Ego Trip or Genius Plan?
In late November, I joined a small group of friends on an organized tour to Dubai. I confess that without the threat of the pandemic, I would not have chosen it as a destination. An exotic locale with untamed nature or a country filled with history and culture would have been my preference. But after weeks and months of lockdown, sunny Dubai was an attractive destination. It also held the lure of a quarantine-free trip to Israel to visit my children, whom I hadn’t seen for a year.
Hyperbole in Dubai
“Happiness begins here,” the huge fluorescent letters on the floor of Dubai International Airport spell out, typical of the grandiose declarations I will hear throughout my visit.
Two rows of porters across the luggage belt seem pitted against each other. To the right are those in red costumes; to the left are dark-skinned porters in gray robes, here to fetch company executives. None of them look too happy. Those dressed in red hasten to pick up your luggage with toothy enthusiasm. Their smiles turn into annoyed grunts once you refuse their services.
The vastness of the grounds of the Park Hyatt hotel where we stayed was, in a way, a precursor to our Dubai experience. There was not one lobby but three. Not one large swimming pool, but two. A large one surrounded by potted palms, plus a second one, the width of the hotel’s four buildings that merged into the creek. The staff firmly but politely insisted on the wearing of a mask, but for any request you might have they listen with their heads tilted towards you in concentration so as not to lose a word of a query. Everyone here speaks English. We are spared the foreign feeling of being surrounded by Arabic.
I spend my first two days in Dubai gaping. Everything we see is described by Mohammed, our official guide, as the largest, tallest, biggest and cleanest, better than anywhere else in the world.
The skyline is a feat of the world’s most fertile imaginations. Every building has a different jaw-dropping shape. One is a twisted helix, while the twin Jumeirah Towers face each other as if in permanent conversation.
“Money isn’t an issue here,” Mohammed impresses upon us. “We are the most innovative country in the world, always ahead of the times. We hire the best architects, engineers and designers in the world. And we move fast. For your information, 25 percent of the total number of construction cranes in the world are in Dubai at the moment. In 2016, there were only seven towers in Dubai. Now there are 148.”
The scope of what they have built in this former desert in the span of 49 years is mind-boggling. But unlike another desert—Israel—there aren’t any layers of history underneath. Everything was erected seemingly overnight, as if by a gifted child with a giant LEGO set.
On our way to the heliport for a short jaunt over the islands, we board the driverless monorail suspended over the city. We marvel at the impeccable cleanliness of every single car on the streets below. A fine of 500 dirhams ($135), we learn, is imposed on dirty cars found traveling on the road. The future of Dubai doesn’t even include cars. The long-term plan is to eliminate traffic completely. How? Individual drones are being developed that will take people to their destinations, landing on terraces and parking there.
On the waterfront, built on an island of its own, stands the unapologetically extravagant and luxurious Burj Al Arab Hotel, shaped like the billowing sail of a ship. We are allowed no further inside than the entranceway, with its 24-karat gold-plated doors, gold-plated elevator and gold-leaf gilded walls. If that’s the entrance, we can only imagine what the hotel itself has to offer.
With three of my friends we board a helicopter and fly over three palm-shaped islands. Lengthy beaches of crystal sand imported from Mexico gleam in the sunlight. Some 120 million cubic meters of rock were excavated from the bottom of the sea to form this man-made archipelago, the pilot informs us above the din of the engine. The amount of rock and sand used to construct it would form a two-meter-wide wall that would circle the globe three times. We express our admiration of the islands’ beauty and symmetry.
‘Oh, but this is nothing,” he boasts, pointing to another site under construction. “Right now, we are creating 300 small islands in the shape of the world.” I notice that Israel isn’t on the map and wonder if this omission will be corrected.
If we thought this feat was the ultimate wonder, we soon realize that we were wrong. Their next project is a series of islands in the shape of the universe, including the sun, moon and solar system. While the project is obviously grandiose, the level of confidence and ambition of its builders is equally astounding. The accomplishments of Dubai are mentioned so often in Guinness World Records, the pilot tells us, that to avoid having to return to the country each time to confirm a new record, Guinness opened a local office. We believe him.
A visit to the Miracle Gardens, our guide insists, is a must. Of course, it is nothing less than the largest flower park in the world. The gardens are watered by an Israeli-invented drip irrigation system, which is available worldwide. At the entrance, 50 million petunias in various shades of pink are pinned to needles to form twirling ballerinas and heart-shaped arches. Clay parrots, painted in bright colors, sit motionless on the trees. Each bush seems to have been given a manicure. Not one stray leaf is on the ground; not one flower is nodding. There are more men with straw brooms than visitors. To pluck so many live flowers in order to fulfill man’s desire to ambition to control nature seems senseless to me. The place is too immaculate, stiff and lifeless.