Thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Book Fair: Context

As I mentioned earlier I’m in Abu Dhabi, writing a blog for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair blog. It’s all going pretty well—I have a few posts up, a few more interesting ones on the way—but since trips like this generate a lot of thoughts, comments, and ideas, and since the book fair blog probably isn’t the right place to share my opinions (not to imply that my opinions are negative, just that they’re more like inappropriate) I thought I’d post a few things here about the trip as a whole.

First off, the other journalists on this trip are amazing. And hilarious, smart, interesting, and incredibly fun to be around. (Even at the dry parties. . . . The first dry publishing parties I’ve ever attended.) Just to give a quick rundown: Hannah Davies from The Bookseller is blogging about the fair on their website. She’ll be writing a longer piece later, as will Maria de Cos Villanueva from Spain’s Delibros. Ed Nawotka’s writing from the ADIBF blog as well, and possibly for a few other places as well. And Anne Eckert—who works for the Frankfurt Book Fair and arranged the whole journalist program—is here as well.

To set the scene for the ADIBF, the day before it started Anne arranged for a visit to the Cultural Foundation where we heard a bit about the history and culture of Abu Dhabi. Admittedly, I probably should’ve known more about the UAE before coming, but it was fascinating to see the model of Abu Dhabi in 1966 when there was only one brick building and a lot of hut-like structures. It’s completely different now, filthy with skyscrapers everywhere you look, and other wildly ambitious structures, like the final design for the place where the fair is taking place. And that’s not to mention Saadiyat Island. And for as much as the Emirates Palace sort of reminded us of Las Vegas, it was still pretty damn impressive. (Although according to some there could’ve been much more gold . . . )

Speaking of gold, one of the interesting things I learned here was that Dubai (which I haven’t visited yet, but which Abu Dhabi folks seem to treat as a sort of UAE aberration, a city totally off the rails with growth, and not nearly as oil rich as Abu Dhabi) used to be a hub for gold smuggling. Like airplanes full of gold, smuggling. The place where you could buy a special coat with all sorts of hidden pockets . . .

Another interesting aspect of UAE life are the camel beauty pageants. (And camel racing, but that doesn’t come with such a bizarre picture.)

There are some obvious cultural (and weather-related) differences between the Arab world and the U.S., but nevertheless the first thing I saw getting off the place was a Burger King. (Which was almost the last part of the UAE I saw, since the guards freaked out about my rain damaged passport and warned me not to try and come back before getting a new one.)

This is kind of a tough place to describe. Some parts of the city are totally over-the-top, others are just city-like, and few are so especially unique that they merit specific mention. Nevertheless, it’s still a cool place to visit, and the fair has been pretty enlightening.

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