Landscape is all of these–all the time–stirring–changing…and so I must write.


And so it is, too, for Erik Chalmers, the protagonist in The 23 Club, himself strangely attracted to the mysterious Empty Quarter…despite the exhilarating life around his home in the Berner Oberland of the Swiss Alps.

Only his obsession with landscape, to build captivating gardens, could drive him to this place, the Empty Quarter, a place historically incapable of supporting life!

…and chiaroscuro…

This is Erik Chalmers’ landscape journey into the Empty Quarter. This is the Rub al Khali. With its own chiaroscuro, this beast turns obsession inside out.

The 23 Club is a landscape story. It is fiction from fact. It is chiaroscuro. Erik Chalmers’ journey through geography…through history…at best, like the story itself…chiaroscuro…always a blur, always a hope–for clarity, for an inspirational result.


The 23 Club

Immersed in the contemporary culture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, against the backdrop of the Empty Quarter, The 23 Club tells the inside story of how an iconic project gets built in the oil rich, Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Table of Contents

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • Spike Lounge
  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal
  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon


(to be continued)

Landscape…a passion, or?

It may be a passion trying to find fertile ground, before it takes root. But then as it takes root, a strange transition occurs–passion into obsession–the roots go wild, they travel hard and fast and far…the obsession grows…and then what?

Landscape Passion

Berner Oberland: a humid, temperate, arable soil forest that I first experienced in real life in the 1960s, and it has been a landscape destination for me every decade since.

Landscape Passion

Rub al Khali: an arid, tropical, topsoil free, sand desert that I first experienced as, if you will permit me, a mesmerizing augmented reality in David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. That was also in the 1960s in the London West End. It became a landscape mystery I have explored every decade since.

Throughout my professional landscape architectural career, I have over and over, walked, drove, read, smelled, heard, felt–explored the above landscapes…they live inside me–they have taken root. They are growing.

From these distinctive landscapes has emerged a landscape obsession, an infatuation that can only be satiated by giving life to landscape stories, fictional stories that derive from personal experience, stories that endeavor to explain those landscape experiences which are…beyond words.

My first landscape story is The 23 Club, and it does unbundle those two landscape images above, revealing…(to be continued)

Empty Quarter: exotica

…info flow…

Dhows still ply the Arabian Peninsular waters today, albeit with diesel engines in their holds.

On the edges of the Rub al Khali, dhows have always carried information and goods along what we all have known as the ‘Spice Route’.

For millennia, dhows traversed these barely habitable edges of the Arabian Peninsula and the Empty Quarter creating at the ports, point concentrations for massive flows–massive flows of information and exotic goods–which exotic goods you ask?  Let your dreams be your guide.


Dhows have always bounced port by port along the edges of the Empty Quarter.

Little wonder why Westerners have been attracted inland from these ports…inland in the southern Arabian Peninsula to discover something richer than mirage–to explore what must be mysterious history, paths, journeys, routes–answers in the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.

IBN Battuta Mall – A Not So Ordinary Mall

Dedicated to Ibn Battuta–a Dubai mall.

♥ The Lone Traveller ♥

IBN Battuta Mall

This will be my first post since I moved here in the UAE.  There are a lot of things that I wanna share with you guys but for now let me show you one of the best malls here in the UAE.  The design of this mall really captured my attention.  This is not your ordinary mall because the design itself is something you cannot find anywhere. 😀

It consists of six courts, each of whose designs are inspired by some of the countries visited by the great Moroccan Berber explorer, Ibn Battuta.  These courts are Egypt Court. India Court, China Court, Andalusia Court, Persia Court and Tunisia Court.  The Ibn Battuta Mall is a large shopping mall on the Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai close to Interchange 6 for Jebel Ali Village.


IBN Battuta Mall

IBN Battuta Mall


IBN Battuta Mall

IBN Battuta Mall

IBN Battuta Mall

IBN Battuta Mall


IBN Battuta Mall


IBN Battuta Mall

I was also impressed with the little things that they put on…

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Shifting Sands and Shifting Loyalties

Who is Gertrude Bell?

Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings

Tales from the Queen of the Desert by Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell was a pioneering and fascinating woman, very much ahead of her time. As Wikipedia tells us: Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE (14 July 1868 – 12 July 1926) was an English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, archaeologist and spy who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her skill and contacts, built up through extensive travels in Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia. Along with T. E. Lawrence, Bell helped establish the Hashemite dynasties in what is today Jordan as well as in Iraq.

She played a major role in establishing and helping administer the modern state of Iraq, utilising her unique perspective from her travels and relations with tribal leaders throughout the Middle East. During her lifetime she was highly esteemed and trusted by British officials and given an immense amount…

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…still felix? Hardly!

…my tether?

Four incredible deserts–Nafud, Dahna, Nejd and the Rub al Khali. No weather reports–no GPS–no communications? No way. Still felix?

Our Western image of the Empty Quarter landscape, an image pieced together from the writings of our past, the holy books, the Greeks, the Romans, Marco Polo(1254-1324), Ibn Battuta(1304-1369), the ships docking in Genoa and Venice, the writings of Richard Francis Burton(1821-1890), Gertrude Bell(1868-1926), T.E. Lawrence(1888-1935),  Wilfred Thesiger(1910-2003), and others, continues today–even with GPS, even with 24/7 online large pipe digital coms–to be a mystery…an unknown landscape…still beckoning…still threatening.

Arabia Felix


Arabia Felix…some call it the Yemen–but, why felix? Because it gets rainfall…it is happy. But it is the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali, the arid, tropical sand desert that is the true enigma.

There is no Arabia Felix without the Rub Al Khali.

Straddling the Tropic of Cancer and, known in English as The Empty Quarter, the world’s largest contiguous sand desert…has always been, and still is, for humans…an enigma…throughout millennia…a massive natural and cultural enigma.

Wet and Dry

Wet and dry can describe a lot of situations in life.

the joy of wet

Wet: These snow flakes can not wait to reveal their moisture–it flows.

efficient nourishment

Dry: These dates protect their moisture–they shelter it.

Lots of ways to understand wet landscapes from dry landscapes–the landscape of the humid temperate northern slopes of the Berner Oberland from the arid tropical sands of the Rub Al Khali.

Wet is not equally distributed on the Earth’s surface. Wet and dry have to be managed. Please permit me to offer a tenuously linked digression, just for fun.

In the big picture:

Wet: water, if you just measure surface coverage, makes up 70% of the Earth’s surface or 70% wet.  Ignores the underground water table wetness.

Dry: the land surface coverage makes up 30% of the Earth’s surface or 30% dry. Includes the land permanently covered by snow and or ice.

If we generously average the area covered by a standing human, averaging babies and adults, we can say each human covers 0.5 square meter. The number of humans in the world is 7 billion, therefore humans, standing shoulder to shoulder cover much, much less than 1% of the Earth’s surface.

Is there truly a shortage of water on the planet? Plentiful water or water paucity? I wonder…if someone, in the Berner Oberland flushes the toilet with less water, will more dates grow at the edge of the Empty Quarter?

Summary of numbers:

  • 510,000,000 square kilometers=total surface of Earth
  • 350,000,000 square kilometers=wet surface of Earth
  • 160,000,000 square kilometers=dry surface of Earth
  • 2,600 square kilometers=7 billion human shoulder to shoulder surface of Earth
  • 500,000 cubic kilometers=rainfall per year on surface of Earth, or 70,000 cubic meters per human per year.
  • Each human uses an average of 200 cubic meters water per year.

Shortage? Hardly seems like there should be a shortage of wetness does there?  Am I on the edge of an enigma here? Or is ‘water shortage’ just another nuanced imperialistic push by the globalizing Western world on others…they won’t find me…I am tucked away in an enigma.

!!!Ah–but the population growth projections! Ah–but the climate change projections! Ah–but the software programs that are without fault or human error or human political influence! Ah, yes, we are sure we can control climate and weather, right?

Another glass of water, please…I know a place where the tap water is really good!

An ancient saying comes from Bharat Varsha, known these days as India–‘austerity is the wealth of the brahmanas’.

That is an intriguing concept–a lack of material possessions as a source of wealth.  It does indeed respond as a balance to the obvious excesses of material acquisition, does it not?