So of course while in Dubai I stayed at the al-Bustan Rotana hotel, just by the airport, because I take the Umberto's Clam House approach to Middle East travel -- I like to see the scene of the crime. The Rotana -- room 230 of the Rotana, to be specific -- is where an alleged Mossad hit team allegedly killed a Hamas arms buyer named Mahmoud al-Mabhouh early last year. The team broke into his room somehow, and either poisoned or suffocated him, and then managed to place the inside chain on the door, to make it appear that Mabhouh died of natural causes. The alleged hit team didn't count, however, on the proliferation of CCTV in the hotel, or on the surprisingly assiduous investigative work of the Dubai police.
I got a quick look inside room 230 (no, I didn't bribe a chambermaid -- I think now, more than ever, it's best to treat chambermaids respectfully), and at a distance and it looked just like room 244, where I stayed, a very anodyne hotel room in a very synthetic city. I asked a hotel manager if the assassination had prompted a new kind of tourism to the hotel, but he declined to acknowledge that an assassination had even taken place. My feeling has always been that hotels and restaurants that have been the scenes of notorious events should exploit those events, but I'm not in the image-management business.
My visit prompted me to send a couple of emails out asking the question: Has Mabhouh's demise actually impinged on Hamas's ability to get weapons? I'll let you know if I get some good answers in return.
Then it was on to what has to be my new most-favorite place in Dubai, the Mall of the Emirates, which houses "Ski Dubai," which might be the most ridiculous thing you've ever seen. During my visit, it was 105 degrees outside (a dry heat, naturally), but inside the vast Ski Dubai complex, men, women and children were running around in parkas, snow gloves and hats (some women were wearing parkas over their chadors). Ski Dubai represents a kind of pure genius: Go to a place that is infernally hot and has endless money and build an indoor ski slope so that Gulf princelings don't have to travel to Switzerland to cool off. Pure genius. Here are some pictures that hint at the absurdity of the place. (By the way, I had lunch at nearby Aspen Restaurant, which was cheaper than the actual Aspen, and also free of ideas.)
Dubai is one of the stranger places on earth: Iranian and Israeli spies, Hamas arms smugglers, Russian gangsters, an "It's a Small World" collection of prostitutes, so many foreign workers you can go for days without meeting an actual citizen of Dubai, crazily-luxurious hotels (the Rotana doesn't fall into that category) and an all-around air of make-believe. Even though Dubai got is comeuppance in a recent crash (it had to be rescued by its sister emirate, the more buttoned-down and serious Abu Dhabi), the money still flows in rivers.
As I walked through the mall, past De Beers and Fendi and Dior and Christian Louboutin, I thought, of course, of the current financial travails of the Palestinian Authority. As you undoubtedly recall, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who is supported, justifiably, by the international community as the best thing going for a future functional Palestinian state, recently noted that Arab states, in particular, have not fulfilled their pledges to the P.A., in order to keep it running. This is a long-standing theme: Rhetorically, the Arab states stand as one with the Palestinians. But in reality, they don't cough up even a small percentage of the money needed to support their brothers. Naturally, this contradiction came to mind as I wandered through the decadent halls of the Mall of the Emirates.
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