Sunday, February 2, 2014

Muscat -- the Municipality in Oman, not the spice

Muscat, Oman from our balcony on the cruise ship

Yeah, I thought there must be some connection too, but there's not. Ah, wait. The spice nutmeg is only Muskat in German. And, as it turns out, the Muskatnuss (or nutmeg as we know it in English) comes from Indonesia. You'll also be interested to know that the hazelnut has nothing to do with the wacky yet incredibly efficient housekeeper Hazel from the 60s situation comedy of the same name. This is unfortunate. Now it seems I don't know squat about Muscat or the origin of the name hazelnut. I have some research to do.

An hour later: Goodness. Yet another place the Portuguese massacred, slaughtered and pillaged in the 15th century and then brought the gift of Christianity to it. While the predominant religion in Oman now is Ibadi Islam, there are a couple of Catholic and protestant churches there, as well as several Hindu temples; and while freedom of religion is enjoyed in this region, proselytizing is forbidden--which makes the following exchange seem all the stranger:

"We will never find a supermarket," Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector pants. He's thirsty, and we've been wandering the sad streets of Muttrah for about an hour looking for any sign of a market. Nevermind that a supermarket here goes by the moniker of hypermarket rather than supermarket and little grocers have signs that say 'Foodstuffs' and such. It's all in English, so we have no excuse for our thirst.

'Stop your panting, Oxsny,' I say, 'I'm sure there'll be one around the next run-down, sad building." I snap a picture of some graffiti. The owner of the house is staring at me as I do it, but it's such a good one that I have to risk being dragged into a backroom and beaten up (again). It doesn't happen.

Just before we reach the next corner, a man yells at us from an open car window, "Straight on and then right. The Indian temple!" Now if that's not proselytizing, I don't know what is.

"Thank you!" I say and consider converting if the temple's serving anything fluid. Maybe Pink Fluid? Served by Pink Floyd?

Somehow we miss the temple and the potential of water, but Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector flags down a taxi and offers the guy $20 to drive us around for two hours--first stop being a hypermarket of course.

Oman is a big pile of rocks. This is what I learn from our tour. Piles and piles and piles of rocks. With temperatures above 100F much of the year, it's a pile of hot rocks. And petunias. There must have been a sale on them. They're everywhere and watered automatically of course.

The highlight of our day in the region of Muscat, Oman is lunch. Yes, lunch. We get out of the taxi at Al Qurum resort. This place is a great tourist spot, with beautiful(ly empty) beaches and a few cafés.

Lured by the promise of an Irish pub, we end up sitting outside at the Al Qurum Resort restaurant-cum-sheesha bar. A sheesha is a waterpipe. The air here is fruity from the pipes everyone's smoking. Everyone except us: the white tourists not dressed in a long, white garment called a dishdasha. We stick out. Here's a question: how do these men keep the dishdasha so immaculately pressed? They must be polyester. Not a wrinkle in sight. I would love to have one of these, but I don't think I'd like to iron it. And I've just discovered from THIS website that having the dishdasha laundered costs only around 200 bz (40 cents?).

Back to the restaurant: I order ginger tea, so the waiter asks me if I want the red or the green label.

"Hmmm," I hmmm. "What's the difference? Besides the color of the label obviously."

"I'll bring you the red," he says.

"Perfect," I say.
I order the kofta, so the waiter brings me a prawn biryani and tells me it's much better than the kofta. This reminds me of the elderly waitress in Naples, Italy all those years ago who told me I was going to eat a calzone rather than the risotto I'd ordered. What can you do?

The ginger tea with the red label, which is actually yellow, but I've stopped asking pointless questions at this point, is black tea with pieces of ginger in it. I wish people would stop calling this ginger tea. It takes a very long time for the taste of ginger to infuse with tea. By the time your tea tastes anything like ginger, it's cold. That said, the prawn biryani is a dream. For lack of a better word, it's yummy. It's so yummy in fact that when Oxsnard the Buffalo Horn Collector reaches to steal a prawn, I stab his hand with my fork.
Qaboos al Said Palace -- Muscat, Oman

"Waiter," I lilt, "May I have another fork?"

No visit to Muscat would be complete without a stop at the Qaboos bin Said Palace. A bit of history of Mr. Said: He overthrew his father peacefully in 1970 with the help of the British, which might have been a good thing. Since gaining power, Said has improved Oman's infrastructure, created ministries for education, health and social services, had a new port and an airport built, and of course had this wacky palace erected. Illiteracy in Oman is at 10%, down from 18% before Said. Literacy is always a good thing.

Ah, the hazelnut mystery. I nearly forgot about it. The hazelunt is called thusly because it comes from the hazel tree. How boring . . . unless the delightfully nutty housekeeper from the 60s situation comedy Hazel got her name because her grandmother named her under the family's hazel tree. That would be a story.

Next time I'm going to take you to Khasab, Oman -- another big pile of hot rocks.

I must be off,

PS: I Must Be Off! is hosting its second annual Travel Essay Contest! Go HERE to learn more. Deadline for entries June 30, 2014!


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.