Lyon: French language university to establish branch in Dubai

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jan 28 17:26:48 UTC 2008

January 28, 2008
Lyon Journal

Smitten by Lyon, a Visitor Tries to Recreate the Magic


LYON, France Strolling the streets of Lyon with his wife last October,
Buti Saeed al-Ghandi was suddenly overcome by a double wave of love, for
the city and for his spouse. So Mr. Ghandi, a 40-year-old entrepreneur,
decided to capture the magic of the moment by building a little Lyon back
home in Dubai. I travel all around the world, and Lyon is one of those
places that make you feel different, Mr. Ghandi said in a telephone
interview. The people do not live at a fast pace of life. There is an
intimacy with visitors.  There is so much history and culture, the small
streets, the small shops, the old houses. I also fell in love again with
my wife there, and thats also why I love Lyon.

Certainly Lyon with its two rivers, its Gallic-Roman ruins, its 300
Renaissance merchant houses and its gastronomic reputation is special,
even in France. In early January Mr. Ghandi, chairman of Emirates
Investment and Development, signed a memorandum of understanding with
Lyons mayor and several local entities to embark on a grand architectural
adventure for Dubai, one of the seven principalities that make up the
United Arab Emirates.

The project, temporarily called Lyon-Dubai City, will include a
university; small versions of Lyons main museums; housing, hotel and
office space; cafes, restaurants, pedestrian malls, town squares,
courtyards, a film center, maybe even a church, all inspired by Lyon,
Frances third-largest city. As of now, little Lyon will cover 750 to 1,000
acres, more or less the size of Central Park. The Paul Bocuse Institute is
hoping to set up a branch to train young chefs and restaurant and hotel
managers. The Museum of Textiles is poised to open a silk museum and lend
select treasures from its vast silk collection. Lyons soccer team has
signed up to operate a center to train a Dubai team. Research is under way
to cool outdoor spaces naturally to make strolling bearable during dust
storms and 105-degree heat.

What the project must not do, its participants insist, is clone Lyon.
This will not be Disneyland or Las Vegas, said Jean-Paul Lebas, the
projects planner, who helped rebuild Beirut after Lebanons civil war. We
have to make people feel that they are there without copying the
architecture of Lyon that is the challenge. The social will be more
important than the physical. The smiles seen on the faces of others will
come first. I know its a bit virtual, but if one succeeds. ... Mayor Grard
Collomb was more direct. We will give Dubai the soul of Lyon, he said.

Mr. Ghandi, who was born in Dubai and studied at George Washington
University in Washington, first discovered Lyon last May when he came to
close a deal with the University of Lyon to open a French-language branch
in a university complex in the emirate. The university will open in
September, initially with 300 to 400 students. It was during a second trip
that the city itself became a source of inspiration that has taken his
imagination in a number of directions.

The over-the-top rococo dcor, grand scale, golden mosaics and vaulted
ceilings of the 19th-century hilltop Notre-Dame de Fourvire basilica, for
example, has gotten him thinking about building a similar church. It would
be set next to a mosque. I saw certain elements in the church that related
to Islam, Mr. Ghandi said. I felt like I was walking into a mosque. He and
others acknowledge they are making it up as they go along. A mosque next
to a church? Why not? asked Mr. Lebas.

Last week, Mr. Lebas was in Dubai looking at three possible sites: an
urban area near the Burj Dubai tower (which aims to be the tallest
building in the world); a patch of desert near the planned second
international airport; and Dubailand, a $10 billion complex of theme parks
and entertainment areas under construction that Mr. Lebas describes as
worse than Disneyland, Disneyland 1,000-times squared. Then there is the
issue of alcohol and pork, both forbidden under Islam.  Pork-based
charcuterie is a staple of Lyons traditional gastronomy, while wine is
crucial to French dining.

Dubai, unlike many places in the Muslim Middle East, has a relatively open
attitude on this, although there are serious restrictions during the holy
month of Ramadan. Pork is sold in Western oriented supermarket chains and
in special sections of butchers markets, and is served in certain
restaurants. As for wine? It is completely possible to achieve refined
cuisine without alcohol, Mr. Bocuse said in an e-mail message, adding that
many fine recipes are elaborated with a base of cream and butter.

For Mr. Ghandi, there should be no gastronomic or alcoholic censure. Its
not an issue, he said. We are an international city in Dubai. You give
people the freedom to do what they like to do. Certainly the project is
expected to be a windfall for Lyon. Frances $1.3 billion deal last year to
rent the name of the Louvre and lend some of its works to Abu Dhabi, the
capital of the Emirates, is clearly on the minds of officials here.

Mayor Collomb hopes the project will work as a vehicle to attract wealthy
investors from Dubai. He dreams of turning the crumbling
375,000-square-foot Htel-Dieu, a hospital with a glorious 18th-century
facade, into a luxury hotel. Its dome is majestic, he said. Maybe well
seal a deal the next visit. He notes that Lyon is among the worlds top 30
convention cities, ahead of Chicago. Readers Digest last year named Lyon
the seventh most livable city in the world.

Not everyone in Lyon is convinced of the wisdom of the project, though.
Its hard for me to imagine how you can capture the soul of the city, said
Jacques Lasfargues, an archaeologist and the chief curator at the Museum
of Gallic-Roman Civilization. The color of the light here is tender, soft,
sweet, like a painting of Turner. In the desert, the light is hard,
brutal. The rivers they are part of our soul. I prefer the ambience of Las
Vegas. At least theres sincerity. One knows clearly what it is. Mayor
Collomb will not be deterred. Dubai already has built ski slopes and
islands, he said. And if you can do that, you can make rivers.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list