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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 12: 6 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysThere is no such thing as a tourist in Saudi Arabia. Every visitor has to have a sponsor - a company or a government department - which guarantees his status and suitability. Saudi Arabia may look like America but it can behave like Russia. However, relations with Britain are good at the moment - we've just clinched a multi-million-pound defence deal and Nick reckons we could be lucky. Achmed intervenes to say that under no circumstances would a film crew be allowed to accompany me. Forward one step, back two.

Time to kill in the hotel bookshop. Look for something to follow Stanley and His Women. Find little more than a waterproof edition of Red Sea Reef Fishes and a stack of Time and Newsweek magazines on a shelf marked 'No reading please'.

I have to walk for a while before I find an echo of the conviviality of Egypt in the orderly Sony Panasonic world of Jeddah. It's a pavement café at No. 21 Tanaf Lane in the Al-Balad district, outside which sit two or three people smoking most elaborate hookahs. The old houses round here belonged to merchants who were very well off at a time when Jeddah was making money from two sources, one from the haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the other from the spice route to the Yemen. Most of these coastal areas would have been very rich, whereas Riyadh, now the capital, would just have been a collection of mud huts. In the middle of all this I chance upon the nostalgic sight of a manhole cover made by Brickhouse of Dudley, impressively inscribed 'The Pennine Drain Cover'. Pass a group of slim, bright-eyed smiling Sudanese guest workers touting for a bit of car cleaning. The Sudanese I've met on this trip I've liked very much indeed; they have a natural grace and wit and smile a lot, as though they like a good time.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 12
  • Date: 6 October
  • Country/sea: Saudi Arabia
  • Place: Jeddah
  • Book page no: 53

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