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Thursday, December 30, 2004


So What Will You do With Your 3 Microseconds?

Apparently, as a result of the Sumatra quake, the rotation of the earth slowed enough so that if you aren't currently a bloated corpse lying in the streets of Aceh or Sri Lanka, you got an extra three microseconds as a late Christmas gift. What are you going to do with this stroke of good fortune?

Now if you're going to quibble with me and aruge that earth's rotation actually speeded up and humanity lost three microseconds, then we're all that much closer to stepping off this mortal coil. What are you going to do about that?

The Producer and I stayed in Khao Lak, a resort town where 700-800 tourists are presumed lost, when we visited Thailand in 2001. There, we saw the biggest spider I've ever seen. It was bigger and a lot hairier than my hand. It's probably dead now, too.

Anyway, I'm going to bank my three microseconds, if such an action is allowed under current rules, and use them for little extra shopping time in Dubai this weekend.

If you've forgotten which frivolously wealthy Emirate Dubai is, it's the one with the Burj-al Arab hotel -- built on fill in the Persian Gulf in the form of a sail boat. Rooms rent for $5000 a night. We aren't staying there. Indeed, I believe we're actually at the Gar-baj-al Arab.

Dubai has been described as the "New York of the Arab World" (accurate, if by New York you mean, "place where the sale of liquor is technically illegal"). More truthfully, Dubai combines the surface wholesomeness of Disneyland and the tacky debauchery and whorishness of Vegas.

So why did we chose Dubai for our three-day parole?

In ordinary times, Dubai's style wouldn't hold much appeal to us, but we are starved for decent restaurants with good service (of which there are countless) and arenas in which we can succumb to our pent up consumer impulses. These are more commonly known as western-style supermarkets and shopping malls. Dubai has one on every corner.

No one can say that we're deprived here in Baku. There is really nothing we need that we can't get here, even if it's a little pricey.

There are two things I really miss though.

First, I miss things (consumer goods, advertisements, store displays, public spaces, clothes, shoes, apartments, furniture) that are nicely designed and attractive, to which your eye is drawn and wants to linger. In Baku, everything is utilitarian, chaotic, decaying, "Kitaiski" (which is Russian for "Chinese" and is a derogatory term for cheap crap), hopelessly sentimental or riotously vulgar.

Second, I miss choice and predictability. Of course I can get shampoo at countless drugstores here. But what I want is wide aisles devoted to neatly arranged, nicely designed, colorful bottles and packages of frippery and snake oil. I don't necessarily want to buy that stuff, but if I do, it's nice to know it's there, every single time.

What I really want is a Target, with its wide aisles, eye candy, constant supply and down-market Isaac Mizrahi shoes and clothes.

True, there are other western countries where it is much easier to get a drink and camel racing isn't the most popular sport, but none of them is 70 degrees and a cheap two hour flight away on AZAL (Azerbaijan Airlines).

Happy New Year. Will post pictures of the center of Arab commerce when we return!

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