Each week I write about what’s important to me, what features in my life in the Middle East and what tweaks my interest. This week Madonna coming to Abu Dhabi on 3rd June was important to me. I was halfway through a most witty analysis of the arrival of the fifty-something year old star to Abu Dhabi and the nearly over-the-hill Material Girl patronage that looked forward to being pivoted back to the eighties for a few hours, until I heard bad news from Doha which made even Madge seem unimportant.
We hear bad news all the time. Earthquakes, Floods, Fires, accidents but sometimes it’s not until you have a connection to the location, situation or victim that reality hits home. Hearing the news of the fire in Villaggio Shopping Mall in Doha was one of those times for me. The fire which is reported to have broken out in the crèche area of the up market Qatari shopping mall, resulted in the death of six adults and thirteen young children including 2 year old New Zealand Triplets and 3 Spanish children from one family.
Shopping malls in the Middle East provide a dual function, the primary function being the obvious, a collection of shops under one roof, cafes supermarkets, entertainment facilities etc. The second function and possibly a function which only expats across the Middle East can fully appreciate is that these massive malls provide shelter from the harsh elements and refuge from the coarse Arabic landscape, a cool breeze in a climate that has extreme temperatures. Along with facilities and cover, they offer their expat patrons a taste of the western world. When everything seems unfamiliar and foreign the sight of Starbucks, Marks & Spencer’s & H&M are soothingly familiar, the names and presence of these brands inspire confidence in far-from-home expats. Villaggio in Doha gave all of this and more.
Villaggio, located on Al Waab Street in the west end of the city and one of the chosen venues for the World Cup 2022, is home to an average of forty thousand visitors daily, and a footfall of over one million people each month. Villaggio is over 360 000sq m and boasts a dedicated mall area of 150 000 sq m, , providing 50 000 sq m of world class shopping, 15 000 sq m of luxury brands and 3300 car parking slots, Villaggio is equipped to comfortably meet the demands of every visitor. In addition, Villaggio is the most sought after destination in Qatar for top of the line luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. Its Venetian styled interiors combine with an astonishing range of shopping dining and entertainment venues to make it a unique and unforgettable attraction in Qatar; one that no visitor could afford to miss. The décor is not the only unique feature of Villaggio. Originally the brainchild of is His Highness Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad, developers aimed for something unique in the retail market to distinguish the venue from all competitors locally and regionally. The agreed on an Italian themed mall with a river as the focal point, upon which real gondolas took visitors on a scenic tour through the mall. The water feature was set to be the main attraction, the point which would distinguish Villaggio from other shopping malls, a point which is now doused in irony and tinged with bitterness as reports show that the sprinkler system malfunctioned.
“Enter Villaggio and be transported to another world; to place of timeless charm, where beauty, joy, and good food are a way of life”… is the byline and having lived in Doha for almost two years and spent many hours and days occupying the Villaggio mall I can say with certainty that it delivers all that. It is one of the most luxurious malls not alone in Doha, but in the Middle East and possibly the world. Villaggio and shopping malls of that caliber offer more than shopping and shelter; it instilled a confidence in the patrons. Confidence that in the plush surroundings, there is an equally plush maintenance and safety system, being operated backstage and that like front of house where everything runs smoothly and efficiently, in the background, someone has your back and that your safety is being considered and looked after. I always strode though the mall beautifully confident in the security of the seamless surroundings, a perfect material world, not like the real world where things went wrong.
The devastating news of the tragic deaths of thirteen children and six adults rattles this confidence to the point where it’s broken and replaced by uncertainty and even worse, fear. So, goodbye to the beautifully innocent victims, goodbye to their beautiful futures dreamt by their families and goodbye to the beautiful confidence.