A few weeks ago, I spent about four days in Dubai. It was my third time in the Emirate, but my first as a tourist. This time around, I was there merely to explore and enjoy. And along with the exploration- and snapshot taking, I did some reflecting- and happened to note that Dubai appears to be the city most unlike Rome in the world.
If I were to describe Rome- I’d have a sizeable catalog of adjectives, anecdotes and images. If I were asked to describe Dubai- I would simply state that it’s the opposite of Italy.
What is old and crumbling in Rome- is new and shiny in Dubai. Where Dubai has “the biggest,” Rome has “the oldest.” Dubai’s man-made islands shaped like palms jut into the Gulf- while Rome’s man-made temples weave their ways in and out of history books like threads. Dubai runs like clockwork. Italy, oftentimes, ceases to run at all.
In Rome, the destroyed heels of my Italian shoes slide between the mislaid cobblestones- and in Dubai, my heels either clapped along the newly paved streets or sunk into the sand in the less developed areas of the city.
In Rome, one can stroll through the city- ambling from the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain- passing sculptures and churches built hundreds of years ago. While in Dubai, one can drive and see the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world standing at 2716 feet, from almost any point. Rome has the Vatican and Dubai has the Burj al Arab with its florescent lights illuminating the city, its gold plated interiors with aquariums and glistening walls.
Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, is in power as a result of the constitutional monarchy. The Sheikh dreamed up the city as it is today- and transformed that dream into a reality. Italy has Berlusconi- who, in his own words stated, “I am absolutely sure to be the most democratic man to ever become Prime Minister in Italy.” (ANSA 2002)
Dubai is a gem- something that has never existed in the middle east- a place of dreams. And Italy, alone, is home to 50% of the entire world’s artistic heritage. Italy is the birthplace of the Renaissance and Dubai is the birthplace of banking- with a Muslim twist.
Dubai is decadent- filled with imagination and desire. It’s a shell though- lacking foundation. Italy is anything but a shell- its layers penetrate deep with history, culture, philosophy and art. Dubai dazzles where Rome astounds.
Being in Dubai, I had fun. I had forgotten what it was like to be around a diverse group of young professionals, moving and shaking in a society that they seem to be building together. In Rome, I arrived and promptly got the impression that I was invading a society- something deeply embedded that was already congested. I am trying, as hard as I can, to fashion my own place- to find an empty spot in the already cluttered terrain to set my roots down- and to be accepted into a society that seems to have shut its doors long before I was even born. Every day, I am learning how to be something more than the token American, or the foreign girlfriend. Because I know there is so much more of me to give- but it’s hard to furnish an identity when one’s role has already been defined. It's a challenge- and I will overcome it…at least, that's the way I’m looking at it. In Dubai, everyone seems to have a clean slate- and their values are solely dependent on what they accomplish while they are there.
Ultimately, Dubai served as a reminder of a number of things- of my own identity, my past and my value. At the same time, it was a great time spent with great friends. Most importantly though, despite the small difficulties I have encountered through making my way in Italy- I quickly realized that I would choose Churches, fountains and the Tiber- over Mosques, malls and Sheikh Zayed Road. Any day of the week.