Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Travel Happens

Before I moved to Dubai I read the blogs of several strangers and acquaintances. I always skimmed or skipped over the bits when they wrote about their holidays in Istanbul or Washington DC, their visits to Petra and the Taj Mahal. I didn't want travelogues, I wanted day-to-day-life-logues. I've got to admit, however, that travel really IS day to day life here for many, including me. I've already blogged about my travels to Muscat and Socotra Island, so far I've let the Doha and Beirut trips pass without writing but I'll partway remedy that with this post, but first, a word on my first trip back to the US.

I won't detail my itinerary, many of you readers got to enjoy part of it with me. Suffice to say I was lucky enough to do a full western US ramble with camping, friends and family, exquisite slot canyons and neighborhood BBQ, geysers and kayaks, ferris wheels, neon and mountain picnics, oh my! And I got to laze away another chunk of time in the Midwest: beaches and berries, more family, all manner of farm critters and sweet corn and pork! There was shopping more familiar sizes and less rhinestone covered shoes, stocking up on Trader Joe's treats and random OTC meds. There was, most of all, a sense of comfort that is still lacking in the UAE. I'll get there, I think, but now, doing the business of living- things like grocery shopping and finding an address- is still not entirely normal. But I'm figuring it all out, little by little. I've got the art of the weekend trip in hand and have been checking out regional cities, north and south, east and west of here.

empty airport
performing arts venue
Back in May, I went to Doha, Qatar to visit my friend Carol who is library director for VCU's campus there. We flew into Doha's shiny new, slightly unfinished airport. We were the only plane on the many runways, the only passengers in the very high tech, top of the line passport control lines. This experience set the tone for the rest of the weekend for me. My overall impression of Doha is that it is
still becoming... We visited a gorgeous cultural village with a Coloseum-like performing arts venue and well laid out art galleries. It was a ghost town. We went to an intimate jazz club for a show by
Carol's view with dirt island
world class musicians and the very small room didn't fill. Carol has an apartment on an island complex with a fantastic balcony view of a man made harbor full of yachts and a funny dirt island that is rumored to be the site of a future low rise, high cost hotel but for now is nothing, unused, gated off. Walking around the shopping arcades on the ground level of Carol's building we saw dueling luxury car dealers (was it Maserati and Porsche?), some haute couture, and a lot of empty spaces, available for lease.

There seems to be an interest from Qatar's ruling family to make Doha a center for arts in the region and some of the investment toward this
Museum of Islamic Art
goal is remarkable. The Museum of Islamic Art had cool collections, a great gift shop, and was housed in a striking building designed by I.M. Pei. We took a ride out into the desert to see an installation piece by Richard Serra that is massive in scale is is only one of several of his pieces in Qatar. The artworks, the jazz, the cultural village and more... there's this investment of money, but they seem to be still teetering on the brink of the whole "if you build it, they will come" phenomena. Will "they" come? And who is the target anyhow? Qataris? Ex-pats? I couldn't get a handle on it. I liked Doha, other than some crappy traffic problems, it seemed very live-able. I found it lovely to look at, well done from a design stand point, but maybe lacking in a little liveliness or spark. Maybe still poised for full launch, with just one
Serra's piece in the desert
airline on the runway for now....