Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The lone sands stretch far away

My first view of Dubai was from the window of an airport taxi at 8pm local time, with the oven turned down to 39°C. During the day I stayed in the hotel; it's Ramadan, Muslims are fasting between sunrise and sunset, and may not observe anyone else eating; so if you want to eat or drink, even water, it has to be behind closed doors and almost exclusively in hotels, which have solid doors, no windows and heavy, dark curtains screening off the restaurant areas.

Towards sundown I took a taxi through the city with my colleague. Through a slight haze the sun was a perfect burning orange disc over a flat landscape; the architecture outside the centre is anodyne and the streets were deserted. The taxi driver raced along pristine freeways at 120 kmph, still being passed at much greater speeds by dusty SUVs and sports cars with heavily tinted windows. From very far away the stalagmite shape of Burj al Khalifa, still, for the moment, the world's tallest building, can be seen, but other interesting buildings, bulbous and squat, sail-like or funnel-shaped, cluster around it. There's distance between buildings, unlike Hong Kong, where people's lives are crammed together, and a curiously bland feel to everything.

At Madinat Jumeirah (shown here by day) we walked through an entirely ersatz souk of about 5 years' pedigree, filled with brass lions, lanterns, tea glasses and other trinkets, to a Persian restaurant alongside a manmade creek along which wooden abra transport sightseers. The surroundings have the attractive, though inauthentic, feel of a luxury hotel complex (which part of it is). Heat gentle enough to sit outside, lights strung in the palm trees, a salad of walnuts, mint and goat's cheese, slow roasted chicken, peppermint tea, and the loud insistent sound of a waterpump as a constant, droning accompaniment to the meal.


Anonymous said...

The photo has an unreal quality about it. It's like an architect's model. The buildings remind me of MC Escher.


LottieP said...

That's a good analogy. It did feel like a completely unreal, artificial place.

The greedy murmur of little men said...

an enormous Potemkin village