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Reading ‘The Arabian Nights’ in Ibri

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The book: The Arabian Nights, ed. Andrew Lang

The place: Ibri, Oman

Where better to finally get around to reading the Arabian Nights (Andrew Lang translation, I know, I know, but it was for cheap on Amazon – I shall (probably) buy myself one of the updated translations in hardcopy sometime) than on the actual Arabian peninsula? Well, Baghdad would be better, I suppose, as it features heavily in a number of the stories, but that’s presumably off-limits at the moment, at least for recreation. In any case I am deep in the maritime section at the moment, reading about the exploits of Sindbad, and he was supposedly from Sohar, just a couple of hours away from where I currently am.

(I am here to do an intensive Arabic course, by the way. It is very hard work but also very rewarding on the rare occasions I actually make a breakthrough and am able to string a semi-grammatical sentence together; it is disheartening, however, how much vocabulary I have had to relearn, as the various dialects with which I am familiar (primarily Sudanese and Egyptian) bear little relation to Modern Standard Arabic, much of the time.)

The weekend just past was a long one, for Moulid al Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet (PBUH). In 2006 I spent Moulid in Khartoum, where it is a very big deal indeed, and a Sudanese friend took me and J. around the various installations that had been set up by the different Sufi brotherhoods in the different parts of Khartoum – I’ve never experienced anything quite like it; basically like a funfair, with hundreds of different stalls and a similarly celebratory atmosphere, but instead of shooting galleries and coconut shies, there are groups of men chanting and dancing in the smoky night air. There is nothing like that in Oman, but at the very least Moulid gave us an extra day of weekend, which we used for an incredibly packed two-day excursion, to Muscat (to see the Grand Mosque) and Sur and Ras al Jinz to watch turtles lay their eggs on a moonlit beach, and then Wadi Bani Khaled where we scrambled through a cave to find hot springs and then swam in the warm water of the wadi – and then finally Sharqiya Sands. There wasn’t a place I visited that I wouldn’t have happily stayed for much, much longer, but Travel Rule of Thumb Number 1 (in my book, anyway): better to go for a short time than not to go at all. In any case, from a distance – whether in time or space – travel resolves itself to a collection of moments rather than a narrative, and to some extent it is immaterial whether the moment I remember, of diving through the pellucid waters of the wadi and then sculling on my back, looking up at the blue blue sky squeezed between the narrow walls of pale rock, was one minute out of thirty or out of three hundred. (Perhaps.)



Grand Mosque, Muscat



Sur, from the boatyards


Wadi Bani Khaled


Christmas tree, Sharqiyah Sands


Written by Jess

January 5, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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