Learning Luxury in Libya

by Donna on November 30, 2011

Libya and luxury usually are not in the same sentence. Khadafi was never known as a great promoter of tourism for Americans and it is only by luck that my trip was timed during a short window of time in 2004 when visas for Americans were possible. Not that it was easy—despite hours of prior paperwork, standing in a separate section of the dimly lit Tripoli airport at close to midnight while an elderly official painstakingly copied my passport information was a bit unsettling.  The United States and Libya had no diplomatic relations.  If anything went wrong I was on my own.

Once in Tripoli I began to fantasize about being on a set of some Arabian nights movie. The Bab Corinthian in central Tripoli was the finest hotel I’d ever stayed in. The lobby was opulent and elegant, even if the atmosphere was not always relaxing and comfortable.  As a western woman, even one conservatively dressed, I could sense the Saudi men in their white robes watching when I walked from doorway to elevator.

From the elevator it was to my amazing room.  The bedroom was large enough to dwarf the large wood armoire that stood in one corner.  In a separate part of the room, in front of the floor to ceiling picture window, was a plush sofa and glass-topped  coffee table. Along another wall there was a large French-styled desk and office center. 

If I thought the main room was large, the bathroom seemed designed for a family, not a solo traveler. Long curving marble sink with multiple displays of imported amenities, large glassed-in shower, separate commode and in another area a big footed tub with a selection of bubbly bath powders.   A central, circular tiled area separated everything.  

Still, it wasn’t the room or the bathroom that made me feel like a queen out of Arabian Nights. It was my fatoush salad. Tromping around some of the world’s most impressive Roman ruins is hard work.  (Forget Italy—see Leptus Magna and Sabratha for amazing Roman cities.)  Hunger-creating work. Back at the Bab, washing the dust off, dinner was still hours away, and my stomach was growling. The room service menu had lots of stuff I didn’t want, but it did have a traditional Arabic comfort food—fatoush salad. It’s simple peasant fare: fried bread cubes, chopped peppers, sometimes onions, often tomatoes, seasoned with a little oil and spices. At only $3 it was the perfect simple snack until dinner.

This was the Bab Corinthia. THE hotel in Tripoli. Nothing was ordinary or simple, including my salad. Twenty minutes after calling room service, my hair still dripping wet from a much-needed shower, I opened the door to a waiter dressed as if serving in an elegant dining room, wheeling a large cart. In English he asked where did madam want her salad.  The table was then set with linen cloths and heavy silverware. My salad was presented on a covered china dish. There was a basket of fresh, warm pita bread. Was everything to my liking?  Umm, err, yes. It’s just a fatoush salad. No matter. The waiter seemed anxious to make sure that I (now representing all Americans) understood Libya is a civilized country.

My salad was wonderful. And when I returned from the next day’s sightseeing, I was calling room service as soon as I entered the room.





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