How fast has time flown for you since 1990? There’s at least one city in the world where the little green numbers on the digital clock have whizzed by so rapidly that the land of nineteen years ago feels like it belongs in some dusty, moth-eaten historical tome. That place is Dubai, which, as you may know, is where I spent most of my childhood. It’s also the subject of a new book by journalist Jim Krane, subtitled ‘The Story Of The World’s Fastest City’.
Some of you are no doubt aware that I’ve never had a terribly high opinion of what many people – understandably, but crudely – call the Vegas of the Gulf. The reasons why are irrelevant at the moment, but suffice it to say that I couldn’t wait to leave the place and I’ve never regretted putting it behind me. However, there have been times when I’ve wondered if my assessment of it hasn’t been too short-sighted, too naive, too subjective. Krane’s book has nudged me one step closer towards looking back at my past with more realistic eyes.
Fear not: I haven’t had a Damascene moment. I’m not about to take back everything I’ve ever said about a place which – let’s pick an example out of the hat – doesn’t grant residence status to people who are HIV+. But Krane’s work places the city – and many of its infuriating idiosyncracies – within a fascinating context which enabled me to step back, take my angst-ridden, adolescent self out of the picture and see things slightly differently. I may not agree with everything in the book, but it’s a commendable piece of work which I recommend to anyone who has or has ever had close ties with the Emirate.
One of the photos in the book shows a well-known street circa 1990. The photo below it shows the same street in the present. The difference between the two images is like the difference between the smooth skin of a toddler’s face and the hormonally-charged eruptions on the skin of a teenager. Looking at a picture of something that was so familiar less then two decades ago but is now almost unrecognisable is a jolting, disorientating experience. But maybe sometimes it’s important to be jolted and disorientated, not least because it gives you a great deal to question, to probe and to think about. And, crucially, a great deal to write about. Watch this space.