Saturday, October 27, 2007


On our recent trip to visit forts on Qatar, we stopped at Al Ruwais, a fishing port on the north tip of Qatar and were struck by the lovely images of the amassed dhows seen here. I also show the interesting image of the ancient vessel tethered to a number of modern boats with outboard motors.
A bit of background on the dhow: it has two distinctive features, it's triangular or lateen sail, and it's stitched construction, that is sewing the hull boards together with fibers, cords or thongs. European vessels are named by their sail type, in the mid-east by their hull. Thus the naming of all vessels in the mid-East with triangular sails as dhows by Europeans loses some detail.
In addition to a couple photos taken at Al Ruwais on the northern tip of Qatar, I quote from an archaeological source and reference some web sites with a variety of information and pictures. Strongly recommended is taking a trip on one and that may well occur.

The Durable Dhow
by Tom Vosmer

For thousands of years Omanis have plied a sea-trading thoroughfare stretching north to Mesopotamia, east to India, and southwest to Africa. Taking advantage of seasonal winds, they sailed to foreign ports during the winter, returning home in the summer. In addition, the Arabs developed a highly effective triangular sail, called a lateen, and the kamal, a navigating device that enabled them to determine latitude by gauging the height of the Pole Star above the horizon. They eventually established colonies along the African coast, in Mogadishu, Mombasa, Lamu, and Zanzibar, where they operated lucrative clove plantations.

Indigenous to the coasts of the Arabian peninsula, India, and East Africa, the earliest dhows were shell built--simple dugouts with teak planks sewn to their sides to form a hull. Gradually, larger vessels evolved, employing a keel to which planking was sewn. Shell-built construction differed from the European frame-first method, in which planking was attached to ribbing. Shell-building allowed shipwrights to create a vessel one plank at a time. If changes were requested, one could simply alter the shape of a plank or its angle of attachment.

Most dhows are known by names referring to their hull shape. The ghanjah is a large vessel with curved stem (the boat's foremost timber) and a sloping, ornately carved transom, the ship's flat back end. The baghlah, no longer built, was the traditional deep-sea dhow; it had a transom with five windows and a poop deck reminiscent of European galleons. Double-ended dhows, like the boom, have both stem and stern posts. The battil, also no longer built, featured long stems topped by large, club-shaped stem heads and stern posts decorated with cowrie shells and leather. The badan was a smaller vessel requiring a shallow draught.

Without archaeological evidence--no ancient wreck of a vessel indigenous to the western Indian Ocean has ever been found--it is difficult to discern foreign influences on dhow design. We do know that iron nail fastenings began to supplant sewn planks after Portuguese and other European ships entered the region in the early sixtennth century. Many feel the majestic baghlahs and ghanjahs, with their ornate transom decoration and grand size, were the apogee of dhow building. In terms of pure design, however, the smaller, double-ended battils and badans were the finest expression of the tradition.

see also
The Traditional Dhow
Dhows of the Arabian Gulf – a brief introduction
The History and Construction of the Dhow

Monday, October 22, 2007

An island and a peninsula

Twice recently I have been struck by things on Qatar that make me think of Ustica, the small island north of Palermo, Sicily where I spent a number of summers excavating and studying the material remains of a Middle Bronze Age fortified village. On one hand, in front of the twin towers in which I live, there are routinely men fishing from the shore. And after dark, in the same location just out on the water, has appeared a light and slowly moved around. It reminds me of the evenings we sat on the veranda of our house on Ustica and watch the lights of fishing boats as they left the island for the nights fishing. In Qatar, however, I cannot firmly establish what this light is – if fishing, why not leave its position close to shore?

Ustica, whose aerial view is above, is a scant 5 km long by 3 km wide. The map (under links) shows the road encircling the island which a handful of the stir-crazed natives would drive around and around with little else to do. (You can walk the road in 3 to 4 hours so imagine how long the car takes.) In Qatar, with a similar oval shape, drivers with no real place to go rush from home to mall to where?, almost always at breakneck speed, as if there is an urgent appointment. One beautiful tomato-soup color sports car recently passed me at high speed, weaving in and out of the three lanes as it sped ahead. When I reached the mall, I found the car two ahead of me waiting for parking. While considerably larger than Ustica and without a circuit road, the Qatar isolation may yet instil in its inhabitants some of the same stir-crazed habits. With nowhere critical to go or be, speed becomes the end rather than the destination. Is that why Fomula 1 racing has become such a hot item in Bahrain or the Losail International Circuit on the outskirts of Doha?

And while Qatar at time makes me think of Ustica, the view from my balcony also takes me back to my office on Long Island where I had a brilliant view of planes on their way to or from taking off or landing at JFK terminal. Here I watch the flights coming into Doha as well as those leaving Doha, both flying a roughly NW/SE trajectory.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Boat Trip in Doha Bay

Recently I took a short boat trip in Doha Bay with Bijan, Chitra and the children (Kaveh and Aris). Kaveh, the 7-year old, insisted on paying for the entire trip – something of which he was very proud. His younger brother enjoyed himself, hanging out with the camera over the edge. As Bijan commented, in the States we’d be forbidden by rules and regulations from the free movement we had on the boat. Some pictures of Orie, the mascot from the 2006 Asian Games (a Disney version of the Oryx, the national animal), the boat,

Palm Island – now slated for renovation into another spot for tourists, the new, yet-to-be-opened Islamic Art Museum (the modern blocky building built at the site of the port) and another view of the buildings on the Corniche, follow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Personalizing space

Very recently Qatar announced formally that it would be competing or the 2016 Olympics although this plan has been in the news for sometime. Shortly thereafter I drove by the headquarters of the Olympics 2016 Organization. For the Asian games in 2006, Doha built a large number of buildings with accommodations for players as well as the spectators. One such building is the twin towers I live in today, each tower rising 28 stories in the diplomatic area with balconies overlooking the bay or the city, depending on the side of the building. Mine faces the bay:

There was no real thought to how these units would function when turned over to private or individual living spaces. The apartments are occupied by ex-pats - 15 units in west tower (floors 5-19 ) are occupied by or designated for my colleagues. My apartment, and I assume all apartments in this twin tower complex, have bedrooms labelled ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’ each with a key, a TV and a small refrigerator. At this time the TVs work only in the master bedroom and the living room although I assume I could pay for the others. Each room has a telephone with its own number although only the living room is operable. Again, money would presumably make the others function, but what are cell phones for?

The complex contains a Laundry for both washing/drying and dry cleaning; a minimarket; a coffee bar and a promised restaurant – it functioned of course during the games and as the units (6 per floor for 28 floors for 2 towers = 336) in the towers fill up will probably function again.

The furniture is new, not ugly but antiseptic, although the colors are good: blues, creams and greys. The tiled floors have a decorative inner border in the living/dining room area:

Recently a cabinet for the dining room area was delivered - not especially attractive but functional. In the past couple weeks I’ve begun to add some personal touches: the Bose sound dock for my iPod that makes music listening such a pleasure; I’ve hung four pictures which I had sent from home: an 1840 David Robert’s lithograph of the Sphinx at Giza; a similarly dated map of Italy; a 1960’s Erick Hartmann photo of Hever Castle; and a new Ed Morgan piece from Taos, Northern Plains ca. 1840:

Since I had also brought a southwest decorated gourd and a small photo also from Taos, I have a small corner that reflects southwest U.S. sensibilities. Rather than spread these few objects around the large white spaces, I have congregated them in the front hallway, to greet me as I enter and to be seen as I pass through from living room to kitchen, from kitchen to bedroom area. Last week-end I purchased new sheets and a duvet cover in cream and blue that my new cleaning ladies helped install - small things to personalize this space.

A bit more on the Hever Castle photograph, taken by Erich Hartmann in 1967.

A number of years ago on the last day visiting friends in England, we went to see Hever Castle (Ann Bolyn’s childhood home). The following day I returned home and the day after that I caught the last day of a showing of Erich Hartmann’s photos at the Magnum Gallery. I had excavated for a season with his son Nick when we were both students and visited the family in Maine during that period. I bought a lovely photo of sea water splashing on rocks in Maine but was struck by a fascinating photo taken at Hever Castle in 1967. I received a copy as a going away present just before I left for Qatar. It is even more marvelous than I remembered. The image above is scanned from the photograph (which doesn't do justice to the original), a bit smaller than the 11X14 of the original. What I love is both the sense of backs turned from the sculpture, as if in boredom, and the sense of imminent danger as the Brits, watching the lake/pond fail to see the menace of the creature rising from the ground, the fingers of her left hand on the rock pulling her up. A friend suggested it appears as though she has swum under the pool and is now rising behind the Brits still watching the water where she dove under.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Qatar Natural History Group

The first meeting of the Qatar Natural History Group was held recently. It was the occasion of my first after dark driving experience and I was able to experience the Ramadan evening passegiatta with cars, an amazing seemingly orchestrated pavane, with occasional two step dances or pas de deux breaking up the chorus line. This passegiatta in machine offers the Qataris an opportunity to parade their cars (quite often Land Rovers) on the way to the Mosque and to undertake social visits after they have broken the daily fast. By 9:00 pm police were stationed at major roundabouts to assure smooth transition of cars in this high speed, heavy metal dance and I was able to arrive home without bumps or scrapes.

The opening evening of the QNHG was packed – far more people showed up than ever before. My estimate was at least 200. Some attributed this to fact that the newsletter was produced in full color for the first time, a sample of which is presented with this posting. The new chair, Renee Hughes, gave a very nice, appropriately timed power point presentation touching on many of the interesting flora, fauna and inorganic points of interest (e.g., rock carvings), and introducing us to the possibilities of sights to be seen. I was able to purchase a copy of Discovering Qatar from the author, Frances Gillespie, who has lived in Qatar for over twenty years. From the foreward penned by Dr. Mahammed Saleh al Sada ( Managing Director, Rasgas Company Limited), “Qatar is a land of many secrets and ecological delights. From the air, first impressions of the peninsula are of a flat, barren, sandy desert surrounded by shallow seas. But the territory, both marine and terrestial, is of great scientific beauty and interest. Aspects of its abundant and fascinating topography, geology, fauna and vegetation all find a deserved place within these pages.”

The images at the top of the post are of the desert, a sea slug, whose "unlovely English name ... does does not do justice to these soft-bodied marine molluscs, which are among the most beautiful and brilliantly coloured denizens of the ocean," the Al Zubara Fort, North West Qatar, and an oryx. More on the Arabian Oryx: the once near-extinct Arabian Oryx now live and breed in protected herds on a farm located in Shahaniya. These social antelopes graze on the sparse vegetation offered by the arid Arabian peninsula and use their large horns as weapons of self-defense against enemies. This graceful white animal is believed to be the basis of the legend of the unicorn and is featured prominently on the tails of all Qatar Airways aircraft. [Seen from the side, the two horns appear as one.] Source :

As you will note from the excerpts of the newsletter I have included, this group offers a full and interesting program. A long-time dear friend, to whom I had sent a full copy of the newsletter, wrote:
Omigod! Do you know what envy this nourishes in me?! What a spectacular group for you to join! I couldn't be more pleased for you, Susan. It's as though somebody back in 1978 said, OK, Lukesh will be here in about 20 years, give or take, let's get the absolutely right organization in place, buff off the rough edges, and have it ready for her. "Joy?" Oh, I think so.

From the Newsletter

Qatar Natural History Group (QNHG) was founded in November 1978 to 'bring together people with an interest in the natural history of Qatar and the Gulf', and the inaugural meeting was held in the grounds of the National Museum. Celebrations were held in the same place to mark the Group's 20th and 25th anniversaries, and next year sees the 30th anniversary of the Group. The QNHG has an international membership. Its annual subscription of QR 30 per adult (including any children under the age of 18) is the lowest of any of the natural history groups in the Arabian Gulf states. Its interests cover not only all aspects of natural history but also the culture, history and archaeology of Qatar, and talks are sometimes given on other places of interest to members. Meetings take place between October and June, usually on the first Wednesday of the month. They are held at 7.30 pm in the gymnasium of the Doha English Speaking School. An illustrated talk follows the announcements, and there is a small lending library of books available to members.

There is a field trip on the last Friday of each month to places of interest around Qatar. The trips are usually led by people who have some knowledge of a particular region or subject, e.g. amateur or professional geologists, botanists, archaeologists and so on. There are also camping trips and star-gazing expeditions from time to time. ... There are a number of 'sub-Groups' within the main organisation, depending on who volunteers to organise them! One of the most popular is the Ramblers Group which goes out and about on Friday mornings. Members can indicate on their membership form which of the activities they are interested in, and their names will then be added to the e-mail lists for those sub-groups. In recent years there have been various overseas trips per year during the long Eid breaks, organised with the help of local travel agents. These have included visits to Syria, Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya and Turkey, and have proved highly popular.

2007/2008 Tentative Field Trip List

Northern Forts. Al Zubara, Al Rekayat and other forts of NW Qatar. October 26th. _
Shark teeth. Fossil shark teeth of Eocene Midra Shale, SW Qatar. November 30th.
Starry Night. Barbecue, Christmas carols at Singing Dunes bonfire. December 21st.
Sheik Faisal's Museum - and walk in the gardens afterwards. December 28th.
Camel Track & Oryx farm in Al Sheehaniya. January 25th.
Camping out. Green fields of Western Qatar, campfire, watching stars. February 29th.
Jazirat Um Tais National Park. Tidal flats and barrier island. Geology and biology. March 28th.
Inland Sea. Through the dunes to the Inland Sea. Swim and have fun. April 25th.
Boat trip. Anchor at exotic beach, swim, snorkel, play and have fun. May 30th

I hope to be on all these trips, excepting the December Starry Night, when I will be in London visiting friends. I expect to take pictures and share.