Today the fun really began. First the breakfast. It was buffet style, and of course I had to take a little bit of everything. There were pancakes, sausages, a french-toast-like cassarole. There were dumplings with soy sauce, indian rice cakes, beans, and an unidentified white pudding. There was fresh orange juice, watermelon, a white fruit with black seeds (reminiscent of a kiwi). And there was even good old milk and cereal. After our decadent meal, we set off--Day one: Seeing Abu Dhabi. Lauren wrote up an overview, so I'll go through my highlights.
...in all its glory. It was beautiful; I've always enjoyed architecture, but this wasn't just architecture. In terms of places of worship that I've seen, it falls second only to Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but that could be my soft spot for Gaudí. It was much different than western architecture, and western prayer spaces. From far away, the domes dominated the scene--small, and rounder than the russian onion domes. Closer up, the pillars were inlayed with stones, some semi-precious. Almost like hiding money in the walls. When we were in the sun in the main courtyard, I couldn't help but dwell on the sharp contrast between white--the tiles below our feet, the walls and domes surrounding us, the glare of the sun--and the black--the robes and scarves we were draped in. The sun seeped into my abaya and I couldn't help but feel like the warmth came from the glowing mosque.
Inside, with our shoes off, the sun was forgotten, and the colors began to creap in. The walls of the entryway had marble leaves and flowers jutting out from the marble backgroud. The leaves were maybe as big as my hand, and the stalks ran all the way up the room. This was beatiful, especially after lots of white, but the next room was clearly the main draw. The chandelier was what drew my eye first. By instinct, I walked right under it and looked up at it through its center. It radiated all around me, I could have been underwater, I could have been in the sky, I could have been dreaming. There's a feeling that I still don't totally understand that I get from things like that--it could be religion, or spirituality; I'm still discovering it, whatever it is.
About the abayas we had to wear, thought hot, they certainly made me think. I appreciated the cool more when I wore them, I noticed my friends hair and jewelry more when they took of their robes. I like seeing just their face, hands, and bare feet. Somehow keeping my body covered made it seem like I treasured it more.
Emirates Palace Hotel
Interesting facts: The population of the UAE is split between emirates citizens and foreigners; the split is about 15/85 emirates to immigrants. Because most of the immigrants come to work (because Abu Dhabi has lots of contructuion work, and money, to offer to people from areas like India), this skews the male/female ratio to 70/30.
The Palace was, yet again, stunning. The stones, the domes, the gold. Yet my feelings weren't sheer wonderment anymore. I couldn't see the intense beaty without thinking about the behind-the-scenes goings-on. Our tour guide told us that to keep the sand to a satisfactory shade of white, they import new sand from Algeria weekly. This contributes to the appeal--makes the appeal--but from a sustainable standpoint, it is sickening. And what about the employees that are working around the clock to maintain its perfection, like keeping the marble floors polished so much that you can see your reflection in them?
The Palace also had an exhibit about a series of cultural centers that will be built to enhance the city's world prominance. The proposed buildings, including a Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Lovre Abu Dhabi, are designed by architects from around the world and represent the five continents. The Guggenheim will be designed by our beloved (chuckle) Frank Gehry and looks much like MIT's Stata Center, but bigger (much bigger), and with influence of the local environment. The Louvre's main component is a huge shallow dome, or cap, that covers an area with small builings that would hold artwork. The ingenious part is the pattern on the dome. Start with an octagon and make each edge the bottom of an equilateral triangle. This is the basic pattern. This gets repeated on smaller and smaller levels (each smaller level fitting into the space of two of the previous level's trianges (a bowtie shape)), to slowly fill in the majority of the dome in a fractal-esque manner. The finished product was mostly a solid dome, with lots of small shapes cut out to let the light in. Math is beautiful.
The third piece was to house concert halls and the shape was inspired by a desert flower. Again, it was intriguing, but not as fascinating to me. The last piece, however, was almost as clever as the Louvre. It's main component was a shape that I cannot possible describe to you adequatly, but that was so much more than on first glance. It seems to be an arch cut out of a rectangle, yet it is twisted and asymetrical that is fascinating and mind-boggling. The complexity in such a simple shape is wonderful. This was part of a tribute to the maritime world, so there was also this cool walkway out into the water--actually going down, under the water. Overall, the buildings reminded me how much I love architecture. And how architecture can be a reflection of one's surroundings.
After a quick, freshen-up at the hotel we went of for a night on the desert.
The dunebashing...like a natural rollercoaster. And yes, there are equations to model the patterns that the sand on the dunes make. And yes, for those of you from the north, it is much like drifting in the snow.
The camel riding...like horseback-riding, just exotic. And when the camel stands up and sits down, be ready for some unexpected forward and backward jostling.
The sandboarding...not like snowboarding. Actually sand-sledding proved more fun. And even better than that, just logrolling down. And we further discussed the mathematics and physics of sand's movement.
The sodas...not much different, but there was strawberry fanta.
The henna...done much more pro than in the states. We'll see how long it lasts.
The food...tasty. Hummous, pita, shishkabobs, and, (unfortunately,) french fries.
The belly dancing... ....
Actually the belly dancing confused some of us because of the modestly that women are normally expected to have. We didn't quite understand how the celebration of the women's body, and how it moves, could be accepted if women wear headscarves and robes everyday to cover themselves.
The stargazing... nice, but not as good as Vermont (I'm biased). We saw orion and caseopeia.
The carride back... most people passed out. However a few conversations from the day concluded themselves. Thoughts on the cause for motivation, the appeal of wealth, the duty to work, and the ways that bodning is accelerated between people (i.e. this trip).
The swimming pool... warm and a perfect way to wash off the sand. I've forgotten the simple pleasure of moving through liquid.
My bed... calling to me now. (Hopefully adrenaline will compensate for my lack of sleep.)