Foreign Policy reviews Michael Schindhelm’s memoir of trying to help build Dubai into a cultural Mecca for 21st Century:
From the start, Schindhelm found in Dubai a land of superlatives and excess in stark contrast to the sober constraints of home. “This city is in total mobilization,” he writes in his book, currently available only in German, “not only in competition with time; it is a protest against time.… Everything is in a process of transformation, marching forward.”
His pressing task was to create swiftly what Dubai’s leaders proclaimed would be “the most comprehensive cultural destination in the world.” This included, first and foremost, an opera housed within an undulating structure designed by starchitect Zaha Hadid to resemble sand dunes and meant to accommodate an audience of 3,000 in a society with no tradition of theater or music. Schindhelm tried in vain to point out the acoustic drawbacks of such a mammoth auditorium, pushing instead for a never-to-be-built opera house that would reflect Dubai’s aspirations as a laboratory for globalized culture. “On today’s program is Così Fan Tutte,” he imagined, “and tomorrow a Lebanese dance theater group; then follows an appearance by Cirque du Soleil, a modern Beijing opera, and a Bollywood musical. And the auditorium is actually a melting pot.” […]
But one observer, at least, has not lost faith in Dubai’s potential: Schindhelm writes in his book that Dubai is still working to create an alternative to the social injustice and religious fanaticism in neighboring Saudi Arabia and nearby Iran and Pakistan. Perhaps he was naive to see in the desert sands an opportunity for a cultural utopia, but he’s wise to warn against gloating over the end of the city’s glitzy heyday. With its central location between Europe and Asia, Dubai seems likely to survive and thrive, if more soberly, as a trading center. But next time, it might do better to realize that culture is worth more than just eye candy for real estate megalomania that can too easily run amok.
Waste Land (Foreign Policy)