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Always fascinated by the paradox presented in Hesse's Magister Ludi between the worlds of the spirt and of the flesh, I left academia after completing the coursework for a Ph.D. in English Literature for a career in Information Technology consulting, foresaking Shakespeare, Byron, and Fitzgerald for Turing, Iverson, and Date. Soon thereafter, I, like Tom and Laura's father, the telephone lineman, fell in love with long distance. In the years that followed, I plied my craft in places strange and far, including Riyadh, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sarajevo, and (most pleasantly) Nice. Returning to my native America after many years abroad, I have found it dramatically changed, not necessarily for the better. Now I practice my trade more sedately, traveling to such exotic places as St. Louis, Atlanta, and Hartford. But, as Mr. Buffett reminds us, "there's still so much to be done." So hearkening back to Tom's absent father... if the phone doesn't ring, it's me.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saudi Sojourn: Intergender Swimming

Muslim full-body swimsuits join the beach bikinis

By Oliver Poole in Istanbul

The beaches of Turkey, crowded with women in bikinis or sunbathing topless, are witnessing a new phenomenon: neck-to-ankle swimwear worn by increasingly confident Muslim women.

The Islamic swimwear consists of a full-body suit and a hood that is pulled over a tight bonnet. The development is worrying the country's secularists and there have been reports of lifeguards ordering women off beaches for wearing the suits.

Religiously conservative women have traditionally shunned the beaches. If they did visit, they were unable to swim as they were unwilling to bare their flesh in public.

More at The Daily Telegraph...

I lived and worked amongst the children of Saud for five years, the last year of which (1996) I spent in a rather desolate outpost called Jubail. Along with Yanbu, Jubail is one of two "royal" cities, a government-constructed town built solely for the purpose of processing the crude that is the life blood of the Saudis, and particularly of the ever-expanding House of Saud. Jubail is situated on the Persian (or Arabian, depending upon your perspective) Gulf in the extreme northeast of Saudi, north of Dhahran and south of Kuwait. It's a two hours drive to Bahrain, a haven of debauchery for all who work in Saudi that included real scotch and Russian hookers.

Jubail, itself, however is truly a bleak place, with summer temperatures typically approaching 125oF and 90% humidity, designed solely to house those working for the numerous refineries, and inhabited by Saudi bureaucrats, Pakistani workers, Thai servants, and a core group of Western expats supporting primarily IT, engineering, and medical services. This latter group, of which I was fortunate enough to be a member for a year, generally divided its time between work (minimal), making illicit booze, playing bridge (as Robert Cohn observed in The Sun Also Rises, "A man could always make a living at bridge if he were forced to"), and -- the males at least -- attempting to seduce the females of all nationalities, but most particularly the Western nurses.

Often, on summer evenings, we would go to the local beach, a dark, fine sanded beach bordered by palm and date trees, to find relief from the heat. Many evenings groups of Saudi women would appear for the same purpose. Dressed in their black veiled hijabs and flowing black abayahs -- interesting how Saudi men determined that it is Allah's will that men wear white, while women wear black in 100o+ temperatures -- and avoiding groups of somewhat intoxicated Western louts, these women didn't have "Muslim swimwear," but were obliged to make do with their normal outerwear.

To escape the searing heat, they would normally go wading in the shallow Gulf waters, their abayahs floating on the surface, forming a circular pattern around the bull’s eye of their hijab-covered heads. With the rays of the setting sun reaching eastward from the land to the water and the fire of the 180 proof hospital-distilled alcohol (mixed with a bit of tonic and lime, of course) burning our stomachs and our livers, these creatures, captive to a society stuck in time, appeared as swarms of giant, black jellyfish gathering to invade the land. Miro or Dali could not have painted a more surreal scene...

Note: This discussion was published earlier, but is being republished with minor revisions in order to conform to the new format of this blog.


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