How Do You Say Rococo In Arabic?

I’ve been lucky in the past few years of my life to travel the world. The places I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I've lived all hold a very special place in my life.

I’ve also been lucky enough to spend several years studying French. So, I guess you could say that I am interested in (nay, obsessed with) any proposed perversion of their culture.

Buti Saeed al-Ghandi, a developer with head of Emivest, an investment and development group in Dubai has just returned from a romantic getaway to Lyon, France with his wife. Imagine his memories! The streets, the food, the culture, the…romance. He was sold. He also had an idea: to plant a mini-Lyon inside of Dubai – complete with designs inspired by architecture in modern-day Lyon.

Why does this matter to you?

He has just signed a memorandum of understanding with Lyon’s mayor, Gérard Collomb, and anticipates sealing the deal on his next visit to the city.

I know, right? “Choc! Horreur! Quelle parodie!” Screams my inner Francophile.

Ghandi’s plans include a university, museums, restaurants, shops, pedestrian streets, courtyards, and a town square – all replicating Lyon. His time spent inside the 19th century Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica may even inspire a church – yes, a church – right next to a mosque.

This can’t be so bad, I tell myself. I read on:

Location is still up in the air – discussion has involved placing the ‘little Lyon’ on upwards of 1000 acres of land. Potential spots include an urban area by the tallest building in the world, the Burj Dubai Tower; a plot of desert land close to the second international airport, which has not been built yet; and "Dubailand," which is a $10 billion complex including theme parks and entertainment that is currently still under construction.

Any way you toss it, this project is ambitious, at best. And also? A total perversion of French culture. It’s like calling ‘Paris’ in Vegas … well, Paris. The manager of the project insists, however, that it’ll be a far cry from anything Vegas or Disneyland.

What about atmosphere? How does one create a street comfortable enough to stroll down in the middle of the desert heat? I fight visions of massive fans. Somehow I keep thinking about the movie ‘Bio-Dome’ with Pauly Shore.

Naturally, my instinct is to worry first about the wine, and then of course, the food. French culture is known for not only their love of cured meats and delectable cheeses, but their wine, most of all! Muslim countries ban not only meat, but all forms of alcohol. Dubai is a modern city, however, an international hub, even – and tends to be more lenient about those rules. I am still skeptical. I think they still allow cheese.

In any event, my logic has kicked in. What does this mean for the commerce in the city? What does this mean for investors? Particularly investors interested in saturated (yet successful) international markets like Dubai? What it means is a potential boost in the economy of this emirate – and fast. Things are looking up, perhaps.
This project, if it breaks land, will attempt to bring not only the charm, but also the economic successes of Lyon to Dubai. Lyon is currently one of the world’s most popular (top 30) convention sites. Readers Digest named the city the 7th most livable in the world last year. It is for good reason that Ghandi would like to replicate it.

Any way you flip it, this project is interesting. Skeptics are concerned about any attempts to recreate French culture in the middle of the desert – and rightly so. I recall from my days in art history class learning that Lyon was second only to Venice in its light origin – some of the world’s most important pieces of art were painted there. How can that same light be recreated in the middle of the desert?

Again, I digress.

Clearly this project represents great opportunity for investors interested in overseas markets. It also represents great opportunity for further economic development in (the seemingly few) areas of Dubai that are suffering.

My inner Francophile is still screaming.

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January 31, 2008 at 3:10 PM Jenny said...

I don't know how anyone can successfully replicate a city and its culture inside another totally different city.

Either it'll come off as very fake and Disneyland-ish or the surrounding culture will overpower it and make it feel...well, fake.

The only way cultures are able to reproduce (for lack of a better word) inside another culture is when the actual PEOPLE move and make a new place "home".

But as a curious tourist, I'd love to see it after it's done!

February 1, 2008 at 8:27 AM Marie Langhout said...

Jenny - I agree. The press I've read on this development all mentions that it's going to keep the original charm, architecture, etc.

I still can't get away from the fact that every other place that has tried this type of project always ends up looking like a bad Chinatown or Adventureland/Frontierland.

I'll keep you all posted on what I learn!

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