Subliminal XV: From Dubai to the Planet Mars
Travel diaries from 29 Aug to 2 Sep 2016, Dubai & Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Views from the Burj Khalifa (555m)
……………Vulgar Pillow Talk at the Radisson
In my room at the Radisson Blu Hotel, this qibla sticker on a bedside table. Part of the sticker’s was torn away, as if someone had attempted to remove the sticker from the table with his or her nails.
On the same table a placard invites customers to specify their needs as to their pillows. A most gracious attention. But then it comes under the head “Pillow Talk,” a vulgar, tasteless double entendre. I say tasteless because on school playgrounds, when a pun is so self-speaking and flat, to make it is considered shamefully humorless. Taste is knowing not to make ludicrous double entendres, and that is what marketing people are badly lacking. A world in which marketing has become ubiquitous would be a suffocating quagmire of bad taste.
As appears in the second picture, the qibla points toward “Pillow Talk.” Subliminal blasphemy! Again, in religious and sacred matters, taste implies not to utter (in any fashion) double entendres, associating sacredness with profanity. Carelessness is not congruent with taste nor with faith, and it should be sanctioned, for otherwise every wicked individual could cover and excuse his wickedness by carelessness.
My friend X is wont to say, “A ban on bad taste is long overdue. By which I also mean banning the US from the world.” Truly, when one sees Emirati citizens, dressed in their dignified traditional dishdashas (males) and abayas (females), beside American tourists in tee-shirts and shorts and thongs and herds, one’s taste is so shocked by the contrast that one is moved to call the American tourist an aesthetic pollution.
As you know by now that my friend X is a man of wits, he also said once: “Western women are sluts, and I talk from experience.”
A last word on my hotel room. Hotel Information said: “A copy of the Holy Quran is placed in all rooms.” I searched for my copy but could not find it (room 312). Perhaps the same person that tried to scratch the qibla sticker took the Quran away?
(Note. I blackened the upper right part of the first picture and in the nect picture, below, to conceal reflections of light. The sticker’s rim as it was can be seen on the other picture.)
…………….Inside World’s Largest Mall
The picture above is taken from the Dubai Mall Guide, which I picked up in the mall (it was not handed to me), and presents the Mall’s “courtesy policy.” The first sign asks customers to “wear respectful clothing,” and especially that “shoulders and knees should be covered.” The second sign shows a man and a woman holding hands, and the comment reads: “No kissing or overt display of affection in the mall.”
It is only after leaving the mall, leafing through the guide afterward, that I was made aware of this courtesy policy, so I guess most tourists do not know these regulations more than I did when I first strolled through the mall. I came back the next day (to see the dancing fountains show) and tried to see whether these rules were followed. I did not carefully look at the clothes, in fact – but I am certain that most tourists wore shorts –, concentrating on couples’ behavior. I saw a couple (tourists or resident foreigners) holding hands, without being disturbed, and even another one (tourists or resident foreigners) holding each other by the waist, without being disturbed either. After that, I stopped focusing my attention on that point because I thought that was enough evidence that the courtesy rules were not applied. Yet I must say that I had expected to see more couples holding hands and that it took a little time to spot these two pairs, despite the large crowds. Moreover, the pair holding each other by the waist were walking at an unusually fast pace, as if these people were fearing some reaction; it may have been some kind of provocation on their part.
Be that as it may, the text under the sign does not say that it is forbidden to hold hands, but that it is forbidden to “kiss” and “overtly display one’s affection,” whatever the latter might mean. The sign with the pair holding hands may be merely a kind of graphic euphemism, a mild way to represent what is not allowed, but the gesture thus represented may be per se not prohibited. This interpretation may sound farfetched, yet if one bans pornography one will not publish this policy by showing hardcore sex in a TV screen, even crossed by a red line, will they?
From the Dubai Mall Guide, on page “Fashion – Children,” I found these boutiques, among others: Armani Junior, Burberry Children, Cacharel–Kidspace, Dolce & Gabbana Kids, Gucci Kids, Monsoon Kids, Ralph Lauren Kids, River Island Kids, Roberto Cavalli Junior, Tommy Hilfiger Kids… Ah, you thought you could make do with dressing your children with Petit Bateau, but it’s over! (Anyway, for the Petit Bateau boutique, it’s 2d floor, F6.)
On page “Fashion – Arabic,” these boutiques with good old Arab names: Bon Chic, L’Amour, Les Foulards, Monte Bianco…
First floor, K6, “multi-brand fashion and lifestyle stores based in Dubai,” the brand S*UCE (tel quel!) – a name that French tourists are not likely to forget.
…………….Subject Chewing Gum
In Dubai I realized chewing gum is a nonsubject for Western media and politics.
This little sign from Dubai metro can teach us a lot about the meanders of international trade. For I made an internet search and found that such a policy was first adopted in Singapore in order to prevent the defacements and damages committed by gum-chewers sticking their gummy refuse anywhere they find convenient. To that effect, Singapore even prohibited gum import. But that was overlooking the US’s stand on the matter, for which chewing gum remains as vital an export good as it is strategic. Under their pressure Singapore had to accept a compromise, according to which the country accepts to import… therapeutic chewing gum. And so it is that now Singapore physicians are entitled to prescribe chewing gum to their patients.
What Singapore got in exchange, I do not know, but I am in favor of banning chewing gum, which makes extremely costly waste, in France too, if only to compel the US to negotiate on a sounder basis with us.
……………Emirates Mars Mission
Excerpts from Mission to Mars: The Emirates Mars Mission and Mars Hope (2015), copyright by The Executive Office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
“The behaviour of water in Mars’ highly volatile desert environment is of particular interest to the UAE as a desert nation.”
“Today, almost all of our understanding of climate comes from scientific studies of the atmosphere here on Earth. Mars is a valuable laboratory for atmosphere science because conditions there are very different. The insights and data we gain from understanding the Martian climate will add new dimensions to human knowledge about how atmospheres work.”
“Recent research has found evidence of human habitation as long as 125,000 years ago [in the peninsula] and it is now believed that modern humans moved out of Africa to the rest of the world through Arabia. … These early humans would likely have inhabited – and travelled through – an Arabian peninsula that was cooler and wetter than it is now, with a land bridge linking Arabia and Africa through modern-day Yemen.”
“An enormous amount of work is taking place to coordinate and foster cooperation between the world’s leading space capable nations, and the UAE’s membership of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) is part of that work.” (p. 65) Yet on the ISECG’s website the membership list (as of 2016: 14 space agencies) does not include the UAE. UAE’s agency must have associate member status or something like that.
And, from a poem by Sheikh Al Maktoum, this elegant testimony of the Sheikh’s social Darwinism: “This ever-spinning universe cannot stand still / or look back at those slipping behind. / It has always been so impelled, / positive energy being the source of its life.”
(There exists a collection of Sheikh Al Maktoum’s poetry translated into English, which preface is by Paulo Coelho. When I bought Mission to Mars at Kinokuniya bookshop, Dubai Mall, one of Coelho’s books was on display by the cashier’s desk.)
……………Sharjah Art Museum (متحف الشارقة الفنون)
Sabra and Shatila (صبرا وشاتيلا) (1984), by Bashir Sinwar (بشير سنوار)
Some observations and further food for thought from Eric McLuhan (e-mail, Sep. 23), with heartfelt gratitude for his kind attention:
Dear Florent, (…)
Some years ago I and my father observed that North America approached the matter of privacy in a totally different manner than did the rest of the world. We attributed this to the influence of the printed alphabet on forming NA sensibilities. Do you remember the European expression “the ugly American”? It comes from this. You see, North Americans go outside the home for privacy and inside for social life: or at least that has always been their habit. Modern media of the last 20-30 years has begun to erode that practice. The “ugly American” means that he or she behaves in the European social space as though he or she were in private.
Europeans, on the other hand go outside for social life and inside for privacy. So they have a lively cafe society, a habit which has never taken hold in the US and Canada. What you have written now reaffirms that this practice is also present in the Arab world. Everything you have observed speaks of it. The NA habit gave rise to the drive-in culture: the car was a main mode of privacy, utterly essential to teenagers. They’d go to restaurants to be alone, or to movies, etc. There was no privacy to be had in the NA home. Nowadays, of course, kids go to the mall for social life, which indicates how much things have changed. But adults still follow the old habits.
See how much the Arab world still observes the old habits of going outside for social life, meaning that when outside the home they feel they are on display, playing a role, conscious of an audience.
These sensibilities, of course, also are registered in the various cultures’ attitudes to how and where they tolerate advertising and even surveillance cameras.
My heartfelt thanks to Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi for linking to this post of mine in his interessing article about Sharjah Museum: https://medium.com/@SultanAlQassemi/sharjah-art-museum-the-bellwether-of-gulf-art-museums-abbed7692d41#.o0z6afqn9