As the missiles pound the Libyan capital and Qaddafi retreats further & further into the depths of his compound, I’ve been thinking long and hard about this city. Each time I visited over the last six years I found endless material for features and thought. I’ve always experienced warm often quirky encounters – so throughout this post I’ll drop in pics of Tripolitanians themselves – the people that matter far more than Qaddafi’s henchmen.


Cool dude at one of Tripoli’s great fish restaurants
Ironically the last piece I wrote on Tripoli was kept on hold for over a year after the fiasco of releasing the alleged Lockerbie bomber, Al-Magrahi, from Scotland. It finally did appear five months ago – see But my encouragement to visit this offbeat place has obviously become obsolete yet again. Tourism is momentarily dead – along with a lot of citizens.


Bliss: shisha + TV
During these days of high tension and standoffs, I realised it’s a country that is historically misunderstood. Yesterday, finally, I heard a news item actually spell out the fact that Libya only became a united country under Italian colonial rule (pre World War II). At last. Before that it was three separate entities, including a vast swathe of desert in the south, where Qaddafi comes from. His bedouin tent is just one reminder. This historical fact is fundamental in the clash between the liberal-minded ‘rebels’ in Benghazi (former Cyrenaica) and the handful of pro-Qaddafi hardliners in Tripoli (former Tripolitania).


Mosque caretaker.
Nor does it mean that everyone in Tripoli supports the dictator, far from it. Many people I met regarded him as a bit of a joke – the fact that his billboard image (and outfit) changed annually pointed to a degree of vanity and his speeches… well we saw the one of him under the umbrella. But political repression has always existed, beautifully and painfully described in Hisham Matar’s semi-autobiographical book, In the Country of Men.


Watch & clock repairer
We’ll see where this war leads us. Personally I’m never happy about foreign intervention and I demonstrated against the Iraq war. This time though, there is a huge section of the population fighting desperately for survival and they need our support.


ps if you want to know more about Tripoli’s day to day life before the missiles, see my book Medina Kitchen or North African Kitchen.