Friday, February 13, 2009

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing

Helen Keller

QN: Another installment from Bruce. I thought it was great and offer it here as an exclusive feature...

3rd Postcard from Fujairah


The breakfast buffet here at the hotel is amazing; the twin counters stretch for at least sixty linear feet, and are literally covered with food. One can choose from seven different kinds of juice, two styles of pre-prepared egg, veal sausage, beans, sautéed mushrooms, at least five kinds of cheese, a dozen different breads, six different pastries, eight different fresh fruits both whole and prepared, plus yogurt, dry cereal, European granola, dried fruit, a salad bar, smoked salmon and mackerel, and local specialties like Arabic pickles. A cook stands ready to custom-cook omelets, waffles, and crepes on request.
A few items tell one that he is in a foreign land. A large narrow-necked, round-bottom copper kettle sits at an angle over a small burner. It carries a stopper, a ladle, and a sign announcing that it contains “Foul Madames”; surely an unfortunate name for any food attempting to appeal to English speakers. Ham, bacon and other hog products are offered, but carry large warning signs in Arabic and English: “Pork!” The bacon in particular is different; it is really what an American would call thinly-sliced ham, grilled to a delicate brown. There is very little attached fat. I have a feeling that the long strips of fatback, heavily marbled with lard, which we consume are just too much for Muslim sensibilities. The pork sausage is plump and looks like it was boiled, and then given a cursory browning as an afterthought. The flavor is insipid; I check it every morning and only select one if the cook was not paying attention and burned it.
Olives and candied fruit are offered in bowls on one corner, plus feta cheese in cubes, hummus, flavored sour cream, chopped fresh vegetables as toppings, and other oddities. One in particular has aroused my interest. Although nearly every item in the buffet is identified with a little placard on a stand, one bowl always stands incognito amidst the plenty. It is a greenish–black dust, vaguely organic in appearance, yet it somehow reminds me of gunpowder. The surface is utterly flat, but I have the uneasy feeling that if I stare at it long enough gentle ripples may appear and spread out, like when a swamp is disturbed by a subsurface denizen. I am almost afraid to turn my back on it. The consistent lack of any identification worries me; it may be that this powder is so universally recognized as to not need a sign.

Or it may be a Harry Potter-like refusal to label “that which must not be named…”

Arab Drivers…

Arab drivers favor foreign luxury models. Lexus predominates, but Mercedes, BMW, and high-end Toyotas are common. Muscle-cars appear once in a while; the odd Corvette, Mustang, or Porsche. SUVs are also common, though they tend to be the flashier ones sporting lots of chrome. Less affluent Arabs will invariably choose an older premium model over a newer, more pedestrian car. I have seen vintage Mercedes minus body parts, but sporting custom wheels, tinted windows, and large pictures of local royalty in the windows.
Another thing which distinguishes the average Arab driver is his near-total disregard for the normal rules of driving. They usually travel in the fast lane, and very fast at that. My cab driver keeps one eye in the mirror at all times while passing, since the average Arab usually signals his desire to pass by approaching from the rear at breakneck speed; the more considerate lay on the horn. Large speed bumps are universal in the approaches to intersections; the threat of vehicular damage is the only thing which will slow an Arab down.
Blending into traffic seems to be a matter of social status; lane changes at traffic lights are done with aggressive abandon. Last night on the way home we watched one of them decide to merge left at a signal; he tucked the front fender of his black Lexus between the two cars to his right and redlined his engine. I thought pistons were going to launch thru the hood any second. My driver and I looked at each other for a second, and simultaneously burst out laughing; some things require no shared language.

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You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Harlan Ellison