Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Just another weekend…

All of last week, a raccoon stared back at me from the bathroom mirror. And I swore every single morning, as I dragged myself to work, that the moment the clock struck 4 on Thursday evening, I would switch off my phone, unplug my mind, fluff up my pillow and seal my eyes, unsealing them only on Saturday morning, 7 a.m.

I must have been so immersed in this delicious fantasy that it didn’t register when I accepted a dinner invitation on Thursday night, a lunch with friends on Friday afternoon and a blogger’s meet in the evening. My poor, neglected cousins also decided the weekend was the perfect time for the heart-to-heart chats we’d been planning since the time I got here.

There was going to be no rest for the wicked, on the weekend; no rest at all.

The dinner on Thursday was at a little Chinese restaurant in the expansive City Centre Mall in Deira. The parking lots were full, the restaurants were packed and shoppers and stragglers alike crowded the aisles. Everyone’s in a shopping frenzy on the weekend; even denizens of the surrounding Emirates throng the malls in Dubai. Since my friend and I were only in the mood to nibble, we ordered a salad and a starter. As it turned out, each was a meal in itself. And when the perky waitress came around with her note pad to take our ‘main course order’, we groaned audibly, scaring her off.

My plans of waking up late were shot to bits when my treacherous eyelids flew open at seven in the morning. (Why that never happens on a weekday I will never know.) S & K picked me up at 11 for a drive around town. The roads, minus the appalling rush-hour traffic (one long post on that coming up), were a speedster’s dream, and there we were, tearing down the arterial Sheikh Zayed Road at over 160 kmph.

Our first halt was the Dubai Marina, ostensibly, the world's largest manmade marina and planned waterfront development. (Superlatives abound in every sq. km of Dubai.) Every major construction group in Dubai has some colossal project underway and there are residential towers all around in varying degrees of completion. There’s also a charming promenade with outdoor cafes and the likes; Dubai’s answer to the French Riviera. You could spend a languid morning sitting on a bench (ergonomic benches, as K noted) overlooking the azure waters, and watching the boats bobbing in the marina.

But before we could give in to these lazy thoughts, S shepherded us back into the car. ‘To the Royal Mirage’, he announced. I got the feeling that the Royal Mirage Hotel, was trying a little too hard to conjure an aura of exclusivity when the signboards leading to it, read, ‘The One & Only Royal Mirage’. But I learned later, that it’s part of the One & Only chain of resorts. On stepping into the Royal Mirage, however, I decided that it deserved its exclusive tag. Such opulence, such grandeur! From the ornate chairs to the intricate domed ceiling, to the gilded, frozen tableau of a group of Bedouins in the main courtyard, everything was excruciatingly perfect.

What I liked most about the Royal Mirage, and the Madinat Jumeirah, our next halt, was the classic Arabian architecture. Too much of Dubai is a tawdry imitation of Western style architecture. Everywhere you turn, there’s glass and neon. There are few indigenous elements that I’ve come across. The Madinat Jumeirah is a welcome relief. Walking through the Souk Madinat (the shopping arcade) is a thrilling experience. Long walkways with wooden beam ceilings, rough-hewn flooring, brass studded doors – all attempt to recreate a bygone era, but only just. I even spotted a chemist with a sign that read, ‘Apothecary: Estd 1266’. It had a charming, albeit unconvincing, old-world look. In another part of the Souk are tiny caravans, which sell curios and handicrafts.

I’d been to the Souk Madinat earlier, so I could expertly show off to K, ‘The best part about the Madinat Jumeirah is the gondolas which ferry guests from the Souk to their rooms.’ We stood and watched the gondolas from the sunny terrace, marveling at the spectacle, and muttering silently like Obelix, ‘These Arabs must be crazy’!

Back on the Sheikh Zayed Road, we raced back to Deira all the way to Makhtoum Street, halting at the Intercontinental Hotel. Established in 1975, it’s one of the oldest luxury hotels in Dubai (30 years is a long time in Dubai terms, I’ve discovered.) It also has a reputation for the best food in all of its 13 restaurants. I can vouch for the China Club at least!

Since I had a little time before I caught up with the bloggers, I browsed through the BurJuman Mall. My eyebrows repeatedly threatened to fly off my forehead when I checked the price tags in the stores, so I gave up and waited for the bloggers. Of the 9 who were to show up, only 2 did - Amit and Joshua. And as it usually happens at a blog meet, perfect strangers will find many things to talk about. All through our chat, Amit’s slight smile had me convinced that I was being hugely entertaining. Little did I know about the strappy red top at the next table!

We continued our conversation all the way to the bookshop that Amit should never have taken me to. And the storekeeper even gave me a disount on the three books I bought, which she shouldn’t have. Because it only means I’ll be throwing away all my hard earned dirhams there. And I’ll never be able to afford all those eyebrow-vanishing items in BurJuman.

I got home only at 9 that evening, not as tired as I imagined. But the raccoon’s back in the mirror these mornings. And I drag myself to work each day, swearing that on Thursday at 4 o clock…

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