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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Walking is my antidote to bad news

On a recent foggy morning, Deborah Lindsay Williams walks off the stresses of the news cycle

Umm Al Emarat Park. Courtesy of Umm Al Emarat Park
Umm Al Emarat Park. Courtesy of Umm Al Emarat Park

After I dropped my son at school the other morning, I made the mistake of listening to a recap of the week’s big news stories: a mistaken warning about North Korea firing a missile at Hawaii, Donald Trump using an obscene term to describe Haiti and countries in Africa, more celebrities accused of sexual misconduct. It was too much to bear. I turned off the radio and drove in silence.

I’m wondering if I’m going to have to spend 2018 in a perpetual news blackout in order to keep my blood pressure from skyrocketing.

The litany of bad news was made even worse by the fact that I was in morning rush hour traffic that had come to a standstill because the coils of fog made it almost impossible to see the far side of the street. The typical Abu Dhabi intersection delay, where you sit ten cars back and wonder why no one is moving even though the light has turned green, became even longer in response to the mist, so in an automotive corollary to turning off the news, I turned off the road and into the parking lot of Umm Al Emarat Park.

When I opened the car door, I could hear only the drips of moisture off the leaves; the fog muffled the sounds of the traffic to a soft whoosh. The cool damp of the air proved impossible to resist, and although I wasn’t wearing my trainers, I decided that fresh air might do more to bring down my blood pressure than getting home to tackle the day’s “to do” list. I heaved myself out of the car and joined the morning exercisers, who seemed undeterred by the weather.

Women in saris and trainers, with their cardigans buttoned up to their chins, bustled past me, arms pumping energetically as they walked, but they in turn were lapped by two men in state-of-the-art exercise gear that was covered in so much reflective tape that they gleamed in the mist as they sprinted past. I let the energetic folk steam ahead as I strolled, reveling in the scent of the park’s wet grass, like a green breath in the cement heart of the city.

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To amuse myself as I walked, I did a quick Google search on my phone to find out how many parks in the United States were named for women. I got a list that included “counties named for women”, “National Parks named for women” (eight out of 410), and a piece from CNN last March that said less than two per cent of the historic monuments in the US are dedicated to women. In New York’s Central Park, which is many times larger than Umm Al Emarat, there is nothing that commemorates the presence of women in New York (or US) history, unless you count the giant sculpture of Alice in Wonderland. There are plans, however, for the “Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony Suffrage Movement Monument” to be unveiled in 2020, on the 100th anniversary of US women getting the vote.

Once that monument is unveiled, it means that these two women (and all the other suffragists) will be memorialised by a single sculpture. This monument will increase the grand total of sculptures commemorating women from zero to one.

This abysmal statistic made me laugh out loud, causing the three women in abayas speed-walking past me to give me a wide berth. I offered a little half-wave, as if to signify that I hadn’t, in fact, lost my mind, but they just walked faster. By that point, I’d looped all the way around the park, and when I sat down to catch my breath, there I was right in front of Salt, home of possibly the best burger in Abu Dhabi. If it had been open, I’d have had a burger for breakfast.

I may become an Umm Al Emarat regular, because I may have found at least a temporary antidote to traffic and the world’s bad news (although not, alas, for my blood pressure): a Salt burger and a long walk in the park.

Deborah Lindsay Williams is a professor of literature at NYU Abu Dhabi