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See the Future in Dubai

Martha Camarillo In the lobby of the Burj Al Arab hotel, in Dubai.

Photo: Martha Camarillo

After our visit to the slopes, my feet are a little wet from the snow, and now the sand outside sticks to my sandals. In Dubai you are either walking over fabulous new surfaces—marble and inlaid wood, brilliant pebbles, Arabian tiles, vivid, painted cement—or you're walking on sand, actually on the desert floor where the new Dubai is being built. So I have sand on my feet. The wind feels extra hot, after the bizarre, almost morgue-like chill of Ski Dubai. Out here, evening is falling dully. There's a sandstorm just rising tonight, blowing amid the cranes and the skyscrapers. Moody looks up. I can hear it too—the faint sound of the call to prayer.

As we drive away, I see the image of the Burj Dubai on banner after banner, a needlelike silhouette performing contortions as the vertical flags luff in the yellow wind: HISTORY RISING, HISTORY RISING, HISTORY RISING. The cranes are still moving—night work is easier in the desert, cooler. Down certain streets, you can see that nothing is finished. The pink sands are fading from view with the day's light, as are the pylons for tomorrow's overpasses, iron cable emerging from them like fingers pointing toward the sky. Blank billboards wait by the side of the highway for new mottoes, new promotional themes.

The sky is growing darker, and the fluorescent lights on the minarets of mosques flicker on in shades of white and green. Sheikh Mohammed's likeness gazes out at us equably from the back window of car after car. On both sides of the road, now, skyscrapers are lit and blazing, showing off their baroque shapes, their graduated towers and death-defying walkways, their buttresses and columns in the air, their curves. Far away, in the blue-yellow dusk light, the Burj Al Arab lifts its pale white ghost-lit face to the Gulf's setting sun, looking to the future.

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