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Archive for UAEPO

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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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.

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Coal, Soup, and Television — الفحم والشربة والتلفيزيون

There’s no better way to identify differences between countries than to get sick in them. Sorry mom. All of the comforts, the dietary staples, the bad television the body demands are identified clearly in the mind — either to be found, or to indicate in their absence a different cultural approach to coughing, or breathing, or eating.

Suffering from something like a cold, which lingers ironically in the now 95-degree autumn steam, I set out on a mission to find soup… in delivery menus. Almost nowhere would even offer soup — not Lebanese places, not the American places, not the Indian places. Cuisines from the Asian subcontinent sometimes make soup-like things, but often resembling other simple dishes watered down. Where are the microwavable cans of soup and soft foods upon which America’s unwell have built their empire?

Instead, the advice for the wheezing illustrates in Abu Dhabi just how multicultural the place really is. A good citizen of Pakistan will push a tea called “Johar Joshanda,”{1}
which tastes of herbs and licorice and smells something like an old shoe. And those under the influence of French medicine still monger charcoal. “Charcoal, it’s good for gas,” they argue. No, no — it’s better than a gas stove. One word misheard by some French chef turned house-calling doctor and now we’ve got a whole continent pushing smelting materials on the already sick.

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Po(m)p and Circumstance(s)

This week I practiced for the first time with the Abu Dhabi Philharmonic Orchestra, a volunteer group of all expats ranging from 14 years-old (I asked) to about 70 (didn’t go there). Rehearsals take place in the Armed Forces Officers’ Club — a multipurpose army hang out, hotel, gym, theater space, concert hall, and gun museum — in a venue clearly not designed with music in mind.

For the first ten minutes (of a Howard Shore Lord of the Rings medley), the stage lights wouldn’t come on, and we played through squinted eyes and predictable melodies. Finally bright lights shone from somewhere sort of over us, illuminating the ancient music stands only a military establishment could have owned — the tripod base tightened with a screw and looked more like it was made to hold a 500-pound bazooka than 10 grams of sheet music, and the matching stand head had to be fitted from a crate of mismatched parts like the barrel of a rifle to its companion grip.

As some sort of event had just finished in the hall, cleaning men scurried to remove all evidence of celebration — a thick coating of confetti, boxes of cake, dozens of balloons forty feet up on the ceiling. The fact that the music that was being played involved real people that were really there had no bearing on the chatty vacuumers and shouting managers. I tried to think of it all as part of a new surreal musical culture — one that defied the challenges of an uncooperative environment and persevered. Like, say, the English in the subcontinent.
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