Saturday 15 December 2012

Fa la lala la, la la la la

The Christmas tree is now up, with the usual family bickering (so unlike the standard screen portrayal of this tradition) but without what's become the small annual ritual of hanging on it the latest addition to our motley collection of ornaments. I didn't buy one on my travels this year, since the nearest thing I came across were these slightly forbidding Santas in [cliche alert] an Aladdin's cave of a market in Dubai. They had everything in there, stacked up high on wooden shelves along narrow aisles in a hot, dusty, dim and airless warehouse, in no discernible order: for instance, an old brass ship telegraph next to a long-handled sheikh's dagger next to a half-scale painted wooden giraffe. There were life-sized carved wooden African women, framed scorpions and bats, plastic Burj Khalifas, a human skeleton, Nepalese pashminas made from the neck hair of goats, Indian hand-knotted silk carpets, giant clogs, all the perfumes of Araby - and Old Spice too.

I don't know where the ornaments in the photo were made, but I'm guessing they were local, simply because who other than a desert-dweller would think to paint a snowman red?

What I was tempted by, but resisted, were the lovely little glass lamps in a [c.a.] rainbow of colours hanging from the ceiling, some of them lit and glowing beautifully. That really is a local specialty, and we saw them all over the place, in the souks and in use. They had them strung along the balcony at the restaurant we ate at one night in Abu Dhabi, sitting above the water that was sparkling in the dark with reflections from the tall glass skyscrapers across the harbour. The air was warm, there was soft music, quiet chatter from the diners, the Thai food was fresh and tasty...

Yes, Thai food. Foreigners make up around 90% of the population of the United Arab Emirates, so  you could hardly get a more cosmopolitan society. At my Dubai hotel one night, I saw a TV interview with Agnes Obel, the questions in French, her answers in Danish, subtitled in French and translated into English by me. That was a typically multi-cultural UAE experience. (And yet another coincidence for me, as I hadn't realised she was Danish, and there I was, on my way to Copenhagen.)

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