Oman looks like Los Angeles, if LA looked more like Abilene. Or Kyoto. It's tempting to compare a new thing to an old thing, but the comparisons inevitably suffer. Venice on the Creek (outside Denver) is not, well, Venice, no matter what the developers say.
Oman did have a LA-Abilene-Kyoto feel though. Like LA, it is shoved up to an (Indian) ocean by a mountain range, although the mountains here are sharper and steeper, like a brick of peanut brittle that has been shattered by a cleaver. The air was both humid and dusty, and I did see goats roaming some neighborhoods although, unlike Abilene I didn't see any real goat ropers. There were scenes of fragile, elegant grace, almost like Shinto temples photographed through the cherry blossoms.
A quick geography lesson may be in order because, well, you don't have the slightest idea where Oman is, do you. Stop lying. I didn't either. If you had any initiative at all, you'd google the map, but you don't, because you expect this blog to spoon feed you. (Editor to Mark: readers typically don't like to be insulted. This one in particular. So apologize.)
You can see Muscat (or Musqat, or other spellings, as Arabic is translated into English with apparently random spellings) on the lower right of the map. If I was looking out at the Indian Ocean, which I did, right before I snuck into the Hyatt Resort (more on that later), I would see (from left to right) Iran, Pakistan, and India. Behind me is Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Over my left shoulder is the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Gotcha question: Which middle eastern countries have US military bases?
Answer: Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, at least, although most of the other countries have at least some "military presence" After all, the US military is in something like 160 countries around the globe.
Easy question: Which countries would we allow to put military bases in OUR country (so as, for example, to ensure safety and security in Texas, Florida, Mississippi and other "hot spots"...)
Answer: We would never allow such a gross infringement on our national sovereignty.
Riding the shuttle bus to the main terminal of the airport, I stood next to this fellow. I'm pretty sure his watch cost more than mine. Then again, we were riding the same shuttle. One time I sat next to Mike Dukakis, the man who might have been president, riding a shuttle: he was wet from the rain, tired from the day, and carrying his own suitcase. As far as I could tell, I was the only one on the bus who even recognized him.
Once in my rental car, I sped to my hotel like Danica Patrick on Crack, if she were older whiter maler balder, driving a Toyota Yaris (this car name really only works on Talk Like a Pirate Day), and drinking a Red Bull. Unlike Bahrain, which had no useable maps, Oman provides great maps, with every street numbered or named. Three feet by three feet, at times my map blocked the entire windshield.
In front of me, eventually, peering over the top of my map, was the Treasure Box Hotel. It was the coolest looking hotel that I could access and afford. Very cool. I was one of about three guests. Does word get out that I'm coming, so the other guests bail? No one was at my hotel last week, either.
Cultural differences: the mini-bar had no liquor.
Cultural similarities: a can of Coke cost $6.
Mark's strategy: Walk 50 feet to the convenience store (I think it must have been photoshopped out of the picture) and buy a Coke (and a smile!) for about 50 cents.
Mark's strategy, II: I finished revising a scholarly (!!!) article for publication today. One of my reviewers noted that I had an alarming and annoying tendency to put extraneous stuff in parentheticals (Can you imagine? Me? Extraneous Stuff? Parentheticals?) I took them all out (mostly) and so I had a surplus, and now I plan to use them all (here).
The Treasure Box was close to the Grand Mosque. My first visit came that night. I marveled at the building in its grace, beauty, and solemnity. It became my favorite place to reflect.
Sample reflection: Doesn't it seem odd that anyone who claims that God has a chosen people is, quite conveniently, one of them?
Such thoughts kept me awake, until they didn't.