Opinion

Anya Schiffrin

Lunch with Saif Gaddafi

Anya Schiffrin
May 3, 2011 16:00 UTC

I don’t remember why we had lunch with Saif Gaddafi. The invitation came through an intermediary about five years ago.  It was him and a friend and Joe and me. We met at an old hotel in Rome and lunched in the rather formal dining room. He and Joe talked for a couple of hours about economic development and some of the different possibilities for a country like Libya. Nothing too exciting — irrigation and credit, the need to spend money on education, share the oil wealth, create jobs. He invited us to visit and someone from the Qaddafi Development Foundation followed up a few months later.

For obvious reasons (human rights, anyone?) we didn’t want to go and so never bothered to get back in touch. It was clear he was positioning himself for what he thought would be his eventual job of running the country one day and thinking about how he would do it. His last question was unforgettable: he bit his lip, looked perplexed and said to my husband, “tell me: does anyone still believe in Marxist economics anymore?”Joe said no and launched into a long explanation of why this was the case. Saif looked very relieved, unfurrowed his brow and exclaimed, “I knew it! I keep telling my father but he just won’t listen.”

from The Great Debate:

Does everyone have a price?

Anya Schiffrin
Apr 7, 2011 15:36 UTC

DUBAI/

On Monday I went to Bloomingdales, the Gap and Starbucks but passed on a visit to Magnolia Bakery. Instead I  stopped by the St. Moritz bakery where you can order hot chocolate and sit by a video of a cozy winter  fire that overlooks the indoor ski slope and is just around the corner from the largest candy store in the world, which happens to face an aquarium that occupies an entire wall on one side of the world’s largest shopping malls. This by the way is opposite of what claims to be the world’s largest candystore whose mission statement is to make every day “happier’. Earlier, while exploring the watery depths of the bright Pink Atlantis Hotel (one of the white elephants of the property crash of 2007) I knew it was really the last kingdom because the fish swam around two cracked thrones and other kitschy stone artifacts.

Dubai is utterly overwhelming, the kind of  dystopia that blogger Evgeny Morozov sees in Huxley, a consumeristic paradise where mind-numbing shopping replaces real thought. Most of the I had no idea where I was except that my passport had been stamped Dubai  and many of the mall-going women were shrouded in black. After a few hours I sank into a state of ennuie. Given boatloads of oil money in the 1970s and the chance to build a whole new city, who on earth would decide to build a series of shopping malls?

It’s not like the developers didn’t have ambition, what with the architecture that demands superlatives -- the gondolas, medieval stone houses and soaring illuminated sky scrapers and islands built in absurd never-before-seen configurations. But why not build a museum with, say, the most incredible collection in the world or a university with the finest research laboratories? With so much money why build this Disneyland? And what about the workers who make up most of the population?

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