Quizzed a former co-worker today, over the phone, about sneaking into Mecca. He worked in Riyadh for three years, and had never heard of anybody trying. Said the degree of repression in Saudi Arabia was unbelievable, that you can feel it in the air - he likened it to Stalinist Russia. This was the same guy who told me tales of the Religious Police - they drive green cars (green being the color of Islam) and if they spot a woman showing more skin than the Shari'a dictates, they'd stop the individual and spray-paint her exposed flesh (you guessed it) green. He mentioned the weekly beheadings each Friday (televised live), a probable fate for a pretender to their religion. His Baptismal certificate was a required document, when he applied for his working papers, to prove his own religion. (Apparently you can't just leave that line blank.) As for life inside their compound, previously he told me about the few Secretaries and Nurses - how they called 'em GAWWs, because they always said "Got Any White Wine?" (All alcohol of course being forbidden, what they had was either smuggled in or manufactured on the spot, via fermentation or in homemade stills). Reminds me of the moonshine I saw once (but didn't taste) in North Carolina: real "White Lightning", it was almost pure ethanol, delivered in a Mason jar. I was still in high school then, visiting my brother H at the small college he attended in Greensboro - one of the people in his dorm had very rural connections.
This evening I drove up to Palo Alto to see a film in the grand old Stanford theater, which has a balcony and a mighty Wurlitzer. On Wednesday evenings, during the summer, they show silent movies with live accompaniment - tonight's feature was "The Kid Brother" starring Harold Lloyd. An amazingly clear print, for a 1927 film, very funny (of course) and the biggest crowd I've yet experienced in this cinema. This movie is apparently very popular, they show it almost once a year. Once in LA I met a native whose family were friends of Harold Lloyd's, he remembered visiting his huge mansion (since demolished and the lot subdivided) in the Hollywood Hills. He told me something I really didn't take too seriously, until later when I saw a book of rare color stereoscope picture-pairs; one of the plates was this very object: Harold Lloyd's permanent Christmas tree. He decorated it with all the medals and stuff people had awarded him. Now I'm wondering how the tree actually worked - it couldn't have been conventional, or it would've looked dead - is it possible to keep an evergreen alive in the living room indefinitely?
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