Muscat’s ins and outs
driver when he appears to take me to another appointment. I am pleased by Ali’s insistence that we must continue for now there’s an opportunity to properly look at the Aflaj Gallery, which celebrates this UNESCO-listed system of irrigation and water management. Later, while touring around Oman, I see the aflaj channels on farms, threaded through mountainous regions and mimicked in resorts where slender streams of water are incorporated into gardens of roses, olive bushes, apricots and pomegranates. Signage at the museum tells me the aflaj are known to date back to at least the sixth century, and recent archaeological discoveries suggest irrigation systems were in use in northern Oman as early as the Bronze Age. Ali farewells me with small cups of weak, fragrant coffee and my pick from a platter piled with pyramids of soft Khunaizi dates.
The equally gleaming 1100-seat Royal Opera House, opened in 2011, is touted as the first of its kind on the Arabian Peninsula, and the events calendar ranges from symphony orchestras to ballet with a few odd presentations between, including the matinee I attend, at a leisurely 4pm, of Sailing Through Time by the Beirut-based Caracalla Dance Theatre.
The setting is all sultan-worthy red velvet seats and carpets, balcony boxes, Islamic motifs and gold galore, befitting the sophisticated dress code stated on my ticket of suits for men and conservative cover-ups for women. But in fact there are more jeans and shortish dresses than the regulations suggest — it is all overwhelmingly casual, hair uncovered, supposedly outlawed tennis shoes tapping away. And the sound system rather bucks the rules, too, by breaking down three times. The audience just claps along, encouraging those on stage to keep it going, and in a weird way we all seem to bond over laughter and impromptu cheering.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque