Monday, March 29, 2010


Manama, like so many cities in the Gulf, and around the world, is exploding outward. Not so much reinventing, but INventing itself building by building, island-by-island, terraforming what had been an endless natural landscape into one imagined utterly by man. Its jarring in the extreme. The traditional city -- the old city -- is tiny, set on a small island at the very North East of the country (which, at less size than Hong Kong isn't really giving you that much to go on). Muharraq, the name for that city/that area, is also so very small. Yet it is infused with magic that only time gives breath to -- time to settle in, time to age, time to inhale and not be afraid of the space between the breath you draw in and the one you draw out.

On Monday the company as a whole (15 of us) boarded our bus and made the 15 minute journey over the causeway to take it in for that fleeting tourist eye view. Even in a moment the contrasts between old and new were stunning. En route from the hotel you flash forward, caught in the vortex of a development boom that leaves everything half built and chaotic - a "senses-sore."

Yet you also know that seeing anything half-done leaves you disoriented. Then you zoom past something wondrous architecturally, a vision of 21st century genius.

A moment later you are lost in the winds of time, blown to quiet, grace, beauty and a remembrance you never had in a place you never imagined, of a slower age and a more graceful era.

In that moment you are captivated, shocked, delighted, left wondrous and yet saddened, because lurking is the question that we all confront -- why would we choose to lose our elegance and breath in the interest of replicating the madness any building boom casts down on us, of the accelerated pace we are hopped up on at home even as we claim to want something more human. In the old streets of Muharraq that humanity is at play as though there were 20 generations holding back the tide in the straights of steel and cement, tar and technology.

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