Monday, October 19, 2009

Whoomp! There it is!

{Tabletop that I covet from Lucky's. The center is a grouping of beautiful old wood blocks carved to stamp intricate batik patterns on fabric.}

Lucky's in the emirate of Sharjah is a place I have been meaning to write about since the first time we went. We had heard it was the place to go to get beautiful, eccentric, exotic, non-IKEA-esque furniture. Could not be more true, though you have to get to Lucky's...well have to be lucky to find it in the first place!

We don't go to Sharjah that often, though it's right next to Dubai, less than a hour of driving from our home. We have been to the Sharjah Aquarium, which the kids and I love, several times. Also have on our lengthy "must-do while we're here" list is the famous Sharjah Blue Souk. Other than that, the city is a bit of a mystery to us.

Sharjah is the most conservative of all the emirates, and I even donned a scarf over my hair the first few times we visited. I gave up on trying to keep a scarf on (it slips off and though I don't tie it in a Muslim fashion, it could cause confusion, so I decided to forget it) though I still wear the long sleeves. Seems like sweating a little more profusely is a small price to pay for trying to fit in a little.

In Sharjah, all the things you can "get away with" in Dubai, well, you can't. Getting in trouble in Sharjah would not be a good thing, and we watch our step just a little bit more, and get the tiniest taste of what living in a stricter Islam country might be like. If we were in Saudi, as a woman I couldn't drive and would pretty much have to wear an abaya. Can't complain.

The first time we tried to go to Lucky's we drove...and drove...and drove...all over the dang place. We had maps, we had what seemed like good directions, but you know, life is funny sometimes. We never did find it that trip.

That was a long day.

Second trip we did find Lucky's...down a road, roundabout, through warehouses and scruffy sorts of areas, lots of sand, U-turn, and then onto the correct road. And even then we weren't sure. Could this be the place everybody was saying "You have to go there, you must!" about?

A dusty old warehouse across the street from what looked like some sort of industrial dump? Lucky Nov. Gifts? Nothing that says, oh, I dunno, "Furniture" in the name? Was this some sort of elaborate hazing prank for newcomers and out-of-towners?

As it turned out, nothing of the sort. All wood furniture. These folks have never even heard of particle board. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff. Hand carved. The stuff that you imagine in your house when you're dreaming of living in an exotic locale. Three extensive warehouses full. The smells of wood and varnish, and incense suspended with the dust motes in the sluggishly moving, very warm atmosphere that sends sweat running down your back. The sort of place you poke around in for hours or flee within moments, depending on your personality.

We were enchanted and couldn't wait to furnish our home. We didn't buy too much that first trip, just our bed (which we love!) and some tables they handcrafted for us. We chose the tops; in our case we found these with a horse on this one and a camel on the other, out of brass. This part was made in India, and then the workshop attaches the legs and carefully frame the top beneath glass.

The furniture runs the gamut from simple and plain to incredibly ornate and showy. The quality and honest workmanship is what we love, tending to go for simpler but still exotic pieces, bypassing the heavily decorated or painted things for those that resonate with us. The wealth of antique timber from across the Indian subcontinent is a feast for the eyes and senses.

Now, a year later, the weather is just about cool enough to go back to Luckys, (we've been saying forever we have to go back) and go back we did go this weekend. Now, you really aren't supposed to take photographs in there...but I am becoming a little bolder, and whenever I see that sign in a place that makes absolutely no sense, that is purely ridiculous, well, you get photos for the blog. I confess. I am a rebel. What can I say?

My first, admittedly whimsical impression of Lucky's was that it reminded me, strongly, of the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark...when the Ark was put into a box and rolled away into an endless warehouse full of who knows what mysteries.

We still love the endless rows of furniture, the hunt, the excitement of finding real solid pieces to anchor our home in a town that, while I love it, sometimes feels a little plastic.

This trip we followed some friends there. Ironically we got lost in Dubai but once we got to Sharjah we drove straight to the store. Pseudo-lost on the way back out. Go figure. Mike told me, and I certainly did not argue, that we should buy things not just for here but also with an eye to taking back home. There is no way we could find this sort of thing anywhere else, and certainly not at the prices. I would guess we spent a third to a tenth of what we would spend elsewhere.

This time I held myself to just a large and relatively plain bookcase, (with camel cut-outs in the sides) a cabinet for our entryway (carved with birds), and also a wood honest-to-goodness camel saddle (how cool is that?!) and camel bells (more whimsy). All in all, it cost very little. They will re-stain and treat the furniture pieces to our specifications (dark and glossy) and deliver as well, all included.

Everything is done by hand, including the lifting and moving, and how they do it without a forklift, well, that's manpower for you. The workshop is in the fourth warehouse and Thomas and I watched a man crouching on the floor, patiently sanding pieces of wood with a small electric sander. No gloves, no safety goggles, checking the smoothness with his hands. Pots of stain nearby. He smiled briefly at us, but paid attention to his work. Unusual; most workers stop what they are doing to play with Thomas, even if only for a little while.

I imagined him crouched on that hard floor, working carefully and devotedly on our new purchases, and felt grateful.

Of course, we found more things we want to time. Oh, and there will be a next time, oh yes.

Bethy, taking notes and making sketches on her clipboard. Not a bad idea, actually. It was sometimes difficult to remember where we had seen a piece, the place being so extensive.

Lucky's leaves you hot and dusty and feeling like you've put in a good long day of honest work at the ranch...and need a shower! I can't wait for our pieces to arrive. Now, how to keep Thomas from climbing on the new cabinet...?


Jill said...

What a great looking place!!

We used to shop for our furniture at a place called Pinky's... it's in Dubai - though I couldn't begin to tell you where.

We would shop at Pinky's and then they'd drive it on into Muscat. Uber fun stuff - the same stuff as Lucky's. I'll have to remember that for the future. :)

Abid said...

What's the admission price for the Sharjah aquarium now? It was free back when I was there, cuz it was newly opened :D

I've done the Blue souq as well, and frankly it's something that I did not enjoy (unlike my mom!)

"I confess. I am a rebel. What can I say? "
-Well, that's what makes this blog among the handful of which I actually read every word of every post! :)

"Lucky's leaves you hot and dusty and feeling like you've put in a good long day of honest work at the ranch..."
-And the funny thing is that the old guy crouching on the floor is the one doing the real work!

Natalie said...

Jill ~I loved Muscat. So neat that you go to live there. How funny that you shopped at Pinky's. As I hear it, the families of Pinky's and Lucky's are feuding.Amusing for the bystanders. I suppose that could be a particularly evil bargaining ploy.

And Abid -you leave me speechless with your compliments. What can I say but thank you? Thank you. :)

Oh, and I should answer your question...the aquarium is redone now and it costs 20 AED for adults, 10 AED for kids 6 and up, and 50 AED for families.

Maybe I won't make the hubby "do" the Blue Souk...helpful tip, yay!

Jolie-Anne said...

Definitely! Buy, buy buy! I've traveled all over the world, but was too young and poor to bring meaningful stuff back. I really regret that. I'm glad you all will have such an exotic home wherever you live due to your world travels.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

When I was 6 years old, my family lived in Guatemala for 3 months. My parents bought 2 chairs in Antigua. My brother still owns one of them. We've always called them the Guatemala chairs.
Let's see if I was 6 then, that makes those chairs what? 20 years old?
OK approaching 50!
Bethy and Thomas could tell a story about this furniture someday too!