Monday, April 4, 2011

Dizzying Dubai - 2

A filly, several actually, drew me to Dubai. I came to see the World Cup horse race, the richest in the world with total purses exceeding $26 million US.

A gala Arabian Nights evening preceded the race by two days. We drove along a modern highway and soon were in the desert. We passed the Outlet Mall, an enormous structure surrounded by miles of empty sand, and a sign that the recent financial crisis has slowed Dubai’s incredible boom. A camel train wandered past.

A roofless arena that looked like an old fort loomed out of the desert. We entered along a row of Persian carpets laid on the sand. Inside, the arena tiers were set up with elegant tables, glistening glasses and cutlery. We wandered around in the sand-floored centre enjoying displays of Bedouin crafts and foods. As the sun set in a blaze on the western horizon, we went to our al fresco table. We tucked into sumptuous Arabic style cuisine, washed down with, surprise, copious quantities of wine. Then the show began. We were entranced by music, including an Arab band playing bagpipes (!), and horses doing intricate manoeuvres and stunts. The Sheik was present and I got to within about 30 metres. The evening closed with a dazzling fireworks display. Arab hospitality is fabulous!

Two evenings later we fought through thick traffic to get to the big show, the World Cup race. What a party! It’s the social highlight of the year. Beautiful ladies in hats, stiletto heels and ample curves and cleavage paraded back and forth, occasionally contrasting with local women totally encased in black. The new state-of-the-art Meydan stadium, the largest and most opulent horse-racing venue in the world, was crammed with over 60,000 exuberant, happy people. Sheik Mo was in attendance, constantly followed by a coterie of sycophants, all dressed in flowing white traditional robes. Oh, yes, and there were eight horse races. The Godolphin Stables, owned by the Sheik, who else, was the big winner, with three triumphant horses. A magnificent show of dancing, lights and fireworks preceded and built up the suspense for the final race, the Dubai World Cup with a purse of $10 million US. In the thundering charge down the final straight, horses from beleaguered Japan came in first and second.

Late in the night, we fought our way hotelward through thick traffic. I closed my eyes and wondered. The evening had been spectacular, and it had delivered a clear message: the Sheikh is pushing hard to make Dubai a world-class destination. Only time will tell if the initial enormous growth will continue.

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1 comment:

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