Saturday, April 28, 2007

Moral collapse of one time Arab leader

I attended a rooftop showing of the film The Yacoubian Building in Abu Dhabi on a warm but breezy late April night with a group of ex-pats. Our wonderful hosts had treated us to good Lebanese food, French champagne and German beer, so were in the right mood to enjoy what initially was a very funny adaptation of Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswamy’s book. The author, a dentist by profession, pulled no punches in his highly popular original novel. Egyptians, fully conscious of their country's decline, were seemingly therefore drawn to his no holds barred account of seediness in high and low places. An Egypt once used to seeing Gulf Arab leaders kow towing to what passed for Arab political correctness emanating from its capital, is today increasingly giving up any profession to Arab leadership. The high oil prices and real estate booms that have helped cement the shift in the centre of gravity in the Arab world to the Gulf followed disenchantment with the stale rhetoric of social and political change. This film helps explain the internal reasons for the country's decline. This internal dissolution has in turn fed off the lack of political direction of a leadership that sought to exchange war and economic stagnation for peace and economic sustainability, and has barely secured either.

The different social strata represented in "The Yacoubian Building", itself resonant of a by-gone age in Cairo, form the focal point of interconnecting narratives around which the film is constructed. However, from initial belly laughs, the characters’ stories soon become almost exclusively bleak. A surviving pasha, or at least pasha’s son from the pre-revolutionary Egyptian era, cannot for all his inherited wealth find respect or meaning in contemporary Egypt, while a nouveau pasha - they have proliferated in recent years - cannot gain access to the upper echelons of society without repeated pay offs to an seemingly insatiable state that, in this depiction at least, is akin to a mafia. With connections or the right pedigree being as important in the very post-revolutionary order that is today’s Egypt, perhaps as much as they were in the pre-1952 era of the original pashas, then there is much source for Islamic radicalization. Thus one very bright young man whose academic grades and admiring fiancé have seemingly set him on a career path in the police service, turns to campus agitation when his father’s employment as a bawab (door man) disqualifies him from this option, and to militant violence when an angry demo leads to him being sodomised at the local police station. When his desire to extract revenge sees a bloody, indeed gory, denouement outside that same institution of dispassionate justice, then Islamist radicals and the republican state end up looking equally unappealing. The fact that the young man’s appetite for violence had been further whetted by a generous taste of paradise when he enjoys an arranged marriage at an Islamist hideout, only adds to the sense that, at least in the movie’s telling, radical alternatives to the regime look as distinctly unappealing as the authorities themselves. I was struck by the fact that these scenes presumably made it past the Egyptian censors, although the DVD version we were watching, purchased in Abu Dhabi, has presumably been “cut” to suit the Gulf market. This presumably reduced the sexual content, albeit this is unlikely to be graphic in the on screen version in Egyptian picture houses. It cannot, although I do not know for sure, have cut out all the anti regime sentiments without being lop sided. If I am right, and I stand to be corrected as lop sided, crude censoring is hardly without precedent in the Middle East, then this would perhaps suggest a mature censorship policy operating from the ministry of information in Cairo. However a recent interview with Alaa Al-Aswamy in “Egypt Today” suggests there is something far less sophisticated in contemporary Egypt, with the clerics of Al-Azhar can neutralize an author’s, and presumably a film maker’s, career.

Ultimately the lives of all the occupants or associates of the Yacoubian Building come across as sad as well as sordid. A homosexual editor of a French language newspaper (what else?) meets a grisly end with his latest tryst, but then his exploitation of a simple man from the country for carnal gratification, who moves his wife and soon to die child in the same building, had hardly set the viewer up for sympathy. The film's seemingly happy ending of a 65 year old pasha’s marriage to the beautiful former fiancé of the Islamist fighter has a decidedly desperate air. There is genuine feeling between them. However the woman has been driven to extreme measures to earn her place in modern Egypt. Thus the marriage option ends up being merely a better financial risk than the other scams she has engaged in since trading love for the slippery moral slope that the film tells us awaits a woman seeking economic advancement without the right background. Marriage is depicted as being as much about sexual gratification as the seedy back room goings witnessed in the shops and businesses, let alone the gay newspaper editor’s apartment. The film’s portrayals undoubtedly pile on the extremes, but the end result is a convincing depiction of a capital rife for upheaval as legitimacy and order appear elusive and the economic demands of the burgeoning population seemingly cannot be met.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bloody Creek

Down by the Balladiya

Banking blues

Friday; not an easy day in Deira. Always tempted to get out to avoid the lunchtime obloquies but the heat is on these days, and I am not keen on solo beach treks. Will later be back on the bus to Abu Dhabi. Not a journey I relish as I have been doing it every few days for several weeks on the visa trail. Finally secured the residence visa on Wednesday, meeting a contact at the bus station for the (totally legal) exchange. Was quite elated after all these weeks of struggle, having chosen one of the more circuitous routes to getting a visa in the UAE, when I saw the three year stamp in my passport. Things were set back again shortly afterwards however as I hit bank hassles. I knew that obviously I could not re-enter the flat hunt maelstrom without a local bank account. However my reference from an employer was addressed to only one bank and subsequent research revealed that I should have maximized the options as some do rather better deals than others. That said, trying to pass over a tip-exed letter from my employer to one bank that had previously been addressed to a rival, was the act of a masochist. I am now waiting for a Fed Ex package two days after an urgent request back to base (Do Fed-Ex work on Fridays out here?)….In addition, it could take another week to get the prized cheque book. Without the latter you can’t commit to 12 months rent on an apartment. My, the most mundane things get so important don’t they? In short I am flying out of here in 9 days time and it looks rather like I will be returning to this hotel, having checked out for the second time. It really is living up to the song. …..

Speaking of songs…the hotel has taken its pop music as psy-ops policy to a higher level. Not content with assaulting punters with poor Indian covers of usually piss poor originals on a constant 24 hour loop, for the last three, four days in succession we have, or I should say I have, been subjected to a handful of Abba’s minor hits by Abra, or whatever the tribute band ought to be called. Not that there aren’t other punters in this place, even poorer, obviously non-Emirati, Arabs of late. But nobody else, of course, notices, including the staff who are based here, day in day out…..

Yesterday’s banking difficulties met critical communiqués from HQ full on, and left me on a decided downswing…clearly I am having difficulties shifting into a new mode of working. This may be understandable in the circumstances, but is also about shifting from one so-called intellectual approach to another. The new one is on the one hand more rigorous, on the other is exhausting in its dependence on extensively sourced local opinion. The struggle continues.

Last night I went for a long walk to try to think about something else, going north from the Sabkha abra station for once, looking over to Bur Dubai souq. Found the public library, which turned to be a pleasant place. Possibly an over heavy focus on the local leadership but then this was hardly a surprise….Found myself strangely switching from a William Burroughs “cut up” novel to a coffee table tribute to genuine local heroes….found more interest in the latter….surely a good sign…..Headed back via Deira Old Souq….I hadn't really encountered this part before, the more traditional covered area though was largely empty at nine at night…..need to return to check out the spices and the gold…

Monday, April 23, 2007

Creek side

Arab taxi drivers

Last night I returned to an Iraqi restaurant, Al-Hawler Kebabs, that I had encountered early on in my stay here. It's located in Al Muteena Street, quite a nice area, with a park that is the focal point for resting workers and in the afternoon, and for strollers in the evening. The kebab place is staffed by Iraqis, Syrians and Egyptians, and is one of the rare features of Dubai, an Arab restaurant serving largely Arabs. And being in Deira, and not in one of the five stars, there are not likely to be any emiratis among the Arab clientele. I had an Iraqi kebab and Arab salad. Nice when you’re really really hungry but half way through you just feel full and somehow not satisfied. Was good to speak some Arabic to Arabs though, and of course they found me rather amusing.Wondering back taking detours from al Nakheel I walked the usual gauntlet of car spares, and wholesale goods shops that doinate the Deira backsteets – it's what passes for a shopping buzz round these parts. Chanced upon the fantastically named Al-Buraq car park, before passing Bin Laden’s double trying to park his vehicle. The Al-Buraq was the winged bird referred to in the Koran that bore Mohammed as he made his hijra from Mecca to Jerusalem.

Tonite I had what is the best meal I have had since arriving in Dubai. From Safiyas on Nakheel. The princely sum of 6.5 dirhams bought me lamb kebab with very tasty pickles and chillis on the side, washed down with banana milk shake. Incredible..and such good guys… Things picked up by later afternoon in fact. Before that the day had been spent drifting….chasing Arabic lessons, seeking confirmations of this and that, and feeling down. Eventually I took the plunge and went for the Arabic lessons option over at al-Karama, which happens to be an area I am interested in finding somewhere to live if Bur Dubai doesn’t work out (Satwa apparently is becoming tantamount to an open labour camp – no wonder prices seem competitive). Met Ahmed the Egyptian teacher, nice guy, and all being well we’ll be under way later this week. I felt very good about having this to focus on before other stuff picks up. It seemed almost too good to be true that straight afterwards I would then meet an Iraqi taxi driver. I told him I'd not had a ride from an arab taxi driver in 2 months. He told there are 100 Egyptians and 100 Sudanese tax drivers in Dubai, and he was one of very few Iraqis..can’t get the visas he explained, and in his case he can’t get his visa swapped. He is an engineer by trade, from Basra, where he would much rather be but is registered as a taxi driver…he left Iraq in ‘98….and goes back every six months to visit his family…….Nice guy, says there are no problems in the southern port city, save those Iran is for Sheikh Mohammed, he is number 1…..

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Good Shepherd

Aug 21

“The Good Shepherd”, showing at Deira City Center Mall....

I was hungry when I walked into this two and a half hours long movie, and no less so when I walked out. Despite this, I found it totally engrossing. A life of suppressed emotion in the service of what became the CIA, leads to Edwards’ (Matt Damon) home life becoming his greatest security liability as his son’s careless pillow talk blows the gaff on the planned Bay of Pigs invasion, and his father appears to approve of the erasure of his son’s black fiancée just hours before their wedding. Sounds far fetched; absurd even? On paper I guess, but thoroughly watchable all the same. The film is essentially an exploration of how an institution lacking the democratic oversight that was originally desired by congress and supposedly desired by its creators becomes a law unto itself as the US emerges from WWII into an apparent international struggle with the USSR. Other unwieldy security institutions such as the FBI are on hand to ease Edwards’ particular dilemma, however, as he is able to benefit from inter-agency rivalry and the corruption of his boss, take over CIA, and in the process seemingly neutralize the enquiry into who fouled up the Cuba operation. Or at least this is how it seemed, as in the process of Edwards taking over the Agency, and his KGB equivalent deciding to do him the seemingly redeemable favour of eliminating his soon to be daughter in law, suddenly the very domestic reasons for the greatest US intelligence blunders until, well, Iraq, are irrelevant. This shift of events proved a little to fast for me, but would not I think leave most viewers unsatisfied, more interested perhaps in piecing things together after the credits roll.

There are a number of striking portrayals in the course of this Robert De Niro-directed film (based on an Eric Roth novel). He also stars as the US's overseas intelligence service's irascible founder with both period racism and integrity, as opposed to Edwards, who is portrayed as having the former without the latter. Practically anybody who is anybody is in this film, including Angelina Jollie, who is actually quite good as Damon’s wife, if a tad too distracting to look at. Michael Gambon proves a suitably sinister UK agent (fronting it as a Nazi English don), as does Billy Crudup, both of whom are gay, or the academic character is, and Crudup’s character appears to be. Not a security risk with which any of the Americans are afflicted of course. However, while Gambon meets a shocking but necessary end, given his compromisable sexual predilections – there was a war on after all – Edwards’ failings as a father led a love-starved son to seek solace with a woman the other side of the world who turned out to be on the Soviet payroll but somehow falls in love with her prey. The price of covering this up leads Edwards, as Gambon’s character predicts, to "lose his soul". He doesn’t have the “cowardice” of his father, a former naval secretary in Roosevelt's wartime administration, who killed himself when Edwards was but a boy, providing the context for an emotional shutdown that his own son could not manage. When the motivations for Edwards’ father killing himself are explained as his son faces the destruction of his career, we wonder if the son will take the same exit. The prospect actually seems honourable, not cowardly, on the part of a man who had never loved his wife and whose son was surely destined to hate him for the fate that was to befall his wife to be.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Saddam's oil man

I need to get some comments down about some of the people I have been speaking to in my line of work. While discretion necessitates that I don’t divulge their details or too much about my activities, I think some outlines would be of use. Early on in my period here I was reconnecting with some old contacts, but also openly embracing new ones and the recommendations of others too. This process led to me meeting in the lobby of one of the plethora of five stars, a former Iraqi oil minister and then oil advisor to Saddam who lived in Baghdad up until the invasion in 2003, when redeployment seemed to make tactical sense. Burly, this gentleman had a bearing that reminded me of those on the intelligence side of the ancien regime. He proved however to be a convivial person to have coffee with. Obviously his observations on the rise of the Shia in his country lacked at times a little tact, but one was at least getting a for real feel of how the dispossessed see developments back home. Not that life in the Emirates is treating him that badly, but well-funded consultancy is hardly recompense for the throwing overboard of a state and, for him and his family, a whole way of life. The US, he opined, has allowed a regime of ayatollahs to take over when they had seemingly sought to weaken one to its east. It is understandable how Sunni Arabs, whether from Iraq or the Gulf, struggle to find a “rational” explanation for this shift, and cannot accept that events were not so intended. Certainly the fact that many of the US and UK’s discussants among the opposition in the Saddam days were Shia Islamists with connections to Iran ought to have created warning signs. I think on balance there was an almost willful naivety in the war planning and the assumption that somehow those Shia of a more secular bent, or those assumed to be thus, would be able to take charge of the situation, in a country without a secular base other than the remnants of one the US sought to destroy, even after the regime had been overthrown. Yet the factions created or at least trained by Iran were the ones with an organization and sizeable forces, aside from the Kurds who for the most part shape events in their relatively stable northern territories. Riding roughshod over the strategic risks takes us to where we are now in Iraq.

Next time, Saddam’s oil man wants to hear my opinions. This will create some sharp differences as it’s hard to swallow all of what is, by the western liberal standards to which I have some attachment, essentially a sectarian secular nationalism, which has little purchase in Iraq, and which was, for at least the ten years prior to the invasion, already in a state of collapse. Still, with any luck, there will be some Johnny Walker Black label to ease any discomfiture.

Hungover Holy Day

Hungover Friday. Was good to make fresh contact with a journalist who I knew in London and hadn’t see since he got married six years ago….we met as I was leaving a job in Whitehall and he was about to tie the knot. He had been distracted then, perhaps understandably. On this occasion he was totally engaged, an effusive married man, father of two boys, and 6 years Dubai experience under his belt. Was quite a contrast being in the Jumeirah area, and sipping beers in the courtyard, five to be precise. Being in cabs a bit pissed is in my experience fun if you’re traveling back late at night as the journey goes pretty quickly and the pacey drive down Sheikh Zayed road, whistling past the Burj al Arab, the Mall of the Emirates, and the construction free fior all that one US guy I met described as a war zone down by the Hard Rock café, can be a bit of a thrill. However this was 730 ish in the evening and still plenty of traffic to make it a time-consuming journey just to get to the Creek. By the time I got to the Old Souk abra station, a deft move to save taxi time and money, I was busting. A sensible option would have been hitting the modest pizza place on Beniyas Road, Deira creek side, and maybe investigate that place called The Pub that I had previously derided. However I schlepped on to the hotel via Maktoum Road and Nasser (Beniyas) Square, walking against the Thursday night shopping traffic. In the hotel I made a quick change and decided to head back to the Indian Bar in the hotel. Different feel altogether than 2 weeks earlier, same crowd, minus my Afghan friend, but I was knackered and a bit pissed and incredibly hungry. Downed the Heineken and headed down to the creek again, deciding to detour to my favourite restaurant. Safriyeh on Nakheel Street. Great shwarma, dirt cheap, good kebabs, and I am sure excellent shakes. Basically friendly Indian guys that run it, and a weird mix of clientele. It's right next to Nakheel Mosque, so gets devotees, Nigerian workers, and occasionally Eastern Euroepans. Going in there a bit pissed is strange. Somehow not right. Down the creek, I decided that this time I was going to explore "The Pub". My theory turned out to be more correct than I could have imagined. Not just an Anglo haunt, but of course one of those ultra kitsch “reproductions” of an English pub, replete with beefeater teddies and a red phone box outside. I didn’t go in. I would have to have been without a beer for a year and for that to have been the only place in town to have been remotely tempted, and even then it would require powers of disassociation that I really should but don’t have. Back in my room read emails drunk, bad news from home. Plumbing disasters on two fronts and my wife communicating with an efficiency that makes some of her emails akin to missives from a colleague who has been left minding the shop.

After a day of work related stuff on the computer, I decided to go out hunting for the “Time Out Dubai” recommended, “Afghan Kebab House”. Apparently situated near Naif mosque, it proved, of course, to be highly elusive. Policemen and worshippers alike could point me in the direction of other mosques but none in Naif Road or Naif souq were really just called Naif Mosque, although no doubt more than one of them is known popularly as such. I may yet track it down though, the mosque on Naif Road closed to my hotel is al Futaim mosque, but I am reliably informed that it’s also known as Naif Mosque. Nobody yet has heard of the much reputed Afghan Kebab House, but hey, you never know…there is also an Iraqi place in Muraqqabat street area that is strongly recommended….

Feeling decidedly at a low ebb earlier, and conscious of its being Friday in the UK, I emailed a good friend thus:

"Bet your looking forward to some kind of bonk fest weekend…with a mere handful of hours to go before you can deploy those wheels of steel on the wild streets of east London and head on down to love land….Think of me alone in the hotel. My wife ain’t too happy, waiting for me to sort out the situation here (visas and a place to live), while, meanwhile, she is enduring major plumbing problems at our place in London and very little help from any of the co-freeholders. Friday here of course is like Sunday where you are, which is followed by Saturday (a recognized fact), a day off here too, which doesn’t really feel like a Saturday or a Sunday. Then again, I’m not kickin it down on Jumeirah beach with my 4WD and my picnic hamper…might go for a hot schlep round dusty Deira in a mo’….. "

Which I did and now I am back.. killing time and wondering if the manager will agree to cut the room rate again as I conscious that the company is not going to shell out for all of what could be well over two months in this hotel by the time I find a place to live…..A decision is expected at 8pm (what’s happening, a hotel planning meeting?)

Club Tropicana

Long gap. A small matter of a conference presentation and then related “social” events in the evenings. The gig took place at the Grand Hyatt, which I think is the first Gulf hotel I have ever been in that I would describe as cool on the inside, aside from the temperature that is. Located the other side of Gharhoud Bridge, west of the creek, the place is enormous and not especially interesting as far as Dubai building designs go. However, inside is like a jungle crossed with a Japanese garden, where you walk across a pond via undulating wooden bridges. There is a very nice looking sushi restaurant where I should bring my wife, and will. I would be tempted to ask them if the fish are straight from the pond outside, but I would guess they're just gold fish….The conference venue was a rather more standard design, that’s standard by Gulf hotel... eh …standards, which means that conferences take place in what look like the grand vizier’s ballroom and make the reception rooms in that dump the Dorchester in Park Lane London look like assembly rooms in a secondary modern..The first night of the conference the booze flowed…and flowed….and yet I kept declining even a beer. Sponsored by Tropicana, a Dubai based oil tanker company (of course)….I so wanted to ask what flavours their products came in and kept thinking of the Club of Wham fame…The second night, peroration over, I was ready for few bevies, only to find that that night’s entertainment was sponsored by Enoc (no typo, sadly), who are an emirati refining company, and thus didn’t offer so much as a fuggin shandy…Shite. Still, a bloke I met at the conference invited me to his company reception the next night, with the beguiling promise that it would be held in the cocktail/jazz bar of a hotel. There was a live jazzy band and I got a beer within moments of walking in. The conversation was not fascinating but pleasant, and I managed to consume five by the end of the evening, leaving feeling almost pissed. This was fine in the taxi but less good in my hotel room as I went into muso retro mode and got depressed, thinking of my wife and wishing we were together right then, not necessarily to have sex (too pissed), or to listen to my music, but to go to one of the bars in my hotel….I didn’t really need another drink but I so wanted to see her….

Movies and Malls

Apr 14:

Going to the movies in a mall….weird as it is, as someone who has been here for 6 weeks, I have never really had a proper mall experience. I had an aborted coffee meeting a month ago that had to be reconvened in Deira City Centre mall underground car part. This time I returned in a different mode. I was very keen to find myself a mall meal and to indulge myself in a hopefully escapist movie drama. Started out with a taste of the normal me however, with a plan to walk there in the late afternoon heat. Did fairly well, but the creek ran out of pavement and I had to hail a cab, still I was more than half way there, and had checked out the Deira wharfage to the accompaniment of Ornette Coleman. The meal was fantastic, a cheap beef lasagna straight from the microwave, best meal Ive had in several weeks. Entered the enormous movie house quite excited. Sitting in the screen room I was thinking of seeing movies with X in Jerusalem. To my amazement the music was 4 Non-Blondes, very much part of the soundtrack of those times. The Movie was The Provocation. A true story of an Asian woman imprisoned for life in the UK for killing her husband. Didnt turn out so bad for her or for me. She found prison a kind of freedom and got to run into a very cool Miranda Richardson, who had also done her husband in, and happened to know a QC who could help out with the Asian woman’s appeal. The prison scenes were as moving as the marriage flashbacks were painful. The shabab in the audience found it less engaging. Couldn’t for the life of me work out what they were doing there, but then there is not a less else to do, despite 12 screens to choose from at this particular cinema. The Indian actress is a famous bollywood beauty, which may have something to do with it. Left elated, and remained happy even after a failed attempt to walk home via a motorway tunnel….

Saddam at the mosque

April 13

Friday the 13th….think ill stay in. Sounds forboding out there anyway. I swear Saddam Hussein has just grabbed the microphone at the local mosque and is trying (miserably) to incite the south Asians to rise up, throw off the yoke of Gulfie rentier economics, and drive the oppressors into the creek. Either that or a Tikriti cousin who washed up in Peshawar a few decades ago…… Spent the day at the computer. Then headed out to I wasn’t quite sure where before I found an Azerbaijani place that does good dolmas (warra ainab), served up with yoghurt and excellent salad. These guys need tipping though, as I discovered when even a Turkish thank you didn’t raise much reaction. Fascinating little place. First part of the evening spent watch Aliyev giving a speech before the Azeris clearly couldn’t take any more and put on the football news instead. Me being me I find all of this interesting of course. Am exhausted but nearly have finished the presentation. Felt psychologically so much better today than for a while however, being possessed of a document, the work visa, that looks quite a lot like my doctorate but which may well be worth a lot more, unless I ever have to show the doctorate to anybody that is. Yesterday was one of the most difficult days, spent wondering the streets in high temperatures, past an eternity of furniture stores and very few places to sit down out of the heat and just drink tea or anything, to kill the hours of waiting. I wasn’t at the ministry, the guy from the former information ministry was at the immigration ministry on my behalf, and it took him all day to get to the front of the queue. We both felt very good as he drove me to the bus station for the drive to Dubai. Ive discovered buses now, for these long hauls, no slower that hired cars, far far cheaper, how pleased my company will be with me, and not necessarily more uncomfortable, if you get a coach rather than a mini bus type thing…the coaches go all over the emirates, but with any luck I will have a car before too long..My Afghan mate is a car salesmen (Japanese only, shipped to Sharjah, and from there to Iraq and elsewhere), so maybe we can do a deal….

Funky town

Apr 8

Returned to the creek in the evening, where I have spent most of the evenings since discovering this form of pleasure around 10 days ago. Was dog tired and wondered what I was doing there, til my spirits lifted as I found Live on Tour – John Prine on the Mp3 player. I swear it was like being there when he performed Lake Marie, especially as he references being in the parking lot and that precisely was where I headed for, gazing over at the largely "peaceful waters" of Dubai Creek. Fantastic.

Apr 12

Pak-Ghaz off the Maktoum Hospital Road is a Pakistani restaurant more or less solely devoted to feeding the workers chicken curry and cricket. When the latter finished, most of the custom did too. I have only been in three times including tonite, and I am being recognized already. I wonder about the lot of these guys and what drives them. Often quite young and bright, mopping up the floor, or serving the food. More money than back home is the obvious riposte, and Deira, where the restaurant is located, is a kind of little Pakistan, so I guess there isn’t the kind of alienation that might be expected in their line of work

Wondering out tonite, I passed scenes that reminded me of the feeling I had on Thursday night. Heading down to the creek on that occasion after one pint of Heineken consumed on an empty stomach, the perceptible excitement of the area had been reinforced, aided then by the musical soundtrack provided The Doors, courtesy of the Mp3 player. This evening I was feeling decidedly soberer. However the hussle and bussle of the area can still excite. Pakistani barrow boys, old Pakistani men with barrows, Nigerians with barrows; Russian ladies always bursting out of too tight jeans and t shirts; gaggles of Nigerians just hangin out, Pakistanis treating their barrows like a chaise longue, cars everywhere, cyclists who insist on riding on the wrong side of the road, it is chaotic and hectic, and sometimes even beguiling when sober. Heading to the creek via Banias or Nasser Square (Choc), half of which is road works as workers pile drive all day and night to build the metro stop, the scene turns almost funky as you pass Egyptians and Pakistanis trying to entice tourists from Russia and China with a street kebab, eastern Europeans dressed in shorts and undersized t shirts (men and women) check out the fur coat shop, and devotees gather outside the mosque. Past this the scene turns more electronic and a mass of mobile phone and surround sound home cinema shops beguile bargain hunters with often Chinese technology.

Speaking of that beer on Thursday night (the weekend starts then), it was quaffed in the hotel California bar. A mostly Indian scene frequented by an odd mix of well, Indians, and a few token Russians and Africans. Dark but not quite dingy, any seediness that suggests itself by the short skirted Filipino drinks hostesses is soon dispelled by the besuited manager making his customary nightly round. He speaks no English but will only occasionally speak Arabic to me beyond the customary salam aleikums. Unintentionally I found myself a (brief) drinking companion who would happily have gone on all night, and may have done on his own. He would not let me pick up the tab for my beer (14 dirhams by the way, a fortune round here and not much less than a UK pub). He is from Afghanistan, who has since rung me three, maybe four times and is very keen to get me to go for a drink there again…this Friday. I managed to persuade him to join me for tea near Naif Park, close by the hotel. My Afghani chum is from Ghazni in the south, though originally from Herat near Iran, and a Shia, with absolutely no time for Iran …or Arabs. His brother was killed by the Taliban. You can perhaps understand why I don’t want to drink too much with him. He is good for my Arabic as he encourages me to speak it, despite his dislike of the people whose tongue it is. I can’t understand a word of his Arabic, so heavily Afghani accented as it is. His English is OK, would be easier if we just stuck to that, but I keep trying with my arabic as I don’t get much opportunity.

After making a feeble excuse to leave the hotel bar early last Friday, hand shaking the hotel manager on the way out, thereby advertising my mildly pissed condition, I exited for the street, music player in hand, and decided to find myself another bar. Went creek wards, and Siouxsie and the Banshees kicked in, and I was rockin. 5 minutes, intense heat and a taut bladder later, I was less cool. I couldn’t find a way into “The Pub”, a place Id had my eye on each night I came down the creek, and which I eventually worked out must have been via The Raddison, where I didn’t want to go or pay their prices. Any place with that name in this part of town has to be operating out of a 5 star really. Probably just anglo jocks and sports TV bullshit….Funny that..have only heard British-English once on this side of hum dullilah…but somehow you know you’d hear more of it in one of the smart hotels toward the Creek. Sports bullshit in a Pak restaurant is kind of cool, their sober devotion being quite dignified…in a western hotel it would suck, big time….

Breakfast Blues

27 March 2007

Just my luck to be walking past the mosque at chucking out time. Caught in a scrum of south Asians trying to locate their flip flops…..

Have been in this very Pakistani/Bangladeshi part of Deira (Al Nakheel) for nearly 3 weeks with exception of an end of week break meeting my wife in Germany. I can hardly believe that that occurred, although I have seen some photographic evidence. It was wonderful to bond again, after things had got so difficult prior to my departure to the UAE. Alcohol wise it all proved to be excessive however. It was a weekend, and a (large) part Polish one at that, with distant Welsh cousins and a lot of Germans thrown in. The father of the bride brought his home made vodka, a splendid touch that it would have been churlish to have refused……

Back here that seems like a lot longer than five days ago……Wondered around after a Chicken Kairi (could that be curry?) and chai, to walk off the heavily spiced sauce…..Found parts of the area that I had not seen before, some better but still cheap Asian as well as Iranian restaurants, even with pleasant seating outside..who could I bring here I mused, only my wife would dare amongst the western or bourgeois Arab crowd that I know, and she would be inhibited by one obvious issue.

Am still staying at an allegedly three star hotel …I was the first to crack that I might be permanently resident here, as in the metaphor behind the song of almost the same name. I have already checked out once, planned to come back briefly, and have since negotiated a much reduced rate for another three weeks. On my second day back, the next western pop song to be recycled endlessly over the PA system throughout the day and night in a version performed by some Indian covers band, was, you guessed it, Hotel California. Marginally better I guess than eating cold egg and omelette to the accompaniment of a cover of that titanically awesome tune, recycled and remixed, originally performed by Celine Dion….Since that historic breakfast low with Ms Dion, I am adjusting to the bad early morning scene and have discovered that if you hit the mezzanine as breakfast is first being “served”, the eggs are still hot and you can get to the toaster before the waiter turns down the heat and turns up the telly..or possibly both state of the art flat screen tellies…..

April 3, 2007

Ignore that....breakfasts here still making me suicidal. Apparently some of the waiters think I’m Iranian, maybe they should take care. I was asked this morning how much agriculture there was in London….the best bit though was upon asking why we were being denied corn flakes this morning, being told it was because today, unusually, baked beans had been provided. If course they were barely edible and barely warm, and absolutely no substitute for the sugary paper and warm milk with which I normally round of my daily sumptuous breakfast feast.

Walked down by the creek last night for second night running. Rained as it had much of afternoon, and very nice it was too, not being cold it was quite bracing, while I was almost dancing outside the Dubai Chamber of commerce to Neil Young.