From the 17th Floor

Sunday, May 12, 2013 - 5:14pm

1.

I’ve been watching the Qasr al Hosn. Watching it since I arrived in August. The boarded-up block below my office window withholds this oldest structure in Abu Dhabi—the whitewashed fort—and the arch-studded building of the Cultural Foundation. The block has so much potential, but for months, nothing’s happened. Or, I’ll see a kick up of dust and realize it was the wind.

Monday, April 15, 2013 - 10:15am

To reach Kumbhalgarh, one drives two hours north from the charming lake city of Udaipur through the Aravalli Mountains. Until the end, the climb is gradual, and the countryside is rock-strewn and brown, save for the flames of the forest, the shocking orange flowers blooming from dead-looking branches. (When the rains come, the flowers will fall, and the trees’ wide green leaves will be used for plates.) But just when the roadside rhythms have slowed to match the bullock-pulled wheels drawing water from the wells, a throng of pink and orange and yellow saris jump into the road and halt the car. It’s the week of Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, and these women extract a few rupees in exchange for a fierce bit of dancing.

Saturday, March 9, 2013 - 2:31am

1.

Late afternoon, late January. I need air, exercise, but my regular walk around Al Manhal Palace is too long; the construction en route to the Corniche too hazardous to navigate. I try to take comfort in the company of my own mind, but today I am a terrible person to be with. Wandering, uninspired, brain-stuck, I find myself in the middle of ten lanes of traffic on a median barely wider than a balance beam. Grumpy as all get out as hot exhaust blasts me by. I need to move, but I have nowhere to go.

I don’t know it yet, but what I need is a dérive.

Photo by Jennifer Acker

Friday, February 8, 2013 - 9:45am

We step out of the bungalow, across the lawn, and down, down the red clay path. Behind us, the steep rise of the mountain; in front and below, endless rolls of tea plantations. Beyond, on the far side of the valley, more tea, more waterfalls, more houses perched in the hills rising into the mist. It is morning in Sri Lanka. We walk.

Photo by Jennifer Acker

Friday, January 11, 2013 - 9:45am

1.

We know that they are coming, but we don’t know when. The glass is smeared with brown dust, and some have complained. We may have been among the complainers.

The first sign is the hand mop dropped down from a higher floor. Dangles there, on the other side of the window pane, like a body part. Next a bucket tilted with supplies—more cloths, squeegees—and a cluster of bottles filled with fluid heavily knocking each other.

Photo by pierpeter, from Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, December 28, 2012 - 12:01pm

During this holiday week, The Common is presenting highlights from the past year.  Today's highlights come from our joint columns "From the 17th Floor" and "From the Stone House."

Photo by pierpeter, from Flickr Creative Commons

In "All These Things So Arranged", Jennifer Acker takes us to Turkish wonders; in "On Belonging", Martha Cooley reflects on settling into a new place.

Photo by Jennifer Acker

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 9:45am

1.

Photo by Jennifer Acker

“That’s the best date I ever had,” I said. I was speaking to the young women with the latte skin and uncovered, long dark hair, but also to the serious-looking Emirati man who had wandered over because I was the only thing happening. Mid-week, midafternoon, the date festival was nearly deserted, save a few clusters of Indian men, single Western men in suits with briefcases, and a grumpy woman with big glasses. I suppose I was expecting this man, this representative of Al Foah, one of the largest date producers in the UAE, to be impressed somehow, or at least gratified, by my enthusiasm. I wasn’t exaggerating. The fruit had a thin, melting skin and a pillowy interior, the flavor rich, heady with sweetness and spice. (Hints of cardamom and apricot?) The serious man asked where I was from, and I proceeded to disappoint him with my ignorance about the production and sale of dates in the United States. Yes, I did think that dates had become more visible in grocery stores over the past five years, though I couldn’t say what varieties. Medjool? I did know that California was a hub, but, by then, I’d lost him.

Photo by Tom Sparks, from Flickr Creative Commons

Monday, November 12, 2012 - 9:57pm

Inside Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence and other Turkish wonders

Some places become museums because they’re ruins. Other museums are houses built to hold the relics.

In fifth century Constantinople, believers built a small Greek Orthodox chapel called The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora. The Greek chora refers to the church’s place in the fields outside the city’s thick defensive walls. Rebuilt, restored, destroyed, and raised again over the centuries, the church became a truly glorified house of God in the fourteenth century under the stewardship of a powerful intellectual named Theodore Metochites, whose vision and funds decorated the interior with some of the finest mosaics and frescoes remaining from Byzantine times.

Photo by PlannedCity, from Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, November 8, 2012 - 12:25am

I’d had grander plans for the day, of course, plans that involved walking through Bur Dubai, the old city, and the souks in Deira and visiting the beautiful Jumeirah Mosque, but the mosque tour was early, at 9:45, and nearly a 40 minute cab ride away…and then there was the heat. Even sitting in the shade in early morning, I was sweating.

No, we would not be setting foot on city sidewalks today. This was a blow to my touristic romanticism, my plan to experience the places where some semblance remained of the daily life that had characterized Dubai before the race to the top. Before the spectacular towers, malls, and hotels upon which superlatives are pinned.

Thursday, November 8, 2012 - 12:27am

These days, you arrive in a new place from a great height. Brief glimpse of patterned land, sometimes sea, then trundling along skyways until finding your way down to the ground and the transport available there. Eventually, you make your way to the heart of the place, where you can approach it from eye level.

It is clear, the night we arrive, cruising along the gleaming highway under bright signs in Arabic and English, that we are driving toward the center. We pass The Petroleum Institute, the Ministries Complex, and, just before the lights all around brighten into city life, an expanse of scrub where the dark is very deep. Beyond the sabkha, the salt flats, likely water; Abu Dhabi is a grouping of islands adhering to a curve of land at the ankle of the Arabian Peninsula on the Arabian Gulf. The traffic thickens—as does the cologne of our cab driver, sprayed now in quick pumps in rhythm to the Dubai-based reggae station—and the roadsigns begin to display the names of sheikhs. People and sidewalks materialize.

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