Sunday, January 22, 2012

A'ali Pottery Workshop

Manama was cold this weekend. We’ve had a bitter northerly wind blowing over the island for the last week and it felt almost winterish out there. Looking at everyone decked out in heavy coats, scarves and gloves, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Poland – that is, until you saw that the outside temperature was actually a pleasant 63 degrees (17 C). Like you’d expect in a country where a “northerly“ arrives via Iraq, “cold” is a relative term.

I haven’t been here long enough that I was going to be kept in by weather that, anywhere else in the world, would be described as pleasant and springlike, so Ms. C and I set out to visit the pottery workshop in the village of A’ali. A colleague had recommended the workshop as being one of the more interesting cultural sites on the island, and I was looking forward to my visit. Pottery has a long history on the island – beginning in the Dilmun period over 4,000 years ago and continuing until, at the very least, early last week. Seven families in the village are responsible for running the workshop, where two types of local clay are mixed to make strong, lightweight vessels, which are then dried in the shade before being kiln-finished.

Except on this particular Saturday, anyway. Ms. C and I wandered through lonely alleys thick with pot shards and hungry kittens, but no potters. When we finally found a building with intact pottery for sale, there was still not a soul to purchase them from. This did give us time to look things over, however, and I have to say that a lot of the work was indeed very, very cool. I started calculating how many human-sized amphorae I could buy before I hit the shipping weight limit for my household effects.

After another fifteen minutes of examining the wares, the empty shop and the howling wind just made the place feel creepy, so we wandered through the residential part of the compound until a teenager, who was not particularly interested in selling us anything, finally agreed to take way too much of our money, for a bizarre object whose sole purpose is to reduce the lighting efficiency of a candle. I remain a very, very bad bargainer. Still, we came home with something, and we are delighted with it.

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