From the shape of water to ‘pre-historic Internet’
Last weekend I visited the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. It was my first trip to the Emirate, here’s what I discovered:
- It can rain in the desert. In fact, it rained for the entire first day; not something I was expecting and it created some really incongruous scenes with traditionally dressed Emiratis porting – not parasols – but umbrellas, and running between puddles. I’m sure that the environment benefitted from the showers, but Abu Dhabi cuts a pretty melancholic picture in the rain; even the camels looked sad!
- From the Louvre. Despite thousands of years of experimenting, there is actually only one way to pour water. Three water jugs from different eras and cultures (Turkey 1750-1800, Southern China 1500–1520, and India/Italy 1640) look disarmingly similar with a round base and thin, elongated spout1. The nature of water, the best way to avoid air bubbles when pouring, the easiest way to direct the flow are pretty timeless. Unlike almost every other accessory in modern life – from transport to working life – the act of pouring water has actually remained unchanged.
- The arrival of the horse was the equivalent of bringing the Internet to the Americas. Wild horses originally occupied the Americas until around 10,000 years ago, after which humans relied on their own means to travel and transport goods (llamas proved untrainable, apparently!). Modern, domestic horses where brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. The domestic horse transformed American society; from the distances that could be travelled, to the goods that could be transported. Empires were no longer limited to a ‘walkable distance’. The transformation reminded me of the Web’s impact even in my lifetime on everything from how we work to how we go shopping. Christopher Columbus as an unlikely precursor to Tim Berners-Lee, perhaps?
- Impressionism redefined art; just as social media is redefining it again. Prior to the emergence of artists such as Monet and Cezanne, art was largely reserved for epic events, historical or mythical figures, kings, queens, battles, gods; Impressionists also saw art in the ‘quotidien’; the routines of daily life, the neighborhood characters, family scenes which were neither heroic nor epic. On the contrary, impressionism was about elevating such humdrum scenes into something of grander proportions. Here’s one example on display, Gustave Caillebotte, Game of Bezique, 18802. Maybe the modern day equivalent can be found on social media – ‘look at what I had for lunch’, ‘look at my funny cat’, ‘look at me in front of the Eiffel Tower’; I’m not sure whether we’ll ever build a museum to the social media equivalent, though! Anyway, here’s my favourite ‘impressionist selfie’ from the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, Van Gough self-portrait, 18873.
- Despacito really is universal. After completing the Louvre visit, my wife and I took a coffee in a local café. When serving us, the waitress suddenly started giggling uncontrollably. Assuming that something must be wrong, I enquired. “It’s just that song they’re playing; I can’t help laughing. I adore it!” Of course, as readers of previous blogs will guess, the song was Despacito by Luis Fonzi4, the most downloaded YouTube clip of all time. The waitress confessed to having no idea about the lyrics or the song’s meaning; it simply made her very happy. My wife and I explained what the words were about – a man promising to let the women take control – and that it was the opposite sentiment you would expect from a muscle-bound, tattooed rapper. The waitress laughed even more. One day they are going to display Despacito in the Louvre!
Excuse me if any or all of the above seem obvious, but these were my personal discoveries. I would strongly recommend a trip to the Louvre if you are in Abu Dhabi. I’d also recommend a quick coffee at this wonderful Italian café (Coffee House Café Milano5); I can’t guarantee that they’ll be playing Luis Fonzi, though!