Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Do You Dubayy?

I grew up in a different world where places around the globe had different names and seemed to follow different rules from those that they tell us we should follow today. I visited East Germany briefly as a youngster, a place that has vanished as completely as the Soviet Union I once traveled through. When I was a very small boy Goa in India was ruled by the Portuguese, part of their Empire that has also vanished as completely as Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) or Macao. I read the writings of Wilfred Thesiger as a boy and dreamed of a world of Iraqi Marsh Arabs, the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia and the desperate journeys across those empty spaces. Sir Wilfred Thesiger was the stereotypical craggy Englishman able to hide himself among the natives like this:And yet, despite the literature and the wonderment I never did get to the Middle East. My life time was when Arabs supplanted camels with internal combustion, tents with skyscrapers, and became objects of Nouveau Riche derision, them Arabs and their gold faucets and their wealth compared to our petroleum dependent technology. I read the literature, I wondered about the Trucial Gulf States who joined together in an ancient 19th century treaty and promised to trade with Britain and no one else. They made a flag and lived under it.I knew 20th century British soldiers who went to work as trainers for the local army in Trucial Oman, another 19th century pirate nation that signed a truce with Great Britain's Navy and thus became "Trucial" in the weird lingo of diplomacy. And then they became their own nations, the Trucial Gulf States and the seven sheikdoms spread across 250 miles of waterfront in the Persian Gulf became the United Arab Emirates or UAE. We've heard of their capital Abu Dhabi in English, the place that "elects" the hereditary President of the UAE, and we've heard of Dubai where the Emirates' Vice President is "elected" by heredity, but the other five...? I couldn't even spell them never mind say them. They all, the seven little emirates, live in the shadows of oil and prosperity.
We've heard more recently of the huge developments the Emir of Dubai has been encouraging in his country that boasts perhaps 50 miles of coastline and a great deal of sand. And now the developer of the Palms of Dubai (dubayy in Arabic, properly pronounced de-bay, not due-by) is defaulting on his dollar loans, all 60 billion of them. Dubai, unlike big brother Abu Dhabi has no oil so it proposed to be the big bad boy of unbridled capitalist development amongst the little emirates which sit next to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They built an indoor ski resort in the desert and proposed vast offshore artificial islands of luxury that have all come tumbling down in the credit crunch, default swap chaos of 2008. Dubai is not kind to debtors and foreigners have been abandoning their Mercedes at the airport and flying home before their debts caught up with them. They wanted to escape the 19th century style debtor's jail in use in Dubai.


Now the UAE Central Bank is suggesting it will not pick up the debts owed by developer Dubai World saying the lenders need to be responsible for the money they loaned, and the central bank of Dubai is saying the same thing. Stock markets everywhere were jittery when they thought Dubai's Big Brother Emirate was going to save their financial ass, so what happens next who knows? Bloomberg suggests stocks are ignoring Dubai's problems which, after a few days of sacremongering, isn't too surprising really, especially when you consider how determined they are tot ell us a recovery is under way. The funny thing about all this sudden "Dubai-talk" is that Dubai World owes barely $60 billion dollars, which amounts to far less than the US taxpayer has paid to bail out Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. if you need an idea of how enormous and how powerful the United States is, and could be, just think about what piddly numbers we are talking about here. The United States could bail out all Dubai's debt, including $40 billion of shaky governmental debt, with only one dollar in seven the US government has set aside for domestic bailout spending. Incidentally one has to wonder why we the US taxpayers are being told to bail out fraudulent lenders and wild speculators when these Ay-rabs we love to despise are forthrightly telling their speculators to suck it up on their own.


On the other hand Abu Dhabi can probably cope just fine with whatever economic shambles lies ahead because unlike little brother Dubai, Abu Dhabi has enormous oil reserves and about $630 billion in the bank, saved up for a rainy day. I sit back in my little house in the Keys and I wonder about the world I live in. One load of leaders in Dubai is busy pretending to have money and blowing it all like a millionaire's son on a spending spree at Harrod's while the other leaders in Abu Dhabi are hoarding cash like it's going out of fashion. And us? We savagely decline to cover our own health care needs on the grounds of cost, blow up foreign countries at random and get our people killed defending "freedom"in mountain ranges we can't even name. I can't help but feel the Trucial Gulf States have made more progress in the past century than we have, and whatever the cost of their freedom they have money in the bank to cover expenses like proper capitalists should. And yet all we see are "rag heads" and "camel jockeys" and hateful religious extremists, those Ay-rabs with 630 billion of our dollars snug in their bank.


Freedom isn't having the biggest guns or the baddest attitude. It's knowing how to keep a solid capitalist positive cash flow, while taking care of what needs to be taken care of at home and at the same time cheerfully minding one's own business. How sad it is we need to take a lesson from the former Trucial Gulf States who are at war with no one, provide excellent socialized medicine for all and are now showing us how to demand accountability from bankrupts. I hope when the time comes they will sign a truce with us.

BO's

This looks like a pile of junque by the side of Caroline Street, it is in fact a well known restaurant.For all that it looks decrepit, Buddy Owen's place has some pretty strict rules:It's popular too, and when my wife and I met a visiting relative here we had to stand in a line that stretched out onto the Caroline Street sidewalk.There are tables scattered around under a bitsa roof, made of bits of this and that, and all those bits of stuff hanging off the ceiling to attract a diner's attention.I didn't spot this guy staring at me until I checked the photo later.We placed our order at the counter which didn't take long as the menu is delightfully short and to the point, the odd sandwich the odd salad and some french fries. We ordered a burger and a fish sandwich to share and our guest got a second fish sandwich. If you order them a certain way you are identified as a local and the fries are free, which takes a bit of the sting out of the sandwich price tag of around twelve bucks. The order taker was cheerful and efficient:
The cooking area is a production line, short order cooking to keep the masses happy. Those are sandwiches lined up to receive their filings:The drinks are reasonably priced, even though bottled water for two bucks is I suppose the industry standard rip-off:This was the first time I had ever been to BO's Fish Wagon. My colleague Paula who lives a restricted life within five blocks of her house, visits this place and Pepe's cafe and treats them as her main haunts and she spent much of the week before Thanksgiving encouraging me to go. She isn't alone in her appreciation of this place, I saw people concentrating hard on their food while we were there:Call me fussy but I am not terribly keen on dilapidated settings when it's time to eat. I am not overly germ phobic as people who hang out around me would tell you but there is something a bit run down about this place for my general taste. I don't think a decent fish sandwich needs nautical junque to improve it's flavor:Though clearly a lot of people don't agree with my assessment. Eating at BO's puts you practically out on the street:And check it out. the line never grew shorter. I suspect a lot of these people were paying extra for their fries so you'd end up paying $20 for a sandwich and a drink. That seems a lot to me.
They weren't insubstantial, give them that! Alcohol midday puts me to sleep so we had bottomless cups of cola to get the bread and fries down the hatch.As my wife's cousin's stepson put it, the fish was fresh and flaky as any self respecting fish should be when served in a Keys restaurant. But he had experience working in a fish place in Seattle, where he's from and he told me he learned a few of the less salubrious tricks of the trade. None of them are indulged in by BO's, which isn't surprising, when you consider the reputation they've built up over the years. Some people call them rats with wings, others are more charitable, but these pigeons were practically domesticated, bobbing between diner's legs chasing crumbs...Tim says he wants to settle in Key West for a while. At 24 he's lived an exemplary life (by my standards!) crossing the Pacific under sail ("New Zealand and Fiji are my favorite countries") and learning several trades that might be very useful for him in Key West. He came across as responsible, smart and capable and I hope Key West doesn't derail him, as it has a habit of doing for some people of less character than he. On the other hand he's talking about going to the dive school at the College so he's come to town with plans, and he seems to know where he's going. I shall watch with interest.
So, my verdict on BO's? We all three thought the fish could use some spice or something, and my wife and I felt the sandwich was overpriced, though the hamburger did get a thumbs up for flavor.As we left I met a colleague in her patrol car and she wrinkled her nose when we told her of our first time adventure at BO's. "I grew up here and I never ate there," she said, confirming this is not a Conch hang out. At least not in her family. I don't think the legions of tourists who flock there will care.