February 9, 2016

Dubai Musings 1: Touching History

Old City Wall, Al Fahidi Historical District, Dubai

Do you know what it is like to touch history? Do you really think that you are touching history or just its cosmetic surface? Do you know that it is actually history? How do you know it is real and not just manufactured history? How do you know when history is history? When I touched what is the last remaining section of Dubai's Old City Wall, constructed in 1800 from gypsum and coral for defensive purposes, it didn't register, to be honest. I instead saw the wall as a conveniently interesting backdrop for a photo, rather than it being the subject of the photo. I focused upon the visual contrast of my silver jewelry, my ineptly applied mauve-pink nail-polish, and the textures of my hand-skin against the bumpy, chunky, ochre coral-studded surface. How do you distinguish between what is history and what is not? I once wanted to become a historian. Scratch that, I still have aspirations of becoming one. Yet, I think, I can't be much of one if I experience so much difficulty imagining what this place, what this space, what this wall must have looked like when its first inhabitants were once present there. I can only see its today, not yesterday. How can I be a historian if I can't imagine yesterdays? All I see is the present, an inescapable present, which clouds my vision and renders the yesterday and tomorrow superfluous, non-existent even. And wait – was I even supposed to touch this wall? But that's the thing. If you can't touch, all this is just thin winter air, a mirage, pretty much what Dubai is all about. Touching this wall makes it all real, even if faintly so.

*This short, stream of consciousness, staccato-toned vignette is the first part of my series about my recent visit to Dubai, word mosaics seeking to distill the essence of the picture accompanying the text