I’m sitting looking out of huge dusty french, make that international, windows onto a 30th floor balcony. In the near distance, a 12-lane strip of traffic hums away. Further away, blocks – tens, scores, even hundreds – of highrise towers stretch and grapple skywards, dumpy and out of place. Yet more distant are what look like small towns, clusters of wobbling unnatural lights and the outlines of turrets, roofs and domes.
And from every level on all three dimensions, thousands upon thousands of lights blink, scream, twinkle, flash and stare at me, their blue, red, orange, white, green haze providing no need for any lamps or candles, the nebulous haze striking every surface with a moonlighty glow.
It’s 11pm and the temperature is in the late thirties. The humid wind carries a wave of desert dust, a drone of air-conditioning units and no whiff whatsoever of a dwindling bedouin spirit. These winds – never mind their blastier cousins, the shamaals – have blown these ways forever.
They’ve seen war, piracy, British outposts, imperious telegraph and oil lines, shipping lanes, camel races and formula 1. They’ve tickled ladies’ necks at the horse races, wafted the dish-dashas of many a shawarma-eating shebab, stopped the play of a rugby game or two and delayed many, many international flights. They’ve powered beautiful dhows towards Iran and back and have brought everything from cheap labour to musk-scented fortune-seekers and Persian rug hustling philanderers to the Gulf.
What they encounter now is unquestionably the most startling incarnation of the Gulf they have ever seen.
The winds that blow past my sister’s glass-clad balcony are a force to contend with. They push their way past tower after tower, building site after construction project after development after reclaimed island. They force themselves through the tight lattice-like scaffolding whilst making a mess of westerners’ clean washing and maids’ cleanly swept marble floors. They lift veils, expose weaknesses and strip surfaces.
By the time they get to Abu Dhabi and beyond to the F1 track at Bahrain or the flaming pires along Kuwait’s coast, these winds aren’t surprised by a thing – why would they be?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Dubai.