Zomato Blogger Conference.

So, I went to the Farzi Cafe launch and ended up sitting with some of the senior people at Zomato (who were perfectly lovely to entertain some rando (me) throughout the many courses).  They were also kind enough to invite me to the first ever Zomato Blogger Conference, held on April 2nd, 2016.

WTF zomato
What we all want to know.

Starting time? 2PM registration, 3PM panel discussion — all pretty close to the agenda.  During the registration period, I made one of my conference buddies, Tiffany of That Fitness Journey, who had a lot of good social media tips about attending a conference.

Refreshments?  Mostly coffee breaks with the usual pastries and sweets (I don’t think some fruit would’ve gone amiss).  Dinner was served at Olea (the in house all day dining at the Kempinski, serving mostly Levant style salads, mains and starters).  Considering everything was free, this was a nice treat, although would not be my first choice of restaurants at MOE.

Location?  Kempinski, Mall of the Emirates (keep in mind, it might be attached to MOE, but it is rocking AED200 for the first hour in their valet parking, so make sure you get that ticket stamped!).

Messages?  Highlights from the agenda included a panel discussion on reviews, the line of paying for reviews and remaining honesty, a wonderful presentation on food photography, and further professional discussions on growing one’s brand.  As I hoped, I got a good dose of well-needed motivation.

Personal reflections?  To keep doing my own thing, in fact, to find a way to make my voice more pronounced.  I had been slightly stalking a local Instagrammer and when I saw her, I knew I had to go and say hello.

Also, I had been slightly stalking a local (well known) Instagrammer and when I saw her, I knew I had to go and say hello.  My awkward introduction worked — we ended up connecting about a lot of topics, having dinner (staying nearly late enough to shut the restaurant down) and starting what I hope is a good relationship.  She’s got a lot of great ideas and I can’t wait to see how far she is going to go.

Swag?  A lot great stuff (coasters, a decorative cow (!), and some fantastic coupons, which I will definitely be using, thank you Vaniday).

Bottom line.  I would’ve loved more focused networking (i.e. almost speed dating to connect with people most like me), but overall, as a first conference, I think the Zomato team have a lot to be proud of.  I would be curious to see what they do with next year’s agenda.

Apensanteur: Time as an invention and concept.

This invitation popped up late last week, and with nothing going on for Tuesday, I RSVP’d to attend.  Having a bit of a late one last night, as well as the gloomy weather in Dubai this week, I almost skipped the event, but am so glad I decided to attend.

Starting time?  The invitation read 10:00-12:00AM and after a few many missed turns, I managed to get to the gallery at just around 10:20.  A discussion was led by the director of the gallery at 10:30AM.

Refreshments?  Poached quail egg anyone?  Lemonade and a few others well done hors d’oeuvres were passed around.  (Quite unexpected, but appreciated – 10:00AM on a Tuesday is an awkward ‘meal’ time on anyone’s calendar).

This beats my usual breakfast by a significant margin.

Location?  The M.A.D.Gallery, Al Serkal Avenue.

Messages?  Hearing any artist speak about their work is always a treat, especially when an untrained viewer (such as myself) would completely miss out on all the fantastic meaning. Quentin Carnaille was fascinating to listen to, and there was a lot of good questions from the group.

Imagine a collection of levitating magnetized watch parts.

In reality, it’s a study of time.  Time, which is a completely human construct, is this big concept that is difficult to translate into art.  Yet, these pieces did a fantastic job.  Not only are they literally made of time (watch pieces), but the original set was a collection of 12 (for the hours in the day).  As these pieces move (each in a unique unpredictable way)…because, life is random and everything is always changing, isn’t it?

time piece
Another one of the stunning time pieces.
Not for those with arachnophobia.

Personal reflections.  Readers, I will be honest with you.  I went into this event with limited expectations.  I walked out with appreciation that there can be meaning in the day to day, that there are reminders of the human experience all around us.  As Mr. Carnaille spoke, I thought of a project which has been dancing at my periphery recently.  My Fates project, which I feel I have more or less abandoned for years, has a lot to do with the concept of time.

Also, and a bit of a tangent as we discussed Mr. Carnaille’s next project (related to space), I thought about my books (obviously).  And how, maybe at some point in a month or day or hour, that there might be people, in different locations reading my book.  And that it would be some sort of unique shared experience.

Swag?  Some nice marketing material on artists and artwork available at the gallery.  A cute wooden art man.  A zip drive.

Bottom line.  More of this in my life, please.

Any deep thoughts for your Tuesday?

Italian Fashion Event leads to drinking saffron, and other parts of an unexpected Monday night adventure.

So, when an invite came across to attend an ‘Italian Lifestyle Journey’ at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi, I was intrigued.  Promising ‘a true immersion into style and fine dining’ AND a fashion show, I gave a call to one of my trusted wing women in the capital and plans were confirmed.  On the night of the event, we got dolled up and with really no idea what to expect, went forward.

Starting time? 7:30 (on schedule).  I guess?  Things were definitely ‘started’ when we arrived, but the whole evening lacked definition.  Some people spoke.  Food was served, but not announced, and at 8:20, there was a short fashion show.  While not everything has to have a schedule, I found it strange there was no real master or ceremonies, head PR person or even someone who could be counted as ‘in charge.’

Refreshments?  A very strange selection of hors-d’oeuvres to start, including lukewarm chicken bites, lukewarm cheese and deep fried eggs.  Yup, because runny egg yolk and fashion definitely go together and of course I got some on my dress.  At the start, we were a bit devastated as no alcohol looked to be on offer.  Lo, thirty minutes after we arrived, wine was finally brought out which we nearly had to run down someone to get.  There was also a buffet, with (apparently) some of the better Italian chefs in the Emirates (??).  With nothing particularly signed, no place to sit and not enough tables to balance a plate, it was a very awkward dining experience.

holy cannoli
I mean, I guess it can’t all be bad if there is a Cannoli station.

There was definitely a miss on drinks – this would have been an easy time to showcase prosecco or serve a signature drink (I was thinking a Negroni, which is kind of having a moment right now).  It doesn’t always have to be about alcohol, but as Starwood was clearly listed as one of the main sponsors and the event was at their hotel, the whole thing felt very cheap and last minute.

Location?  St. Regis, Nation Tower (ballroom) and for the accidental ‘afterparty’ the highly originally named, St. Regis Bar.

Messages?  And here is where the Glitterati and I had some fun.  We still have NO IDEA what the night was about, what our takeaway was supposed to be, or what the organizers wanted from the attendees.  We didn’t have to sign in or up for anything, no business cards were collected, nor were there any materials to take home.  There was no branding, no hashtag to use, no clever social media tie in.  It was a textbook ‘what not to do in PR’ event.  We wondered if it was some weird pet project of some senior Italian official, but I guess we’ll never know for sure.

Giada Curti
I wish you could’ve seen this dress in person (or that I had taken a better picture). We dubbed it the ‘champagne dress’ and it was an absolute stunner!

In the end, we decided it was an event to showcase what the Starwood brand was capable of…in Italy??

Personal reflections?  The evening took a decided turn towards the positive near the time we decided to leave.  We were approached by two restaurateur types, where the conversation took equal turns into what the hell the evening was about and stylish (and comfortable) men’s shoes.  Deciding on a night cap, the Glitterati and myself mentioned we would be at the bar, not really expecting to have anyone join us.  Thirty minutes later, we were rejoined by aforementioned restaurant guys, which is how we ended up drinking a lot of prosecco, cosmopolitans and strange saffron drinks.  We spoke of celebrity doppelgängers, real life twins, and, of course, relationships.  I think my takeaway here is that ‘one for the road’ is probably not good for your liver, but can lead to a fun story.

Swag?  An Alitalia branded purse holder and a very nice glass jewel thing (by Pauly) that should make for a nice necklace.

Bottom line: Getting dressed up on a Monday night can lead to some strange adventures.  The journey continues on Thursday, where Glitterati and her hubby will enjoy a meal as a guest of the restaurant, Circo.

Ciao bella!

EAFOL Press Event.

In which I finally try to make good on my Year of Saying Yes…

Finally shaking off the dust (and sand) of our move to Dubai, I accepted a media invite to a Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature (EAFOL) press event.  Having never attended something like this, I went in with an open mind.  As I waited for things to start, I began to put together what I thought these posts would look like.  While I’m sure the organizers of these events would much rather I was part of some larger media conglomerate and therefore able to make contact with tons of individuals, they are getting me.

How do you make a hotel conference room look cool? #needsmorefilters

Starting time? Published to begin at 10:30AM, actual start time 11:03AM (I’m pleading the 5th on reasons I know it was started late).

Refreshments? Tea and coffee, some small snacks (as one would find at a coffee break at a nice hotel).

Location? Amwaj Ballroom, Intercontinental Hotel Festival City (an enjoyable property and the forever home of EAFOL).  This will also be the press office during the festival.

Messages?  The moderator welcomed distinguished guests and led a spirited discussion, where I learned:

  • Emirates Airlines has audiobooks on their flights (?!)
  • Emirates Airlines also has a dedicated station on their ICE to EAFOL
  • There is a celebration of Shakespeare at the festival
  • There is a literary cruise on the Dubai Creek (I kind of want to go)
  • I should probably attend the Herodotus lecture
  • There is going to be a ‘time travel’ dinner
  • This is one of the best run festivals I have come in contact with – there is literally something for EVERYONE at EAFOL.

Personal reflections:  I truly enjoyed being around a group who was so passionate about reading, literature and sharing the experience with others.  As an author, most of my writing is done in solitude.  The event was a great reminder that reading can (and does) bring people together.

Naturally, I also had a moment of jealousy/disappointment when a list of ‘locally based authors’ was shared with me.  I’m a local author and my name did not appear.  Furthermore, there were no Americans at all on the list.  After the festival is over, I’m going to follow up and see if it’s possible to get my name added.  I know, get over myself.

No, lady, do not stand up and give two completely and obviously under researched questions and comments.

And finally, as the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority is clearly in great support of this event (it is the Year of Reading in the Emirates), I wondered if there was such local support for U.S. based festivals.  I guess I really liked that such clear acknowledgement is being given by the government.

Swag?  Sorry, none.

Bottom line?  Go to EAFOL.  You won’t be disappointed.

A good visualization about next year.

I think it’s established I like a good podcast and while I haven’t read Big Magic (by Elizabeth Gilbert) which has been recommended by multiple friends, I did discover Magic Lessons, an audio recording related to the material of the book (great idea!).  In the third episode, Liz speaks to her guest about how the many things in the guest’s life have been preparation for all the great things ahead.  Liz makes a fantastic analogy of the journey as being on the runway and getting ready for take off.  As a visualization, this concept really stuck with me.  Given the unknown — but hopefully friendly skies that await me — I’m optimistic that I am ready to leave the ground soon!

If you haven’t checked out this podcast, I highly recommend it. No matter what your background or current goals, I think there is something that will speak to you as Liz chats with her guests.


Always post Audrey. Always.

Do you have any ‘go to’ visualizations for the future?

From a good friend…

ludacris, ludacris quotes

Last week, via social media, I let friends and family know that I will be ending my employment at the University (effective January 28, 2016).  I know a lot of great people and a friend from many years ago sent this image through telling me how proud she was of my decision.

Whether or not the quote is specifically from Ludacris, I don’t care, the message is a very strong one and one I am definitely on board with.

Not sure how this happened, but I am ‘accredited press.’

Although part of my master plan for next year is to say ‘Yes’ to some of the random events I am invited to (5-6 invites a week, mainly based in Dubai).  In this instance, I registered and was approved (!) for the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature.  Even better?  According to an e-mail I received yesterday, I can request to interview any of the authors.

One of my all time favorite authors, Chris Cleave is one of those who will be in attendance.  Should I sign up?  What would I ask him?

Pretty much how I envision my discussion with Mr. Cleave.

Never Going Back Again.

I did the thing today.

Although it’s been in the aether for awhile (and the letter has been drafted for over a week), today was the day I submitted my resignation letter to my current employer, with effect January 28, 2016.

As I drove into work this morning, I had a big smile on my face and even turned down the radio to simply sing aloud.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I’m excited for it.  I’ve had a few moments this week where I’ve wanted to open up one of my manuscripts and do something, but I know that’s not fair to myself (or my books).  If I’m going to do this author/freelance/stay at home wife/hiatus thing for real, I need to not be distracted by the 40,000 other things that are going in my life. I need to be in the right space to create, edit and write.  I’m not trying to excuse my other novels (as they did not have this luxury), I simply look forward to only concentrating on one or two projects and leaving a toxic environment far behind.

Funnily enough, I’m not scared or nervous (maybe those feelings will come as we get closer to January, or later in 2016 when I don’t have a solid paycheck), but optimistic.  No, I’ve not had a lot of book sales recently.  No,  I haven’t received a large number of positive reviews.  Yes, I still need to move cities, find a new home and all the other things that go with relocating before I can even get started with my projects.  However, I can already picture my first day in my new office, steaming cup of tea nearby, opening my files on my big desktop computer and getting straight to work.  No distractions.  No hazards.  Just me and my creativity.

The Year of Saying Yes

Ever since my decision to quit the real world, I’ve been kicking around a few ideas of what exactly next year will look like.  Other than publishing The Queen of England: Coronation and completing Book #2, at the top of the list is a concept I’m calling ‘The Year of Saying Yes.’  It’s mostly because, for unknown reasons, I find myself on the distribution list for a number of local events and invitations within the UAE.  Given I (currently) have a full time job, it’s practically impossible to RSVP ‘yes’ to pretty much anything.

Next year, I want to change that.

It could happen.

No matter how random the event, if it is within my ability to attend, I’m going to try and say ‘yes.’

And in the spirit of ‘yes,’ I tested the waters last night.  There was an offer to attend a (free) film master class with Italian film director Alina Marazzi (yes, working on a campus like NYUAD can sometimes be a good thing). Although it’s not something I would usually attend, I decided it was time to make a change.  So, I sent my RSVP and showed up at the appointed time.

Did the session change my life or creative direction?  It did not.

Did I have some insight into two of my WIPs?  I did.

Was it interesting to listen to another creative type discuss their work and process?  It was.

Will I always sit next to the person making the most noise and creating the most distractions?  I will.  

Would I attend something similar if it was offered before I leave?  Yes, I would.

This is my ‘yes’ face.