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Smiley simulacrum: gouges in the street February 13, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Simulacra, Smiley.
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Gouges in the street, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 2011.

This smiley simulacrum looks intentional, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t — as far as I can tell, this is a complete accident. Gouges in the asphalt like this were quite common in the streets of our old neighborhood in Abu Dhabi. Sometimes they were from wheel rims as cars with flat tires navigated into parking spots; other times they were boat trailers that had slipped off hitches or construction equipment that crashed to the street from the latest apartment construction site. In this case, the “eyes” of the smiley (which I suspect were from two separate occasions of a trailer hitch slipping) were already there when we moved in, but the “smile” turned up later, perhaps from a kid stopping a makeshift skateboard or perhaps from a dodgy wheel on a rubbish cart one of the street cleaners was wheeling through the street. Whatever the case, the smiley (I’m fairly certain) happened by happy accident. Which is the best kind of accident!

Smiley sitckers as luggage labels January 5, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Smiley, Travel.
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So, the New Year is well underway, and everyone is returning from their holiday vacations. (Or, as some of my good friends, are leaving home for conferences.) You’ve flopped on the couch, you’ve kicked your shoes off, you’ve slept off most of the jetlag. But unpacking? That can wait for the weekend. Because you only have a couple of bags, right?

Last spring, I had thirteen bags.

That's a lot of luggage.

I had so many bags last year because I was moving back to the United States from the United Arab Emirates and was taking basically everything we owned over there, minus furniture and my wife’s wardrobe. You should have seen me at the airport. The gate agents were walleyed.

Anyway, to keep track of all the bags and which bag contained what stuff (you know, for the customs forms — my librarian wife likes to keep me well organized!), I had to number every bag. And what better way to stick a number on luggage than with a smiley sticker!

Thirteen bags. Sixteen stickers. Phew! Three to spare!

You’d think these tiny schoolroom stickers would fall off just loading them into the taxi, but believe it or not, every sticker survived the entire trip: taxi to airport, two flights overseas, and a five-day drive across the US.

Because happiness sticks!

Smiley simulacrum: Arabic “smiley” in holiday lights December 15, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Simulacra, Smiley.
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The Arabic letter "ta" in lights, outside the Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi, UAE, December 2010.

Back toward the beginning of the year, I posted an example of how the Arabic character “ta” resembles a smiley face. It’s turned out to be one of my most popular posts! So now that it’s December, I thought I’d post another version of the “smiley” Arabic letter. In the United Arab Emirates, where we used to live, December 2 is National Day, which commemorates the founding of the country, and every year they light up the whole nation in elaborate decorative displays. And they leave the lights up for most of the month, so for my wife and I (and hundreds of thousands of other expats), the December atmosphere feels a bit Christmasy!

This sign is outside one of the malls in Abu Dhabi, and the character, “ta,” forms part of an Arabic word for “sale.” You can see that word — and this “smiley” — on loads of signs inside the mall, but I wanted to make sure I snapped this photo (which is pretty poor quality because it’s a camera phone image) to capture the happy holiday spirit in the city! 🙂

Smiley simulacrum: Arabic “smiley” February 21, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Simulacra, Smiley.
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The Arabic letter "ta." Illustration I made on my computer.

I hesitate to call this is a simulacrum, because strictly speaking a simulacrum is supposed to be a mere imitation of an original, but this letter is not really an imitation of anything: it’s the letter “ta” in the Arabic alphabet, the phonetic equivalent of “t” in the Roman alphabet*, and I can’t really call it a simulacrum of a smiley any more than I could call the letter “t” a simulacrum of a cross or a plus-sign.  On the other hand, the letter “t”does look so much like a cross or a plus-sign that those images often replace the letter in pictographic signs and titles.  And in the sense that this Arabic letter always reminds me of a smiley face — and always makes me smile! — I think it definitely serves the function of a simulacrum!

Here in the United Arab Emirates, the letter turns up most often at the end of the Arabic word I know is “Emirates”: locally, the country’s name is often shorted to simply “Al Emarat,” which in Arabic looks like this: الامارات  (Look at the “beginning” of the word — Arabic is read right-to-left, so the “ta” sound at the end of the word actually appears on the left.  If the word doesn’t show up because of your language settings, check out the first few lines of the Wikipedia entry on the country.)

Just as one example, below is a plastic shopping bag from the Emirates General Market down the street from our flat.  Look at the Arabic name for the store across the top of the bag, and you’ll see the “ta” at the end of “Emarat” — the smiley-face, centered on the bag!

Speaking of shopping: the character also turns up at the end of the word for “sale”** a lot, and here in the UAE, something is always on sale!  So because I get to see this letter so often, I also get to smile quite a lot, too.


*  I wanted to double-check the accuracy of my claims about this Arabic character, so I dropped a note to my friend Dr. Rima Abunasser, a scholar in Arab literature, 18th-Century British lit, and pop culture who teaches at a university in Texas.  She wrote back that I had this right, and added this very cool linguistic info:  “This letter is used at the end of words (after the alef) to create a plural for female gendered nouns or to signal a female gendered noun in the singular.”  I’m not a linguist by any means, but I am a geek for languages, and I love details like this.  Thanks for the info, Doc!

** I asked Dr. Rima about the “sale” word, too, but she tells me there are a lot of words for “sale” in Arabic, so until I remember to take a photo of the word on display over here, I won’t know which one I’m seeing.  I’ll keep you posted, though.