Neighbors

Neighbors—good, bad or indifferent.

Do they mind their own business?

Do they foist their life philosophy?

Or…are you glad for them?

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My neighbors—why are they always so jolly?

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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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

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

(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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