Jeddah Nights, Not Jedi Knights

Posted: Feb 13, 2006 9:41 AM

  • I know it snowed in the East over the weekend and, at least in Your Nation's Capital, people won't be going back to work or school until mid-March at the earliest, so I offer the following light look at my brief visit to the Middle East.

  • This forum is a pretty big deal because a lot of people make a lot of money helping companies do business in Saudi Arabia where, you might have heard, oil is grown.

  • This was true when oil was $13 a barrel. When oil is $60 per barrel, a lot of people make a really lot of money.

  • So, four hundred-or-so very earnest-looking business people - some businesswomen, are here, too - have been exchanging business cards after promising to put each other in contact with the exact guy who can get to the exact guy who can get a license approved to build a spaceport along the border with Yemen.

  • "Core Business" is a phrase I've heard a great deal during this conference, as in "I was very near to closing the deal on funding the spaceport on the border with Yemen when the investors decided that wasn't their core business."

  • A word about Jeddah. First of all, when people say Jeddah night, they are talking about this beautiful city on the coast of the Red Sea after dark. Not, to my great disappointment, a Jedi Knight.

  • When, on my way in from the airport, I asked (in that impish way of mine) if we would be anywhere near the light saber museum, my driver appeared to simply decide he didn't speak English well enough to know what I was asking and so, just shrugged and shook his head.

  • Turns out, he has a degree from the London School of Economics and was this close to making a deal to build a spaceport on the border with Yemen, so he understood me perfectly well. He just thought I was an idiot.

  • Here's another Tip for Travelers if you come to this event next year: The phrase "political hack" does not translate well into Arabic. Nor, for that matter, into English.

  • If someone asks you what you do and you have no ready answer try this one: "I provide public affairs counseling for private equity placement firms." That makes their eyes light right up and a business card appear like a conjurer producing a white parrot. Nothing is cooler at a conference like this than a job description which makes no sense but includes the words counseling, and private equity.

  • This particular conference has attracted three interesting speakers: Gerhard Schroeder, Steve Forbes and Al Gore who would appear to have nothing in common but their shared failure at running for President of a G-8 nation.

  • The organizers probably thought that a speech by John Kerry, fresh from his dynamite appearance at the Davos Economic Forum, would have been, I don't know, derivative.

  • People use that as a put-down: "He thinks he's really clever, but everything he says is so … so … derivative, don't you think? To which I often answer, "One man's derivation is another man's homage (pronounced "oh-MAJH)."

  • You can have that one. It has been known to generate actual standing ovations at cocktail parties of which there are very, very few here in Saudi Arabia.

  • Speaking of which, there are notices in the Saudia Airlines information that importation of alcohol into the Kingdom is forbidden. There is a notice on the immigration form which says "WARNING: Death to Drug Trafficker" in red letters which, even if not exactly correct from a grammatical standpoint; do tend to get the point across.

  • I didn't import anything. Given the current displeasure with Denmark for those cartoons, I didn't even pack a cheese danish for the 11-hour flight. I mentioned that to a colleague, Larry Kamer, who said it might also be a good idea not to bring a copy of Hamlet.

  • "Hamlet? Why not Hamlet?" He said, "Wasn't Hamlet the Prince of Denmark?"

  • I hate it when (a) someone comes up with a pithy literary reference before I do and (b) I have to have it explained to me.

  • So I recited, "Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." Then said, "I think that's so derivative of Bacon, don't you?"

  • On a the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Remember I mentioned I had been arrested the last time I was in Saudi Arabia? The link to that travelogue: Ranger Rick Rides into Riyadh" is on the SDR and I recommend it. Also, links to a Hamlet site and to a Frances Bacon page; A Mullfoto which confused me and a Catchy Caption of the Day.