And so at last, my dear readers, we have come to the end of our unique and amazing experience through an ancient, beautiful and hospitable land. A few last pics for you. First of all, the Imam Square, formerly known, of course, as the King's Square before the revolution. This public square, they say, is second in size only to China's Tianenmen Square (Beijing). As the second-largest public square, it is now used largely by picnickers, for arts and crafts festivals, concerts, and other public events. It is surrounded by the bazaar and Imam mosque and Imam palace. In the old days of kings, when Isfahan was their capital, this square was used to play polo. You can still see the stone goal posts standing near the ends. The king looked out from his balcony to watch the sport below. (Undoubtedly drinking the finest wine from Shiraz ... :) Yes, in case you've wondered, before the strictures of Islam outlawed alcohol, Shiraz, Iran, was the city in which Shiraz wine was "invented," refined and renowned.)
Now the Imam square is still full of horses, but they merely take visitors for rides around the square in carriages. And if cars drive terrifyingly fast on the roads, the horse cart drivers spur their horses on with similar maniacal zest and disregard for the pedestrians. I laugh to imagine a horse-drawn carriage moving at that speed through the pedestrian malls in Colorado, or even through the market square in Krakow or Italian plazas. The horses stick to the cement paths around the outer edge and the picnickers to the grassy interior where colorful flowers accent the lawn.
I had asked Reza if we could have a picnic one night. So on our last one in Isfahan, we hooked up with Arash, his best friend we met in Kerman, and Mohammad, his friend we met in Shiraz and along the highway. Let me now illustrate for you the Iranian dedication to tea and picnic: Reza and Mohammad had determined through phone conversations that they would be passing each other on the highway at a certain point, heading in opposite directions. So they set up a meeting point and time calculated on their relative traveling speeds. We pulled off the highway and soon Mohammad's car crossed the highway and came over to park behind ours. Reza got out, opened the trunk of our car to produce a thermos of hot tea, cups, and some snacks. They stood there and had a sort of picnic on the side of the highway. One of the funnier scenes I’ve witness while traveling was when we parted ways, in a gesture of familiarity, Mohammad started to give Erik the same traditional farewell as he gave Reza, as most friends do, which was three kisses on the cheek. Reza told Erik he was supposed to return the kisses on Mohammad's cheek. It's not like this is the only place in the world men embrace each other this way, but fortunately we don't live in any of those places because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Erik squirm in his boots like he did when he had to kiss a man he barely knew. This is true and lasting humor to me.
Anyway ... back to the picnic in the square ... we bought the typical picnic fare and, along with a family of Spanish tourists who were currently in Arash's care, we had a little picnic. A selfie composed and executed by Mohammad:
One afternoon we drove to the outskirts of the city to see some very ancient ruins, Atashgah, perched high on a hilltop. It's also known as the Marbin fortress. Following us up were a Saudi Arabian couple, the woman dressed in full black chador and dainty pink tennis shoe-esque footwear (note "-esque"). She seemed to have no problem climbing up. She hesitantly admired the view from the top. But when it came time to walk back down, fear overwhelmed her. Her face drained of blood and she went white as a sheet. It hadn't occurred to her she must walk back down the same steep slope. As I started to scamper down, she said to me, "You are so brave!" I tried to give her some encouragement, but she was so scared holding her husband's hand, it was clear she needed more help than that, and Reza stepped up to bat, taking her other hand. To me, the most amusing part of the scene was that, even though she was grateful, being from a country with far more strict and draconian codes of Islamic conduct, she couldn't bring herself even in a time of need to hold a strange man's hand. She pulled her sleeve down over her hand in order to grasp Reza's with a fabric barrier between their skin. The whole way down as the two men walked beside her she prayed out loud in a chanting prayer. Poor thing was truly frightened to death. Near the bottom, the slope relaxed and Reza left her to catch up to us. At the very bottom we stopped to talk amongst our three selves, and the Saudi lady and her husband arrived as well. She thanked us from her heart and then had her husband take a photo of her with us. The next night we ran into the couple in the square in Isfahan and waved at each other. Just one of those little episodes that will stick in my mind.
I will leave you now with one of the more beautiful and interesting places we visited, but probably the most unexpected ... a Christian church. This was inside the Armenian Quarter of Isfahan, known as Jolfa, where Armenian refugees from the Turkish genocide early in the 20th century have resided in relative peace. If you were part of a Christian community before the 1979 revolution, you were/are allowed to remain so. The interior of the Vank cathedral is covered in lush, vibrant paintings. The architecture is an interesting mix of traditional Islamic and Christian.
The ex-pat we met several times at the coffee shop in Isfahan said he likes to attend church service here. I think the reason why he attends is hilarious, yet after having lived in America for 40 years, I can see his point of view: he goes so that he can see women's bare heads ... their hair and neck. It must feel weird to come back to your native country after all that time and, as a single man, never see these natural features of women he has seen every day for 40 years.
As part of the church complex there is a museum about the Armenian genocide. Something I didn't really know about. There were some really graphic photographs of dead bodies in one of the first exhibits, and school kids were nonchalantly passing by. Kind of weird. But some interesting artifacts were on display, items the refugees brought with them from their churches and homes in Turkey.
We came home with boatloads of souvenirs. We came home from Iceland with a rock and a magnet, and a postcard picture of the latest volcano eruption ... we couldn't afford anything else! Similarly, from Barcelona, only a Dali tee-shirt and a Gaudi tea cup ... too pricey. But our luggage was laden on the way home from Iran with all kind of signature crafts including a Persian carpet! (pretty much the smallest, cheapest one the dealer had, but it's still pretty cool) Everything was quite affordable. We even bought some decorative tiles ... we knew that sometime this year we needed to replace/re-tile our steam shower and bathroom. Which we did this summer with some lovely Persian tiles to display. This is the tile shop with the modest kiln from which we bought them.
If you want to travel to Iran now that you've seen how awesome it is, be sure to contact me (with the blue contact button above) for information on how to contact our guide, as I would love to recommend our guide and friend, Reza, to anybody. A couple books I read about Iran which I would recommend to anyone with an interest: The Cypress Tree by Kamin Mohammadi, a nonfiction book about a family displaced by the 1979 revolution ... very interesting first hand perspective of these tumultuous events. Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour, a fiction novel which also provides heaps of cultural insight into Iranian society. Hope you have enjoyed your vicarious journey with me through Iran.
So I think you have learned your lessons in Iranian architecture by now, right? … reflecting pools, mirrors, arches, etc. So what are some of the prominent points we have learned about their culture? Did you say tea? Good job! How’s this for a tea pot??
Reza took us to a traditional tea house in Isfahan … the kind where women get the traditional Islamic second-class treatment. They’re not allowed in the back room where the men hang out. They have to stay in front in the “family section.” So I stayed and twiddled my thumbs at our family table while Reza showed Erik the back room. They both said they wouldn’t want to be there anyway, that the family area (also basically equating to the tourist area) was far more pleasant; the back was thick with hooka smoke and felt seedy to them. So that’s fine, but it still didn’t really make me feel any less sullen about the fact that I couldn’t go back there even if I wanted to; I had to sit by myself with my arms and my head bound in stifling fabric in the summer heat, staring at the ceiling. But of all places to be left alone staring at the ceiling, this was probably the best of them. You can see here it is full of hanging lanterns of every type and size. Was actually very interesting. Reza’s friend, Mehran, joined us … by now we were being joined regularly by his various friends who were starting to feel like our friends, too, several of whom we had played laser tag with in Kerman, including Mehran.
Outside of this tea house is where we saw one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. I didn’t get a good capture … the pics all came out blurry, but you get the idea. This cat had a harem of chickens whom he adored. He rubbed up against them, pushing his head into their feathers. When we tried to approach him he got skittish and nearly ran away ... didn’t like humans, only chickens. This happened to be on Easter Sunday, by the way. And coincidentally, at lunch that day, one of the items on our menu was “bunny burger.”
In spite of his love for tea, Reza also had a love for espresso from a single particular coffee shop located in the corner of a little courtyard inside the bazaar in Isfahan. I’m not sure if this fondness for the coffee is distinguishable from his fondness for the girls who run the shop … But they were super nice. And one of my business cards is now tacked to the center of their back wall. :)
It was here that I was cajoled into drinking my first espresso. Ever. I can’t stand coffee or anything coffee-flavored, even the smell of it bothers me. But I decided to be a team player with Reza and Erik. This was such a momentous and rowdy occasion that Erik documented it below. I had a piece of chocolate in hand as a chaser … that is what you see me frantically trying to shove in my mouth after downing the espresso.
We went to this coffee shop several days in a row. The fun thing about our time in Isfahan was that we stayed there just long enough to get a wee bit of familiarity and routine, visiting the bazaar every day and this coffee shop. Each time we were there, so was an older man who had been an ex-pat in America for 40 years until his father became ill and he moved back to Isfahan to care for him. Once here, he founded an English school. So it was interesting talking with him, as he of course left Iran before the revolution and came back to a completely different country. As such, he was far more cynical about Iran than Reza seems to be. But he did say that the last few years under President Rouhani have been "like heaven" compared to the decades previously. He was quick to point out many problems and hypocrisies which, when we asked Reza for his opinion on the topics, Reza mostly backed them up but with less emphasis ... so my guess is that on many issues the truth lies somewhere in between (for one example, the prevalence of heroin addiction -- ex-pat says it's rampant, Reza says it's fairly mild).
We went to the bazaar every day in Isfahan. It was huge. Here is one of the entrances (from the Imam Square), but you (or at least *I*) wouldn’t properly guess at how extensive it is from this relatively humble entrance.
The are so many side alleys and whole courtyards branching off the main corridors. Sometimes even a series of courtyards, one after another. I'd love to slice off the top of the whole complex and get an aerial view of the place. I was so surprised to see such a spacious courtyard as this when I peered through a doorway along one of the corridors.
There was one whole "branch" for the gold market and exchange, which was a glittering alley, indeed. As I mentioned in Tehran, there is no stock market here and Iran is forbidden by sanctions to bank with or be financially involved with other countries like the U.S. Their own local version of Wall Street takes place literally on sidewalks and in bazaars.
Though I loved the feel of the bazaar when it was full of people, my favorite time was during the afternoon siesta when most of the corridors were virtually deserted. The goods were still all displayed, so actually it was the best time to inspect them. Can you guess what is in the rows of glass jars? This is the stall of a perfumery -- perfumes and colognes, and also scents such as rose water and jasmine. You select your “flavor” of smell and then they put some in a smaller vial for you.
A couple different times somebody from a bakery in the bazaar would come by and give us free cookies! We ate lunch inside the bazaar on a couple of occasions, as well, and had delicious food at this place pictured, which was one of Reza’s favorites … he said he would choose to eat there just about every day if he could. The man is cooking up lamb meat in the giant pan. (Which is what I mostly lived on in Iran, incidentally – lamb meat.)
But what I most enjoyed during these quiet times was that you could really appreciate the fine architecture.
I’m going to make an assumption that it’s difficult to obtain mannequins due to the sanctions. Iran has learned to make a lot of goods and materials that it can't buy abroad out of necessity; but less important items, such as camping gear and I’m guessing mannequins, haven’t been taken up by Iranian manufacturers. So the mannequins in the bazaars were hilarious. Some of the child mannequins were full-on, almost horror-movie-grade creepy with wild hair and crazed eyes. (blurry photo below, middle kid reminds me of Cousin It) The men had their hair and many of their facial features simply painted on, and often there were chunks of plastic missing from their faces or limbs. The men's hair styles and coloring fascinates me. I think I would like to meet these mannequin fashion designers.
This is another scene, below, that I as a Westerner found amusing and I’m sure Iranians thought I was a little wacko for taking photos. (Though, maybe lots of Westerners take the same pics.) But the displays of women in black chadors are one of the things that really make you realize you’re in a very different culture. The little kid was particularly creepy, and I could definitely see her starring in the zombie-child role in some B-grade horror flick. So these chador stores were basically like fabric stores -- with bolts of different types of black fabric for the women to choose from ... some just completely plain solid fabric, and others with subtle patterns and textures. Then the lady or a tailor would sew the chador from it.
And ... I can't help but add that I was struck (perhaps only as a [cynical] Western woman could be) by the symbolism of the black-clad women being chained to the brick pillars. Yeah OK, they're only plastic women, but standing there with only their little plastic faces showing, demonstrating how the real-life woman might look -- might *pay money* to look -- strapped side by side to a building ... this is how I felt sometimes in my hijab (albeit a blazing red scarf sitting loosely upon my head) and my long sleeves clinging to my arms in the middle of summer, denied by some men their hand in greeting and by others even their voice and their gaze in acknowledgement ... symbolically chained to an immobile wall of archaic dogma. But then, that's just me ... I always think of shit like that. :)
The other activity we did a couple of nights, which is a very popular activity with the locals, was visit one of the spectacular bridges over the Zayandehrood river. Though to be sure, visually-speaking, it would have been rather more spectacular had there been water flowing underneath the bridges. As it was, the long, many-arched bridges span a wide stretch of sand. Dry sand. The riverbed has been dried up for almost a decade. Such a pity. According to an article I read in The National, it's likely a combination of decreasing rainfall in the area and mismanagement of water resources by the central government since the revolution. In the past, the river not only provided an economic center with its fisheries, but these bridges were literally the hub of social activity in the city. Though they are still very crowded, one gets a subtle vibe of nostalgia ... as though the activity of going there is a habit and an homage, but one that will fade away sooner than later. We went to two different ones, and they each were brimming with pedestrian traffic (and the occasional scofflaw ruffian motorbike traffic) ... and I felt melancholy to think of the dried-up riverbed robbing the citizens of so much more than water, as if that weren't unfortunate enough.
It was very pleasant strolling along the top of the bridges, but the most interesting parts were below in the arches that hold them up. Namely, here is where people sing. It's so great. Reza says it can actually get competitive ... so, like, first one guy is sitting on the bridge singing, then another guy takes over and tries to up the caliber, and then another guy, etc. And people gather all around to listen. There are no jars for tips. The singers aren't looking for money, only for the approval of their temporary audience and perhaps the satisfaction of upping their comrade singers. And let's be clear ... these aren't just some Joe Shmoes who sing in their shower in the morning and think they're good; there were some really talented people (men). Here are a few shots from the arches underneath the bridges.
The best part of the singing, though, was that the crowd would clap and join in at the choruses -- they were so involved and interactive. I had not the slightest clue what was being sung about, but I had presumed they were religious songs. I guess that shows some sort of preconception of the population, thinking that surely any public activity must be of a religious nature -- hurray for another Western assumption founded on ... what? Not even on misinformation, but on complete lack of information and understanding of the general citizenry. Even at this late stage in the game, after hanging out with Reza's friends in their private homes and playing laser tag, etc., I still had this unconscious assumption of religious zealotry, of religious dominance in all personal activity. So ... what I'm driving at, of course, is that the songs weren't religious in any way. They were songs from movies of the 1970s ... pre-revolution soundtracks. Back when people could watch whatever movies they wanted to. And clearly such movies now hold a special place in the collective memory. Those gathered in the underbelly of the bridges knew well the tunes and lyrics, and they sang with absolute joy. It was delightful and infectious, and I couldn't have been happier standing there in witness.
There was even ... gasp ... a man dancing in public to some of the singing. A man who to all appearances and whiffs was a healthy three sheets to the wind. We asked Reza what happens to a person who is drunk in public. He said that it really depends on the police officer who apprehends the drunkard. By law, the offense carries a not-insignificant consequence. But apparently, as everywhere, people who have the power of the law in their hands differ by nature, and some are more tolerant, perhaps even sympathetic, than others.
I had thought this would be my last post from Iran until right about now. I realize at this point that it's quite long already, and I have at least two other things I want to cover. So I'm going to close this one out now that you've had a taste of some of the regular, every-day activities of the average Iranian citizen living in Isfahan -- tea, bazaars and bridges. :)
This summer found me in two situations repeated from last year: (1) I was in Utah again, and (2) I was canoeing again. We hitched up with the same canoe outfitter as last year and also booked our trip with some of the same folks as last year. It was fun to see them again, and we had confidence in the quality of the outfitter, whom I would fully endorse to anyone: Centennial Canoe.
As we just got our feet wet, so to speak, last year on a weekend trip, this year we went a little longer on a 5-day excursion down a 60-mile stretch of the Green River. I had been expecting that on this trip we would find ourselves in the company of a lot of other canoeing groups, but we saw very few other people, and no rafts or other boats, just the occasional canoe. So it was very peaceful, and the landscape was simply splendid -- surrounded by high rock walls of red and gold streaked with black desert varnish, in shapes that stimulate your imagination the way clouds in the sky do. And every morning the river was lined with reflections of the towering rocks and bushy banks.
We were there in kind of “middle water.” It was no longer high water … our head guide pointed out where the water line had been just a couple weeks earlier. But it also had not receded to low water levels. This made finding campsites a little more difficult as the low water sights were still under water and the high water ones were no longer accessible unless you wanted to beach your canoe a long ways out, as you could no longer paddle to the site.
Our second day on the river was one to remember. Not necessarily in a good way except that in retrospect one always feels some satisfaction in accomplishing a difficult task. First we found ourselves in a doldrums, practically no current to ride. That wasn't bad, but we just wished for a little help. But then the sky started filling with clouds. Then the clouds turned to gray, and then the wind picked up. Then it picked up more and came directly against us as a head wind. Then wavelets started to form in the water. We steadily paddled harder and harder to stay headed downstream but our efforts became less and less effective.
The guide told us to stay paddling close to the shoreline. Anytime the wind seemed to wrap its fiendish fingers around our bow to pull us away, I started to panic and beg Erik to direct our bow more toward shore. He warned me that we might hit the shore, and once or twice we did, but I was far less concerned about dealing with that than I was about getting sucked back into the open water in the middle of the river. Well, until we hit shore once and it turned the canoe backward … in order to get headed back downstream, we had to put our nose back toward the open water and I was so damn scared of getting sucked back out there into the middle of the river and stuck sideways to the waves.
When I’m truly frightened over something or anxious or nervous, I don’t have qualms about admitting it. In fact, I mostly can’t help myself from doing so. Largely what I crave as the consequence is for somebody to tell me what to do to deal properly with the situation. I’m quite good at following instructions under duress … I don’t freak out and cease to listen; I freak out and am grateful for the direction and focus on it. We stopped again along the shore as the wind became fierce, all the canoes near one another, and this is where I confessed my fears and anxiety to the boat that had pulled up next to us. As luck would have it, the peeps inside it were very athletic types of folks and Bill had formerly been a rafting guide. I think probably they would have preferred not to barge up with somebody, but I imagine my fear and worry was palpable to anyone near me, and they sweetly offered to tie themselves to us to give us stability in the wind. Nearly everyone else coupled their canoes as well and we paddled on. Our kind paddle pals pictured here:
Being paired up like this did greatly relieve me. So this was good … only problem was, though we all gained some stability in the wind, it still took a lot of strength/effort to paddle against it and we were having some trouble locating a suitable campsite. We passed several which, to the detriment of our morale, had some shortcoming or other … like it was already occupied, or it was too muddy or some other problem. And so we had to keep going and going. I’m sorry to admit I was secretly relieved to see that others in the crew seemed as beat as I was. To look at them, they seemed to be paddling along no problem; I was feeling very wimpy … but maybe I looked the same to them. However, the confessions of exhaustion poured out once we got to camp. The next photo here illustrates what two utterly exhausted people look like when they are happy to be finally at camp.
Our first steps on shore, though, were fraught with horror, as we were greeted by swarms of mosquitoes. At that point, so exhausted, I thought it was going to be a crappy end to a difficult day and didn’t feel very happy. I half expected wolves to start howling and ghostly voices to fill the air maniacally laughing -- the place might as well go ahead and be haunted, too. But once we got more inland to where we could set up our tents out of the forested area, the skeeters thinned to a tolerable, if not ideal, level and we all relaxed.
The next morning, thankfully, was calm and gorgeous. We paddled serenely to our next destination, making a pit stop at lunch to climb up a steep hill to get to a saddle that overlooked the river at the narrow end of a giant oxbow; by giant I mean like 7 miles long from one end of the bow to the other. It was interesting to be standing in this saddle and we could see the river on either side of us, but it would be two days before we were padding through the water on the other side, as we stopped to make camp for 2 nights in the middle of the bow.
One way to relieve the heat (over 100 degrees in the daytime) while on the river is to engage in water fights. There are few things as heartwarming as a bunch of adults on the upper side of adulthood blasting each other with super-soakers at point-blank range and frenetically ladling paddle-fulls of water onto each other. Erik got the best revenge, I think, when we were close enough to our enemy canoe for him to scoop a bailer-full of water and stand up and pour it all directly onto the head of our foe. The only time our bailers are really necessary for the chore they were designed for is after a water fight … One time Erik thought he was being silly wearing the bailer on his head, but a breeze knocked it off and we spent the next 10 minutes wasting paddle strength frantically paddling 360s around the stupid thing trying to get close enough to grab it back before it sank. What’s funny is that Erik already lost is real hat in the breeze on the first day. Spent the rest of the time wearing the sweet little Holly Hobby-esque yellow hat fellow canoer Eli gave him. It covered his head/neck sufficiently but was pretty funny to behold. Normally I personally detest hearing hats; they make me too hot. But canoeing in the baking sun is about the only instance in which I will wear one and, further, be grateful for it.
There were two other fun abandoned vehicles. It was a good imaginative exercise to picture them driving up this mountainside. Such an unlikely place to find vehicles! I was pretty pleased with the self-timer shot I set up and managed to get in it before the timer ran out. You probably already know I have a fondness for self-timer shots.
That night as the sun went down and turned the heights of the canyon walls into golden spires, we began festivities for the venerated “Hawaiian Night.” A tradition among the group of folks we were traveling with. About half of the canoe group belonged to a Denver hiking club and the other half were independent folks like ourselves. But we had canoed with the hiking club last year so knew about Hawaiian Night. One fun thing about canoeing over backpacking is the amount of luxury and frivolous stuff you can bring, as there is a lot of room in the canoes. So we had not only costumes provided for us, but strings of festive paper lanterns and little speakers hooked up to an iPod to play Hawaiian music. This is a completely random thing to be doing on a river in Utah, which is what makes it so fun. In order of appearance: (1) our 3 guides, here about to serve up another delicious meal, (2) Eli and Heidi, the Hawaiian night party coordinators, (3) me and Erik in costume ... the bunny ears photo bomb professionally executed by fellow canoer Gia, you can just barely make out a few strands of her skirt behind Erik.
We pushed away from shore early the next morning as we had a fair amount of ground (river) to cover to make it to our pull-out spot by the time the shuttle vehicles were supposed to meet us there. We finally passed by the saddle which we had climbed a couple days ago at the waist of the oxbow. Along the way we passed rock formations that made Erik and I both think of Persepolis, which we had just seen a few months ago in Iran. I had been musing how they looked like ancient ruins, especially of one of the palace complexes in Persepolis, then Erik voiced my thoughts out loud and claimed they were his. The similarities in structure were striking enough I guess I'll have to give him credit for having his own thoughts like mine.
And so, dear reader, we come to the end of a short but sweet adventure in a beautiful landscape. One odd phenomenon that pervaded the trip was how Erik always ended up sitting next to the wine bags provided by Centennial every night for happy hour. I'm not sure if it's a biological thing like hummingbirds to nectar, or a physics thing like a magnetic field or some sort of gravity well. Anyway ... as I lay down in my tent each night, I had that awesome feeling that I only get every so often -- that everything is right with the world.
So the previous post focused exclusively on mosques in Isfahan ... this time I'll focus on places of residence in and near Isfahan. Might as well start at the "top." Top of the money chain and the social class, as well as the top architecturally ... the palace along the perimeter of the Imam Square (Nagsh-e-Jahan Square) is known as Ali Qapu ... a palace of the kings while Isfahan was the capital of the empire during the late 16th/early 17th century. From here they could watch the happenings and entertainment in the square ... the most popular activity in it probably being polo games (you can still see where the goal ends once were), but also things like dramatics and fireworks were staged there. The first two photos are taken outside on the roof-top deck ... looking out over the square toward the Imam Mosque (formerly the King's mosque, which was built about the same time as the palace when the Safavid kings moved the capital to Isfahan). Second photo looks up to the roof covering the deck.
Far and away the most interesting and artistic feature at Ali Qapu is the upper floor where the ceiling is constructed of two layers of wood, and carved into the top layer are myriad shapes that create hollow spaces with the second layer of wood behind. My photos can't exact justice on the craftsmanship or the feel of that 3-D artistic space all around you. But, here are some (actually quite a few) anyway:
Are you tired of pictures of painted walls and nestled arches in Iran? Oh good, I didn't think so. So here's a couple more from the palace ...
A little ways away, still inside the city of Isfahan, is the Chehel Sutun palace, which translates to the 40 Column Palace. In truth there are only half this many columns holding the roof over its front porch ... the other half are seen in the reflection in the enormous reflecting pool. Surprised? A reflecting pool, here in Iran? (if so, you clearly haven't read my other posts! haha) But I like how in this case the necessity of the reflection is acknowledged in the title of the palace. And here's your quiz to see how much you have learned of Iranian architecture: What do you suppose the walls and ceiling of the outdoor entry hall are composed of? If you said mirrors, you get your diploma!
The photo below I'm pretty proud of ... the little red spot is of course me (Waldo!), I'm looking up at the mirror ceiling in the entry hall (space between the columned porch and the interior of the palace) to take the photo ... so it's a pic of the mirrored ceiling and me on the ground. But I had to stand there with my finger on the "trigger" for ages for that magical second when there were no other people on the ground near me. Which was difficult with all the tourists and busloads of schoolkids loitering about. Then Reza wanted to try it again with all three of us musketeers in a photo ... it was a little more challenging aligning all three of us inside one square of mirror.
The inside of the palace has some impressive and brightly colored frescoes. They depict battle scenes and cultural activities such as dancing. In the bottom photo, a woman painstakingly restores the painting, matching colors and staying inside the lines with her tiny brush. It was interesting to watch her work for a little while to get a sense of "scale" of how much progress is made in a typical day. Do you think it's a lot or a little? I would say it's a depressingly small amount ... you would need to have a good sense of large-scale "vision" not to feel deflated at the end of a day.
And here's your obligatory completely random dinosaur picture. Taken at the stately Chehel Sutun palace. We've run into dinosaurs all over the world in the most bizarre places ... for instance, a partially reconstructed ksar in Tunisia, and at a sand park in China.
Now we travel outside of Isfahan to the city of Kashan. We only made a pit stop in this city to see another example of a traditional home of the wealthy and elite before the revolution. Many of these types of homes are being converted into museums and hotels ... for example, like the one we stayed in in Yazd. In truth they make good hotels because of the layout with a central inner courtyard and many rooms lining corridors inside. An interesting thing I was just reading in a book called The Cypress Tree is the concept that traditional Persian architecture puts the outdoor gardens in a courtyard inside the family compound, "away from prying eyes." Over and over the author uses this phrase, "away from prying eyes," or a similar phrase, indicating that the Iranians kept the artistry and beauty of their personal space private ... naturally it must also be tied to the fact that since the establishment of Islam in Iran, the women of any household could not be seen cavorting around their yard in public, and were hidden inside the home. However, homes could also have had exterior gardens or grandiose entrances, but seldom did. In the 1970s when "new modern Iranians" began building houses for themselves, they started to emulate the Western style of the gardens being in front of and around the house -- the complete opposite design, as we are now all too familiar with in America where suburbanites must have their lawns and gardens manicured to perfection for the benefit of the public eye which they actively invite to pry and behold. A clear exception to this "traditional" style is actual royalty, whose palaces were typically surrounded by acres of gardens and long reflecting pools (as in Chehel Sutun, above).
Anyway, behold the beautiful interior courtyard of this home in Kashan, now turned into a "historical house" museum for the public to peer into the world of the wealthy. Notice the wind tower in the background! Which you of course learned about in Yazd. As with many places we visited in Iran, you can find numerous spelling alterations. This is referred at Boroujerdi as well as Borujerdi.
The somewhat unique interior was painted by a famous painter of the time, Kamal-ol-molk. The colors were particularly vibrant and often with more European-type themes in subject. But the white textured ceiling with arched lines was classic Persian.
More gardens we visited as well in Kashan. A couple pics just to reiterate the prevalence of gardens and pools in this arid desert region. By the end of these posts, I hope you will have a consistent vision of this part of Iran, for it is nothing if not consistent. The term "ubiquitous" can be applied to many features here. Some people might find that an attribute of boredom as a tourist ... the same stuff everywhere. I find it appealing ... especially as I am visiting a place particularly foreign to me, it helps solidify an image of the Persian culture, of its persistence and fierce sense of self-identity. This is known as the Fin complex.
And now we travel to a small old village tucked into the mountains between Isfahan and Kashan (on the way to Tehran). Known as the "red village," Abyaneh is a quaint place mostly kept up in parts for tourists and inhabited by a sparse elderly generation, still living in what I imagine is to them the luxury of their old and traditional ways. Meaning those who have stayed are there because they want to be there and haven't been swept away helplessly into a more fast-paced modernity that not all people are ready to accept. There is a hotel and restaurant for tourists, which is where we ate lunch and where Erik had a showdown with the resident parrot, trying to mind-meld him into talking back to him. The bird spoke when you passed by, but if you tried to engage him in conversation, he refused. This frustrated Erik almost beyond tolerance and he got up from the table several times to go pester the bird into submission. The bird, however, stuck by his guns.
For the sake of expediency in regard to my time and for your own benefit of nice information, I'm inserting here a paragraph about the village from a nice website: historicaliran.blogspot.com, as follows: "Abyaneh has a long history which dates back to more than 2,000 years ago and has been registered on Iran’s National Heritage List since 1975. The word Abyaneh has been derived from the word "viona" meaning a willow grove. Abyaneh has been called an entrance to Iranian history as the locals are deeply committed to honoring their traditions. The language spoken by the literate people of Abyaneh is Parthian Pahlavi. The local clothing for example is in a style of great antiquity. The women's traditional costume typically consists of a white long scarf (covering the shoulders and upper trunk) which has a colorful or floralpattern and an under-knee skirt or pleated pants. They have persistently maintained this traditional costume despite pressures from time to time by the government trying to change it." Here are a few snaps of the local dress referenced:
One of the things I worried about, having never traveled with a private guide before, was if he was going to stick to us like glue everywhere we went and everything we did. We did do every thing together, that is to say every meal, every attraction, etc., we obviously would have private time in our hotel room but then would always meet again at a specified time to go out. But Reza, as a perfect guide, did not stick to us like glue and oftentimes after giving us the pertinent information from his vast store of knowledge about a place, let us wander off on our own for awhile (as in Rayen, Persepolis and other places). We greatly enjoyed meandering through this village, Erik and I not even following each other. Here are some snapshots we gathered in our meandering of this picturesque village. I presume you've already determine the source of its nickname, "the red village."
Another unique feature of the village was the sight and sound of running water as if the village was cradled in it. Along the main street, little brick-lined ditches carried clear water swiftly downhill, water ran down this stairway in the photo below. Even when you couldn't see it, you could often hear water trickling around you. The temperature here, by the way, was significantly cooler than anywhere we'd been.
You can probably guess why I like the two photos below ... the bright blue contrasted so pretty with the red-red-everywhere. The first one depicts the dome of the tiny village mosque. Regardless of how old any village might be, how tenaciously any villagers might be in holding fast to their ancient traditions, pretty much every village in the country will have a mosque. There are a few ethnic minorities (very minority) who are allowed to practice their own religion, but as an Islamic republic, everyone else is required to be Muslim. But anyway ... here is some blue for you: (and a garbage can, too!)
And chronicled below is one of my favorite moments of the trip ... nice to have occurred on our last day there. We were driving out of the village when we happened upon this man riding his donkey. As we drove past him, Erik took his camera out to snap a photo from the rolled-down car window. Rather than being offended or annoyed, nor ignoring us, the man smiled devilishly and spurred on his tiny beast to race against us in our car. We were laughing so hard in the car, and the man kept it up for a bit. I love little moments when the locals get fun and silly.
Driving back to Tehran, we actually drove by the nuclear supposed power plant currently in question in the international spotlight. They have the area guarded by a handful of pretty minor-looking anti-aircraft cannons. Like almost comically inadequate to defend against any kind of competent air strike that might come in. Kind of weird to drive by this thing that is causing such a massive disturbance in global politics and security. From the road, you would never guess it. Also weird to see guys actually manning these cannons.
And so, this post actually chronicles our last day in Iran ... visiting Kashan and Abyaneh, and it was a contemplative drive back to Tehran for me. As always, there are mixed feelings about going home. I'm confident I would have been more sad and unwilling to leave were it not for the freedom I yearned to regain as a woman ... ditching my head scarf in particular, but also the long sleeves, and the right to shake a strange man's hand in greeting, and not be perpetually surrounded by reminders of women's inferior rights, progressive as they may be in context of the Muslim world here in Iran.
We arrived back in Tehran only a few hours before we had to get up in the middle of the night for our flight ... at 3:00 a.m. the Tehran airport is completely crowded, it's clearly their rush hour. I don't know why such an inconvenient time table! We waited in line a solid hour to get to the check in counter. We grabbed a quick meal in Tehran and Reza invited us to come with him to meet a friend, but we decided to retire and pack up and grab a couple hours sleep. (I would awake with a stomach ache and subsequently suffer an unpleasant and interminable trip back home with intestinal issues, subsequently lose my appetite for over a month after getting home and lose 15 pounds ... as I write now I've recovered somewhat after a course of both antibiotics and probiotics.)
We said farewell to Reza at the passenger drop-off. He told us his first time as a guide dropping off passengers, he didn't know you can't park a car outside an airport in the drop off zone. He politely accompanied his clients into the airport and had a cup of tea with them at the cafe. And of course came back out to find his car towed away. haha. It was a slightly melancholy farewell ... Reza had been so good to us and we had gotten along so well and shared many experiences with him. Some of which I cannot write about here. But I can't imagine we could have been paired with a guide who would be better suited to us. So the threesome parted.
But my posts are not quite done! Another one from Isfahan is on the way with some final thoughts. Stay tuned!
I joked about it on Facebook, but now it's come down to actually making a post called Mosque Madness. There are just so many picturesque features in the mosques in Isfahan. I found it very difficult to whittle down the photographic offerings to a reasonable number. I ended up with so many that I decided to simply give them all their own space together. Also, I am running short on time and I can tell you that I won't complete my Iran posts before I leave for Namibia. So will have to finish when I return. There should be a total of three more posts from Iran coming your way. Meanwhile, forgive the egregious lack of text on this one. I could give you historical information on each, etc., but as I'm so short on time, I will leave you to befriend Google if you're interested in deeper knowledge of the mosques in Isfahan. (There will be two more posts from Isfahan, ultimately -- so don't worry, you will get to learn more about this city.)
In the main square in Isfahan, this was once called the King's Mosque (and his palace was right next door), but after the revolution in 1979 it was renamed to the Imam's Mosque. It was certainly built with the distinct imperial flair for size and grandeur.
Shall we step inside for a minute? First is a little nook with carpets rolled up in it that can be taken out and unrolled for prayer time.
And by the way, we had to time our visits in most mosques throughout Iran to avoid the prayer times. They would close down during the calls to prayer in case anyone wanted to use the mosques for that purpose. One thing that was refreshing was that the calls to prayer were not nearly so loud in the outdoor speakers as they were in Tunisia, where oftentimes the prayers were literally blaring through the speakers into the cities and would wake you up in the morning. We hardly even noticed them here, even when our hotel room was directly facing a mosque. We were also kind of surprised at the scarcity of praying people in the public places during these times, but then we had to remember we were in the tourist zones and locals probably avoided those and went elsewhere. You can find a prayer room practically anywhere in the country. Even gas station rest stops along the highway had them, right next to the restrooms and convenience shops in case you are traveling during a prayer time. Apparently, if you are traveling, you are technically exempt from the obligation to stop what you're doing, face Mecca and get down on your knees to pray. By and large, when we did see people observing the calls to prayer, they were either older or very young (with their parents). The young-adult age-group was conspicuously under-represented.
The Imam's Mosque is so huge and cavernous, I'm not even sure how all the rooms are used. I'm quite sure Reza explained this to us, but it didn't stick for long when I was so busy admiring the architecture and the tile-work. The acoustics were carefully designed ... below, Erik is snapping his fingers (well in this photo, he just finished doing so) in a spot that carries the sound all around that huge room. I could stand at the other end and hear the snapping. So a whisper could literally be heard around the room.
This is the most impressive room in the Imam's Mosque. The ceiling is called the peacock ceiling because when the light shafts through just right, it illuminates a wedge of ceiling in such a way that it looks like a peacock with its tail all fanned out.
In a pleasant side courtyard there are lots of little doors like the one below, each sheltered in its own little alcove ... smaller rooms that were closed off. Very quaint. And a couple more shots from the big courtyard before exiting back into the square through the gigantic doors with the giant knocker. (check out the lone guy in the second photo below for a sense of scale ... how I managed a shot with only one person in it, I'll never know)
Across town, we visited the much smaller Friday Mosque. One of its unique features was the old part which was left in austere simplicity. Though the intricate colorful tile work is always so pretty, there was something elegant about this "plain" hall. Though truthfully it's not really plain at all when you look at the brickwork designs in the pillars and especially the ceiling, which was different around each skylight.
So the photos above came from the building on the left, and then we cross the courtyard to the building on the right where the rest of the photos below come from.
Much more to come from Isfahan. But now you've had your fill of mosque architecture!