Saturday, June 13, 2009

Qatar Day 5 - Business, Museums, Souk


Limousine downtown to the business meeting, where we met Charlie Watt, an old acquaintance of mine and some friendly Qataris. We arrived early so took a walk to the Corniche that swept round the bay, in the absolutely blistering sun, where a family of Qataris were sitting quietly underneath a palm tree watching a western woman jog in the 45 degree heat. I’m not sure which they were more shocked by, her skimpy black leotard sportswear or the fact that she was running in this heat.

The two meetings went well so we decided, on Charlie’s advice, to take a taxi to the Museum of Islamic Art. This was well worth it. Designed by Pei, it a pile of cubic structures, on several levels, like a pile of well ordered blocks,, punctured by motifs from Islamic architecture, including a feature reflecting the eyes of a veiled woman. It sits on an island with a long ramp, with fountains, leading to the front door. Inspired by a mosque he saw in Cairo, it has an open square hall with a marble, geometric floor in cream, black and orange and a huge hanging lamp, as one sees in the large mosques. The roof is suspended on two sets metal points, at different heights to give the sense of a front and a back, with a stalactite dome and oculus. Two of the floors have a superb collection of calligraphy, poetry, tiles, glass, metalwork, doors, mosque lamps and so on. These are all quality pieces. On either side there are areas with fountains and pools of still water, reflecting the Islamic love of gardens and water. The temperature on the Limousine dash board read 47 degrees! Back to the hotel where we ate some lunch, had a sleep, then were picked up by Charlie at 7 pm. He took us to the Souk Waif where we walked, talked and had an excellent Indian meal. The Souk was a fine place, with the usual alleyways, ceramics, honey, dates and so on.

Charlie explained the political situation and attempts by Qatar to diversify by creating a knowledge economy (very different from Kuwait where the focus is on banking and communications). What both (indeed all GCC states) have in common is a bloated public sector and a malaise among a population who have grown used to living on the fat of oil production. Again , the roads were full of crazy drivers in powerful vehicles and Charlie had already (in seven months) known of one person he worked with die at the hands of boy racers. There’s almost no crime but plenty of corruption, as kin is the primary social unit. Layering commercial structures and public institutions on top of family groups causes problems, but that’s the way it is. I have to say that Doha seemed much more planned and cleaner than Kuwait City. The architecture also seemed better. Qatar Airways back to Heathrow from a trip that was successful on the business front and fascinating culturally.

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