Sunday, June 14, 2015

Weekend in Doha

Museum of Islamic Art
I know there are plenty of things to say about Qatar but you gotta hand it them; they sure do make the most of what they have. Qatar basically has oil and natural gas. It’s not exactly an island but it may as well be one, since the only land border is to the dreaded absolute no-go zone of Saudi Arabia (if you’re a woman and a westerner that is.) So there they are, those Qataris, on a small peninsula of land, baking in the sun, with none of the natural spectacular beauty of Oman, etc. But the oil and gas have given them the amazing distinction of suddenly having one of the highest standards of living in the world. And they brought stuff in: besides the museums, there is Al Jazeera, and a continuous roster of concerts, horse shows, films, any cultural even you can think of, and all free. Yes, that’s right. No money needed. So Friday at the MIA you will find groups of the much-maligned Bangladeshi workers looking at the exhibits. This is wonderful, and probably wouldn’t be the case if a fee was charged. Culture as a human right. Interesting that Qatar is the country who actually manages this.

I remember we landed there in 1989 on a Gulf Air flight to India, hopping through all those Gulf Airports. Doha had a few little fighter jets sprinkled around the tarmac, and one commercial plane, and a quonset hut. I don’t know what the city itself looked like but now it looks like this:

Modern Doha

I see it this way: Every GCC country picks a kind of theme; like Oman is “Natural Beauty and Hospitable People.” I probably shouldn’t list the other countries, as their themes aren’t necessarily flattering nor true, although some are. But Qatar’s is “Culture.” and they do totally rock it. Witness the Museum of Islamic Art.

I wanted to go there for years, and finally made it! Designed by I.M. Pei, the architecture itself is really fabulous, very interesting, magnificent. And the collections are really great, with Iran, India, Afghanistan, and Syria and Iraq quite well represented. It’s especially poignant now, with all the destruction of Islamic culture by those morons who claim to represent it....and worth remembering to any westerner who feels a little islamophobic or threatened by any of those extremist groups, that they (extremists) might hate you, but they hate other Muslims more, and their victims are mostly other Muslims, so get a grip please.

Anyway, the MIA is magnificent in every respect, from the way the pieces are displayed, the respect they are shown, to the way the light plays off the water and the passing seacraft create their own ambiance in the front. There are two temporary exhibitions now: Marvellous Creatures--showing animals in traditional Islamic Art and then upstairs you can see a wonderful show--Qajar Women. These pictures are primarily of women of the Persian court in the 19th century, just doing things, and it’s a great exhibit. As a bonus, in the hall outside are some modern images of how these women might look today and the originals are on view at a gallery in Teheran.

The theme of my weekend was art and treatments and that’s what I did. The new Zubarah hotel is excellent, and their spa is fantastic--the therapists are great, reducing me to a drooling lump of wasted wiggle three days running. Also worth a visit if you’re in Doha for a couple of days is Souq Waqif. It’s been renovated but it still has character and, most importantly, is still a bustling, working souq. It’s not just for tourists. It’s just very clean and very pretty.. Their spice market was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever been to. Everything is fresh, neatly kept in plastic tubs from IKEA or The Container Store I think. Everything labeled, and no worry about which vermin run through the spices at night! Yes, this is my life. Cockroaches and rats crawling though the spices are always in the back of my mind when I enjoy strolling around a traditional souq, and I try to buy from places that look as if they are aware of vermin and keep them out. No problem in Doha, let me tell you. Hey, in this respect at least, I am a realist. 

Dried lemons of different ages and roses too.

I also visited the Souq Waqif Art Gallery; they have 2 spaces in the front showing some pretty interesting pieces from the Arab world, even Oman. And the hall is lovely. Qatari artists sit around painting and drawing. That’s nice.

And looking for dinner that night I found a Kunefe and Baklava Cafe. Kunefe is one of those things that you are probably better off not knowing about, but never mind. It’s a cheese pastry, and can be made in a few ways, but the dough is that thin noodle crispy one. It’s cooked in butter, the cheese melts inside, it all gets crispy, and then rosewater sugar syrup is poured on top. And pistachios. So a plate of this comes, crispy and glistening, and the cheese melting from the sides. I mean really, how can you not have it? There are people everywhere eating these plates of kunefe at the Kunefe restaurant in Souq Waqif.  And not grossly obese people either. Salaam!

Holy Crap! Kunefe! Try this when you can!
So that was basically my weekend in Doha. If you’re a single woman traveling alone in the Gulf area (and not already in Qatar,) then Doha is a perfect destination. It’s not a party place--Beirut is the place for that, or Istanbul. Or even Dubai if you like,  but for art and massage treatments, and some low-key, unexpectedly good food, Doha’s the place.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Riyadh- Saudi advertises for swordsmen as execution rate soars - from Muscat Daily News

Hmmm. Sound familiar? ISIS? Al Qaeda? Not exactly! It's America's wonderful and so civilized ally: Saudi Arabia. Any resemblance to well known terror groups must certainly be coincidence.......

Riyadh - 
Saudi Arabia advertised vacancies for eight executioners Tuesday after beheading nearly as many people since the start of the year as it did in the whole of 2014.
The civil service ministry said that no qualifications were necessary and that applicants would be exempted from the usual entrance exams.
It said that as well as beheadings, the successful candidates would be expected to carry out amputations ordered by the courts.
Amputation of one or both hands is a routine penalty for theft. Drug trafficking, rape, murder, apostasy and armed robbery are all punishable by death.
Most executions are carried out by beheading, but a few are carried out by firing squad, stoning or crucifixion.
All are carried out in public and video footage sometimes appears on the Internet despite a ban on filming.
In January, gruesome footage was posted of a Myanmarese woman protesting her innocence before being beheaded by a swordsman on a public street in Mecca.
Ignoring her screams, the white-robed executioner forces her to lie down on the ground, near a pedestrian crossing, then severs her head with a curved sword. The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said that Layla bint Abdul Mutaleb Bassim had been sentenced to death for killing her husband's six year old daughter.
The vacancies were advertised on the ministry's website in the 'religious jobs' section.
Last year, Saudi Arabia executed 87 people, according to an AFP tally, ranking it third in the world for use of the death penalty.
Already this year, it has put 85 people to death in what human rights group Amnesty International has described as a 'macabre spike'.
On Tuesday, a convicted serial rapist of young girls was beheaded in Riyadh, SPA reported.
The Interior Ministry says the death penalty is an important deterrent. But on a visit to Riyadh this month, French President Francois Hollande said capital punishment 'should be banned'.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rose, and Blue, and Sand

Kalaat M'Gouna Roses
I couldn’t help it but come back to Morocco. After all, there are roses here and indeed they are the finest, sweetest, strongest and even friendliest flowers I’ve known. We made a beeline for Kalaat M’Gouna, for, as they say here at the Ouzarzate film studio, Take 2.

This trip I do believe I picked more roses than thorns, and it’s not over yet. We stayed in a fantastic traditional Berber aerie above a fat and thickly cultivated green wonder of olives, roses, wheat, citrus, and various herbs, vegetables and other fruits, all nestled in a wadi hardly bigger than a crevasse. Visiting rose distillers by day, sitting with our companions the moon and the wind by night, and all the while imbibing thyme tea, verbena infusions, and lovingly prepared vegetarian tagine and omelets, we left with reluctance, after a few days.

Women's Argan Cooperative

I think the Berbers have it down. Signs everywhere point to organics,  traditional cuisine, trekking, and roses. Well, yeah. Olive oil, honey, argan oil, verbena, oranges.........exactly. The Berber word for Berber is Amazingh and this means “Free People.” So let my imagination run to this and enjoy the way they have managed to create a beautiful and welcoming enclave in the area between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. It was really a magical romp through loveliness. The air is clean and fresh, the sky almost a cartoon blue; the bright deep pure blue of the desert but lit from within.

We went down to the edge of the desert, to a town called M’Hamid, and from there into the dunes. Unseasonably hot temperatures meant the snow pack melted high in the Atlas and a flash flood cut off the guest house--we had to cross a river by 4 x 4 and nearly flipped it! The river runs rarely and so no one knows how to drive it--people in M’Hamid are desert people. We had to jump out into the flood as the Landcruiser tipped over on its side. But we survived so it was all in good fun.

Bees on Sweet Rolls!!

One thing I am a little confused about is Tamarisk trees. I remember they are all over places like Palm Springs, which is desert, and they are also apparently used to halt desertification in China. Presumably this is because they are hardy, thrive in adversity and anchor the soil? Not sure. But they are also known as Salt Cedar. They salinate the soil (sand) and as they die off, they make sand dunes. I looked them up and it seems they are pretty universally considered an aggressive and invasive species. The Sahara grows and deserifies constantly, and these trees are partly to blame. They say every year it (The Sahara) encroaches another 7 kilometers!

Leaving the desert behind us, we drove the tiny winding road back to Marrakech, crossing the Atlas Mountains and staying in a California style bungalow hotel on the film studio premises in Ouzarzate. As is usual in Southern Morocco, once you get north of the sand and hamada (rocky desert) it was bursting with geranium, roses, olives, artemisia, citrus and thyme.

Leaving Marrakech for Casablanca that evening, we were not totally thrilled to have our headlights go out on the rental car as we drove the big highway. It was so dark, and before the moon rose. No lights on the Highway—except the stars. We lost our taillights and headlights! Pitch black! I put the hi-beams on and then the hazard lights too but every car flashed us to say we had no lights! Completely irritating and quite terrifying as I thought we might lose the hi-beams as well, but we managed to limp back the 70 km to Marrakech and change the car in the morning.

We arrived to a fantastic riad here in the Medina of Sale, which is right next to Rabat, near the sea. It’s a traditional Moroccan house, and so gorgeous, with a spectacular rooftop garden and we had no idea before, but it’s the only vegetarian riad in Morocco (maybe.) And the owner, Jan, is a fantastic cook who, thankfully, offers cooking classes and so my big decision is what to learn how to make but fortunately that’s not until morning. It’s called The Repose, and if you are going to be in the Casablanca/Rabat/Kenitra area, I highly recommend it.

We spent our day at the Rosemary/Cedar/Khella/Myrtle/Chamomile/Mint distillery.

I had a totally cool cupping session one of the nights in Sale.  The therapist, Jamila, did a little bloodletting and then sucked the “bad blood” out through the cups—I’ve had it done once and that time there was hardly any blood even though I was told “stagnant” blood comes out thick like jelly and very dark. This time it was golden! She sucked great black gobs of black jelly-goo out of the small of my back and then smeared honey all over it before I fell asleep. Supposedly if you do it every month, then, with time, the blood gets less and thinner and redder. I was very excited and impressed by the exudate and couldn’t stop laughing. Does my back feel better? Yes, hard to say how much yet, but it does. All that horrible crap was in my body! As humans, as meat, we must be inedible, so much disgusting effluvia in each of us.

We had to finally tear ourselves out of Sale and drive back to Marrakech. Outside of the heat, which was admittedly a little much, it’s a really nice city. Not aggressive, even the drivers. Trees and flowers everywhere. Not too crowded. Wonderful colors. Excellent food. Enough intrigue to keep it interesting. Even some nice shopping. Good cafĂ© experiences. Pretty architecture. Great style, low key and relaxed. However, we didn’t go back to the medina—glad we were there but it’s the opposite of the above. Modern Marrakech was fun on its own.

The Moroccans have all been lovely, and friendly and kind, except for one annoying street in Marrakech and the police who demanded a big bribe on the road. The food is absolutely phenominal—and its so easy to eat vegetarian. We’ve had vegetable or egg tagine every day, or couscous. The bread is fresh, crusty and a little sour, and the olives are wonderful. And we’ve had plenty of oranges, almonds and honey, great company, and lovely people we’ve met, all in a spectacular setting. What more could one ask for? Feels like I’ve been here for months and it’s only two weeks. Another thing I really like about here is that you can find music everywhere. I do miss music.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Americans Stranded in Yemen and the US Government has "no plans to evacuate" them.

Thanks to the Canadian Broadcasting Co (CBC)
Despite evacuations of nationals by many other countries, including Russia. China, and Somalia, the US has no plans to evacuate her citizens stuck in Yemen. It's apparently "too risky."

Yet the US certainly evacuated about 100 Special Forces from their camp near Lahj just before the Saudi bombardment started in late March. The US also saved two Saudi pilots who bailed out over the Red Sea. But Yemeni-Americans have been left behind with no means of escape as a clusterfuck of fighting ignites all over the country, between Houthi, Saudi led coalition, local tribes and AQAP. The reasoning seems to be along the lines of: we told you to leave; if you're still there it's your fault, and good luck to you.

This might be logically (if unreasonably) thought out for those people studying arabic, or working in oil, or whatever, but Yemeni-Americans are, obviously, Yemeni, meaning they have family in Yemen and have stayed behind, not of willful defiance, but because they were trying to help their families. The are also American, meaning they have US passports and are therefore entitled to the same protection as any other Americans. Even if they are Arab. Because it boils down to that. Good luck trying to convince us otherwise.

The Indians evacuated Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans. The Chinese evacuated a host of different nationalities. But the supposedly strongest and best fighting force in world can't evacuate their own citizens from a conflict in which America is a part of? The coalition is Saudi Arabian led, and supported by the US government.
One might assume that Americans will be specifically targeted for retribution.
And the American government just bails, and sends an awe-inspiring passive aggressive email stating how concerned they are for Americans caught in the fighting and gives some breathtaking alternatives to save their lives.

Text & photo thanks to Aljazeera America

So far, one American has died. Jamal al-Labani, a 40 year old father of three, from Oakland, California, was returning home from mosque on Tuesday evening with his 14-year-old Yemeni nephew when both were hit by mortar shelling, according to his cousin Mohammed Alazzani, who spoke to Al Jazeera from the San Francisco Bay Area. Both died as a result of injuries sustained.

Oh, yes, by the way, the embassy staff was evacuated in February. By the Omani government.  And if you're not in this part of the world you may not realize that The Sultanate of Oman has no part in the Saudi-led offensive. It's the only GCC country that remains neutral. Yet Oman is delivering humanitarian aid to people trapped in Yemen. Oman is also a close American ally, and also maintains friendly relations with every other country in the world, including all aggressors in this stupid war, in which the Yemeni people are suffering greatly.

All this flabbering and yowling about our strength, determination, bravery, capabilities, family values and democracy, and then this.......for God's sake, America. Respect yourself.

Here is the link to a website set up to help those who are trying to flee the violence
It's called Stuck in Yemen.

I have the embassy email here:

SUBJECT:  TRAVEL WARNING – YEMEN   April 4, 2014 at 4:46 AM

1. The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high  security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. On February 11, 2015 due to the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the Department of State suspended embassy operations and U.S. Embassy Sanaa American staff have been relocated out of the country. All consular services, routine and/or emergency, have been suspended until further notice. The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart when you are able to safely do so. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on February 11, 2015.

2. The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remain severe.  There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time. We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely. U.S. citizens wishing to depart should do so via commercial transportation options when they become available. Keep vital records and travel documents close at hand; U.S. citizens should be prepared to depart at a moment’s notice.  The airports are currently closed, but may open unexpectedly; other unforseen opportunities to depart may also suddenly arise.

3. Additionally, some foreign governments may arrange transportation for their nationals and may be willing to offer assistance to others.  There is no guarantee that foreign governments will assist U.S. citizens in leaving Yemen.  U.S. citizens who choose to seek foreign government assistance in leaving Yemen should only do so if they can safely make their way to the point of embarkation and have received confirmation that there is space available.  Even if assured there is space aboard transportation, U.S. citizens should be aware that there is no guarantee that they will be permitted to board the transport, or may have to wait an indefinite period until they can do so.  There is also no guarantee of where travelers will go.For U.S. citizen inquiries, you may send an email to

4. Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continue to be active throughout Yemen. The U.S. government remains extremely concerned about possible attacks on U.S. citizens (whether visiting or residing in Yemen), and U.S. facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests. In addition, piracy in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean is a security threat to maritime activities in the region. See our International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet.

5. U.S. citizens remaining in Yemen despite this Travel Warning should limit nonessential travel within the country, make their own contingency emergency plans, enroll their presence in Yemen through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and provide their current contact information and next-of-kin or emergency contact information. You may inform the Department of State of U.S. citizens located in Yemen by visiting, selecting “2015 Yemen Unrest,” and providing as much information as possible.  You can also contact us at 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. & Canada), +1-202-501-4444 (from overseas), and if you have additional questions or concerns.

6. For the latest security information, U.S. citizens living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs website where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings, and Country Specific Information for Yemen can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers in other countries, by calling a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

What part of this idiocy to rip first? You decide.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Enfleurage Middle East's Changing Face

You never really know how things are gonna go--as much as we like to revel in enlightened hindsight, you can never predict the future. Where you are now might have nothing at all to do with where you might be next week. Easy simplistic philosophy 101, perhaps, but good to remember!

We’ve moved the distillery within Salalah, from Sa’ada back to Dahariz and there are a few changes. We no longer have a showroom/reception area. That plan of mine had a short and sweet lifespan and then became counter-productive. I was glad when the doorbells mysteriously stopped working: thank you, whomever did that!

And, I’m not making ice cream like I was. I used to almost always have a big stock of it ready for visitors and restaurants and the like, and while it was nice to have it handy, it was way too much trouble to keep up with. Impossible to ship to Muscat, and there is not one place here in Salalah (outside of my distillery) that could manage to store ice cream properly.

But it’s all ok, I’ve got other cream to stir. I had to come to the realization that Salalah was just not the best spot for me to sell anything. We can produce frankincense oil here, and that’s really all we need. I can still make ice cream if the need arises, and have been spending a lot of time in Muscat this season. I finally took off those rose colored glasses and once I got over the shock, things began to fall into place in a more realistic way. After all, I did do good. Enfleurage Middle East is still Salalah’s coolest distillery, even cuter in its new tropical garden incarnation. We produce fantastic frankincense oil, slow hydro-distilled, Boswellia sacra. Slow Aroma.

I had to make a complete re-evaluation of this company. My plans sometimes worked and sometimes not, and often for unfathomable reasons. For example: we no longer sell resin from Oman. I don’t know exactly what the reasons were but we had problems with every shipping company, the post office, etc. Sometimes we were told a week after shipping that we couldn’t ship this resin and it was the Muscat customs, or the American government, or FAA. Sometimes it went through.The rules changed constantly and arbitrarily. Trying to mail shipments of resin every month was too much. So khallas. My apologies!

We can’t ship the oil either, unless it’s a big order. Frankincense oil is classified as Dangerous Goods (DG) for cargo, because although the oil is stable, the flashpoint is below the cutoff point. So while you can actually fly with a few kilos in your luggage, you can’t ship it normally. Only DHL will take it and only with the special DG charges. So if you order a kilo of oil, your shipping is out of control expensive as the Dangerous Goods fee is applied per shipment and not per weight. And although small sizes (under 30 ml) are usually exempt from this charge, here they are not, and we have a really hard time shipping them. So we ship most of our frankincense essential oil to the US, and then we ship from there. It’s way better, and it only took me several years of stubbornly trying to do it the other way before I realized it! We still keep some here, for domestic sales, and any large (over 20 kilo) orders in the Americas, Europe or Asia can go DG no problem.

All that probably sounds like sad news but it’s not! Truthfully, it was incredibly frustrating to try and ship this stuff with the mixed messages I would get, and my unreasonable (for Oman) expectations on how things work. So now we just focus on producing great oil and it’s totally available via UPS ground from Enfleurage in New York!!

Enfleurage Middle East was featured on CNN’s Inside the Middle East this past fall and recently re-aired. It’s a fascinating segment and highlights not just us but also the Arabian Leopard and the verdant life and landscape of Dhofar in the summer monsoon.

We’ve got a couple more shows coming up and will be filming over the next few weeks, including one piece on Hafah Frankincense Market. Rumor has it this souq will be demolished after this khareef and in fact the entire rest of Hafah has already been bulldozed. You can read about it on Dhofari Gucci and see my demolition video on YouTube. But we’re a month on from that video, and the damage is far greater now. The entire corniche, and the commercial area just past the market are all destroyed and no word yet on what, if anything, is going up in its place. Looks like Dresden.

Yeah, a lot changed here.

Happily, the new distillery is in an adorable little villa, tucked away almost invisibly. A mad assortment of birds, and explosive fragrant plant growth combine to make a tiny Eden. Even the ridiculous weaver birds incorporate lemongrass and bouganvillea flowers in their nests. It’s completely absurd.

Ice Cream continues to fascinate me and I was just in Thailand for a couple of days where I had oh-so-cool Thai coconut street ice cream, served in a freshly scraped young coconut shell (so the tender meat is your ice cream base) and an assortment of add-ons, some of which I recognized, all of which I had: sticky rice, peanuts, sweet red kidney beans, corn (of course,) and a couple of wiggly jelly things.

I also had a completely’s actually a sno-cone, but it’s shaped like a volcano and sweet Thai Ice tea (or coffee) is poured all over it, along with slivered almonds, tapioca balls and a mysteriously torn up slab of sweet white bread. Whipped cream on top and various little jelly balls and stuff. It’s simply magnificent, very impressive. Tasty too, but the real fun is the drama of the presentation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Welcome Home Your Majesty!

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has arrived back in Oman after 8 months of medical treatment!

He walked unaided down the red carpeted steps from the Royal Jet and looks great! I believe I can say everyone is delighted, Omanis and expatriates one and all.

Welcome Home, Your Majesty, your country missed you.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Iceland! Fire & Light

What better way to spend New Years Eve than at a fabulous artisan gin and whiskey distillery in Iceland? My thoughts exactly.
We somehow managed to get ourselves to the Eimverk Distillery near Reykjavik today. We spent a few days already in Iceland. 

Eimverk distills small batches of gin and whiskey using all Icelandic barley and herbs. We had a full lesson of what it takes to make a great gin or whiskey, what exactly barrel aging does, and some of the subtleties of alcohol distillation.

I distill frankincense but essential oil distillation is completely different than alcohol distillation.
In simple terms, distilling frankincense means slowly cooking frankincense gum in water, cooling the steam as it comes out, so that it turns back into liquid, and then separating the oil from the water. Pretty simple really, at least in theory.

Distilling for gin, tequila, rum, vodka or whiskey means you start with a base of grain, or potato, or sugar cane, or agave, or whatever. It has to ferment. Here in Iceland, Eimverk distillery uses an organically grown Icelandic strain of barley as their base, and this is for both gin and whiskey. Not being an avid drinker I didn't know any of this stuff. But that is now rectified.

So this organic barley is grown at the Arctic Circle and was apparently grown for hundreds of years in Iceland but then disappeared for a long time due to a minor temperature dip and is only now, in the last twenty years coming back. It's a hardy and complex barley, with a lot of tastes and aromas.

Icelandic Strain of Barley. Organic from the Arctic Circle

First the barley is soaked in lovely machines-- former milk tanks-and then left to ferment a little while. Then it's distilled in this magnificent German copper still and what comes out of there was delicious enough for me. It was like an eau de vie, light and lyrical yet very clear and crystal-like in the medley of tastes. But at this point it's still not ready; only a kind of bare bones canvas. But it was already magnificent. And this is the base for both the gin and the whiskey. It's what happens after that illuminates it and creates those distinctions.

For gin, it goes next into another still, along with some handpicked and fairly native Icelandic herbs and gets distilled again. While all gin must include juniper berries, this one also has rhubarb, crow berries, Angelica root, birch leaves, wild Icelandic thyme, kale (!), Iceland moss and sweet kelp! That's crazy ridiculous in my book, just what I'd hoped to find here.

Young Malt Whiskey and Pot Gin
 As I said, I'm not really much of a drinker, but something like this.....? Absolutely. Each sip of Vor premium gin was an aromatic and gustatory adventure. Those botanicals just paraded by my nose, each one bold and identifiable, with the alpine crispness of juniper dancing along throughout. I think they are making the final preparations for export to the USA, so I expect we'll be able to find it in New York pretty soon. It's worth noting that this delightful Gin just won a double gold award at the San Francisco world spirit competition.

Floki whiskey is also unique and wonderful. Rather than go into the still with those botanicals for a third distillation, this goes in a barrel, to age. The barrels are fired on the inside and made of white oak, from the United States. The marriage of oak and burnt help create that caramel note, and the sweet surprises like banana and brown sugar I found. I'll point out again that I am not a whiskey aficionado, or a wine connoisseur, although I enjoy them both. I just smell essential oils and eat ice cream, and while I do enjoy some odd liqueurs I am not a cocktail person by any means. This whiskey was so inspiring! Chocolate! Coffee! Caramel! There's a whole lotta love goin on in that puppy.

Aquavit, Gin, Barrel Gin, Single Malt Whiskey and peaty one

Practically speaking, I can also say (this from the Master Distiller himself,) that the Icelandic barley is low in sugars and this results in a bigger, more interesting and more complicated flavor.  Both of these alcohols were just great, absolutely wonderful. Look for them in your country soon, or give them a call next time you're in Reykjavik. Links to follow at the end of this post.

I'm here in Iceland with Tom; we used to do a little New Year's Eve thing and now we're doing it away. We flew here for a few days just to enjoy a different scene and nothing to do with essential oils and what a different scene it is! I didn't realize three and a half hours of daylight would throw me off so much!

Blue Lagoon

We spent yesterday at the Blue Lagoon, an outdoor geothermal pool. In their own words: "Iceland’s high-temperature geothermal areas are found inside the spreading zone of two tectonic plates: the American and the Eurasian. Iceland straddles the two, resulting in the country's active volcanic systems. A cold mixture of seawater and ground water meets cooling magmatic intrusions deep in the earth, where it is rapidly heated and moves towards the surface. The temperature of this geothermal fluid exceeds 200°C at a depth of less than 1 km."

The pools contain silica and an abundance of minerals:

Silica (SiO2)               251
Sodium (Na)               7.643
Potassium (K)               1.117
Calsium (Ca)               1.274
Magnesium (Mg).           0,60
Carbon dioxide (CO2)   11,4
Sulphate (SO4)             31,8
Chlorine (Cl)               15.740
Fluorine (F)               0,18
Total Soluble Chemicals. 25,800 mg/kilo

It's pretty cool, and lovely in the short winter days. If you're in Iceland, make sure you make a reservation. There are buckets of white silica everywhere and you are welcome to slather it all over your face while you bathe.

We've also been to the penis museum, really. It's very strange and they have lots of giant whale penises in formaldehyde.

Icelandic National Handball Team 2008

If you're a vegetarian here, better to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel because the Icelandic restaurant scene is not pretty. Sheeps head, putrified shark, blood pudding, minke whale steaks and horse are all on the menu, in addition to excellent seafood, but it's gonna cost ya....

Totally badass--Here's what Icelanders do at New Years

Everything shuts early, 4 pm at the latest. They go have dinner with family, party with friends, then bonfires are lit throughout the city, symbolically burning away the old year. About 10 pm people (maybe 90%) go home to to watch a television show I can't write because I don't have the patience to find the accent marks necessary for Icelandic. This show is a year end in review and very satirical, and hilarious, they say. After that's over most people in the city come out of their houses and plenty of them made their way up to the Church (Reykjavik Catherdral) where we were. Now, mind you, a few fireworks have been going off the entire time, from different places. Fireworks are sold by the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue; it's all volunteer and this is one way to make sure they have the best equipment. They rescue about 1200 people a year. 

The streets were still basically deserted at 11 pm, with the odd firework or two somewhere out there. So we walk up to the church at 11:15 and there are lots of people and tons of them are setting off their own fireworks and it just crazier and crazier. It's your civic duty to buy as many fireworks as you can! By a quarter to 12 it was complete mayhem-fireworks everywhere, in every direction, from the middle of the crowd, from people's houses, with their kids, everything. The entire sky was exploding, and there was not a single police officer anywhere. Not one. In fact, we have not seen a single policeman anywhere, the entire time we've been in Iceland. We did want to, as their Instagram account is adorable.

Everyone was on foot. It was freezing and began to rain, then sleet. No one budged and they don't use umbrellas in Iceland either-too much wind. It was easily the most badass display I've ever seen. They didn't even bother counting down the time to 2015. Really. Just kept setting off their rockets and firecrackers and fireworks and all. There's a big clock on the front of the church and Apple owns time now anyway, but no one noticed. They just don't give a shit. Not an authority figure in sight. Some people were drinking but hardly anyone seemed drunk. It was just a big crowd of people making their own celebration in the middle of town with a hell of a lot of gunpowder and no animosity. New York seems absurdly tame. I can't imagine any place I know where people would act like this. Not New York, not Muscat, not Salalah, Rome, nowhere. It was quite liberating. There is no public fireworks display from the city of Reykjavik. It's all private and no controls at all. For all I know, the prime minister was standing in the crowd setting off his own bottle rockets.

I swear Iceland is the honey badger country. All that endless geothermal energy, and pretty extreme weather although I gather it could be a lot worse. They just deal and they totally don't care. They heat their floors. The energy is endlessly renewable and the population of the entire country is less than 350,000. They have whale watching tours but also eat whale steak. They have volcanos and northern lights and for some reason the moss (really a lichen) is preternaturally beautiful. Elves and fairies live everywhere. The Icelandic ponies are fierce and hardy. There is a group offering hikes only in snowstorms! They don't even bother to salt most of the sidewalks as ice doesn't faze them. Local people can wear slick bottom shoes, and still walk normally down an icy path with no problem. I can't walk though the parking lot without falling on my ass.

We came for a few days holiday, and I was surprised at how the long nights affected me, and how free society seemed. Living as I do in two ultra-controlled environments, (Oman and New York,) it invigorated me with an arctic blast!

 Vor Gin
Floki Whiskey
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Pool
Iceland Penis Museum
Reykjavik Police on Instagram