in Dubai who want to surprise their special someone, there is one more thing I can recommend: a little Burlesque dance lesson with Kamilla at Pole Fit Dubai. She will make you feel at ease and she will teach you a little ladylike yet cheeky routine, that will boost your self-confidence. Here is a little inspiration...

I spy with my little eye... good resolutions

I am not one for good resolutions, I consider improvement a daily thing. I don't get dry January, and I do not intent to give up gluten, lactose, and sugar (you can have a look at my philosophy on diet here). I respect people who live by the paleo diet, vegetarians, vegans, people who have to change their ways because of health issues, and I am always looking for new, healthier recipes, but I don't smoke, or binge, or eat fast food, so please, respect my right to caffeine and cheese. That being said (as you can see, I feel very strongly about this), there is always space for improvement, you just have to choose your battles, and being healthier is not just about diet and fitness. I tend to keep my goals simple and attainable: no I will not start yoga this year (turns out I am not very good at this whole breathing thing), but I will floss more often (true story, this is one of my 2016 resolutions). An other thing I have been working on for a while now, is actually trying to get into a healthier skin routine. I cannot say that I only use natural products yet, but little by little I am changing my ways.

This year I have decided to switch body and face lotion for virgin coconut oil. I actually started playing with it 6 months ago so I can tell you it works for me. Now this might not be a good fit for all skin types but I never had skin problems, apart from a couple of moles and freckles, I can't say that my skin is bugging me. What I like about coconut oil is that:  
- it melts very quickly in my hands so it is easy to apply
- the skin absorbs it within 10min, so it is pretty quick
- it leaves the skin hydrated but not oily
- it is cheap
- no chemicals
- I can use it to hydrate my face, body, hair, but I can also use it as a makeup remover, yes I can!
I use it rather in the evening because in the morning, especially in Dubai, I need SPF.

New routine with only 3 healthy and cheap ingredients: virgin coconut oil, honey and sugar:

An other little trick that recently made it to my skin routine is lipscrubbing. Because I like lipstick and because the AC in Dubai dries the life out of your skin, let's be honest, I've had dried lips for as long as I remember. But scrubbing sometimes when you're in the shower (remember I don't like to get out of my way) takes 2 seconds and can actually make a difference. I found two good ways to do it: either use an old toothbrush and gently rub it on your lips, or mix a teaspoon of honey with a teaspoon of sugar, keep it in a little container next to your bathtub and just use it once a week, it can last for a month.

It's the little things that count and I'm a firm believer in constant improvement but one at the time.

I spy with my little eye... the Kings Cake.

The beginning of the year starts with Kings Cake in France: on the 6th of January, we usually celebrate the Epiphany with a "Galette des Rois". I have been in Dubai for 4 years now and I can't remember celebrating it ever, which is weird because Paul sells very nice Galettes, I just never got the occasion. So when my sister told me she made one in Beirut, I figured I should be able to manage too!
According to the tradition, there is a favour hidden in each Kings Cake, and the idea is that the person who finds it in his/her slice becomes king/queen. No special treatment here, but you get to choose your queen/king for the day (if only it was that easy in real life), and children usually love running around the house with a crown! Obviously the way you distribute the slices is strategic, so in order to avoid all cheating, you send the youngest of the crowd under the table, and he/she gets to decide which slice goes to whom. 
The main reason why I had never made a Kings Cake before is the filling: "frangipane" is a sort of marzipan which always seemed difficult to make (hello lack of self confidence!). Turns out is a simple mix of butter, eggs, grounded almond, sugar and vanilla; you just can't get it wrong. So this is what it looks like, and for the record, there were no leftovers!

And so here is the recipe: you will need 2 puff pastries, 3 eggs, 60g of butter, 200g of grounded almond, 125g of sugar, a hint of vanilla, a tablespoon of cold water, and a favour (if you cannot find a typical Galette ceramic favour, just wrap an almond in foil paper, that will do the trick).

Start by preheating and setting your oven on 180 celsius degrees.
Spread some butter in your baking tin.
Then lay your first puff pastry in the tin, and prick it with  fork, and set it aside.
Prepare your filling -"frangipane"- by simply mixing 2 eggs, the melted butter, the grounded almond, the sugar, and the vanilla.
Spread the "frangipane" on the puff pastry, starting from the centre, and leaving a 5cm empty strip all around so you can close the pie. Put the favour on the "frangipane" and lay the second puff pastry over the pastry. Use a fork to close the pie by squeezing the 2 pastries all around the tin.
Use a knife to design drawings on the top of the pie.
Mix the yolk of the last egg with a tablespoon of cold water, brush the mix generously over the pie.
Put in the oven for 45min.

Et voila!

I spy with my little eye... a talkative city and the New Year.

To begin with, let me start by saying that I am not one to cheer the New Year as if it was going to change the energies in my life and turn things around just like that. I don't think that a number can make it all better or worse, improvement is an everyday kind of work, and ups and downs are doomed to happen, whatever the year. But I will say that 2015 was an eventful year on every level, good and bad. After all, isn't that what you want from life: memories and stories to tell?
I got the chance to travel last year and the week I spent in Ethiopia in December was the perfect ending to 2015. Addis is a wonderful talkative city, asking questions and answering them as you can see:

 "Where to go?" was asking St Mary at Entoto.
"Come and receive light, go forth and shine." answered Bole.
Now I am not a believer of any sort, I am plenty of things but holistic isn't one of them, I am way to rational for that, but I did appreciate this little wink from Africa. I thought it was a brilliant way to start a New Year and to keep up the good work.

Addis Ababa and I are sending you all good vibes!

Hint of Beautiful. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.