There’s a series of photos going around the internet, showing different old-masters paintings in which one of the characters is holding a cell phone. The claim is that these newly-discovered artworks prove that time travel exists! Wouldn’t that be wonderful, if someone from our time traveled back to, say, the 17th century and posed for Vermeer. I’d pay good money to see the “Girl with the Pearl IPhone!”
My point is, I love a good anomaly. It’s like when you stay in an old Victorian B&B, with a 4-poster bed and all the classic touches – and yet, there’s a super-modern, flat screen TV on the wall. Something about the existence of digital technology in a pre-digital setting appeals to me, like two universes have been merged to create something strange and new. If you look carefully, you can find such anomalies in almost any big city—that little cobblestone street, that thin Edwardian building crammed in between two high rises that the owner just wouldn’t sell, etc.
One particularly striking anomaly that I’m very fond of is the abras of Dubai. An abra is basically a traditional, ferry-like boat used to transport people across the Dubai “Creek,” between the water station at Shindagha/Al Ghubaiba on the Bur Dubai side, and the water station at Al Sabkha on the Deira side. Amidst all of Dubai’s towering skyscrapers, glittery hotels and modern shopping malls, to discover a fleet of tiny wooden boats with a simple canvas canopy, powered by diesel, still plying the waters in a bygone-era manner is a strangely wonderful feeling. Dubai does have an “old” town, with mosques and a gold and spice souk, but it’s not much to speak of, really. The overwhelming vibe in Dubai is construction, construction, construction. Out with the old, in with the new. That’s what makes the abras so neat and yes, anomalous. For something like 30 cents, you can hop on a wooden craft and leave the 21st century behind, imagining yourself on a felucca in ancient Arabia. You have to do your imagining fast, though; the typical abra ride only takes about 5-10 minutes.
Anomalies don’t always last, so make sure you ride an abra sometime soon, while they’re still around. Otherwise, you may need a time machine to sample the experience.
(What’s your relationship with anomalies? Perhaps they irritate the heck out of you. That’s okay. The next time something unexpected and inexplicable shows up your life, see if you can simply accept it. And then – advanced practice – see if you can celebrate it.)