Friday, January 18, 2013

A Day at the Races

On Jan. 1, 2013 I was invited to attend The Annual Royal Horse Racing Festival of the Royal Cavalry presided over by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.  What a spectacle it was!
For those who might not know I used to ride English saddle as a teenager regularly for about 5 years, and since then on the rare occasion. My interest in horses, watching dressage events and show jumping has never ceased so this Omani Royal Cavalry event was a treat for me!
There were six horse races, five for purebred Arabian horses only and one for Thoroughbreds.  Those were interspersed with processions of mounted military units and horse drawn vehicles, trick riding, displays of various equestrian skills and races and processions featuring other animals. Most events were accompanied with music by the Royal Guard band.
As per the invitation my friends and I arrived at 2pm with passes to sit in section B. We were almost the first to arrive.  It was general seating within each section and once you claimed a chair it was best to stay in it.  Leaving a scarf or purse on the chair was not an acknowledged means of reserving it.  By 4pm most seats had been filled, various mounted military units and carriage brigades had filled the parade ground just inside the track, the sultan had arrived and the event could begin.  All spectators were there by invitation only and on very good behavior, nonetheless the quiet that reigned over the whole area was remarkable.  Only subdued conversations and the occasional horse whinny could be heard.

The ushers were dressed up.  Their headscarves matched their sashes, each man had a different fabric pattern. The traditional dagger, a khanjar, is tucked into the sash.   There were only male ushers.  The women we saw were supervising!  The seats were quite comfortable and everyone received a fancy program booklet.

There was a fanfare for His Majesty's entrance into the Royal seating area - the only one with shade.  From our seats 2 sections over we had a decent line of sight to his silhouette.  There are stands only along one side of the track, the finish line is at the far right just before the track curves.  The Royal Box is at the finish line, the remaining seating areas extend to the sultan's left as he looks towards the center of the track.

The National Anthem followed and then the first race was off!  At about the same time liveried waiters started handing out box lunches to every single person, gratis.  This was followed by beverage service, water, orange, pineapple or carrot glasses!  Meanwhile the activities carried on seamlessly.

 Horse drawn cannon

One of many beautiful horses on display
 Horse drawn military band

Women in traditional dress

2 men standing on horseback, the women riders were equally daring.

These men were tossing poles around. Others shot arrows and stabbed things with spears.

 One team specialized in hanging off the side of the horse.   A teammate of his slid down one side, climbed under his horse and back up the other side while at full gallop.

For comic relief: the white donkey race, note the backwards riders; falling off was expected.

The running and display of the bulls; other non-horse displays included goats, llamas, and dogcarts.

The ostrich race, again falling off is normal, except for this rider.

And the big finish, an assembly of all the participants.

His Majesty handed out trophies to the winning jockies, the orchestra played the national anthem again and then everybody left. (In the video below note the sultan waving on the big screen, then waving from the stand.)  The whole event lasted just under two hours and was a most memorable treat to start the New Year!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ambassadorial meetings

Now that I'm in Oman full time I can better assist in promoting ROHM.  The international community has been especially welcoming.

Dec 1, my first day, I attended a reception at the German Ambassador's Residence honoring their National Day (which is actually Oct.3, but that is beside the point).  In addition to Ambassador von Reibnitz I met the former Dutch ambassador, members of US and Spanish delegations, and a Belgian official, among others.

Dec 2 an appointment with the German ambassador in his office.

Dec 4 lunch with the Thai ambassador; in the evening an event at French Embassy in honor of organist Jean Guillou who had performed at ROHM the night before; on this occasion I met the ambassadors from Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands.

Dec 5 attended a reception in honor of the anniversary of the day of birth of His Majesty the King of Thailand (also known as National Day). In attendance were many of those listed above, plus current US Ambassador Greta Holtz, the Moroccan ambassador and his wife, and the wife of the ambassador from Afghanistan, among others.

Dec 9 reception at the Italian ambassador's residence for the Italian community, of which, apparently, I am a part.

Dec 14 reception at the French embassy for Opera de Nice, performing at ROHM.

Dec 18 reception at the US residence for Joshua Bell, another recent performer at ROHM.

It seemed a whirlwind start, but fortunately there was a break for the holidays!

Friday, January 11, 2013

An Omani wedding

Not long ago I was privileged to attend the wedding of a colleague's daughter. According to Omani tradition this meant I went to the women only portion. It was scheduled for 1pm, but nobody shows before 1:30 and by 2:15 another colleague and I were almost the last to arrive. Usually these events are held indoors at night, but per the bride's wishes her party was in the afternoon under a large tent on the beach at the Army officers club.
The "event" was basically a large reception and party. There were about 50 round tables under the tent and we claimed seats at a table in a back corner. The women were all decked out in abayas and dresses of all colors. The embroidery and beading on everyone was quite stunning. About half kept their hair covered, the other half did not, age was not a determining factor here.

Many women reportedly spent as much as 2 hours on their hair and makeup. Eyeshadow came in all colors in keeping with the bright dresses. There were a few short short dresses, but most were long and there were many spaghetti straps.

We all sat around chitchatting for a while. Various female family members made the rounds and friends stopped each other to say hi. Occasionally some would dance on the floor in the middle. At about 3pm the bride made her entrance accompanied by "Serenade for Strings". She wore a gorgeous white, Western style dress, lace arms, voluminous skirt, and a huge lace bridal veil. She made her way solo along the beach walk to enter the tent with the ocean as her backdrop. She paused now and then for photos. There were 6 or more official photographers, all women, who played paparazzi the whole time. Guests are usually discouraged from taking pictures, but a few pulled out camera phones for a quick snapshot. I followed their lead.

The bride finally made it across the tent to a loveseat bench on a dais where she sat for the next hour and a half having her picture taken with a succession of family, friends and well wishers. A self service table of pink and white candies opened. Ladies of all ages filled bags and bags with gummies, meringues, marshmallows, jelly beans and other assorted sweets. This is not a tradition, just a fun treat.

More dancing to pop music occupied the time until finally the banquet buffet started. Behind the tent accessible from both ends was a long serpentine of tables with a bounty of food. Hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, and other salad sides, then hot dishes with chicken tandoori, grilled fish, roast lamb, beef in cream sauce, rice and a traditional pounded wheat dish that seemed to be laced with cardamom and meat. Tasty, I thought, but not for everyday eating. There was also a dessert table with baklava, a spoonable date bread, what looked like cheesecake squares and another gooey creamy something. Female waitstaff brought around glasses of juice and soft drinks.
Finally close to 5pm several women started covering their hair again and some who had shed abayas to reveal their fancy dresses put them back on again. Many did not. Clearly MEN were about to arrive. Shortly the groom arrived, walking the same path the bride had, flanked by his brother and a few friends all in white dishdashas and turban-like headwraps, as well as 4 Aussie friends in Western suits. Trailing well back was the father of the bride and 2 of his sons. The groom paused for photos at the entrance, again with ocean backdrop. He also sported the traditional silver curved dagger, a khanjar, on a silver belt.

He slowly made his way to the dais and took his seat next to the bride. Then followed many more photos with family, friends and well wishers. The wedding was now official. Many guests took this as their cue to leave. We did too.
What we did not get to see was the ceremony at the mosque which is men only and had happened a few days before. Sometimes it happens even months before or on the day of. As part of this the officiant has to verify that the bride has agreed to the marriage. A neutral party at some point prior gets a signed document from the bride. When the groom finally shows up at the women only event to "claim" his bride the marriage is complete.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Title

Up until now my title has been CEO Designate.  That made sense while I was commuting between Washington, DC and Muscat.  Recently, the Board of the Royal Opera House "graciously" changed my title.  Instead of simply removing "Designate" they chose a wording that is more equivalent to the Arabic title for the position.  I am now the....(drum roll, please).....

Director General of the Royal Opera House Muscat, Oman.