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Everything in Dubai is tall, it seems, and everyone is from somewhere else. The man who greeted me at the airport was from Bosnia. The cabdriver was Sri Lankan; the hotel clerk, Nigerian. (Yes, I am one of those annoying travelers who ask a lot of questions.) Like the buildings that tower over what was recently desert, the people of Dubai appear almost to have dropped from the sky, hailing from across the planet and now mixed randomly, picturesquely, in this tiny crossroads by the sea.

In our part of the world, December is a time for ritual and celebration; for Christmas trees and Hanukkah lights, eggnog, carols, and an avalanche of holiday cards. In my house it is also, and primarily, a time of cookies—of Toll House cookies with walnuts for my husband and without them for my older son, of a chocolate-chip loaf for my mother and fat sugar cookies for my younger son, and of Russian teacakes for my daughter, who likes the fact that they come from where she does. Every year, my family chides me for getting so worked up about the baking. “It’s okay,” my mother pledges cheerfully on the phone, “you don’t really need to make so many cookies.” “It’s okay,” my husband promises, as he sees me starting to panic, “we can buy the cookies instead.” But then the lobbying begins, quiet and insistent. Don’t skimp on the Toll House, younger son urges, because last year there weren’t enough. Don’t forget the teacakes, my daughter says, because we have to have something from Russia.

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Portrait of President Judith R. Shapiro by Thomas Loepp, Photograph by Aaron W. Kinard

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