Photo by Christoph Schulz on Unsplash
Early morning arrives and sends an ever lightening blue grey sheen over the Dubai skyline. The parade of towers are clearly visible across the lagoon’s waters, between my hotel room and the city opposite, as it imperceptibly slides towards the sea. The water is of glass, as if polished to the approval of narcissus. The reflections of the moored boats are crystal sharp in perfect reflection. The glittering glass and steel of downtown Dubai shimmer, with alternating blinking tiny white and red lights indicating their height as a warning to passing aircraft. The Burj Kalifa, stands in the distance. Its spike into the sky looks like it could pierce any cloud that cared to form near it. But of course, there are no clouds at all.
The hotel, which thus sits overlooking ‘Dubai creek’, is a collection of four blocks only four floors in height, connected to each other with covered walkways in the warmth of the colour of natural wood. The inspiration for the buildings seems to be the white walls and blue domes of the Greek churches on Santorini. In between each of them are cool palm tree shaded courtyards and swimming pools designed with the heat of the day in mind. The complex has a Thai restaurant, a French style brasserie, and a sunset bar among its five or six restaurants. This is as far removed from a tatty B and B in Blackpool on the Victorian sea front overlooking a cold grey sea as it is possible to be.
Unable to sleep for long, I awake before the sun rose and was able to catch the changing light well before breakfast. The room has a balcony with two chairs and a coffee table overlooking the marina. At 0530, all I can hear is the birds. Sparrows, Bulbul, Mynah and Ring Necked Doves are very common and compete with each for their songs to be heard.
At 0630 the breakfast brasserie opened. The full range of breakfast foods is on display in a plush environment that looked like it has been plucked from a chic Parisian arrondissement such as to be found in the Boulevard St Germain.
The eggs Benedict was a gift from the heavens. A twist here was that instead of English ham, a slice of what looks and tasted like Jamón Iberico provided a wonderful tang to the creaminess of the hollandaise sauce. The yolk was perfectly runny as it should be. The chef sprinkled the top with paprika to provide a red dusting to offset the yellow of the hollandaise.
I made an error in ordering ‘French toast’ to go with the coffee and eggs. French toast to me is that curiosity of our youth in which a slice of bread is toasted only on one side. That’s it, just one slice of bread. I thought this would be fine to finish my coffee.
It arrived in its syrup melting sumptuousness. An inch thick slice of brioche, generously topped with creamy sweet sliced banana, plump red strawberries and a generous string of red berries. Over the top of all of that, chocolate chips and sugar had been sprinkled and dusted. It was as if a chocolate chip cookie had cried tears of tiny chocolate drops all over the plate. It was served with a small bowl of maple syrup on the side. This must amount to about 200 calories per mouthful. There was no way I was going to eat all of it after the eggs. Wisely I left half of it.
On the aircraft yesterday, the totally impressive A380, I enjoyed a rather pleasant dinner courtesy of Emirates. One detail struck me, and spoke to the sheer bloody insanity of it all. Notwithstanding the fact that we were five miles up, and that a nice filet of tenderloin steak and asparagus was in front me, there sat on the tray was a small box containing one date. It was wrapped in cellophane and the box stated it had been hygienically sanitised and washed, even the stone had been removed. We can take such seeming trifles for granted but a little thought about how it got there brings to mind the complexity of the supply chain and the labour involved to present me with an edible date at 40,000 feet.
Dates are individually picked from each tree by old men with dark weather beaten faces from being out in the sun all day for most of their lives. They wear a red and white wrap around loose ‘turban’ for protection while disregarding the need for any sun factor. They climb hand made wooden ladders held together with palm leaf twine in bare feet and as they pick each date they throw them down into a wicker basket at the base of the trunk. They start just as the sun rises before the heat of the day and work until midday stopping only once for a mid morning coffee and five times for daily prayers. They carry prayer mats out into the palm plantation as it is too far to keep walking back to a mosque. For them it is a labour of love, they willingly give up their time in return for a bowl of rice, a leg of lamb and God’s blessing. So the next time you open a packet of dates at Christmas remember some poor old sod up a palm tree in the hot sun tossing each one into a basket while he silently recites the Qu’ran for comfort.
The Park Hyatt Dubai is a world apart from all of that. It sits within a golf and country club. Let that sink in, a golf club, in what was desert. Strolling around this morning after breakfast I was struck with the sudden realisation of just how green this little oasis is. The grass on the course looked immaculate. The flower beds are vibrant with the flowers you would recognise at home in a damper climate. Where are they getting the water and how are they getting it out onto the course? Just how dry this place is could easily be seen as one comes into land. For miles and miles below is sandy desert and rock and then suddenly the city. A vast city built out of oil and now also sustained by tourism. The United Arab Emirates is the third richest country in the world behind Luxembourg, and Qatar at number one. It is built with ingenuity, petrodollars and the sweat of date pickers.
Last night as the sun set, I sat in a chilled out bar overlooking the creek. Ideal for a Gin and Tonic. The ambience was ibiza chill while overhead half a dozen rotating fans languidly pushed the air around while candles danced their light in jars upon tables. I lounged in a comfortably padded chair just taking in the scene. At one point, at the next table twenty something girls turned up and proceeded to indulge in an orgy of selfie taking. They posed and pouted until I lost count of just how many photographs they took. This was not the first time I had seen pouting in a bar in Dubai. There must be something in the water?
After the second Gin I fancied a small nibble. On the menu I spotted oysters that had come all the way from Brittany. Perfect. So, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand was necessary. The origin of all of these foods – dates, oysters, wine – are all of course lost in the complexity of globalised trade and internationalised labour. I had also noted that the Gin offer included that from Plymouth. On each bottle of Plymouth Gin in small letters is the disclaimer that ’No Janners were hurt in the making of this Liquor’.
As I sat and wondered all about this, the news of Ukraine was fresh in my mind. Right now in many parts of the world billions of people are living in dirt, without dignity and an early death just a heartbeat or a missile away. Back home folk are deciding whether to face the indignity of a food bank or how they are to pay their energy bills. I had just travelled from a City that has crumbling public spaces and a second rate health system despite being in another very wealthy country.
Inequality has been with us since for ever. It has always been the case. Jesus once said “Blessed are the poor but bugger me, don’t they make a mess of the place?” Today, it is as stark as ever. Dubai is at one end of the wealth spectrum but even here, one cannot but notice the ethnicity based class divide between the servant class, that do all of the serving: the construction, cleaning, catering and caring, and the rest of us. White faces like mine are for the most part absent at work except for the better paid, supervisory occupations. We are the ‘concierge class’ oiling the wheels of capital accumulation that built this city, but not of rock and roll.
It is noticeable that the white clientele come with American or a British Home Counties accent. I have heard some French but you can spot them before they open their mouths – their clothes and accessories are immediately a bit more stylish. The local Emiratis are harder to spot as unlike in Saudi Arabia they don’t wear the white thobe and red and white head scarf. Not in the Park Hyatt at least. We are a tiny tiny slice of the world living like royalty of old, our lives acting out in an invisible gilded cage, for the most part unaware of the toiling masses who make it all possible.
The women are shocking. I have been used to seeing the totally covered black Abiya and Niqab with only their eyes showing through. Event the modernised Saudi women in the office who don’t cover their heads still wear very colourful Abiyas with their make up. I am shocked because I’ve not seen quite so much naughty nakedness on display. Shoulders are bare, as are arms. Sun hats and sunglasses of course, but long legs and ankles! We get used to things very quickly and when the turn around comes, it tends to bring us up short. One of the girls even had some cleavage on full display! I wondered if her mum knew she was out like that.
She’d not last 5 minutes picking dates.