Card swipe: answers from a Dubai psychic

Saloon A suave soothsayer finds fortune in the Emirates.

A suave soothsayer finds fortune inthe Emirates. About a week ago, a professional psychic who goes by the name Noor almost got into the wrong taxi. There were two cabs kerbside, both waiting for him to get in, and one was a little closer to him than the other. "My intuition, or my gut, told me to go for the further one," Noor explained recently, sitting in his office on the 17th floor of a tower block on Sheikh Zayed Road. "The one I didn't get in, out of anger, sped off without looking and hit another car."

Noor, a Moroccan national who grew up in France, specialises in tarot card readings. This has been his primary source of income for his entire adult life - he started doing readings 15 years ago, when he was 20, and other than a brief foray into the world of retail furniture, hasn't stopped since. He never received any tarot training; in fact, he studied art history at a university in the US. Nor is it a question of some magical inborn gift, he says. "It's just an inner knowing, like when someone picks up the phone and knows who's on the other end. There's nothing miraculous about it."

Over the years Noor has plied his trade in France, the US and Brazil. He came to Dubai five years ago, and spent most of his time here working as a freelancer. Six months ago, he joined a start-up spiritual healing centre called The Third Eye, whose slogan is "Going inward, reflecting outward." His clients range from businessmen with career issues to lonely-heart youths. He charges Dh300 for each reading, which lasts roughly 90 minutes. Business has been good. Dubai, with its largely rootless, relentlessly ambitious population, represents the most fertile market Noor has encountered yet. As he put it: "People here are looking for answers."

Anyone showing up at Noor's office expecting to encounter hairy moles and weirdly enigmatic pronouncements is likely to be disappointed. He wears crisply tailored shirts, has a youthful, handsome face and often sounds more like a motivational speaker than a soothsayer. "People come to me for guidance," he said. "And what they end up doing is working on themselves." He doesn't even think tarot cards have any special powers: The Fool, The Wheel of Fortune and Death simply serve as visual cues for his intuitive findings. "People need something they can relate to. It's a belief system based on archetypal symbols."

Even for the most skilful of prognosticators, of course, destiny is a slippery thing, and Noor admits to having made the occasional bad call. He recalled, by way of example, putting a client's mind at ease a while back by telling him he'd soon find a job. Months later, the client contacted Noor to tell him that he was still very much unemployed, and that he wasn't happy about it. "It turned out the person was just waiting for a job to happen to him," Noor said. "He hadn't even sent out his CV ... We all have to be responsible for our actions."

Noor readily admits that he tends to rely less on reason and more on fleeting visions that come to him unbeckoned. It has been this way, he said, since he bought his first Tarot deck, as a bit of a lark, at the age of 14. "I quickly found that by following my intuition I could guide myself," he said. "It could be something as simple as walking down the left side of the street rather than the right side, knowing that something will happen that will be to my liking." Does it work? "I rarely get into trouble."

The most valuable gift a psychic can have, according to Noor, is an absolute, unquestioning belief in his own ability to see things that aren't immediately apparent. "People try to understand where this ability comes from rather than taking it for granted," he said. "We spend too much time trying to conceptualise it rather than using it. And, yeah, to an extent our ability to use it depends on how much we believe in it."

In such a worldview, there can be little room for such trifles as cause-and-effect. Regarding his narrow escape with the errant taxi last week, for instance, Noor seems unable to accept the possibility that he didn't so much foresee the accident as contribute to it. "At the end of the day, I got the best cab," he said. "I wasn't riding in the one that crashed." * Chris Wright