Every once in a while I share my thoughts on the online world and entourage here http://www.stylememaria.com/?cat=247 without expecting anyone to relate but it always surprises me how many of you tell me that speaking my mind offers you a voice through my platforms and for that I am appreciative. Today I am here to do it again after another round of taking a back seat to act as a spectator instead of someone immersed in the field. For it is by distance only that we get a clear vision and grasp an objective understanding of what is happening, and I make sure I never speak out of anger or irritation but take many steps back for many months before writing.
I had heard that Wings of Lebanon airline offers direct flights to Turkey, but it was amidst the media and public backlash so I had to make an informed decision. I traveled with them two weeks prior to Antalya and experienced a smooth flight to and from Beirut, with friendly Nakhal representatives keeping everyone company on the plane and bus. The days that followed my trip witnessed a major scrutiny of W.O.L., and I didn’t intend on traveling with my family on an aircraft that has been facing logistic trouble to reduce travel time, nor did I accept to jump to conclusions based on hearsay. I researched well, was in contact with employees and professionals who explained the exact situation of the recent flight that was required to head back to Beirut airport, checked the history of the aircraft that I would be boarding and was informed that the flight heading to Dalaman airport was on a new Boeing 737-700. Common sense eventually won this debate, no captain would wish to fly a less than perfect airplane neither would Nakhal, the largest and most established name in travel and tours, wish to bring shame on their renowned business by putting people’s lives at risk.
We usually search for most suitable plane tickets online, and spend quite some time reading hotel reviews before taking our decision. But since our children were going to be with us on this trip, we couldn’t risk a hotel or destination that was less than perfect, because while adults can adapt to their settings, kids need to feel comfortable in familiar surroundings, and we opted for a travel agency to handle every detail. We forewent online booking and packed our bags and were super excited to go with Nakhal and Wings of Lebanon to Letoonia Club in Fethiye Turkey.
I had packed snacks and many activity books for my children to distract them while we were flying, for my sanity and to keep the peace on board. Take off and landing were well received by my youngest, keeping in mind that this is his first flight and he is only two years old. Upon landing, we were welcomed by Nakhal representatives and each group of people headed towards them as they systematically told us which bus we should get on. We got on bus 67, spacious and air-conditioned, for a 1.5 hour ride to our destination, the famous Letoonia Club.
At the hotel reception, more Fethiye based Nakhal reps greeted us, informed us that the porters would handle our luggage as we rested in the lobby until it was time for a conference where details of the club were divulged. We would be having a few days of uninterrupted fun on a full board basis.
We went up to check our room, and to our surprise it contained a cot! I couldn’t help but think of how thoughtful the staff must be to go out of their way and provide Fares with a cozy place to sleep. A double and single bed were placed alongside one another, the room contained a TV, a fridge/mini bar that we could access free of charge, a mirrored closet with a safe, and a wooden balcony surrounded by greenery.
We started to explore the club and were amazed at how every walking trail had a continuous line of vision to the sea. We stopped by Likia restaurant, one of the club’s buffet zones, to check out what they offered and were taken aback by the chic setup despite it being busy. The cuisine was international and varies from breakfast to lunch and dinner, and the waiters and waitresses are of the utmost friendliness.
It was time to head to the Dolphin Bar and Restaurant on one of the three private beaches in Letoonia for a dinner with the Nakhal team. We took the funicular up the walking trail and again down to reach the beach, and it was setup like a movie, candlelit tables on the sand, only a few feet away from the water. We had a seafood dinner while having a lively discussion and headed towards the theater that offers nightly shows, each from a different culture. That night’s theme was a silent Western comedy that cracked up the adults and kids alike. After about an hour of laughter and fun we walked through the lively pool area where crowds were still massive although it was approaching midnight.
The next day we were set on spending the day at the Dolphin Beach, and walked the entire way to breathe in the majestic scenery. The advantage of this particular beach is the proximity of the kids club, so we enrolled Tracy in the gated space by giving the ladies in charge details of where we will be during her time at the mini club, informed the team of any allergies, and enjoyed the sun as she practiced her favorite hobby, painting. Later on she and her brother played on the slides at the kids pool and got to meet children from different countries, while parents also got to mingle.
What I love about this club is the attention to details. Did you know that there are water dispensers with plastic cups at every pool? How cool is the fact that even if you don’t want to walk across to the bar to have a drink, you can still beat dehydration. There is also a towel kiosk for convenience, ice cream stands and iced juice machines for refreshment. Along the walking trails there are wooden tables for you to dispose of any cutlery you might have used while outside the restaurant premises. There is also plastic containers to fill up your food from the buffet and enjoy it by the beach, how thoughtful is that?
There was even a proclaimed Instagram worthy spot where we tried to take a sappy romantic photo, spent more time on the beach before taking a short break at the Agora bar to head towards the pedalo. The kids enjoyed the calm ride in the between the two hills and we got to see the landscape from afar.
Walking back to the hotel room to freshen up, we decided to try to Moonlight buffet restaurant at the other side of Letoonia, it was quite the stretch to reach but we got to see all the seaside bungalows on our way as well as dine under a series of lit moons and stars hanging above the tables. We couldn’t miss out on another night of the theater, and this time they were presenting Indian, Egyptian and Arabic cultures as well as a fire show. We ended the evening by purchasing souvenirs from the convenient on site shop and enjoying rounds of drinks while the kids kept busy dancing and coloring, and headed back to the hotel via the internal shuttle train.
The next morning’s nature walk and delicious breakfast were bittersweet, having to say goodbye to this paradise nestled in a private land. We made the most of our time before we had to head back to the reception to board the bus once again heading to Dalaman airport. We were bid adieu at the check in counter by Nakhal as they assured that our wait in line was nearing an end, and to our delight the flight, which was full with not a single empty seat, boarded early on and we took off earlier than planned allowing us to return to Beirut to our daily activities sooner.
Would I fly with Wings of Lebanon again? Definitely.
Do I recommend Letoonia Club for a holiday destination? Absolutely.
With W.O.L. you get direct flights twice a day at practical times to Dalaman airport, and at Letoonia you experience fun for the whole family on an all inclusive basis in a resort that literally never sleeps, with meals and drinks operating 24/7. Lively music and ambiance, competitions and activities, nature and peace all in one destination.
It was a day just like any other in 2013, after the birth of my daughter, where I had this uncontrollable urge to put my foot down against the monstrosity of conformity. I refused to raise my child in a world endorsing individuality but in reality heading towards the exact opposite. I’ve had a fire in me since I was a child, and growing up and even at work I was nicknamed “Che” because I always felt the need to question the status quo, to revolt against the system. The system in this case being social and not political.
When I became a mom I felt that it was my duty to voice my opinion and to relate my experiences to other moms or moms to be, and even young girls who were still in school or university. Social media was on the rise, every person had their own little space online to share their hobbies and connect with one another. Those who preferred to write would start a blog and log in daily or weekly journal entries as a way to vent, in hopes of reaching out to like minded people. This meant that me and you and anyone on this planet could own a little space to voice their concerns and stand up to what traditional media was shoving down our throats.
*I had a lot of hope for a movement, and though I still do, I have a dreadful feeling that words such as “women empowerment” and “be your own kind of beautiful” have become buzzwords to generate validation in the form of likes and comments. Why you may ask? It’s because these same women who plaster these motivational words all over their profiles are the first to talk behind each other’s backs or refuse to help when help can be a mere kind word.*
I started my blog after I had an active Instagram page with a U.S. based following, and I did it as a way to maintain my journal online for my daughter to read when she grew older. I wasn’t about to sit back and witness the demise of everything that should be moving forward, and my main message was and is loud and clear. I am a young working mother, balancing work and family life while finding the time to pursue my passions and take care of myself. I offer(ed) style tips, beauty hacks, food reviews, travel experiences and even the nitty gritty of motherhood. I push myself to share the best content I can, and through that I have slowly but steadily amassed readers from all around the world. I love myself the way I am, flaws and everything and I’m constantly working on bettering myself, the same way I encourage my readers to accept their physical appearance and embrace their uniqueness.
But is that enough? How much can one woman do?
I appreciate genuine women and mothers who feel passionately about putting their lives out there for others to be inspired by, but how about the others who try too hard to show us polished images? Doesn’t that go against what we as a generation of women are trying to portray to our younger counterparts? Blogging and Instagram has made way for real people with real bodies to get a chance to shine, so how come these real individuals with talent and passion are taking a back seat to plastic? If we wanted perfection we’d still be playing with our Barbie dolls, and we’d still be flipping through airbrushed magazine photos of models while feeling horrible about ourselves. Where are the plus sized women of this region? Where are the beautiful imperfect faces? Where are the boss ladies who still manage to take care of their families? The only difference I see is that the images we used to see in print, we are now seeing on our phones. Instead of “regular” women representing clothing brands, there are models, instead of the girl next door shooting a makeup campaign; it’s the perfectly sculpted face, instead of a dedicated influencer styling outfits, it’s a “public figure” whose current pipe dream is being a social media star for the sake of fame.
Do you, said women, have any idea how horribly you’re impacting the young generation? Flaunting staged lifestyles, or maybe real lifestyles, but ones that aren’t attainable to 99% of the population? Instead of showing off your possessions, how about you give your audience tips on how to style their items together? Or do you even know how to style or communicate with them? Or is that the work of a hired stylist that brings the end product to the public? Which brings me to my next question; do you really have the influence you proclaim? This in turn brings me to another issue, when will we in this region get to the point of self acceptance, when will social climbing end, when will the real deal make a breakthrough?
Every time I think, whatever, let it be, then I think again and say: no, I won’t stand for it. Every once in a while I’ll post a series of rants on my Instagram stories or in a caption and find positive responses that make it clear to me that I am making a difference, no matter how small. Imagine if each one of us made this difference, how awesome and empowered would we really be?
Why can’t us women focus on education and work instead of ridiculous amounts of time spent at the hairdresser and makeup artist? I love hair and makeup, and it’s an art, but if all we are seeing on Instagram stories and posts is this, then tell me please, what are all those makeup tutorials for? And tell me another thing; is looking good all we are able to do? Yes ladies, take care of yourselves, this is something important, but for God’s sake, be real! I still cannot fathom why a simple evening or even a day event would require that much time and effort. I cannot believe the hours of each day some women are spending, just do your makeup at home; it’ll take you like 10 minutes. Perhaps this is just the way I think, and it’s my lifestyle, and I’m not attacking the women who choose a more relaxed and pampered kind of routine, but please if you choose to share this with your hundreds of thousands of followers, then also share your normal day to day life. We as a group of influencers are causing these young women to believe that all of life is measured in gifts and events and trips.
If I have said it once I’ve said it a thousand times, education is elementary. That is why I always share what I’m currently reading, what I’m painting, reflections, social criticisms, musicals I watched, old films I find interesting, a bit of sarcasm, gems I find while I travel and so on so forth. Believe me I endured changing cultures, from Lebanon to the U.S.A. and back to Lebanon, adapting, learning new languages, making friends, not fitting in, getting my scientific baccalaureate, and 5 grueling years with summers at the faculty of engineering, followed by 11 years of hard work to get to where I am today, and to be able to live the life I want. Not by nepotism, not by kissing a**, not by being a leech. I work hard as a blogger and ” influencer” is a title I owe to my readers and with it comes great responsibility. I don’t find the need to flaunt my possessions because they don’t define who I am, what means something in our world is kindness, generosity and values. I don’t want to be known as just another fashionista, I wasn’t like this in 2013, and I sure won’t change to fit in 5 years later.
But what I want is from you, working women, students, PRs and influencers is the following.
Dear working women, keep working towards your dreams, life is hard and it isn’t fair, don’t compare your struggle with another person’s online filtered life. We’re all fighting a battle, and no one has it easy, whether you work at an office or are self employed, neither is easy.
Dear students, education is THE most important weapon you have, get your degree first, don’t be fooled by “la vie en rose” some are portraying. But be sure that you can be what you want to be, the world is your oyster and you can be inspired by young women entrepreneurs for post graduation. Today we have an application called Instagram, don’t let that be your target. In a few years something else will pop up, you wouldn’t want to invest all your mental energy and time on something that will be gone eventually. Focus on your studies and then on your career.
Dear PRs, please open your eyes to the relevancy of the influencer you are choosing to represent your client’s brand. Do know the difference between an Instagram page and a blog. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the written word will never die and it takes special skills to convey a message so choose wisely. The reason I refuse to work with many of you which has gotten me a reputation of having an attitude is because although I’m one of the nicest persons you will meet, I am also blessed with intuition and intelligence to see right through your intentions. I am also blessed (or perhaps cursed) with a personality that doesn’t go with the flow nor makes small talk, I won’t suck up to get anything; you appreciate my work, I’m here, you don’t, keep running after your socialites and see where it gets you.
Dear influencers, try to be raw, more real. It takes zero effort to be you, let your inner beauty shine, unleash your personal style, show us what makes you you. I’m not saying I’m the perfect blogger, because perfection doesn’t exist, and I’m not preaching just to sound superior. But ladies, how hard is it to talk to our audience with a bare face? It isn’t. If you’re afraid of judgement because you have acne or any condition that makes you feel you’re not enough, you are enough, lead and be an example.
Do I come across as angry, bitter, sad? In reality I am neither. I am numb.
Numb to the fact that some things never change, but I will forever be a fighter for truth, passion, and being a genuine person.
Access to the restaurant is from the main lobby as well as from the promenade. I chose to experience the full hustle and bustle of the hotel and upon descending to enter The Fish House, I was led by the decorative bronze fish on the wall down the ramp to reach the indoor seating area. The color scheme is a soothing blue and white, reminiscent of Provincial France with a touch of modernity. The bay windows and doors across the floor welcome light to fill the space as well as make way to the terrace facing the iconic Ferris wheel.
I had a glance at the menu, and the friendly and knowledgeable waitress explained to me that I can either have their signature dishes or personalize my own fish. I chose the latter and was lead to the display of fresh fish (catch of the day) where I chose mine, with the weight I pleased along with the mode of cooking, sauces and sides.
As I was seated outside enjoying the calm ambiance, the resident mixologist approached me to discuss my drink options. Soon I realized how skilled he was by analyzing and pairing my drink based on my choice of fish, how fatty or not it was, and its first bite and aftertaste all contributed to his recommendation of the gin based cocktail “The Botanist”. He made sure I had a taste to give him my approval, as well as another visit to check if the fruity yet citrusy drink was a success with my choice of spicy side dishes.
I opted to forego the appetizers to leave my full appetite to the main course, but I was offered this delicious plate of traditional Baba Ghannouj with fried fish while my order was being prepared.
I’m a sucker for spices and strong flavors, so both sauces I chose were very spicy, but I experimented with the sides and ordered the harissa and Spring onion potato salad. It is relatively sweet in flavor due to the marination, the eggs compliment it and the onions add a bold crunch to the mix. The result is smooth on the palate.
The “Salsa” sauce with mango, jalapeno, green onion and tomatillo is an explosion of contrasting flavors. Is it sweet? Is it tangy? Is it spicy? Each bite combines the three and the result is a delicacy whether eaten alone or with the fish.
The saffron rice with almonds and orange peel is a more sober choice for a side dish, but is nowhere near boring. The very visible orange peel add a twist to the familiar fish pairing, and due to its subdued nature, it goes very well with the sauces I chose.
The “Harra” sauce with tomato, coriander and peppers is an obvious choice for my spicy food preference, and is more consistent in its chili than the sauce with the mango, the latter being an explosion of flavors, thus rendering the former a key ingredient to the fish experience.
Hammour fish grilled to perfection, crispy on the outside and oh so tender. Never have I tasted a fish so skillfully prepared and juicy, I was at a complete loss as to whether I should eat it alone or with the side dishes. In fact I did both in rotation, I kid you not. One bite solo, one with each of the sides, that’s how delicious this expert dish was.
As much of a sweet tooth I have, I was unable to fathom having any extra bite to eat, yet I was kindly offered this Caramelized Pineapple Ravioli, a specialty of the restaurant. I couldn’t refuse and I’m glad I didn’t, because the sweet pineapple and caramel was just what I needed after a hefty meal full of rich herbs and flavors.
The Fish House is without a doubt redefining the entire seafood experience as we know it. Long gone are the days of simple and straightforward fish based meals, be prepared for a feast for the senses, indulge in their signature dishes or customize your own according to your liking. I can say with confidence, that I have never had a meal that centered around fish that was this perfected, from the stunning decor, the welcoming staff, the adept mixologist, the chef, the breathtaking view and laid back ambiance.
The Fish House Intercontinental Dubai Festival City is now on my must visit list each time I go to Dubai, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do not miss out. You can thank me later!
Visit the website for more information: The Fish House Dubai
Contact: +971 (04) 701 1127 firstname.lastname@example.org
I had heard a lot about Manzil being the home away from home, and wanted to experience first hand what that meant. Being a solo traveler in a not so far away country, I didn’t expect to miss home this much, and I hadn’t realized it until I arrived and it hit me. I crave the familiarity of my country in my surroundings, and I was in awe of how Manzil brought the Arab culture closer to the rest of the world.
The entrance of Manzil is breathtaking in its simplicity. Men in traditional costume greeted me once I arrived, as I was led to the main lobby. The vertical elements of the chandelier mirror the many single flowered vases and create continuity. All throughout the hotel, there is the recurring pattern of the arabesque floral element, straight out of the architectural window that is called a “mandaloun”.
As I was heading to the check in counter, I crossed the seated area which perfectly enhanced the welcoming experience. The decor is consistently brown and beige with a pop of orange, thus leaning towards the warm shades which automatically drew me in and made me feel at ease. This space is well lit during the evening as well, and the calm ambiance and privacy makes it a prime location to host a business meeting during your stay.
The elevator operates by using an access card to reach the designated floor, thus adding a sense of security to the experience. Continuing my journey from the elevator and into my room, I noticed a unified theme running through, which is bringing the Orient to the Occident. The screens and every single item from the menu to the bathrobe conveys an Arabic word and translates it into simple English. Words such as: Hello, Family, Welcome, and “Naiman” the after bath greeting.
My in room welcome was a delicious one, a mix of delicately made cakes, macaron and baklava. I was taken aback as I received a phone call after my shower, and soon after opened my door to this tasty treat!
My room was in tune with the hotel’s decor but a tad cooler in terms of color scheme, minimalist, white and gray, with Arabic calligraphy as wall art. As soon as I laid eyes on the interior, I knew that I would have a hard time leaving this nest. The view from the window of Burj Khalifa is as iconic as it gets, the vanity and desk area for preparing tea and coffee is roomy, and the couch is ideal for my morning planning and nightly correspondence.
The windows start from the ground up, thus giving the guest the feeling of being outside while staying in the room. It is a magical spot at sunrise as well as at night when you can see the shiny lights of the downtown area of Dubai.
The spacious bathroom has it all, including private doors for the toilet and the shower. The sleek design of the mirror and bathtub add a soothing modernity to the overall ambiance.
Every corner in the room is functional and well lit, including a large closet space, all fitting to the contemporary Arabesque style.
As I stepped outside the mezzanine floor, I found myself surrounded with architecture, the kind that balances the old and new. On one hand there is the hotel, peaking inwards to the courtyard, seeming to blend with the yellow stone buildings. In the farther plane there are the towers, reflecting the majestic city, the entire scene looking picturesque with the palm tree leaves hanging low to give shade to the area.
Crowning this environment is the pool, nestled within the busy hotel yet so peaceful. The perfect place to swim, tan, or even relax on the loungers in the shade while sipping on a cocktail from the bar. The water is tepid and relaxing, hours are guaranteed to pass by in no time.
The hotel restaurant at the ground floor is Boulevard, an all encompassing Levantine menu, categorized into specialties from each of the area’s countries. For lunch, I had the Indian inspired spicy Butter Chicken with an Aperol Spritz, and for dinner a light and tasty Quinoa Salad with an Old Fashioned. Throughout the day the courtyard is buzzing with hotel guests, chitchatting over shishas and laughing the night away, I didn’t feel the need to leave the premises, as the ambiance was lively and the service was perfection.
The breakfast is situated at the same level but spreads into the internal area as well as the dining space that faces one of the main roads. The variety ranges from continental to local and includes many brunch items guaranteed to satisfy your palate and hunger. Coffee is served in a traditional pot, with a strong taste to fuel your day.
I knew I’d have withdrawal symptoms leaving this welcoming hotel, I truly felt comfortable, relaxed, within familiar settings. The luxury wasn’t overpowering and imposing, but more nurturing and made me feel at ease.
After my first hand experience, I must say that Manzil is my home away from home. The staff from the valet to the reception is friendly and eager to explain and show guests around, the food is impeccable, the room is anything one can ask for in terms of cleanliness and comfort. The location in Downtown Dubai reduces the need to use public transport or to rent a car as long as your trips are within the area. It is a few steps from Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall, the Dubai Opera and the fountain to name a few. The surrounding area is alive with restaurants, and the hotel is truly central. I will definitely be heading back sometime soon, and I recommend you consider it for your next visit to Dubai!
Manzil Downtown Instagram handle is @manzildowntown and #manzildowntown for image search.
Reservations on this link: Manzil Downtown
Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard
The Old Town, Downtown Dubai
PO Box 114822, Dubai
United Arab Emirates
Tel: +971 4 428 5888
Fax: +971 4 428 5999
To be very honest, the pain depends on your tolerance, expect the worst and you might be pleasantly surprised. If it’s a large tattoo the body numbs itself, hormones are released to make you relaxed and soon the pain will be pleasurable. But it IS after all, a needle constantly pecking on your skin, so expect some discomfort.
When it comes to your artist, do your research. In our day and age, you can access profiles of tattoo artists on Instagram and Facebook, as well as check their tagged photos by clients. See which profile relates to the style of the tattoo you have in mind, some are great with clean simple tattoos, others with freehand and 3D. Check the history of the artist, connect with some of his clients especially ones that have tattoos over a year to see how well it aged, reach out to him personally and ask him questions such as how long the session will take and how much it costs (they are pricier than you would imagine), keep an eye out for details such as the quality of the ink, and the line work. It is no matter to be taken lightly, but once you have made an informed decision, you will be in safe hands. Another factor that is tough to grasp online is chemistry. Sometimes you can go to the best artist in town but find him intimidating or the lines of communication aren’t flowing, then abort mission. You don’t need to be pressured into anything; you need to be walked through it especially if it’s your first tattoo.
I would also recommend to get your first tattoo somewhere that isn’t visible when you are clothed to figure out if you’re truly comfortable with more flamboyant tattoos. Someone advised me to get my first somewhere even I can’t see it, and I’m glad I followed that tip, every time I glance at the mirror to see it, I fall in love with it all over again.
Another important factor is aftercare. Your tattoo artist will give you instructions on how to wash and help heal your new tattoo. You will need to avoid heat and sun exposure for example, so it is best not to get inked in the summer. You must keep it hydrated with special creams and the list goes on.
For someone who has wanted to get a tattoo since their early teenage years and ended up getting the first at age 32 lays a long process. Many might consider it not a big deal and won’t mind getting inked on a whim, but I wasn’t going to let permanent art on my body be a spur of the moment decision. I thought it through for years. In the back of my mind there was always the what ifs, what if I end up regretting it, what if it turns out bad?
I got over the fear of pain because well, if it’s something one wants, then one must suffer to get it if needed right? The subject matter of my first tattoo was a no brainer, it would be related to my children, their birthdates, their names, or even abstract symbolism namely the Celtic knot of motherhood. But something in the back of my mind kept distracting me, I wouldn’t settle on a design and I felt that it was a sign to rethink things, so I slept on the whole tattoo idea for a while.
Two years ago in January, my grandfather had passed away two weeks prior to my due date with Fares. I went through the most awful period of losing a stoic person that had been in my life since I was born, and as much as I try to describe our bond I could never convey it. That loss meant loss of sleep for months on end, crying day and night, heartbroken that he wouldn’t be able to see my son whom he had waited so impatiently for, shattered at his sudden death when he was strong only a week before, relieved that I got to see him at the hospital a few hours before he ascended to heaven. I was determined to let his memory live on in the way I deemed fit, in the only way I knew him and of his adventures.
My tattoo appointment was on the eve of what would have been his birthday, and that happened by pure fate. I went in for my session with several images of Native American tribal arrows with a touch of Bohemian vibes, and after an hour’s design, the feathery arrow turned into an almost 20 cm geometric one. I had always been in awe of this culture, and having lived in the U.S.A. with my parents and grandparents, it was a part of me. I insisted on the arrow because my grandfather was a hunter, a traveler, a businessman, a jeweler, and a goal oriented man. Until the day he passed, he would always tell us of the adventures he had during his life, the people he met, their habits, science discoveries he would watch on T.V., and even old western movies. The symbol points upward to remind me to always follow my dreams, and like an archer to point that arrow to the direction I want and never give up. A few hours later, the tattoo was complete and I had endured the pain. The geometry reflects my logical side, the architect, always balancing art with function. The tattoo is me, and hidden deeper it is my grandpa.
My second appointment was a year later, I had been at a crossroad in my life and wanted a constant reminder of who I am and where I came from. I had a strong urge to etch on my skin the connection I had with air, water and earth, three of the four elements (the fourth which will be an inspiration for my latest tattoo). I wanted to get three small tattoos done at the same time, to sort of balance them out. In terms of pain they turned out to be worse than the first, I still am not sure if it is because of their location on the body or because they are so quick to be finished that my skin doesn’t have time to numb itself.
The tattoos are an airplane and a sailboat on each of my wrists, and an anchor on my ankle. Although they are pretty straightforward, they hold deeper meaning for me. For someone who lived their childhood abroad, the airplane was the norm. My entire family reaching back to my great grandfathers, both maternal and paternal are travelers and explorers, and our roots are all over the world. Does my feeling of not belonging stem by that? Does it symbolize my return to my home or does it feed my urge to explore? How badly do I want to go back to where my happiest days were lived? These are questions that are unanswered; the only fact being is that I have a calling to be where I’m not, physically and more than ever, mentally. The sailboat to me on the other hand represents peace, isolation, loneliness. Within the past couple of years I had gotten over what I considered a hurdle all my life, which was introversion, and how I mentally and emotionally need time alone with my inner voice, and the little lonely boat away from the shore summarizes my hunger for solitude. The anchor on my ankle keeps me grounded, and reminds me of my connection with the earth and Mother Nature. It is the hippie in me, the free spirit, and the barefoot in the sand child that I am.
My fifth tattoo is inspired by Native American culture, and the more I immersed myself in it, the more I understood that a chief had earned his headdress after years of battle, losses and victories, and that a young member of the tribe had to work a lot to earn a single feather. Each feather symbolizes a stage of battle, whether injury or otherwise, and for me to get one tattooed on my body meant that I had been wounded and had survived many hardships but came out deserving that symbol of bravery. As I was getting inked, my tattoo artist asked me if I liked fire, and when I told him I’m a fire sign, he was happy, and decided to create a fire feather. I asked him to steer clear from feminine designs and gear the tattoo to masculine energy which I feel I have a lot of. The outcome was a very special feather with a flaming tip, thus connecting my ongoing path to my element.
*Photo credit for the above is Hady Beydoun.
I am planning a sixth tattoo very soon, I already know what I want to get, and it’s only a matter of time. I can’t wait to share more of my tattoos as soon as I get them, and I do plan on more, in the end my body will be a timeline of my ambitions, dreams, victories, battles and losses.
I want to share my first hand experience with you if you ever get the chance to attend PFW, I went clueless but you don’t have to!
A couple of years into my fashion blogging path I started receiving the random invite now and then but I never made it happen. It was either work or family or just general laziness from my part. This year and as part of trying new things and living with no “what ifs”, I made it happen in record time. Within a week, even less, I had confirmed my invitations, booked a flight and hotel and started thinking of outfits to wear to the shows. In fact, I was still looking at hotels a day before my flight, it was all so surreal and happening fast.
The challenge was deciding on my PFW outfits in addition to my day to day clothes for an entire week. Being freezing cold in Paris in January implied heavy coats and layers and no cute frilly dresses, but I knew I could use my styling skills to mix and match pieces without sacrificing warmth.
I was off to Paris knowing nothing, expecting everything.
I didn’t get sucked into the whole “Oh-my-God-I-have-to-book-a-photographer-for-a-photoshoot” trend, nothing wrong with cell phone pics, am I right? Fact is, these sessions for PFW are time consuming, so unless you’re a) collaborating with a clothing store, b) have a friend who happens to be a photographer and can do a quick impromptu couple of shots or c) a celebrity, then disregard this (beautiful but not really necessary) element of Fashion Week. You know what else? Ditch the heels, I’m serious. Whether you are taking a cab to the venue or arriving by metro, there’s a whole lot of walking and waiting before each show. Expect to stand for at least an hour before being seated, and always have your invitation handy, as you’ll have to show if to around 5 or more different people as you pass each check point. The wait is long but the shows are short and never start on time. I had to miss one of the shows due to the overlap in timing, looking back there was no way I would have been able to make it with all the waiting going on. You will enter and be seated while rehearsals are still ongoing, and it is part of the experience. If you are lucky enough to go backstage, then by all means do! Meet the designer, have a glass of champagne, take photos and chit chat with socialites from all over the world. Another thing I learned is less is more, don’t stress your outfit, and I mean what I’m about to say in the nicest way possible, no one cares. All eyes will be on the models and celebrities so if you’re dressing up, do it for yourself. I don’t regret my outfits, for they were the epitome of simplicity, and I did actually get a bunch of follow up comments at later shows when women recognized me as the lady wearing the cape. But other than that, don’t sweat it, stay casual.
Georges Hobeika presentation for his Spring/Summer 2018 collection was at Universite Paris Descartes, Faculte De Medecine. The collection was inspired by Greek goddesses and ancient civilizations, intricate details on the dresses were in perfect harmony with the oversized earrings and crown like headpieces. The show was stunning, each outfit more beautiful than the next in terms of design, color and structure.
I got the chance to go backstage for a souvenir photo with the designer himself, as well as mingle with the models and staff while having a closer look at the dresses in the fitting room.
I wore a piece close to my heart, as I had revealed earlier during the fashion show that this cape is an heirloom handed down to me by my aunt, and it is handmade from Ecuador. I had never worn it before and was leaving it for something very special, and what better than an occasion like Fashion Week to rock this dramatic piece? I opted for understated makeup, focusing only on the eyes with a simple black liner as to not overpower my outfit and accessories. The earrings I wore I’ve been hanging on to for years, and the necklace is a gift of rare jewels from my hubby from Africa.
Rani Zakhem at The Westin Paris Vendome. The venue was majestic, and the designs were feminine and ethereal.
Walking around Paris in boots the first day wasn’t ideal, so I decided to choose comfort for practical purposes and mixed and matched to achieve this look. I picked up this coat while walking in Montmartre, paired it with a simple black top, a silk maxi skirt and punk rock inspired studded bag.
Georges Chakra at Musee de L’Homme at Place du Trocadero. The collection tells of a modern fairy-tale with a touch of timeless glamour and delicate muted colors.
For this show I wore a cozy sweater with a dramatic collar, pattern pants with the same versatile coat and shoes as the previous day.
Dany Atrache at Boulevard Des Italiens conveys the age of enlightenment with delicate feminine designs and a hint of oriental flair.
I am over the moon that I had the chance to attend, and what makes me so proud is that Lebanese designers were rocking Paris Fashion Week. No talent comes close to ours when it comes to creativity in fashion, it was a truly goosebump rendering moment to see crowds from all over the world gathering to watch our very own designers displaying their collections.
If you’re interested to watch more coverage of Paris Fashion Week through my eyes, head to my Instagram profile @stylememaria and click on the story highlight titled “PFW”, and enjoy the action!
So this time as the day approached, I couldn’t help reflecting on my not so random online and offline withdrawal and on the life lessons I learned by what I consider one of the toughest periods I went through on a personal and professional level. I want to share my discoveries with you, no matter how hard they are to divulge.
The major highlight of this year was friendship detox, in retrospect, the toxic people that were surrounding me contributed to a lot of negative emotions and actions, and only when I cut all ties did I start breathing and working towards my goals without any distraction. All my adult life I have been victim of leeches, many say I attract them, and that my positive and cheerful demeanor are like a flame to a moth. My alleged “kind heart” is always mistaken for weakness, thus allowing people to stomp all over me, thinking I don’t know what they are up to, when in fact they don’t realize that I don’t fight back because I don’t want to exploit their weaknesses and hurt them. I’m not a social being to begin with, so when I open up to a friend and end up being hurt it damages me to the core and I stop trusting anyone altogether.
I have purged the opportunists, those who stick around hoping they could climb the social or corporate ladder through me. I used to be so kind to them until I realized I owed them nothing, and had I needed a favor they would have never obliged. These are the people who would claim that certain ideas were theirs, or that they are avant-gardes when in fact they were only following my lead to later brag that they did this and went there. They are also the people who I’d put in a good word for across certain fields to boost their presence, but when a mere mention of my name could do me good, they wouldn’t reciprocate.
Then there are the friends who have nothing to offer but negative vibes, even when I’m down in the dumps and in need of moral support, they always manage to make me feel worse about my situation. These are the people who wouldn’t put themselves in my shoes, who would only dish out advice that would only get me in trouble, acting all tough when the reality required a different angle. They are the ones who would be on the offense all the time to hide their insecurities. I would nag about one of these friends in particular until I realized that the solution was simple, so I stopped being afraid of confrontation and put that person in line and got on with my life.
The most difficult was the ungrateful coworker who was very close to me, we spent every minute together and shared common interests, whose career I tried to save many times, taking blames for them year after year, speaking well of, doing the workload so that they could chill 8 hours a day, ended up stabbing me in the back. I should have listened to the hundreds of voices warning me to be careful, but I was blinded by humanity and sheltering a hated person, that I had no idea what web of deceit was being woven to entrap me. That web and its result shocked me to the core, physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. That situation eventually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, but lesson learned is, never again.
Then there are the few friends whom I would talk to every day for a decade about everything suddenly forgot to even say hello as soon as I was no longer convenient to them. Friends who I would see on a daily basis at work acted as if I disappeared off the face of the earth as soon as I stopped coming in. I could not fathom how something so deep could one day disappear. I do love them dearly, but I am not willing to force myself on anyone.
Negativity aside, I have also come across beautiful new friendships, ones I hope and believe will last a lifetime.
At one point this year by some greater power, I met someone who entered my heart and mind without even knocking, whose childhood and life leading up to the moment of our meeting paralleled mine and we just clicked. This person is a soul mate of some sort, a mentor, someone I look up to and who hopefully finds solace in sharing hopes and fears with me. This happened at a low point this year and I believe fate has led us together to help each other grow.
There are a few friends I have met online for whom I am grateful, who genuinely care, and our daily lives have been so similar, as moms, as dreamers, as thinkers and introverts, that I believe more than ever that good people still exist.
One ex-colleague who was merely an acquaintance at the start of the year turned out to be the dearest to my heart, whom I speak to daily and share my deepest secrets with, I feel comfortable crying in front of as well as sharing breakthroughs knowing she will be genuinely happy for me.
As I look back, I do believe that the bad experiences happened for a reason, for I learned to trust my instincts even more and to grow a backbone when it comes to confrontation. If it weren’t for those horrible moments, I wouldn’t have been led to meet the extraordinary people I’m in contact with now. I will forever be grateful, but careful.
The only summer event that was true to itself, thus allowing all the attendees including myself to be bare and genuine, was the notorious Monday nights of food, drinks, friends and dancing, a.k.a. the Doers Club. What makes it so sought after? It is because amidst the cookie cutter events happening in the capital targeting the same circle, rises an alternative by Dewar’s that caters to independent creatives living true to their passion.
If you thought Dewar’s was solely catering to whisky drinkers of a certain generation, think again, because the mixologists at the pop-up venue at Fattal headquarters were bringing their A game, from new cocktails to the classics. I for one am a fan of the staple drinks and mixes, but my senses were delighted as I discovered a few of the new recipes the bartenders concocted.
What was equally awesome was the food stations, namely the traditional Scotch Egg, and live bands and DJs until way past midnight to create an atmosphere that is hard to part with. Even if you do show up alone, you are guaranteed a good time and will definitely make a friend, or ten!
Who will you find at the Doers Club? Artists, actors, musicians, and anyone and everyone who seeks to question the status quo by living independently and eccentrically. The vibes are unmatched, the authenticity of the crowd is unprecedented, and the laughter cannot be faked.
So tell me, are you a Doer?
Naji and I are huge detective buffs with Sherlock Holmes topping our list. Any fan of the TV series Sherlock will recognize Speedy’s Cafe as the local eatery right below the on screen version of 221 B Baker Street which in fact is located on Euston Street. I kid you not, we walked kilometers to reach the cafe on over 3 separate occasions and each time we found it to be closed, and as it wasn’t meant to be for us to have the recommended English breakfast inside, we had to be satisfied with a mere photo at the entrance step.
Away from TV sets and on to the literary version, the Sherlock Holmes Museum on the actual Baker Street is a must see and brings the detective to life. Every item is recreated in this Victorian apartment down to the furniture and chemistry sets. There are a plethora of books and letters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, be prepared for the eeriest feeling after carefully examining all these intricate details.
Make a stop at the souvenir shop on your way out, there are plenty of items you can pick up for reasonable prices. I got these, the plate was hubby’s choice and can be mounted on a wall or a stand, the book is obviously for my collection, and the print is for a very cool decor idea I am preparing at home.
I’m a theater gal, take me to a show and I’ll melt! Unfortunately people don’t dress up to attend the theater anymore so it wasn’t the full experience I was hoping for, albeit slightly swankier than Broadway. I had to drag Naji to watch The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theater on Haymarket, and while he was dozing off, I was tearing up and so emotionally fulfilled. Taking photos is prohibited during the performance, I had to sneak this one during intermission with the broken chandelier on stage before I got a loud and embarrassing “no pictures”.
There are plenty of shows to see in London but make sure to reserve months in advance for good seats. I personally wanted to view the London Philharmonic but the dates of their performances didn’t overlap with my dates of travel. Madame Butterfly was another opera that was fully booked to my dismay.
Bookworms rejoice, there are countless bookstores in London, but being so in denial about living in our century and passionate about the eras past, the ones that caught my eye and heart are the second hand bookshops. It was a sight for sore eyes, the worn out covers, the fading pages and the wonderful old book smell are what dreams are made of. You can get some good deals on used books, but at the same time the first editions of other books are steeply priced but so worth it and make for a thoughtful gift to literature fanatics such as myself. One particular shop is Skoob on Tavistock with a huge collection in the basement, and the ultimate destination is Charing Cross Street which is an entire street of quaint bookstores displaying their low priced deals outside, alongside music shops and everything your artistically inclined heart desires. Visit Foyles and Waterstones for contemporary bustling library vibes in case vintage is not your cup of tea, just make sure you clear out an entire day for book hunting.
I got 3 second hand books and 3 discounted ones. Needless to say I am high on the mere knowledge that the former group belonged to someone else, which means they have been held, read and analyzed and I am about to dive into them also. One is a ‘Princess’ book from the early 1960s, inclusive of etiquette, recipes, home arrangement, how to host and much more, which I found to be an interesting purchase to see what it was like for young girls back then compared to now. The second book is style rules from the 1920s and includes everything from the essential wardrobe items to how a lady must carry herself. The third is a ripped apart early edition Joseph Conrad detective novel that I am thrilled to start reading. As for the new books, it goes without saying that I am interested in secret societies and mysteries and found they would be worth carrying in my luggage.
I’m not into tours or pretty much anything guided, but Shakespeare’s Globe tour is not to be missed. It’s located on the bank-side of the Thames and I recommend walking past the markets and the busy streets to build up the anticipation by relating your experience to old London, where the docks were the trade center and where the workers would line up after their long day to attend Shakespeare’s plays. While waiting for the tour to begin, you can watch the actors rehearse but no cameras are allowed and complete silence is required because they use actual swords during combat, so focus is a must. My tour guide was enchanting and I have never listened so intently to anyone speak in my life, as she swayed me back to 1599 where the old theater was built (to which this theater is an exact replica), how it was built, theater technicalities, high society, and so much more until my head was filled not only with the Shakespearean knowledge that I already have, but with what life was like back then. For me in particular this storytelling was the cherry on top to the theater courses I took back in university, which then focused on designing sets, costumes and script, but now complete with facts, trivia and a mental tapestry of what I am left with after the tour of the globe. My tip is to check the schedule of the plays in advance because they host nights with minimal entry fees, and again the dates didn’t work for us during our stay.
I would never miss the chance to take photos of Scotland Yard, so I was pretty much the only one posing in front of the building. It is in fact the metropolitan police station, but for me, it is Agatha Christie and all the detective stories I have read combined into one moment, one location. So allow me to have my Hercule Poirot moment while calling Inspector Japp!
Head to Portobello Market while walking to Notting Hill and you’ll find another cluster of thrift shops. Our luck was fantastic because one particular shop was moving and held a massive sale on books, comics and music.
Art on the streets and art in the museums, now that ladies and gentleman is what sets a city apart from the rest. I was in seventh heaven as I pranced along admiring the work of artists, their talents unleashed onto canvas. I also spent entire days in museums such as the National Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum which are free of charge to enter (along with the science and history museums) so you can walk in and out as you please and indulge in artwork.
If you are anything like me and are into antique furniture and decorative items, then by all means clear out a few hours to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. I’m not a fan of sculpture and statues so I must admit I walked past that section onto the period collections and spent so much time admiring vases, cabinets and jewelry. Now if anyone can tell me where I can find a similar chair for the entrance of my home, I would appreciate it!
Another bucket list moment for me was visiting the 17th century The George Inn, the sole reason being that Charles Dickens used to frequent this exact inn back in the 19th century, and mentioned this place in his book Little Dorrit. The interior is preserved, the flooring creaks and the wooden pillars are cracked which adds to its charm. The food in itself wasn’t to my liking, but around us there were a few regulars, elderly British gentlemen, which reinforces the idea that it isn’t a tourist attraction, but a mere forgotten gem close to the heart of literature lovers.
I wasn’t going to leave London without seeing the bust of the queen of crime, my childhood (and adulthood) idol Agatha Christie. How it must be to live in her head and pick her brain, not for it being sinister, but for the truly awe inspiring plot lines, mysteries that can never be solved within the first few pages of a novel, and for details only a detective guru could coin. I literally ran around the few blocks surrounding this sculpture and could not for the life of me find it, and good luck for anyone who tries to ask for directions, because it is not of interest to many and perhaps has been passed by unnoticed. Needless to say I got my fix and my photo.
I also had a lot of trouble finding the sculpture of Oscar Wilde on Adelaide Street because it is not a major attraction and yes, I looked like a madwoman talking to it and did get a lot of stares while sitting. The bronze piece is dubbed A Conversation With Oscar Wilde with a quote from his play “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”. His wit and genius was translated through the characters he created, and I truly believe that each sentence I read from his plays holds a universe of meaning and wisdom.
I cannot begin to describe how much of a hippie heaven Camden Town is, beginning by the streets aligned with thrift shops passing by the food kiosks reaching the vintage market. Poor hubby sat patiently people watching while I was reclusive, sitting on the floor rummaging through dozens of boxes containing thousands of old prints, encyclopedia excerpts, second hand clothing and accessories to mention a few. The market and its surrounding is home to kitschy design shops perfect for decorating your home, and much more reasonably priced than other parts of London. I nabbed a few vintage scarves mostly dating from the 60s including a silk belt, and cannot wait to style and share them with you, but being a big fan of headpieces I’d wrap them around my hair and will attend my imaginary Woodstock festival when I head out.
Some of the items I got from Camden market include a photo of Mount Tibidabo in Barcelona which dates back to 1920, and it is special because we had recently visited with our daughter (read about it here, here and here) and it was her absolute favorite destination. The photo on the right is from an old encyclopedia filled with plants types and imagery, and this popped out because purple is my favorite color and I plan to add it to the aforementioned decor idea I have planned.
There is always something going on in London, and while as tourists it’s impossible to be able to see all the shows and collections displayed on certain occasions within the year, I would have loved to see the Pink Floyd tribute at the V&A museum, along with Alfred Hitchcock and Alice in Wonderland special showcases. I also got the chance to see Abbey Road from the bus but missed out on visiting the studio or at least stand in front of the door to channel The Beatles vibes.
If you do feel like shopping for some music memorabilia, the street leading to the Sherlock Holmes Museum is filled with such stores. I totally regret not buying the iconic poster of The Beatles crossing the street barefoot, as much as I regret buying the overpriced Pink Floyd T-Shirt which I later found for a steal at Primark. But hey, live and learn.
This is the first trip that I separate from Naji while roaming around, for about 3 or 4 full days. While he went to science and military oriented museums, I camped out in bookshops, wandered anonymously around the streets, hypnotized by paintings in galleries. I would visit London again in a heartbeat just to breathe in the culture of this epicenter of music, art and literature.
To me it is a mesh of talent, of wise minds overlapping over time to create a city of ghosts and a lot of soul, to which I felt a connection. And for all of that and much more, a part of myself will always be in London.