New York

Small pleasures at the Skyline Hotel


7 a.m., and my fixer Mohammed doesn’t get here till 10. I dropped my mobile phone in a cab last night, and am still angry about it. It’ll fetch the taxi driver two weeks’ salary, if he sells it to one of Yemen’s ubiquitous cellphone shops. I won’t see the Nokia again.

I moved to the Skyline Hotel, on Hadda Street in Sana’a. I stayed at the pricier Taj Sheba for a couple of nights, and switched to save some cash. On the taxi drive here, I lost the phone, which cancels out a lot of the savings. The room here is bigger, the view much better. I’m not sure about the water pressure. The television gets eight satellite channels, including a Greek variety channel, all the Arabic news channels, and French TV5, which broadcasts letterbox, but vertically. There’s also the Yemeni news, which opens with a brilliant gold animation of the world.

I also get Fashiontv, which is currently running a feature organized around the theme of models whose birthday is today. The show’s soundtrack is German techno. “Camera’s your best friend. Look into the lens.” Repeat.

Last night, I interviewed one of the lawyers who represented the bombers of the USS Cole here. Mohammed later told me he was an old Nasserist, as a way to explain his reluctance to talk about much other than Iraq, Palestine, and the Arab Nation. Two of his clients have been sentenced to death, and the lawyers are currently arranging an appeal. If the verdict stands, one of the men could be beheaded. The other is being held by the U.S., somewhere secret. American officials have expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the trial.

There’s no breakfast menu in the Zain Restaurant, downstairs, which has big windows that look out onto an intersection. The walls are a dull, unadorned jade, but are topped by the colorful Yemeni fanlights. I can have an omlette for breakfast, or foul (fava beans). Nescafe, or Turkish coffee. Or a Pepsi. Nescafe and the omlette arrive instantly, and the whole deal costs 300 riyals, or $1.75.

And the water pressure, it turns out, is strong.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 10, 2004


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