A Londoner and a self-proclaimed Parisian. It’s the cities that make us who we are. The daily grind; the kind where you wake up every morning early enough to wing your eyeliner and sip a flat white in a Shoreditch coffee shop before a day in your heels and making a quick stop at that new cocktail bar that makes your body ache by the time you collapse in bed that evening. A life where your Saturdays are spent at the launderette as you try to have some clean underwear in time for your date with the blue-eyed boy with the seductive smelling cologne. It’s a life I certainly wouldn’t trade.
That’s not to say that the provinces bore me. Every once in a while, I find the urge to disappear and sip a cocktail under the sunshine. Or hunt down the most instagrammable shots of town. Sometimes, even the most urban of us need to escape to pollution free air where we can feel the hot sand between our toes.
Dubai is a hotspot for people from all corners of the earth. An ever-growing city that is always alive with lights, it has connections with a vast number of countries that it’s no wonder that it’s so popular amongst the expats. Make no mistake, it is a city, but a city I oddly enough felt no desire to wander into. I spent a week in the happy bubble of Madinat Jumeirah, basking in the scorch of the sun and cooling off in the pool.
I have never been one for hotels. At least, I think not. They restrict me. I much prefer the freedom of an apartment, where I can truly make myself at home. I suppose it’s why we didn’t opt for the famous Jumeirah Beach Hotel– it’s rife with the tourist trade. No, I loved the shade of our villa in the Dar Al Masyaf resort. We had a private pool and king size beds. There was a huge tub and a walk-in closet I was reluctant to leave behind. The little details relax me; that wonderful sense of being on holiday but with the homeliness.
There are always details that remind you just how far from home you are. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the early morning sunshine from the shade of my boat, sailing through the waterways that connect the resort. There was a serenity about the gentle slosh of the water and the curious questions of the man navigating the boat towards the beachfront for my breakfast. Gliding down crystal clear blue waters lined by palm trees and Middle Eastern architecture… it’s certainly one way to feel alive.
In theory, these were all reasons that should have led to a very happy relationship between myself and Dubai. I’ve never felt so carefree as the day I boated back to my villa after a full body massage at the spa. But, oddly enough, it made me crave London. I liked Dubai, yes, or rather, I liked what Dubai wanted me to.
Dubai is a city, but a very different kind of city that isn’t my cup of tea. The landscape that is forever changing unsettles me. I’m not against innovation, but how does one thrive in a city where the buildings you live and work in could exist one day and be rubble the next? I value the familiar joints that ground me when I need a place to return to. London is never short of coffee shops or bars to experience. There are side streets just waiting to be explored and suburbs just waiting for a city goer to get lost in. But when I’ve had enough, I find myself ordering a flat white at Soho Grind and taking comfort in the dim glow of the neon sign; French lessons given downstairs.
I am a do-it-yourself kind of woman. Fortunate as I am to have grown up in a comfortable lifestyle, the kind where there was always food to eat and a warm house to come back to, my parents have never believed in handing me life on a silver platter. I remember days working on a market in the bitter cold. I have served time as a barista to pay for my education. Even as a fashion intern, I have run around London in my high heels, carrying boxes of props and attending events. I’m no stranger to work, so I feel uneasy in cultures were servants are part of the hierarchy. It may well be the history behind ‘the help’, but I don’t consider myself above anyone enough to think they should be ironing my clothes for me. My roots armed me with a fierce humility towards the Pakistanis who were at my beck and call just so they could send money home to provide for their families. Without them, Dubai would struggle to survive.
Consumerism is the only culture ingrained into Dubai society. Beyond its skyscrapers, resorts and malls, there is little to charm me. And even those are only for those with more money than sense. If you can give it a paint job and shine some filmstar bulbs on it, you can bet the Arabs want a slice of the action in their dearly beloved Dubai.
In retrospect, perhaps I have simply put a pair of rose tinted glasses on my workaholic nature. Maybe I am in love with London and Paris too much to ever truly open myself up to anywhere else. Perfect lives are for the elite Emirati; daily glamour and glitz doesn’t define this modern woman, nor does shopping and Starbucks. You see, with London, you get what you see. It makes no effort to hide the grit of Hackney and the opulence of South Kensington. London is unapologetically itself. Paris? The romance is overrated but it prides itself with a blasé attitude that would put anyone to shame. Dubai? While you’re hiding in the comforts of Jumeirah Beach or gazing up at the Burj Khalifa, the dirty secrets of the UAE are being buried at the bottom of that new canal in Business Bay. Moral corruption, maybe London has that too; but at least I can protest it in my rose gold Nikes like the East London working woman that I am.