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!

Read more about QOM...

Neenee in Qom

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"God Must Be Crazy"

Thursday morning we went to Tochal again. This time we walked the first portion, and realized what journey it really is, how out of shape we are. Our appreciation for the men and women who walk the entire thing every week runs much deeper. We took the gondola the rest of the way up, but this time there was no snow...just a lot of wind."

"Ghati Kardi Khoda" ("You mixed-up God?" ie. God must be crazy), one man said when the wind nearly knocked us over...

On the way down we got stuck behind a big group of 15 year old boys on a a school trip. For some reason they thought my friend and I were foreign- either from the clothes, or our gestures, or something else...because we didn't speak. They were extremely curious about us- being from the south of Tehran, where not even the few random foreigners sometimes seen in the north can be found. We decided to play along and told them we were from England (He is fully Tehrani, and me well not really but almost :)

At one point we nearly got caught when I blurted out something very casually to an attendant in Persian. But the kids were too dazzled by our story and our accessories (most of them from right here in Tehran), they didn't even notice. They asked which football team we supported in England: Arsenal of course, I said, and of course they knew Arsenal. They liked Barcelona. They loved all our stuff, especially Amir's blue bandanna and cheap sunglasses. They spoke pretty good English, especially a few of them. They even told Amir he was "very very nice, a gentleman."

In then end we never told them the truth. We thought we should and perhaps we should have, but then when they attacked us pleading to take pictures with Amir, we just couldn't break their hearts... There is a strange obsession here with people and things foreign, as if the West is some wonderland, where people are extremely different. Perhaps we should have showed them that it's not really the case. But they were so pleased and had this great story to tell all their friends, which is also nice...too bad I didn't have my camera :)

Waiting in line at Tochal

+a billboard of Iran's non-alchoholic beer: "Delester"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Namaki and Giant

When I was young my mother used to tell me this story in bed. Iranian fairy tales often begin with "Yeki bood, yeki nabood"(There was, there wasn't), like "Once Upon a Time...

A girl named Namaki lived with her big family in a big house. Everyone in the family had 1 chore, and Namaki's was to close all 7 doors of the house each night. One night, she forgot to close the 7th door and a Giant came inside, putting the entire family in danger...

Namaki's mother softly wakes her up and sings this song bobbing her head side to side:

Ay Namaki Ay Namaki,
Yek dar ra basti Namaki (1st door you closed, Namaki)
Doh dar ra basti Namaki (2nd door you closed Namaki)
Seh dar ra basti Namaki (3rd door...
Char dar ra basti Namaki (4th...
Panj dar ra basti Namaki (5th...
Shish dar ra basti Namaki (6th...
Haft dar ra Nabastiiii Namakiiii (7th door, you didn't close, Namaki!)

Namaki must pay the consequences of her mistake. Giant is tired and hungry. Namaki searches the house for the biggest pot, and cooks all the rice she manages to find, perfuming it with her salty tears. Giant eats with delight. Then he says he would like some tea. Every time Namaki becomes weary of the job, her Mother sings the song once again, in a disapproving but gentle tone...So she finds the biggest glass and hugest sugar cubes, and serves a giant steamed tea with 2 giant cubes of sugar. Then, she finds the largest mattress and the biggest fluffiest pillow, drags them out. Giant sleeps like a giant baby.

In the morning, Giant is so happy and touched by Namaki's caring for him, he realizes he is in love with her and demands her hand in marriage. Namaki cries in despair, but her mother sings the song once more...oh the cursed 7th door has determined Namaki's fate, and she must go with him.

Giant lives in a beautiful castle in the mountains, full of streams and frolicking creatures. He cares for Namaki, truly loves her. Eventually Namaki sees beauty in Giant, and loves him too...

One day, as they take tea on their grand balcony, birds chirp around them, the sun twinkles between the trees and the mountain streams gurgle beneath their feet...Namaki sighs. Giant sees that Namaki is unhappy about something and, determined to make her happy, asks her what is wrong. Namaki says everything is perfect, except she misses her family. In an instant Giant decides to fulfill her wish, and orders Namaki's family to join them in their new home. They live happily ever after.

...The other day, I sighed. And this story popped in my head. It's one of those I'll never forget, perhaps because of the eerie song. I am with my Giant I thought. Giant is ugly, hideous at times. But I can't help but love it for some beautiful things it also has...and now I'm waiting for my love, so we can live happily ever after! :P

Why must we make things so complicated, I wonder. Why do we need ugly Giants...because of stories like this? What is your Giant?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

More from Museum of Ancient Iran

or National Museum of Iran

The museum has 2 buildings, once dedicated to Pre-Islam and the other for Islamic art and artifacts. I have only been to the Pre-Islamic, as the other is closed at the time...

Wife Size (Pottery, 3000 BC)

Wheel (2000 BC, Chogha Zanbil-Khusestan Province)
-The idea for this came after a heavy lunch of Chelo Kabob

1st ever "Khakandaz"(Dust Bin, 1000 BC)
-For the obsessive compulsive Persian caveman or woman

Chinese have the "Lazy Susan", and in Iran we have "The Lazy Pahlavi"
(Drinking vessel on wheels, 1000 BC)

Mardeh Namaki--"Salt Man"
(dated to about 1700 years ago-with hair, clothing, nice boots, and tools in tact!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Iranians Invented Tweezers

I wasn't surprised at all when I saw this in Tehran's Archeology Museum....


Monday, November 5, 2007

Iran's Kamikaze Dolphins?

A few days ago more dead dolphins washed onto Iran's Gulf shore, a total of 152 have died this way over the past month. The cause of death has not been confirmed, but early on they were labeled as "kamikaze" or "suicide" dolphins. Now I'm not exactly sure where these allegations came from. Is it a phenomena which has happened before, so that when 100 dolphins wash up to shore-it's called mass suicide? Are they Iranian dolphin martyrs, and if so what could their message be? I sort of lean towards this theory because I'm already convinced that Iranian mosquitoes are suicidal.

Now, the blame is being tossed about, from pollution and oil contamination to radio waves and fisherman nets...While environmental agencies are doing their own digging about, Iran's fishery is pinning the rooster's tail on their classic enemy: those bloody Americans again and their
spying dolphins!

Meanwhile with the help of some nosy cyber-friends, we discovered this
article from a few years back about kamikaze dolphins that Russia sold to Iran. Is it just me, or is this article very strange?...And more about 'military dolphins'....OK it's probably just a funny coincidence. But it is a sad, and fishy, story indeed. I wonder if anyone could shed some light...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Tochal Mountain

In the north of the city, you can take a gondola (telekabin) 3740 meters straight into the heart of Tochal mountain peak, of the Alborz mountain range--who's breathtaking view can be enjoyed from various parts of Tehran. So far I haven't been able to adequately explain in words the happiness I felt here...I will try now.

In 45 minutes we were transported from the smoggy chaos of the city to the most clean, crisp nature I've ever experienced, and the highest altitude I've ever walked upon.

leaving Tehran

Unaccustomed to the altitude we only walk 10-20 steps at a time, but each time I look up, and each time I breath in, I consume such an amazing sensation. High on fresh air, I cannot stop smiling:"Nisham baz bood" :) I want to hug everyone I see, but the joy is so thick that our eye contact and polite greetings feel equivalent to hugs.

There is a Persian word 'safah' -which everyone stresses the importance, and insists there is no adequate translation. It is something like pleasure or enjoyment, but more. It is used as a verb or an adjective. 'Safah' is what happens here, in 'kooh'--the mountain.

A friend asked me recently if I ever was so happy that if I died, at that particular moment I would be OK with it. This moment was something like that. Pure euphoria, and I felt this positive energy from everyone up there. I envied the men who worked there, who smiled and reminded us to get our free tea and cake, which comes with the ticket. Everyone had such a pleasant if the clogged turmoil down there didn't exist.

The mountains are a very important aspect of Tehran lives. Some people go everyday, and most go at least once a week. Those who have more time hike to various points. Other hikes begin at different points-and the paths are dotted with restaurants and cafes where the high heeled, perfumed Tehranis stop for tea, gossip and people-watching. I will write more about these later...

We saw this peaceful old man, slowly walking up, from our cabin. Later, we met him at the top. He, like many others, comes for the hike every Thursday (Thursday and Friday is weekend here). On a side note, I have never loved old men like I do in Iran. I may be biased, having had 2 charming Iranian grandfathers...either way, I can't help with the smiles and heartfelt sighs when I see an old man here. The ones I speak of have a confident yet calm pace in life, a slouched yet elegant posture. He fondles prayer beads in hands clasped behind his back, or lightly walks up the mountain while singing a sad old melody, or recites his nostalgia with tears twinkling in wrinkled eyes. No wonder Iranians are so romantic!!

It is low season and not too crowded which is nice-summer and winter find queues of skiers and snowboarders snaking out the doors. The gondola lift was built by the Swiss in the 70s. On the other side of the Alborz lies the Caspian Sea. The Shah's wild plan at the time was to build another lift on the other side of the mountains rising up from the seaside, and a 3rd one connecting the 2 pistes. The far-fetched dream was that people would be able to pack their backpack with swimsuit and towel, and arrive to the Caspian in a couple hours, all via telekabin!

Well that didn't happen, exactly. The new government did have a lift built on the other side, but the connecting lift would not be such an easy affair.

When we came down we went straight to "Dizy Sarah" -the downtown 'dizy' place. Dizy is traditionally the poor worker's food, but most Iranians love it. A concoction of fatty meat, beans, potatos, tomatoes, onions and spices cooked for hours in a clay pot over a fire, first you have the soup with pieces of bread shredded inside...then you mash the dizy to a pulp and enjoy with fresh herbs, bread and sour yogurt drink. An inquisitive little boy with a soft dusty face and slanted eyes sat right next to me, chewing banana flavored bubble gum. Curious about me, a newcomer speaking a foreign language. He was so incredibly sweet. Now, I could definitely die a happy woman...although I wouldn't mind sharing these experiences with you people sometime in the future.

Soon winter will arrive and a fresh blanket of snow, the views of Alborz will be even more impressive.

Anyhow, it seems I have a new hobby! And it also seems Iran is as romantic and fantastic as I had constructed in my mind's files of images, pictures and stories. Everything is so unfamiliar yet so familiar. Like a continuous deja vu...the kind when you ask yourself--am I nuts?...or is it really possible?

Neenee in Tochal

P.S. Did you know:

-About half of Iran is covered with mountains

-When people, especially men, walk with their hands clasped behind their backs, this evolved from mountain walking (or so I've heard??)

-The highest peak in Iran is Damavand (5671m) who is permanently snowcapped, and can be seen from Tehran on a clear day...

-Not only is it the best natural insulator...Human Hair is also one of the strongest receptor for cosmic energy!