An elegant sufficiency

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In the Souk

Mooching through the souks of Dubai and Muscat was far more fun than we'd anticipated. Expecting to be hassled at every step, we imagined that a brief dip into the dark alleys would be more than enough. As it was, there was no pressure, no tugs at our elbow or much more than a "wanna pashmina, Madam?" from the occasional stallholder. Indeed, most of the sellers were so laid back and relaxed, we were able to absorb the atmosphere of the place at our own pace.

In Dubai, it was the "spice souk" which held our interest. The gold was yellow, overwhelming and not at all to our taste (or pocket); it was the scents and sights of the rather quieter area just around the corner which drew us in.

Bags of dried rosebuds, bay leaves, sunflower petals, lavender and chillies, together with heaps of frankincense, sandalwood and sulphur made a colourful sight on both sides of the aisles. Stepping inside the shops, there were jars of vanilla, sugary aniseeds, dried lemons and curry mixes. Good natured greetings made buying fun - we didn't feel inclined to haggle too aggressively when prices were so low and we brought a little bag of goodies back with us.

Just around the corner were a few more colourful stalls, with cotton tops, pashminas and twinkly slippers.

I'm not sure that these pointy toed dazzlers would be quite right in a Cotswold lane, but couldn't resist the colours of these beauties alongside.

As for other products in the shop windows...well, the mind boggles! (no purchases here, needless to say!)

In Muscat, Oman, the following day, the souk beckoned us once more because of course, we wished we had bought just one more pashmina, one more cotton top or that pair of shoes we saw but forgot about till we saw a woman wearing them at dinner that night. This souk was better geared to attract the magpie in me and though some items were very similar to things we'd seen in Dubai, many things were peculiar to Oman.

Here there were a myriad of patterned kummar hats, worn by the men to top off their outfit of dishdasha and sometimes covered with a tightly knotted turban. All different patterns, densely embroidered and folded in a specific way, there were walls full of them, folded flat.

Much silver here, many daggers - the khanjar is a symbol of Oman - but these things are not for us and we moved swiftly on to more interesting displays.

Finally, this magpie's sweetie shop - where women restricted to wearing black from head to toe might indulge themselves with a little brightness, even if it is only for their ankles and wrists.

So, quite an interesting collection from today's souk - a couple of pashminas, some silver braid, silver thread and a pair of pretty shoes.

And Mark? Well, he was relaxed!


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