Abu Divey

February 10, 2011

Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Multiple Days

Notable Matter: ATM for gold, not cash

Feb. 4. land in Abu Dhabi at 3 a.m. to cover a sporting event, an unexpected, surreal experience. I have no idea what I’m doing, where I’m going or what is in my suitcase.

Before leaving I read about Abu Dhabi, learn that unlike Catholics, Muslims are not reputed for tipping back the bottle. Thankfully, Abu Dhabi in all its wealth and prestige caters to Westerners and therefore permits alcohol in hotels where Westerners feel safe. Places like the Intercontinental and  Emirates Palace, home to an ATM for gold. Yes, people wait in line and buy gold in Abu Dhabi.

Dive bars don’t exist in places with golden ATMs so I made due.

Intercontinental, Abu Dhabi

First time I’m uncomfortable in the presence of men. They sit in circles chain smoking. They keep to themselves. I falsely believe I’m intimidated by their dress — kanduras, guthras, egals — but that’s not it. I never see them with women, particularly in the lounge. I don’t know if I can talk to them and I don’t want to trample cultural boundaries.* This pisses me off.

*I do this anyway. Details forthcoming in the church/religion bit.

I drink a glass of red wine, smoke a cigarette and eat some nuts. I try not to think about the other hands that may have touched my nuts.

I listen to British accents, foreign tongues and watch the lounge singer. Her gaze fixes on me. I’m the only one watching.

When I leave I can’t get out of my chair. It weighs about 100 pounds. The waiter rushes to my aid. If I can’t get out of a chair, how will I organize my life?

I ponder the possibility of joining a harem.

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

This is our home base — media, PR staff, athletes. We’re treated like royalty, media included. I spend a lot of time researching the athletes nominated for the Laureus awards, find myself getting distracted by futbol players I don’t need to interview. There’s something about futbol. It isn’t the players, it’s the culture. It’s refreshingly un-American, tan and fit.

I don’t drink much here. I’m on the clock and exhausted from travel, a long excursion to the desert for celebrity sandsurfing and, of course, insomnia. I manage a half a glass of wine during lunch on the final day of my stay. I eat a little and read about Cairo. What Abu Dhabi lacks in freedom of press, it makes up for in wealth, pouring ridiculous amounts of color and gloss into its dailies. The newspaper is probably more valuable than my car.

The individual serving me has no idea what I want. Water. Yes. He returns 10 minutes later and puts the bottle on the table, a major faux pas in these restaurants. I ask for wine. He brings milk. I understand the confusion, each has one syllable. It happens.

A manager steps in and brings the wine.

I lose interest in Cairo and instead stare at the beach. I see a fat woman in a bathing suit. Must be an American. Halfway through the glass I leave in hopes of finding Kelly Slater at a nearby futbol match. He isn’t there but I’m allowed beyond the rope dividing media and important people. I stand next to a short person who I’m told “basically owns” Abu Dhabi. I pretend to watch the game for four seconds and start a conversation with a German. He tries to name players I might recognize. He’s aghast (politely, Germans always are) that I don’t know anything. My face is blank.

I roll up my pants, head to the beach and ride a camel.

Later that night after red carpet and the award ceremony, I end up in the after party tent. I’m not supposed to be here but the event organizer ushers me in. I’m on the hunt for an athlete. He isn’t in the tent but I run into his manager who gives me his agent’s number. I make myself comfortable, drink some champagne and people watch until I remember my 6 a.m. departure. Somehow I never make it to bed.

These may not be dive bars, but somewhere between packing at 5:45 a.m. showering at 6 a.m. and leaving at 6:15 a.m., I lose a computer cord, bra and shirt. That’s pretty divey. It’s not what you think, but it’s divey.

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One Response to “Abu Divey”

  1. […] first experience with Islam was, naturally, inappropriate. I first heard midday prayer while relaxing on a private beach in a […]

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