Spaces and times. Modernity and tradition. Here in the Arab Emirates – that is to say in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi – everything coexist just like the rhythm of the slow and precise steps taken by local women. Women wear shining rings and bracelets made of pure stones. Here the figure of the woman seems to be an extension of the man – who owns her – and therefor she is rewarded with precious stones and jewels. Women walk slow, giving quick yet intense gazes to men.
Black and white. Their head is covered. According to this culture, the gaze has a limitless meaning and I can understand its power just now . It is like a slow chess game where only the man has the right to make the last move; whether is the father, the brother or the husband. And if the role of the woman seems to be frozen in the past, on the other hand you can also meet women who are proudly driving their expensive cars across the city.
Technology prevails among skyscrapers that challenge laws of gravity, as the city offers the fastest and most efficient underground system of the world according to the Guinness World Record. As you go to the gold souk you see stands that turned into shops with shining windows and AC; however, despite the contemporary look of the shop, you still need to bargain to get some discount. You see all kinds of spices and you taste their scent in the air; you get lost in fragrances that have familiar names but that are characterized by a completely new flavor.
You see fast food chains dominating the food courts of shopping malls. You see ski tracks inside shopping malls, and you see local people having so much fun speeding along chair lifts and the ski tracks. You see artificial snow flying in this huge ball made of glass. You see penguins. You see the aquarium with the world’s biggest tank; and you can comfortably look at it as you are enjoying a slice of cake at Cheesecake Factory. You see divers swimming inside the tank. Because here everything is possible.
You see Starbucks overcrowded at 2 am, because here it is all about gathering and meeting friends, whether to talk about fashion or business. And then you see international fashion brands like Zara, H&M, GAP, Top Shop; women of all ages go crazy and buy extravagant clothes even if they will be able to show them off only in their houses, as they proudly wear their black abayas when they are in public spaces. What seems to be an old and obligation to our eyes, is actually a tradition that women would never change.
You can see and feel the gap between modern and conservative, between progress and a sense of tradition that forbids alchol. You see mosques and you get lost within their architectures; your eyes struggle to stay open, but you simply can’t stop looking. You see black cloaks, as well as a number of shoes waiting under the sun. You won’t be surprised when you find adaptor devices in your hotel room, as well as a sign that provides information about the direction of Mecca and a carpet for your prayers. You see group of men waiting for the prayer and gathering to share some water and dates after the ramadan fast is over.
As you observe this world you can’t help but think how different it is compared to yours. When you take the underground to go to the office you can choose from three different kinds of seats: economy, business and women only. You see buildings made of gold. You see palms. You see five, six, seven-stars hotels. You see the world’s most luxurious hotel, as well as the world’s tallest building, the world’s fastest roller coaster, and the world’s fastest underground system. Because here the urge to achieve world records represents an obsession that becomes reality through technology and shining metals.
You see the myth of Ferrari turned into the protagonist of an amusement park located in the middle of the desert.
You look around yourself and you think that – at the end of the day – the Arab Emirates are a corner of the world that deserves to be discovered; one more element to take off your to-do-list. Some people come here and feel extremely excited, some others feel disappointed. I think it all depends on your expectations. But if you pass the check-in gate carrying along curiosity and the need to understand the mix between tradition and innovation, you will come back home happy and satisfied of having spent a few days immersed into this Arab world full of contrasts, points of views, and meaningful gazes. A world full of scents, spices, and shining metals.