Before 9/11, Saudi Arabia was in fact gearing up to welcome, or at least accept, a trickle of non-Muslim visitors, dropping a handkerchief to the world.

Crown Prince Abdullah—now the king—was a radical modernizer by Saudi standards.

Just the vacation spot for a headstrong, adventure-loving, cocktail-imbibing, fashion-conscious chick.

,” I asked.“Women can be buried there,” he conceded, “but you are not allowed to go in and look into it.”So I can only see a dead woman if I’m a dead woman? It’s the most bewitching, bewildering, beheading vacation spot you’ll never vacation in.

Saudi Arabia is one of the premier pilgrimage sites in the world, outstripping Jerusalem, the Vatican, Angkor Wat, and every other religious destination, except for India’s Kumbh Mela (which attracts as many as 50 million pilgrims every three years).

He wanted to encourage more outside contact and to project an image other than one of religious austerity (with bursts of terrorism).

The Saudis had already cracked open the door slightly for some degree of cultural tourism.

It was a smile I would grow all too accustomed to from Saudi men in the coming days.

It translated into “No f---ing way, lady.”“Women are not allowed to go into cemeteries,” he told me.

The houses, empty now, are stretched tall to capture the sea breeze on streets squeezed narrow to capture the shade.

The latticed screens on cantilevered verandas were intended to ensure “the privacy and seclusion of the harem,” as the Lebanese writer Ameen Rihani noted in 1930.

The preservation of these 500 houses surrounding a souk marks an attempt by the Saudis, whose oil profits turned them into bling addicts, to appreciate the beauty of what they dismissively call “old stuff.”Jidda means “grandmother” in Arabic, and the city may have gotten its name because tradition holds that the grandmother of all temptresses, the biblical Eve, is buried here—an apt symbol for a country that legally, sexually, and sartorially buries its women alive.

(A hard-line Muslim cleric in Iran recently blamed provocatively dressed women for earthquakes, inspiring the headline SHEIK IT!

The royals doubled down on the deal when Islamic fundamentalists took over the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, in 1979.