The Prince Shall Have No Soup
On the morning before the opening gala of the Arab Youth Leadership Summit in Dubai, I sat in the villa of a Saudi prince on the Arabian Sea. I was surrounded by his entourage as we spread out our work on a long glass table filled with fruits, yogurts and breads ordered from the 5-star hotel. For the next four hours the Prince and I forged his opening remarks. He shared his views. I scribbled notes and read aloud from sections that I had turned into scripting on the spot. Then the Prince’s people would argue interminably in Arabic as I sat alone staring out beyond the infinity pool at the flat, calm sea. The Burj Al Arab sparkled in the near distance.
The next morning the Prince delivered his opening remarks to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and a thousand guests. Over 100 members of the media covered the event. My speech seemed to go over well, though since it was delivered in Arabic, I have no idea whether he spoke a word I had written.
That afternoon I was called into a meeting with the Prince’s attaché, a large, serious man in a robe that could barely contain his belly. The only other person at the meeting was the event producer – Della – a force from California who I have traveled the world with. The three of us sat alone at an enormous dining table in one of the hotel’s ornate banquet rooms.
As we chatted about the day’s crammed schedule, a tureen of soup was delivered from the industrial kitchen which I could just make out through the swinging doors. I was starving. I took one spoonful. It tasted of lentils and cumin, and was delicious. Before I could dip my spoon in again, a team of waiters marched out and removed our bowls. Della, the attaché, and I continued our meandering dialogue. My stomach began to rumble. A half-hour later the waiters returned. Another steaming soup was set before us in a gold and blue inlaid bowl. The aroma of mulligatawny intoxicated me. I managed one taste before the bowl was whisked away.
By the time the fifth offering arrived, we had been in the meeting for nearly three hours and accomplished nothing that I could surmise. Our Arab friend with the expansive belly unwrapped his large silver spoon from a linen napkin. Della and I watched. He took one tiny, well-mannered sip and snapped his fingers. The waiters stood aside, forming a line, and out of nowhere, the chef appeared. The room hung in silence. The attaché addressed the chef in a quiet but firm voice.
“The Prince shall have no soup.”
In a flash of dark hands through flowing white sleeves, the table was cleared. The attaché rose and bowed slightly. The meeting was adjourned.
I returned to the Villa where the sun was starting its slow descent to the sea, and began to work on the Prince’s next speech