Next week, I head to foreign shores.
I’ll fly to Dubai and then be escorted to the Emirate next door: Sharjah, for theSharjah International Book Fair.
While Abu Dhabi and Dubai are well known names even in Scotland, usually conjuring images of the exotic Arabia and glitzy high rises, the UAE as a whole is an unknown quantity to many Westerners.
Did you know their are seven Emirates, including these two famous jewels?
Neither did I.
Not until I was headed there.
Not until I did the research I’d always meant to but somehow never found time for.
can you point to the UAE on a map?
Chances are you know it’s in the Middle East.
You probably know it has oil and beaches.
A stab in the dark and you’ve got a pretty good shot…
Well, in case you didn’t know, it’s here:
I live where the star is.
That’s 4,877 miles away (and yet still not the furthest I’ve travelled for a work event).
The UAE is in the elbow crook of the Arabian pennisula.
Now if this conjures images of exotic fig lined oases and deserts from TE Lawrence’s travels and Richard Burtons rather exotic Arabian Nights translation, I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s often the only version portrayed outside the news [don't even get me started on Sex & the City 2].
On a brief aside, my friend Danny wrote an interesting piece discussing this Westernised Arabia in the Independent just this morning. I love it when life is full of that sort of serendipity.
Regardless, I’m pretty sure these concepts are just the tip of the stereotypical iceberg, but I’ll let you know when I get there.
I plan on taking plenty of pictures.
In all of my reading about this place, many things I thought I knew from television, osmosis and the odd headline are (unsurprisingly) entirely false.
Though somethings I thought I knew were bordering on accurate.
Things that are true about the UAE:*
Women don’t have to wear veils. or abayas.
Women are allowed to drive.
All sorts of people live there – in fact the vast majority of the population is made up of immigrants.
It is hot – even in November it’l be 27 C (81 °F). Finding clothes that cover me respectfully but won’t kill me in that heat has proved a challenge to say the least.
It’s rich by many Western standards.
Among their other awards [which will be presented at a special ceremony the opening day], the book fair has a fund to translate literature up to $300,000 -a special occurance for this, it’s 30th birthday.
That’s more money than entire festivals are run on in places like Yorkshire and Ohio.
I’m actually rather thrilled to be somewhere that champions literature and ideas [and their international dissemination and discussion] with such an investment. How utterly novel.
As the shortness of these lists imply, I thought I new very little. Turns out I know even less.
It’s been an interesting preparation, and I imagine the journey itself will be fascinating.
I’m so very excited.
I’ll try and blog regularly about the trip, including the always enlightening experience of transnational publishing events.
Having been to other book fairs, I’m excited to return to the publishing world in a new way. How this will compare to a spring in Italy where I get the immense pleasure of chatting children’s books I don’t know, but I’m eager to find out.
To whet your appetite for all things bookish in the week to come, here are some things I didn’t know but have found fascinating :*
Poetry is a national hobby.
In Sharjah, there is even a special Poetry House to advocate and celebrate poetry, including the longstanding oral tradition I’d liken to Homeric epic. I hope I can experience some during my soujourn.
Also, the fair itself has a large focus on cookery books and writers – including daily demonstrations from international chefs.
Guess where I’ll be spending a large part of my time.
If their programme list is anything to go by, I’ll be stuffed to the gills and drooling for most of the visit.
I already love Rose Prince and if I can have any souvinir, some excellent recipes and sage advice to spice up the forthcoming winter are top of the list.
So there you go.
Next time I see you, I’ll be in the Middle East.
* None of these lists should be considered definitive or even unique. Ever.