I’m in Obervellach in southern Austria, population 1,500, where the hills are alive with The Sound of Music—the movie that is. Everywhere you turn, you’re waiting for Julie Andrews to come twirling down the mountain or the Von Tramp children to pop out of the bright flower boxes on the Alpine homes and break into song. It is Sound of Music picture perfect. Turns out the folks around here aren’t big fans of the movie, in the way Irish people don’t dig Frank McCourt’s Ireland. They’d rather you go home talking about the amazing views from the alm—yes, just like Heidi’s alm– where the cows are sent for the summer and everyone can practice yodeling, hiking through waterfalls, swimming in the incredible lakes, embracing local gossip at one of the pubs along the river over lemon beers (not being a drinker is just one of the many ways I’m an obvious outsider here), eating ice cream sundaes the size of mini Christmas trees.
I’m not in Abu Dhabi for sure, but that’s not to say there aren’t some similarities between Abu Dhabi and a small Alpine village, and I’m sure that’s just not too much fresh air talking:
1. In a small Alpine village, just like in Abu Dhabi, lots of families have little farms with goats and sheep. In the small Alpine village, they usually also have cows, and in Abu Dhabi they have camels instead.
2. In both places everybody is everybody’s cousin. But in Abu Dhabi no one bothers to explain the relationship. In a small Alpine village, they go through the whole family branch involved.
3. Both the small Alpine village and Abu Dhabi, have a word that seems to pop up in every other sentence: In the small Alpine village, it’s “super;” in Abu Dhabi, it’s inshallah.
4. In the small Alpine village, you can literally smell the green around you. Abu Dhabi does have a lot of green, but it’s mostly money.
5. In both places, umbrellas are a necessity, in Abu Dhabi to stave off the sun that never gives you a break, and in the small Alpine village to hold off the rain that seems to come and go throughout the day as quickly as winter in Abu Dhabi. (Water is a topic of conversation in both, but in the small Alpine village it’s about too much water, and Abu Dhabi too little)
6. In a small Alpine village and Abu Dhabi, people eat of a lot of meat. In the small Alpine village, it is pork. In Abu Dhabi it is not.
7. Both places draw in tourists interested in hiking. But in the small Alpine village it’s mountains, and in Abu Dhabi, it’s sand dunes.
8. And in both places, Michael Jackson is playing on the radio now, and in both places I remember that I was planning on marrying him in seventh grade and looking like Farah Fawcett on that big day.
Abu Dhabi or the small Alpine village would have done fine for the occasion. Weddings are a big deal in both.