Doha, June 2014
Someone told us that the best restaurant in Doha is Di Capri, in the La Cigale Hotel, and so we are here, in this immense hall, which is large, like two basketball fields, elegant and somehow too stylish, too refined and sophisticated. We try to find the right mood to celebrate our deal. There are two rows of tables, one of rectangular and the other of round ones, leading from the bar at the entrance, which is full of mirrors and glasses, to the far end of the hall. The ceiling is a complicated composition that evokes the waves of the sea. The dominant colour is brown. We are sitting on the left, near the continuous window that is now black, four Italian colleagues and friends, alone in the restaurant. Two gentle waitresses, maybe Indonesian, maybe Malaysian, look after us. The bartender is far from our table, lost behind his desk. The menu is rich and we order a Prosecco first, since it is not usual to find alcoholic drinks in Doha, and after two days of hard work and stress, we want to make a proper toast. The productive meeting of the afternoon requires a good dinner and wine, for sure. But suddenly, looking around, we become mute. Perhaps the monochromatic colour of Doha has worked on us, or perhaps it was the violence of the sun, the traffic, or the relief brought by the air con. So we raise our Proseccos in an embarrassed toast, order branzino with salad and start eating the bruschetta that the waitress brought without asking. Basically, a silent dinner.
The airport, newly inaugurated, steel-grey, was strange in the early morning. I arrived from Hong Kong, from a crazy week full of voices, and Doha hammered my senses with its light and its hot temperature. The white suits of the security guards were so white, so brilliant and rich that I compared the cotton of my Brooks Brothers shirt with a feeling of inadequacy. The taxi was perfectly clean, but the way of driving style reminded me of a camel ride. There was the same slow pace, the same lack of urgency. And the panorama helped my recollection of the movie Lawrence of Arabia: sand everywhere, sand that attacks the asphalt of the road, the houses and the gardens, sand that forms the colours of the walls and my hotel too. From the window of my room, I can see desert to the horizon. Also the constructions of the quarter, the thousands of round antennas on the roofs, the cars and the flags, were all part of this desert. I was a stranger.
The meetings were professional and polite. I was impressed by the consideration and thoughtfulness showed by our counterpart, by the empathy and smartness. A good team, strong and solid; good people; great entrepreneurs with a broad vision and a worldwide strategy, absolutely not provincial. In that shining tower of offices, just above a splendid shopping mall, we discussed hypotheses and plans and joint ventures under the aegis of ‘Made in Italy’, which was our asset on the table, maybe the only one. We presented creativity, design and beauty. No finance, we don’t have money, only the outcomes of our profound culture, that’s all.
And I think that a kind of bitterness grew in meeting after meeting until the last evening and the celebratory dinner. Because it was clear: we have incredible cultural treasures that we can’t valorise, sufficient to sustain an entire country, to push education, tourism and business, to transform Italy into a garden of beauty, in a wonderful dream for everyone in the world. Italy is a brand full of substance, evocative, catching more than almost anything else. But, in the end, we are forced into exile, to travel and scout and discuss in order to ‘sell’ the distillate of our Made in Italy to passionate estimators, because the local conditions are well known and…
This desert deserves respect, this is what I think, and only a few words; it is not the right place for talk talk, for devious ways and means, for proclamations. This is another starting point, bitter.
The branzino, from Orbetello, is delicious, the dinner excellent. We go on, despite everything, clinging to our identity – there is nothing to hold on to but our personal identities.