ELECTRIC: D1

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What caught my eye, to stand and draw, was the 19th Century-style Parisian lamp-post outside the shop; Shulah Electric, on Msheireb St, Downtown Doha.

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This anachronism chimed with the more recent badge of memory; the chunky hand-set logo on the side of the traditional public telephone booth, leaning slightly, just to my left. That hand-set is just like the one we had at home – it was nicer to hold than an i-phone is. We had one phone on the landing on the top floor at Lillian Rd and there was a ‘party line’ with another house in the street so sometimes we heard someone talking when we picked up and had to say sorry and put it down again. That well-drawn logo is part of an international language of memory, but so much has changed since then.

The curly-queues of the lamp intermingle with the ‘70’s flaired-trouser fonts of the shop’s fascia, in Arabic flowing down the wadi and English flowing up, like the traffic. The patterns of the multitude of light fittings inside the shop and the cranes dancing over the rising skyline of the Msheireb site behind me add to the woven richness.

His Highness the Emir and his son, the Heir Apparent’s pictures are looking out from the panels above the shop. I hope they like the new skyline of the three buildings which were my last big project before leaving A&M. Somehow the bold carved form of the National Archive is more ‘on top of a hill’ even than I had realized it would be. I like it.

Back to the moment, the man sitting at the small kiosk to my right is beginning to shiver, and between me and him, the paving stones in front of me seem even more cracked than ever.

Time flows fast on Msheireb Street, the line of the old wadi, running out to sea.

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The BREEZEWAY: C1

 POST 15

It is Friday morning – everything is quiet. The few sounds which break the quietness – the opening of a window, the flap of laundry or the gentle chat of friends – speak of not having to rush to work.

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I am in the ‘breezeway’; a covered passageway, with a part-planked cover, casting dappled shade, leading through from Msheireb St to what will become a charming little baraha – a piazzetta with quirky restaurants and student-filled café’s – in the future, in my mind.

The breeze comes from behind me, from the North, and even though it is not hot, it has become a habit for the men in front of me to sit outside, at the base of the falling down ‘jazz-building’, on their grand collection of indoor armchairs, in the morning shade, in the breeze. This is ‘fayee’.

 

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Beyond this most loveable of buildings, whose west-facing balcony seems to be in a state of suspended collapse, and whose cantilevered supports are now beginning to fracture, hanging off the building, weighing it down rather than propping it up, a green sikka runs off into the distance – a tunnel of space, framed by self-seeded trees. This is the prevailing north-south grain of Doha; visible, like the wind can be felt.

A car draws up, it blocks my view; a man gets out. He walks past me; he seems to want to buy something. The shop behind me is selling motor-powered pneumatic compactors, at least I think that’s what they are. The man wants one.

The shop-keeper starts it the selected machine and peace is gone, but this is only the beginning. The engine changes gear and the compactor starts; hammering steel on stone (shaking bones). It is impossible to describe the deafening quality of the noise, or to convey how it mixed with the dust, rising to be caught in the sunlight and the breeze, and to catch in my nostrils.

But it didn’t last for long. He liked the machine and took it away and I was able to finish my drawing.

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CRANES AT NIGHTFALL: G7

POST 14

I am on the roof of the Mercure Hotel by the ice-cold pool. There is a breeze. It is late afternoon, early evening, and as I count the cranes – ten, twenty; twenty two, twenty four ? – I lose count. They seem to be vanishing in the gathering dark, their yellow frames merging with the mid-tones of the sky and the fast changing horizon. Their pinnacles point skywards and their frames are rooted amongst the hardening frames of the basement car-parks.

The enveloping quietness is broken intermittently by the harsh, abrasive sound of the diggers, breaking the rock and making the gypsum crystals into powder as they go.

These sharp sounds of stone and metal are softened by the night, falling like a blanket. They seem to echo across the city, in stereophonic time.

Everything is in motion, nothing is static. In this vast space – the largest hole in the ground I have ever known – there are thousands of people working. Some of them will work all night; some are so small they are invisible.

The whole scene is in slow motion of course; the cranes slowly dancing and the concrete pumps reaching their long necks just as they are bid.

The fall from day to night is fast and the thousand floodlights blind me now, broken by the flashing orange warning lights and the faraway shimmer of the West Bay horizon. This grand project of Msheireb is like History speeded up, and moments like this are Time slowed down.

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POST 13

The minaret is pointing to the sky. Its two small windows point upwards too, one of which is deep black inside, the other black with a chink of white; light penetrates the solid. What struck me first was its heavy pointed hat, held on the thinnest of concrete pins. Then the loudspeakers. They are emphatic, but I want to enlarge them and leaf them in gold.

The satellite dish points upwards too; mouth open wide; epiglottis exposed and held taught. The curve of the dish echoes the crescent moon; moon and stars, images of night.

The aeroplane, far away and silent, is also reaching upwards. People, sounds and signals rise and fall. Where is all the energy going ?

It is perfect weather today; neither hot nor cold, and it is quiet, except for the grinding of the bin lorry.

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ROUND & SQUARE: A3

POST 12

I could not choose what to draw, so I draw two things today; both round and square.          The first drawing is from Hasan bin Ali, looking North.

As on other days I found a rich harmony in the way the strong square shapes of the traditional (pre-concrete) building ahead of me made music with the strong square shapes of the early modern (concrete) building to my left. It is a gentle jazz, softened not just by the circular corner post, the leaning telegraph pole and the crazy drainpipes but also by the sleek smooth satellite dish, like a large new moon, rising over the parapet. And behind it the ubiquitous white drum of a water tank – reassuring.

Round the corner on Umm Wishaw it was the two roundels which caught my eye; two gypsum panels telling us that this was a police station once, not so long ago.

 

When the building, number 21, is restored (will it be restored ?) what will happen to those plaques ? They are our memory (not mine but the city’s) and must be preserved. Again base

metal is transformed into gold.
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The Crushed Can and the Lovely House

POST 11

Once upon a time there was a can, full of air. Then it was filled with liquid, sold, opened and emptied. It was thrown in the dust and flattened by a truck. Over time it rusted and weathered. It caught my eye. Its surface – as flat as a card – seemed to speak of a space within and a volume without; it was uncanny.

It was rubbish before but, once I noticed it, it became treasure; base metal transformed into precious gold; the art of Alchemy.

Just beside where I found the can, I found thatmy favourite house in Al Ghanem – the neighbourhood of the Gold Souk in fact – was being slowly dismantled. I was shocked because it was beautiful before, and full of character. Was this treasure being turned into rubble ?

 

Some weeks later someone told me that it is being restored (that is good news) … but how I hope it won’t lose the filigree detail or the charming eccentricity of the way it used to be.

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