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Day 83: Benghazi to Sirte

Michael Palin - SaharaMile after mile of salt scrub numbs the senses, but Mohammed has a treat in store for us. An in-coach movie. It turns out to be Lion Of The Desert, a Hollywood biopic of the great national hero, Umar al-Mukhtar. The irony of the Libyan national hero being celebrated by the Great Satan doesn't seem to worry them, and we settle back to a truly blood-drenched couple of hours. If the Libyans are happy to have Anthony Quinn portray their hero, then presumably the Italians would have been relieved that the villain of the piece, Colonel Graziani, is played by Oliver Reed, and Mussolini by a stratospherically over-the-top Rod Steiger.

By these standards, the casting of Sir John Gielgud as a Bedouin was pretty obvious. The Lion Of The Desert brings us safely to the birthplace of The Guide Of The Revolution. Besides being Gaddafi's birthplace, Sirte is a potential new capital of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Republic. Modest outskirts of low mud and brick houses give way to a complex of hotels and government offices. Landscaped towers of white stone and black glass could be a corporate HQ in California, until you get inside and find the decorative style is pure Arabian Nights, festooned with spangly curtains, brass lamps and throne-size chairs which take three people to move. A Pan-African conference is to be held here soon, but at the moment, as with so much of 'official' Libya, this grand and expensive campus is deserted. Abdul finds us some food, though once more it's Western rather than local, but at least there is a bowl of harissa, the hot pepper paste, to breathe life into our hamburger and chips.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 83
  • Country/sea: Libya
  • Place: Sirte
  • Book page no: 222

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