Salam Pax has charmed his way around Australia. Poor man has not seen much of the country or the culture. Emily Booth, his publisher publicist, has given him a heavy schedule which means that if you ask him what he thinks of the country he will reply: "Your hotels are very good. Room service is good." He has mainly seen the insides of bookshops and CD stores, he says. And radio and TV studios. And, for us tonight, a large hall where the Salam Pax Big Book Club event attracted an enthusiastic capacity crowd.
Salam arrived and gratefully accepted a glass of white wine, mingling easily, albeit slightly confused when one gentleman came to deliver him greetings from a certain sheik in London. That man, like several others in the audience, had been to Iraq. But he had serious dealings with the redevelopment of the country. I don't think Salam realised this but, then again, there were so many people vying for his attention.
Having interviewed him on the phone for the Saturday magazine feature, we were already relaxed and on a kindred wavelength with blogging in common. For this event, we sat together at a table on stage - the interview process being more relaxed and conversational.
Salam was a deleriously easy interview, although he says he finds the "being interviewed" process very weird indeed. Our format makes it more like a chat - and it felt very comfortable. Salam says he hates being made into some sort of pundit on the politics of Iraq, but of course his insights are craved. I had to ask at least some questions about war and peace, for this is what has made him so famous. But he was most at home enthusing about the blogsphere.
I had a show of hands on bloggers in the audience. Only four. We think there will be more tonight - since we have encouraged them to come here to blogger and get into it, now they understand that it is another rich world of communications and self-expression.
Salam was a little taller than I had expected. I don't know why. He is pleasant looking, balding, with a neat, groomed beard. He is slightly rounded in physique - and makes clear, honest eye-contact when talking with one. His English is superb - with an interesting, cultured accent. Of course he was educated in Vienna.
The audience was absolutely rapt with interest in all he had to say. It is magnificent to look out on a sea of sentient faces. Gives one hope for the world. And having Salam was, I observed, like having a little window through which to see into the real Iraq. Not that he is a typical Iraqi, as he is first to admit. But his European education forced him to examine his culture and see it through an objective lens. This makes him no less of a patriot. He is a brilliant ambassador for his country. He tries to assert a sense of optimism for it, grateful that Saddam is gone, adamant that the coalition should listen to more Iraqis. He communicates well the sense of disruption and fear in which the people live, saying that when a car backfired in Sydney, he immediately felt a flashback to Iraq and feared where the bullets were going.
He also is funny - a lovely, ironic humor, familiar to all of us who have read his blog.
Our evening with him ran over time. Everyone had questions to ask. We did not want to let him go. So much we want to know.
Bravo, Salam. You are a delightful man and it was simply marvellous to connect in person with you. In your wake go waves of new understanding.
Please don't stop blogging.