Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 29: Criminal Under My Own Hat

I am not a crook.

Not usually, anyways. But something about hotel buffet breakfasts makes me want to pocket the petite jars of jam. I guess I'm just a petite thief. So, yes, at the Treasure Box I slipped two of these luscious, tart/sweet, cute jars into my pocket. Wait, that's not thievery, right? I paid for the breakfast, and I'm just extending the breakfast until I return to Doha.

It's not a good idea to be a criminal in Oman, which is an "Islamic Absolute Monarchy". I can almost see Ann Coulter's neck veins throbbing at the very sound of that statement and, given the choice of enduring Ann or IAM, I'd go for the IAM every time because it is less vicious and more sensible. To get both ideas out of my mind, I'll imagine the advertising campaign for Absolut Monarchy.

If you are going to be a criminal, it doesn't make sense to do it on the cheap. A Saudi man arrested for stealing a cell phone in Qatar was held for three years before being released. As it turns out, after three years someone decided to check whether the serial number on the phone in the Saudi's possession matched the number of the phone that was stolen. It wasn't, and he was released. "My bad," I assume Qatar said.

That's the problem with criminal justice systems, everywhere. It's tough to design them so that the bad guys are put away, and the good guys are released. The more we protect the innocent, the more we allow criminals to evade punishment. And vice versa. That's why the US is on to a pretty helpful concept: innocent until proven guilty. Too bad that sometimes it's just a concept, Justice Scalia.

The great Jam Heist was only my first crime of the day. After breakfast I left for a self-guided tour of Muscat, which is not so much a single city as a string of smaller towns along the coast. A full day tour cost about $150, and the tours didn't run on Friday, so I paid myself that amount (with a very generous tip, even though my English was probably not as good as the guide's) and tried to find all the spots mentioned in the brochure, meaning that me and my "YARis" put in some good kilos. One viewing spot, on the Indian Ocean, was close to the Grand Hyatt (not to be confused with the Grand Mosque) Resort.

I figured I should scope it out. At the gate on the beach, the sign says: "Hyatt Resort limited to Members and Guests".

Oh, temptress! More like "Oh, go ahead and dangle chum in front of this shark!" I can't resist disregarding signs like this. Ok, I can but I don't. Not disregard , I suppose, as I think to myself: "Mark, you are the kind of guest the Hyatt would want. You are classy. You put the toilet seat down, even if you are staying at the hotel by yourself. You tip well (note my generosity to the tour guide, above). You know how to walk around a place like you own it, not in a Michaele Salahi kind of way -- hey, I just tried to friend her on Facebook! -- which, by all accounts, or my account, which is the only account that counts, is too creepy and narcissistic, even for me, so I just withdrew my Facebook request. No one at this Resort is going to ask me if I belong, as I have that "yeah, I'm wearing khaki shorts, and a t-shirt, and a baseball cap, but because all American men dress like crap at these resorts, for all you know I'm wealthy and important" stroll going.

So I hang by the pool for awhile.
This resort is boring, so I go out for a walk.

Getting a latte at the local Joe Shop, I try not to read the lettering on the woman's underwear, which is clearly visible under her dress, in large print, as if she was reaching out to the nearsighted demographic.

At the local booksellery, I buy three: the "work" book (Risk, by Dan Gardner), the "serious" novel (American Rust, Philip Meyer) and the "fun" one (Juliette, Naked, Nick Hornby). The serious one remains unread; I'll get to it later. The main theme of Risk is "Feelings trump numbers. Gut trumps intellect." My head thinks this must be wrong, but my instincts tell me the author is right.

Today I've already filched jam, forgotten to tell you about the tea bags I also pinched, and I snuck into a resort. As T-Bone Burnett sings:

He's capable of anything
Of any vicious act
This criminal is dangerous
The criminal under my own hat

My tour continued. Next photo stop? The Al Alam Palace, the formal home of the hereditary sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. It's helpful to remember this name, not only in case you happen to be asked at a cocktail party "Who's the hereditary sultan of Oman, again?" but also because the main highway is named after him, the main sports complex, the main shopping district, etc.

Imagine a Washington DC where Tyson's Corner has been renamed Obama's Corner; Fedex Field is now Obama Field; and Pennsylvania Avenue is Obama Avenue.

Wow, that was FUN! watching Coulter's head explode!

Oh. Former Member of Congress Bob Barr sort of tried to do this for Ronald Reagan. Hence the Reagan Building in Washington, DC (the biggest federal building in the city is named after the President who thought the government was the problem! oh, the delicious irony) and Reagan National Airport. Barr wanted all public buildings named after Reagan, and he was only 68 percent successful.

The Palace looks like...what? You tell me. Versailles? Buckingham? GuGong? The Kremlin? I don't think so. Help me out: What does this palace look like?

This picture from the palace exemplifies Oman to me. The peanut brittle mountains. The historic forts (center, background). The destruction of older buildings (left) and the construction of the new (right).

Or maybe this picture exemplifies. Huh?

By this time I was not traveling alone. In a deserted historic area I came across a young German man carrying a backpack, complete with tent and sleeping bag. It was very hot and humid, and he was soaked. We were both touring aimlessly, so I figured he would enjoy my air conditioned YAR!is. So we spent the rest of the afternoon just poking through neighborhoods, circling roundabouts, walking up stairways, and talking about the middle east. He is working for the German Chamber of Commerce in Dubai and rode the overnight bus here. Where are you staying? I asked. I'll find a place in some park, he replied. I've done that myself many, many times....many, many years ago.

I dropped him off at the Grand Mosque at the end of the afternoon. He'll probably camp illegally in the park outside. At least I hope so.


  1. You tried to FRIEND Michele Salahy? (OK I did get more than that out of your lovely post, but that fact did stand out, somehow.... :-)

  2. Apparently she is too cool for that. She only allows you to "like" her.