24 February 2023 Off By Pal Blanko


Blanko travels to Dubai, in order to meet a man who isn't there...

I’m back in the desert, again... This time it’s Dubai, a small principality within the United Arab Emirates. Many things are said of Dubai, and having now arrived here, I think most of them are true. This is some achievement, given that half of the claims seem to contradict the other fifty-percent.


The overall feeling one gets from this place is of its unrelenting oddness. Just as you think that you can describe it, it twists, slips from your grip, and presents-itself as something entirely new.


The whole place resembles some sort of inter-cultural optical-illusion. To witness it is to be presented with series of contradictions that are predictably consistent: I try to pay for a taxi with my Amex card, only to be told that 'no taxi in Dubai takes Amex', I then pay with Visa. On the way back to my hotel, forgetting that I have to pay with Visa, I pay with Amex; only realising my error after getting out of the cab, when it’s too late to apologise for having done the thing... that it wasn’t possible to do.


The old-fashioned Jewellery Market is brand new. The flush-lever on the toilet (that gushes-forth with gusto) is accompanied by a note that reminds you about the scarcity of water. You freeze to death in the malls which are built in one of the hottest places on earth. You can even buy ticket that allows you walk-through a glass tunnel within the world’s largest fish tank, or you can walk the other way, and see world’s largest fish-tank, for free.


The world’s most glamorous skyscrapers are to be found here, and right next door to them stand buildings which are designed so badly, that if they were drawn by a 4 year old, you’d ask them to do it again …and this time properly.


And then there’s the planning rules. On one side of the main highway, you look out onto hundreds of miles of open desert, and on the other side of the road, there are tower-blocks crammed-in, just 30-feet apart. Residents on the 17th floor of Tower-A can open their curtains, and look into the living-rooms of people who on the 17th floor of Tower-B. Why build so close, when there is so much space?




I’ve flown-out here for a few days, simply to take dinner with a client. Nice work if you can get it. My to-do list reads: “Buy one man too many drinks”. I think he spends most of his time here, because he’s done a runner  from the authorities in Greece. He seems typical of the type that flash-their-cash in these parts: folks who are “free” to spend their money as they please, just so long as they don’t go home; where they’ll promptly be arrested.


I’m sat here in the foyer of a swanky waterfront restaurant, on the Palm Jumariah; a piece of dry land, that was once the sea. I’m engaging in my favourite pastime: people watching... The cross-section of human existence that frequents this waterhole is varied, but patterns are emerging: ...these folks, they're all from somewhere else. I haven’t seen one local, and these people are not from one single somewhere else. They are uniformly and consistently from absolutely everywhere else. And they all act like ‘they’ve made it’, as if in some way, crossing the threshold into this restaurant represents the finishing-line in The Race to Ostentation.


The patrons’ dress sense is varied, but it’s all exactly the same; inasmuch as they're wearing what they think one wears, once you become rich. For example, a lot of guys turn-up unshaven, in T-shirts and sweat pants, and the women on their arms wear expensive cocktail dresses and gold stiletto shoes. Odd.


They look so desperately impressed with themselves as they walk in... but to me, they seem like the biggest losers that ever lived. It’s as if they’ve played the game-of-life by an entirely different set of rules to me and, now that they’ve convinced themselves of their own winning, they’re keen to show that they’ve been victorious at the only game in town. Odd. I cannot describe how brain-numbingly tedious the conversation with these people would be. I know them well of old, and always try to avoid them - but here in Dubai, they're like salmon; returning from the sea in huge shoals, to spawn their money.


Strange place.


They wear couture clothes, but with elasticated waistbands.


Such a strange place.


And what have they done to get here? They've made a small fortune in ball-bearings, or they've divorced their wife, packed the kids off to boarding school, and spent every weekend in the office, trading financial derivatives; that turn 0.0001 crypto-beans into 0.01 non-fungible kumquats, and then think themselves 'something' for having achieved nothing that has any meaning or worth, to the other 99% of people on Earth.


The men are old. The women are young. And the marriages will be short. He is highly educated. She is not. He is well-travelled, and she’s been around-the-block.


These old guys with these young women, they're really something else. She is wearing low-cut this and high-slit that, and despite everything that’s on-show, one imagines he still ‘has difficulties’ when presented with what’s on offer.


You gotta get-up to get-down.


I’ve now been waiting here in the foyer for almost an hour. Even by Greek standards, this is late. I was due to meet Yannis at 4.00pm but he had to cry-off, so he re-fixed our missed-meeting and has now promptly not turned-up to the substitute for the cancellation.


I place one last call, but he’s not there, and he’s not here  either. Slowly I walk back to the taxi rank, away from the restaurant at which we were to dine, having eaten nothing.


How very peculiar. How very Dubai.


- Pal Blanko



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