Al Bait Hotel brings Sharjah’s heritage into modern world

Step into Sharjah’s newly opened Al Bait hotel and you will leave the snaking traffic behind for a tranquil oasis of old worldly charm. (Supplied)
Updated 26 September 2019

Al Bait Hotel brings Sharjah’s heritage into modern world

DUBAI: Restored with the help of UNESCO experts, the resort consists of four heritage houses and a new section built along similar lines.

The five-star hotel stays true to its history: sand-colored walls, impressive carved doors and statement walls dotted with corals — a nod to traditional Emirati homes.

Step inside and you glide over polished cement floors, with custommade rugs. Far from being staid, the interiors pay homage to the past without falling into the dusty doldrums of museum showcases.

And speaking of museums, the hotel has a small-but-fascinating one on site, which even features a room that once housed the city’s first post office. (There’s no shisha lounge, due to the emirate’s strict laws, so you have to scale down your entertainment expectations.)

Step outside and you are greeted by a rare circular wind tower restored by the same team that worked on the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. A little further afield is the Heart of Sharjah, a culturalheritage project that aims to preserve and restore the old town, including the oldest souk in the UAE — Souk Al-Arsah — which backs directly onto the hotel.

After a day of wandering, it’s time to head to one of the hotel’s 53 rooms, all of which are decked out with modern amenities and four-poster beds fit for a princess.

The culturally sensitive hotel offers a female butler service, which we took advantage of in our Al Bait Grand Suite, featuring a kitchenette, dining area, majlis, a large bedroom and two bathrooms. Organic treats filled the fridge and a large copper bath stood sentry in the grand main bathroom.

The only real complaint was the relatively weak water pressure in the tiled shower — everybody needs a hot power shower after a tough day of tourism.

The hotel is home to four dining concepts: The Restaurant, The Arabic Restaurant, The Café and The Ice Cream Shop.

The Café’s specialty is a woodland-themed board filled to the brim with snackable treats — from shredded chicken buns and halloumi-filled mini croissants to delightful chocolate mousses and a soft, fleshy mango tart. It’s called the Afternoon Tray and it’s certainly worth it — and not just for the Instagram-worthiness.

The hotel is staunchly antibuffet — so no cold-around-theedges starters or gelatinous piles of pasta, instead guests can enjoy dinner at The Arabic Restaurant and breakfast in the lighter, airier The Restaurant.

Although I would have loved to see more Emirati fare on the dinner menu, since the hotel is a celebration of all things local, the options were varied and ranged from Levantine cuisine to North African treats.

Breakfast featured the usual suspects, with a few decadent additions including a steak-andeggs dish that delighted my dining partner, as well as a plate of unusual charcuterie including duck meat that was well worth a nibble.

After a leisurely breakfast it was time to head to The Spa. And the experience did not disappoint.

The compact, tastefully decorated space houses massage rooms with private bathtub, shower, changing room and toilet) and the spa includes a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and cold plunge pool, all of which are located in a private area.

 I chose from an array of house-blended oils for The Spa’s signature Balinese massage with a therapist who paid careful attention to my specific needs and applied just the right amount of pressure for a relaxing experience.

Although Al Bait has to contend with Sharjah’s infamous traffic, inside, it’s a bubble of quiet comfort. Friendly staff and fascinating history make this hotel stand out.

‘It Must Be Heaven’: Elia Suleiman’s sardonic take on the world

Suleiman, who plays the lead role as himself, explores identity, nationality and belonging. (Supplied)
Updated 23 October 2019

‘It Must Be Heaven’: Elia Suleiman’s sardonic take on the world

MUMBAI: Elia Suleiman’s “It Must Be Heaven,” which was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival, is pure cinema. Like his earlier works, here too the Palestinian director uses wit, sarcasm and minimalism, this time to present a series of vignettes that are funny but also a powerful lambast of the world we live in. Suleiman, who plays the lead role as himself, explores identity, nationality and belonging.

He says people worldwide now live in fear amid global geopolitical tensions. Today, checkpoints are just about everywhere: In airports, shopping malls, cinemas, highways — the list is endless.

“It Must Be Heaven” was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival. (Supplied) 

Suleiman’s earlier features, such as “Chronicle of a Disappearance” and “Divine Intervention,” showed us everyday life in the occupied Palestinian territories. This time, it is Paris and New York. 

The first scene is hilarious, with a bishop trying to enter a church with his followers. The gatekeeper on the other side of the heavy wooden door is probably too intoxicated and refuses to let the priest in, leading to a comical situation. Suleiman’s life in Nazareth is filled with such incidents — snippets that have been strung together to tell us of tension in society. Neighbors turn out to be selfish, and only generous when they know they are being watched. 

The Palestinian director uses wit, sarcasm and minimalism, to present a series of vignettes that are funny but also a powerful lambast of the world we live in. (Supplied)

In Paris, the cafes along the grand boulevards, and the young women who pass by, are typical of France’s capital. But a cut to Bastille Day, with tanks rolling by in a show of strength, jolts us back to harsh reality. In New York, Suleiman’s cab driver is excited at driving a Palestinian. 

The film has an interesting way of storytelling. The scenes begin as observational shots, but the camera quickly changes positions to show Suleiman watching from the other side of the room or a street. The camera then returns to where it first stood, and this back-and-forth movement is delightfully engaging.

The framing is so perfect, and the colors so bright and beautiful, that each scene looks magical. And as the director looks on at all this with his usual deadpan expression, a sardonic twitch at the corner of his mouth, we know all this is but illusion. There is bitter truth ahead!