INGULFED

(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for December, 2010

أنشوجة — Anchovies


In the waning minutes of Hanukkah, the orchestra bearing the name of its Muslim host country set out to play Christmas music. If there exists an appropriate adage, I don’t know it.

Many citizens of the Jewnited Arab Emirates (as no one calls it) might have noticed local observances of the Festival of Lights — namely the decking out of most of the city’s tall buildings with bright neon, flags, and the number 39. Of course, it was just pre- and post-national day decorations — not an attempt 5732 years off the correct Jewish year. Still, a bit suspicious National Day fell on the first day of Hanukkah, isn’t it? Okay, sure, Emirati National Day is always on the second of December, and Hanukkah is determined by the lunar calendar, but… but — okay. Good point.

At the Emirates Palace Christmas tree lighting, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians (ok fine! and Jews, too) stood around the joyous alter of the Christmas tree as a children’s brass band heralded not the anniversary of the birth of someone’s lord, but the beginning of a season of fun and shopping for everyone.  In the world of Internet and Connectivity and the Global Village, it’s getting too goddam hard to stereotype people.  That people still try is my only regret — for their own sakes.  Time-saving stereotypes had some basis back when West was West and wild, and East was just East. But now, reality is disorienting – there aren’t any shortcuts.  Racism is just racism… and it’s awkward.

The world's most expensive Christmas tree. Ever.

Read the rest of this entry »

بار متسفايا — My Bar Mitzvah


They both took off their baseball caps, and under them — yarmulkes. Dressed and bearded to the nines of Hasidic custom, these two Chabad rabbis had come via Dubai from Brooklyn to light candles with relocated Jews on a legally nonspecific floor of our Abu Dhabi apartment building (lets call it twenty-three). It was the fifth night of Hanukkah, a night that for its inability to ever fall on the Sabbath — the week’s most holy day — is distinctly holy. The rabbis resolved the apparent paradox: clearly, this day must need no help to get holier.

The rabbis, henceforth Rabbi Bob and Rabbi Khaled (for puzzling social, possibly legal reasons), led the Hanukkah blessings, touching the shamas to all five candles, now burning brightly with the green light from the minarets below. Everyone felt that all around us, there was Islam and spirited expatriatism — not as marks of oppression, but as marks of distinction: what made us run-of-the-mill deli patrons in New York now made us bakers of homemade bagels and fasters at unpredictable seasons. And with shared distinction comes a kind of solidarity, a kind of fort-like refuge. Still, we mustn’t build a moat — the hardest part is joining together without snubbing those who aren’t gathered. But with blessed juices flowing, chocolate coins clinking against the tile floor, and kids screaming encouragement at their dreidels — that didn’t really seem like a problem.

Read the rest of this entry »

National Day — اليوم الوطني

— New video at the bottom —

“’Eid sa’iid,” we wish each other — happy holiday. It’s not Islamic New Year yet. It’s not Hanukkah (although it is). It’s not Christmas — even if the buildings all draped and merry in glittering neon suggest otherwise from outside every window.

A window.

On December 2nd, the Emirates come alive — as they tend to do at wintertime — for National Day. This year marked the thirty-ninth anniversary of the unification of the UAE’s seven emirates, a historical occasion commemorated by the only tradition befitting its supremacy in the lifespan of the young country: shooting silly string in strangers’ faces.

It’s chaos. Car owners en masse relieve their vehicles of their mufflers, burning rubber and backfiring (not supposed to sound dirty) on the busiest street in the city. The Corniche, which runs from the Port all the way through Abu Dhabi, past the beaches and up to Emirates Palace Hotel, is a standstill: thousands rev engines and blare music in cars painted with red, green and black, arrayed with faces of the Sheikhs, and overflowing with garlands and streamers. Exhaust pipes howl under pressure, letting out bursts that from the distance sound like automatic gunfire, and from up close, feel like it. Friends ride in pickup trucks or huge flatbeds, jumping and shaking them until it seems like they just might tip over. Others dance in circles in the street. Fireworks are exploding all the time. And everyone is shooting everyone in the face.

Read the rest of this entry »

A City Burjeoning — “مدينة في”تبريج

After a series of changed plans and cancellations, the World Economic Form (famous for meetings in Davos, Switzerland) issued a last minute invitation to our UAE Philharmonic Orchestra. We were to play at the opening banquet of the third annual Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai, where 600 economist-types from around the world discuss what’s going wrong, why, and what we’re all going to do about it.

We parked in the first level of the Dubai Mall parking, looking for the world’s only Armani Hotel in the world’s tallest building. But somehow, as easy as the Burj Khalifa is to find, the entrances remain hidden — and we walked for half an hour through the mall, past ice skating and thousand-dollar handbags, and around the massive foundation for half an hour trying to find the right way in. Like anywhere else in the Emirates, employees and passersby are often only experts in their immediate neighborhood: looking for Gatehouse 6, we were met with blank stares by the guards at Gatehouse 3.

Finally, we snaked through the back entrance and onto the massive “patio” of the Burj Khalifa, where the tower looms more incredibly than from any other perspective. This is not the kind of “hey, wow, that’s incredible” you feel when you look at the world’s biggest ball of yarn, or Italy’s biggest pizza — this is a kind of un-credibleness that makes your brain do a triple Salkow and faceplant into the ice cold reality of physics, still struggling to make sense of it all. For some reason, from some angles in bright daylight, the brain is sometimes able to shrink down the Burj — to convince itself that it’s just a shorter building that’s really, really skinny. But at night against the sky’s black backdrop, there’s no escape, and the mind capitulates to accept the new biggest thing it’s ever seen.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: