My 1st Card Collection at Dar’s 1st Christmas Market

Some of you may know that I dabble in what is known as graphic design. And by dabble, I mean I have a degree in it and work in the creative department at an ad agency. Tough hours and strict clients mean you don’t always get to stretch your artsy muscles so you must turn to side projects for that much needed exercise.

And so…

I will be participating in this weekend’s Dar Bistro & Books 1st Annual Christmas Market. Although I wasn’t prepared to jump into something like this, I’ll have my first small collection of Christmas/NYE cards on sale for the 3-day affair. Nothing like pressure to make you start & finish a side project you always wanted to do…in one week. Here’s a sneak peek of my collection: IMG_0869 IMG_0874 IMG_0873 IMG_0875 Each card will be sold for 8,000 L.L. and 3 for 20,000 L.L. (including a gold or silver envelope for each). Hala, my former classmate and AIGA ME teammate, will be splitting the stand with me so be sure to check out her illustrated totebags and postcards too! IMG_0882 IMG_0883 Dar Bistro is located between the Central Bank and the AUB Alumni Association office in Hamra (go down the small alley next to the Wardieh station before CMC). It’s all weekend long so pass by for a hello, a coffee, and a card!

Parks of Dubai: Safa and Zabeel

Last weekend in Dubai, I found myself lounging on the grass two mornings in a row. The fact that I traveled over 2000 km just to be lazy under the sun listening to podcasts was a tad frustrating. I was in what is commonly referred to as a desert, and yet, it seemed like they had better public green spaces than our own “lush” Lebanon. In a country like ours, with weather like ours…why don’t we have parks EVERYWHERE? The last time I hung out on the grass like that, I was still an AUB student sprawled out on the Green Oval.

Safa Park, Wasl Road Gate

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Although partially closed off due to the construction of a water canal, Safa Park is very charming and chill. With a spectacular view of Downtown Dubai and plenty of mini playgrounds surrounding a little lake, there are shady spots scattered around where you can just set up camp and hang out. I was there on a workday so it was pretty vacant. Schoolchildren were there on a field trip; their teacher was teaching them about greenery and plant life. “This is a BROWN leaf. What’s that mean?”, she asks the little people. “IT’S DEAD!” they all shout. And then she told them to cross it off their checklist-clipboards. It was all very amusing to see kids that enchanted with the natural world.

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Zabeel Park, Gate 1 (Friday Mornings)

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Home to Ripe Market, the organic farmer’s market of the UAE, Zabeel was pretty impressive. Not only were there people from all over and of every age group, there was also a big variety when it came to the actual stands present. Mini pancakes, Lebanese street food, Raw Coffee, crafts, and products. And when you’re done perusing through the market, you can go find a spot under a tree. Although Dubai is nicknamed “the city of Malls,” I found it ironic that they have their farmer’s market in a park and we have ours in a shopping district (Beirut Souks).

Entrance was 5 dhs (~$1.37)
BONUS: Both parks have jogging tracks that run around their perimeter (padded asphalt, stretching stations, distance marks, the works).

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The Little Winery of Bhamdoun: Chateau Belle-Vue

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This year, on Lebanon’s Independence Day, I (along with my dad and sisters) was dragged against my will to a “social function” organized by my mother: a Thanksgiving lunch up in Bhamdoun with her American lady friends. I have nothing against social functions, I just prefer to spend my rainy Saturday mornings tucked in bed until noon. Had she told me that we were heading to the home of Chateau Belle-Vue, a hidden gem in Bhamdoun, I wouldn’t have been so reluctant. And I wouldn’t have worn high-heeled boots and a dress either.

Naji Boutros, Bhamdoun native, and Jill, his American wife, make up the couple that started Chateau Belle-Vue back in 2000 with 3 plots of land. Now with 130 plots, new vineyards are planted every year as they try to keep the lands of Bhamdoun within the 10-12 families of the village. They lease it to fellow historic “Bhamdounians” because they want the owners to have this connection to the soil. “Part of our motivation is that people stay attached to their heritage,” says Jill. The other part, she says, is that there would be enough agricultural momentum to stop urban development. Bhamdoun is desirable real estate since it’s basically a mountain home that’s a 20-minute drive from the city. “We don’t want people to build in the valley; it was always vines and it should always be vines.” Chateau Belle-Vue gets its name from “Hotel Belle-Vue”, the first Bhamdoun hotel that was owned by Naji’s family.

Chateau Belle-Vue was bought from the French government 5 years ago through a bidding process. It used to be the summer residence of the French ambassador to Iraq and Jordan. and also doubles as a bed & breakfast with a common space and 7 rooms, each named after a kind of wine. The common space is used by the community for yoga sessions and serves as a public library. Le Telegraphe, the Chateau’s restaurant that opened 2 years ago, used to be the concierge’s quarters. It’s named “Le Telegraphe” because the location was a telegraph broadcasting “La France Libre” before World War II.  Chateau Belle-Vue aims for “organic and biodynamic agriculture.” The vine terraces of Bhamdoun have always had quite the reputation for good grapes and the village was made up of 4km of terraces back in the day.

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All of Chateau Belle-Vue’s wines are dry wines. It’s placed in French oak barrels for two years, allowing for a red fruit and aged oak intense taste. All grapes are hand-picked and the wine is handmade. No additional yeast is added to the fermentation process. We had a 2007 La Renaissance, which is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was made up of 4 varieties of red grapes from 2 different parts of the valley. The winery is actually run by a team of women. It wasn’t on purpose but that’s just what ended up happening. According to Esperanza, the Spanish vineyard manager, the grapes of the Merlot that are grown in the northeast part of the valley differ from those in the southwest – that along with other factors (altitude for example) can affect the blend’s final taste. “With wine, everything is about balance,” she says.

The Chateau Belle-Vue wines are sold at the winery and at Vintage in Saifi Village, Beirut. Members of the Chateau Belle-Vue wine club (kids too) can come up during the harvest (August to October) to pick grapes and help in the wine-making process, making it a communal effort to create great wine. When a new wine is launched, members are invited to come try them and they get special delivery privileges.

P.S. Thanksgiving turkey tastes even better after fire-place-melted camembert cheese.

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