Thursday, May 10, 2007

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

Recently M and I were invited by a couple next door, our dear friends, to a concert by the opera singer Jose Carreras at the magnificent Emirates Palace Hotel. (It was the culmination of the fourth annual Abu Dhabi Classical Musical Festival.)

A swank affair, it was black tie, invitation only. As the mother of six children, I am always looking for an opportunity to escape the kitchen and my apron.

I pulled out a long skirt and the highest heels I own. Unlike New Hampshire, people dress up in this town. Really dress up. This was going to be fun.

When we arrived at the Emirates Palace (built in 2005 for $3 billion, with 12,000 workers), we were disappointed to see a very long line ahead of us. My neighbor muttered something about this being "unacceptable," and headed for the manager.

"I am (his name) and I am here," he announced rather boldly. "What are you going to do about it?"

Evidently this is the way you get results in Abu Dhabi.

Seconds later we were shown in and we found great seats. Slowly the auditorium filled. When a sheikh from Abu Dhabi's ruling family walked in, everyone stood up. There were also members of a European royal family and several ambassadors present. The concert started about 40 minutes late - typical, I understand, in the UAE - and it was magnificent.

Afterwards the elegant crowd moved en masse towards the esplanade behind the Palace. Palace employees attempted to collect tickets for the VVIP reception, but they were completely ignored. People simply put their noses in the air and proceeded to the cocktail party.

Long tables in white linen hosted beautiful hors d'oeurves. Waiters walked around with trays of soda, beer and wine, the latter being in scarce supply and scooped up immediately. Soon 20 or 30 tuxedoed men hovered over the kitchen entrance, hoping to catch the next few glasses of wine.

The exterior of the Emirates Palace is like a marvelous, jewel-encrusted box. Purple, pink, yellow, and white flood lights highlighted the Palace's palm trees, fountains, marble temple and marble columns around the esplanade. A mild breeze wafted through the air. At least five different languages could be heard. People in national (Emirati) dress and others in western formal attire mingled. It was superb.

(The photo here is of me beside a giant gold coffee part, the symbol of hospitality in the UAE.)

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