,” I asked.“Women can be buried there,” he conceded, “but you are not allowed to go in and look into it.”So I can only see a dead woman if I’m a dead woman? It’s the most bewitching, bewildering, beheading vacation spot you’ll never vacation in.Saudi Arabia is one of the premier pilgrimage sites in the world, outstripping Jerusalem, the Vatican, Angkor Wat, and every other religious destination, except for India’s Kumbh Mela (which attracts as many as 50 million pilgrims every three years).It was a smile I would grow all too accustomed to from Saudi men in the coming days.
I had visited Saudi Arabia twice before, and knew it was the hardest place on earth for a woman to negotiate.
Women traveling on their own have generally needed government minders or permission slips.
Three years after 9/11, in 2004, the Kingdom decided to give the tourism business another try, this time hiring a public-relations firm to get things rolling.
The Web site of the resulting Supreme Commission for Tourism was “a disaster,” one Saudi official abashedly recalls, shaking his head.
Before 9/11, Saudi Arabia was in fact gearing up to welcome, or at least accept, a trickle of non-Muslim visitors, dropping a handkerchief to the world.
Crown Prince Abdullah—now the king—was a radical modernizer by Saudi standards.
) According to legend, when Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden they went their separate ways, Adam ending up in Mecca and Eve in Jidda, with a single reunion. ) Eve’s cemetery lies behind a weathered green door in Old Jidda.
When I suggested we visit, Abdullah smiled with sweet exasperation.
The houses, empty now, are stretched tall to capture the sea breeze on streets squeezed narrow to capture the shade.
The latticed screens on cantilevered verandas were intended to ensure “the privacy and seclusion of the harem,” as the Lebanese writer Ameen Rihani noted in 1930.
He wanted to encourage more outside contact and to project an image other than one of religious austerity (with bursts of terrorism).