Saturday, July 24, 2010

Night on the Town

(this is a belated post...I wanted to upload some pictures but it's taking too I'll just post as is and hope to add those later. I still wanted to add info on the following night when we went to a wedding at the Atlantis Resort in Dubai. Another memorable night.)

Thursday after work (that’s our “Friday” end of work week) we (Transpo Abu Dhabi) set out to celebrate in style. It was a combination celebration of Manuel’s birthday, welcome back Rose, Thank You to Melissa for stepping in for Rose, Welcome to Jennifer, Hicham, Graham and Omar. As you can see, things are very fluid here in Abu Dhabi.

It was to start with the delivery of the birthday cake at 3 PM. About 4 PM the delivery guy started to call. Nabeel’s voice got louder and louder with his frustration trying to tell the guy who spoke only Hindi where our office was. The guy interpreted Nabeel’s instructions for Al Wahda Mall as Abu Dhabi Mall so he went there first. And second. He went to Airport Road (a close cross street) several times. He was there for a span of another hour. Listening to Nabeel’s query he ended up looking for a building called “Are You In A Car” building. And the equally well known “You Are Lost” building. Others in the office tried to take over for Nabeel when his blood pressure was too high to do anything but sputter. They were equally unsuccessful. About 5:30 Nabeel finally told the guy just take the cake back to the shop. Then as soon as he said that, the apartment concierge (I use that term loosely) showed up. He appears to be Indian so we asked if he spoke Hindi. He did and agreed to get on the phone to instruct the guy. Another 45 minutes of botched directions until he declared the delivery person too stupid to get it here. We gave up. We determined that the cake would be pretty wilted by the time it got here anyway. We decided to start the evening without cake.

From here we took a cab ride to the Beach Rotana Hotel and began assembling in the German Pub. Melissa looked at me and said “This is where the other Abu Dhabi world is.” Here there were no Abayas or Dish Dashes. Drinks were easily ordered (beer of course because this was a German Pub after all). A few at the table could not resist ordering pork sausages because they could. We were served complimentary rolls with mustard flavored butters. The main difference between this and bars at the states is they still allow smoking indoors. There weren’t a lot of people smoking but enough to notice.

After enjoying ourselves there we wandered into Trader Vic’s restaurant at the same Hotel. This is after we wandered through a BeniHana’s that had the most incredible looking seafood buffet. We will definitely be going back to that soon. At Trader Vic’s we all ordered a strong tropical drink to our liking. About this time our faces were getting a bit numb. So we opted to move on.

Next we headed to the Meridian Hotel, which is just on the other side of the Abu Dhabi Mall from the Beach Rotana. Though it was just a short stumble away Nabeel hopped in a cab and forced us ladies to ride in the cool instead of walk in the heat. Gotta love that guy. The young Pakistani driver who is new to the job just a few weeks was delighted that the 5 dirham cab netted him 15 dirhams (that’s a total of less than $3 folks) though it took us nearly as long to get there as the walkers due to the creative parking lot parking and aggressive honkers he had to deal with.

Rawad had arranged through his cousin for us to get reservations at a renowned Lebanese restaurant/club at the Meridien. But these things don’t get started until 11 PM so we still had another bar to hang out in to kill time. This time it was the lobby bar at La Meridien. Finally (thank goodness) we could arrive at dinner.

Al Birkeh is a traditional Lebanese club. We were seated at a long table and immediately the dishes started arriving. The table was crammed with delicious labneh (my favorite. Thick yogurt cheese seasoned with lemon and mint, scooped up with fresh flat bread), creamy houmous (better than anything you can buy in the states), moutabel (baba ganoosh made from smoky grilled eggplant and tahini), stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh (the tabouleh here has no grain in it, just parsley, mint, lemon juice, garlic, onions and tomatoes), fattoush (salad with fried bread), another salad with some kind of bitter greens, bowls of olives, chunks of feta cheese, ground raw lamb with seasonings (only approachable due to the preliminary lubing of drinks at previous establishments), some sort of baked spinachy thing with onions, a dish with ground nuts, cheeses, herbs and spices. Then they brought a few dishes of meat (still on the appetizer course). One delicious sausages. The other what looked to be lovely steak tenders but turned out to be grilled liver. Blech! Three of us bit into a piece simultaneously. Let’s just say there was much tongue scraping, gagging and napkin spitting!

I also used the occasion to try the shiishii (or Hookah) pipe. Apple/pineapple flavor was selected for me. It was actually very pleasant: no tobacco flavor at all. Looking around the place I’d say a good fourth to third of the people present had a water pipe going throughout the evening. By now the rest of the place had filled up. Mostly men (I guess the women and children mostly leave the UAE at this time of year and go back to home country or cooler places). There were some Emirati and others in national dress. And several couples in western dress. Actually, the women were quite elegantly dressed in clubbing (short, tight, revealing) clothes with lots of makeup. I felt a bit like the country bumpkin. Liquor was available but I had already had more than my fair share. Unfortunately the prefunction with beer and bread was a mistake before this humongous meal. I had to throw in the towel pretty much before the main course came. The main course was a mixed grill; a big selection of various meats piled high on a platter with rice pilaf. This was eventually cleared and platters of fresh fruit arrived along with some little date and nut stuffed pastries with a thick creamy dipping sauce and sweet cheese and coconut filled crepes. All of this I pretty much admired from afar, too stuffed to partake. Next time I will know not to prefunction before this spread. It pained me not to try this good food but it would have pained me more to try to eat it.

The evening entertainment, other than the people watching, was the Lebanese belly dancer. She was certainly seductive and had all the men’s undivided attention. It seemed so strange to be in the middle of this strict country with the same men who are careful not to look sideways at a woman to openly ogle a belly dancer in public. I have heard that the hotel/club world is distinctly separated from the pubic UAE world and this night I witnessed what that meant. Following the dancer was a singer who also moved flirtily for the men. Many of the men by this time were inspired and got up to the front and began the line dancing. It was so much fun to see them enjoy themselves dancing. Where I come from most men seem pained to dance. There is a standard kind of dance step that has a difficult rhythm but once you get it it looks doable. Some women also joined the line. The line leaders looked so happy to be leading the men, all holding hands high and low and pulsing to the Arabian music. It was about this time that I had my hundredth “am I really here, right here in an Arabian country, in my life?” Nabeel and Rawad from our table joined in with the men in the round a few times. They looked very happy to be partaking. I enviously looked on, thinking of dinner at home around the table with my girlfriends, eating, laughing, maybe not dancing, but feeling at home.

We gave up around 2:00 in the morning. The place was still hopping. Took a cab back to the flat. Oh what a night….

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