I went yesterday to what I had heard was the mother of all malls here. I knew that one mall (in a neighboring principality) has a ski slope in it, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I’m a New Yorker, I don’t know about mall culture. I grew up in the suburbs, and back then we did our mischief outdoors, in the vicinity of strip malls. The whole indoor, worlds-within-worlds concept of the mall was something I first encountered in the early 1990s, and I have to admit, it blew my mind. I thought, this is huge! We need to understand what this means! And then a moment later I realized that’s why everyone was all excited about Jean Baudrillard and Fredric Jameson. We were hard at work understanding what it meant.
Anyway, I didn’t know what to expect here, but I was ready for, well, for something on a whole other level. I’m afraid it was just a straightforward, not very big mall. It didn’t even have a lot of insanely expensive stores, the one thing I was counting on in a country enjoying the world’s highest per capita income, or close to it. It was Desigual and Massimo Dutti and Florsheim (!), not to mention Cinnabon and Starbucks. I have to admit, I was disappointed. I know there is very little in the way of cultural events here, but I needed the place to deliver on unreal luxury and spectacle. But in a way it was encouraging because it suggested that this place really does have a middle class. Pretty much all I’d seen so far was rituals of masters and servants. (I’ve participated in a few, inevitably as master. More on that later, when I gather the courage.)
A few days earlier I had gone to another mall, much smaller, called the Central Market. It had the advantage of being the only building–and I mean the only building–of any architectural interest I have seen here so far. I bought some exquisite cedar honey from Yemen there and I am not saying how much I spent on it. Here’s the building. Don’t knock it–it’s radical here not to build high.