After reading a few AA Gill restaurant reviews, one starts to calculate the possibility that his name has taken on verbal form among the culinary communities of whichever cities he happens to frequent. “Gilling”, you imagine, is analogous to some unspeakable act involving a barbed rectal probe and a lightly-drugged blowfish.
The hapless restaurateurs of London, Paris and beyond can now welcome a new member to the survivors’ group of those who’ve been Gilled – the entire city of Dubai. Yes, Adrian Gill shot his scorn wad over the British press’s favourite Arabian whipping boy, in an extensive column for Vanity Fair this month.
“Dubai is the parable of what money makes when it has no purpose but its own multiplication and grandeur. When the culture that holds it is too frail to contain it. Dubai is a place that doesn’t just know the price of everything and the value of nothing but makes everything worthless. The answer to everything in Dubai is money. In the darkness of the hot night, the motorways roar with Ferraris and Porsches and Lamborghinis; the fat boys are befuddled and stupefied by sports cars they race around on nowhere roads, going nowhere,” writes Gill, the man who once shot a baboon. (No, really.)
He is scathing of everything. Westerners: “… white mercenary workers who come here for tax-free salaries to do managerial and entrepreneurial jobs, parasites and sycophants for cash.” Emiratis: “No one with an Emirati passport could change a fuse.”
Dubai’s lower-class labourers, referred to by Ade as “drones” actually come off least worst: “They have the tough, downtrodden look of Communist posters from the 30s—they are both the slaves of capital and the heroes of labor.”
For all his overblown scorn, this does indicate Gill at least has his targets right. His jaundiced gaze falls squarely where it should, on the hypocrites and the sycophants, the idle rich and fatuous gasbags.
Writing as one who has in the past defended Dubai from some of its more unjust detractors, I have to say that Gill is pretty much on the money with this piece. Not weighed down by anything so crass as actual facts, he nails Dubai’s plutocratic nature fair and square; and while Dubai may now offer things beyond its money-driven hyper-capitalist merry-go-round, it cannot be said that the merry-go-round itself has disappeared.
I would offer two thoughts as my parting shots.
First, Gill’s medium is scorn. This is what he does. Even his good reviews see him offer a scathing repost against at least one – possibly undeserving – target (past examples: the Welsh, the English, the whole of the Isle of Man). The Dubai piece should be read in this context – and in that respect, it could consider to have got off lightly, considering where he could have gone.
As an addendum to this, I don’t know that the piece will do any particular harm to Dubai’s reputation, especially in North America. Portrayed as a land of make-believe and extreme wealth, the place might actually be rather more attractive to America’s upper classes. Better fatuous plutocracy than a terrorist stronghold.
Second, let us take a moment to pity Mr Gill. Adrian, it seems to me, must lead a very hard life. Here is a man for whom all existence is deficient, bar the height of perfection achieved at one of his favoured eateries. Here is a man who can no longer walk through a new town and enjoy it on its merits – everything must be deconstructed, cynically analysed, mercilessly mocked. His pleasure is in the failings of others. The man who cannot smile – only sneer.
What a shallow existence that must be. Almost as shallow as Dubai, in fact.
Welcome, Mr Gill. Welcome.