So Shiraz … lovely city. Reza says it’s his favorite city … among other reasons, because the girls are so pretty.
The first thing this morning, we visited a nice garden with some beautiful poppies in bloom. So nice to have a little interlude of summer, as when we fly back home we’ll be re-entering winter for another month or so. (and FYI, the poppy photo below looks fake or like I jacked up the saturation, but that's just the plain photo ... the flowers were that brilliant)
Then we meandered through the Shiraz bazaar – the old covered alleyways of the traditional market. I wanted to buy a cooler shirt, a “mantou,” which is the name for the requisite type of top for women – long-sleeved shirt that is long enough to cover your butt and buttons all the way up your chest. This is the other maddening dress code for women in addition to the hijab (head covering) … it drives me batty to already be warm inside the hotel room, then to have to don a long-sleeved shirt, of all ridiculous things, and a head scarf. I’m pretty much in a bad mood every day when I close the hotel room door behind me. But within 5 minutes the discomfort is totally forgiven as I become enthralled with the sights. For example ... these from Nasir-al-Molk.
Anyway, I wanted a mantou of lighter, cooler fabric than any I’d brought with me, so Reza helped pick one out for me as well as a new scarf. (Later I would wear that mantou around Reza’s friends and the girls, according to him, liked it and were all clamoring to get one as well when they found out how cheaply I’d acquired it [$10]).
He also mentioned that Shiraz is known for its turquoise. Somehow I ended up inside a jewelry shop in the bazaar and left with a sweet little turquoise ring. While we waited for it to get sized, we talked with the proprietor who sported a most excellent moustache and long, pointy shoes with curled-up tips. He had an interesting collection of stamps including several anti-American ones that were amusing. Too bad I couldn’t mail some postcards with “death to America” stamps on them … that would have been pretty cool. :) ha ha. But it would have confirmed the misperception that Iranians hate Americans. Nothing could be further from the truth as far as we can tell. Anyone who finds out we’re American is quick to express their pleasure at seeing us in their country, and they often express the hope that “we” (our governments/countries) can be friends. They clearly perceive that Americans view them with animosity, as they also often say things like, “See, we’re nice people, we’re not so bad!” Anyway, the anti-American stamps weren’t allowed to be used anymore.
We toured a beautiful little mosque, Nasir-al-Molk, very small compared to most we see. I think the small size accentuated the beauty – the same care in the architecture and tilework and woven rugs as in a large mosque. Looking at the outside decorations and painting, you can probably guess why it's also known as "the pink mosque."
The rugs, individual people make them and donate them to the mosque, they can take up to several years to make. They hold up remarkably well because of the quality of materials and knots.
Later in Esfahan we would see the carpet weaving process which is quite impressive … up to as many as 169 knots per square centimeter, making for such plush carpet. The handmade carpets typically use natural dyes for the coloring of the wool which don’t fade, even in direct sun. Vegetables, fruits, roots and nuts are the primary ingredients in the dyes. At the moment we’re in Isfahan and currently contemplating buying a small carpet … very small because the prices are pretty astronomical by our humble financial standards. But they are so nice. We’ll see ……
Then we stepped into a theological school where people can get degrees in religious studies. The men walking around inside wore one of two colors of turbans to signify their completion of studies, either black or white. We learned that the color of the turban denotes whether or not you are descended from the prophet Mohammad. Black means you are descended from this line. People can trace their lineage back that far through scrupulously-kept records.
Reza then explained to us two things that I have been wondering about. First, I’ve always heard that Muslims don’t depict animals or people in their decorative artwork, only geometric designs. Why? I wondered. The Sunni apparently believe that the angels are kept away by animated depictions which is why they don’t have such depictions in their artwork. Iranians are overwhelmingly Shia Muslims, though, and don’t necessarily believe this. The second note of interest was to learn the reflecting ponds are typically so large in order to reflect heaven; there is supposed to be heaven on earth, so pools reflect the sky, clouds, heaven.
And then - surprise! - another palace of mirrors awaited us! Narenjestan (Orange Garden) Truly Iran is the land of mirrors. So opulent and spectacular the way they use cut mirror pieces and colored glass. Here's a a nice bunch of pics for you. (you can see more mirror-laden palaces in my Tehran post)
After a siesta we saw the tomb of a famous Persian poet, Hafez. The Persians take their classic poets very seriously and find them and their words and techniques still relevant today.
Then we walked through a mausoleum with spectacular mirrored interior, even more so than the one in Tehran. We met a friend of Reza’s, Samira, who took me through the women’s side of the mausoleum (most religious things are separated into women’s and men’s sides). This time I had my chador more under control than in Tehran. When I walked inside, the sparkled dome was so shocking in its sparkly-ness that I literally almost jumped back and mumbled something like “whoa.” Samira laughed and said she was always amused at the reaction of tourists who are as similarly shocked as I was. (no photos allowed) She is also in the tourist industry, which is how she and Reza know each other.
Then the four of us went out to eat at a restaurant with very modern architecture, as Samira is from Shiraz, she selected for us some signature dishes from the region. And Reza suggested we try orange blossom water, which though sweet, was pretty darn yummy. The Shiraz region is full of many orange trees. When we were staying with the nomads, Erik and I spent some time just wandering around the hillsides and we kept hearing this buzzing sound as if hordes of insects were nearby. We wondered if they could be bees, and later found out (and passed by in the car) there were 500 beehives a little ways away and they feed the bees on the orange blossoms, so the honey has a distinct flavor. The orange water was yummy but very sweet!