Is Dubai the Middle East’s hotbed of pleasure, or business, or the coronavirus? Maybe all of the above. The United Arab Emirates city of 3.3 million did very well for itself by lifting travel restrictions last year and welcoming lockdown-weary tourists to party at its beaches and high-end hotels. Some 260,000 fled the U. K. alone, among them soccer stars, influencers, and reality-TV curiosities (causing, The Times of London reports, a social-media backlash).
Thanks to strict rules about social-distancing and mask-wearing, and a quick vaccine rollout, coronavirus infection rates were low and the economy improved. U.A.E.-watchers weren’t surprised. The country, noted The Times, is run like “a giant family business, headed by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He is the kind of chief executive ruler Donald Trump could only dream of being, presiding over a land of liberal financial laws and limited democracy, and his business plan is straightforward: when others zig, zag.”
But was it a zag too far? New cases have tripled since the holidays. The Centers for Disease Control Web site now rates the U.A.E. a “Level 4 (Very High)” virus risk and counsels “avoid[ing] all travel to the United Arab Emirates.” Britain and Israel have instituted quarantine requirements for returning travelers. And—perhaps most ominous of all—The Wall Street Journal reported that on Sunday, before you could say “scapegoat,” the head of Dubai’s health department had been replaced.
Moley Robotics is putting “the world’s first fully robotic kitchen” on the market this year. The demonstration video shows mechanical arms and hands gliding along a rail in a modern kitchen (“Key features include ergonomic thermo-resistant handles, mirror-polished stainless steel, an aluminum inner layer and a magnetic stainless steel outside layer”), slowly and confidently whipping something up.
While the robot cook can drop ingredients into saucepans and stir pots with the best of them—apparently resulting in a well-prepared, if basic, meal—the technology on display raises certain questions about how this might actually work in one’s own home. There’s the problem of rust (e.g., the robot weeps while chopping onions). Also, how would the mechanism handle that most irritatingly vague of all recipe instructions, “Season to perfection”? But for our money—$340,000, incidentally—what we’d require, and what’s missing, is drama. Where is the charmingly accented cursing, the temperamentally flung spatula, the toque ground angrily under a four-star-trained heel? That’s the kind of robot cuisinier, and futuristic kitchen, we could really get behind.
Another chef, of the old-school, human variety, was arrested by Egyptian authorities and charged with infringing on “public decency”—at a private party, but never mind—for having baked cupcakes with “indecent and immoral” (viz., penis- and vagina-shaped) toppings for a birthday fête at a Cairo club. Social-media posts had alerted security forces to the transgression. The unfortunate baker, a woman, “has been interrogated by the same misdemeanour court that recently tried the Egyptian actor Rania Youssef on charges of ‘contempt of Islam and infringing Egyptian family values’, after she commented on her own physique during a television programme,” reported The Guardian. The cupcake incident has been the subject of raging debate on Egyptian-television talk shows, in the tabloids, and on social media. The baker is free on $300 bail; no word on how the cupcakes tasted.
Could the Trans-Europe Express—as in high-speed passenger rail travel, not the electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk—be in for a revival on the Continent? Environmental groups in Germany, Poland, Spain, and France consider it “key to achieving carbon neutrality in the EU by 2050,” says The Guardian, and have issued a report recommending just that. The original network connecting European capitals began in 1957 (first-class only), thrived in the 60s and 70s, but fell victim to short-haul flights, and now accounts for just 8 percent of E.U. passenger travel, according to the newspaper. What is proposed—with 2025 as a goal—is adding routes, coordinating timetables, and establishing direct connections among cities such as Warsaw, Prague, Brussels, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, Lisbon, and Madrid.
Kicking around the pros and cons of the Trans-Europe Express proposal is not an option for some local E.U. commuters: in Barcelona and other parts of Spain’s Catalan region, speaking—to other passengers, or into your phone—is strongly discouraged on public transportation, the better to keep deadly coronavirus particles out of the air. While it isn’t law, loud talkers run the risk of being shamed, which can sometimes be worse than simply paying a small fine. Across the border in France, for the same reason, the French Academy of Medicine has also just recommended that public-transportation passengers take a vow of silence, pretty much turning it into a movement.
French senators have passed a law protecting the “sensory heritage” of rural life from city-spawned “neo-rural” interlopers. “‘Living in the countryside implies accepting some nuisances,’ Joël Giraud, the government’s minister in charge of rural life, told lawmakers,” according to The Guardian—et voilà, “cow bells (and cow droppings), grasshopper chirps and noisy early-morning tractors are also now considered part of France’s natural heritage that will be codified in its environmental legislation.”
The friction between French city folk and country folk came to a head last year on the island of Oléron, when a retired couple attempted to bring a cease-and-desist order to the early-morning crowing of a rooster named Maurice (and, it was feared, a cease-to-exist order to Maurice himself). “Save Maurice” petitions were signed by the thousands, and the couple’s complaint was rejected. This past May, sadly, Maurice expired (clearly not in vain!) of a respiratory infection. “We found him dead at the bottom of the chicken coop,” his owner said. “We did everything we could … ”—and that is exactly where, fearing further elaboration, we stopped reading.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL