Letter from Doha

I write from the exquisite conference center of the Four Seasons hotel in Doha. In the hours before the conference began, I swam in the Arabian Gulf, played squash with Saeed Khan (a Pakistani Muslim who now lives in Detroit) went Oud shopping in the shuq with Rabbi Roly Matalon, and watched a few Arabic music videos on one of the two 54 inch plasma screens that adorn the massive room that the Emir has graciously set aside for me to rest my weary bones.

The trip to the music shop was typical - our Phillipino driver parked in front of a butcher shop with sheep carcasses hanging out front, we first walked into an Arabic music/cassette tape shop and the proprietor had no idea where to go. We then asked a guy selling electronics and he told us to go up a couple of blocks. We passed by a number of leatherworkers who sat on the street corners. There were many textile shops and women in full burkhas walking in and out. In lieu of traffic lights, the street corners have men in beige uniforms on platforms directing the flow. A traffic official waved to us and yelled out "Welcome!" smiling widely as we ran across the dusty intersection. When we finally made our way to the oud shop, the Ouds were all Egyptian made, and $700. Roly played one and I took a few photos and we headed back to the car.

Doha is one massive construction zone. There must be fifty high-rises going up - there are workers in green uniforms everywhere - taking periodic breaks to bow to Mecca. The new buildings are an eccnetric mix of moorish and modern - they are trying to create a new Islamic architecture here.

The conference kicked off with the minister of foreign affairs - and three speakers representing what the moderator referred to as 'the divine religions' More on the conference later.

Afterwards, I had dinner with Chase Untermeyer, the U.S. Ambassador. He was appointed here by George W two years ago - he was George HW's assistant when when HW was the VP. The guy was fascinating - He was born in the Garden State but was raised in Texas, German Jewish father, agnostic mother - after getting back from Vietnam he got into Republican politics, he served a short stint as the head of Voice of America.

I ended the day with a stroll through the palm tree lined hotel grounds with a young Imam from Malawai, talking about who is ready for democracy and who isn't.

More to come.