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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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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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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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.

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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

               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

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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 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.

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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 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

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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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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.

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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

               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

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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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