Friday, November 27, 2009

Two Small Studies

Here's the first of two post-card-sized studies I did based on scenes I saw at the Hawk Souk.
And here's the second. In the large painting I'm doing now, I've taken the cell phone from the guy on the left, lowered that arm, and posed a hawk on it. I'll post that painting as soon as it's done, but for the next few days I'll be camping in the deep desert. I hope to have some great photos for you when I return.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bezoar Stone

Ever heard of a bezoar stone? It's a mineralized hairball sometimes created by the digestive systems of ruminants like cows, llamas, or, in this case, camels. I'd been looking for one ever since my last camping trip, which was back in April or May. Today I just happened to be telling my friend Paul about them as we were driving across the desert west of Riyadh. "Keep your eyes open for a softball-sized sphere," I told him, "Kind of like that one right there."
Sure enough, next to the skeleton of a camel or a goat (Yes, I know there's quite a difference between camels and goats, but there wasn't much left of this one so it was hard to tell.) this fine specimen was shining in the sunlight.
Apparently, these were much sought after in ancient times as an antidote for poison. Unlike some remedies, these actually have the ability to remove or neutralize arsenic, according to this source:
How about that? Now if anyone ever tries to slip me an arsenic mickey, I'll just dip my bezoar stone in it and I'll be just fine. Now if I could just get it to fit into my pocket...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Falconry in Saudi Arabia

Near the souk of Dira in central Riyadh, they're pulling down the old mud and timber buildings and putting up new, modern offices and shopping centers. As the city is modernized, the old markets are being squeezed out. The Hawk Souk, which is just one of many souks that comprise the old area (There's a carpet souk, a gold souk, an incense souk, and lots of clothes souks, for instance.) is on the edge of the market area, which means it's in the zone that is being swallowed up by development. Still, there are several shops that remain in business, and now that the cooler weather is here, the bird men can be found on a Thursday morning gathering there, drinking tea and arguing about the value of birds from Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, and any number of other countries. As they argue, they lounge on cushions arranged around an elevated area filled with sand. Pedestals on long spikes are stuck into the sand, and hawks, falcons, and eagles perch regally on the pedestals, regarding the men with large, inscrutable eyes, or listening with their heads cocked to one side, sporting tiny leather hoods that cover their eyes and keep them from trying to fly. From the ceilings of these shops hang all manner of falconry paraphernalia - jesses, lures, creances. Near the doors, dusty display cases contain measuring scales and lead weights, and obscure bits of what-have-you that I couldn't begin to identify.

After tea and arguments, the men go outside to a small gravel area under the shade of some acacia trees. Here they stake the birds' perches where prospective buyers can circle them and make their offers.

As the new city encroaches, the romantic, mysterious, exotic souks that I love to explore are becoming a thing of the past. I'm glad I got the chance to see this while it was still here, and I'm glad I can share it with you.

Say Cheese

Most Saudis I've met have been reluctant to let me take their picture, but everyone I met today was very accomodating.
Behind this hawk, a covey of quail fidgets in the yellow crate. They will be released as training devices for the birds of prey. Also for sale in this shop were jesses, gloves, feathered lures for training, radio tracking devices and nets - everything you need to get into falconry. All you need is money, lots and lots of money. Some of these birds were untrained and relatively cheap, selling at about $1,000, but those that were trained and had earned a reputation for killing the most desirable types of game were commanding four times that amount.

Awaiting their turn

These birds, a hur or hawk, above and a shahin or falcon, below, stand by while potential buyers examine another hur in the background.
Incidentally, the man holding the bird in the background is a member of the Mutawa, which is the religious police. You can tell this because of the shortness of his thobe, which is the robe he's wearing, and the absence of an iqal, which is the black coil worn on the heads of other men of Arabian Gulf countries.
My personal esperience with mutawaeen has been limited, but they have a reputation for shouting and brandishing sticks at women whose hair is uncovered and for being brusque with foreigners. This man, however, was very friendly, even to the point of allowing another man to take pictures of him shaking my hand.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A tough Place to Make a Living

This is a look down onto a small bedouin camp. I'm standing on the edge of the Plateau upon which Riyadh is situated, looking west, toward Mecca. Not far from this spot is one of the places where steps were carved into the escarpment so that camel caravans could make the climb safely.

Outside the Gate

A small caravan kneels beside the city wall.

Stopping For Noon Prayer

As you can see, I'm finally able to upload photos again. I'm so far behind with posting paintings that I'm not sure which I've posted and which I haven't. Forgive me if you've seen one or two of these before. I'm posting quickly without looking back to see if they're up already, just in case my service provider suddenly stops working again.

Annunciation - Version One

A client commissioned me to do a painting of the scene of the annunciation. This was my first version. There's a lot I like about it, but there were some aspects that I just couldn't accept, so I started over again.


This is the final version.


Plants grow in the desert here any place where they can find a bit of shelter. This acacia tree was tucked into the base of a granite outcrop.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Date Harvest

Amazing: it looks as if my internet service is letting me upload photos again. I'm not sure how long it'll last, but here's recent painting for now, and I'll try to add more soon.

Not long ago, the dates ripened and were harvested from the trees. That's what inspired this particular painting.