I am unconvinced about Dubai. Plonked in the desert, this city is torn between old and new. The new is startling; buildings pierce the skyline like ancient daggers. On the ground in the old souks, Arabs pounce out of their stalls to beckon you in – their persistence is annoying and intimidating.
I expected Dubai to be a congestion of sound, and a crush of people- but I had this vision that the souks would be something out of Indiana Jones, frozen in time – some of the little lane ways reminded me of any market anywhere with crappy little plastic toys and thousands of pashmina shawls. I wanted to buy one but the minute you touched one your world was invaded by three Arabs touching the silk and the cashmere, and I would walk away. I think we are so accustomed to low levels of service in Australia and disinterest in customers – I found the whole experience tiring and wanted to get out. The most fascinating part of this expedition into the old souk that lay on the banks of the ‘Creek’ running through Dubai, was the cacophony of old boats loaded with produce from China, spilling onto the docks like rubbish and reloaded bound for Iran. Our Pakistani taxi driver was lovely and friendly and shared a small flat with two other men for 1000dirhams a month (about A$350) – he sends US $2000 back to his family in Pakistan every month. ‘Families are expensive,’ he says. Have you been to Australia? No, but I’d like to. I have a friend who’s been. Australia is far far away.Yes, it is.
In the new areas of Dubai, no one walks. Instead, roads teem with cars riding the arterials and veins of the city. Cars hug the foundations of high rise buildings like scattered confetti around their bases. We took a cab back to the Palace, our hotel and with some sort of relief and some sense of middle eastern romance returned as we sank onto a plush pillow top beds. The interior is moody but sophisticated with crisp white linen, gracious timber bed heads, decorative fretwork and subtle lighting. Out of the window the man made canal laps at the edge of the hotel promenade and palm trees stand like silent sentinels and the air is thick with smog
The one redeeming feature of the old souk with the spice merchants. Buckets filled with frankincense, turmeric, pistachios, barrels of colour filled to the brim. I bought saffron threads, turmeric for my husband, who sprinkles this good spice on lots of things and some pistachios for us all to share with a gin and tonic when we get to Rome. There are lots of spice traders, some in traditional dress, some in jeans and t-shirts – I bartered my stash down from $285 Dirhams to $150 dirhams….. Hmm about half price off. from A$100 to $55. My husband would have been proud.