Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Arab Fund Building

There are few extraordinary sights in Kuwait City and its residential and industrial areas which really deserve lots of attention. An exceptionally fine example of modern Islamic Art and Architecture can be found at the intersection of Airport Road and Gamal Abdul Nasser St in Shuwaikh, the Arab Organizations Headquarters Building, commonly known as the Arab Fund Building. Rather plain and cubic, let’s say Bauhaus-like, when seen from the highway, Arab architectural principles of integrity of space, decoration and function are applied here in an extraordinarily balanced way. Only guided tours are possible and I had opportunities to impress my guests and friends with what Islamic Art can achieve.

Already the huge entrance door with its hand carved wooden inlaid pieces fitting together without any nails and allowing expansion during extreme climate changes is absolutely amazing. When you enter, on your lefts side the marvelous Moroccan water fall with its intricate blue mosaic provides tranquility and will cool you down having just entered from the scorching heat outside the building.

The building’s grandiose eight-story atrium is filled with trees on rotating stands, bird cages, and huge hanging lamps. An indoor paradise garden, protected nature in an otherwise hostile environment.

The visitor will be guided through stunning libraries, conference rooms, an auditorium, a prayer room with a huge wall-to-wall, red Moroccan carpet and the beautiful Mamluk Room in the style of 12th century Egypt.

My favorite has always been the Tunisian Room with its highly polished surfaces reflecting the ceramic tile panels on the floor and marble conference table in an unexpected way. The Moroccan cedar wood ceiling is stunning as well.

Call 4844500 for arranging a guided tour.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Zayandeh Rud has Vanished

Today, a friend sent me these two pictures showing the Zayandeh Rud in Esfahan and the famous Si-o-Seh Pol (literally 33 arches), one of Esfahan's Safavid bridges. The river has almost disappeared due to little rain during winter and spring this year and because a dam west to Esfahan has been closed. Farmers need more water for irrigation and even drinking water supply is endangered in the Esfahan province.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Students VI

The first batch of dental students in Tromsø exercising periodontal surgery and suturing on the sheep model which had been developed in Kuwait.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

In Azerbaijan (Iran)

In Tabriz, Dawoud told me that he had got some back problems recently which he was trying to cure in regular trips to Daryacheh Orumiyeh, a huge (6000 square kilometers) super-salty lake in the northwestern corner of Iran. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, about 50 km west of the capital of the Azerbaijan province, Tabriz. There is a special worm living in the water, called Artimasalema. Its remains become over time, a sort of tar which is said to heal rheumatism and other ailing of the joints. When doing the trip twice a week or so, Dawoud always had a bucket and brought some of the tar to his home in Tabriz. Dawoud suggested that I join him and Alireza for an afternoon trip to the site when the bazaar was closed. He drove his old BMW and we had a great time. Unfortunately, the lens of my camera was a bit dirty, what I noticed only when at home. So, some of the pictures have a very old-fashioned ‘paper print touch’.

We approached the lake by passing a huge white and glitzy salt desert, a bit like a moon landscape. Dawoud knew a place with a sandy but hot beach and some cabins for changing cloths. Alireza and Dawoud wanted to swim in the super-salty waters (similar as the Dead Sea). I walked on the beach and took some photos. A family had a picnic and invited me. The Azeri people are, as always, incredibly hospitable. I talked a bit about my profession and my life in Kuwait. On our way back we visited a small village where Dawoud met some carpet weavers doing their job. It is amazing to see the men(!) weaving the famous Tabriz carpets here. Back in the bazaar in Tabriz, Dawoud also introduced me to one of his colleagues who was specialized in repairing old carpets and rugs. It was almost incredible how thoughtfully he restored the real antique pieces.

On another occasion, a public holiday, we visited Kandovan the Cappadocia of Iran. It is located 50 km south of Tabriz and was the destination of dozens of tourists from Iran who wanted to have a good time with some kebab, chay, Turkish coffee, or Seven-up. The soft, chimney-like tuff rocks allow people for centuries to hollow out their rooms and built their small houses.

Two girls in their colorful dresses were cleaning a carpet with a lot of water and a brush. Dawoud told me why not take a picture. I was rather hesitant but finally did it. The girls were terrified and tried to escape. When the brothers showed, we had to disappear quickly in the crowd. Rather self-evident: better not take pictures of people without asking them beforehand!

On our way back, the BMW got a flat tire and Dawoud decided to get the tire-tube changed rather than changing the whole tire which hardly had any visible profile left. Too expensive. But we had to hurry, anyway. Dawoud had an invitation for a dinner when he wanted to introduce me to his friend, a famous dentist in Tabriz. The food was delicious, Dr. Qudsi had a beautiful wife, and we had a nice evening. Next morning, Dawoud picked me up from the Azerbaijan Hotel in Tabriz and drove me to the airport, from where I departed to Mashhad, Iran’s holy city in the other corner of the country.

Monday, 20 October 2008


Our ultimate internet carpet expert, Barry O’Connell, has informed us lately that the great bazaar of Tabriz is eventually being registered as a global heritage site. I visited Tabriz a couple of weeks after the presidential elections in the hot summer of 2005. The bazaar is very similar to others in the region, although definitely larger. Its entrance is at the Masjed-e Jomeh, a mosque dating back to the Seljuqs but has been restored in later centuries.

As usual in Iran’s busy bazaars, you will quickly get lost in the labyrinthine ‘guts’ of the city. The 35 km of covered bazaar often sports brick-vaulted passages and small caravanserais. There are special areas for carpet sales and sooner or later you may end up there with chay and discussions. A young carpet dealer, Alireza, who had a small shop in the main bazaar, wanted to introduce me to his, say, in a way godfather, Mr. Dawoud, a real gentleman, as he told me, who helped him to establish his small business and educated him as a future carpet dealer. And he was a gentleman. We had many informative chats about his passion, namely bringing very special pieces of Armenian carpets to Iran (which is, of course illegal; Iran doesn’t need to import carpets from abroad). They have a great market in the US, as he told me. They were not really my taste. Instead, I bought a small Shirvan that he was rather hesitant to sell to me since he had it in his own flat himself for 20 years or so.

The 1.2- million people city of Tabriz in Iran’s Azerbaijan province is not a beauty when compared to other cities in Iran. The main sight is the Blue Mosque, built in the 15th century by Turkmen who ruled Iran after the Mongolian Il-Khanid dynasty. The mosque had been heavily demolished in a terrible earthquake in the 18th century. Right now, there is still a lot of reconstruction work visible and many tiled bricks can be seen inside the mosque waiting for being replaced in its original positions. Other renovations were done only by painting the patterns on the bricks. Manufacturing new ceramic tiles is probably too expensive.

Alireza sold me an interesting kilim which had even a signature: a very plain, but nice piece in beige with brown margins and two goats in the center.