Day 85 - Tripoli of a Lifetime

Trip Start Aug 07, 2007
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Trip End Nov 07, 2007


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Flag of Libya  ,
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hair: Primed for Hallowe'en
Beard: Completes The Costume 
Distance Driven: 11,627km
Frame of Mind: Rested

A random number n: on the way to Tripoli I saw much commotion on a quayside.  Some fishermen were trying to catch a whale.  I decided I didn't want to see a whale getting butchered but eventually curiosity got the better of me and I sauntered over by which time there was no sight of said beastie.  My Arabic being a little limited I asked "where is big fish?".  Of course I didn't understand the answer but it was either:

a) "It escaped over there out of the harbour." (good news)
b) "We killed it and put it in that boat over there." (c'est la vie, I'm sure it didn't suffer)
or c) "Can you believe this ignorant westerner?  He doesn't even know that whales are mammals." (I dooo!)

Tripoli, or Tarabulus as the Arabs call it, is a cool city but perhaps not as cool as it is made out to be.  There's the pretty palm lined boulevards, the seafront promenade, the little cafe-filled squares, the patisseries etc. but it's not quite there.  Don't get me wrong, it's a nice city but it ain't the uber-chic place that the guide books tout it as.  It's like a 12 year old girl who is going out on her first date and is getting all tarted up.  From a distance she look all grown up by up close you can see that the lipstick doesn't quite tally with the lips (in order to get into posh cafes you need to manoeuvre round piles of breeze blocks), the lashes are on wonky (the espresso gets served in a huge paper cup) and the LBD is clearly her mum's from the early 90s (the decorative artificial pond in the main square has a nice relective sheen of oil).  Mind you, it's not pretentious about it.  It's not trying too hard.  I don't think it cares at all.  It just happens to have been colonised briefly by Italians and has half-remembered some of the good bits.

This all sounds very critical and negative.  I must admit that I am getting a bit bored with Arab cities.  Seen one, seen 'em all.  The guides all say to do the same thing in each (must dos!): wander round the quaint medina (old town) visiting decorative mosques and soaking up atmosphere; get lost in the alleyways of the souk (market) and try your hand at haggling for spices; and visit the museum, which has a fascinating collection of artefacts. 

Bollocks.  Try this:  walk round the outside of peoples houses, step in faeces and get stared at by kids; struggle your way through huge crowds of people trying to buy pants and cheap plastic electronics and get fleeced by a dodgy bloke whose opening gamit is "luvvy jubbly"; and trudge your way dutifully round roomfuls dusty cases of tired old crap with no order or description.

To be fair the Tripoli museum was quite good.  Random, but good.  It was an eclectic mix of history, archaeology, propaganda, biology and freakshow.  My favourite bits were:
1) The near-anthropomorphisation of Gadaffi's baby-blue VW beetle.  It went round Libya and N Africa handing out socialist pamphlets, won a couple of wars and drafted the constitution.
2) The two headed animal section
3) The pickled camel foetus section
4) The 'Letters to Gadaffi' section, a bit like Jim'll Fix It I think.
5) The mosaics - absolutely fantastic


There is a cinema just by my hotel too.  I was very excited till I found out what was on.  Universal Soldier (the sequel I think) and US Marshalls.  Not exactly what I fancied but ineteresting to note what is cross-culturally relevant.  We are a sad little species.  I do like Arab telly though.  The best bit is the censoring/editing.  The bleeping of English swearwords is clearly something they try to do but they get a bit bored and only bother about half the time.  Then you're watching a film and it gets a bit confusing.  You realise they must have cut a HUGE chunk of it out for one reason or another.  No thought given to the plotline!  

My favourite example of this is an advert for toothpaste.  It took me quite a few views before I understood what was going on - well, I wasn't payng too much attention, it's an advert.  The storyboard:  man and woman carrying sofa up stairs to a room.  Man's hands full, woman take the key from round his neck with her teeth.  He opens the door with the key in his teeth.  What's missing?  Of course, she must pass it to him  mouth-to-mouth, hence the need for fresh breath and to use this toothpaste.  So much is cut that it is practically meaningless, or at least quite confusing.  Of course that near-kiss is deemed to risque and has been cut, but it does kinda kill the whole point of the advert!

My bike is playing silly beggars.  Poor little sausage is very tired and a bit broken.  I got some good parts for the clutch this time so that should defo last till I get home.  The other thing, where it feels like it is losing power is getting worse.  I had narrowed it down to being the chain...again.  But that is not the cause.  My rear wheel is buckled which is screwing the chain, catching and tightening it every turn of the wheel.  No chance of getting these parts in Libya, where there is a severe lack of motorcycles of any sort.  I'll have to limp on to Tunisia.  Not a happy bunny.  It makes a horrid sound and the motion is shuddery as well. Poor Charlotte.  Don't worry gal, you'll be going to pasture soon....
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