Doha, the capital of Qatar, isn’t the kind of place you usually pop into without a task at hand. You might come on assignment for your company, or you could be transiting on Qatar Airways, or you might drop in because Qatar is a country and you’re on a mission to visit all of them. But I’ve accomplished that mission already, and now I’m back in town for no good reason.
There’s no way around the obvious: Doha is a strange place. The only Qataris I encounter are working the immigration counters at the airport. From there on out, it’s all foreign labor, all the time. Filipinos and Indians are the larger contingents, but I also talk to Ethiopians, Kenyans, Georgians, and Pakistanis.
The country is permanently under construction, with the skyline dotted with cranes and half-built buildings. The most popular excursion for people of all social classes seems to involve a shopping mall.
Nevertheless, I have no complaints. I’m on the road and it feels good. Only challenge is, I’m not sleeping. Upon making it to Johannesburg I stayed up half the night and slept from 3am-6am. The next afternoon I flew here and slept on the flight… but then I was awake more than half the night.
The best strategy of jet lag is: live to fight another day. Today I made more of an effort to stay awake, only sleeping an hour in the afternoon and then dragging myself out of bed to make coffee.
Next I head to the gym, where I’m fading fast at 7pm but determined to keep going. I limp three slow miles on the treadmill. Strangely, there’s no changing room or shower facility, so on the way back I have to walk past the nightclub in my gym clothes. Then I have to share an elevator with a sheikh and a couple of his wives, who are each dressed in full burkhas. I’m wearing a tank-top and running shoes, sweating all over the floor. It’s awkward.
After my shower in the room I almost give up, lying down in my bathrobe and coming close to deep sleep. I want to stay on the bed but I know I shouldn’t, because something’s on my mind.
Say one thing about Qatar: if they don’t have it, they’ll buy it. There’s now a Louvre in Doha. There’s a Cornell University in Doha. And as I learned from a local newspaper that afternoon, there’s a Jazz at Lincoln Center installed on the fourth floor of the St. Regis hotel.
Jazz at Lincoln Center! In Doha. How fun is that? I’d even made a reservation.
So I get up off the bed and go, putting on my only nice shirt and paying $8 for a 15-minute taxi ride.
When I check in amidst much security, the hostess spends ten minutes looking for my reservation, which is nowhere to be found. “Is it fully booked tonight?” I ask.
“Yes, fully booked.”
But there’s another thing you can say about a place like Qatar: here, it’s the mission of the hostess and security staff to accommodate a visitor. Elsewhere in the world, the burden would be on the visitor to beg and plead for a seat at the bar.
The Filipino security guard and the Ukrainian hostess take a photocopy of my ID, which I consider a hopeful sign. Finally they make it work and take me inside, and that’s when I laugh: it’s not fully booked at all! Only a few people are here so far.
Granted, more people showed up over the next hour, but not nearly enough to pack it in. Next time you find yourself in Doha, remember that there’s plenty of room for all at the St. Regis bar.
I look at the menu and consider the expensive drink options, clocking in at $28 each. I’m shocked and impressed, but when you’re in Doha and there’s no cover charge, what are you going to do? It’s simple enough: You’re going to order a Manhattan, served up with an extra cherry.
The band is introduced and the bandleader emerges from the shadows. As he begins to play the piano, I begin to worry—it’s all a little experimental. There are rain sticks and strange percussive effects. Voices are heard chanting from all directions. A flutist slides in from the other side—or is he a flautist?
Being a fan of more traditional jazz, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake in coming tonight. But then the mood shifts and it becomes clear that the armchair critic in the back of the room with his $28 Manhattan has passed judgment too early. Once the band is fully assembled on stage, they’re great!
Everything is tight and tonal (and sometimes even modal). The musicians are enjoying themselves, and everyone else is too. The room is half-full but there’s good energy, with everyone nodding along and appreciating the music. Yeah!
Here is all you need to know about good music: everything is happening for a reason.
Why is he doing that? You might wonder about the bass player. Again, if it’s good music, whether jazz or classical or even pop or country, there’s a reason.
This isn’t true for most music, but for good music it is. There’s a reason the tempo subtly shifts. The musicians listen to one another.
I sit in the back of the room, sleepy but no longer exhausted, enjoying the music and my surroundings. It’s a wonderful night in Doha!
Okay, it’s true: I do have my laptop open during much of the festivities. I have to finish a blog post and check in on a couple of projects. But I’m as present as I ever get, and no longer sleepy.
Staying over an extra day here was the right decision. Tomorrow I’m off to Europe, but I have no desire to rush it. Strange as Qatar is, I’m glad to be here.
When you’re feeling ambivalent about going out or staying in, you should ask yourself, “Is there Jazz at Lincoln Center playing in Doha tonight?”
Yes, there is? Then you should go.
I leave the performance after another drink, switching to $11 beer this time. I say goodnight to Yulia (hostess) and Marco (security) and head back to my hotel. That night I sleep six hours and wake up the next morning feeling refreshed.
Another day is here! The fog of wandering war has cleared and I no longer want red wine with my pre-breakfast espresso. I have a pain au chocolate with sparkling water and I’m ready to charge ahead.
Onwards to Paris…