With Qatar summer temperatures between 40-50degC, I set out in the early evening from the seething stalls of Souq Waqif, dodging freeway traffic and heading down a grand palm-lined avenue to the Islamic Museum of Art, a stepped limestone vision alight and afloat the Arabian Gulf. A space age skyline beckons across the bay.
Adama is a journalist, chats with a cultured London accent, with dinner a white-linen affair atop the Museum. We drink from an icy-cold crystal carafe of grape, cranberry and litchi juice blended with raspberry, lime and honey. In deference to the museum, there's no alcohol here.
There’s house-made bread, plates of roasted hammour with soft and crunchy rice, French snails and a vegetable salad with zaatar dressing. Over thimbles of sweet coffee, we’re offered roasted apricot and Iran pistachio ice-cream. The vision is French, the flavours straight out of Arabian Nights.
Early morning, I wander the famous 5km Corniche promenade, arguably the oldest landmark here, the museum already lost in haze – warning of the heat to come. The plan is to again meet Adama, and I gaze past painted dows and across to that iconic glass and steel skyline; the rows of dows a hint of the innocuous fishing village Doha once was.
Adama is talkative, me already sweating and the air-conditioning pumped up to full. He’s late, having stopped for fuel, and I’m surprised at the size of his car – a large black European people-mover – but he smiles and drops his foot to the floor. “No problem. A Big Mac will cost me more than to fill the tank.”
Adama continues. "Yes, life is good here. We have a high standard of living, and the best healthcare. We have education and sustainable development." He smiles, revealing brown teeth. "We have singing sand dunes and a hospital for falcons!" I get the picture – there is everything here.
“Qatar is the biggest exporter of natural gas.” He says. “We have the fastest growing economy in the world, the greatest wealth per capita. You must see our football stadium.” I'm told Qatar will be the smallest country ever to host the World Cup, the building holding 80,000 people.
We pass sandpit construction sites, the great shell of the National Museum, a sea of steel frames wave upon wave, evoking memories of the Sydney Opera House immersed in unruly stacks of broken plates, Doha a melting pot of architectural ambitions with many construction workers killed in accidents.
Adama’s car speeds down a wide road baking and bereft of pedestrians, somehow oddly empty despite the traffic but crowded-in by eclectic towers of twisted steel and glittering glass; these odd shaped offices and shopping centres, Qatar's commercial centre.
I’m captivated by the forest of fairytale towers flashing past, and Adama’s bloodshot eyes lift to catch mine in the rear-view. "You know the meaning of `Doha'?" I shake my head and he laughs. "It comes from the Arabic ‘Ad-Dawha’, meaning ‘the big tree’."
I ponder the miracle of time, this place once all sand, a rustic fishing village surrounded by `singing’ dunes… and one big tree where there is now a forest of glittering towers.
Photo: Something from Nothing - Doha, Qatar _ Ian Cochrane