I am visiting Dubai again on business and staying in a hotel on Jumeirah Beach, one of the resort districts. It is Friday evening, one of the main party evenings of Dubai's weekend. Down below in the street (The Walk) are sidewalk cafes and bars, on the beach is a large volleyball stadium (rather deserted) and the thump of Arabian rock fills the warm air.
In many ways I have no affection for Dubai. It is an artificial, urban creation on sand at the edge of the Persian Gulf. Whenever I am here I long for the hills and swamps of rural Connecticut and the mountains and torrents of the Swiss Alps. Somewhat scathingly I have observed that the main recreations in Dubai are shopping and eating.
This is a pleasant time of the year for the weather - temperatures reach around 28C (80F) so at least one can be outside, unlike the summer when temperatures reach 48C (120F) and no one wants to be outside air conditioning for more than a couple of minutes. Coming in next week is the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, which features "January sales" in the excessive numbers of shopping malls - though also a lot of great entertainment. I often think of Dubai as the Gulf version of Las Vegas and indeed I am told that if you know the right places, there is a lot of hanky panky going on here. Lastly there is the "Dubai attitude", somewhat muted today by the financial crisis, but still a macho attitude to build the biggest, wildest real estate on the planet. The Burj Khalifa opened three weeks ago and recently I have seen architect's plans and models for even greater excess.
So in many ways I am not fond of Dubai, as I am found for example of Zurich. And yet, that noise penetrating my hotel room from the street below is full of life. Not everyone can live in Connecticut or Switzerland and many must live in arid, environmentally sterile lands. Yet, even here there is life. There is the energy of life, that inspiration to move on, to do more, to live more, and to love more. If there cannot be trees and lakes here, at least there can be exciting architecture.
I am not yet old - so I think at least - but there are many years behind me. At a conference yesterday a journalist praised me for my "philosophical attitude" to sustainability. Looking forward, time is clearly limited. So perhaps this is why in recent weeks I have been feeling unusually in love with life. Samuel Johnson observed that "Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging" and while death is not imminent, the finiteness and finality of life is raising my awareness of its richness. The need to celebrate, the need to tell the people I love what they mean to me. The simple, but exquisite pleasure of being in the presence of people I love.
So although I would never hope to live in Dubai, I am encouraged to see and hear that life is being lived here with all the passion it deserves.