I've been to Dubai twice now, and I need to search a little harder for the soul of it (because several friends have told me that it has one.) So far, I have found it to be about as compelling as Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse: "This is the ultra shopping, dining and entertainment destination for Barbie and her friends. Whether they’re checking out hot boutiques or dining at trendy restaurants or watching the trained dancing dolphins show, this is where they live the fab life."
Totally! Like in that one episode? "While Barbie gets ready for her date with Ken, she realizes she needs the perfect accessory. To the amazement of Nikki and Teresa, she opens her closet door to reveal an eye-poppingly amazing labyrinth of aisles and racks – clothes, shoes, accessories – as far as the eye can see. But once they enter, will they ever find their way out?"
My husband and I spent a long weekend in Dubai with two other couples and our "niece" (the daughter of one couple.) We rented a flat in a tower apartment building in the Marina district, with a view of Palm Jumeirah Island (you know, one of Dubai's man-made islands? It's in the shape of the Malibu Barbie logo?)
The flat was obviously decorated by Barbie's fave interior designer. But, oh no! There was a plumbing leak in the kitchen, an alarming smell coming from the utility closet, and construction noises piercing the double-paned windows from dawn to dark. Where we stayed wouldn't have mattered so much, except that the purpose of the weekend was to hang out in a big apartment, cook, visit, and relax. The plumbing problem nixed extensive food prep, but we did have some fun in the kitchen:
A few of us went to the "black market" souq, which is woven into the upper stories and back alleys of a gold souq. One of our crowd was a native Arab speaker, so we felt pretty bold in checking out this hidden system of commerce. I didn't take any pictures (for obvious reasons).
A guy came up to us as we entered the shopping district. He said something like, "Watches. Handbags. Number One Top Quality." We nodded, and he led us through an unmarked door and into a lobby, then up three flights of stairs. He knocked on an elaborately reinforced and locked door. The door opened and we entered a room about the size of my closet (which is not nearly as big as Barbie's closet), lined on all sides with shelves and hanging displays of knockoff purses, scarves, belts, and other accessories. These looked like the junk you can buy on the sidewalk in New York or Paris. We weren't impressed.
"You want high quality? We have replica quality! This way!" The guy reached behind one of the hanging purses, turned a doorknob, and pushed open a second door into another room, stuffed equally full but with higher-end knockoffs. Each room was crowded with shoppers, and the air was still and warm. If there had been a fire, it would have been curtains for everyone. Luckily, no emergencies befell us. We shopped in a few of these off-the-grid shops, and I netted one very nice "Lacoste" polo shirt for about 20 bucks.
I decided against picking up any bling, though it would have been perf to roll up to the Mall of Dubai and step out of a pink Maserati, dripping in gold. With a name like Kim Kash I guess I should work on this. For the moment I find myself lacking in Italian sports cars and bereft of 24 karat necklaces.
It's not all fancy jewelry on the gold souq. One of my traveling companions has been buying gold as an investment since she arrived in the Middle East, figuring it was safer than the stock market. Plenty of shops in the souq cater to these more sensible gold purchases as well.
The only thing that really tempted me in the gold souq was this collection of shoes, being sold by a vendor against a wall outside a gold shop. Sadly, it's hard to find shoes in this part of the world for my American-sized feet. (Barbie must have some Eastern branches in her family tree.)
Dubai makes me impatient for a lot of the same reasons that LA does (I let it rip about that city, too.) But it's a quick, cheap flight from where we live and a welcome break from Saudi austerity, so I'm sure I'll go back again. Next time, the plan is to seek out the places in the city that are less blingy and less plasticky. And steer clear of bargain rental flats.