Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Not to Get Around Abu Dhabi

(The ceiling above the bar in the Emirates Palace Hotel.)

I’m back at the Emirates Palace bar, waiting ‘til 11:45pm when my car leaves for the airport. I scammed a shower in the hotel spa earlier, and then changed clothes and freshened up in the public bathrooms, so I’m feeling pretty good—better, at least, than after my super-aimless trek around Abu Dhabi this afternoon and evening.

(Me looking fat in my hotel room, with fruit.)

After the trade show I went back to the hotel, changed, and then got a cab to Hamdan Centre, which I believed to be more of a center than it turned out to be. I ate some weird chicken curry with no rice at a ramshackle café with a rattling air conditioner and then caught a cab to the Iranian Souk, or market. Only problem was, the driver spoke zero English and had no idea where the market was, even though I pointed it out to him on a map of the city—so we circled and drove for a half-hour, the driver calling people for directions all the while until we happened upon the not-at-all appetizing-looking, very minor market.

By that point I was sick of the whole enterprise, and knew I wouldn’t be able to get a cab from the very out-of-the-way and deserted-looking market back into the city, so I just told the guy to take me back to the Corniche, which is a waterfront esplanade/park that runs the length of Abu Dhabi.

He either didn’t know how to get back there or didn’t understand me, so eventually he stopped and passed me off to another cab, who took me back into the city with a relative minimum of confusion. He dropped me at the InterContinental—aka, a luxury Western hotel, which I’ve come to realize are the only foreigner-friendly waystations in this city—and from there I wandered, mostly along the Corniche, which is pretty and well-manicured and looks like it was built yesterday.

(Not the Corniche, but the Arabian Sea behind.)

The wind was high, and I sat down by the whipped blue water and watched the hazy, yellow Arabian sun set. I took a picture for an odd threesome—a Vietnamese woman who walked arm-in-arm with what appeared to be an English grandmother, and a German (I think) who I guess was the Vietnamese woman’s husband.

My feet hurt. I redid my shoes’ laces and set out again, trying to decide what to do until I had to be back at the Emirates to leave for the airport. Little did I know that it would take me about two hours to find a cab, as night fell and the streets became more crowded and, at sundown, the call to prayer echoed nasally from several mosques in a row, which men trickled into. I felt when this was happening that I was in a very different place indeed.

(A prayer mat, with compass to point towards Mecca, in my hotel room)

At one point during my walk I passed by a very modern building and then curved around its back, trying to find a taxi stand and, in the process, walking through what I took to be a VIP car park for the building. As I rounded the building’s backside and headed for the (security gate-fronted) exit, two Emiratis in white approached me. One spoke up and asked what I was doing, was I taking picture, what did I have in my pockets. I showed him the contents of my jacket pockets, a five-dirham note fluttering out in the process (his friend, who seemed more amused than my interrogator, was moving to help me grab the note as I picked it up), and he said No—all this in broken English, mind—what’s in your bag. I showed him—books, papers—and, seeming satisfied that I wasn’t a threat, dismissed me with, “OK. But next time you can’t come in.”

(Sheikh Zayed and his father, one of the primary founders of the U.A.E.)

I was pretty demoralized by this point—I thought maybe I should have been like, “Fuck you, man, this is a free country, I was just walking”; but then I thought, well, probably better not to say such a thing unless you’re certain just how free of a country it is that you’re in.

I kept walking, at this point actively trying to find a cab, which I had discerned only stopped at these little pull-off points, once a long block or so, and had no luck. There were four or five people waiting at each pull-off I stopped at, in no recognizable queue, all having as much luck as me, trying to flag down passing taxis, many of which were empty, with a half-assed, waist-level, arm-extended handwave. This did not work. I walked and walked, eventually passing the café where I ate earlier.

(A sign on the beach outside of my hotel.)

I got frustrated enough to stop, at a relatively empty turn-off occupied by just one other group, a white-veiled mom and her son, who looked to be ten or so. At one point, the mom looked at the son and brushed, with her fingers’ tips and a smile, the hair back from his forehead, and I thought OK maybe we are all the same.

Eventually the pair got a cab and I moved up to pole position near the head of the turn-off. Soon, however, a younger Indian or Pakistani guy stepped out in front of me and started the half-assed flagging (which, to be fair, I, too, had adopted). I was like what the fuck. In New York this move will get you knifed.

Finally another cab stopped at our flagging and the guy went to get in. I moved to the door as he did and said Excuse me, I was here first. Excuse me. He stared me down for a second and then backed off as I went to get, and got, in. I didn’t look back as I got in—though I had a brief flash of panic that the guy would brain me from behind—and said “Emirates Palace” to the driver, who sped off as I thought, “That guy must be thinking, ‘That fucking American….’” But, fuck it: Abu Dhabi or no, certain laws of the jungle—the cabstand line is inviolate—must still apply, or else all is lost.

The End.

(Sheikh Zayed's personal entrance gate to the Emirates Palace Hotel. No, really.)

Why I Want to Go to the South Pole

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Behold the Telectroscope!

This is pretty fantastic—an old, recently completed tunnel, and attendant viewing portal, connecting Brooklyn and London.

(Here's the real story.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

News Roundup

On Monday, the Chicago Tribune reported on the wreck of a truck on Interstate 80 that was hauling 20,000 pounds of Oreos. Here is a link to the story—and here's an excerpt:
Several lanes of Interstate Highway 80 were shut down for hours overnight after a truck hauling Oreos crashed into a median, spilling tons of the chocolate cookies across the highway, police said.

The crash occurred at about 3:40 a.m. Monday on I-80 just east of Morris, said Master Sgt. Brian Mahoney of the Illinois State Police.
The bolding is mine, and here's why: Imagine if you were high—I mean baked out of your mind—at 3:40 in the morning, driving down I-80, and you are consumed by an all-consuming munchies whose hunger seems to gnaw at the very fabric of the cosmos—

—and then, like a gift from the universe, or like somehow winning both (both!) Showcases on The Price Is Right (by coming within $250 of your opponent's Actual Retail Price, naturally), a truck jackknifes in front of you, spilling black-and-white gold like manna from Heaven.



More seriously, I take back what I said about West Virginia being the most racist state in the nation. Kentucky is.

Charles M. Blow had a great op-ed in the Times on Saturday about Appalachia, and how it relates to the presidential campaign. Dig it here. It contains this fantastic sentence:
So, when [H. Clinton] stops casting the nomination as a standoff between the Dukes of Hazzard and the Huxtables and accepts the outcome as a fait accompli, the party can unite, and there will be a better sense as to which states are in play.
Finally: Obama's daughters are cute as hell. That's what we need in the White House.

Monday, May 19, 2008

No Sleep 'Til Park Slope

This morning I was turned on to a story in The New York Times by my managing editor, about the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope and why, in the vernacular, people be hating on it.

For non-New Yorkers: Park Slope is a formerly radical, now upscale Brooklyn 'hood that abuts Prospect Park and has, in recent years, come to be known for its yuppie militancy, as embodied by anti-bar, -nightlife, and -noise activists, huge off-road strollers that take up half the sidewalk, and its overall entitled insufferability.

For New Yorkers: Need I say more? And you can probably guess on which side of the debate I come down. (Apologies to friends of mine that live in or love the Slope; I don't really hate it hate it, I just kind of get annoyed by it, and also see what about it annoys.)

At any rate, the Times article discusses how Park Slope, in the latter part of the Sixties, became "the leading edge of urban revitalization” (this is according to John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University Graduate Center).

The article goes on:
[These people who began to revitalize Park Slope in the late 1960s] were part of a “postwar middle-class search for urban authenticity as a refuge from mass consumer culture,” said Suleiman Osman, a Slope native and assistant professor of American Studies at George Washington University, who is writing a book about the history of gentrification in Brooklyn. That authenticity, he said, generally lasts only for the first phase of gentrification. It’s a theme in modern urban history: the sense that authenticity is always slipping away. In short, this place was authentic until you people showed up. Repeat.
I bolded the above sentence because I think it’s really the key to unlocking all of this, and maybe much more. The phrase would be even more true, or truer on a larger scale, if the word “urban” were deleted, and maybe if “authenticity” were replaced by any number of words. As Tony Soprano tells his new therapist, Dr. Melfi, during the pilot episode of the classic David Chase television series, “Lately I feel like I came in at the end of something. The best is over.” Dr. Melfi responds, “I think many Americans feel that way.”

I can identify with the feeling that “it’s” always just running through my fingers: Time, the seasons, relationships, good moments, records that defined the last year. (Whence the love I felt for Arcade Fire's Neon Bible last spring, or Feist's "Feel It All"? Where do these emotions, the city's collective listening to a few albums for a short time, go? Maybe they're mothballed somewhere in a DUMBO storage facility.) In summary and return: I would like to stop the clock, to live for years in that one good summer when we had the garden parties.

At any rate, the bolded phrase in the block quote holds true in other NY neighborhoods: I know I feel that way about Williamsburg, that is was better five years ago, and that the kids who are moving in are ruining it—But certainly someone who was in Williamsburg in the late 1990s feels that way about me, too. So what is this? Why this tendency to hate what comes after and to romanticize what comes before?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Until this weekend, I had never before seriously considered kidnapping.

One For the Fam
Originally uploaded by Jake Freedom
Here's why that's no longer the case:

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Onion Weekender

This picture is the laughter equivalent of a snowball rolling down a hill. I looked at it, said, "Ha," then looked again ("Ha ha"), then, "Ha ha ha"—and then I had to close the window on my computer because I was going to lose it if I continued looking at it. Dig, Lazarus, dig: