I've always been an avid reader, even at an early age. I devoured anything I could get my hands on written in english — a big deal for a child for whom english was not a native tongue. I even read content in which I had no interest or was too old for my age group. (I consistently read three levels higher than my grade level) To this day I have more books than I have bookshelves.

I remember walking the streets of Paris with my father (after we emigrated from Laos) and watching in awe as he bargained with a book store clerk. He was trying to get the clerk to sell him a copy of a Tintin graphic novel divorced from it's english language learning tape. Why pay for the entire set when his boy could already read, write and speak english he logically surmised. A great author's words married with my boundless imagination is what eventually landed me in the communication arts & design program at VCU.

If you haven't noticed, I write and think in non sequiturs — though if you stick with me long enough it will all make sense. Which brings me to Maureen Dowd's article A Girls Guide to Saudi Arabia in the August 2010 issue of Vanity Fair. I may not always agree with what she writes but, that doesn't marginalize my appreciation of her work, which is often distinguished by an acerbic, often polemical writing style. I lifted that last line in honor of her 2009 controversy. 

 ... ... ...
In an obvious attempt to get you off your butt and to the newsstand, Vanity Fair has not made this article available online. They have mouths to feed and mortgages to pay too, you know. If you do manage to track down a copy of the August 2010 issue, the one with Angelina Jolie on the cover, I promise you it is a very good read.  

Photo treatments are based on photographs by Ashley Parker.
... ... ...

Back to the article in question. It is long-form narrative. Old school. Well worth reading even by the ADD-addled brains of the internet generation — of which I am a member. The article follows Dowd's travels in a new Saudi Arabia, one just now reopening it's gates to the prospect of tourism.

In Dowd's own words,

"Saudi Arabia! Just the vacation spot for a headstrong, adventure-loving, cocktail-imbibing, fashion-conscious chick. Long averse to non-Muslim curiosity seekers, the Kingdom is now flirting with tourism, though drinking is forbidden and women can't drive — or do much of anything — without a man. Armed with moxie and a Burquini, MAUREEN DOWD confronts the limits of Saudi Arabian hospitality, as well as various male enforcers, learning that, as always, it matters whom you know."

Still not enough to pique your curiosity? Then you should know that the article itself has already garnered a lot of discussion, albeit much in the form of criticism, on the VF daily blog. Vanity Fair's own slideshow of Dowd's "vacation" snapshots further fuel the fire.

Photo treatments are based on photographs by Ashley Parker.

My point here is not about the content of the article, but rather the way it is written. Journalism, in any form, is story-telling. The ultimate intention of any story-teller is to get a reaction from the audience. When you are able to do so and the conversation extends beyond the life of the story, then you've made an impact. I leave you with another short excerpt from the Vanity Fair article.

"Today Saudi Arabia is trying to take a few more steps ahead — starting with a coed university, letting women sell lingerie to women, even toning down public beheadings. If you're living on Saudi time, akin to a snail on Ambien, the popular 86-year-old King Abdullah is making bold advances. To the rest of the world, the changes are almost imperceptible."

With writing like this how could your mind not fill up with dramatic images? I'm storyboarding my own personal movie right now. I'm sorry I can't invite you to the screening — it's playing in my head.

... ... ...

Photograph by Gasper Tringale


... ... ...