Grabbing a couple of bottles of water, we set off at a good walking pace under the cloud cover of the early Khareef (Monsoon) season in Salalah Oman .
I enjoy trekking in Oman with Hadi al Hikmani, enthusiasm is always a good companion and Hadi packages his in friendliness and knowledge. On this walk, his knowledge identified fresh ‘scat’ (excrement) on our pathway – in fact Leopard scat . Fresh, in fact, very fresh – probably less than half an hour old. In the day that followed, we walked along Leopard tracks and with all our stops and starts, examining the tracks and collecting scat we didn’t catch up with our invisible walking companion.
We returned along the same path and astoundingly found more scat; the Leopard had returned to the path after we passed .
Over a year before, on another walk with Hadi, I said to him that I would write about Oman’s Leopards; as he believes that awareness is a key to its survival. So, shamed that no article had been produced in over a year, I returned to Muscat and somehow produced a piece. Wonderfully ‘ Oman Today ’ has used it in their August edition – I’m delighted of course.
Oman is a key territory of Panthera pardus nimr, the Arabian Leopard, and, with possibly less than 200 individuals in the world, awareness may well help its survival.
Evacuated from the British Museum; finding Muscat at Tate Britain – via the Victoria Line
The “lure of the east” exhibition dragged me down to the Tate Britain. The building is much like the Tardis– larger inside than outside and it does make me wonder at the expansive and educational vision of the Victorian wealthy compared to those today.
The exhibition, perhaps inspired by Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’, certainly makes the visitor an observer, not a participant. It perhaps argues against his overriding viewpoint. Sir Robert Shirley, who became an Ambassador for Shah Abbas, and the various British merchants who lived in the great trading cities of the Near East dressed in the current style of the country they lived in, speak volumes about their viewpoint. Details such as an artist, John Lewis, creating what could be a self-portrait of him at prayer in a Mosque and Shirley’s wife, Teresia, holding a pistol add to an alternative view.
Sir Robert Shirley, who was 19 when he started his work for the Persian Shah Abbas, stands well shaved, enrobed in Persian style garments. His cape could have been the inspiration for the floral design within the dramatic Safavid carpet in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat.
Elsewhere, in the gallery, I came across more reminders of Muscat; a watercolour by the Victorian artist Arthur Melville cited as being inspired by a cockfight in Muscat. The cocks have been lost to history and the vast Iwan framing the scene also been lost within the sands of Muscat, if it were more than an architectural frame for the birds fight in front.
While at the Tate, apart from enjoying the extraordinary collection of British art, people were running through the Duveen Galleries (empty of art incidentally) – perhaps referencing the Chinese Olympics.
Along the Victoria Line, I wanted to meet with Jessica Harrison-Hall who curates Chinese Ceramics at the British Museum. Regularly in Oman I come across a surprising quantity of Chinese Ceramic , and needed some advice. Up the stairs of the Great Court, flooded with visitors, and across to room 90. Press on the curator’s doorbell and was greeted with “we need to evacuate the building” . The slightly irritating tone in the background had been an evacuation signal! Fortunately, after extensive checking, the all clear was sounded and Jessica almost trumped the evacuation notice with “these are easy”; and of course, that’s why I knew she would be the ideal person to answer my queries.
Not all ceramic shards have a shiny glaze on both sides and today mine did not – I missed my opening into the Hadrian Exhibition – another day will be needed I think
I enjoyed a visit to Tate Britain during ‘The Lure of the East’ painting exhibition. The canvases, by British artists, included one of Sir Robert Shirley, an envoy between the Persian and British courts, looking quite splendid in Persian style garments; their colour and decoration being Safavid are in the same style as the carpet in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Remarkably I came across a watercolour by the Victorian artist’ Arthur Melville cited as being inspired by a cock fight in Muscat.
Another piece by him showing an interior with ‘Mashrabiya” was set in a section of the gallery screened with a Mashrabiya – a nice setting .
On the same day I had a meeting with Jessica Harrison-Hall the Curator of Chinese Ceramics at the British Museum. No sooner did I arrive but the door was opened with the instruction – “we need to evacuate the building”. Fortunately, it was only for about 40 minutes and she then very kindly dated some shards I had come across in various locations in Oman. The Hadrian exhibition will have to wait for another day.
The government will shortly start the building of 700 new homes for the residents in the Qurayyat area of Oman whose homes were devastated by the cyclone Guno and where portacabins were erected shortly after the cyclone last year .
For several weeks, the skies above Muscat have been a pale brown as we have been sitting under a dust haze. At times the entire country has been affected – on a drive of 1000 kilometres to Salalah a few weeks ago the tone of the sky hardly changed throughout the journey.
The advancing monsoon was descending on Salalah as I spent time there with Hadi Al Hikmani whose passion and work is researching Arabian Leopard in Dhofar. His family keep an extraordinary number of goats below the mountains and they are a potential prey of the Leopard.
I had a nice preview of the changes at Al Bustan Palace during the hotel’s refit. I arrived in Muscat in 1986 just after the initial opening of Al Bustan Palace and then lived for many years in Al Bustan village next to the hotel. Though I have moved a few kilometres away its always been like dear friend and neighbour.