I wasn't in Dubai for all that long before I found The Hat. I knew immediately that it was for me. Destiny. The stuff dreams are made of. Gorgeous, ridiculous, indulgent.
Now, generally speaking I'm a pretty down-to-earth sort of girl. (Snigger in your hands here if you feel the need). Normally I do not aspire to any standards of beauty. But a Hat such as this, and for a most measly 25 Dhs at a charity store, well, who could resist?
Previously I had read in a guidebook that the horse races here are splendid affairs, and that large Ascot hats are de rigeur. Well, I knew my Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady moment would come. When I found The Hat I secretly cherished a fantasy of striding through milling crowds, Arabian racehorses, the jockeys in their silks and the charged-up atmosphere of the racetrack, observing it coyly from beneath the brim of my fabulous Hat.
A cream outfit that reminded me of Baroness Blixen (Out of Africa) completed the picture. Mike was my Robert Redford. (Albeit a Robert Redford who inquired would we need a second car to accomodate The Hat? and pretended more than once that I'd put his eye out with it.) Children were safely tucked out of sight and mind back at home with Rani. This was true Dubai spirit.
Friends met us, exclaimed over The Hat, we hopped a taxi and were whisked away to Nad Al Sheba Racecourse. It was already growing dark, but coming out into the main stands, the floodlights revealed a racecourse worthy of the Dubai standard. Huge, beautiful. The parade ring, the circle of manicured green turf track and long loamy chocolate track (2,254 meters long and 20 meters wide), and a colorful multitude of nationalities, most of whom were dark-skinned.
The Hat was the star of the evening, and I was excitedly told by more than one person that The Hat and I had been on TV. I had of course pretended not to notice the gigantic television camera. Although hat-wearing by the ladies is encouraged by the raceourse, not many women had risen to the challenge. Pity, because I can tell you it was pure fun.
We were escorted up to our private box at the course, along with a jolly group from the office, for an evening with a fantastic view of the course behind glass. Our group was waited upon by several stewards from Nepal and India who plied us with unlimited gourmet dining and fine spirits, and who put up with more than their share of rowdy singing. Betting is strictly forbidden, as is to be expected in an Islamic country, but the racecourse has contests to pick the winners for cash prizes, and we had a giggle at our attempts at those. Actually, by the end of the evening, there wasn't much we weren't giggling at.
The horses, from all over the world, were glossy and wonderful to watch as they thundered past. The winning jockey from the first race was a young woman from the UK. I had my fantasy walk through the crowds, heels clicking, exactly as I had imagined. The sights and sounds were overwhelming.
It was marvelous.
I have waited my whole life to wear a Hat like that.
(Special thanks to Lizbeth Skrobis and April Stricklan for the photographs.)