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US historian William Polk amazed by Saudi transformation during visit

William said that he was surprised to see the enormous change and large development in the Kingdom between his first and second visit

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The famous American historian William Polk described his return to the kingdom as a new chapter of the “One Thousand and One Nights” tale; this is due to the huge difference between the Kingdom of today and what it was like when he first visited it in 1968. He had written a book “Passing Brave”, documenting the details of the kingdom.

Polk had recently visited the Kingdom and King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. He has also organized a lecture at the National Museum, in which he talked about his famous journey.

Polk is one of the most famous historians. He stayed in many Arab countries for a long period of time, working as a journalist, diplomat and researcher. During his stay, he was able to chain the history of the Arab region, especially the political, economic and social events.

His most famous trip was the one he carried out on the back of the camel in the Saudi desert in 1972, where he visited the sites mentioned in the poem of the poet Loubayd bin Abi Rabiaa. The outcome of this trip was a book published by the University of Chicago with the translations of the poems and the comments of Dr. Polk.

This book was re-printed and published by the American University in Cairo and the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation. Dr. Polk has also published his memoirs about the trip in a book entitled “Passing Brave”; it was first published by Knopt and then Ballantine. The translated version was prepared by the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation under the title “A Journey to the Arab Past.”

Polk revealed in an interview with al-Riyadh newspaper about the details of his first trip.

He said: “It all started in 1968, when I visited King Faisal and asked him to translate an amazing Arab poem that was later on entitled “Golden anthem”. It was written by Loubayd bin Abi Rabiaa in the sixth century. I told the king that I wanted to live the same experience of the poet so I could feel the emotions and sensations mentioned in this poem.”

“King Faisal warned me about this adventure saying that the Sahara might be very dangerous, however, he ordered his men to give me a car but I answered that I needed a camel; I wanted to experience that same thing that the poet had experienced. I wanted to get thirsty and suffer a little bit. Thus, the late king provided me with camels and men to accompany me.”

“Then I invited my old friend Bill Maris, the professional photographer, to accompany me on the trip. It took us a month or so and it was an unforgettable experience. We really suffered, and we nearly died of thirst, but the last night of our trip, I heard Bill saying that he has never felt that happy before and he wanted to do it all over again.”

William said that he was surprised to see the enormous change and large development in the Kingdom between his first and second visit.

Dr. Polk attended the “Colors of Saudi Arabia” forum that was recently held in Riyadh. It was surprising for him to see the renaissance of Arab Antiquities. “We entered into a huge showroom where young Saudis gathered to show their perception or vision of life and culture in the Arabian Peninsula. There was no roles or particular order; everybody spoke about their perception, what was important, useful and entertaining,” he said.

“It was spontaneous and he wouldn’t have imagined that it would be possible when he first visited the Kingdom. There were thousands of young people scattered around the room observing photos, artwork and interacting with others. It was a strange image of the Kingdom that does not look like the labelled image that Europe and America have drawn. They believe that Saudis are strict, introverted and extremist people... unfortunately they do not know Saudis well.”