First impression of the Middle East: I love it.
First impression of the Gulf: I love it.
First impression of Bahrain: Well, you get the picture.
Since my arrival, more than one person has commented on the joy they see in my face at being here. There’s just something about this place. It’s the culture, the fact that you cannot meet anyone without being offered tea, and everyone you meet will feed you. It’s the colorful scarves and handcrafted antiques. It’s the latticework of the mosques and the smell of shisha and incense in the air. It’s the sacks of cinnamon and cloves, the rosebuds and sandalwood, the silver and beads and gold and pearls, the handwoven silk carpets and the mix of white thobs and black arbayas> on a dusty street. But for me, more than anything, it’s the feeling that everything began here, that footprints have covered these lands for thousands of years, before there was anything but sand and wind and a burning sun. There’s history and culture and a story that has been told since the beginning of time, in many different books. There’s just that something.
And then, of course, there’s Dubai. A weekend in Dubai will show you the other side of the Gulf: the unchecked construction, the expensive sports cars racing down the street, the excess luxury of the hotels and resorts, the exquisite items for sale at untouchable prices, the clubs for the elite and priveleged, and their friends.
Dubai is the kind of place you just have to see to believe. And even when you see it, when you’re looking right at the Burj Dubai, which measures 800 meters and is twice as tall the Sears Tower, you still can’t quite comprehend that ten years ago, there was nothing here. Here, green grows from nothing; snow falls in the desert; water flows from nowhere; and great concrete castles rise up from the sand.
Trying to find some aspect of culture or history in between the reflected glass of office buildings, we wandered the Gold Souq and the Spice Souq, where ornate headdresses were on display and the smell of sandalwood was in the air. I bought spice teas and star anise; Charlotte eyed the jewelry. We had coconut and pomegranate juice at a fruit stand and ate lunch at an artsy outdoor cafe. We smoked shisha at sunset and ate grilled meat hot off the coals. We took a water taxi across the river in the most perilous three-minute journey we’ve ever experienced. We laid on the beach and walked for miles. We danced the night away. We had a good time.
But all the while, we wondered if there wasn’t something missing in this great glass city. A soul, perhaps, or some sense that it is an Arabian town in an Arabian country in a land that is thousands of years old. It’s missing that something special.
Anyways, after a few weeks here, I have been able to sort out a list of my top prorities over the next few months.
1. Ride a camel.
2. Drink lots of tea.
3. Eat as many figs, dates, and mezze platters as possible.
4. Document everything in photographs.
A mighty task lay before me but I stand to the challenge. In order to prove my strength, I have already posted pictures of Bahrain on Shutterfly, and Dubai will be coming shortly. Enjoy (with a nice cup of Arabic red tea, with milk and sugar, cardamom and cloves), and prepare for more Arabian nights to come…oh, and World Music Showcase, too!