The 52 Locations Traveler
At his newest cease, our columnist discovered a desert pearl-diving settlement reworked right into a gleaming imaginative and prescient of the longer term, with the assistance of A-list architects.
April 9, 2019
Our columnist, Sebastian Modak, is visiting every vacation spot on our 52 Locations to Go in 2019 checklist. He arrived in Doha from New York Metropolis, the place he walked from Decrease Manhattan to Harlem.
Like a sofa nonetheless wrapped in plastic, a lot of Doha, the capital of Qatar, is so new that it appears like touching it may break it. That’s to not say there aren’t traces of the previous. Wandering by Souq Waqif, a 100-year-old market, I used to be blissfully misplaced amid tiny outlets promoting spices, souvenirs and dwell birds. Down one darkish alley, 5 males stared at their glowing cellphones, hookahs in hand. Round a nook, three cobblers stitched in unison. A left flip introduced a burst of coloration and the scent of sandalwood. A girl, lined head to toe in black chiffon, sat behind a desk stuffed with perfumes and incense.
Then, only a block north of the market, I hit the huge, waterfront Corniche. Above me, the skyscrapers of West Bay glittered, as if to say, “Not that. This.”
Doha, the place mud and sand meet the electrical blue of the Persian Gulf, feels inconceivable. Over the past 4 a long time, the town — which started as a fishing and pearl-diving settlement — has reworked right into a gleaming imaginative and prescient of the longer term, with the assistance of A-list architects paid out of coffers stuffed with oil and pure gasoline cash. Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, I.M. Pei, Rem Koolhaas, Alejandro Aravena, Arata Isozaki: It’s as if Qatar consulted the checklist of winners of the Pritzker Structure Prize and invited all of them to city.
This wasn’t my first time in Doha. My mother and father lived right here just a few years in the past, and I sometimes visited. Most memorable had been the buildings: the Museum of Islamic Artwork, an I.M. Pei creation, jammed with conventional Islamic design components, that’s someway boxy and modern on the similar time; Jean Nouvel’s Burj Doha, a 761-foot skyscraper that’s unavoidably phallic, however nonetheless elegant because of the intricate latticework that covers its exterior. Elegant, that’s, till dusk, when it lights up like your overeager neighbor’s garden at Christmas.
On these earlier visits, there was a number of house — house for the shiny, the brand new and the over-the-top. These areas are filling quick because the 2022 Soccer World Cup approaches, when Qatar, the host, will likely be within the limelight.
The desert rose
The primary occasion throughout my most up-to-date go to was the opening of the Nationwide Museum of Qatar, a constructing so bold that it took 18 years from conception to ribbon slicing. Designed by Mr. Nouvel — the French architect behind that monument to virility talked about above, in addition to the United Arab Emirates’ mind-bending Louvre Abu Dhabi — the Nationwide Museum was impressed by the “desert rose,” the clusters of sand and crystals discovered within the area’s arid salt basins. “Completely irrational,” Mr. Nouvel, who was on the town for the museum’s opening, referred to as the formation — and, by extension, his design.
Lots of of sand-colored interlocking discs encompass an expansive courtyard and a newly restored royal palace. It may be onerous to know the place to look, because the constructing appears to be in fixed movement, a forge spewing out discs in an engulfing, entropic sample. Inside, the constructing is dizzying: I challenged myself to discover a proper angle and failed.
However as a museum, what’s on show counts much more. The everlasting exhibitions, which chart the nation’s historical past from prehistoric instances till the current day and into the longer term, are well displayed.
“We needed to construct a museum with a coronary heart,” mentioned Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al-Thani, the director of the brand new museum. To take action, locals had been requested what they needed to see, she mentioned.
Issues to know
Alcohol is hard to return by in Qatar due to spiritual restrictions. The one bars you’ll discover are at Four- or 5-star worldwide motels, and don’t be stunned while you’re requested on your passport to get into them. You’ll pay round $15 for a pint of Heineken. Good excuse for a detox?
There’s one other Doha, one that’s full of migrant staff and has, in my view, the most effective meals within the metropolis. Attempt one of many branches of MRA, the place the South Indian lunch buffet will make you rethink the whole lot you thought you knew about all-you-can-eat Indian eating places. On my final evening, I used to be taken by a brand new pal to a different great place: Musherib, a neighborhood close to Souq Waqif that is filled with bare-bones eating places with meals from the world over, and outdated residence buildings that supply a glimpse of Doha 30 years in the past. Head straight to Nepali Kitchen for momos and a lunch thali.
Like Sydney and San Francisco, Doha is most lovely from the water. For a visit on a standard picket dhow, don’t fall for the touristy choices, just like the overpriced 30-minute group journey on supply at Katara Cultural Village. As an alternative, head to the Corniche and discount with the dhow operators. You will get a complete boat to your self (or your group) for between $30 and $40 an hour.
Artifacts sit in free-floating glass circumstances, the sloping partitions serving as projection screens for looping artwork movies. I’d say the museum is the whole lot it could possibly presumably be, however for one evident omission.
Qatar is dwelling to 2.6 million individuals, however solely round 12 % are Qatari residents. The remaining are foreigners, dominated by migrant laborers who’ve come from South and Southeast Asia to work in building websites, eating places and oil refineries. On the museum, I searched and searched, however nowhere — not within the timeline charting the fast improvement of Qatar, not in a completely unusual movie tribute to liquefied pure gasoline — had been these individuals talked about. They had been rendered invisible, all of the extra alarming contemplating they really constructed the museum.
Qatar has one of many highest per capita incomes on the planet, but a damning report from The Guardian in 2013 and subsequent investigations from human rights teams have revealed horrendous working situations for migrants, together with pressured labor and a excessive price of deaths amongst building staff. In October 2017 the Qatari authorities vowed to reform its labor coverage, together with the “exit allow” necessities which might be a part of the kafala system, during which workers are tied to a single employer. It’s progress to make certain, however the erasure of this cornerstone of the nation’s story in its nationwide museum, is tough to miss.
The constructing does a good job of distracting you from all of that although, as did the opening reception, a star-studded affair that includes celebrities, dignitaries and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. The fanfare, full with conventional dance performances and a pyrotechnic show, is indicative of the longer term this nation is betting on — one that may proceed to draw funding and tourism when the oil runs dry.
All of the self-importance initiatives, when taken collectively, quantity to an outside structure museum, and that alone makes Qatar — regardless of its labor controversies — properly price visiting. In actual fact, Doha’s 50 sq. miles are so full of all-star names that some can really feel like an afterthought. Arata Isozaki’s Qatar Nationwide Conference Heart is monumental: a pair of tree trunks are a significant a part of the constructing’s facade. However simply down the highway, you may zip by a Damien Hirst set up in entrance of a ladies’s well being middle with out even realizing it. An hour from the town middle, in the midst of the desert and solely accessible by four-wheel drive, is Richard Serra’s “East-West/West-East,” 4 upright metal plates spaced throughout a kilometer of sand and gypsum rock just like the ruins of some mysterious civilization.
Over the course of my keep in Doha, I returned to the Qatar Nationwide Library, a pair of rectangular glass diamonds connected on the level, thrice. Designed by the agency of Rem Koolhaas, a Pritzker winner (shock!), the house has change into as a lot of a neighborhood hub as a analysis establishment. After I visited on a Friday, the day of relaxation within the Muslim world, it was full of households, college students and polyglot staff on their break day. It’s as if, moreover rising as a brand new patron of the humanities, Qatar can be, deliberately or not, redefining how we work together with that artwork — together with the questions it makes us ask.