David looked down, and for a moment could not believe what he was seeing. A garden of immense flowers appeared to have opened ahead, blossoming from the sandy shoreline out into the sea. On closer approach three of the flowers resolved into trees whose symmetrical branches were laid out in the perfect pattern of a palm. Another resembled a globe of the entire world, beneath which other islands representing the cosmos stretched, including a crescent moon, rising sun, Saturn, Jupiter, and beyond these an entire spiral galaxy. All of these epic designs, he knew, had been accomplished by judicious dredging and filling over a decade, and at the bequest and oversight of Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, a ruler so beloved he moved about the city without security escort.
Along the graceful limbs of the Palm Jumeirah, and the individual country islands of the World development, he could soon see miles of spectacular homes, marinas, hotels, and the Atlantis resort where singer Kylie Minogue had been paid $4.4 million to perform at its gala opening. A fine metal thread that arched over to the resort at the head of the Palm Islands he judged to be the aerial monorail which had since been used by Madonna, Shakira, Celine Dion, Elton John, Aerosmith, Amr Diab, and a host of other entertainers. But it was in no way the star attraction of the bold and defiant city. Next to all lavish developments meant to be appreciated from the air, he spotted a now inconspicuous dot suspended over the ocean: the Burj Al-Arab, long a signature hotel of Dubai, and one of the world's tallest and most expensive, rising like a sail from the water, with a helicopter pad and upscale restaurant dangling out on platforms near the top. Nearby was Jebel Ali, the world's largest manmade port. And further inland, he glimpsed for the first time the fabled Jumeirah coastal belt, west of Dubai Creek, where Business Bay faced an impossibly high silver spire, the world's tallest manmade structure.
The Burj Khalifa rose like a modern Tower of Babel as the city's new signature exclamation point, and whose upper levels now aligned with his circling plane. Whether it was a monument to progress or to ego, he was reminded nonetheless of a verse by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I am Ozymandias, king of kings.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
As his plane descended on final approach, he picked out The Emirates Towers, the Al Garhoud Bridge, Port Rashid, and the Dynamic Tower--whose every floor rotated independently. The crushed white shell beach below was now tinged with the glow of sunset, and further off to the south and east could be seen the rolling sand dunes of the Empty Quarter and the Hajar Mountains, red from both dusk and iron oxide.
He tried to imagine the striped hyenas, desert foxes, oryx, and falcons out there, somewhere. He did so, not to resist the critical voice in his head. Instead, he let the voice play itself out in the background, signaling its greed and graft, its fear and loneliness like the disappearing sound of rushing air to a flight attendant. What he was left with was a kindled rush like exhilaration...