Letter from Dubai to Nantucket

Greetings from Dubai!
Finding the Cool in the Dessert Heat

Colin Stanfield

I moved here to Dubai in September with my wife Christina and our two-year old son Porter. ene asked me to write a short piece about my impressions of this fabulous city in the Gulf and I told him I’d get on it as soon as possible so as not to lose my fresh eyes and the sense that I’d landed on the moon. Truth is, it’s been an unexceptional transition. We’ve been living in a spacious and well-appointed hotel apartment close to Christina’s work (it’s her job as a Brand Strategist that has taken us here) but the floors aren’t marble and the faucets aren’t gold leaf.

I’ve been driving a lot, but beyond the necessity to make U-turns constantly to get anywhere, I’ve found it a pretty easy city to navigate. Fact is, my whole experience thus far has been extremely orderly.

When I went to the Traffic Department to procure a drivers license, I was in and out in hardly any time at all. For someone who’s had to endure the Herald Square DMV a few times, this was a great relief. The attendant – like most of the people I’ve been interacting with – was extremely friendly, polite and what was most noticeable for me as a New Yorker, not very stressed out. She was very amused that my wife was my residency sponsor and as such had supplied me with the requisite “permission” letter. Gender roles are very entrenched here.

We’ve enrolled Porter in an international nursery school where he’s supposedly learning French. We’ve seen no evidence of this, however. Christina takes him to school in the morning and I pick him up in the afternoon. The school is directly across from the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel, which is meant to look like a giant sail. I’m still quite excited to see it towering above the other surrounding buildings as I approach the school and get in a car queue with the other parents – almost all in white Range Rovers – picking up their kids. We take Sheikh Zayed Road past the Mall of the Emirates and Ski Dubai (the world’s largest indoor ski slope) on the way home.

I am very happy to have been introduced to a friend of a friend who has a nice sized sailboat here that I’ve been out on most weekends. Its gets reasonably windy in the afternoons and we’ve had some great days sailing out of the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. The crew is a small group of “likely lads” who are keen to be more competitive with their club racing efforts this year. I’m happy to be lending a hand and contributing the occasional salty bit of wisdom.

What’s been truly remarkable though, is the architecture. I’ve been a fan of modern architecture since witnessing the year-on-year building of the hitherto “no man’s land” in Potsdammer Place in Berlin. I started attending the Berlin Film Festival in 1999 and was amazed and excited by the fantastic buildings going up, the cranes everywhere and the notion that an entire neighborhood could be built from scratch. Well, here in Dubai it seems like an entire city has been built from scratch. Some of the buildings are utterly breathtaking (like the new tallest building in the world the Burj Dubai) and some are a little derivative (like the dual Chrysler Buildings, which loom over our hotel pool). But in general, the sheer number of truly unique and striking buildings – that in any other city would define the skyline – is staggering.

Christina and I arranged a babysitter through the hotel recently and dined at a fantastic seafood restaurant at the foot of the Burj Dubai. The building, which up until that point I had only seen from afar, stretched impossibly into the night sky directly in front of us and truly challenged your ability to believe what you were seeing. The Dubai Fountain – again the world’s largest – encircles the building and a spellbinding choreography of exotic music and thunderous water pyrotechnics was taking place in every direction as far as you could see. I reached across the table and squeezed Christina’s hand with excitement and said, “Now THIS is really cool!”


Colin Stanfield is the Executive Director of the Nantucket Film Festival and will be returning to New York in January to resume day-to-day preparations for next year’s event. The sixteenth Annual Nantucket Film Festival will run one day longer and one week later next year, taking place June 22ā€“26, 2011. He’s posting photos from his time in Dubai on Facebook.




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