Jean-Claude Thibaut, Ethnobotanist

…kaouwa…

Dates and coffee together tell social history of the southern Arabian Peninsula–rarely is there majlis without dates and coffee.

Majlis is a simple Arabic word that has always been a part of the sands–a part of the human matrix over the landscape of the Empty Quarter. Majlis describes people getting together to talk.

…majlis…

Majlis–so, my friends, which language should we use–Esperanto? French? Classical Arabic? Gulf Arabic? Levantine Arabic? Urdu? Malay? Hindi? Or, Farsi? Forget political correctness. The practical language of choice is English, of course–the international language of business. It is the practical reality…but…under the surface…?

Erik Chalmers preparing for majlis with his South African boss, Theuns van der Walt, arrives early and first meets with his close friend, Belgian Ethnobotanist Jean-Claude Thibaut. They sit in a private club, known as the Library, a place of cultural, of artistic stimulation and climatic relief, to compare natural and social notes–landscape, plants, people, desert culture–as it has been, and is, in the Liwa Oasis region of the Empty Quarter.

…inside--outside…

Abdul Qader Al Rais, his works adorning the Library, is one of the most acclaimed artists from the UAE. Of many talents, he paints, photo realistically, traditional Emirati architecture and landscape. Underneath his images, he existentially addresses the unusually strange changes between inside and outside.

Following is a short part from Chapter 10: Library Majlis to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

               Jean-Claude Thibaut, Ethnobotanist

Chalmers had lingered, a dalliance to say the very least, as he had walked through those gardens. He was now a bit late when he reached The Library. Entering, he was immediately calmed by the mingling fragrances of agar wood, sandalwood and amber, blended in a bukhoor, an incense…an incense that lightly infused the cool, dry and comfortable library air. He inhaled deeply two, three times, then felt simultaneously relaxed and focussed. Jean-Claude sitting, reading the local newspapers, saw him enter. He arose. They shook hands.

After exchanging greetings and sitting down, both agreed the best drink would be Moroccan fresh mint tea, especially since the fresh mint was grown locally in The Library gardens. Along with massive amounts of fresh mint leaves, the mint tea mix included a pinch of black tea, and refined white sugar chipped from large blocks, all to be prepared in front of them. The final presentation according to the menu, should include a seasonably available layer of fresh orange blossoms, floating on the top.

Proper Moroccan tea in a restaurant was always theater. The drama arrived as the waiter poured the tea from the pot to the small tea glasses, elongating the threadlike stream of tea to almost a meter, before closing it down so that not a drop was spilled during the pouring.

As it was poured, the smell of the steaming, fresh mint tea captivated. After the pouring ceremony, a cloth was removed from a small, colorfully hand painted, Moorish style earthen bowl. Inside the bowl were pure white and fresh orange blossoms, along with freshly picked, young green mint sprigs. The waiter gently tonged them into the tea. The orange blossom fragrance overlapped the mint, and by scent alone refreshed nearly to sweet intoxication.

After sampling the hot tea and quietly appreciating the fulsome, blended aromas, Chalmers began to review with Jean-Claude all the key project and business players he had met over the past couple days. Jean-Claude explained how those players were related to the top members of the Abu Dhabi ruling family.

He pointed out, “While these relationships are never really obvious to many of the business people and workers here in the Emirates, behind the scenes, these are the relationships that keep everything ticking over–the relationships with roots deep into Bedu history, that guide the morals and ethics of this Emirate and the UAE.”

Jean-Claude explained, “The unification of the Emirates started with Sheik Zayed bin Khalifa bin Nahyan the First, in the nineteenth century and was consolidated by his great grandson, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan bin Nahyan, who, in the twentieth century, the late 1960s to be exact, successfully coordinated the unification of the seven Emirates. Leadership by the Nahyan family still continues today. These are the rulers of Abu Dhabi. And these are the rulers of the UAE. The leaders of the other six Emirates and the Nahyans interact through majlis as has always been the tradition. Even though national government institutions and administrative procedures have been overlaid, underneath you will find the strong, fundamental bond is the evolving Bedu majlis tradition born from shared longterm hardships.”

Jean-Claude’s eyes fell upon some botanical drawings of Phoenix dactylifera displayed on the wall across from him. He paused, thinking about their simple beauty. He looked over at Chalmers, a dedicated landscape specialist who, in his own way, also loved the beauty of plants. In Chalmers, Jean-Claude saw an international fortune hunter–or a storm chaser if you will–justified because he was here to bring more plants to the lives of Emiratis and he was above all else, good hearted–always been that way through all the years of their association.

Jean-Claude took another drink of mint tea, then looking again at the date palm botanical drawings, he thought of the date palm’s many uses in a transient oasis based culture–uses both simple and also complex. He thought about their position in an austere Emirati culture before he explained further to Chalmers, “The success of the Emirati tribes, enduring and working through the climatic hardships, and the shortage of water has built a strength of character extremely unique.

“Based upon these strengths, the Emiratis, have an internal pride that is rarely examined by the world’s mainstream media. You can find references to it in books, written by authors like Wilfred Thesiger and Frauke Heard-Bey; but most mainstream writers, expat workers and businessmen alike choose the easy way–accepting the centuries-old, negative stereotypes of the Bedu character and overlaying them onto all contemporary business and workplace relationships. That stuff is good to know, but it will not get you to the core of people’s motivations here, mon ami.”

Jean-Claude always spoke in a soft voice in public. Chalmers had to strain to hear Jean-Claude’s next point.

“In public, the Emiratis do not talk about it; but they do have a self consciousness about this modern world, its communications, and, its values.” Jean-Claude, sitting up in his chair and drawing closer to Chalmers, continued, “Emiratis think that modern, Western world values are not based on the strength of austerity, but rather, based on the relativity of excesses.”

Chalmers thought about cultural understandings and the ambiguities of cultural differences, then added, “This kind of cultural gap is a fundamental challenge in all work out here, at least that’s how I’ve found it. For me, a three stage process has always worked:  inform myself, then trust, but verify.” They both sat back, took a drink of mint tea, and relaxed, as the conversation paused.

  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Heat…and the relief

…give me shelter…

Who would not want to walk here? But, you can not feel the temperature, you can not sweat the heat in this photo. Can you imagine, while you are sitting comfortably in your temperate climate–can you imagine 18 hours a day outside with the ambient air temperature higher than your body temperature?

Yet, here in the United Arab Emirates, on the blazing edges of that aggressive sand dune desert, the Empty Quarter, with the addition of top soil, irrigation water and proper maintenance for carefully selected and protected plants, beautiful gardens have been built; and for short walks they are wonderfully inspirational, as Erik Chalmers discovers and shares.

Following is a short part from Chapter 9: Finding Majlis to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

               The Heat and the Relief

Early in his expatriate career, Chalmers had a mentor–a mentor who had for decades already been working in Iran, Turkey and the Arab Middle East. He told Chalmers not to overestimate his professional position, that their white collar management, their consultancy positions in the pecking order here were exactly the same as the sweaty laborers on site. White collar, blue collar–no difference–hired, manipulable and replaceable. They were all ‘no counters’.

In time, experience in this part of the world had taught Chalmers that strict plans and aggressive adherence to them would guarantee the cross cultural undoing of any Western professional. But, he also knew that without a plan, these large projects could never succeed in the time frame required. He always kept an overall plan foremost in his mind. That gave him big picture guidelines such that he could always revise the details in real time, according to the unpredictable vagaries of time, circumstance, people. Including cunning and masquerade, nothing was left out of his box of tools to build inspirational and beautiful gardens and landscapes. This was performance art in action. That is how Chalmers thought of his work–performance art.

It was Thursday. Theuns van der Walt wanted his update and briefing at 9PM at The Library, a place, part of a spa in a large hotel where he sometimes met a couple key Emiratis who had interest in his Empty Quarter Project, Liwa Qsar. To prepare himself for that briefing, Chalmers planned to arrive earlier than usual to sit with his old friend, the Belgian Ethnobotanist, Jean-Claude Thibaut. Chalmers wanted to review his own findings, to cross check them against Jean-Claude’s knowledge of political and social contexts in this region.

The Library, where Chalmers was to meet Jean-Claude, and later Theuns, was a refuge, carefully hidden, deep, within a mysterious sequence of intimate, private gardens. Chalmers looked forward to walking through these gardens. He fancied a dalliance.

  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pirates

…there is always heat…

Sometimes the white collar mercenaries wear blue collars.

Can it ever be so simple as good guys versus bad guys? Naw, they are all in the same game, workers or managers…they are all mercenaries–working for their families, working for themselves–all on contracts. All temporaries. All in the heart of the Empty Quarter. All with uncertainty, dead ahead.

…drink the green…

If you, the reader have been born in a temperate climate, you can not understand how beautiful this green is to the humans who live around the edges of the Empty Quarter. To slake that green thirst, millions upon millions of plants are being grown in the nurseries of the United Arab Emirates.

MIA made a break though with her music behind SlumDog Millionaire. She strips away all pretense and calls it like it is ‘…bonafide hustler…making my name…all I wanna do is…take your money.’ Erik Chalmers comes face to face with this when he visits the huge plant nursery supplying his project. And the nursery–it, too, is in the Empty Quarter.

Following is a short part from Chapter 8: The Nursery to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

               Pirates

Twenty five years ago in Southern California, nurseries like Monrovia, Keeline Wilcox and ValleyCrest had rows upon rows of trees, shrubs and ground covers, each properly pruned and grown to near perfection–seemingly unlimited quantities in any size you wanted. Selecting plants there was the same as going down the breakfast cereal aisle in a large American grocery store–huge selections, multiple sizes of each, in massive quantities. Just like cereal boxes, the plants in these nurseries were labelled, well displayed, properly set out and all uniformly healthy. That sophistication and mastery of horticultural and logistics processes integral to plant growth was a spectacular achievement that Chalmers had never fully appreciated–until he worked with the pirate landscape contractors of the Middle East.

In the Western Region of Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, a large new town was under construction and street trees were part of the infrastructure work. That was the first time Chalmers had seen on a competitively bid, huge project scale, plants being grown in the used empty tin cans, normally thrown out from labor camp kitchens. Always rusting, the cans were lucky to have drainage holes and they were always stacked cheek-by-jowl to save on land rental costs. Plants were hand watered seemingly by chance. And pruning equipment? Just never around.

The captain of these pirate landscape operations was invariably a French, Belgian or Afrikaner character, meanness carved all over his face–a Kepi blanc, a French Foreign Legion escapee at best or, at least suitable for a starring role in a Werner Herzog movie. Everyone who worked for the captain was a day laborer at the cheapest rate. If the day laborers would have come from farm backgrounds in Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka–eh, never such luck.

  • 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)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Dream

…dreams--good and bad…

The Liwa Oasis is a 100 kilometer long series of loosely linked sabkha valleys, each valley individually subtended by the sand dunes. The beauty of these Empty Quarter dunes to the eyes of every Western visitor is an undeniable journey into private dreams, hopes…mysteries…breath taking…on infinite levels!

Sustainability aside, the spectacular essence of Erik Chalmers’ new project, a five star destination resort in the heart of the Empty Quarter, is that guests and visitors would be able to safely and securely absorb the sand desert beauty, without fear of death.

…sigh--just not sure…

This journey, this path…this road into the heart of the beauty, or as some knowledgeable people put it, into the beast of a sand desert known as the Empty Quarter…winds on and on–weaves and weaves deeper and deeper into the awkward, the enigmatic, the mazey sand emptiness. Only the thin, white gatch road remains as the string to take you back, the tenuous cultural connection back to civilization…as you once knew it.

Rudyard Kipling is temporarily unfashionable these days–but a century ago, in these strange, even unfathomable landscapes, he called the West Asian cultures he encountered, as they were–difficult and dangerous for Westerners. On his journey into the Empty Quarter, Erik Chalmers will finally arrive at his project site and meet the white collared mercenaries and privateers who have contracted to work in this difficult and dangerous region of the world.

Following is a short part from Chapter 7: Liwa Qsar to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 Dream

The dream is the mirage. In the West, the Empty Quarter has always been an elusive froth, an ambiguous froth, a strangely arid yet attractive froth–whispering mystery and romance, providing an oddly enticing whiff from an evanescent bouquet full of ethereal promise. That is the mirage; and, for the sake of his success on his new project, Chalmers hoped it would be different. He did not need mirages on the Liwa Qsar project site.

Spectacular red sunsets rewarded the end of every day. The project site had been chosen to give the guests a luxury room looking west at a view framed by some of the largest and steepest red sand dunes in the Empty Quarter. The project was about providing shelter, a comfortable, an elegant shelter, protecting from the uncertainties, from the threats in this beautiful landscape.

Now Chalmers would meet the key players, living and working and constructing an iconic resort in this sweaty 50˚C world, in the arid, inland, heart of the Empty Quarter.

  • 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)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Desert Sirens

…sweet…

The Empty Quarter, how can beauty be so…empty?

In Desert Sirens, Jean-Claude Thibaut, the Belgian Ethnobotanist, describes what many ‘feel’ in the presence of these odalisques–these seductive sand dunes…their beauty simply overwhelms.

Following is a short part from Chapter 6: Rub al Khali Inland to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

               Desert Sirens

If there could be a ‘Twilight Zone’, an ‘X-files’ event on this trip, this next area would be the setting. Chalmers and Jean-Claude appeared to leave contact with civilization behind when, after enduring thirty more kilometers of increasing shamal, the wind and sand storm, they took the Hameem turnoff. There was no other traffic. The road was well asphalted, two lanes, one in each direction and two full asphalt shoulders. The verges on each side had the Sheikh Zayed shelter belt tree plantations, as always, laid out linearly in agricultural fashion. These trees were young, in their first two or three years. More noteworthy though, was the desert, it was stirred, riled, mad with wind. Reduced visibility now limited their maximum speed to less than 70kph.

Jean-Claude said, “Over nearly a year when I was regularly making this trip, I may have seen only two or three shamal storms like this. Most of the time, I could enjoy the alluring forms of these dunes…on each dune my eyes could discover feminine curves…the feminine curves that throughout time have melted man’s intelligence…where the turn of the waist sweeps into the hip…and the hip line so gracefully slides into the thigh…and on and on…from every angle to every eye…these timeless curves call out from each dune, like a siren to Odysseus–no, stronger still…from the dune landscape is a hareem of siren calls…each beautiful, sweet, alluring…all promising…exquisite satisfactions…fulfillments of secret…”

“Hold on Jean-Claude, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that sexual proclivities are not subject for public discussions here in the UAE; and as far as I’m concerned your personal proclivities are your own…so kindly…”

“Have some patience, mon ami, it always takes a while for me to settle in, to absorb the aura of this strange sand desert.” Chalmers squirmed and looked across, querulously, at his friend.

Jean-Claude continued. “You really don’t understand…you’ve worked here before, you should have felt this landscape. It begins by seducing you through your eyes–then grasping your emotions–it manipulates your body…then bit by bit if you let your inner lust prevail…it will take your life–it isn’t mental–it isn’t your imagination run wild–it isn’t a mirage–it is truly visceral! This desert grasps…”

“Ok, ok, steady on!” Chalmers butted in. “Enough dreaming! Look at this weather! We’ve a real weather event today–you were the one who said this desert reminded you of the ocean! Well today, all around us the desert is threatening like the wildest ocean storm. This wind is whipping–scrambling the landscape, like a roaring hurricane–furious wind, furious sand!”

The sun–the sun was a dim disk–by the storm nearly blotted out of the sky. Their visibility was reduced to less than 200 meters and the sand was swirling, drifting, dancing, racing over the asphalt. As they drove on, the previous mini dunes of the sabka coast grew larger, and each dune, being forcefully reshaped by the relentless shamal wind, had a roaring top.

After driving with buffeting winds and poor visibility for an arduous eighty kilometers, they came to the first paved intersection. It had barely readable signs for oil and gas rigs–Asab to the west–Saafi Al Naar thirty four kilometers to the east, in the direction of the Saudi and Omani borders.

They could see just by the side of the road, a small one story white stucco building. Stopped in front of the building, on the road shoulder were seven or eight large, heavy duty construction hauling trucks–because of sandstorm poor visibility, their warning blinkers flashing.

Chalmers and Jean-Claude stopped, too.

  • 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)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Desert Street Trees

…dates…food…life…

The founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed, understood the hardships of the sand desert landscape. His intent for trees along all major routes of travel was eminently practical–his selection of drought tolerant, evergreen and fruit bearing trees more so.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     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

               Desert Street Trees

The weather in combination with the landscape, overwhelmed. Winds and sand swept continuously. Urban development anomalies in this desert were embarrassingly exposed in this kind of weather. Driving along Sheik Zayed Road in the Emirate of Dubai, Chalmers observed a noteworthy absence of any trees, any street trees, anything green. Nothing impeded the winds and sand flowing across the road.

After he and Jean-Claude passed the signs marking the end of the huge empty Waterfront site, they entered the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Immediately street trees began–actually a planting thicker than street trees, more like a shelterbelt planting began–two rows of trees up the median and four rows on either verge.

The big infrastructure of irrigation water provision–hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers of pipes, valves and tubes with emitters, with controllers, with electrical supply, with pumps, pump stations, reservoirs, desalination and sewage treatment plants–always broke down at the lowest common denominator, the last meter before arriving at the plants. Chalmers looked carefully. He could see irrigation lines–the thin tubes of generic poly pipe running between the trees.

Poly pipe tubing may be UV resistant. It may be buried at the time of installation–but the incessant blowing sands always uncovered it–and the value engineering often saved money by suggesting a supplier that did not provide the best rated tubing. The flexible tubing looked like a snake rising up out of the sand and going down into it again and again. Sun exposed brittle and splitting pipe–then partially clogged outlets–both and more contributed to an irrigation of impossible efficiencies and irregular applications–wastage everywhere.

Recalling having seen these problems for more than twenty five years, Chalmers sighed with disappointment–as if he had just been kicked in the gut. At the same time, Madge’s comments about the quality of local contractors’ work and materials came searing back into his memory. Before he could sigh again, he looked hard at the trees, trees obviously straining under the wind and drought conditions.

Chalmers roughly estimated 90% of the trees were alive–that could only mean two things:  that drought tolerant tree species were used, and that laborers were regularly walking these lines to assure delivery of water to the trees. Spaghettis of pipe ran for kilometers to drip out that life giving fluid–so fragile was life for plants in this region.

On previous projects, Chalmers had seen tens upon tens of huge water tanker trucks rumbling 24/7 to supplant failed irrigation water infrastructure–causing untold stress on resources, on transportation networks and on the plants themselves. This issue would be a major point that he must control on his new project.

Offering historical background, Jean-Claude interrupted Chalmers’ thoughts, “When you mentioned Electra and New Dubai, you hinted there might be some kind of competition between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Well, that’s true. On every level there’s competition between the two emirates, even street trees.

“Listen, throughout his life, Sheik Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the very same Emirati who united the Emirates in 1970, was a major supporter of the practical benefits of shade trees and fruit-bearing trees, especially the date palms. So he chose the most useful and tough trees, Phoenix dactylifera, Ziziphus spina-christi, Prosopis cineraria…and with supporting irrigation, planted them for desert shelterbelt buffers, along all major highways. And that, that’s what we’re seeing out there right now.”

Chalmers said, “It’s pretty clear Sheik Zayed not only had common sense, but also the wealth, resources and will power to apply it.”

“Exactly, he was special. He and those around him have been quoted numerous times on the subject of trees, saying things like…farmers grow date palms in hareems…a date palm must have its feet in the water and its head in the fires of heaven…dried dates and camel milk on land–dried dates and black tea for the pearlers. C’est vrai, it’s clear Sheik Zayed had the intelligence to demonstrate the better of human qualities–humans caring for plants that in turn themselves serve humans.”

  • 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)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chalmers’ Lenses

…can you feel me…

Arid sand, salty sand, sand blasting winds–all under this sun–all day every day–underestimate its strength at your peril.

The 1950s–World War II was over, the modern West was recovering and going forward full tilt into modern life, cities, technology, everything. Meanwhile in the Arabian Peninsula, Maha Gargash, in The Sand Fish, tells that Noora al Salmi was living a life where her people were still defending their tribe against other tribes. And that beast of a sand desert was then, a half century ago, no different than today–perilous.

Chalmers knew how essential were his broad explorations of cultural and natural landscapes on this project. He knew that without those extra facets of knowledge, his expected success could be compromised and irretrievably undermined.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

               Chalmers’ Lenses

Despite the last minute circumstances around which Chalmers normally received requests to fix projects, he always endeavored to understand the larger landscape context of those projects. To Chalmers, this included understanding the regional geography, both natural and cultural. Knowledge imparted strength.

To broaden his understanding of the Rub Al Khali, Chalmers would vary his perceptions of a subject, through a variety of questions, then, with each question, he would consider a variety of options. He called each option, a lens–each different lens varying in its magnification. He would then sieve the varieties of information he discovered, to end up with the nuggets, the nuggets that could elevate project quality, assure project success.

For example, he asked himself, exactly where does the Rub Al Khali start and end? Do you measure it on a map of the world…a map of the Arabian Peninsula…a map of the Abu Dhabi Emirate…a map of the Abu Dhabi Municipality? Or, on a map of oral history, as told by a Liwa Oasis resident? Is it a question of natural geography, or, cultural geography? Is it a question of geographic space, or, geologic time?

Chalmers used all resources to understand the landscape, to filter information, to gain knowledge, to enrich his project. But despite all his calculated lenses and such, deep down Chalmers had a sense that this sand desert around which, over the last decades, he had built many projects–this sand desert had dimensions he could not measure.

  • 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)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Global Village

…my neighbor, or stranger…

In this 21st Century ‘Global Village’ known as Dubai, known as Abu Dhabi, who is the ‘man on the street’, who is your neighbor? …the same question every day, every person, every place…society of change–the unending reality of human matrix social mobility. That is life in these Gulf Region cities.

Global Village: There are so many contract expatriate employees here from so many different countries–each group builds its own microcosmic sub-group, based on geography, income, work type, family situation. Most are temporarily here but often for extended periods–four and five year minimums for many–result is a rich street culture–look for it, you will find it. Exciting it is. Uncertain it is.

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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

               JBR Dubai, a Global Village

All these large projects, like Liwa Qsar, are built traditionally in a fog of evolving problems and conflicts wherein final solutions are ultimately discovered, not in advance in the carpeted offices, but in real time, on the sweaty, noisy construction site. Within this understanding of the project process, Chalmers went to visit the Landscape Consultant, Land Iterations and Derivatives–everybody knew them by their short name, LandID. LandID were an American landscape architecture company. Geoffrey Tate, a Brit, was their UAE and Mid East Regional Director.

On the Liwa Qsar Project, LandID were the responsible consultant for all the site finishes, the usual landscape architecture stuff–plants, irrigation, paving, walls, pergolas, water features, plus oversight on wayfinding, signage, lighting, grading, drainage–the usual landscape architecture stuff.

Geoffrey Tate and Chalmers were to meet at Jumeirah Beach Residence, JBR, in New Dubai, on The Walk, at the Cafe di Roma. Chalmers arrived early again. He sat down at the cafe, checked his iPhone for connectivity, and opened an iChat session with Madge. He was intent to bring health back to their bruised emotional connections. She didn’t respond.

Chalmers ordered a Turin hot chocolate. It was a warm chocolate pudding; he liked it, winter or summer. It was 9PM, just getting dark, the temperature was 35°C with just a hint of cooling, light breezes off the Gulf. The evening crowd, the paseo, were just building.

In New Dubai, The Walk was a linear pedestrian promenade, almost thirty meters wide, stretching along four, maybe five city blocks. Along the inside edge, it consisted of narrow frontage fashion shop hang outs, cafes, restaurants, cheek by jowl. That half of the promenade was given over to umbrella’d tables. The remainder of the promenade was a palm tree lined paseo show place. At the curbed outer edge was a one lane, one way, traffic calmed road–talk about show and tell–the hottest cars in Dubai crawled it–every night. And beyond the crawl, the sand beaches of Jumeirah and the Gulf. It was all about see and be seen.

The Walk generated a vibrant, real-life, cultural mix–a front-page social tabloid, if you will, including a good sprinkling of Emiratis, loads of Middle East Arabs (the Egyptians, the Lebanese), some Magrebis (the North Africans), some sub-Saharan Africans, lots of Eastern and Western Europeans, and people from the old British Commonwealth…the South Africans, the Australians, the New Zealanders…some Bollywood sub-continentals, and a few North American expatriates, with their rambunctious pet dogs, barely kept on leashes. The Walk had become a real-time mingling of Western pop culture with regional and local traditions…perhaps exemplifying the promise, the buzz of a ‘peaceful’, multi-cultural future, Dubai-style.

  • 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

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(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

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Breakfast with Theuns

…men at work…

The Rupee was once the currency in this Gulf Region. So it is not surprising that the contemporary human matrix in the UAE is dominated by workers and businessmen from the Sub-continent. Do these guys look unhappy–no, they are doing what men do in almost any country, any culture–under going hardship, trying to make a better life for their families–in this case many, but not all, are away from their homes and families.

…sleekness…

Dubai Monorail is just as much an iconic project as Burj Khalifa, as Palm Jumeirah–massive infrastructure, massive amounts of materials and massive numbers of human laborers–white collar and blue collar.

Erik Chalmers and Theuns van der Walt are white collar mercenaries. Theuns already knew of Chalmers’ reputation for getting the five star destination resort external finishes ready–at highest quality and on time. In this short piece, they meet face to face for the first time.

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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

               Breakfast with Theuns 

Before Chalmers finished reading the second text, his cell started its silent ringing. Chalmers didn’t pick up. Instead, he looked around and found Theuns van der Walt, the Sponsor, not far away next to the buffet. They shook hands.

Theuns, in the midst of an aggressive and very firm handshake, said, “Chalmers, pleased to meet you. Glad you made it. Let us begin.”

The owner/developer company, Cultural Tourism Futures, was a well funded, and well connected Abu Dhabi government quango. Their representative, Theuns van der Walt, was a South African. He was thirty five, an impressive rugby union player in his youth, and an avid Springbok supporter now. Theuns was five foot ten, and a thick, fit, robust two hundred pounds. He was a focussed, professional, real estate development manager. He exhibited the tenacious qualities of white Dutch South Africans, who, over the centuries, had helped build a solid and admirable economic power of a country.

Theuns was always impeccably shaved, head and face, with overall, just the right amount of light sun tan. He dressed as if he just came off the catwalk in Milan–conservative and elegantly tasteful–appropriate sun glasses and no jewelry–Ermenegildo Zegna–all the way.

But, like many other white South Africans, he was happy to be working outside his home country and had no desire to return. Why? Because of the new black leadership in the country, which in his opinion, had led to a severe cultural and economic degradation. In Theuns’ case, it was disastrously exemplified two years ago. While Theuns was in Dubai, there was a racially motivated car jacking in Johannesburg, during which, his wife and his very young and only child, a son, were ripped from their car and ruthlessly murdered in cold blood on the public street.

Theuns was a man whose impatience and worldly lust, could only be the result of the shocking killing of his family, from which he had never fully recovered.

From the buffet, they both took coffee and toast, then found a table with a view of the golf course. The weather made inside the only choice. It was not yet 10AM; but outside the temperature was 39°C and rising, and the humidity was 70%–hot and oppressively humid, even in the shade–normal Dubai weather.

Looking at Theuns’ business card, Chalmers asked him, “What is it exactly that Sponsors, or more specifically, Task Force Stream Sponsors, like you, do at CTF?”

Theuns, always impatient, summarized how the latest trends in business management, social justice, and environmental sustainability were all wrapped into a matrix system of job responsibility at CTF. He continued, “While there is no direct chain of command in this matrix system, I have the final project financial, and schedule responsibility in front of the CEO and the Executive Board.”

Chalmers said, “Ok, I like the clarity of one point of authority and communication, that should work well. But the matrix system? It sounds a bit awkward…but I’m sure you won’t let it hinder my work. Now, following our Skype, let’s get to specifics. Please tell me the particulars you expect from me, and the appropriate details.”

Theuns, always with a grudging tone, responded, “What I expect? The best site finishes ever, on time, and on budget! Any questions there?”

“None at all, that’s what I do; but give me some background, please.”

Theuns continued, “On the landscape, we have no one internally with the appropriate field experience; and our Project Management team, our Consultant and our General Contractor just can not seem to make the landscape happen. They are not responsive–not effective–not efficient, we are not getting a 100% result! We do not have time to change horses!!!

“Look, this is CTF’s first major built project. Our financial backers and our marketing, our branding people require it to be special. We expect Condé Nast to rank our Empty Quarter Project, Liwa Qsar, #1 in their world list of the best new resort destinations; and we are more than three months behind schedule, with only six months until the soft opening. We have a major A-lister opening event, with all the leaders from all the Emirates. Since I am the Sponsor, I want to say this clearly, in words that you understand, my ass is on the line, and your ass, too, will be on the line. My position is ‘no fail’!”

On the job, Theuns was a machine, a 24/7 machine. This kept him from thinking about the loss of his family. He drove for success. In that drive, there was no line he wouldn’t cross–no line. Theuns had found that at his high level of project management, as long as he provided what the owner needed, any legal setbacks or otherwise ‘impediments’ would be, with the owner’s deft hand, the shortest of temporary.

Theuns saw Chalmers as a white collar mercenary, like himself. He was right. They were both part of a Middle East stable of multi-cultural development and construction mercenaries, professionals of the hardest type, riding the huge cresting developmental wave in the Gulf Region.

Theuns stayed on the roll. He was pushing, he was hot, impatience on the boil, “The project is for only 200 keys, but we bring power and water from over 100 kilometers to the site. We have to be ethically responsible and environmentally responsible, no matter what the logic. We are building a fixed destination in a place where for centuries the few people ever passing through were…nomads! The challenges are many. We need that place first class in six months. Now I want to know are you on board or not?!”

Theuns hadn’t touched his toast. His coffee was gone. His Blackberry was buzzing every three minutes, and he just could not put it down.

Chalmers said, “Look, you’re paying me fairly. I’ll dig into it this week and meet you for an end of the day update this Thursday. I’ll brief you on what I’ve found, and I’ll outline an action plan to get CTF its finish and award quality, on schedule. But, Theuns, listen to me, please, you’ve got to know that I’ll need you to clear things for me–cut the red tape, give me line level vetoes on all invoices, and no downtown meetings, do you follow?”

“Chalmers, I will do what is needed; but it is you who must not fail.”

Chalmers knew the game, he got Theuns’ message. “That’s clear enough. Just give me the contact details of the responsibles, and Thursday, I’ll show you how it’ll be accomplished.”

Theuns concluded their meeting, “Excellent, let us get this rolling. We will meet at The Library, Thursday then, say, 9PM?”

They agreed.

Theuns texted Chalmers the contact details for the on site CTF Hospitality Director, the General Contractor, the Project Management team, the Landscape Consultant, the Landscape Contractor and all other applicable Sub-Contractors. Theuns then excused himself and left.

Chalmers remained, and began to set up his meetings. Tonight, he would begin with the Landscape Consultant.

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  • 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

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(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

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Kismet

…remember…

Whether visiting as a tourist, on business or a white collar mercenary–hard to tell the difference between them in the public realm–everyone who comes to the Gulf Region inevitably looks for fun; and, everyone is reminded there are rules for expatriates, business people and tourists. The warnings are there.

In this Gulf Region world of international development, design, construction and facility management, the white collar mercenaries, like many of the characters in The 23 Club, build up–in a loosely linked community–a broad network of international contacts. Among them, from time to time, kismet meetings occur.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

               Kismet

Chalmers was strangely ruffled. More than his rift with Madge, more than these last couple hours, it was the last twenty four hours that were now too vivid, almost visceral in his head. His thoughts drifted back to the blood in the streets, to Jean-Claude, to Bahrain, to Ashura. His thoughts drifted back as he recalled yesterday, about mid-day.

On this trip to the UAE, he had had to make an overnight stop in Bahrain. He didn’t think much of it, an extra overnight. He had not checked the Hegira calendar. It was the Day of Ali. He had read about this special Shiite day; but, he had never seen it, and had no reason to think about it until he was at the hotel breakfast buffet that morning. He bumped into an old friend, Jean-Claude Thibaut, who, on his way from Papua New Guinea, coincidently had also stopped over in Bahrain.

Chalmers had first met him nearly twenty years ago, while they were both speakers at a national conference sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects. They shared an educational background in Brussels, a landscape fondness for the Alps, and a fundamental agreement on the importance of integrating ethnobotanical cultural roots into contemporary landscape design.

When Chalmers explained he was on the way to the UAE to fix a project in the Empty Quarter, Jean-Claude told him about related research he had done there in the past five years. For both, this was a welcome coincidence. Jean-Claude adjusted his schedule; and they agreed to meet up in the next week to visit the Empty Quarter together and compare notes.

Jean-Claude Thibaut, a forty nine year old Belgian, was a confirmed bachelor who found his pleasures in the ‘hair-shirt’ explorations of cultures, of marginal groups just outside the edge of mainstream society, people still in contact with the land, with the old ways–Bedu, Berbers, Calusa fisherfolk descendants, true Gypsies.

He examined human relationships with plants, through landscape, language, music, life. He was a very broad scale ethnobotanist. He did not write for publication, did not have a PhD; but, he did maintain extensive multimedia digital archives, all collected first-hand:  stories, songs, movies, images, along with plant related artifacts, such as amulets, charms, talismans.

Born into a wealthy entrepreneurial Belgian family, he took birth in the Belgian Congo where he spent the early years of his childhood. He was a polyglot graduate of international schools in Brussels and Gstaad. Following formal education at the University of London, he had travelled and visited all major botanical institutions in Africa and South America, gathering ethnobotanical information before his first post with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Ultimately, he became a director there. He had since retired to focus full-time on his personal research activities.

At five foot eleven and 165 pounds, he looked popularly slender and athletically lean. He had a self-effacing presence, and a manner of dress and hygiene uniquely making him as at home meeting and greeting in a five star Monte Carlo resort, as in a majlis tent on the edge of the Empty Quarter. He was not shy about sharing the realities of the groups he studied–‘over the edge’ would be the polite way to describe his unusual first hand experiences of old, almost forgotten ways of human interactions with plants in the landscape.

Between Chalmers and Jean-Claude, despite their substantial grounds of agreement, were interlaced threads of ambiguous tension, mostly friendly, mostly the subtleties of hidden cross-cultural joking. Those subtleties were built from Jean-Claude’s obsessive frequenting of the boundary edges between humans and plants, inspired originally by his attraction to the writings of William Blake, Aldous Huxley, Carlos Castenada.

Jean-Claude was an explorer. Chalmers was a builder. They were friends, even though their clatteringly different approaches to the landscape often belied that friendship. Nevertheless, Jean-Claude was happy to see Chalmers and greeted him saying, “Well, my old friend, here we are together in the Middle East! Do not tell me you are about to become, once again, the ‘Surveyor of Fabric’ on some new mind boggling landscape extravaganza?!”

  • 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)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

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