Thursday, October 20, 2011

Remember the Good Times

by Gaije Kushner


Muamar Gadhafi is dead, NPR tells me. Having just had a look at the corpse video, I expect they're right. They usually are. I understand he was a terrible, horrible, dictator. I do. The Libyan people are celebrating in the streets, and rightly so. Prisoners are hoping to be released, their death sentences overturned. I hope they, and all of Gadhafi's surviving victims, find peace and justice. It's certainly long overdue. Despite all that, I find myself wondering if I'm the only one who's going to miss him, just a little? Probably so, yeah.

I realize this probably makes me a bad person, but so many things already do, I can't start being bothered by that now. It's nothing to do with his policies. I find them all appalling; of course I do. It's just that over the years, he has proven such an excellent source of entertaining crazy. I can't imagine who could ever take his place.

Gadhafi's antics first came to my attention a decade or two ago, when I discovered his Amazonian Guard. Beautiful women, all decked out in make-up and heels, fully armed. They looked like they'd been plucked straight off the set of a Robert Palmer video, to surround and protect him, at all times. They travelled with him, took vows of chastity for him, got into scuffles with other security contingents on his behalf, some may have even died for him. He saw them as symbols of modern Libyan women, powerful, glamorous, and virginal.

Then came the nurses, the pretty Ukranian nurses. They lived in luxury apartments, had their own drivers, frequent lavish shopping trips, and called their employer Papa. They also monitored his blood pressure, insisted on frequent exercise, and travelled with him. When he visited less developed nations, they insisted he wear gloves at all times, to protect against exotic diseases they saw lurking on every surface. One nurse in particular, Halyna Kolotnytskya, was reported to have a special connection with her employer, constantly at his side. On her flight back to the Ukraine in February, she drank more than might have been wise, telling her fellow passengers, "Papa is good and Papa is eternal. Quadaafi will be victorious, and in one and a half to two months I will return there." She clearly lacks the gift of prophecy.

In recent years, apparently thinking his work on behalf of Libyan and Ukrainian women was done, Gadhafi turned his attention to the plight of western European women. During a 2007 trip to Paris, accompanied by 30 of his Amazonians, camels, and probably a nurse or two, requested a meeting with 1000 French women. The women were instructed to stand when he entered the room, and not to upset His Excellency.

He began by telling them all he'd done for Libyan women, reforming divorce laws, employing them as bodyguards, and such. But he wasn't there to talk about himself, or his country. Oh, no. He wanted to express his wish to "save European women" from their "tragic conditions" under which they were "sometimes forced to do work they do not want to do." Tragic indeed.

Paris was just his trial run. In 2009, Gadhafi paid his friend Silvio Berlusconi a visit. In Rome, he had a hostess agency, whatever that is exactly, round up 200 women. They had to be at least 5ft. 7, attractive, and couldn't dress too revealingly. The women were bussed in to the Libyan ambassador's residence. There, they were treated to Gadhafi's thoughts, not on their tragic plight this time, but Islam. His efforts to convert them included the assertion Jesus had not been crucified. Instead, "God in heaven took him. They crucified someone who looked like him."

After two hours of such pearls, the women left. Some offended by their host's portrayal of Christianity, all complaining they hadn't been offered any refreshments, and at least one, by the name of Rea Balko, sold. "He convinced me," she said. "I shall be converting to Islam." Her family must be very proud.

Last fall, Gadhafi took things to the next level, bringing 20 of those same Italian women to Libya. For two weeks, they stayed in 5 star hotels and resorts, rode camels, drank warm camel milk, and enjoyed the Colonel's company. Clio Evans, one of the lucky ladies, describes a cozy time, "We sat in a tent and joked and laughed for ages." Can't you just see it? Gadhafi and 20 Italian women, bonding in a real way in that tent? Doing each other's hair, and having pillow fights, no doubt. But was he really fully present for the slumber party? Or was his mind elsewhere, filled perhaps with thoughts of his beloved Condoleeza Rice?

Gadhafi made no secret of his feelings for Condoleeza. In a 2007 interview he declared, "I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders . . . Leeza, Leeza, Leeza . . . I love her very much. I admire her, and I'm proud of her, because she's a black woman of African origin." When Rice visited Libya the next year, he continued addressing her with his private pet name for her, Leeza, and showered her with $212,000 worth of sparkly gifts. But none of us could have prepared us for the discovery, deep within his lair, of a photo album, filled cover to cover with Condi. It's not quite a stalker style altar, but really, close enough.

I could go on and on. The endlessly changing spelling of his name, the tent he wasn't permitted to pitch in Central Park, inspiring Ronald Reagan to utter the comic book words, "Madman of the middle east."

Who could possibly take his place? Hugo Chavez is too ill. Kim Jong Il doesn't leave the house enough. Vladimir Putin's too busy wrestling bears underwater, and coming up with ever more creative methods of assassination. Maybe a Kardashian will prove equal to the task, or one of Bravo's Real Housewives? I see some potential there.

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