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Saturday, March 22, 2008

To the shores of Tripoli..


The Leader is delighted that Triple P is visiting.



You never see an attractive women in the BA lounge at Heathrow, mused Agent Triple P. Outside in the public area he had, after passing through security, seen several eights and even a nine. Inside the lounge it was, as usual, a desert. Nothing more than a four at best. He reasoned that most women in the lounge were travelling on business and the sorts of businesses that sent women abroad tended not to hire attractive ones. “They should all be at home doing the ironing, anyway,” he mused, observing the typical, porridge-faced, specimen opposite him.



He was off to Libya, a country of which he had no positive memories at all. Last time he had been there, about three years ago, his taxi had been rammed from behind by his Libyan security service tail. This had been an appropriate end to a visit to a place of unremitting dreariness. The other British people he met who lived there inhabited walled compounds where they secretly drank themselves stupid in “clubs” which looked like the sort of bars you might find in a particularly down-market caravan site in the seventies: all red lino, Formica and garish neon lighting. Driving around in an ex-pat’s jeep the floors of the vehicle were covered in cans of warm beer on the basis that passengers (and indeed the driver) would be so desperate for a drink that they couldn’t wait for somewhere more salubrious. Although there didn’t appear to be anywhere more salubrious in Libya. Drinking alcohol was illegal, of course, and so this had generated an ex-pat drinking culture somewhat akin to prohibition era America. Triple P liked alcohol. Very much. But for him it should be good quality, and consumed from appropriate glassware in convivial surroundings. Not drunk furtively from a can in a jeep travelling along a dusty road at night.


Tripoli was only three and a quarter hours flight from London so it was flown by European standard planes. His Club Europe seat was a little wider than normal and he had no-one next to him but otherwise there was little difference to economy other than a cooked breakfast which consisted of the typical British Airways diabetic standard white omelette. It was like eating a wet sponge but rather less tasty. The approach was much bumpier than Triple P would have liked and he was very relieved to touch down in Tripoli.


Revolution Square


Driving in from the airport Triple P noticed a lot more cars than on his previous trip. Most of them were battered Japanese cars of eighties vintage, or pick up trucks, but there seemed a strong contingent of Chrysler PT Cruisers, oddly. He later discovered that the government buys cars from abroad and then sells them at a loss to the citizens to enable more people to have cars. Unfortunately, nothing had been done to build more roads or improve traffic management. In addition, the Libyans had obviously inherited their previous colonial masters, the Italians, driving style. They had a wonderful technique of using their cars to create a traffic lane that hadn't previously existed.





The Hotel Corinthia Bab Africa was a joint venture between the Maltese and the Libyans and was the only Western hotel in the country.





It was, as a result, always booked solid and was very expensive. Nevertheless, Triple P’s Executive Club room was spacious with a decent bathroom and a view of the Mediterranean.



The view from Triple P's room. Not exactly a developed waterfront.



The only problem he subsequently discovered was that the beds must have been provided by the Maltese, who are not a tall people, as they were equally short. The hotel had four restaurants: a buffet which served breakfast, lunch and dinner, an oriental one, an Italian one and a Moroccan one.


That evening he attended an elegant reception at one of the Embassies but totally failed to find any female companionship. He retired to his short bed and read his novel about Hadrian’s Wall. Although written by an American it was an enjoyable overseas trip book and the author had not only obviously visited the wall, capturing the feel of the Northumbrian countryside, but had also properly researched the Roman uniforms of fourth century Britain and had avoided the usual mistakes historical novelists make when writing about late Roman armour and equipment. Triple P had made a comment to this effect on the author’s website and had been surprised to receive a friendly e-mail from the novelist himself. He would buy the rest of his books when he returned.



The Souk.




Next day, on the way to his meeting at a government institution, he took a short cut from the hotel through the souk. Unlike similar places in Egypt or Turkey the locals kept a respectful distance and did not attempt to sell you things you did not want. It was an interesting contrast between people selling rugs from bare stalls to completely western decorated pharmacy shops advertising the latest perfumes. Much of this part of old Tripoli, within the medieval walls still had significant amounts of Italian architecture. In Revolution Square under one of the large posters featuring The Leader he found a modern café where he had a cup of tea before his meeting. Altogether his views on Libya, or at least the Libyans, had changed in only a day. They seemed genuinely friendly, non-threatening and keen to show off their English.

Might make a good painting!


That afternoon after an astonishingly large lunch in a restaurant named Twareg and located, oddly, in Triploi zoo (where, slightly worryingly, Triple P was presented with a fish with teeth to eat), Triple P managed to escape for four hours. He had booked a car to take him to the Roman ruins at Sabratha. He would have liked to have gone to Leptis Magna but that was too far away but Sabratha, at 40 miles, was just doable in the time he had. He had rather low expectations and was, as a result, impressed by the huge site adjoining the sea.



The ruins were bathed in a warm late afternoon light and looked at their best against the deep blue backdrop of the Mediterranean. The most spectacular building was the Roman theatre which had been sensitively restored to give an idea of its former splendour.




That evening, anyway, it gave him a topic of conversation at yet another Embassy reception, with a fetching Italian girl with short, thick shock of black hair, a nice strong nose and a very pert behind. Sadly her husband was also at the party so she declined his offer of dinner in the Moroccan restaurant. Oh well, he mused, nothing ventured nothing gained.



The meeting site!




Next day he was contacted by a dubious Libyan company who had been wanting him to do something with them for around two years. Mysterious and obtuse telephone calls had culminated in a bizarre meeting in Toronto the previous winter. Now they sent a car to pick him up from the hotel. A battered old silver Daewoo arrived driven by a man in a leather jacket, drooping moustache and the general air of a low-grade thug. A hair raising 60mph dash ensued along the coast before darting inland and after several unnecessary turns the arrival at the sort of street where you expected to be ambushed by men armed with rocket propelled grenades. He was shown into a large private house with a yard filled with chained Alsatians and taken upstairs to an office suite where the internal décor consisted of a selection of guns on the wall. A new Libyan contact appeared speaking in a perfect South London accent. There was a general air of unpleasantness as the contact berated Triple P for not doing something whilst Triple P fought back with the fact that he couldn’t do anything until they had done something. After fifteen minutes and some consensus being reached the taciturn Libyan driver took a relived Triple P back to his hotel. He could really have done with a large Martini at this point but sadly that was not to be although he settled for some rather past its best Chablis at another Embassy event that evening. There was even less female talent about and virtually no food but just as he arrived back at the hotel he received a call from the Italian lady who suggested that they might have dinner in the hotel’s Italian restaurant. This resulted in a much better finish to the day than he had anticipated (it had looked likea one way trip down an alley at one point). The restaurant produced some fantastic spaghetti putannesca and even some alcohol free beer. The young lady engaged in some rather naughty and enjoyably tactile flirting.





The last day consisted of more meetings and finished with an enjoyable dinner at a restaurant in the centre of the city overlooking the magnificent Roman triumphal arch in the centre of the city.


All in all a much better visit than Triple P had expected.

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