17:12

Dubai

I was in Dubai last week for the Emirates Literary Festival - the first of many, I hope. What's not to like? Staying in a lovely hotel, meeting some great people, hearing interesting thoughts, having breakfast in the sunshine and being given the opportunity to talk about yourself for an hour with no one telling you to shut up.

Each time I land in Dubai my jaw drops. Every five years or so it becomes unrecognisable with an new Manhattan springing up out of the desert that makes the last look rather provincial. The Burg Kalifa, now the tallest building in the world, is surpisingly beautiful and the fountain show that plays in the artificial lake in front of it is an aquatic firework display the like of which I have seen nowhere else. It is however a very odd place: hookers with dresses that are barely decent walk alongside women in burkas; there are only two million people in a city that looks big enough to swallow three times that. It has the carbon footprint of an elephant in an age of concern about global warming and it is the money laundering capital of the world when that is supposed to be squeezed out of the global financial system.

Above all there is the sheer incongruity of this temple to Mamon and pleasure rising out of one of the hottest and driest places on earth right next door to Saudi Arabia. As I was wondering about this I had a thought: who, fifty years ago, would have guessed that Dubai would look as does.....at the same time as Detroit has all but crumbled into the dust. My guess would be no one. But it does make you wonder what will look like what in another fifty years.
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