If you go to the
Arabian Desert seeking madness, you will find it. In a land of wandering
prophets and sunshot revelation, of oracles and portents, of messianic signs
and magic, in the ancient place where first we met and wrestled God, madness is
only a matter of time.
It all seemed
pretty straightforward: Go to the emirate of Qatar in the Persian Gulf to cover
the Asian Games. Then came the Endless First Day, the Windowless Room and the
Burning of the City of the Future, the Electric Minarets, the Shadowed Alley of
the Tombac HuffenPuffs, and the Iranian Diaper Pirates. � On my fifth night
there, I see the heart of these Games briefly, but whole. Pakistan and India
playing a children's game, a children's game now infused with 60 years of blood
and bad history. Pakistan's up 6--2. India sends an attacker into the Pakistani
zone, and the defenders there, strong men, agile and hard and serious, swarm
him and lift him and throw him headlong to the floor. The crowd erupts.
The Pakistanis help
the Indian to his feet. He wobbles there. The Pakistanis regroup, ready
themselves for the next attack. But for one. He stands with the Indian. He
steadies him with a hand on his shoulder, then reaches out with the other and
gently smooths the Indian's hair. As he does so, he leans in to kiss the
Indian's cheek. Then he jogs away.
One thousand people
watch this, lungs burning as they roar and deaf in the roar they make and every
heart in that crowd filled with the things that fill us all--pride, violence,
sadness, joy, admiration, desperation, longing, compassion, hunger, hate, want,
love. The infinite litany of human feeling compressed into an instant, another
kind of madness. All the grace and complication of the species, and the stakes
of the games we play, written in the smallest moment.
The first day, on
the mummifying 18-hour flight from New York City to Doha, Qatar's capital and
the site of the Games, I begin this journal. From the press kit: 15th
quadrennial Asian Games, two weeks, 10,500 athletes from 45 countries, 5,700
journalists, more than 400 events in 39 sports at 36 venues. The sports include
most of the popular Olympic events, with some Asian regional favorites thrown
in: wushu, sepaktakraw, kabaddi, etc. Also, some rumpus room standards like
chess and billiards.
Cost to Qatar of
staging same: nearly $3 billion. More than 2,000 hours of television
programming to be beamed out to 1.5 billion viewers worldwide. Of that number,
I'll likely be the only American. I'll cover what I can.
like cutter or gutter--not like guitar--is a flat spit of sand and gravel that
juts from the Arabian peninsula into the Persian Gulf. A crossroads between
land and sea for the nomadic Bedouin, it has for centuries been a minor
commercial center. Until oil was found here in the late 1930s, the two big
businesses were fishing and pearling. Oil and natural gas were first exported
from Qatar in 1949. Thus, in the vernacular of the macroeconomist, ka-ching.
Today, with the third largest natural gas reserve in the world, Qatar has one
of the highest per capita earnings on earth. Population about 880,000, of whom
fewer than 175,000 are native Qataris. Most of the rest are immigrants and
guest workers from all over the Middle East and the subcontinent.
The current ruler,
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, came to power in the mid-1990s--by
overthrowing his own father. One presumes Al-Thani family picnics remain to
this day subdued.
in the summer routinely reach 120�.
And this last, from
the Lonely Planet travel guide: "Around the Gulf, Doha has earned the
unenviable reputation of being the dullest place on earth." Which, given
the neighborhood--what a real estate agent might refer to as "war-zone
adjacent"--may be its strongest selling point.