Sunday, February 20, 2011

Adrift in the Emerald City

Dubai is the Emerald City from the Wizard Of Oz. There is the tower, the Burj Khalifa in a smoky haze. 
We hop on a double decker bus to get the lay of the land and find another ginormous high-rise city just over the horizon. It looks like an Architecture competition come to life, glass curtain walls of every color, towers of all shapes, twisting, offset, tubular, weirdly angled. No one is working. Cranes dangle in the sky, half finished glass buildings look like they’re missing teeth. 
Palm Jumeira, the man-made island. It more than doubled the Dubai coastline - from 60 kilometers to 140. Beachfront property to order. Residential on the fronds, hotels on the trunk. There is a metro station on stilts a hundred feet above a massive construction pit. The pit is clean and totally empty. Not even a wheelbarrow. And there are few people to be seen. 
Burj Al Arab - the tower of the Arab, shaped like a sail has a heliport at the top of the hotel. It looks like a big white frisbee that got stuck. A quarter sphere glass elevator whisks us up 600 feet in about ten seconds to dine cantilevered over the water in what looks from the outside like an aluminum taco. I expect to see George Jetson and his boy Elroy zoom up and dock. Everyone is taking photos, milling around the windows, the staff dodging camera-wielding tourists. A particularly long lens causes a traffic jam.
We dine along the banks of the ancient port, Dubai Creek. Dhows, wooden boats that turn up at both ends like an Arabian Nights slipper are parked three and four deep, offloading paper wrapped bales  - it could be a hundred years ago - and on-loading wide screen TVs. The cabins are fretwork, several stories tall, of elaborately turned wood painted French blue. Old and new, function and future.
In the morning we head to Mall of the Emirates. Ski Dubai sticks out of the top of the mall like a badly parked Millenium Falcon. It is ten minutes from the time you slap down your credit card to slapping your skis on the snow - pants and jacket and boots in one line, skis in the next, up the escalator thru the doors and it’s 28 degrees and the snow is perfect. It’s weird skiing by fluorescent light, the run is short, narrow and getting crowded two hours later when we leave, but it’s a blast. Outside it’s in the seventies. This must be weird in the summer when it gets to 120. And incredibly popular.
A buffet to meet our fellow travelers, Stanford and not. I hate buffets. Canes and hearing aids abound. We hope for the best.

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