My Gold-Surfaced Cappuccino

by Hrag Vartanian on March 20, 2014

My gold surfaced cappuccino at the Emirates Palace Hotel. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

My gold-surfaced cappuccino at the Emirates Palace Hotel (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — I am speechless. This afternoon I visited my family in Abu Dhabi — yes, I might be one of the few journalists at Art Dubai who has family in the country — and they took the opportunity to show me something unique to the city: the gold-soaked Emirates Palace Hotel.

I walked through a golden interior of the alleged seven-star hotel, past a gold-bar ATM, to a cafe encircling a golden bar, where I ordered a cappuccino that had gold floating on the foam (at the encouragement of the waitress), but could not bring myself to order the Emirates Palace Signature 24K Gold Camel Burger. It was nice to see my relatives, but the whole experience had such a distinct aesthetic about it — it felt like a family moment mounted in a gold frame in my memory, a polished photo on my mental mantlepiece. Silence is gold.



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  • elisa pritzker

    Very-very gold, Hrag. Looking forward to your Art Dubai writing –and don’t forget to pass by the “Gold to Go”!

  • Beau Toutant

    Wow! After you finish sipping your gold-dusted cappuccino (camelccino?), why don’t you saunter on over to the Guggenheim and see what the on-the-ground conditions really are for the migrant workers…you know, the ones that hyper has reported on numerous times. (Who do you think built the “castle” you’re sitting in?)

    • I did saunter over, though your tone is typical Western colonial BS.

      • Beau Toutant

        Hrag, I look forward to your article and possible photos. I do, however, disagree with your characterization of my “tone”. (You may consider…it’s a little difficult to make the esoteric leap from concern for migrant workers in the UAE to supping on gold in a gold palace in the same blogazine. If that’s “BS”, it’s not mine.)

        • My reference to gold frame was exactly that context. Who makes the gold frames?

          • Beau Toutant

            To me, your meaning in the reference to gold frames is obscure.

          • Sometimes I get poetic. #guiltascharged

          • Beau Toutant

            #giltascharged LOL

          • The trouble here is that you are anonymous and therefore I have no idea if you are in fact telling the truth about how tough it may be for you to do anything. All we can do is take you at your word, and I can’t say I believe you … considering if you drink coffee or use computers, etc. then you are using items that are created by exploited labor. I think you are being more stark because this is a foreign place that you feel no connection with so it is easier to “other” them and judge them. My criticism from UAE comes from connections and an understanding of the culture and place and wanting it to change.

          • Beau Toutant

            I will admit that I am anonymous (to protect my relatives from embarrassment). But, rest assured, everything I write is true. I do not judge because someone/something is “foreign”. I enjoy “foreign” cultures. (In fact, my family has a friend living in the UAE.) But, my problem is decadent opulence juxtaposed to extreme fatal poverty. Anywhere. (PS I drink “fair trade” coffee)

          • How about your computer?

          • Beau Toutant


          • Honestly, I’m just trying to point out the complexity.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          Why can’t the same blogazine both report on migrant workers in the UAE and also have a short reaction post to the opulence of a hotel in the UAE? I don’t see why those two things can’t be contained in the same publication.

          • Beau Toutant

            The two things can be in the same publication but it may smack of hypocrisy to the reader. (I still have a question unanswered in the comments in your own article about unpaid internships, Jillian. Check it out.)

          • If you think everything is black and white then I think it could appear that way. I think the world is complex and as a journalist I report what I see. I do not boycott the US because of Gitmo and other abuses, and I do like to know the context for all of it. I think a gold-covered cappuccino is a perfect metaphor for the issues. Sometimes the poetic symbol, even if it is unintended, says a great deal.
            I also want to understand places on their own terms and figure out what it means to the people there.

          • Beau Toutant

            I’m not a black’n’white issue person. My thinking is nuanced and I also want to understand people on their own turf/terms. But, I personally would have difficulty participating with gilded cuisine (it might be a metaphor, but I would feel quilty choking it down*) and then writing an “ain’t it awful” article about the migrant workers. Speaking for myself, I’m physically uncomfortable with the dichotomy of the very, very rich who have risen on the backs of the very, very poor. Everywhere, it troubles me.
            *Hrag, I’ve been in similar situations and it makes me literally dyspeptic. ‘can’t do it. Each to his own.

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            I don’t understand why on earth this is hypocritical. It’s not like Hrag’s posts is here was all, “this gold-covered cappuccino is amazing! it’s the best thing since sliced bread!” I think the bizarreness and unreality of it all comes across. Reporting about political issues in a country doesn’t preclude you from also writing about other things in the same country. As Hrag said, should we not write positive art reviews about any shows in the US because of Gitmo? It just doesn’t make any sense.

          • Beau Toutant

            Aw, jeez…No one said anything about art reviews! A photo of an over-the-top-most-people-will-never-ever-enjoy-in-their-life-time gold-dusted beverage imbibed by the editor of a blog that writes, many times, about the plight of the migrant workers at the Guggenheim MAY, I repeat, MAY be construed as hypocritical. As writers, you might wanna consider that and make the article more pointed, perhaps less poetic for us readers who appreciate in-your-face prose. (Relax, Jillian. I think Hrag was doing fine.)

          • Daniel Larkin

            I loved Hrag’s poetic take on this. The irony was rich. The sentence that kept repeating gold over and over again had this alliteration with all the g’s and wonderful repetition that conveyed just how over the top it is. I loved that gold sentence. Every writer has their own voice and their own style and I love what Hrag does with words.

          • Daniel Larkin

            Jillian makes a wise point. As an american intellectual who is educated about the mass imprisonment of black men in a nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, who meets undocumented latino immigrants that get paid nothing to work twice as long as I do in a shadow labor system that congress refuses to tackle with reform legislation, who has bought hundreds of objects every day made by Chinese slave labor because I can’t afford better, I don’t feel that much moral high ground to criticize another nation’s labor practices in 2014 in the written word.

            Abolishing slavery may be enshrined in the constitution, but the left has such a long list of concerns about current american contributions to unjust labor practices globally.

            Many intellectuals outside the scope of whatever that label “the west” means anymore find it unusual that western intellectuals criticize their political leadership for making the same Faustian bargains of lowly paid workers for big infrastructure that continues to happen in America and Europe. It’s also unusual that many western intellectuals direct criticism towards other countries labor practices instead of addressing labor practices in their own western nations that are by many measures and metrics just as hideous.

          • Beau Toutant

            I get that. I am criticizing the disparity, not west vs east. I am quite aware of the despicable practices in our own and other countries of the racially-biased hierarchy of labor. My personal problem is with the visual of ingesting gold. (Hrag, you can eat what you want. That’s not my point.) Even the gluttony couched under exotic epicure cuisine by the top “1%” in our own country, while millions go hungry, I find offensive. Doesn’t anyone get my point? I missed the poetry. As a reader, I tend toward direct satire.

          • Daniel Larkin

            I get that you are criticizing the disparity. You know there are some disagreements among Marxists about art and gastronomy.

            One school of thought that you are echoing sees art and gastronomy as asset mis-allocation. If only the wealthy spent less on their lavish lifestyles and more on philanthropy, the world would be a better place.

            Another more satirical Marxist conversation is the 1% should be encouraged to take in as much art and gastronomy as possible, and to become like modern day indulgent Emperor Neros. Because if they are more like this pleasure seeking roman Caesar, they will spend less time doing the things that oppress people, loose their grip, get lost in debauchery, and be easier to overthrow and outmaneuver in some kind of revolution.

            Another less comic but more pragmatic strand of the left sees art as a way to plant messages in the mind of the 1% that could be of later benefit. Another batch of pragmatists who work behind the scenes see epicurean meals as a soothing counterpart to difficult conversations with the 1% that boil down to we need to make a little less money and do the right thing. The message being you still get to eat well like this if you do the right thing so why not. That is why diplomats always want to eat so well. May I joke that perhaps that is why the French once enjoyed a reputation as the best diplomats? It’s a joke about the how good food makes tough talk more bearable that helps poor people.

            So yes, I see your point but I think that art and gastronomy have been helpful tools for those that want to try and bring in a little more balance and fairness into the world. So my reaction is more mixed and satirical than yours. I feel some disgust but hopeful that someone will find a way to use all this gold for the best, whether through persuasion of the 1% there, or subverting them because they are there getting lost in the gold instead of somewhere else where they could be doing more harm. .

          • Beau Toutant

            Interesting philosophical and subversive insight, Dan. Yours would be a great article. My thoughts: “There will always be poor” ~Jesus and “Let them eat cake”~Marie Antoinette…but I don’t have to like it.

          • “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.” —Boris Johnson (while I’m not a fan of his politics, he gives good quote)

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            Please don’t condescend to me. Why don’t you “relax”?

          • Beau Toutant

            I didn’t mean to condescend. I really just meant relax, noticing a few exclamation points in your comment.

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            The exclamation points were to imitate a voice of enthusiasm (one that I don’t read in Hrag’s post). Although I do tend to use exclamation points a lot.

          • Daniel Larkin

            Beau, to be open, I’ve enjoyed trading messages with you and I’m always game to talk through the Marxist critiques of contemporary art. I felt uncomfortable with “relax Jillian” comment. Jillian is one of my favorite writers in New York and I’ve gotten so much out of letting her into my mind. She’s got this way of teasing out subtle nuances that other writers let fly under the radar. I love the way she uses exclamation points. Jillian and I think in different ways about art. But life would be so boring if everyone thought like me. I think it’s important for intellectuals in conversation whether on boards or in real life to stay focused on a rich exchange of ideas. Also, I have a legendary (or some might say notorious) excitability issue, so it would actually be more apt for me to be told to relax than Jillian.

          • Beau Toutant

            I’ve enjoyed the conversation too, Dan. I meant no ill intent to Jill. “Relaaaax” is my go-to mantra.

    • Brian Fernandes-Halloran

      Bah Humbug!

  • Brian Fernandes-Halloran

    This is beautiful

  • Chicken Fingers

    The amount of gold on that drink is worth less than a dollar, in case anyone is interested. I used to be a gilder and sweep more gold than that into the trash every day.

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