Friday, October 26, 2007

Half Way Across The World

Crossing the Triborough Bridge on our return into Manhattan. 9:30 AM. Photo: JH.
It had rained only a few hours before our Etihad plane from Abu Dhabi set down yesterday morning at John F. Kennedy Airport. Just seeing the wet tarmac through the plane’s portals gave pleasure, for we had just come from a desert dry and hot for eons, where the air is sometimes humid but seemingly always heated. Which is somewhat different from “hot.” The “locals” are used to it and the “ex-pats” (along with the service corps émigrés) are either used to it or go away (if they can afford it) in the summer when the thermometer can easily reach up into the 120’s.

A friend of mine whose son works there told me they sell cars with equipment that keeps them air conditioned even when them turned off. So you won’t pass out when you get in at the end of the workday.

I don’t think it’s the climate that the visiting employed likes about the Emirates. I think it’s the booming and challenging employment opportunities. Public Relations for example is an art that is only beginning to be practiced in the Emirates. Americans and Brits who ply that trade have much to offer that is or would be/could be valuable, even invaluable.

I’m less inclined to use my Digital when JH is around and so I pretty much refrain. Although sometimes I can’t resist mainly just out of habit. The following are some of my stalwart attempts.
Jennifer Raab, Dottie Herman, and JH with Dr. Robert Butler, Kathy Lacy Hoge, and Michael Goodwin in the background

One of the interesting asides of the Festival of  Thinkers conference was the camaraderie that developed between many of us. This may have no lasting effect partly because friendships, let alone great friendships, are usually formed in the earlier adult years of ours lives (so only one of these individuals in the picture is the exception). However, there were many of us who enjoyed the company and the sharing of experiences with each other.

To the right are three (with a fourth, fifth and sixth in the background). Left to right, Jennifer Raab, the President of Hunter College. Jennifer has a wicked sense of humor, loves learning, is easily befriended and vice versa. She has a combination of serious housewife/mother accompanied by hip college professor about her. Dottie Herman is CEO of a real estate firm here in New York called Douglas Elliman. She bought it, or rather acquired it, herself in one of those stories that you always think only happen in the movies (or used to anyway) to a pretty blonde with big round wow-whatta-world eyes.

Dottie, we learned (never having met her before) has a very outgoing, down-home common sense personality with a notion of self-effacing about her. She also has a strong sense of the ironic in her humor and a take-the-bull-by-the-horns quality when it comes to looking after herself. 

The third is, of course, JH (with his Digital in a hairdryer bag he lifted from some luxury hotel for exactly the purpose it serves). JH’s pictures tell you a lot about his way of looking at things as well those things that intrigue him or take his fancy. I think both qualities were being exercised in the company of the ladies present.

In the background is Kathy Lacey, also known as Kathy Lacy Hoge, wife of James Hoge and a prominent communications consultant in New York. Kathy has one of those sort of bubbly/serious personalities with a strong streak of certainty of purpose, as Werner Erhard used to like to say.

She is talking to (on the right you can see part of his face), Michael Goodwin, Mrs. Raab’s longtime husband and himself a political pundit for the New York Daily News. You’ve seen him on Lou Dobbs. I’ve never seen him on the Lou Dobbs because I’ve never watched. But for those of you who have or do, I’d be willing to bet his TV personality is much like the real thing. He’s easy to laugh, easy to get along with, reasonable and smart, very smart, and with opinions that seem less inclined to promote his ego and more inclined to common sense. No wool pulled over his eyes (he’d just laugh if you were trying to). He grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, so maybe that’s the secret.

On the other side of Kathy looks to be Dr. Robert Butler. Dr. Butler (whom I met a few months ago at a dinner party where he came with Barbara Walters) is a gerontologist and psychiatrist who coined the term “ageism. He’s won a Pulitzer for his book “Why Survive? Being Old in America” among other books. He has a genial manner and is, hands-down, the oracle for the Baby Boomers Generation whether they even know of him or not.
Above, left: The outer lobby of the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. To the Western eye it is “different” seeing two Arab men in frames of prominence in an entrance to a luxurious hotel. In the land of the Arabs, however, it is as common as American Presidential portraits hanging in U.S. Post Offices. These are the two top princes of Abu Dhabi. Much of the astonishing development of the country as a force as well as a transmogrified nation, now fortified by its ability to progress. The hotel in this photograph is a signpost, a milestone of their achievement.

Some tend to see my assessment of this picture as being impressed by the trappings of these men. It is not the trappings that impresses, it is the transformation which takes more than all their money can buy. It takes crowning achievements, which is “vision.” In a very real way these men are visionaries. Their personal challenge will be expanding and broadening their visionary ideas for the greater good. Another visionary in this royal family is our host for the Festival, Shaikh Nayahan (see yesterday’s NYSD). He has moved the culture with his visions for moving his country into a position of impact and influence first in the citizens and secondly (but a close second) in the world.. The hotel is otherwise, besides a luxury establishment, a monument to that energy. Cultures like monuments. They are awards, rightminded or wrong, representing the people.

Above, right: I took this picture of the registration area of the lobby because of the posts and the gilted shell above it. Money talks. Louis XIV knew this. Those who succeeded him knew it but didn’t care what it said. This is a failing in the human condition. The men who built this monument can only do so much. Those who succeed them will carry the burden of challenge. Golden and cool.
Top, left: The three-storied reception room of the convention hallrooms and auditorium on the ground floor. It was in these rooms that the roundtable discussions and many of the panel discussions were held. It was also in this room that the day before it was taken, First Lady Laura Bush made an appearance in support of the Breast Cancer Awareness movement now launched in the UAE.

Above, left: The dining room where Shaikh Nahayan hosted a luncheon for all of the guests with a special menu created by the chef for the King of Sweden (home of the Nobel Prize). This picture was taken just as people were gathering.

Above, right: That’s Marion Wiesel making her way down one of the huge corridors leading from the conference rooms. Each doorway on this corridor leads to a huge convention room.

Below: This was at the panel discusson at the Men’s College on Moving Beyond Conflict. The young woman on the right is a journalist from Lebanon. In speaking about conflict she noted that she had no idea of the shape her country would be in when she returned in a few days. There is a profound lack of leadership that is beyond partisan, to put it mildly. She is young, as you can see, and not cynical but living on the edge of cynicism because of the way the world conducts itself in and around her country.
The woman next to her is Marion Wiesel, the wife of another Nobel Prize winner, Elie Wiesel. Mrs. Wiesel is very active in The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. At this discussion she spoke of a conference her foundation held in which they invited young people from a wide variety of faiths, ethnicities and religious beliefs. In the very beginning there was such hostility between so many of them, they often avoided being in the same room together. Before the week (or maybe it was a weekend) of conferencing was over, the entire group had forged friendships so that when it was over, they were sad to bid farewell, exchanging email addresses and numbers, vowing to keep in touch and stay together.

The woman with her hand up, Nassrine Azimi works for the UN. She started out by telling us that she was born to mother who was a Jew, a father who was Muslim and she herself was more Buddhist if anything. She’d grown up and lived in several countries and environments and it was her opinion that there would be no movement beyond conflict in this world as long a the Five members of the UN Security Council were the Five biggest arms dealers on the planet.

The man in the light blue jacket is Fidel Castro Diaz-Belart, the 58-year-old son of Fidel himself. He looks much like his father, especially when his face is in repose. Although as you can see he has more girth. He is a nuclear physicist by training. The son of leader of a nation (a dictator really) whose profession is Nuclear Physics.
I love breakfasts on these trips. The top hotels always have fantastic buffets that appeal to your appetite in one way or another, and for some of us, it appeals to our greed. “His eyes are bigger than his stomach,” it was said of me as a child when it came to cakes and pies. Now it’s the stomach that’s bigger and not so willing to contract.

The omelettes at the Emirates Palace are particularly tasty and lighter than most restaurant omelettes (I make them almost crepe-like). This contains chopped onion, tomato, pepper, mushrooms and shredded cheese. I justified it all with the fresh fruit and yogurt.

The "Welcome Center" at the Burj Al Arab
I am also always reminded under these circumstances that there are many of our fellows out there who could really use it to the point of celebration on receipt. I don’t know the solution but City Harvest, the philanthropy in New York that collects the uneaten food at the end of the day and re-distributes it to those who are hungry has one very timely and effective solution.

The word “Welcome” on the white building outside the gate of the Burj Al Arab, as you’ve already heard me ranting, is not quite so. This hotel is pay-as-you-go but also go-as-you-pay. Otherwise forget it.

We were not going or paying since we were decidedly like the rest of us hoi-polloi, the rubes from the sticks. It is nevertheless a stunning architectural design, we must admit, although less democratic than a lasting success should be at this time in our planet’s evolution. Or: you be the judge.

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