I’m back in Riyadh for the first time in 45 days. Along the highways, Saudi flags – that fearsome green banner with the ornate script and the crossed swords – flap in the hot desert air. Ramadan is over; Islam’s annual, month-long ritual of day-time fasting and night-time feasting has at last come to a close. The capitol hasn’t recovered yet.
For the first time – taking a familiar drive into the heart of town, cresting the western ridge of the city’s wide river plateau – I see how beautifully Riyadh sparkles at night.
Time away is good. It gives you perspective, letting you appreciate things anew. But it also helps you sharpen your instincts, re-remember what once made you pause. (As I’m thinking this, the flashing lights of a police checkpoint come into view.)
I tap the steering wheel and realize this: In the coming weeks and months, I’ll let this column be a kind of record of that tension between fear and awe.
In the piece, we encounter a band of American musicians – most of whom had never left America, let alone North America. Because of their wide-eyed enthusiasm, what could have been a disaster becomes a kind of catharsis.
Assembled in a plush anteroom at Quincy House, the US Ambassador’s formal residence here in Riyadh, the Pine Leaf Boys were a crew of guileless, fresh-faced Louisianans in their mid-20s. The bassist, a handsome bearded man named Thomas David, had never left the US before. The drummer, Drew Simon, compact and slouching, said he postponed his wedding to attend. The wispy-thin fiddler, Courtney Granger, said he was so nervous about coming to the Middle East that he’d spent the previous two days vomiting. Read the rest of this entry »