I have always been rather intrigued by the idea of the salon; it seems to me a perfect combination of drinking and thinking.
According to Wikipedia it is “a gathering of intellectual, social, political, and cultural elites under the roof of an inspiring hostess or host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation”.
When I think of a salon I think about Paris in the 17th century, women in satin dresses and men in wigs, or a more modern version which would include luminaries like Dorothy Parker.
But now there is a new image in my mind and it comes from our home. Last night, in our majlis, there gathered 15 of the finest minds in Abu Dhabi (and me) under the auspices of the Toronto-based Salon Camden, founded by a Pakistani-Canadian called Azmi Haq. He flew from Toronto to preside over the first Salon Camden abroad; Rupert and I were chosen as the “inspiring” hosts and the topic was ‘Islam and the West – what can help the reconciliation process?’.
I’m not sure how far we got in answering the question but it was a lively debate. Among the guests we had two Emirati ladies, one very amusing and well-informed Frenchman, a branding consultant from Switzerland, and several others of Arab origin but who had lived in the west like a Lebanese surgeon now based in Abu Dhabi.
I think dinner parties would be better if they took on the form of the salon; there are no “side-conversations” allowed, so everyone is in on the main action. And talking in front of so many really makes you think about what you want to say. I suppose the problem with a dinner party is there would be no one to shut someone up if they droned on too long.
Happily there were no bores there last night. And the good thing about hosting the salon is that if there had been I could just have retired early, citing some intellectual excuse or other.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010