It’s all a bit Ozymandias…
It’s funny really. I potter along out here, making the best of things, trying to immerse myself in this new life, but every now and then I recognise the truth of my situation, in much the same way that a short-sighted pigeon might encounter the truth of a French window. Here it is: basically I live on a building site in the middle of a desert. In one way or another, every day is a struggle for sanity. I am becoming a bit like Mad Max in Cath Kidston pyjamas.
It’s not that I don’t like it here – there are plenty of things to like… it’s more that I get cross that this place even exists – that there is even an option for human beings to live here. It’s just so illogical. In a desert, the natural state of most living things is death. The tap water here is desalinated; the palm trees are artificially irrigated; the grass is strangely sparse and springy – as if each patch of turf is in a state of shock, having been transplanted from its cosy, moist poly-tunnel onto a scorching hot square of sand, like a skin-graft onto a fresh burn. It all feels like a bit of a trick, as if we are merely creating an illusion of ‘normal’ life, whilst fighting a brutal war of attrition with nature.
Last week, while I was heading inland, out of the city, there was a beautiful sunset. The juxtaposition between this and the bleak, parched landscape around me was heart-breaking. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just desert – despite the cruel heat, the desert dunes are quite beautiful (and the glossy tower blocks of downtown have a certain glamorous charm too) – it’s the scrubby, rubbly mess of so many abandoned building projects, date-palm graveyards, improvised rubbish dumps, dilapidated petrol stations, desiccated ghost towns and half-finished highways.
And somehow it doesn’t seem to have the remote, road-trip romance of other such barren landscapes like Texas or Arizona. It just feels dry, dead and empty. There are creatures adapted to this sort of environment of course – the Arabian Red Fox, the wonderfully named Fringe-Toed Sand Lizard and Saw-Scaled Viper… But as for other (larger, pinker, sweatier) life forms, we are reliant upon air-conditioning, cars, refrigerators, aerosol Evian and small, hand-held, battery-operated handbag-sized fans. I think this might be part of my problem with living here: some atavistic creature deep within me knows that I could not survive here without the aid of technology (whereas, apparently, it would be more than happy for me to forage for roots and berries in the damp chill of a British winter…). It feels like it is only a matter of time until nature wins the battle out here, and mankind is punished for its arrogance. When the power fails, when the oil dries up, it feels inevitable that this city will cook and crumble, the sun’s intense heat magnified and refracted by so many glassy, glittering skyscrapers.
Several miles outside the city there is the entrance gate to a theme park that was never actually built. It is intrinsically sad. The twisted skeleton of a rollercoaster and a huge formula one car have been welded together in one massive, grotesque, dusty monument, long since forgotten. It just sits there tragically, in the middle of the desert, like Shelley’s Ozymandias – a stark symbol of lost riches, faded power and failed ambition.
Life here seems so fundamentally unsustainable that it is easy to imagine the whole city in a thousand – or even a few hundred years – reduced to nothing more than rubble in the sand. Perhaps just the tallest building, our single, iconic obelisk, would remain defiantly amongst the dust and dunes…
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”