A radio podcast of our travels through UAE, India, and Australia!
When I mentioned to a friend of mine in New York that I was going to the Emirates, his reaction was sharply aghast.
“Oh….I hated the Emirates.”
My heart sank. Why so bad? Was I wasting my time visiting the country?
“I went dune bashing. The driver thundered along the edge of a cliff and I was thinking, ‘No, surely he wouldn’t…’ but then, yes, he does – yanks the wheel to the right and we go flying over the edge. It was the scariest thing I’ve done. I hated the whole experience.”
I was somewhat hesitant following this account, embellished by Megan’s propensity to throw herself from high places.
I’d imagined our tour as simply a cocktail of sand and fuel. Instead, it was a complete “cultural” experience. I place “cultural” in inverted commas because it was a little rushed and box-ticking:
“Now you ride camels, now a dog show, now a falcon show, now look at the goats, now drink Arabian coffee and eat dates, now pat the eagles, now dress up in traditional garb, now watch a 7-minute doco on the history of the Emirates…”
Nevertheless, in a short space of time, I felt I had a glimpse of desert life, and retained an experience more holistic than just adventure sports.
On to the main event… It was somewhat amusing to see our guide, having just demonstrated traditional activities while wearing a Thawb, don a pair of shades and jump behind the wheel of a 4WD.
Dune bashing is a freeform roller coaster, the vehicle’s trajectory materializing in the glint of the driver’s eyes scanning for a suitable embankment. Only once did I feel unsettled: with the weight of the vehicle sliding forwards into a downhill slope and sand kicked through the window.
Overnight I camped under the stars, with a fireplace and chai tea, and in the morning woke to tackle the dunes barefoot. You really can just throw yourself down a near-vertical decline: giant, sliding steps, cushioned by the pillowed sand.
My remaining time in the Emirates was spent visiting a few of the sights of Abu Dhabi: The Grand Mosque, Emirates Palace and the Heritage Village. Again, Abu Dhabi is not really made for walking – so many footpaths have craters from construction, or simply end for no apparent reason.
I’m also discovering Megan’s hangriness – that sudden evaporation of energy that makes a girl wilt unless food be applied immediately. I guess in New York there is food on every corner, but traveling brings irregular mealtimes. I’ve learnt to carry snacks at all times…and that some things really do run on peanuts.
I’m on a bus! And it’s heading from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. With free WiFi. How times change.
Dubai is an architect’s dream. Futuristic buildings line the Persian Gulf in competition for the tallest, most unique design. Surrounded by desert plains, it’s a cleaner, more serious Vegas, where Internationals come for big business and luxury lifestyles.
It’s almost too clean…the streets below the Marina’s high-rise apartments where Megan and I are staying are designed for cars rather than pedestrians, making it a pristine ghost town. The most prominent bustle is from the hundreds of migrant construction workers trekking to their meal break, prayer time or back to the multitude of busses that will carry them to their accommodation.
Construction abounds in Dubai. Everywhere you look, new railroads, skyscrapers and other fantastical I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-that-is space-aged structures are forming. The metro looks like something out of Star Wars. Sneaking to the 97th floor of the Princess Tower (the world’s tallest residential building), I could see from The Palm to the Burj Al Arab (a hotel shaped like a ship’s sail), past Internet City, all the way to the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest man-made structure, at 829.8 m (2,722 ft)) in the hazy distance.
I hope to have more updates soon!
With my mind still saturated with the feature film edit I’d been working on, it suddenly sparked that at some point I’d catch a great view of NYC. I glanced out the taxi window and sure enough I was in that exact spot where the BQE rises above cemeteries with a line of sight through a clear night to a perfect New York cityscape: buildings jet black, windows vibrant, and iconic structures such as the Empire State, Chrysler, and Freedom Tower, glowing.
It was in that moment en route to JFK it hit me – that New York, that seemingly endless year discovering and rediscovering all aspects of the Concrete Jungle, had come to a close. That chapter has finished. What’s next?
For the immediate future, it’s Dubai, Abu Dhabi, India, and Australia. After that, we’ll see…
Welcome to another 4 years of Obama!
After 3 hours immersed in Cloud Atlas, Megan and I emerged last night to Obama’s beaming grin smattered across Times Square. I hoisted her up on my shoulders, and after waving a borrowed flag…awoke this morning to our picture across the world: CNN, MTV, Washington Times, Toronto Star, San Francisco Gate, Mercury News, Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph, the Huffington Post and the Arab News.
With only a couple of days left before traveling, it was the perfect night out in New York City! A small taste of the historic 2008 election atmosphere.
I spent today in lower Manhattan picking up the 16mm film from Panavision for my short film…amid a flurry of SNOW! After the disruption of Sandy last week, I’m now considering whether or not our lead character would be walking outside in a tank-top in this weather. Might need to script a change of season! There are only three days until we shoot!
Uprooted trees, the grind of generators and streets littered with debris. The clean-up following Hurricane Sandy has proven more troublesome than the brief event itself.
I made my way to Red Hook, Brooklyn, today to help pass out army food rations at Coffey Park. Like most low-lying areas in New York, the area is still without gas, water, food and power.
Residents dragged muddy possessions from their basements to the street like ants building a mound. Swollen bookshelves, broken crockery, potted plants, dirt-stained carpet and rotting food scraps, the stench reminding me of a rubbish dump. One woman, huddled by a candle in the dark of her laundromat, came forward with a brilliant smile when we offered her food and water.
The pre-production for my 16mm short film MONKEYWRENCH has also been affected. With the main connective hub of the lower-Manhattan subway inactive, traveling around the city to gather props and check locations has been impossible. We decided to push the shoot back to the 10th & 11th November to allow both the city and many of our cast and crew members to recuperate.
Across New York City, tunnels, subway-lines and interstate trains have been crippled. A minimum of three people per car is mandatory to cross the East River bridges.
I’ve noticed a slight change in activity in my area of Williamsburg, and it’s not just the storm-saluting Halloween costumes: people dressed as such as sandbags, sporting Miami Hurricanes caps and perms to make Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy Olsson proud. Without the L train running in to Manhattan, people shop and socialize locally, increasing the pedestrian traffic and the sense of a village.
Here are photos from today’s outing in Red Hook!
Sirens ring through ghost-town streets. Car alarms sound. And the gusts of wind through the trees grow stronger.
I’ve heard the term “bunkering down” so many times on the telly I’ve had to turn it off. The same way “inundated” gets exhausted during flood coverage.
Here are some of my favorite links to keeping up with Hurricane Sandy:
- This Google Crisis Map tracks the storm and has fun features to turn on and off: http://crisislanding.appspot.com/crisismap/2012-sandy
- Pictures from NBC News, updated every hour or so: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49560895/displaymode/1247?beginSlide=1
- The NYC hurricane zone map, with mandatory evacuation from Zone A (I’m in the clear!): http://project.wnyc.org/news-maps/hurricane-zones/hurricane-zones.html
- NYC skyline photograph from the New York Times, updated every 60 seconds: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/10/28/nyregion/nyt-webcam.html?smid=fb-nytimes
- Memes! Every event gotta have memes: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/2012-hurricane-sandy
Any Torontonian will tell you the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is the perfect time of year for a city visit. Fall has just kicked in, Hollywood stars grace the streets, and the influx of visitors makes the downtown area swell with carnival buzz.
I spent the first few days celebrity-spotting the likes of Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, and a myriad of other silver screen giants on the red carpet (and, I confess, even attempted an iPhone snap of Colin Farrell arriving at my hotel). Ontario is the third largest entertainment sector in North America and chances are you’ll stumble onto a movie set. Walking down Richmond Street West, I encountered a motorbike chase sequence for the upcoming flick Kick-Ass 2.
As one of the most highly regarded film festivals in the world, TIFF has a history of selecting Oscar contenders. This year’s Blackberry People’s Choice Award went to the Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence-led dramedy,Silver Linings Playbook. I saw fifteen features, but could hardly make a dent in the smorgasbord of 372 films from 72 countries. After sitting in a dark theater for a week with perfect fall weather teasing me through Scotiabank Theatre’s huge glass panels, it was time to trade star-spotting for city sightseeing!
Here are a few things to see and do around Toronto beyond visiting the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
CN Tower EdgeWalk
My most thrilling activity was the EdgeWalk around the CN Tower, holder of the Guinness World Record for “Highest External Walk on a Building.” Once you trust that your safety harness is strong enough to hold the weight of a bus, leaning off the edge won’t feel so terrifying. Exposed to the sun and wind, and with no safety railing, the EdgeWalk gives you a guided introduction to the city as well as an adrenaline rush to brag about. Video and photos are included in admission. Here is video of me taking the city in stride!
King & Queen Streets
Fortunately all the TIFF theaters are located within easy walking distance of each other in downtown Toronto. King Street boasts a vibrant nightlife of clubs, bars, and cafes. Comedy club The Second City on Mercer Street has the sharpest show I’ve seen for a while: deft performances and swift lighting changes set to improvised live music.
As you head north of King Street, stop for a flat white (a latte without foam) at the Dark Horse on John Street. Two more blocks and you’ll find King’s parallel counterpart—Queen Street—renowned for its boutique shopping.
BATA Shoe Museum
If the idea of a shoe museum makes you think of trailing your girlfriend down Fifth Avenue on a Saturday morning, think again. The BATA Shoe Museum on Bloor Street takes an anthropological approach to footwear. From Ancient Egyptian sandals, to Gothic poulaines, Renaissance period chopines, and Tudor-age sabatons, even the more carpetry footwear of Buddhist, Christian, and Shinto priests, walk for centuries in the shoes of diverse world cultures.
Shoes from famous people the world over have found their way into the collection: Justin Beiber’s high-top Supra Skytop II sneakers, Marilyn Monroe’s sexy red stilettos, and even the simple plastic thong sandals from His High Holiness the Dalai Lama. If you’re interested in history, people, cultures, and pop icons, chances are it will be you dragging your girlfriend along to the footwear exhibition.
If you have time, the Royal Ontario Museum next door contains Canada’s largest collection of world culture and natural history. There are exhibits specially designed for kids, and the foyer contains the largest dinosaur cast on display in Canada—the Futalognkosaurus, measuring over 105 feet.
Gooderham Building & St. Lawrence Markets
Moving east to the wedge intersection of Front and Wellington Streets, you’ll find the Gooderham Building, Toronto’s equivalent of New York’s Flatiron Building. Though nowhere near the size or scope, this 1982 structure is frequently featured in postcards with the city’s modern skyscrapers as backdrop. Across the road is St. Lawrence Market, recently named “the world’s best food market” by National Geographic. Try some peameal bacon, also known as Canadian bacon: cured boneless loin rolled in ground yellow cornmeal.
If you’re a city-lover, Toronto in September provides the perfect mix of clear fall weather, Hollywood glamor, nightlife, shopping, and cultural activities, all within a relaxed atmosphere where you’re constantly greeted with a friendly, “eh?”
Photo credits: St. Lawrence Market via Shutterstock; All other photos courtesy of David Joshua Ford
Took a trip to my filmic mecca. Saw the sign. That is all.
Finding inspiration on the steps of John Ernst Steinbeck Jr’s (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) childhood home.
He was an American writer. He is widely known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and East of Eden (1952) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937). He was an author of twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and five collections of short stories; Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.