INGULFED

(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for Heat

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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(يوم التنقيل (جزء الثاني — Moving Day (Part Two)

On an Emirati airplane surrounded by Americans, I settled in to watch the over-the-top Chinese game show “Just Go” and felt comforted by one of those observations that makes you feel like the world is small and we’re all just one big people after all: it sucked just as much as our TV.

So I changed to something English because there’s nothing like dry humor to compliment a wet martini.  I think I’ve already been spoiled by Pearl Class… to the point where felt the need to spy on even posher territory.  I snuck another look behind the Diamond Curtain, pretending to fetch something from my luggage.  A suspicious stewardess came to check on me just as I had gotten up from one of the velvety leather chairs that are more like couches than seats.  Chairs are so plebeian, don’t you know?  Uh-oh.

I can’t remember ever being in an airplane bathroom before with a window.  I’m over Iran.

I’m peeing over Iran.

It’s somehow comforting to know that I got to do what George Bush was trying to do for many, many years, and no one got hurt.

In English, the PA system told everyone to turn their beds back into chairs and to turn off all electronic devices.  To my delight, the Arabic announcement had come almost 10 minutes earlier.  Even at the hands of the super international flight staff, sky law is no match for Arab Time.

And then, by the light of a red sunset above the clouds, I caught my first glimpse of the Gulf.  And we descended and the triangle of Abu Dhabi stuck out into the water like a slice of baklava.  And dark came all of a sudden, eased by the moon not two hours from full, and the plane landed by the lights of the city.

And I was like, whoa, man.

I was met at the gate with my visa, taken to have my eyes scanned (for security reasons maybe, but probably as a way of saying “hey world, check out the gadgets Abu Dhabi has”), and then pulled through customs faster than you can say “thatstwiceasmuchastheamountof
alcoholyoucanlegallybringintothecountry” to find a gang of porters waiting to collect and push my bags on a cart.  And so classism presents itself in the ultramodern{1}, post-cosmopolitan world{2}.  Some push, others pull, and those lucky enough just sit.

Before I was taken to the car, I stood on the threshhold of the airconditioned airport and the merciless desert.  Al-Rahman Al-Rahiim.  Not so bad, I thought.
And then I took another step.
My mind couldn’t really take in what the rest of me said it was feeling.  My eyes said it was dark out and ergo it was cooler than the last day I had been in.  My skin said no, no no, I feel hotter than a camel’s… temper.  And my legs said run.

I checked in to my apartment, fully furnished and with too many electronics to plug into the staggering dearth of outlets.  Classic case of eyes-bigger-than-stomachs.  Like Dubai, maybe, but not Abu Dhabi.  No no, Abu Dhabi won’t be like that.

And then I plugged something in.  And fire shot from the walls.  And the lights went out.

But in the time it took to get a mechanic not quite fluent in Abu Dhabi’s unique language known as “Globalish” (think English without the hard words), I wandered the streets of my immediate neighborhood.  As the old joke goes, a man is promised the amount of land he can walk in one day.  If that was an Emirati joke, the man would have gained about half a block.

The midnight humidity was so strong camera lenses fogged within seconds.  You can feel it, but you can’t capture it.

And soon enough two men came to fix the electricity and turned the lights back on.  So I turned them off.

{1}{2} These words not used according to any real definition. They may be made up.

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