Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Paper Bag Princess

Finally – a day off…read “A” day off. Have been running around like a schizophrenic hunting the CIA lately, and there is no lag in sight until the beginning of December. The marvelous news is that on the 4th of December at 0120, I will be granted a 12 day long honeymoon with my Canadian passport (which is kept by security and I have to go through multiple lines of defense to gain access to) to ITALY. Not only that, my dear Mama Mac is flying in from T.O. to meet me for the length of the sojourn. Together we will join forces in the ogling of hot Italian men and the consumption of copious quantities of really really good red wine…I mean…in the studious appreciation of Roman culture and architechture…heh

The story today goes back to mine and Bec’s Oct 18th trip to the “Princess Sooq”:

We had heard rumours of this place – a flea market of sorts, where princesses ditch all their old clothing and fancy dresses, and common folk can come and pick through the discards. Legend had it that one could quickly acquire an entire new wardrobe for SR 50 (roughly $15 CAD). Bec and I decided we were going to find out if this fabled upscale Arabian Goodwill actually existed. We hired ourselves a hala (taxi service from the hospital) who assured us he knew where it was, and set off in a direction we had not yet been, brimming with visions of a vintage Eden. The brimming excitement slowly bubbled over into a flood of horror as our cabbie turned off the main road and began weaving his way down back alleyways, dodging piles of rubbish rotting in the clogged gutters. We were doomed. We were being taken to the underground chop chop (see blog entry Aug 22) storage space and had no doubt been slotted for execution for shopping scarf-less in the Kingdom Mall last week. We watched a mangy 3-legged cat, macerated skin sliding over its protruding ribs as it zig-zagged its way down the uneven stained pavement (narrowly escaping becoming a 3-legged and TAILLESS cat thanks to our cab). We passed several rusty hinged open doors which left no further doubt in our minds as to what the archaic “Saudi style” toilet consists of…luckily we did not have the chance to see a demonstration of how one was to use it…

Then, all of a sudden, we came to an open area, and our cabbie glanced into the rearview mirror and grunted “here”. We looked out the window at the mounds of garbage…no wait…those are…clothes? Bec and I looked at each other. Then back out at the cess pool of no doubt once vibrant fabrics, now browned by…well, let’s not think about by what. We paid the cabbie to wait for us RIGHT HERE for an hour, and I stepped out into a puddle of what I am still telling myself was a wee oil spill.
The next hour was quite possibly the most amazing shopping experience I have ever had…once we got over the fact that we would likely have to do some time in the autoclave upon our return to the hospital, we realized that this excursion needed not one hour, but 3 or 4! As we dug through the absolutely over the top beaded and detailed custom made princess dresses, and the mounds of old bags, scarves and casual wear, we gained insight into the culture of female Saudis we could never have gotten from observing the ubiquitous black flowing floor length cover-all abayas gliding around the city.

Treasures found? Oh yes indeed. Several dresses (SR 10 each – about 3.00 CAD), one of which I had altered (for SR 20), and wore to a super fancy black tie ball in the Ambassador’s Gardens at the British Embassy (see above picture). Also, a brand new Fendi purse for SR 5 (about 1.50 CAD), as well as a Pierre Cardin bag, also for SR 5.

Hope everyone had a good Halloween. Also, if anyone has been to Italy and has any suggestions as to “must-sees”, I would love to hear from you. Our tentative plan is to spend a few days in Rome, then head to Tuscany/Florence for the remainder of the 12 days, with possibly a little excursion up to Piedmont if time allows. Mum has informed me that Sicily is out of the question, so I will have to put that off until next time…


Your Paper-bag Princess



Ryan said...

Have fun in Italy! The princess dress is charming!

Anonymous said...


You and your colleague are among the lucky few to discover Riyadh's best kept secret -- Haraj bin Qassem souk. this link is a post which I wrote all about this souk and you are so correct in the incredible finds.

In addition to the haute couture clothes and accessories, one should also investigate the electronics area (mobiles, etc), the rugs (handmade carpets), household (antique coffee pots and musical instruments) and much more.

So glad to discover your blog!

Carol (American Bedu)