Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Seoul Street and Palestine Square are other favorites...

Ljubaf and Azad (neenee and slobs corner!!)

"Babi Sanz" click-->(Bobby Sands) St.--Location UK embassy.
French Embassy is --> "Noflochateau" Street :)

click--> Hejab

Friday, December 21, 2007

'tis the season for nose jobs and boot bans

Many people ask me what I like about Iran. It’s a difficult question I realized. Often I give the stock answers: It’s new for me, there are many places to see-interesting places. People here talk to each other.

Yesterday in the taxi, the driver asked me the question again. I said, well many things I really love, and many things not so much. It’s sort of like a roller coaster. So driver said

You know what it is about Iranian people? Something that no one in the rest of the world has? Ehsas!

Ehsas literally means feeling. And though I don’t necessarily agree with the inadequately researched statement about Iranians having the most feeling, I do agree that Iranians have a curiously wide capacity for feeling. And in the same way that you can generalize about Russians missing some certain sensations, thus exhibiting a high threshold for pain, cold weather and heavy consumption, you can generalize that Iranians have an excessive threshold for feelings, in all directions. Whether it’s shows itself in the penchant for heavy complaining, the sudden hot temper, or the utterly melancholic hyperbole...

I’m thinking a lot about recording all my taxi conversations….some really interesting ones so far. Sometimes it feels like as soon as someone is given the green light, they just let it out, those volatile feelings I mentioned. One day I was in the front seat…the driver mumbled something about oil and corruption, I wasn’t listening at that point…but whatever he said launched the old lady in the back seat. It turns out she was sitting on a rocket. Her chador was black but not clutched together so anxiously, as you sometimes see. Like today I saw a woman with the chador tucked in so firmly with her teeth you’d think she was storing away nuts for the winter, or something. This lady’s chador hung loosely about her relaxed limbs. Anyway, so the rocket launched and she went off. “The bastard” this and that…and “why don’t they just hit us already!!? We are tired!” and etc.

I often wonder to myself why I like it here. Or do I really like it? Like the most recent news everyone ironically chuckles about: The boot ban. Boots worn over the pants have been deemed by one police chief as revealing, using the same root word that describes a high rise building ("borj"). This is living in an “Islamic Republic” whose name in itself to some feels like a contradiction. For whom boots and the “winter dress-code crack down” are issues of interest, as they also are for the westerners reporting. Even stranger for me is the guess-work that people are playing, constantly. Because you hear the news, but are never sure if it’s going to be enforced, and even if it is getting enforced, will they be on your street corner? Probably not, but maybe.

Waiting for shiny boots

I’ve also noticed lots more fresh nose jobs recently. Maybe business booms in winter, since people can stay indoors more heal in private. Although It's known that some kids like to parade their nose jobs, bandage and all its glory. Something like the boots-in-pants trend: nose jobs are in fashion, simple as that. Let’s get it!!

I wonder if other women here also have a stiff neck like me, continuously subconsciously stressed that hejab will fall off my head? I sometimes also wonder if my head is steeper than others’, who manage to keep it propped on the back of their coiffed heads, just so.

Words like "boots" and "hairy" are filtered on internet Google search.

These are some examples of the strange feelings I sometimes have. So why do I like it? Perhaps because from day 1 going to the corner store was an adventure. Taking a short taxi ride or sitting in a class for 2 hours, are all interesting encounters for me. Of course I have moments of clarity when I get a bit depressed…but they don't last, because usually something very nice happens soon after.

There are tons of hidden secrets, little pearls waiting to be discovered, lurking around every corner. One day I was sitting alone at home, feeling like I’m on a very foreign planet, or sitting inside an island surrounded by sharks, but it’s just a feeling. And all of a sudden I hear a beautiful violin wheezing melancholic in the near distance. I thought it was from a car or someone’s house, but it echoed such a rustic and classical tale that it couldn’t possibly be....what it is I thought, drawn towards it. And I realized they were some street musicians…slowly trailing through the streets of my area, to who knows where. I was waiting for people to hit the streets dancing, because this melody had something in it, that dirty heart-wrenching feeling...and soon they disappeared.

On the way back from Persepolis, we stopped for lunch at a friend’s farm…It was one of those special places, and perhaps one of my best days so far in Iran. (I've posted photos from the farm in Shiraz entry.) Nature was absolutely perfect, wild, and yet designed with care. Space contained all the elements: fire, earth, water, and fresh air. And good people.

Sometimes the oasis comes in the form of a person, who tells you a funny story or a beautiful, funny poem relevant to that moment, or shows you a rose and reminds you of its beauty.

A Man in Esfehan recites us a poem...

Or a funny face someone makes, that looks so familiar...

There is something so other-worldly and romantic about these fleeting, sometimes invisible encounters…and I guess it’s this feeling that gets repeated here for me so often, which makes me like it here. But that sounds too cheesy!

It’s like you have to walk though a kilometer of shit to reach an oasis. When you reach the oasis it is so utterly pretty, and wonderful, but your feet still reek of shit. Something like that. I’ll have to keep thinking about it.

My kitchen, with "Islamic" layers hanging near the door

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Want some Kabab with your Enchiladas?

Hidden in a small residential street near my house, we found this Mexican restaurant. You wouldn't have noticed it if it weren't for the old man with a cowboy hat lingering outside the door. We decided we must try it, ourselves being from the land of Tex Mex. Inside we found all the trendy young kids of the neighborhood decked out under layers of makeup, and nose job bandages. Men and women puffed on shisha and munched on nachos-Which were, by the way, not bad! Even the non-alchoholic beer hit the spot, almost like the real thing. Interesting fusion of Shisha and Nachos. Kabab and Enchiladas.

Our dinner: Nachos for a starter-$3. Then I had the Chimichanga, with full service of Mexican rice, refried beans and salsa, below on the left, for $6. On the right is the Iranian-Mexican fusion: 1 enchilada, 1 taco, some kabab and saffron rice, a feast for $9. And a couple of foamy "beers," perfection. (In Iran we have the choice of various non-alcoholic beers: Bavaria, Tuborg, Efes...and the best local one is Delster, and it comes in tens of flavors from apple and lemon to pomegranate.)

And yesterday I actually saw a newly opened 'TGI Friday's', looked just like the popular American restaurant chain, which by the way originated in Dallas, Texas, more Tex Mex!? Hmm, I don't see Iran in their global locations...a new addition to the various copycats around town I guess. No copyright protection here, too bad... It makes sense though, albeit in a different way, Thank God it's Friday, the holy day, let's eat!

Another famous copycat is the "Starbox" now known as "Raees Coffee." Interestingly the coffee here is even the same price as Starbucks, about $2.50 for a small latte...I tried it once, not bad, and they even sprinkl cocoa on top in the shape of "raees"

Saturday, December 15, 2007

From Shiraz With Love

Last week I went to Shiraz to visit my family. My mother comes from Shiraz, a small city in the southwest of Iran, famous for being the city of poets, love, roses and of course the Shiraz grape (the oldest sample of wine was found in Shiraz, dates back 7000 years).

The cities outside Tehran are relatively more traditional, and in general you see more chadors and black. This was also the case in Shiraz, although the character is known to be less conservative and quite laid back. Shirazis are also famed for being lazy, and opium seems to be a big problem (most families have one addict). The city is surrounded by mountains on 3 sides. Dervishes wander around with a tiny canary on their hand who pecks you out a Hafez poem-which tells your fortune-for a small fee.

In Shiraz I finally experienced what I kept hearing from people who visited Iran: the family bombardment. Something I am familiar with of course, but now to a new extent. Eating, visiting, buying, eating, eating, visiting. (It seems I've always just lost weight, and never eating enough. I think they are waiting for me to get fat, so they can ask me why I gained weight.)

Most important is however, recounting the tale, down to the tiniest detail, and not once, not twice... For example, I can't tell you how many times I heard what I did on Thursday, as my grandmother thoroughly explains our day's events to family in Iran and around the world. It went something like this:

"Yesterday we went to Takhte Jamshid (Persepolis). We thought to take a taxi, and we inquired at the Agence. They said it costs 200 toman ($.20) per kilometer for a Pride or Paykan and 250 for a Toyota. But then Sudabeh said her husband goes to that area every morning and we could ride with him. On the way back we could either wait until the afternoon and return with him, or take one of the transportations they offer from there on our own. But then I said well let's see what her husband says, if it's really okay with him... So he said yes, and that he would be going a bit later that morning, at 10am, which was a good time for us. But then Nahid said, well if you want to go at that time, my class finishes at 9:30 and I'll come pick you up. She said maybe Sudabeh would come along too. So she came to pick us up at 9:30, and we went to wait on the street so she didn't have to make a U-turn. Sudabeh also came along. We got to Takhte Jamshid at 10:30, because the traffic was really bad in Marvdasht... And you know how far you have to walk now to get to the site from the parking lot, how much we walked! Of course we walked around up there on the site, and then we sat somewhere and had an apple and orange........"

This was just the beginning; and it went on, over and over... It's definitely an unusual world for me. But I enjoy it, in a strange kind of way, and some moments are so bizarre and funny.

One afternoon we were sitting looking through stacks of old photos, and one of my aunties turned on the Sat.TV: From Russia with Love was on, dubbed in Persian. I don’t know how they worked out the translation, but watching Sean Connery say "nokaretam" (I'm your slave) is something very hilarious...and of course British spy games always a fun theme here. At one point a sexy scene came on, and my old auntie, who normally complains incessantly of her various pains, (It seems everyone in Shiraz has some ailment, but it is up to your will of complaint to trump the next person's illness with your more serious and painful one) couldn't stop giggling. She kept teasing my old uncle if it was okay to keep it on the channel. Oops, she said, I've disturbed the class!

Or like when my great aunt put on her prayer chador and settled at the table to pray. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang got on the subject of religion. They talked about how only 2 out of 6 of them know how to pray, and only one of them actually ever does it. Then they went into a rather critical discourse about religion and the present state, cursing this one and that. All the while, granny is praying right next to us. And it's completely normal.

Similar type of grandmas often think nostalgically about the old times. When they used to have regular women's meetings organized by municipality and the head of the gendarme wore a mini-skirt, when hejab was a choice that some women made, when they shaved the ends of their eyebrows for the fashionable 'Mr. Spock' look, when their family was still around, when "things were better" and they didn’t have to double lock each door in the house...The time of "God rest its soul." Of course they see things from a very particular angle, nonetheless important.

Another afternoon one of my aunts took us to her class, she teaches English Literature to young students at Shiraz University. She said she wanted to challenge her students' (boys and girls) image of the "West" -that it's not all Hollywood, make-up and fashion, like some of them think. One of the girls was wearing golden sneakers that the kids were drooling over. The students asked us questions in English, in order to practice. Some of the questions:

Could you live in Iran, or would you rather live in America? How do you feel wearing the hejab? What do you like about Iran? Which states have capital punishment in America? Why do each of the states in America have different laws? Which Iranian food do you like? Have you had kaleh pacheh (Iranian dish, boiled lamb head and foot), and did you like it?? Do you like our president? Have you been to Hollywood?...

A shaggy headed boy taught us what they call a ‘proverb’ from Shiraz: “veleshhhh” (“let it go”). They were great kids. The girl with the golden shoes who asked about Hollywood was daydreaming. I kept thinking any moment she might tap her heels 3 times and transport to the Stars on Hollywood Boulevard.

The Shirazi accent is sweet and melodic. They have a sort of southern drawl, knocking off syllables and adding "o" at the end of many words. I even had "Shiraz" wine, some homemade stuff. Though it tasted a bit like garlic and dirt.

With another aunt I went to the public swimming pool. (This one is a sports coach in high school. Her girls are in basketball season now-they also play golf, badminton, chess, and many other things throughout the year.) Surprisingly, the pool was the best, cleanest public pool I've ever been to.

And of course I visited all the poets' tombs and the gardens: Hafez, Saadi, Khajoo...and Baba Koohi's ("Papa Mountain"--a dervish who lived in on of the mountains above the city) tomb which is just above my grandmother's place. Sadly, a lot of the tea houses have closed, this was also the case in Esfahan...maybe because too many kids were hanging out and having some kind of fun. Around Hafez's tomb, young and old gather and wander the gardens, reading and reciting his poems together. You can see that he means a great deal to Shirazis and Iranians in general.

I’d have a very different life here. In Tehran I'm pretty much on my own, though I have some family here also. And I really appreciate being alone, which no one here really understands. It's also however interesting to experience the crazy family thing like I did in Shiraz. I learn so much about food and Iranian traditions, and real life history, plus it makes my grandmother really happy. So once again, I am torn! I always want the best of both sides, and there never seems to be enough time. I want to live on my own here in Tehran, and at the same time I’d love to live with my family. Like I want to settle and have children, but I’d also love to be one of those wandering eccentric couples who never have kids. Like wouldn't mind being one of those urban business women, or a college professor, but I'd also love to be a farmer...

Wheat Farm Outside Shiraz

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Snowboarders in Tochal

This morning we went to Tochal again...but this time all the way to the peak. OK, we didn't walk the whole way, that's pretty serious...but I'd like to do it sometime.

So I was 4,000 meters up high this afternoon, still feeling soggy and nice from the blood rush...and the view was amazing--although as soon as we made it to the top, clouds swept in along with a cold, biting wind.

Back down from the peak, we enjoyed the sports/fashion social event taking place on the piste. I discovered a sort of playful rivalry going on between the classic hikers and the trendy snowboarders. The young skiers and snowboarders were dressed in top gear, and fully accessorized. Several of them wore helmets, though I'm pretty sure this was for aesthetics purpose because it looks like quite an easy ride.

I thought to myself, it's good my husband didn't come here before he met me. Or he would have fallen for one of these Iranian snowboard chicks for sure. Luckily, I won't allow him to take a second wife :)

So for some reason, the scene reminded of that old computer game-SkiFree. Anyone remember that one? I don't know why, but especially from up high, it really looked like it...maybe because everything just looked so silly...or maybe I was all funny from the air. I used to love that game!

Tomorrow I'm going to Shiraz for a week... So I won't be posting for a week or so. Now is your chance to read everything and ask me loads of questions ;)

More Photos from the day in Tochal
*click on the photo below


Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Today was the last day of school.

A part of my life I haven’t yet mentioned is the Persian class I take. I go to class Saturday through Wednesday from 9:30 am to 12. I take a shared taxi in the morning, up Vali Asr Street, straight to the Persian Language Institute. The shared taxis in Iran have straight line routes all around the city, you can hop on and off along the way. My journey costs around $0.25. Taxi's are often shared, men and women uncomfortably squeeze into the back of a tiny Paykan, while in buses women must sit in the back.

The 10 people in my class come from all over the world. I am the only of Iranian origin. The first day of class each student introduced him/herself and explained why they were in Iran. (Great intelligence material!) Suspects are as follows:

1 Lebanese man—in car business, in Iran, he says, because of “dushman Israeli” ("enemy Israeli")

2 Yemeni diplomats-here working at Yemen Embassy

1 Ukrainian girl—married to an Iranian, they met at a yoga conference in India

1 Syrian-Kurdish lady—her husband works at the Syrian Embassy

1 Iranian-American—here to explore her roots…or is that too cheesy?

1 Moroccan-French lady—her husband works at Embassy

1 Cameroonian girl—who was here studying but has disappeared

3 Korean girls—not sure exactly why they are here, I think they just find it fascinating. They all live in dorms and take buses everywhere, hardcore!

It’s a very interesting place. Other students come from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Indonesia, India, basically a mix of diplomats and hipsters studying Iranian poetry…and it’s probably rated second to British Embassy for being what they call “den of spies.” There are also some great opportunities to be invited to Embassy parties…where champagne tends to flow. (During holiday season especially-they are allowed to order a certain amount of booze.)


Our teacher is a fiery young Iranian lady. Language seems to be her passion, as she is always jotting down notes, about new teaching methods and the different meanings-especially English and Arabic.

And all the students are lovely:

The Lebanese man seems to be very religious. He talks about his car business, praying, going to the park, and visiting the holy cities of Mashhad and Qom. And he always tries to introduce the most complicated words and sayings, while he can hardly speak a simple sentence. The class suspects that he memorizes what he reads in newspapers. The first day of class he told us he was staying at Esteqlal Hotel-one of the most posh. Since then the teacher hasn’t stopped teasing him about being rich. He is awkwardly polite, always picking up the papers she drops, while reciting from memory the most formal Persian phrases: “I am at your service…always!” and such.

One of the Yemeni men always talks about women, and marriage. He says he is working on getting an Iranian wife (second wife that is), and our teacher gives him a very hard time-all in good fun, though we are still not certain if he is joking or not. He says the woman’s place is at home, in the kitchen,and that life in Yemen is much cheaper so a man can afford to have more wives. Our teacher and the rest of the class did not agree at all. The other guy is like the quiet young sidekick with a mustache.

The Ukrainian lady is into yoga and spirituality. She is very delicate, picky with outside food if it seems dirty, afraid she will be poisoned. But today we went to Superstar Burger for lunch, and she had a double cheeseburger, mashalla. She always talks about the “tragedy of her country,” with a quivering voice. That since the fall of USSR, bad economy and poverty has driven her countrymen into severe alcoholism, and that all the Ukrainian girls want to marry foreigners because of this. She came to the right place!

The Syrian-Kurdish woman is one of those know it all mothers who you can’t help but love. Everything she says is very matter-of-fact. She is a diplomat wife, living in in various countries no more than 2-3 years each. Her favorite place was Kuwait, because of all the lovely malls and restaurants. She also loves Iran, she feels it’s very close to Syria.

The Cameroonian girl, who is 18 yrs old and here on a scholarship to study science, has disappeared after 3 weeks of class. I think she may have been traumatized. Iranians are not at all used to seeing black people in person and, if not out right racist at times, they definitely have a strange and not so subtle sense of humor. On Saturdays we describe in class what we did on the weekend (perhaps more intelligence info??). Once she said, “Thursday I didn’t leave the house.” Why, we asked? “Because Iranian people are bad.” Although other black visitors I've heard had a better time here...No one in class knows what happened. Luckily she did have some family here.

The young Korean ladies are my favorites. One of them was a singer in Seoul and she wears pink converse high tops everyday. Today after school, all the girls from class came over to my place, and she sang us an Italian opera song. She also studies the Daf and Santur, traditional Iranian instruments. They all would sneakily shed off their head-scarves inch by inch in class, and by now just take it off immediately. The other 2 seem to have some kind of humanitarian interests. When they found out I’m married you should have seen the look on their faces, such a shock! They were extremely pleased, “Ohhhhhh!” with mouths wide open…and asked me all sorts of questions with sweet inquisitive eyes. The oldest lady seems keen on getting married. In class conversations she often uses the example “If I had a boyfriend, I would get married.” And when we explain the weekend’s events, all three of them always say the same thing: “Thursday, I went to my Korean friend’s house, and I cooked Korean food. It was very delicious.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


A walk in some Tehran shoes...

Melli Shoe "The Nation's Shoe"

click here: LET'S GET SOME SHOES!

Try walking in my shoes. You'll stumble...

*zoom on this one for enhanced toes



Khodaya Kafsh!
*oh my god shoes

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Shomal -- Trip to the Caspian Sea

So, quickly...I'm skipping Esfahan part of the trip for now, trying to catch up!! I have much to share with you, and I'm going to try to get some better connection, somehow.


My father was here this past week (first time in 30 years) and we had a great time! I skipped class a few days :) We found his old street (the house was no longer there), we wandered all around Tehran, rode the metro, ate Kabob 5 or 6 times!...and for the weekend we went to Shomal, for a trip down memory lane.

Shomal means "north" and it's basically the Caspian region, stretching from Gilan in the west, through Mazandaran, Golestan and Turkmenistan in the East. "Going to Shomal" is very popular for vacationing Iranians, although we went right before the weekend began and it was rather dead-so it was just us and the Caspian much of the time. The weather is very rainy and humid, as you can see our second day there was quite stormy. It's very lush also, and the drive over the mountains to the green side is breathtaking. The seashore is pretty polluted however, and development without frustrating...but it's still very beautiful....

And you come home smelling like garlic, and vodka if you're lucky.

The latest news everyone in 'the street' complains about is about a new treaty dividing the Caspian between all the bordering countries: Leaving a measely 17% for Iran. Caspian contains many resources such as oil, gas and sturgeon fish-where world famous caviar comes from!

Read more about Caspian Sea here:

And here are some photos from our trip. Click on the photo below, it links to an album...



Sunday, November 25, 2007

Abianeh Photos

Grumpy Old Women
They get angry if you don't buy apples from them.

Have an apple!
We were finally force fed an apple by this friendly lady.

Old Door: Why 2 knockers you ask?
The left was for men, and right one for women.
They each would give a different sound to signal if a woman or man should answer.

Village of Abianeh
Check out the rooftop in the center...more apples?

Abianeh woman and Iranian tourists
They seemed more interested in us than in the village...

More on Abianeh...

Kashan Photos

Heavy Load: Road to Kashan

Bad Gir -'captured wind' tower

Barbari bread in empty bazaar

Historical House in Kashan

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Kashan and Abianeh

Sorry, I'll have to be quick and get through this trip!...I have already skipped so much due to lack of time, and so much more is coming. Friday my father came to Iran, for the first time in nearly 30 years! It's going to be interesting! d/reconstructing imaginations, nostalgia, paranoia, and such...stay tuned.

I have so many thoughts and conversations that I'd like to share, so bear with me if I just go on and on sometimes. If you do have any questions, it might actually help me sort out ideas for future post topics, and to understand/interact with my audience a bit :)

So back to the road trip:

After Qom we drove on another hour to the city of Kashan, famous for its historical houses (from the Qajar era-19th century), and traditional style homes built with ancient air-conditioning systems: 'Bad Gir' (captured wind)--round mounds or towers on the roof which capture the wind and distribute it throughout the house, and even chills water. Maybe this explains why Iranians love ice cold water! It is also famous for being one of the major centers of ancient civilization, with important archaeological sites nearby.

Historical House

Kashan was a small quiet town, almost silent, especially on Friday. A perfect contrast to Tehran and Qom. We arrived late afternoon, as the excitement of Qom put us off schedule, and pulled over immediately when we saw these houses peeking over the rooftops...only to find these men playing "beach volleyball" - Kashan style. An old man on the roof pays no attention, hangs his woolen yarn in ease...the bazaar is beneath him, empty now. It's Fry-day!

Beach Volley!

Man and His Yarn. welcoming us up for a visit...

Short on daylight, we zoomed through a couple historical houses, and the old public baths which date back even further. An earthquake 200 years ago destroyed most of the city, but left the baths intact, with major parts dating to Safavid period and even going further back: each ruling class built a layer upon layers over the years.

We were lucky enough to meet an enthusiastic local with a penchant for Kashan history. After a thorough description of the baths, he led us to this oasis within an oasis: An historical house converted to an arts NGO/cooperative, named after the famous Iranian modern poet Sohrab Sepehri-who was also from Kashan. 3 weeks before we arrived they had transformed some of the rooms into a traditional style lodging space, with proceeds benefiting the project. Lonely Planet actually beat us there by a week!

Sohrab Sepehri House
(Rooms on 2nd floor, ceramics studio and theatre on ground)

Our morning call the following day was a melancholic chiming which echoed from the garden courtyard. It was really like a dream...we discovered it was the founding member of the collective, playing his music on ceramic bowls filled with water, in a sort of meditative lull. What a great way to be woken! We took our breakfast of tea, bread and cheese under a dewy pomegranate tree, while my friend Baldy read some of Sepehri's poems, all about love and nature...Hippy Dippy!

Unfortunately we barely had a glimpse of the city of Kashan, though we did have a mean, giant kabob at a very local Azeri joint. Definitely going back to explore, if only for the place we stayed...a potential land of lotus eaters.

The next morning we stopped in the village of Abianeh, half hour off the highway to Esfahan, just south of Kashan. On the way we passed by the ominous Natanz nuclear site, where even the accidental peek arouses guilt...Landscape along the highway is so hideous it's sad. I almost cried staring at those rocks protruding out of the earth, their ugliness so exposed and vulnerable. On the turn off towards Abianeh, a dramatic shift occurs. Vivid autumn colors and crumbling villages are connected by massive orchards. Before the main village of Abianeh, on the right you find a helicopter landing pad, made especially for Queen Farah when she visited back in the 70s.

Inside Abianeh, old grannies still wear the traditional Zoroastrian dress, you can see below. And they speak in the ancient Pahlavi Persian. Most of them won't let you take their picture, unless you buy something. These sweet and silly women all sell loads of dried apples and various Chinese trinkets. I'm convinced they sleep upon giant bags of apple chips, all day they slice apples in the street, forcing you to eat one on every corner. This lady sold me some in exchange for a photo, but her friend still didn't want to be in the photo. As she walked away grumbling, our apple lady gave her a mocking look, luckily I caught it!

Apples anyone??

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


On Friday, end of the week, we hit the highway for my first Iran road trip, stopping in Qom, Kashan and Abianeh with the magical Esfehan as final destination. The next few posts will be dedicated to those few days…


On the way to Esfehan, like good Muslims, we stopped for Friday prayer in Qom-Iran’s second holiest city after Mashhad, and perhaps the most important place for Iranian Islam. It is famous for being a center for Shia Islamic thought for centuries, more recently famed for being the intellectual center, political and power base of Ayatollah Khomeini, of the Islamic part of 1979 Revolution, and of the present Regime. 100 km southwest of the capital, Qom sits in a very strategic position.

Upon arrival, I put on the chador for the first time, pulled over on the highway and dressed in the car.

Tehran's giant but somehow-invisible murals and billboards of clerics and war martyrs are strange, but in Qom I finally met those famed character profiles in the flesh.

In Tehran a taxi will hardly pick up one of these characters, but in Qom I learned that they come in a variety of shapes and styles. From clerics I found midgets, I found fats ones and thin ones.

There is what they call “Cleric Chic” made popular by ex-President Khatami: well tailored cloaks, with luxurious fabrics, matching designer accessories, proper shoes, and turban sized down for a more modern look. Khatami also introduced a range of colors for different seasons, going for darker blues and grays in winter, and even light beige in the summer. Warm days also see the delicate see-thru over-cloaks. Their faces are gently with trimmed and styled beards, fancy eye-glasses.

More conservative clerics opt for the drabber look: old and dark cloaks, giant turbans, full beards. Either plastic sandals or shoes with back folded in, for easier mosque access.

Another profile I witnessed are members of Basij-the voluntary militia. They look kind of like this man below, except with Palestinian Kefia around their neck, a sort of unofficial uniform. A bit shy to photo those guys...
'Believer': untucked shirt, buttoned to top and unshaven

'Happy' Cleric

Young dudes sporting funky Tehran style hair-dos
this is quite interesting for Qom!

We even found one 'Mini Mullah' (quoted from Reza Z.)

Maybe 90% of women in Qom are in chador-the black cloak which envelops from head to toe. Some clutch it with their teeth, close to their face, while others let it flow more sensually. This is not how we dress in Tehran, although you also see women in chadors all over Tehran. And I did spot one or two girls at more Tehran standard-with bangs sprouting out from hejab, even toes and ankles peeking through cropped pants and sandals, although they still wore mostly black. Many women pray in the prayer chador-which is a flowery sheet like cloak, my friend had to borrow one to go inside the shrine.

Qom is famous for shrine of Ma’sumeh (Imam Reza’s sister) built over the Zoroastrian fire temple in 17th century by Shah Abbas (many of main mosques are built over fire temples); Ironically it’s also famous for being a hotbed of prostitution--which has in a way become legal through the Iranian Shi’ite concept of temporary marriage-‘siqeh’. With a ‘siqeh’ you can marry someone for anywhere from 1 hour to 99 years, with a few minor game rules…

Inside the shrine they herded the crowds around with those rainbow colored dusters. When the first prayer began, I witnessed another bizarre sight: the truest believers-clerics, chadors and other unshaven pilgrims-began to run...

Running to catch the Friday Prayer

Easy Riders

After the prayers were over, everyone buzzed away, mostly on motorbikes. As we loosened our chadors in the car, we noticed the same strange sort of stripping going on in the cars and buses around us.

New Toy!

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Neenee in Qom