the trip to Kalifa berg
After a highly focused and productive morning coaching my client all morning in an anonymous suite, I break out into the Arab sunlight for my last half day here in Dubai. My sweet client offered to tour guide me but i declined, saying alone is fine for me. But I do take his recommendation and take out down towards the Dubai Mall where the world’s tallest building so far is located. What is it with human beings and tallest buildings?
I eat lunch in a Chinese restaurant that turns out to be an American franchise, but none the less it is okay, full of shoppers and frolickers. i sit in the shadow or the light of that tower, the Kalifa tower. i understand it was to be called the Dubai tower but the Sheik insisted that it was his money and he wanted his name up on it. I squinted at it in the sunshine imagining what it must have been to have conceived this thing here, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of already over-stuffed materiality. I notice in the other direction the elegant shape of a luxury hotel shaped like a luxury liner. All beautiful soft curves and angles. Nowadays buildings in ship shapes are highly unoriginal but this one worked somehow.
i leave my table and walk along the rather beautiful artificial lake, to stand under the base of the tower, only to learn that i need to access it by passing through the Mall. Now that I should have known already – always channel the visitor past the shopping. Enter and exit via the gold-plated gift-shop. I find the entrance, the check. Beyond that I see with a heavy heart the throng in front of the lifts. There are two screens above the pay gate. one asked that visitors respect local customs and cover legs and shoulders. Fair enough. The next screen is advertising the telescopes you can hire up above; and the CGI image to promote these features a glamorous western woman with bare shoulders. I am puzzled and amused by this.
When I get to the front of the line I learn that I can get up that evening, but that it would cost around $150 – to go up in a lift to see the desert and the sea essentially. I ask about this price about three times but it doesn’t change. It is a special VIP price that includes binoculars but I can do it more cheaply if I book ahead. I choose this moment to ask about the image of the woman and her shoulders. A little nonplussed at first, the ticket seller recovers to say that she is not real. The image is only to sell binoculars not the trip itself. and she is not real – she is image.
I am most impressed by this post modern turn. I ask if, were I to take offence, whether the image would be removed. She said she doubted it but she did take my point. i look at the never diminishing lift queue which was a hour long but i was told that the lift itself only took seconds so the queue was nothing by comparison. i decide to leave tallest building logic behind safe in the knowledge that there will be another taller one along soon enough.
Relieved that I am not having to endure that queue, but slightly discomfited that i have come this far and still not aloft, i walk into the fading desert light, not yet ready to go to the airport, not yet ready for the end of the light. I make my way towards the high end hotel and decide that infiltration of that place is the only possible way to go. I try to enter through the car park underground but cannot get in. The front door is easier and not difficult to pass through and the woman in the business centre is positively welcoming, inviting to me to enjoy their seven star splendour. The whole place is thickly carpeted, wonderfully hushed after the clamour of the Mall and the tower.
I coattail into a lift behind two german woman who can afford to stay there, and exit at the same floor as they. Upstairs is even more hushed, subdued. don’t you get any excitement for $400 a night? Just all this quiet, with subservient staff in the shadows, always attentive always unobtrusive.
i leave the guest room level where discreet adverts promise ‘new levels of privilege’ – dont they have quite enough already? But then maybe you can never have enough privilege. the P drug needing ever more expensive fixes. In the deserted mezzanine floor of The Address hotel i sit quietly to contemplate a larger than Hepworth – but in the style of Hepworth – sculpture. It is really beautiful; some form of black marble and impossibly large, but not vulgar in this high ceilinged setting. i sit in a sofa on the edge of a sofa and meditate quietly on the wonder of being here, all so quiet and so fine. i enter the conference area and find that deserted, so proceed through the atrium, visualising hosting a fine conference of my own design, treading on these magnificent carpets, proudly glad handing my guests while offering them champagne.
I see a door to the balcony that skirts the entire perimeter of the poop deck. This is the very balcony that i admired from the restaurant earlier. Hardly believing the door pushes to, i am suddenly out here alone as the sun finishes its settling, and the lights in the tower twinkle magically. So now i am the captain of this fine hotel, captain of my destiny. It is glorious moment that rests happily for a long time. This beats any trip up the tower which would never in fact afford a view of itself. the best things never do once you are inside of them.
i make my way via a whole series of lifts to the inevitable sky top bar with subdued lighting, to allow the view of the city beneath. It is pretty but i preferred my empty balcony. My mother would have scanned this bar for evidence of high rollers. All i could perceive though the dim lighting were ordinary people seeming to be looking for evidence of high rollers. The simulacrum, the empty experience of Umberto Eco’s propethising.
Back then in a cab, off to pick up my bags and find the airport. The driver is enlightening as to the lives of Pakistanis in Dubai. at the airport everyone but me is on their way to various parts of Asia, loaded up with flat screen televisions. all day i had been feeling that i had been missing something and that was it. The cellophane wrapped telly ready to go. How could i have been so foolish?