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Escape to Dubai

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Al Zarouni in the garden of his house on Palm Jumeirah; Richard Harris, who works for an American mergers-and-acquisitions firm, at the Dubai stock exchange.  

Every Sunday evening, Al Zarouni invites anyone who wants to come over and watch American football on his large flat-screen TV. Dubai is nine hours ahead of the U.S., and the games are broadcast live. At halftime, Al Zarouni’s domestic servants—two diminutive Filipino women—serve a buffet dinner in the kitchen.

Around his business associates and his employees Al Zarouni wears the traditional Emirati dishdasha—a white flowing cotton robe and matching headpiece with black band. When I visited, however, he was in shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals, and was sitting on the couch going over the week’s picks, the TV tuned to the Seahawks versus Giants pregame show.

He suggested we take in the view from the backyard. Al Zarouni’s villa looks out to the coastline, where the view is of dozens of skyscrapers and towers and hotels and developments in various stages of erection, the whole of it extravagantly lit and teeming with hundreds of construction cranes. Dubai has the highest concentration of construction cranes in the world, and the sight of them working away on the skyline is not unlike the scene in War of the Worlds where Tom Cruise gets a view of the alien tripods munching away on the city.

“It’s the best view on the palm,” Al Zarouni said. “We bought the place as soon as they announced they were building it. My dad’s uncles and his friends scooped up the rest of the villas on the frond.”

Al Zarouni’s friend Mark Chandler was standing by the pool, crystalline and deep blue. He has been in Dubai for only a year.

“What were you doing before?” I asked.

“I worked at a bank. Wachovia. They’re not doing so well these days.”

The guests soon gathered in the living room, as the Giants proceeded to trounce the Seahawks. It was a geographically varied lot: two Canadians, a Spaniard, a German, a Saudi. But what Al Zarouni took note of was the number of Americans—a rising population in his Sunday-night ritual.

“For the first couple years I was here, I didn’t have any American friends at all,” he said, a plate of lasagne balanced on his lap. “I’ve met more Americans in the last six or seven months than in all the time before that.” Then, shrugging, he continued: “A lot of them seem to be girls from Texas.”

The shrug seemed to say: Today girls from Texas, tomorrow girls from somewhere else. People don’t stay in Dubai for long. Everyone is passing through. But for now they are here, waiting out the storm.

“Mark my words,” K.S. told me later that week, when I asked him about the city’s future. “It’s going to be a lot better here than anywhere else. And if it’s not, well … then the world’s going to shit anyway.”


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