Saturday, April 24, 2010


I fear that sometimes I may paint a dour portrait of the Emiratis--but there are some instances where they really shine. One tradition (I don't know exactly how far back this 'tradition' goes back--it could be as far as 100's (fires around tents) or as few as 10...I'll look into it) holds that when a girl is to be married her family lights up their home in a public display of festivity. Just down the block from our villa is currently a fantastic representation of that. You should notice that it's not just the exterior wall that's lit, but the entire (enormous) villa as well.

So it's
not doing much for their carbon footprint, but it is kind of fun!

Monday, April 19, 2010


So there's big news at Cityscape Abu Dhabi---we're going to get honest to goodness addresses. Yep, that's what they're promising by the end of 2011. They're even talking about such groundbreaking ideas as every street having a unique name, each bldg having a unique number, numbers running sequentially from one end of the street to the other with odds on one side and evens on the other. Isn't this amazing. I seriously wonder how much some planner is going to get for these innovative ideas.
At the moment in order to get my pizza delivery it's a slow dance of circling in on the target. First I tell them, "it's near Liwa Village", they never hear the near. Then they call back (thank God for cellphones) and tell me they're in Liwa Village. I say, "No, I said near. Leave Liwa Village and turn right I'll be outside. They are NEVER in Liwa Village when they say they are. Then there's this whole dance of getting them closer and closer without actually being able to say where I am.

In other progress news....there was a long article yesterday in the paper about how they're going to develop Lulu Island (which is a man-made island that picnic-ers and boaters have long enjoyed). It sits right across from the Corniche and used to have a ferry that would take people over. In the last year there hasn't been a ferry since it's going to be developed--so now it's the playground of anyone with a private boat. They, of course, are going to load it up with buildings and expect 33,000 people to live there. 33,000. Where are these people going to come from? They expect 80,000 to live in Masdar City. I don't know how many on Reem and all the mainland compounds. I just don't see it.

I guess that's progress....but Sheikh Zayed (the founder of the UAE) apparently wanted to have this very beautiful green corniche---would he approve of a mega development right in front of it???

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Have bike, will make money

A few more items on the Syrians and a few more pics...especially of the processions.

The Syrians are industrious people. They don't hassle you, but there are sales waiting to be made. We particularly enjoyed the bicycle tea salesmen and the coffee salesmen in Aleppo.

It was the season of green almonds while we were in Syria. You eat them with a little salt--the almond is inside, but you eat the whole thing. They're delicious.

In AD updates....the Burj Khalifa reopened the viewing tower the day before we returned from Syria (the 3rd). There is, of course, no word on what went wrong in the first place.

The couple caught kissing on the Jumeirah Beach Walk have had their appeal denied. They have started serving their one month sentence and will be deported afterwards (there is a second appeal pending, but they had to start serving their sentence now)

Monday, April 5, 2010

you are welcome here!

Just back from an amazing trip to Syria. Getting the visa was excruciating but the Syrian hospitality started even before we had final arrangements to travel. We only had to mention that we wanted to travel to Syria but it was proving difficult to get a visa and we had multiple offers from Syrians to intervene or accompany us to the embassy. In the end we gave up on the embassy in Abu Dhabi and were officially invited by a friend of a friend who has a company in Damascus. They brought the invitation with our passport numbers to the ministry of the interior and presto changeo we had ourselves a single entry visa (of sorts). It worked like a dream and we were in. (btw, 6 days after our arrival while touring the Ummayad Mosque in old Damascus I received a call from the embassy in AD telling me my visa had arrived :)

The Syrian hospitality started immediately. Just the way hometown folks the world over know a stranger when they see one, we were not blending. The first thing everyone said to us was 'Ahlan wa sahlan' -- You are welcome here. And they meant it. In Arabic and English they'd repeat it. I don't think we've ever experienced so many going so far out of their way for us. We were invited to a sumptuous dinner with a family we had never met before. We also had two people with the most tenuous relationship to us give up whole days to show us around...never allowing us to give back (but we'll find a way to!!). Once we were stopped at a stoplight and the flatbed truck next to us had a huge box of fish on it. We started to take a picture and the driver started shouting that the other side was cleaner. He backed up on a 4-lane road and drove around so we could take a picture of the other side.

Syria sits in the cradle of civilization (or one of them -- there are a few claims to that bed). We travelled from Damascus to the ruins of Palmyra (3rd century) where Queen Zenobia had the audacity to print her own coins--really ticking off Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who gave her (and her city) a smack down. We climbed the ruins of Krak les Chevaliers -- the most perfectly preserved crusader castle in the world. We ate in the culinary capital of Aleppo to the north and visited the dead cities of Serjilla and Al Bara among many other things. Back in Damascus, the Umayyad Mosque (where John the Baptist's head is supposed to be entombed) was a pagan temple dedicated to Jupiter, then a Cathedral and now a mosque--reminiscent of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The most amazing experiences though were the processions on Holy Thursday and Good Friday in the Christian Quarter where we were staying. Holy Thursday--after a grueling 3.5 hour mass in Arabic--complete with cotton candy and popcorn sales at the gate of the church...and yes, we availed ourselves of that and even a glass of wine -- we squeezed into the courtyard for a live Passion play. The Jesus character was flogged and paraded through the enormous crowd with his cross until he was finally tied, not nailed--there are limits--to the cross and crucified. I've never seen anything like it.
Because the Christian community is 10% of the otherwise Muslim population--they've organized much of their lives around their churches. Each parish has a scout group with their own unique uniforms (much in evidence over the weekend). They have a marching band and a huge committee to organize the processions. You start in a scout group at 3 or 4 years old and stay with that group into your 20's, thus keeping the community together. On Good Friday the processions of cross carrying-Jesus's and marching bands made their way through thronged streets of families and friends all out for the festivities.

Just one more thing...over all the hotels tend to be a bit dated but there is a new push to renovating the old Syrian homes (huge affairs for multiple generations with an interior courtyard) and using them as restaurants and hotels. These are excellent. We especially liked Narenj Restaurant and Beit Ruman hotel both in Old Damascus.