Drinking, Dreaming, Other Men Working

One of life's greatest pleasures is taking time out to sit, to contemplate, to enjoy a quiet beer, and most of all, to watch other folk working. You deserve it. I deserve it, and just occasionally, I'll take the opportunity. Join me. Pull up a bar stool, here, by the window. This bar is old enough to have seen the road outside made and remade maybe ten times. It's seen its share of picks and shovels, smoking tar boilers, fierce hissing steam-rollers. Gangs of Irish navvies in cloth caps and dungarees, filling and heaving buckets, tamping the hot tar or fetching galvanised watering cans brimming with boiling pitch, raking mounds of gravel in front of the roller, and all the time sucking on the stub of a Woodbine.

But not today. Half a dozen professionals, three or four heavy machines and the new road's being extruded, foot by foot, right in front of our Victorian sash window. The guys don't even break sweat. This is progress. Soul-less, unromantic, if you like, but so much more efficient. And impressive. I want a shot on that machine! One thing that hasn't changed - the smell of hot tar. Forty-nine years ago, my friend Roddy said it was the best smell in the world. Rising to the challenge, I said toasted cheese was better, but deep down I knew he was right, and so did he. Now, with no higher thought for the afternoon than a couple of beers and the odd reminiscence, I close my eyes and drift away...

Joe wants to help. The Iraqi widow (we never learned her name) is distraught, wanting to return to a time long gone. A time when she baked fish on a charcoal fire, for her husband and children, for her old father. To look back on loss - a loss so cruel that it eclipses from her view the natural world - this is her burden. It wholly sets her apart from the company. But Joe once read something, somewhere, if he can only find it. He pores over page after page, vainly believing that, in this strange foreign book, there are words of comfort enough, even for this lost soul.

The heavy roller makes the room vibrate. Two glasses on the gantry, just touching each other, ring together like a distant supper bell. With no customers to serve, Fiona sets to polishing the old brass beer handles causing a faint but sharp smell of ammonia to clash with the warm tar aroma. But she's a young lass yet, and doesn't have to understand.

Joe finds his quotation and finds it lacking. Nothing, not even the smell of hot tar, can be resurrected with advantage from a happy childhood. Something is always lost in the reawakening.

Two hours, three beers, and it is done. Outside, we have a new road, if not a new direction. But only for the traffic. For walkers, nothing changes. And that is how it has always been. For those who consume and destroy, there are teams in the wings to repair and replace. For those who walk naturally, there are only dreams. Better, there are dreams. It's a good life, when no-one bombs your village.

You can't park here, at all, at all...

I really don't wander round Doha looking for weird signs, but they do seem to lie in wait for me more and more, recently. This one seems to be telling me that I'm not allowed to park here if I'm not allowed to park here. I think I could have worked that out for myself. And as for those who are allowed, let's hope they know who they are because there's nothing here to tell them. Another of Doha's little mysteries, I suppose.

A space too many

Spacemaker is as Spacemaker does. They make spaces. Shame about the space they've made here though, between the D and the C. I wonder if they've chosen the couch yet?

Doha's Finest Building?

top left, sofitel; bottom right, the hidden gem
Tucked away in Doha's central slum quarter is my favourite building in Qatar. To get there, from Grand Mercure né Sofitel (that's it top left with the blue swimming pool) you can either walk down to Boat Roundabout and take a right, or, you can take a right stepping out of Sofitel then left at Broken Corner, just before the B Ring. Either way, you're aiming for a very small building near the bottom right corner of the Google Earth view. Alternatively, you can plunge straight into the maze of slums and try to negotiate a South-Easterly zig-zag through it. This can be quite an adventure with no guarantee of success.
the gem, from above
You'll end up somewhere but not necessarily anywhere near the goal which is this strange double-D shaped building, hidden from almost everywhere by newer. higher and uglier neighbours. You'll also breathe in a lot of sewer gas and fibrous dust from the many upholstery workshops that somehow eke out a living here, against all the odds. All in all, the most reliable route is via Boat Roundabout. Look up every side street and alleyway on your right, until you see this:
The building shows little sign of occupancy and is probably deserted. It is either two modest villas or one large one, accessed by a central stair. It seems to be on two levels with highly ornate wrap-around balconies at both ends and on both levels. It is no longer possible to walk around it because of the press of later buildings on three sides. In time, probably within a year, the whole area will be fenced off and razed to the ground, like the rest of Musheireb and National.
But in its day, it must have been the finest building in central Doha. Quite simply, there is nothing else remotely like it. Maybe someone knows its history. Maybe someone still cares. At one time, it would have stood alone, home to a successful merchant family perhaps, or a minor Royal, resplendent in its basket-weave plasterwork and bas-relief crests. On borrowed time now, these few photographs may prove its only memorial. Shame.

The Triffid and the Inland Sea

be very afraid
As amateur triffids go, this chap's pretty convincing. He's already ripped the AC units from the house behind and now seems poised to start on the car. But probably not today, as it's the Prophet's birthday, marked by the 24 hour closure of all the bars in Doha. Which reminds me- on no account keep your baking yeast anywhere near your Rauch grape juice, OK? It might cause it to go off.

As promised, I did check to see if the candelabra was still perched on the wall. It wasn't. The wall was gone too. Someone was asking me about surrealism the other day. I suggested he walk the old back streets of Doha, but soon, because there's less of it left standing every day.

And speaking of urban wadis, we have a good one just around the corner from the triffid. For most of the year it's dry but every few months it floods with raw sewage, to the delight of the local shopkeepers. I'm afraid the 'contre jour' picture is the best I can offer. To get the light behind me, I'd have had to wade to the other side. Some things are beyond the call of duty, even for the sake of the Paraplexed blog.
the inland sea, courtesy of doha sewerage maintenance

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