Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The sound of oranges

Abu Dhabi, Tuesday morning, the 12th of May.

From the marble flooring to the wood arm chairs to the business man in his two button, two piece deep brown suit and not-too-matching tie to the insane price for internet access here in the Novotel one could close his eyes and be anywhere in the States. Except he’s talking on his cell to someone who is, apparently, “the guy” to the Sheikh, which he says just loud enough to make sure that everyone knows its an impressive call. “So, should I just grab the Sheikh at the end of the wedding, in the reception line, and ask him for a few minutes then?”

Grab the Sheikh? Really?

The cognitive dissonance of this is impossible to relay. Much as I love words I cannot express the mental confusion of being 8 time zones from Washington and yet surrounded by English, by Western dress, by cappuccino and the chill blast of air from an overactive A/C system. It’s a form of disassociation, challenging you to hold the brain cells together and remind yourself that you are in fact in an utterly other part of the world.

And then there is the sound of shattered oranges. Fruit is ubiquitous in this journey. Far from being a “have to find it” commodity as it is in the States, here it is everywhere, in every restaurant, in every hotel and in every home. Here, at 8:44am, I am on my second glass of fresh squeezed orange juice., doubling my intake in 30 minutes over that of the last six months. The oranges, the carving knives, the grinders, are in each restaurant, and the grating sound of their evisceration is omnipresent, an underlying tempo to the rhythm of the morning. Strange to notice this above all the other sounds in a room.

The Middle East of our experience, Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, is suddenly far distant. The age of a place cannot be invented or invoked (except by the occasional genius who forges 2,000 year old antiquities which end up in great museums until called out with a sigh and a shock), and when that age is of thousands of years the rush of the 10 year old hotel, the 20 year old main thoroughfare, the smell of wet cement and deep humid air is grating.

Step outside the hotel and you are immediately smacked by the thickness of it, of the air, tangible, taste-able, laced not with the tang of salt but the acrid hint of diesel and petrol fumes. Around you are all the trappings of a fully modernized city. More than the trappings. Its an immersion. There is an abundance of everything in a way that parallels, and exceeds, the lack of basics in Ramallah. It is care-free in this sense. Open and alive in the way Miami and Vegas are with motion and activity.

Can’t speak to the culture because it is distant, over the horizon.

No comments: