The chance to use the metro – I like all sorts of trains, well at least once – and visit the Dubai museum seemed a perfect combo. We – the Lawyer, the Beautician and I – were meeting for lunch (lawyers doing lunch? Who knew?) so I had the morning to explore at leisure.
First the metro. It’s not complex, two lines and a couple of interchanges and it’s very modern, swish and clean. A lot is above ground affording nice views out towards the sea. They even turn off the travellators outside of commuting hours to save power. Another first.
The trains themselves have a gold carriage at the front for those paying extra, two women and children only carriages and the rest. Lest you think this is strict segregation it isn’t. The woman can and often do travel with the men – there were a lot of business people of both sexes moving around the financial district as I went through. I don’t see the need or approve of this idea (though I can think of some female friends having been hassled on the tube might well enjoy a separate car) but if you are doing something like this, this is an enlightened version of the traditional separation. And in my two short journeys three men gave up their seats to women – a better ratio than I’ve seen in London recently.
The museum itself is in the old district. On the Creek it is an 18th century fort made of mud and sea rocks. The surrounding streets are narrow and properly souk-like in the narrowness and overwhelming smells.
The Grand Mosque is here (not very grand and not a patch I’m told on the $6 billion one in Abu Dhabi) as is a Hindu Temple.
Only here was I accosted by vendors trying to ply me with those staples of existence: ‘watches, bags, scarves’.
Outside and inside, the fort was charming. Not spectacular, not bought in grandiosity, just a simple telling of a small piece of Middle Eastern history stretching back several 1000 years BC, and changing in style if not size with the rise of Islam.
And then the 50s came, the British were told to bugger off, oil was found (that may have been the other way round) and the Emir began to spend the wealth on making Dubai regionally significant.
The museum has photos of the 40s and 50s and little changed but then, whoosh.
Back in the museum there are dioramas of how the souks would have looked in days gone by, how the economy ran, the games played by the children.
It was neat, compact.
An on going excavation of a site 10 km outside the city was the centre of one display; another told of the pearl diving industry; another the process of building a dhow.
An hour tops but delightful.
So you’ve done lunch, had some culture and find yourself with a couple of hours to kill. The Beautician and I were having a friendly debate about whether Disney made better films than Pixar, back whenever and before you could say supercalifrag… we were queuing to see the new Batman/Lego movie. I know, how come? It happened, ok?
If like me part of your youth were those awful TV versions with KERPOW and ZAP superimposed over a fight, this is for you. It’s written for adults, even if kids might enjoy the action. Batman, the self obsessed narcissus and the Joker as his neurotic co-dependent are excellent constructs. There are times when there are so many visual gags involving the history of baddies – gremlins, daleks, Kong, Voldemort, Sauron – that you want to stop the film to check you’re not missing any.
Somehow I ate a lot, too. Cheesecake and chocolate mousse to name check the less healthy options. Still, I’m home today and home means a tighter control on all excesses, which will save me from myself.
By the end of this trip, there was still stuff for me to do; a gallery here, a museum there – some iconic buildings to view – the Burj al Arab for one – and the man made islands in the shape of the world – the bar is on Lebanon someone said which feels suitably ironic – apparently they are still pretty bare of buildings – and the palm tree resort built like a peninsula. So better to leave while I’m ahead. After all Pakistan play some of their cricket here so I’d love to come back for that….
Let’s end with a poem. I’m sitting in Dubai airport waiting my flight. 7.5 hours in another sardine can. I wrote this about a long haul flight some while ago. Since I have to endure the flight you can endure my poetry
Somehow the sense of entrapment
Is increased by the narrowness:
For size zero models,
With asylum constraints.
For forward entry
And reverse exit
And no manoeuvres.
Set to garrote.
The food is swaddled,
The entertainment grips
It can’t be air
In this man made sheaf.
Hissing, fizzing, buzzing
It’s all part of this holding down
On your face
Inside your ears.
In your mind
In your sleep.
I bet they squeeze your dreams.
But no system of restraint is perfect.
Behind your eyes you watch as
They smile and continue the communal fiction
Of a safety record better
Than any transport system,
Whisking you with bland encouragement
And a narcotic safety demonstration
To your destination.
Behind your eyes
You feel the minus 60 outside
Your sense the forward rush at 500 miles an hour
You sway at the giddy altitude of
It may happen rarely
But when it does
You don’t count the survivors.
We all play along.
If we didn’t
We’d all need stronger stomachs,
And a tighter sphincter.