(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for Class

منتصف الطريق — Middle of the Road

At the fish market near the port and harbor, Mina, everything is way too easy. A four-pound fish fresh from the morning catch, a half-kilo of calamari, another half pound of shrimp — all for about 80 dirham (22 bucks). And around the side of the market, half a dozen grilling and frying experts wait outside their restaurants to spice and cook everything you’ve just bought right on the spot (25 dirham). Get some minty, spicy arabic salad (from the same guys) and a couple lemons (from next door) and it’s without a doubt the best lunch in the city (priceless).

Abu Dhabi is a city that lacks a middle. There isn’t much of a middle class, or a stable one at least — the kind that spends christmases in the UAE. And there aren’t a whole lot of midrange places to eat where a sandwich might cost eight bucks, coffee would cost two, and everything else would be something else average. Everything is either high or low.

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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.

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اسبوع مرحبا — Marhaba Week

الجزء الثاني — Part Two

As the old saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. And busy times call for outsourcing.

In these times when the start of busyness is long before the start of business, I have found many emails in my inbox from 5 or 6 in the morning. But somewhere, it’s later than that. Something is fishy.

And remember what they said about giving a man to fish or teaching him to fish? Give a man an email to write, and he’ll save you ten minutes. Forward all your emails to India, and you’ll save yourself a whole vacation. All I’m saying is that people might be micro-outsourcing… not that there’s nothing wrong with that.

نهاية الاسبوع — The Weekend

Woke up at 16:00. I needed water and electrical adaptors — the two main items in the UAE food pyramid. The 400+ stores of the Marina Mall extend along the breakwater just off the island of Abu Dhabi. In it, along with a movie theater, grocery stores, and a bunch of English chains (I’ll get back to that), is an IKEA. Just like any other IKEA.

If you didn’t look up at the labels in Arabic, it would have felt like anywhere else in the world — no Scandinavian Persian rugs, no Swedish sandal racks, no ergonomic falafel-ballers. Though I’ve heard IKEA names come from various names of way up north places or other families of words (occupations, kinds of flowers, sizes of umlaut) depending on item category, I started to doubt it. I wondered if oddly familiar-to-English names like the baby crib “Sniglar” would sell as well with Arabophones. Sounds like “snuggle” in English. Means “slug” in Swedish.

The exit to the mall smelled of Krispy Kreme and incense. You want a donut, but you feel strangely calm with the decision.

For tea and wandering, I stopped by the Emirates Palace where the rule is: if it looks like it, it is. The 800 palm trees inside are real (though sometimes petrified). The vaulted golden domes and ceilings are real gold. The tea is not Lipton.

When in Dome: One of the Emirates Palace's 114 domes

Somehow, inside the luxury is not oppressive — the shimmer of Swarovski Crystal and gold-plate feels distinctly elegant. What appeared to be a “Whites Only” section of the parking lot (the cars, that is) — with its unflinching Beamers, Bentleys, Rollses, and a Maybach — seemed a little like the world’s best cake shop with a cupcake stand out front. Make of that what you will.

And pulling a complete about-face, I ordered Indian take out to my apartment doorstep (complete with tip) for 5 dollars.

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A Stopped Clock — ساعة موقوفة

Day One

Woke up in a new place. Turned out the gulf was right out my window, draped in a haze of sand that dropped like a wall a few hundred meters offshore. And holy crowned prince! — I’m already thinking in meters.

According to my schedule, my first day in the UAE and my first day at work began at 9:30. At 9, I stepped outside and the heat punched me by surprise, even though the morning was a relatively cool one. It was about 105, which in Celsius… is some other number.

My job is with the brand new New York University Abu Dhabi, located until 2014 in the Madinat Zayed neighborhood of downtown Abu Dhabi. (In February 2014, the University will move to Saadiyat Island, the site of numerous architectural and artistic endeavors, including new branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre.) And in the glistening purple and gray buildings, I kind of learned what sorts of things I will be doing for the (at the very least) next 53 weeks.

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