Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Dubai's air-conditioned beach and the nature of postmodern travel

One of the things I've always loved about the Gulf is the skating rinks. You wouldn't think ice hockey stood a snowball's chance in hell of becoming the national sport of Oman, but actually, it wouldn't be that surprising. As for snowboarding... well, Omanis and expats there have a lot of fun duneboarding, so the skills are already there.

But I think Dubai has hit a new level of petro-funded oddity with its air conditioned beach at the Palazzo Versace. The sand will be cooled so that it is not scorching hot to walk on, the swimming pool is refrigerated and there will be huge blowers to waft a gentle breeze along the beach.

Personally my attitude to beaches in the Middle East is a very traditional one. They are there for the benefit of fishers, joggers, and football players, and you either go out for your few kilometres run at dawn or at dusk, when there's a light breeze and the air is cooler. On the beach in the middle of the day? Don't do it.

But there is something really quite decadent about this idea. And it's that absolute decadence that is interesting about the Dubai developments. At a time when the rest of the world is worried about the credit crunch and global warming, we have air-conditioned beaches, huge new hotels, massive housing developments. They defy gravity. They defy common sense. They defy ordinariness.

And they make me think of Jack Vance - a marvellous SF author whose universes include a number of utterly decadent cultures and civilisations (or possibly over-civilisations).

Now I don't really want to go and use an air-conditioned beach. But maybe, just maybe, I want to go and visit Dubai to see a culture that has become so decadent.

Or maybe I want to wait a few years and see what happens in Dubai when gravity finally catches up.

Hmmm, that's interesting. Because I'm thinking about travelling with irony. I'm thinking about travel that is not about seeing amazing things, but about experiencing amazing hubris while also knowing that it is hubris. Travel that is more about attitude than experience perhaps.

Does that make it post-modern travel? I wonder.

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