Monday, 9 December 2013

Amsterdam at Christmas

The words in my head today are from the 17th-century poet George Herbert :

And now in age I bud again
After so many deaths I live and write.
I once more smell the dew and rain
And relish versing.
O my only light
It cannot be
that I am he
On whom thy tempersts fell all night

I meditate on age and birth and light ... more soon, now I have an appointment!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Desert dreams...

Wrongly, I now see, I had supposed that during my two weeks in Dubai I would have ample time to write. Maybe not only some fine alliterative prose, but also some local-colour scenes and some amusing sketches sprinkled with the kids' conversations... No such luck. It has been a series of packed days, ranging from excellent Bible studies with Judy at the church she attends ... which brought back memories of my student days at Oxford ... to picnics in the Dubai parks, and shopping (Christmas is - yes - coming!) in some of the Dubai malls (my favourite mall is Ibn Battuta, named after the famous explorer).
Managed to snatch a few half-hours to read (am presently into William Dalrymple's From the holy mountain in which he recounts his journeys through some of the cities in Mesopotamia where David and I have just been. Fascinating, incidentally, to find how different his experiences in Turkey were, less than 20 years ago, from ours today in 2013).
And I sometimes read an international paper here, and catch snatches about the wars and conflicts that oppress the world (oh, listen for the angels' wings!) and I think about time and age, inevitably, surrounded by so much youth and energy, and in the midst of the buzz of blatant commercialism.
(Hm, I do sometimes get carried away by my delight in alliteration...)
Yet, here is a world of high ceilings, and outside, just across the road, the sea starts, and the waves stretch towards the east. And in the local market places the air is filled with scents of cinammon and frankincense, and silken scarves hang outside shops, and you know that not far away, the desert sands begin. And the muezzin calls at the appointed hours, and on small rugs the faithful bow their heads.
Another world.
I feel very much part of it, or rather, I find it in no way foreign.
Two more days and then back to Amsterdam, where the Sint Nikolaas festivities will have finished, giving way to Christmas sounds (canned carols with American vowels) and the cold damp northern air. Sadness for ageing bones...
Before I leave I'll attend the singing of Handel's Messiah, performed by one of the choirs Judy sings with. I find it a little disconerting hearing something which for me is so essentially English, performed here in the warmth of the Arabian desert (as it were!). Though, in that respect, Dubai is very special ... I do not sense great cultural incongruity when I see the Christmas trees in the Ibn Battuta Mall.
It truly is a melting pot. And so far, seems to be working, allowing people of many different ethnic groups and religious beliefs to live and labour together ... but of course, I never see behind the painted decors. I suspect that violence and discrimination abound ... how could it be otherwise. That is not a rhetorical question.
A flutter of angels' wings? That is.