A POSTCARD FROM - Doha, Qatar
I've travelled pretty extensively over the years, but I'd never been to the Middle East. I'd had friends who had lived in Dubai describe it to me, and I guessed Doha would match that description too. I'd imagined the city to be built of of glossy beige marble and be full of new roads and malls, with people rushing to flashy hotels in those ugly matt fast cars you always see in Mayfair. And I was right, it was like that, but it was also so much more.
In three days it's impossible to really get under the skin of a city, but I came away feeling it was a place of real complexity. I stayed with a friend who has lived there on and off for nearly 10 years, so this helped me grasp as much of an understanding of the place as possible, within a short time frame. Instead of rushing around and visiting as many places as I could, I took it really slowly (partly because I arrived exhausted from workaholic-ism). I plan to be back at some point (hopefully to do some live illustrations) and so I've saved a trip to the museums and galleries for then.
I didn't imagine I would feel comfortable enough to sit and draw, but The Four Seasons beach and poolside was so much more relaxed than I expected, and so I sat wearing my old Indian kaftan and sketched my view as a panorama. My friend is a member so this might be part of the reason I was made to feel so at home, but I actually just think they have great staff. Much of my experience of luxury hotels is business travel in India, and often the service can feel robotic and impersonal. This was nothing like that, and I was surprised. The staff were from all over the world and that they were so friendly and personal and made my days there perfect. I'm guessing this is down to Four Seasons training, allowing their staff to display their personalities? If anyone knows if this is common to all Four Seasons then do let me know as they might just have a new fan.
The incredible buildings we passed at night, lit up like a 60's sci-fi film, made me feel like I was being allowed a glance of the future, I was almost on the lookout for flying cars. And when inside the new Mondrian Hotel the view was truly cinematic. The whole place was in monochrome, and in the Magnolia Bakery groups of women sat together wearing black abayas whilst men sat elsewhere wearing white thobes. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it and it's a visual that has stayed with me ever since. So much so that I felt compelled to record my version of the scene in a sketchbook later on.
I also made an evening trip to Souk Wakif, an old market that has been rebuilt after a fire destroyed much of it. There I felt a bit more connected to the cultural past of the region, lines of men sat smoking shisha, people were selling spices and leather goods and there was music playing. We went to a Syrian restaurant called Damasca and ate a great meal. If you are heading to Doha I would recommend it.
During my trip I read the book, "The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry. I couldn't help but wonder what the main character Cora, a strong and determined Victorian woman, dressed in mourning black, fending off people's preconceived ideas of her, would have made of it all. The whole experience was fascinating and I'm sure I'll keep thinking on it all for a while yet.
Thanks for reading, I would love to know your thoughts.