25 January 2008

London Crack Whores

One of the few diversions I have in Doha's immorality-free environment is spending a few hours at the hotel's fitness centre, vainly trying to burn off the extra kilos I've piled on in the course of pursuing my only other diversion, namely, stuffing my face at the hotel's breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets.

The fitness centre -- or "spa" as they refer to it -- here at the Four Seasons is definitely the most lavish facility I've ever graced with my grotty work-out outfits and flabby physique. The whole place positively reeks of luxury from the moment you are greeted at the reception by the appropriately fit-looking staff. There are a number of water features, starting with a vertical cascade down ridged ceramic panels at the entrance, which creates a soothing, mountain stream kind of sound. Moving past the reception area, another oval fountain lined with river stones stands in front of an incredible backlit golden agate panel.

This wall was created from thinly sliced pieces of back-lit, translucent golden agate

Here's another view showing the small fountain in front. My simple camera phone snaps don't do it justice.

It all is very effective. The stunning visual effects, combined with the soothing sound of gurgling water, the relaxing new age ambient music and the scent of the aromatherapy oils in the air do combine to quickly put you in mellow, relaxed frame of mind. Downstairs – where you find the changing rooms, plunge pools, thalossotherapy baths, massage rooms, sauna, steam room, ice room, Swiss showers, and other facilities – there are some additional water features. In the massage area is huge bubbling baptismal font looking thing, and surrounding the main reception area (where they assign you your locker key and offer you a refreshing glass of honey lemonade after your massage or workout to restore your body's electrolyte balance) is an artificial stream that makes a pleasant babbling-brook type sound as it passes over the white river stones that line its bed. Until recently, you could actually hear that sound, but over Christmas, they installed tempered glass panels over the water channels, so that you no longer really hear it. And since the water condenses on the inside of the glass, you don't really see it either.

Here's a view of the glass-covered water channels that line the walls of the reception area the passage leading to the pool and thalossotherapy areas

A detail showing the glass covers that have been installed over the water channels

Many of you are probably wondering why they installed these panels, since the designer's objective is obvious – create a striking visual feature and the soothing, natural sound of rushing water. Those of you who are not baffled by this probably, like me, saw some of the recent news coverage concerning the numerous injuries that have been sustained by visitors to London's Tate Modern Gallery, which has recently installed a new work titled "Shibboleth" by Colombian artist Doris Salcedo in the museum's Turbine Hall. The work basically consists of a giant crack in the floor, which Salcedo says symbolises "racial hatred and division in society". I think that she secretly has meant it to symbolise the huge gap that separates most people from intelligence and awareness, since numerous art lovers have managed to hurt themselves by tripping on or falling into this crack in the floor since the piece was opened to the public this past October.

View of "Shibboleth" in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall

Just contemplate this for a minute. These are people who have taken time out of their busy lives expressly for the purpose of going to the Tate Modern for one reason -- so that they can look at a crack in the floor. Yet there is no escaping the conclusion that if people are managing to hurt themsleves on this exhibit, it can mean only one thing – they weren't looking. But what else can you do in the Turbine Hall besides look at this exhibit? It's not as if museum officials allow or encourage visitors to, for example, bring their ironing or reorganise their recipe collections whilst they are in the hall. Like the Four Seasons, Tate Modern officials considered covering Shibboleth with perspex panels. So without bothering to ask for confirmation of my suspicions from the staff at the Four Seasons spa, I think its safe to conclude that some moron has managed to hurt themselves on this water feature, and the Four Seasons lawyers have decreed that rather than banishing this idiot to the specially designated area that has been created for such morons on an island in the Bering Sea, the spa should instead totally ruin the inspired vision of the designer by completely neutralising the whole concept with some silly glass panels. It's a frustrating state of affairs, but it does go a long way towards explaining Bush's re-election in 2004.

25 January 2008