Sunday, December 19, 2010

Juxtapositions: $11 Million Christmas Tree and a Global Perspective on Children

If you're not concerned about keeping your holiday spending under control, hop onto your private jet and go check out a self-proclaimed "seven star" hotel, the Emerites Palace in the United Arab Emirate. They tipped the scales of extravagance almost beyond imagining when they installed this year's Christmas tree a few days ago:

It is the "most expensive Christmas tree ever," with a "value of over 11 million dollars," said Hans Olbertz, general manager of Emirates Palace hotel, at its inauguration. The 13-metre (40-foot) faux evergreen, located in the gold leaf-bedecked rotunda of the hotel, is decorated with silver and gold bows, ball-shaped ornaments and small white lights.

But the necklaces, earrings and other jewellery draped around the tree's branches are what give it a record value. It holds a total of 181 diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones, said Khalifa Khouri, owner of Style Gallery, which provided the jewellery.

"The tree itself is about 10,000 dollars," Olbertz said. "The jewellery has a value of over 11 million dollars -- I think 11.4, 11.5."

But, upon reflection, the hotel decided that this tower of luxury gone wild might not have been such a great idea after all:

. . . the hotel now regrets "attempts to overload the tradition followed by most hotels in the country with meanings and connotations that do not fall in line with the professional standards" of the hotel.

"Putting the Christmas tree is not a novelty, rather it is a tradition meant to share in celebrating occasions guests hold while they are away from their home countries and families," the Gulf News daily quoted a hotel statement as saying.

This tradition "is within the framework of the UAE's policy which is based on the values of openness and tolerance," the hotel added.

I'm not sure what the "professional standards of the hotel" have to do with it, but I think somebody realized that a tree with decorations worth $11 million could be perceived as a bit gauche, especially when viewed in the context of a world full of major economic crises. Fortunately, after the holidays the hotel can go back to its lower key existence as the only place outside of Germany (who knew?) with a "gold to go" vending machine.
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Those of you who would like a global view of how the rest of humanity lives might be interested to take a look at Where Children Sleep, a recently published fabulous book by photographer James Mollison. He travelled extensively to gather his material and quickly realized that not every child has what most of us probably would consider a traditional bedroom:

Where Children Sleep presents English-born photographer James Mollison's large-format photographs of children's bedrooms around the world--from the U.S.A., Mexico, Brazil, England, Italy, Israel and the West Bank, Kenya, Senegal, Lesotho, Nepal, China and India--alongside portraits of the children themselves. Each pair of photographs is accompanied by an extended caption that tells the story of each child: Kaya in Tokyo, whose proud mother spends $1,000 a month on her dresses; Bilal the Bedouin shepherd boy, who sleeps outdoors with his father's herd of goats; the Nepali girl Indira, who has worked in a granite quarry since she was three; and Ankhohxet, the Kraho boy who sleeps on the floor of a hut deep in the Amazon jungle. Photographed over two years with the support of Save the Children (Italy), Where Children Sleep is both a serious photo-essay for an adult audience, and also an educational book that engages children themselves in the lives of other children around the world.

Sample photos are here; be sure to scroll down to read the captions. This is the kind of book that can provide perspective, a particularly valuable and often scarce commodity at this time of year for most of us -- even folks who can afford an $11 million Christmas tree.

© 2010  Cynthia Friedlob
Image credit: Bogdan Munteanu at stock.xchng

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