Received this New Year's message from Dubai from our friends Joan and Claude a couple days ago. Our kids went to school together at the French government-run Lycée International in the western suburbs of Paris. That's where I first heard of Vaclav Havel, when my daughter had a part in one of his plays. But one of my best memories is the backpacking trip we took together in the Vercors one summer, slumping into a café chair in the evening over beer and a board game...Claude's traveling Scrabble?
[I've edited out names and some details.]
Here I am in Dubai again, determined NOT to let another year go by without a season's greeting!
Yes, H— and J— have been living in Dubai for about 3 years. They live on a compound - a lovely, if in some ways somewhat questionable, oasis in the middle of an Arabian desert - brought to life with lush tropical verdure, swimming pools, fountains, playgrounds and lakes, wonderful pedestrian pathways for walking and biking, a shopping center, school, and artificial lake, etc., etc.
A half hour away by car is the frightening, beautiful, obscene, luxurious city which is a playground for contemporary architectural experimentation and shopping in every form. This morning we took Julien to a fabulously creative ‘children's city’, a three-story-high aquarium and a skating rink. Perhaps, tomorrow we'll tackle the ski slope housed in another of the many shopping malls. To complete this astonishing display of ingenuity and waste there are of course, black abayas and white gowns floating by, often on their way to the male and female prayer rooms which I have been known to mistake for the rest rooms.
A huge bubble? strangely reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch, 6-7 centuries later? Has the Garden of Delights morphed into the contemporary glitter, marble and money of the SHOPPING MALL? When the sales start just after we leave, there will be 10's of thousands, if not 100' s of thousands, of people arriving per day to luxuriate in a global mercantile orgy.
80% of the population is foreign - a truly global environment - with a good number of Philippinos and Pakistanis, here to serve the Europeans. To the extent that I have been able to have an exchange with them, they counter my questions about their living conditions with facts about their salaries being 5-10 times higher than in their countries, allowing them to educate their children and when I bring up allegations of ‘modern slavery’, they counter with examples of their yearly paid home leave (two months of paid vacation + travel fare for 12 months of work).
[One] 40 year-old nanny will buy her family a house when she returns definitively to the Philippines hopefully in a year or two after [her present employers’] departure. This beloved nanny is among the younger of a large family and as many women in large Philippine families do, has remained single and officially adopted a niece providing for all her basic needs as well as a good education.
With [her] in charge of the house, cooking and if need be the kiddies, H— is able to pursue her job for the time being as a medical editor and writer - all of which is conducted on the internet. The children are in international schools and have a wonderfully balanced life with lots of outdoor activities. They are flourishing.
As for our Bostonians …, they, too, have a cherished nanny taking care of them who arrives at 7 am on weekdays to feed, dress the children, take them to school and assure the activity rounds, dinner and sometimes bath in the evening. The parents are both in corporate finance but have miraculously managed so far to restrict their work time to 9 to 5. Their town is the epitome of all that one might imagine in quiet New England, only 20 minutes from Boston by car.
M— continues to pursue his unique formula of a career in Paris with the freedom to abscond at will. No new ties, no new responsibilities. Neither Bohemian, nor Bourgeois - just M—.
I paint when I can manage it. C— works on his found sculpture and writes when he can manage it. Needless to say the materials we need do not accompany us on our peregrinations so we manage maybe six months of the year to regenerate, concentrate and produce something that marks the passing time.
And so the time has come once again to wish you a very good and Happy New Year and wouldn’t it be great if somehow, somewhere we could reconnect once again in person this year?