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I had a very pleasant surprise yesterday when I found out that I was listed by Arabian Business as one of their 100 most powerful Arab women. Admittedly I wasn’t very high up the list — my friend Zaha is at no 4 while I am at no 46. Still, it is top 50! They didn’t have a picture of me so I thought I would post one from way back when I was important enough to grace the cover of a magazine in Kuwait (probably because of my young face; it was when I worked for Sotheby’s and was touring the region trying to promote them…). Now, I don’t really believe in lists, nor awards for that matter — Stephen Frears once explained to me that being short-listed was more important than receiving an award which was often a political decision while being short-listed is based on merit. Anyhow, there is no denying the fact that I was thrilled to be included. Not sure who I have to thank for this but whoever it is, thank you. I am honoured!



Just back from a wonderful trip to Iran where I had been in April, also once many years ago during the time of the Shah when I worked for Sotheby’s who then had an office there. While walking through the Tajrish bazaar last April, I was struck by the abundance of seasonal produce, some of which I was seeing for the first time. This time I went up to Rasht in Gilan province where they have a fabulous, bustling bazaar with an amazing live poultry section where you can buy your chickens, roosters and/or ducks live to take home and fatten up or you can have them killed and plucked there there and then before taking them home to cook. In the clip above, you can see how meticulous the lady is about choosing her chickens. She reminded me of the Chinese housekeeper of a friend who lived in Singapore. When I went to the market with her, I watched her turn over each and every vegetable and fruit before buying it to make sure it was perfect. But whereas the Chinese housekeeper was vociferous in how she made her choice, I could hardly hear what the Iranian lady was saying. They have a wonderful gentle culture in Iran and almost everyone speaks in whispers. My kind of place!

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Long ago, when I was doing the Sotheby’s works of arts course, I wanted to be a photographer, really more than an art expert. So, I got myself a beautiful Nikon, a couple of lenses, a tripod, a remote control shutter clicker or whatever that thing is called, a beautiful canvas bag to carry my gear and I started taking photographs. Lots of them.

My role model was Edward Weston. I loved  his strange close-ups of vegetables that didn’t look like vegetables, although I was not interested in photographing food in those days. I loved eating but not cooking. I didn’t want to be domesticated and I wouldn’t cook for my poor lover of the time who had to eat cheese and toast most evenings — he didn’t seem to mind.

In any case, we had this lovely property in the south of France, near a river where there were beautiful rock formations; and every day, I would go out with my camera to take close-ups of rocks, earth, tree trunks, whatever looked beautiful and likely to end up looking not like it was in close-up. But I quickly realised that I was no Edward Weston and even when I took photographs that were good, I would find a photographer had done them before. So, I put away my camera, using it only for my course work and concentrated on learning about art.

Recently, I got a new camera. A friend set it for me with a special close-up setting and I started taking close-ups again, this time of food. One day, as I walked down the souk in Aleppo, I saw this lone testicle sitting on a butcher’s block. The butcher was very amused with my photographing it again and again. He didn’t know that I was once quoted as saying: “I love brains and testicles” (in the context of talking about offal of course) with some journalist picking up the quote, saying I was a girl after his heart. Anyway, I was skyping with a friend tonight, and as we were discussing sex and middle aged lesbians, she reminded me of the quote, and I remembered my picture of the lone testicle.

So, I thought I would do a blog and post my photograph and one of Weston’s of a pepper. I like my picture, especially that little fleck of parsley and the slit on the skin but sadly, I am still not likely to produce any shots like Weston’s! Nor will I ever. Still, I am having fun with my new camera and its new close-up setting.


©Edward Weston — Pepper, 1930

How to cook testicles:

The testicle in my picture belongs to a lamb and it hasn’t been peeled yet. Normally the butcher would do that and the nick you see at the top is where he must have started making the incision before he got distracted. It would have run along the length of the testicle for him to peel off the skin easily to reveal creamy flesh with no trace of blood. He will then cut it into slices along the length or into wedges. I prefer slices because the thickness is more or less the same all over and I can control the  cooking. You don’t need to do much to testicles. Some people recommend blanching them like sweetbreads or brains before frying them, but no one does that in Lebanon. I just dredge the pieces in seasoned flour, shake the excess off and then fry them in butter for one minute on each side. Be careful not to overcook them or they will go rubbery. I always squeeze a little lemon at the very end. Et voilà, just as good as brains or sweetbreads. Perhaps even better.