Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chaptette 3: Data

Dates, actually. Huge clusters cling to the date palms lining the boulevard in the Samrya apartment complex. It occurs to me that 90 percent of the dates I've eaten in my life have been in the form of Fig Newtons. No, that would be figs. So 90 percent in the almond-stuffed dates my mother made for Christmas, which might be 90 percent fictional. But I wonder: Should I pick them? How does one know if they're ripe? Has anyone reading this ever eaten a date fresh from the tree? (If I'm the only reader, the answer would be: no).

You can buy dates, spices, fabric, trinkets, incense, perfume, gold, frankincense, myrrh and pretty much anything else a wise man could want at the old "Souq" marketplace in the Doha city center. The Souq has narrow winding alleys in a maze I doubt a rat with GPS could navigate if a snickerdoodle was the prize. The alleys are just wide enough for two wheelbarrows to pass each other. I know this because the alleys are full of men, often elderly, with wheelbarrows who are ready to be hired to cart your purchases. As I only bought one pound of Sumatran coffee, a hired porter seemed excessive. But maybe I will get used to it. It has become easy to pick up the phone in my office, call the kitchen, and have a staffer (alternately Ransan, Julius, or Mel) bring me a fresh cup of coffee. I do this several times each day.

More data: The NBA playoffs are continuing, and the Lakers beat Denver just last night. I know this because the Philippino selling me Sumatran coffee in Qatar is a big Kobe Bryant fan. He thinks Gilbert Arenas isn't bad, either.

More data: Recent estimates have 1.3 million people living in Qatar, which has grown rapidly in recent years. Of these, 1 million are men and 300,000 are women -- the greatest gender disparity in the planet. I learned this from one of my female students today. It was hard to tell whether she was gloating or concerned.

Yet more: The high temperature in Doha today was 117 Fahrenheit.

In the Souq, the custom is to bargain. I am not good at this. My idea of bargaining is to go to sidestep.com and ask it to give me the lowest priced airfare. Merchants at the Souq reportedly will give you, when asked the price, a number twice as high as the real price they are willing to accept. But here is how this would work for me at the Souq:

Merchant: The price is 1000 Riyal!
Me: Ok.

Maybe I should just stick to picking dates.


  1. Very interesting and well written (of course), Mark. I am enjoying this - I feel as if I am there or have been there. And I totally agree regarding the bargaining... that is how I would respond as well!

  2. I've never had fresh dates, but my fiancée says fresh figs (which, as you note, might be close enough) are ripe when they are dark and soft. She thinks it's later in the summer, but it wasn't 117 F in Italy.

    But dark and soft (or not hard) is the recommendation. Maybe dates are too different, but I say go for it. She also recommends wrapping them in prosciutto, but that might be tricky?

    (Also, be on the lookout for motorcycle-riding, eyepatch-wearing guys with monkeys. I wouldn't eat their dates.)


  3. Loving the blog, dad. My suggestion for the dates, pick one, eat it. If it tastes good then it's ripe. Easy. And it sounds like the the Souq is really an interesting place. Try to bring me back some of that god please. =)


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  5. The dates would turn either bright yellow (like bananas), or red, depending on type. They would be quite yummy at this point but are still unripe. Well, half-ripe. Later, they would turn brown and soft and a bit wrinkly, like raisins. That's when they're ripe. There's a stage in between, when they might be yellow but with patches of soft brown when they're also very yummy, crunchy but sweet.