Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Spray Who Loved Me – Erich

One member of our happy traveling band rarely gets mentioned on this blog. That one member is the best at taking life as it comes, rolling with it, and staying unfazed by anything that happens on our trek. You see, Syarra travels with an easygoing, ready for anything, calm, soft, and fearless purple unicorn. Her name is Littlelicorn. (The unicorn's name. Syarra's name is Syarra.) Littlelicorn is more than just a boon companion, she's a pillow too. And a well-traveled one at that.

I'm sure Syarra knows that Littlelicorn loves her. And I now can understand that at a new level, because I learned that there is a fountain that loves me.

Last night we visited the Dubai Fountain. First, it is at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. And it's not the tallest by just a couple of inches. This one blows away the competition.
Look at me! Tallest in the world!
The Burj Khalifa is 828 meters tall. The second place building is the Shanghai Tower (bet you can guess which city it is in) at 632 meters. The design of the Burj Khalifa is interesting. It goes up in an almost conic way, but from some angles seems to have juts one direction and then another. But from another direction it almost looks like an inverted spiral funnel.

Nearby is the Dubai Mall, which is grand, as are many malls. Why do big buildings like to have malls near their base? I mean, that's not universally true, but we have seen it in other places as well. Especially in Asia. The Dubai Mall has some beautiful artwork, including an entire three story structure in one corner called the Waterfall.
How did they get all those silver men to dive at once?
But just outside the mall, stretching to the base of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Fountain. It is the largest performing fountain in the world. Each evening, it does a "dance" once every thirty minutes. And we got to see one of those performances.
It doesn't capture the entirety of the spectacle
The engineering involved in the design of those sprayers and spigots is unbelievable. The water can fire upwards easily fifty feet. The sprays can gracefully curve together like synchronized dancers. The spray can switch from a directed flow to a fine mist arcing out in a fan in only moments. It was an incredibly artist display.

And it was all synchronized to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." So not only was I entertained by the fountain, but it was declaring its love, (its eternal love,) for me.

How special do I feel? The world's largest performing fountain just sang about how much it loves me and always will. That's as good as a unicorn, right?

On second thought, there were well over a thousand people at that fountain watching the same show as me. So maybe the lyrics were directed at them as well. That's makes me a bit less of a unique object of affection for a hydrolic system.

Hmm. That's a bit disappointing. But I'm going to remain unfazed by this realization. You know, like Littlelicorn.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

When Being Far From Home Really Hits Home – Erich

I apologize for the long title. I apologize more deeply if this post strays toward being maudlin. But as the Man in Black once said to Princess Buttercup, "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something."

Before we left the United States for two years, we took a big road trip around the country to visit our family. Of course we wanted to see them before we went away. And we recognized that you never know what might happen in two years. We wanted to see everyone while we knew we had the chance to do so.

Yesterday was the first loss of a family member while we have been abroad. My Aunt Lori died. Aunt Lori was a fun woman. She had attitude, though in her time they might have used a term like spunk, or said she was her own person, or that she wasn't afraid to call it as she saw it. Whichever cliche you prefer, Aunt Lori was undoubtedly positive about life, unafraid of most anything, honest, clever, and at times mischievous. I would say "you would've liked her" to spout another cliche. But not knowing which reader is currently reading this post, I can't say that with 100% certainty. So let me say this. Given that you are a random reader reading this, there is a high probability that you would have liked Aunt Lori.

Her death was not a surprise. Aunt Lori has been sick for some time. And it is probably in many ways for the best. My mother tells me that Aunt Lori has just been less and less herself lately. I think she was ready.

I will miss my aunt. But more, I am sad for my cousins: Aunt Lori's children and grandchildren. And I'm sad for my mom, Aunt Lori's sister. I would very much like to be at the funeral, if not for Aunt Lori than for all of them. But that's not realistic. Even if I could afford the flight from the Middle East to the U.S., it would take too long.

Part of this trip was accepting that there would be just these kinds of limitations. And I do accept it. I will let my mind (and if you posit the existence of a spirit, my spirit) be there with my grieving loved ones.

I don't know what happens to us when we die. A lot of people have been posing and investigating that question for a lot of millennia. It's the kind of question that can never have a definitive answer, except to say that seeking the answer and it's accompanying problem of there being any meaning to life is a big part of what makes us human.

But I know some would say that Aunt Lori is now going on a journey of her own. And this one is further and more exciting than my trip to various nations. If that's true, I think it's beautiful. And Aunt Lori will undoubtedly have the best attitude for the trek. Plus, when she reaches her destination, those already there are in for a lot of good times and hearty laughter.

And if there is no such journey, that's okay too. Because those of us who loved Aunt Lori can remember her, reflect on what she meant to us, the things she taught us, and how she helped to shape us.

Goodbye, Aunt Lori. I know you would have contradicted the Man in Black. Sure, you would have agreed that at times life is pain, but most often it's the opposite. And you would have said it, not because you were selling something, but because that's the kind of person you were.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Grand Photo Spot – Erich

I was compelled to take this picture. One might argue it was optional, but I would disagree with that assertion.
This is a grand photo
Those men in the photo, I don't know who they were. They were just passing by. And no, they did not compel me to take the picture.

The building is the Museum of Islamic Art here in Doha, Qatar. It's a very impressive museum. Their collections are varied, extensive, and some of it quite old. I was looking at parchments from the 10th century. (Yes, I recognize that there are older parchments in existence, like the Ahmes Papyrus in the British Museum. Though technically that's papyrus, not parchment. Just sayin'.) The building itself is gorgeous with fascinating architecture and tons of details in the decor.

But this isn't even the best angle from which to get a picture of the museum.

So why was I compelled to take this picture? Because right where I was standing when I took it, on the ground under my feet was this:
X marks the spot, where X is a variable denoting whatever that animal is
Yes, I was standing at The Grand Photo Spot. To be honest, I'm not sure to which grand photo it refers. Perhaps I was facing the wrong direction, though I spun about and didn't find a picture from this location that I thought was better. (Of course, what do I know.) I'm not even sure what that animal is. A cat? With antelope like legs? Maybe a fancy prancey cat? But what's with that nose?

The thing is this: Doha really is a great place for grand photos. The buildings are magnificent in their height, design, color, and architecture. The skyline is a sight to behold. It's just you see a lot of those views at places that are not labeled as "The Grand Photo Spot."
The Doha skyline
I wonder if there is a spiral staircase in this mosque
Doha is not a huge tourist destination, probably because it has very few tourist sites. It more or less has two: the Museum of Islamic Art, which I mentioned, and the Souq Waqif.
A view from a souq
A souq (or souk) as we learned in Morocco is a marketplace where there are many stands and shops lined on narrow streets. The Souq Waqif in Doha has the distinction of being the oldest continuously used souq in the world. There has been a souq on this location for about 2000 years. Of course, the buildings have been renovated in that time. In 2004, Qatar decided to do a major renovation, keeping the old style of the buildings, but putting in modern construction so they would stay standing. In addition new art and fountains were installed at the outskirts.
Like a well, but the bucket pours water in. So an unwell!
The souq has plenty of shops selling spices, clothing in the Arabian style, draperies and other linens, and birds. In the main souq, you see lots of pet shops and outside of them are tons of cages with small birds in them. But if you go one block to the west of the main souq, you reach the Falcon Souq.

Falconry is huge in Qatar. Many people own and train falcons. And you can see shops with falcons and all of their accessories. This is their main business.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get any good pictures of the falcons. I'm not sure if they would like that, and I didn't want to see who would win between the bird of prey and me.

Though the falcons probably would have let me take their pictures if someone has just labeled one point on the ground in the souq as The Grand Photo Spot.