The change that comes over the Dubai International Financial Centre at this time of year is wonderful.
As the “good weather” is firmly here for a few months, all of the cafes and restaurants around The Gate throw off the glass partitions they wear for most of the searing year. The whole place becomes one gigantic open-air terrace cafe.
Previously, when the glass partitions were down, movements were channelled into corridors and walkways behind the glass. Now everything is opened up, which adds a different dimension to the place.
My regular table at Costa Coffee used to be pressed up against a glass wall. Now, it is on a balcony overlooking the pedestrian bridge that links The Gate with The Village. Always a strategically important situation, it now has the extra quality of being the centre of one of the DIFC’s main thoroughfares. From here, you can literally watch the financial world of Dubai walk by.
The new set-up also seems to encourage people to stop and talk. I guess because there are more places to walk, friends and acquaintances now seem to pass by my table more frequently, and want to linger for longer to chat.
Yesterday, for example, in no particular order, the following people pulled up a chair at my table for a chinwag: an investment banker I “caught in the act” of briefing a rival media organisation; a former ambassador turned businessman who had just returned from a fact-finding mission to Tehran; and a headhunter I’ve known for some years who also uses Costa as his DIFC “office”.
There was a nautical theme to the conversations I had with the three of them. The investment banker – working on a big restructuring involving a regional shipbuilding business – had taken minor issue with something I’d written on the subject recently.
After a friendly “clear the air” chat, the little misunderstanding was resolved and normal relations restored (although I’m sure the “rival” news media got a different version).
The ex-diplomat told me of a conference in the marine insurance business he’d attended in Iran, where there was all-round enthusiasm in the country’s shipping industry about the imminent reopening of full western trade with Iran.
“Most of the conference attendees were young and female, and optimistic about the future despite the oil price,” he observed.
The executive recruiter also had his mind on the shipping business, especially oil tankers. Last week, he had helped a friend sail a 34-foot boat from Oman – where the friend had bought it – round the Strait of Hormuz to Dubai, where the boat would be permanently docked.
Sailing in a relatively small boat through one of the most crowded shipping channels in the world had been, at times, a frightening experience. “It was pitch black as we rounded Musandam, and you really couldn’t see a thing. You had a sense that you weren’t alone, but whatever was out there was almost invisible,” my headhunter friend said.
“It was only later, it must have been when the lights of Sharjah and Dubai lit the sea up a bit, that we realised there had been literally hundreds of big tankers out there, and we had been happily bobbing around in the middle of them, oblivious.” Now that is scary.
After that I strolled off for a meeting at the Capital Club, just over the bridge.
By the time the meeting ended, it was getting dark in DIFC, but there were still little pools of light dotted around the Gate terrace, showing you where the cafes were. Quite magical really.
Follow The National's Business section on Twitter