Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama and the Gulf press

This is how three of the daily newspapers in the UAE covered the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The supplement you see on the left of the montage is the eight-page pullout special from The National. I thought my colleagues did a particularly good job, from preparation of the supplement to their reporting of the day's events. But then I would say that.

All three front pages have merit, though The National and Khaleej Times made the right decisions in terms of selection of photograph and the preference for Obama's own words to fill the main headline.

Wherever you are in the world, and the country-by-country tables in the righthand column show the extent of Salut! Salam's reach, please let me know how your own press covered perhaps the most significant political event so far in this young century.

As for George W Bush, I can say there is no truth in rumours that he may be about to take over from me as the author of The National's weekly column on the use of English. But then I would say that too.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Egypt in (more) pictures

These additional photos from Egypt will have to speak for themselves for the time on them for better views. I hope you enjoy them.

Down the Nile with Chuck Berry, Agatha Christie and boat called Relax

Well, no one got it. Or was it just that I offered no certainty of a prize? The room arrowed in another image of this hotel - the Old Cataract at Aswan on the Nile - was, or so I am assured, taken by Agatha Christie to inspire her during her writing of Death on the Nile

But Egypt, my Egypt for a memorable nine-day winter break, was about much more than that. It was even about more than the incessant begging, and hassle from street vendors with merchandise that you'd never wish to possess, that dogged us from Cairo airport to the Valley of the Kings to the Aswan Dam and the Pyramids and back to Cairo airport.

Our first guide, Ibrahim, had a great answer to the problem. Just feign deafness, he said; do not on any account engage in conversation, even to say: "No thank you."
It saved us from destitution and handed me a half-decent headline for my midweek column at The National. You can read Deaf on the Nile by clicking here.

About Memphis, I have a little story to pass on. Long distance information, you might say, informs me that many years ago, the excellent folk-rock band Fotheringay were playing a concert in Manchester.

Their first album had included a traditional song, Banks of the Nile. Throughout the concert, a group of fans kept yelling for it. Sandy Denny and the boys clearly didn't want to do it.

Come the encores, Sandy shouted: "Do you want Banks of the Nile?"

"Yeah!" the audience called back. And the band launched into Memphis, Tennessee. Someone suggested at Salut! Live that the band must have known that the city of Chuck Berry's song took its name from Memphis on the Nile, Egypt's first capital. Oh no they didn't, came the reply from Jerry Donahue, who was the band's guitarist. It was just a coincidence.

M and Mme Salut! are not cruise people. They had never been on one, or even thought seriously of going on one.

They have changed their minds. Sailing down the Nile - does the fact that the river flows from south to north make it "down the Nile" when you go from Luxor to Aswan? - was as relaxing an experience as I can remember (the fjords of Musandam, only last month, were certainly soothing, but I knew then that a five-hour drive awaited me at the end of the day's cruise).

There was even a cruise within a cruise. For a small sum, we took a small boat on to the river while berthed in Aswan to get some terrific views from the water of Agatha Christie's hotel, a glimpse of the river birdlife and some stunning locations on the island opposite the port.

The boat was even called Relax. I did, even though the two-man crew encouraged me to take lengthy turns on the tiller, which I rather enjoyed (while suspecting their sanity in entrusting me with such a task).

The Nile cuts through a beautiful corridor of the country. Any visit to the Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel and the Pyramids is likely to leave a profound impression.

But I have one question, suggested by Billy Bob Z Redneck III and his wife Cindy Lou........

Just why did they go and build the Pyramids next to that electricity pylon?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


As anyone who has visited Salut! Sunderland in the past 24 hours will know, the United Arab Emirates - Salut!'s home for 14 months or so - was 37 yesterday.

The country was born two weeks after M and Mme Salut! had the second part of their wedding; that event took place at l'église Sainte Jeanne d'Arc in Le Mans, a church honouring poor Joan of Arc and said by Mme Salut! and others to have been built by Henry II as a sort of "I'm sorry" after the murder of Thomas à Becket. (The legal knot had been tied in the more prosaic setting of Bishop Auckland Register Office a fortnight earlier).

So before I get down to news of recent travels to Egypt, here are a few of the pictures I took last night as Abu Dhabi poured on to the streets to celebrate its 37th anniversary.

Thousands were out on and around the Corniche. My drive home normally takes seven or eight minutes, but last night I abandoned my car several streets from home after getting nowhere in half an hour.

Everything was good-natured and colourful, with people hanging precariously from cars, klaxons hooting and families picnicking on available bits of grass along the promenade.

And people from all over the world joined in; with some estimates suggesting that 160 or so languages or dialects are spoken here, a street party with only Emiratis as guests would be a necessarily quieter affair.

But what of Egypt, from which I returned in yesterday's early hours?

Salut! thoroughly enjoyed being nowhere near a computer screen for eight days. We knew nothing of the grotesque events in Mumbai until the siege was virtually over.

Sailing slowly down the Nile turned out to be one of the most relaxing holidays I have taken - all the more so because the persistent street vendors and beggars of Luxor and Aswan could not reach us on our cruiser.

I will bring words and pictures very soon. For now, let me just see whether anyone knows what happened in the room arrowed above? No competition on this occasion - I'd hate Louise and Bill to think I was trying to attract readers to Salut! - unless I change my mind...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fjords popular in Musandam

Ten hours or more, there and back, on the road. But the trip to Musandam was worth it.

The journey is at best unspectacular, at worst a combination of dicing with death (Abu Dhabi to Dubai) and enduring the dullness of the coastal plains north of Dubai.

But this, or as best as I managed to capture it, is what awaits you on arrival in the mountainous chunk of Oman that is cut off by the UAE from the sultanate's main territory to the south.

As some of you will have seen from the photos already posted at Salut!, it is a remarkably beautiful corner of the Gulf.

We had only one night there, but this was followed by a magical day afloat as our crew navigated a slow course around the striking fjords.

It was a welcome relief from city life. Nothing happens in a hurry in Musandam.

And as a bonus, my Blackberry had no signal all day.

All photos are clickable for a better view....the hanging text will have to wait (in other words, I have no idea how to fix it).

One minor irritation. The dolphins are becoming blasé.

Cajoled by the spirited handclapping of our crew, they broke surface several times but then flatly refused to put on anything approaching a full show of tricks. Shame on them!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Nationalised Salut!

Someone posted a recent comment at Salut! saying that my musings on life in Abu Dhabi had been a factor in his decision not to apply for a job at The National, the newspaper launched in Abu Dhabi in April.

Well, I have certainly mentioned the dreadful problem of where to live, since only a fool or liar wold deny that excessive demand has combined with insufficient supply to produce outrageous rents for such homes that trickle on to the market.

Otherwise, I think I have been mostly positive and sometimes even warm about the place (and not just because it is very positive about itself, and also exceedingly warm).

The same applies to the weekly column - soon to be one of two weekly columns - that I write as part of my work.

You can find all of my contributions to the paper by searching for me by name at The National's website. There are also direct links from a list of columns that appears in the left column of Salut!

Friday, November 7, 2008

What is Salut! Salam?

Good question.

I am Colin Randall. I came to Abu Dhabi to help launch The National, a serious daily newspaper for the UAE and beyond.

My blog Salut! is reasonably well known. Its offshoots - Salut! Sunderland on the ups and downs of supporting Sunderland AFC, Salut! Live on folk and folk-rock music and Salut! North on North-eastern (England) nostalgia - have more specialised readerships.

What they share in common, beyond being mine, is that they are inaccessible to many, perhaps most, people in the country I have made my home, the United Arab Emirates.

I thought at first that I was being censored, either because I occasionally used pictures from Flickr (which has been banned, though it isn't just now) or because my host, Typepad, had somehow caused offence here. Typepad itself told me some of its sites were blocked.

But I am assured by the regulatory body that there is no such ban. Any formal ban, my highly place informant tells me, is demonstrated by the appearance of an on-screen messagee. Typepad blogs - or all those I have tried - just fail to open.

And that, I am told, means it is a technical issue, nothing to do with censorship. Boosters is the buzz word here.

So why am I able to get into my Salut! sites from work? This is where technological ignorance gets the better of me. My man at the regulatory body says it is all to do with the "boosters" a big media company is likely to use, and this is beyond my grasp.

But the upshot is that I have duplicated all items concerning the UAE and the Middle East and posted them here.

I just want people to see what I make of life in Abu Dhabi. Images, and the usual decoration you expect of a decent blog, will be added gradually, as time permits.

Blogging, which I began while working for The Daily Telegraph in Paris, has never threatened to make me rich. I enjoy doing it, but it is time consuming and costs money, not a lot but enough to notice.

The Google Ads and Amazon book and record shelves you'll find on my sites produce negligible amounts that do little to offset the effort and outlay.

Not without reluctance, I have installed a Donate button and if you like what you find at Salut! Salam, you may use it. Think of it as a variation of choosing whether to leave a tip at the restaurant - but rest assured that there'll be no scowl if you do not.