Dubai is a real paradox. On the one hand it is easy to glibly characterize it as a soulless aggregate of wealth built upon sand, yet it has the most stunning collection of modern architecture we have ever seen.  It is a dictatorship run by a Sheikh who descends from a tribal leader who came to this spot in the 1850’s with less than 800 followers, yet today provides a safety net and standard of living for its citizens perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world.  It may be in the very center of the Islamic Middle East, but to walk the grandiose shopping malls is to encounter women in both short skirts or shorts and tank tops and other women covered from veiled head to toe in black.  It was a dusty desert village until oil was discovered in 1965 and is now the banking center of the Middle East.  Citizens of Dubai are provided with at least very comfortable middle class incomes and positions, and all the service jobs are done by immigrants from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh.  All speak English which is used widely everywhere.  In 1990 there were approximately 11 buildings over 10 stories high in Dubai; now there are over 190 with more going up all the time and all crowned by the Burj Khalifa, the tallest manmade structure in the world and absolutely one of the most innovative in terms of its engineering and its beauty.

The Burj Kalifa, the world's tallest structure at 164 stories occupied plus the spire atop it.

The Burj Kalifa, the world’s tallest structure at 164 stories plus the spire atop it.

 

The Burj Kalifa at dusk

The Burj Kalifa at dusk

Let’s begin by having a look at a few of the clusters of buildings that make for such a stunning architecture, for the city of Dubai is really a set of clusters spread across the desert with lots of sand between them, all to be filled with buildings eventually of course.  This is clearly seen from the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa.

The souk immediately below the Burj Kalifa with its pools for fountains

The souk immediately below the Burj Kalifa with its pools for fountains

 

Financial City and the Persian Gulf

Financial City and the Persian Gulf

There is a Media City (TV networks), a Knowledge City (universities and private schools), a High Tech City (offices for Microsoft, Cisco, Google etc) and close to the airport, a Dubai Festival City (Hard Rock Café) and eventually a Global Village where the Dubailand Amusement Park will be built to outdo Disneyworld.  Being boat people, one area particularly attractive to us was the Marina area, where apartment and condominium buildings have sprung up around a harbor for boats, mostly luxurious motor yachts.

The Marina City with its Twisty Tower

The Marina City with its Twisty Tower still under construction

The intention of the ruler is to move the economy from oil, which now only provides 8% of the country’s revenues, to banking and tourism and he would like to make Dubai into the resort center of the Middle East so grand as to outstrip even Las Vegas.  So there is an enormous development going on to dredge another ‘Palm Tree’ from the sea and cover it with 35 new five star hotels.  This will mirror the first one, a palm trunk of about three miles with palm fronds off of it for single homes (well over a million dollars each) and condominiums.

One of Dubai’s earliest grand hotels is the Burj Al Arab and and the shape of the structure is designed to mimic the sail of a ship.  From its heliport, the circular projection near the top, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer once played a tennis match, and Tiger Woods hit golf balls into the sea.  It rates itself a seven star hotel.  One takes a simulated submarine to reach its restaurant.

The Burj Al Arab, a self-proclaimed seven star hotel

The Burj Al Arab, a self-proclaimed seven star hotel

On the already completed ‘Palm’ is an Atlantis resort, similar to the original in Nassau and complete with every resort comfort and activity plus a rather amazing aquarium with a main pool as large as a football stadium.

The enormous aquarium at the Atlantis

Part of the enormous aquarium at the Atlantis

 

a Middle Eastern couple enjoying the rays

a Middle Eastern couple enjoying the rays

 

An Atlantis Warrior in a passage of the aquarium

An Atlantis Warrior in a passage of the aquarium

 

Our granddaughter encased in an Atlantis sculptural chair

Our granddaughter encased in an Atlantis sculptural chair

Also being dredged from the sea is a cluster of small islands intended for only the wealthiest of the wealthy.  Mention is made of the fact that rock and movie stars have already purchased some of the islands.  No names are given, of course.  When finished they will appear to be a map of the world from above.

What is left of the older, pre-oil city is the Old Town area, a maze of souks and residences, and The Creek, an inlet from the sea that has long been the harbor for Dubai and where the commercial dhows still load and unload cargo from and for as far away as Kenya, India and Sri Lanka.

Women merchants in the souk in the old days

Women merchants in the souk in the old days

 

The Fort dating from the 1890's

The Fort dating from the 1890’s

 

The Old Town at a ferry crossing

The Old Town at a ferry crossing

 

Dhows along the Creekside

Dhows along the Creekside

 

Refrigerators about to be loaded on a dhow for India

Refrigerators about to be loaded on a dhow for India

 

Even this restaurant is air conditioned outside

Even this restaurant is air conditioned outside

What brought us to Dubai was the chance to see our eldest daughter Shadee and our granddaughter who have been living in Dubai for about two years.  They live in a very nice single family house with a nannie and a driver, a pool outside, and the zoo just across the street so that the monkeys and the lions can be heard when the windows are open.

Our granddaughter attends the Dubai American School, which has just moved into a new campus amazingly well equipped and beautiful.  There are students from 55 nations in attendance and they enjoy three libraries, two Olympic swimming pools and a theater that any midsized city would be proud of.

Part of the campus of the Dubai American School

Part of the campus of the Dubai American School

 

The three of us in a classroom

The three of us in a classroom

 

Tryout practice for the school musical

Tryout practice for the school musical

But the real center of life in Dubai is the malls.  Since for most of the year it is extremely hot outside, life is air conditioned from the house to the car to the malls.  And like most everything else in Dubai, the malls are on a grand scale with every imaginable store from Tiffanys to Bloomingdales to the California Pizza Kitchen to PF Changs where we had lunch one day.  The Dubai Mall is the largest in the world and includes a skating rink and an aquarium that is stunning.  It sits up against the Burj Kalifia and at dusk each night does a fountain show like the Vegas Bellagio between the two structures.

The fountain show a la Las Vegas Bellagio

The fountain show a la Las Vegas Bellagio

 

The ice rink at the Dubai Mall

The ice rink at the Dubai Mall

 

The Waterfall at the Dubai Mall

The Waterfall at the Dubai Mall

 

Sharks on the prowl at the aquarium

Sharks on the prowl at the aquarium

 

The tunnel through the aquarium

The tunnel through the aquarium

 

The queue at the cookie stand

The queue at the cookie stand

 

One of many many halls at the Dubai Mall with Bloomingdales at the end

One of many many halls at the Dubai Mall with Bloomingdales at the end

The Mall of the Emirates, if not quite as large as the Dubai Mall does have the famous indoor ski and snow resort which is absolutely staggering to witness.

Just part of the ski resort at Mall of the Emirates

Just part of the ski resort at Mall of the Emirates

 

Frosty the snowman

Frosty the snowman

 

The apre ski restaurant with its giant fireplace and windows

The apre ski restaurant with its giant fireplace and windows

After nine days, including lots of wonderful time with Iranian family and friends, we headed back to Paris on a red eye and then spent eight hours in Charles de Gaulle Airport waiting our flight back to The States.  We are now back in Grosse Pointe and will be here until about mid November when we will bop off again to distant lands.

In the meantime we plan to spend a good deal of time exploring Detroit, the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy.  While this is hardly happy times, at least things in Detroit have hit bottom and what we are seeing is some exciting and rather radical ideas getting a chance at actually happening on a big scale–like building reclamation and urban agriculture.  It is an exciting time here in poor downtrodden Detroit, and our next blog will give you a look at it all.