Sunday, December 19, 2010

Millions of Dollars in Decorations on a Tree: And a Tale of Two Camels

Earlier today, I read that the management of a hotel in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) regretted putting around $11,0000,000-worth of decorations on an ersatz Christmas tree. Here's the first paragraph:
"An Abu Dhabi luxury hotel that boasted an $11 million Christmas tree decorated with gold and gems admitted Sunday it may have taken the holiday spirit a bit too far...."
(Associated Press, via FoxNews.com)

(from ArabianBusiness.com, used w/o permission)
I thought I'd be reading that the thing tipped over.

Turns out, the folks who run the Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi were concerned about aesthetics, not engineering. The tree is around 43 feet, or 13 meters, tall. I'm no expert, but it seems to me that a tree that size gives them a pretty good bling-to-structure ratio.

About being over the top, in terms of good taste? Judging from photos in the news, I think they've got a nice-looking tree. A bit on the opulent side, but come on: It's a seven-star luxury hotel - in Dubai.

Besides, I'm one of those folks who don't mind seeing plastic flamingos, pottery gnomes, and plywood art in front yards.

In other words, I don't mind looking at things that aren't blandly banal, or discretely dull. Granted, what I consider nifty may not be suitable to those of more delicately refined tastes.

A Seven-Star Hotel in the UAE? In a Catholic's Blog?!

I've written about Christmas before. I've even written about the seasonal commercialism and gooey sentiment that's now a traditional part of American (and possibly Western) culture. (December 24, 2009, December 24, 2008) I may do another 'look past the glitz' post this year.

The fact is, though: I like the glitz. I even enjoy some of the sentimental heavy syrup that oozes through media this time of year. As with Bingo, beer, or bling: the stuff isn't bad in itself. It's only a problem when it gets in the way of our focus on God. My opinion, but I'm just some guy with a blog. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a pretty good place to start looking for what the Church teaches. (2290, 2413, 2521-2522: and, for that matter, 2112-2114)

I wrote about moderation yesterday, too, sort of. (December 18, 2010)

Which brings me back to that tree decorated with almost a dozen million dollars in gold and jewels.

It's Okay to be Wealthy?

The decorations represent more wealth than I'm ever likely to see. The tree is in a seven-star hotel: and back when I traveled occasionally, I'd be more likely to seek out a nice budget motel. But not everybody's in my position.

I've discussed wealth before, too. (September 27, 2010) The bottom line seems to be that it's okay to be poor. It's also okay to be rich. Either way, it looks like it's what you do with where you are that counts. (February 4, 2010)

Besides, it's not like the wealth tied up on that tree is gone forever after the Christmas season. My guess is that the valuables on that tree will be going back into the inventory of Style Gallery, the store that's displaying the ornaments. From there, I'm pretty sure that the management of Style Gallery hopes that some of the folks who saw the tree will buy a piece of that memory to take home with them.

Blingle Bells and Middle Eastern Culture

Considering what some of the more tightly-wound folks in the Middle East seem to think about Christianity - and anything else that isn't part of the way their ancestors have lived for a few thousand years - the management of the Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi deserves commendation for accommodating the tastes of foreign guests.

I've written more, about my take on how folks in the Middle East are taking the Information Age, in other blogs. There's a short list of links toward the bottom of this post. Which is another topic - but not by much.

New Horizons in Tacky Lawn Sculptures

Compared to what some newly-rich folks were doing, a few decades back, that gold-and-jewel-covered tree is positively austere. Like the fellow who set a new benchmark for loud taste in Beverly hills, back in 1979:
"...First, the then-young sheik painted his 38-room white Italianate mansion the color of minty fresh toothpaste. Then, he surrounded it with urns filled with plastic flowers. The coup de grace, however, was painting the white plaster statues of nude men and women to highlight their genitalia."
"Would the sheik's mansion shock us today?," Style & Culture, Mimi Avins, Los Angeles Times (January 1, 2003)
I've written about modesty before, too. That statuary isn't something I'd like to see across the street from me.

That said, I was a bit sympathetic with the young man and his taste in lawn ornaments. Not because I was a youngish man then, too: but because I had some notion of where the young sheik was coming from. Literally. If what filters out from places like Saudi Arabia is any indication, quite a few spots in the Middle East would make the most rigidly control-crazed neighborhood association seem like the epitome of open-mindedness by comparison.

I put myself in his shoes, imagining what it might be like to grow up in a place with a rigid dress code, rules about how the outside of your house should look: and then have enough money to buy a mansion on the other side of a distant continent - and have it painted mint green.

The naughty statues? Okay: that's over the top, in my opinion. But maybe more understandable, if seen as youthful enthusiasm: suddenly let off the leash.

Mint-Green Mansions and Camel-to-Camel in Six Generations

That gold-laden Christmas tree may make a bit more sense, after looking at a quote widely attributed to another sheik: one who stayed home and - well, I'll get to that. Here's that quote:
"My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel."
("Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum," Emiratweet)
The point he was making was that he had enormous wealth: thanks to petroleum being a valuable commodity today.

A few generations back, his family and his people didn't have that sort of wealth. A few generations from now, they wouldn't have it - again.

Not from the sale of petroleum, anyway. There's only so much of the stuff: and quite a few folks are working at finding practical alternatives. With some promising results - and that's another topic.

What the 'camel' sheik, and others who look beyond mint-green mansions, were doing was using the narrow window of opportunity the 'petrodollar' windfall had given them: to build the start of an economy that didn't depend on selling oil.

Which is where extravagantly-priced hotels come in.

It's Not Just About Rich People

There are folks with money to spend - who like to spend it at places like the Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi. Each guest at the hotel provides, directly or indirectly, jobs which folks who aren't extremely wealthy need.

Do I think the UAE is perfect? No. I don't think America is perfect, either. Or any other country.

I do, however, have some respect for leaders who appear to be trying to do something constructive with the fleeting boom times of the days when the world runs on petroleum.

Like I said: I think it's okay to be wealthy; and it's okay to be poor. What counts is what you do with the what you have.

Related (sort of) posts:
Other vaguely-related posts, in other blogs:
In the news:
Background:

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Extra letter: "It's a seven-start luxury hotel"

Paragraph break problem: "not everybody's in my position.
I've discussed wealth before"

Wouldn't or won't? "they wouldn't have it - again."

Another paragraph break problem: "extremely wealthy need.
Do I think the"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Brigid,

Got it, thanks!

About the 'wouldn't/won't' thing - in this case, I intend the conditional 'wouldn't.'

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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.