January 3, 2010

DUBAI: A MEMORY

The Burj Dubai opens up tomorrow: 824 metres, so that is roughly 2,500 feet tall. And again it proves my theory that a society is on the verge of bankruptcy when they feel the need to build the tallest building in the world. Considering that Dubai is all but officially bankrupt.

Note: I was there once, roughly 10 years ago, on a journalism/PR bullshit trip. What I learned? Every system is sustainable, including dictatorships, as long as your citizens get free mansions, free water and free electricity... and there are enough "niggahs" from the Philippines or India around to do the hard labour.

Also, it had the strongest security/watch-dogging I ever seen, and that was before 9/11. In order to enter the country, you had to give them your passport, then you were issued a Gold Visa document, and yes, when I say gold, I mean that it was a document that had been covered completely in 24 karat gold that you had to keep with you at all times and give back at the end of your trip.

I also remember that I did love the sea there, it was calm and salty, and that the heat was a nice, dry one.

I also remember that a bottle of still water cost you 12 US dollars in the hotel, and that I at all times had three servants strolling around me, asking "Is there something we can do for you, Sir?", all the way down to the private hotel beach, at which point I lost my temper and – upon being offered yet another towel, I told one of them I can wipe my own ass, thank you very much, now go away. It irked me. I don't like servitude, neither open nor disguised. It feels like you are unable to do anything yourself, and I already have a mother, you know?

I remember that the ingredients for the buffets were flown in every day from around the world.

I remember that my hotel suite (we were all given hotel suites by Sega) was four times the size of the tiny studio apartment (and I was an editor-in-chief at the time) I could afford in Munich at the time, and roughly twice the size of my parent's apartment, and it had more of a mausoleum feel to it than something you like to live in. It was there to look at and feel important about yourself.

I remember there were a lot of Nouveau Russians there, and that none of them had any idea of what "holding back" or "understated style" was. I remember a lot of the other journalists there were going mental during the trip, deluding themselves they were part of the "society" that they had been put into, if only for those few couple of days. I saw people who behaved like they owned the servants, which made me feel like throwing up in my mouth more often than not. I imagine this is how it must have been at Versailles, roughly 1786. It was a complete world onto its own, with barely if any ties to the outside reality.

I remember one more thing, and it may have been the hardest thing to have seen. At the opening cocktail party of our trip, where everybody mingled, introduced themselves and business cards were exchanged in lieu of foreplay, dry cardboard sex between sweaty palms and fake smiles, placed in the centre of the hotel lobby's hall, there was a woman playing the harp.

She was dressed in a red cocktail dress, her blonde hair braided, with fingers that stroked the strings with near perfection. Her eyes were closed, and she was treating this the way a professional would treat an engagement at the Metropolitan, and each note, each stroke broke through the chatter, rose up against the ceiling and diappeared without as much as a fleeting note by the others in the vicinity.

She played a variation of Mozart's Concetro for Flute, Harp and Orchestra, and I stood there for most of the evening watching her and listening and thinking that something this beautiful, played by somebody this beautiful had been reduced to a furniture, merely another set piece for other people to gawk at, to show how much they can afford, but not appreciate.

I went out to the back of the hotel, onto the terrace after a while.

And when she had finished her set, she went out as well. She stood at the edge of the terrace, and her gaze went out onto the sea. She took out a cigarette. I gave her a light. We didn't talk for a while.

"It was Mozart, wasn't it?" I asked then.

She gave me a smile. It didn't reach her eyes.

"You noticed," she said.

"I guessed," I said.

She laughed. "No, you didn't."

"No, I didn't."

"You were about the only one," she said. "I saw you looking at me."

"You were hard to miss," I said. "You were the one with the harp."

"Yes," she said. "That's the bit that's usually hard to miss."

"It was beautiful."

"Thank you," she said. "I wish more people had noticed."

So did I. She finished smoking.

And before she left, she gave me a kiss on the cheek, and went back into the hotel, where nobody noticed her, and her second set that evening lasted until way after midnight, and I felt sad, because they were broken tunes, and they were beautiful, and they had been reduced to Muzak for the rich. And when the music stopped, I was the only one who noticed the silence in the chatter that continued long after, but now without something to remind that there is music in the pauses between words, that it is worth listening to them.

I stood out there and listened to the sea.

It was the only sound left worth listening to.