Cross Cultural

Lived lots of years in foreign countries–foreign cultures.

Cross-cultural are experiences in which I have been face-to-face with people and behaviours I did not understand and often did not agree.

…as opposed to multi-cultural which is theory only.

In my work as a landscape architect in those foreign countries and foreign cultures, I had to build major projects. Had to reach workable agreements in difficult cross-cultural conditions. Learned so very much from so many different people.

The links below track some of my cross-cultural journeys.

They are all HD, all less than one minute long, and they are all growing from the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali.

ArabiaFelix

Rub al Khali Enigma: the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula, what it is.

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Atlantis

Dreams: how to get from dreams to fiction to reality, Atlantis Dubai 2008.

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Qasr

Empty Quarter: transforming cross-cultural realties, harsh environments into restful shelter, Qasr al Sarab 2010.

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GolfAcademy

A Golf Academy in the Empty Quarter?

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Dubai Transect Landscape

…empty quarter zones Dubai…

Dubai Municipality sits in the Coastal Zone. Al Ain is an oasis in the Desert Zone. The oasis is supplied by rare monsoon remnants, from the Gulf of Oman, captured by the Hajar Mountains in the Mountain Zone.

I wanted to understand a little more about the larger landscape into which the Dubai Municipality sits. Dubai Municipality is just a narrow, but intensely built, strip along the edge of the Gulf. From the above satellite image–it is hardly visible.

The landscape transect distance from Dubai, at the Gulf coastal edge, above on the left, across to the right to the Gulf of Oman is 100km.

Many times, I drove that transect through the Dubai Emirate on a main road, identifying essentially three distinct landscape eco-zones:

A Dutch doctor, a General Practitioner, Marijcke Jongbloed, lived in the United Arab Emirates for twenty years. She surveyed, 1983-2003, the landscape of the UAE. She compiled her findings in a book entitled, The Comprehensive Guide to the Wild Flowers of the United Arab Emirates. She photographed each plant in its natural habitat, annotated a location map and commented on how the plant was used by humans (ethnobotany). Best reference I found for plants in the UAE.

…sand or sun…but no water…

Aladdin? A lamp? No, it’s the Empty Quarter and it’s full of sand and genies…No!! It’s full of djinnis and gnomes and surfs and a whole lot of people…but the humans only live along the edges, right? No, no, no…it is nothing…nothing but a mirage.

 

Mirage…dream, dream, dream…when I want you in my arms, when I want you and all your charms…whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream…the Empty Quarter…dream.

🙂

(dream, courtesy of The Everly Brothers)

World Hemisphere

…your world?

Dubai sits in the centre of this world.

I visited Dubai in the early 90s for business. Then in 2006, I moved to Dubai for business–four years living and doing business in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Liwa Oasis.

My landscape challenge was a simple question: what is the Dubai landscape? Never found the answer. But in 2007 I put together a short series of seven figures that addressed some important landscape issues in the region.

This one addresses the population dynamic of the humans in a hemisphere that is measured by a six hour or less jet flight from Dubai. This is a Dubai-centric world hemisphere.

Hydrate or Die

…hydrate or die…

In the Empty Quarter…do I need to be told? Hydrate or die?

Landscape design, construction and maintenance under the sun on the world’s largest continuous sand desert–the Empty Quarter–the Rub al Khali. Is it like…just another day at the office?

Just be glad to be here…

I’ve been writing a landscape story titled, The 23 Club. Above, I have summarized it in a five minute clip.

In this story an American expatriate landscape architect confronts the strange multi-cultural realities of Arabian Peninsula work. Those social peculiarities layer with the powerful presence of the Empty Quarter landscape…the Empty Quarter, an enigmatic sand desert which, alone by its very presence, negates life.

The multi-media clip opens a window on the physical geography and cultural issues that swirl about the story–the construction of an iconic five star destination resort in that oil-rich, sand desert which, until recently, had been populated only by the transient Bedu.

If you are attracted to ethnobotany or plants, gardens and landscapes and have the wonder; but you do not have the time or money to travel to the Arabian Peninsula for these, then, just be glad to be here.

Landscape Story–what is it?

International Authors' DayBetween 14-18 July 2015, on each day, I will be making a post in celebration of International Authors’ Day, featuring review of works by Kenneth Grahame, J.L. Borges and Algernon Blackwood, authors whose works have been formative inspirations for me.

These posts will be made as part of a Blog Hop as can be seen and visited through the links at the bottom of each post.

 

 

Today is 14July2015.

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Landscape Story–what is it?
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These landscape stories are classic quests–journeys. Maybe a landscape story should start with some context, some definition.

On the earth, humans see the surface and what they see is landscape. The difference between landscape and garden is that a garden is cultivated by humans, is protected by humans and is relatively safe from threats of death to humans. Whereas in the larger landscape, the threat of death, by other life forms including humans, known or unknown, may be just ‘around the corner’, or even ‘in your face’.

Myself, I always have looked at it like this from a larger historical perspective: in the beginning humans moved in the landscape–hunting and gathering, I think is the currently popular way to describe their activities. When humans found the dangers in the landscape, when they found the threat of death in the landscape too great, they built shelters–the realm of architects today, shelters.

Then humans put fences around their shelters, cultivated plants and called those outdoor areas, gardens. Gardens are places dominated by plants, places where humans offer some personal service to plants. Gardens are places relatively safe from the danger of death. In the garden, there is protection. In the garden, the intense human energy for self defense can be suspended, enabling finer instincts of humans to be accessed.

Gardens and landscapes both are essentially the environment of plants. And plants  are the domain where the most dynamic interactions remain to be discovered by humans. Landscape stories explore dynamic interactions between humans and plants in gardens and landscapes.

A landscape story moves beyond furniture and setting. The plants, gardens and landscapes begin to have lives of their own…kind of like real life…and beyond. In the works of literature, arts and music, plants, gardens and landscapes have forever been the source of seemingly unlimited human inspirations. Of particularly rich inspirations for me have been works by Kenneth Grahame, by Algernon Blackwood, by J.L. Borges. Inspirations of sensual thresholds, of emotion, of intellect, of design, of beauty, of spirit, of existential uncertainty, of connecting essence, of source, of…

In The 23 Club, Erik Chalmers, a landscape architect, follows his obsession to build beautiful and captivating gardens in strange places…this time to the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula. On his way, he stops over in Bahrain and, in a kismet moment, bumps into an old friend, Jean-Claude Thibaut.

Jean-Claude Thibaut, an ethnobotanist, was born in the Belgian Congo and had built his career around exploring ‘borderline’ human cultures, Bedu, Gypsies, Berbers and their interactions with plants and landscapes. Erik finds out that Jean-Claude had recently been to the Empty Quarter to advise an Emirati on his masters thesis–a study of how people from the Liwa Oasis traditionally used plants in their extremely arid sand desert environment.

In the following 4 minute sound clip, Jean-Claude explains some of the unmappable experiences he had during his nine months driving everyday from Abu Dhabi to the Liwa Oasis, in the heart of the Empty Quarter–the very location of Erik’s new Liwa Qsar project, a five star resort destination series of courtyard gardens.

Then there is another facet to these landscape stories. They are fiction, but they use geography, history and botany to give the stories some ‘real life’ anchors, as in the following three minute clip where Erik Chalmers and Jean-Claude discuss the Spice Route over a plate of biryani at a truck stop in the middle of the ‘almost’ Empty Quarter.

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…inspiration…

…where is it…

Plants: how do they inspire you?
Please answer that question because on the last day of this International Authors’ Day Blog Hop, I will randomly select a winner to receive The 23 Club, Beta 6, a free giveaway for your reading enjoyment.

International Authors’ Day

International Authors' DayBetween 14-18 July 2015, on each day, I will be making a post in celebration of International Authors’ Day, featuring reviews of works by Kenneth Grahame, J.L. Borges and Algernon Blackwood, authors whose works have been formative inspirations for me.

These posts will be made as part of a Blog Hop as can be seen and visited through the links at the bottom of each post.

Also at the bottom of each post please find the giveaway question:

Plants: how do they inspire you?

Please answer that question in the comments section. On the last day of this International Authors’ Day Blog Hop, I will randomly select a winner to receive The 23 Club, Beta 6, a free giveaway for your reading enjoyment

Landscape Story–what is it?

14July 2015

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On Ecology–Kenneth Grahame

15July2015

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Landscape Mysteries–Algernon Blackwood

16July2015

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Existential Garden Visits–JL Borges

17July2015

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The 23 Club, Beta 6 Giveaway

18July2015

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In The 23 Club, Erik Chalmers, a landscape architect, follows his obsession to build beautiful and captivating gardens--this time to The Empty Quarter.

In The 23 Club, Erik Chalmers, a landscape architect, follows his obsession to build beautiful and captivating gardens–this time to The Empty Quarter.

The Last Kilometer

…don't fight it…

Erik Chalmers, American born and bred professional landscape architect, used all his skills to manage these very large, complex iconic projects in the Arabian Peninsula. He knew that the multi-cultural and technical complexities required not simply a left side of the brain number crunching iron will; but they also required what he called…performance art.

What is the magic–what are the skills required to succeed on these huge complex projects being designed and built in such challenging and downright dangerous environments? Erik Chalmers’ post project notes give insight into his successes.

But Erik Chalmers, for the first time in decades on an assignment without his wife Madge, was about to learn if he had done one project too many and lost his one true emotional certainty, his one true root.

…it is…

Chalmers felt what he had missed over the past eight months–the fullness of the water, the plants, the soil, the wholeness–it was holistic, it was an existential comfort.

Following is a short narrative from Chapter 13: Pilgrimage, that imparts some of the landscape connections in The 23 Club.

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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
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal
  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage

               The Last Kilometer

Chalmers was returning after eight months on his own. Nobody in the UAE called him Erik. It had been eight months of Chalmers. Eight months of taking care of his own meals, his own shopping, his own laundry. It was the little stuff that informed his daily life culture. It was the little stuff that built up…big time.

As the train took Chalmers closer to his stop, his thoughts turned to Madge. He was returning to his shared spaces, his shared life. Chalmers was becoming Erik again. He missed Madge; but he was uncertain how this return would be. Long distance communications always filtered, always blurred emotions.

Chalmers recalled the worst of his time away…he had not been able to hide his week in the hospital from Madge. He was supposed to have gone to Singapore for silk; but her worst fear came true. He had been injured in an automobile accident and hospitalized. She suffered to hear about it from distance. Sorry just did not cover it…from either side.

He arrived at Lauterbrunnen and thought, it won’t be long now.

He transferred from the train to the funicular. It was late in the afternoon and the sky was overcast. This time of year there was little difference between the valley village and the small plateau up where he and Madge lived. Fall plants were already naked of leaves. The first big snow could come any day. The temperature 5ºC or below; frost threatened.

As the funicular rose, Chalmers recalled his excitement nearly nine months ago when he was asked to help fix the first five star resort destination deep in the Empty Quarter. It had been about the challenge. It had been about his joy in providing beautiful gardens for people.

Now the job was complete. The gardens were a success. The owner was satisfied, happy. That world was finished. Now he was home.

And he was worried. Had he traded off something of emotion and trust, something he had held closely with Madge, just to build a couple gardens?

  • 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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The Press

…water is life…

Rarely does dew manifest itself in the Empty Quarter. Trying to get water from dew in the Empty Quarter is like trying to get truth, or even certifiable facts from the ‘Press’–anywhere in the world.

…East or West or…

The English ‘Press’ in the Gulf Region is suffused with people from so many different countries and cultures, each trying to make a difference, each trying to earn a living, all overlaid with the moral fabric and traditions of the Region–it is filled with strange combinations of ambiguity and things that should not be said–and things that must be said.

Newspapers are newspapers, right? Hard copy or digital, right? Buried in each country’s news media are cultural clues waiting to be discovered, waiting to be puzzled out. How else can you understand these words from Saheeh Al Bukhaaree: ‘Whoever has seven Ajwat Al Madinah dates every morning, he will not be harmed that day by poison or magic.’

Following is a short narrative piece from Chapter 12: Long and Short, to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.

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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
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal
  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short

               The Press

Mid-December 2010, and Chalmers had just settled down into his business class seat on his flight back home. With a certain trepidation, he was looking forward to Christmas in the mountains with Madge. As he sat down, he couldn’t tell which troubled him more, the stiffness in his back from the automobile accident, or the mental and physical weariness of eight months, everyday in the Empty Quarter, under the relentless sun, cajoling, arm twisting everyone on the team, or…the uncertainty of seeing Madge for the first time in eight months.

Liwa Qsar was completed, even without Theuns. The project had made headlines in the press numerous times–good and bad. Nevertheless, the Liwa Qsar project opened on schedule. The soft opening was 2 October, and the official grand opening was 1 December. It was grueling. It was accomplished, another project under his belt. But, by Chalmers’ point of view, the Empty Quarter, being what it was, could never be considered conquered by this project, or by any project. Even after eight months living and working every day in the Empty Quarter, Chalmers found it too large, too old, too unapproachable, and too unknown.

Chalmers lived on site for the first three months before relocating to Abu Dhabi for the rest of the project. He couldn’t live 24/7 in the heart of the Empty Quarter. He needed to get to the water’s edge–to the city. He needed a certain kind of human space–space the Empty Quarter denied to him. So, he commuted to and from the site every day.

Despite the successful project, his Empty Quarter experience had been one of strange, impending suffocation. The Rub al Khali was always trying to take something from him, trying to constrain something that should not be constrained. He couldn’t really put his finger on it.

  • 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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Sustainable Rimal

The open forum of majlis functions from small groups of close friends, up to and including the largest groups of people speaking directly to the rulers of each Emirate where anyone can speak with the ruler at majlis. It is relaxed as is traditional at majlis--relaxed as the four Emiratis in the above image--note that three of them are wearing aqal headresses and one is wearing a hamdaneya headress.

The open forum of majlis functions from small groups of close friends, up to and including the largest groups of people speaking directly to the rulers of each Emirate where anyone can speak with the ruler at majlis. It is relaxed as is traditional at majlis–relaxed as the four Emiratis in the above image–note that three of them are wearing aqal headresses and one is wearing a hamdaneya headress.

Erik Chalmers, Jean-Claude Thibaut and Theuns van der Walt share a social night of conversation over dinner and televised football with a small group of Emiratis who have a special interest in the Liwa Qsar Project under construction in the Empty Quarter.

Following is a short part from Chapter 11: Villa Majlis to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.

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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
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal
  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis

               Sustainable Rimal

What happens when popular jargon meets a larger than life, a larger than time landscape? What is sustainable about something that is ‘always shifting’  Or, rather, is ‘always shifting’ the most fundamental component of sustainability? Is sustainable larger than time, is it larger than eternity? Ha!! The more attention paid to popular jargon, the more folly suffered!

Fairuz, an Emirati from Liwa Oasis taking personal interest in the Liwa Qsar project, Jean-Claude, the Belgian Ethnobotanist, and Erik Chalmers had much in common. They shared interest, yet with varied perspectives, on the sands (rimal) and on the Bedu life style.

They sat down together. Fairuz asked for dates and kaouwa, Arabic coffee, which was then roasted, ground and prepared on a side table next to him. Chalmers and Jean-Claude joined him. Traditionally taken in restrained amount, kaouwa and dates were a sweet, soft, tender, buttery, room temperature date washed down with a thimble full of the hottest, bitterest, freshly brewed, cardamom and clove flavored coffee.

Following the kaouwa, Chalmers took the opportunity to explore a topic which had been on his mind since hearing Kelvin Isley the other day describe his experience of an almost unearthly, powerful rhythm of the heat emanating from the sands. He drew on Thesiger’s recognition of the exceptionally strong power of the sands. Thesiger had observed in the Bedu, people intensely occupied with the sands, they never commented on the beauty of the sands, the sky, the night, or the sunset.

Chalmers asked, “In books from both before, and, since the coming of Islam, I have read that djinni, spirits, have resided as unusual forces in the sands. Fairuz, I’m curious, is there anything about the djinni in the sands that could be a good reference for landscape architects these days, sustainability, or otherwise?”

Jean-Claude listened carefully to the question and internally put it into a larger context. He could see the desire among certain social groups for sustainability as a desire for secular eternality, a contemporary replacement for the stability traditionally supplied by religions. As far as he was concerned it was short sighted, a passing fad, ignorant of powers greater than the human mind and intelligence, ignorant of the powers that moved the sands, that put the sands in place. But, at the same time Jean-Claude valued these social efforts, seeing them as an opportunity to get more people in touch with their ethnobotanical roots.

He re-focussed and interjected some facts, “If I may, on the sustainability part, for centuries, it can be concluded that without oil and electricity, this Abu Dhabi Emirate region sustains at most about 25,000 humans, but with very significant, serious hardships.”

“Interesting this concept of sustainability,” Fairuz started, “I agree with your numbers; but, the quality of their life, the tenuous nature of the supply of food and water made life here almost like a, a penal colony.”

Fairuz suggested, “Current environmentalists, mostly from the temperate Western world seem to romanticize a simpler life style–pre-oil–pre-industrial. Life here was hell, even fifty years ago, a day in-day out major struggle for existence.”

Jean-Claude added, “Along the same line, I recently read a novel written by an Emirati lady, born in the 1940s. SandFish was the title and the lady’s name was Maha Gargash. She described her life as a youth and their small herd of goats in the foot hills of the Hajar mountains. She went on, writing that after marriage, her move to the Dubai region, with its dependence on pearling–was nothing but impossible hardships, her whole life–absolutely impossible hardships!”

  • 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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