Friday, January 25, 2008

The 10th Day

I heard a deep beating somewhere off in the distance, steady with the rhythm of a sad and violent heart. The mourning had begun.

Near my house, Tajrish market’s central yard has been transformed into a stage, cloaked with black cloth, Islamic banners and green neon. For the entire lunar month of Muharram, passion plays (“Tazieh”) re-enacting the Battle of Karbala while beaming melodramatic, dizzying chants, drum beats and horns. The Strange smell of sacrificial frenzy, superstition and pollution suffocates the air. Bodies bump against each other, sometimes violently. Some people cry, others flap their eye lashes, or sell various superstitions in the hot and holy market.

Time capsules seem to be a recurring theme for me lately.

This is the story about yet another time capsule, one which comes to life during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, and especially in its first 10 days. I happened to be deep under the hypnotism of David Lynch’s latest film when I heard the first sounds during Tasooa, the “9th day” of Muharram, day before Ashura, the “10th day” - what a crazy moment that was.



Once upon a time 1,300 years ago…
10 Muharram, 680 AD (Ashura): The Battle of Karbala


After the death of Muhammad many believed the just succession should be to his son-in-law and cousin, Ali (whom Iranian Muslims revere most after Muhammad and Allah). Interestingly, for a while Imam Ali did not seek to take over the Caliphate since he believed Islam was a faith
and not a state. Shi’a literally means “follower of Ali.”


After the death of Imam Ali, as the kingdom was getting richer, the Umaayad dynasty took power. A segment of Muslims believed them to be promoting the corruption of Islam and its values, and especially marginalizing the house of the Prophet-"Ahl al Bayt." Hossein renounced the dynasty: the ultimate culmination of his resistance played out in Karbala.

On the 10th of Muharram, Hossein son of Ali (and my 52nd cousin ;-) and his crew of 72 (along with 51 women and children) marched through the blistering deserts of what is now eastern Iraq and met Ummayad Caliph Yazid’s army, 40,000 men strong, in Karbala. Everyone was slaughtered, starting with Hossein's baby, Ali Asghar. The women were taken as prisoners...

On this day the seeds of the great divide in Islam were planted. What began as a political and ideological resistance movement evolved into a deep, religious split. In very general terms, Sunnis maintain belief in the succession of an elected Caliphate while the Shi’a believes in the traditional succession according to Prophet’s bloodline.


Ashura for Shiites today consists of the remembrance and performance of this bloody day's events, and the details around it. Hossein is seen as a symbol of bravery and ultimate martyrdom in the face of injustice, a powerful theme which re-presents itself in various forms, through the epochs.


For more a more in-depth reading on this history, click here.



On Tasooa, the 9th day, I visited my auntie’s house for dinner. It was a total coincidence that I went there on that particular evening.

“They are crazy!” my auntie kept saying.

It was well below zero outside, and we heard the beating. My cousin and I rushed to the kitchen window to see if we could catch the “Dasteh Azahdari” (“procession of mourners”) passing through the frozen street. A massive drum accompanies the lines of men, who slap their chests with their hands (“sineh zani”) or their back with chains (“zangir zani”). They said that the chest beating is more of an Iranian thing.

They have outlawed the chains with knives on the ends and slicing skin on the head. Images of Hossein and Ali have also been banned--it seems as though they are not accurate portrayals. Images of people are not Islamic, but they are common in Iranian Islam, the tradition dating back to pre-Islamic times. Paintings of Hossein and Ali, and the various contemporary martyrs are quite popular. There is even an image of Mohammad that many old families have (My great auntie has the portrait in the first page of her ancient family photo album--I'll try to scan it soon and send), and you can find it still in the bazaars. Normally the city would be swarming with posters of the epic heroes, but this year I hardly found any. I spotted a couple downtown, but the eyes were censored with green tape.

At times, the processions look like some sort of dark-metal trance ritual with “Noha”- trance-like music in which Hossein’s name is repeated continuously. Contemporary Noha music often contains elements of heavy metal, trance or hip-hop.

The atmosphere is carnivalesque.

Whole families come out, eat and drink tea, and follow along the processions. Young girls and guys hang around, dressed to impress. Boys gel their hair extra high, and girls often get away with showing off a bit of bouffant, bleached bangs (although I heard some of them were warned).

On the day of Ashura, Vali Asr Street was dripping with dead lambs, sacrificed in the name of Imam Hossein. At the entrance to Zaferanieh Street (a posh neighborhood) they sacrificed a cow. The bloodiness of the day of Ashura commemorates the blood shed at Karbala.







Downtown displays the most elaborate and passionate ceremonies. The Tazieh is p
erformed in the days before and after Ashura, with the climactic performances taking place on this day. At the end of the performance, when Hossein is killed, they burn down the giant tent near the bazaar, representing the annihilation of the tent of Prophet’s family and the warriors who were camped around the battlegrounds.

In the city's mosques, as well as in private homes, people prepare large quantities of excellent food, which is given away for free, called “Nazri”. Everyone queues up for their Nazri: even the ladies with Gucci bags and stiletto heels, and the guys who constantly chat on their mobiles and wear gigantic sunglasses. Sometimes people fight for their Nazri, like most things here, especially when they involve queues.

Another type of food donation is called “Kharji”
(literally "spending")– which means they bought it from a restaurant or caterer and fed people on Ashura, as opposed to Nazri which you make yourself. It is said that the British Embassy had an old tradition dating back to the 1905 Constitutional Revolution (when 12,000 Constitutionalist merchants sought refuge in the Embassy grounds) of giving Kharji.

Common alms dishes for Ashura are "Qaimeh" (split pea stew with lemon and lamb) and "Keshmesh Polo" (Rice with raisins and ground beef). For desert it is sweet "Sholeh Zard" (Saffron Custard).

I learned that various aspects of Ashura can be closely paralleled with pre-Islamic Iranian ceremony and tradition. Ancient Iranian history and folklore is most famously captured and represented in the epic Shahnameh (Book of Kings), written by Ferdowsi in 1010 AD, recounting the mythical origins and histories of Iran up to the Islamic invasion. For example:

Shiism: Hossein – Grandson of Prophet who was killed by Shemr, commander of Yazid’s army, in the battle of Karbala. He symbolizes innocence destroyed by evil, and the fight for justice. The ultimate martyr.
Shahnameh:
Siavush – Son of Persian King, innocence incarnate, who died by the hands of Iranian archenemy, evil incarnate, Turanian King Afrasiab. The Tazieh (passion play) used to be performed in honor of Siavash, today it’s for Hossein.

Shiism:
Ali --a warrior, he killed many for his noble cause. Famous for his two-tiered sword. Ali’s horse is famous.
Shahnameh:
Rostam –a fantastic warrior who killed many to preserve his great country. Famous for his two-tiered beard. Rostam’s horse is also famous.



















Rostam with his two tiered beard 
& Imam Ali's Sword - "Zolfaghar"



In old tradition, storytellers would recount the tales of the Shahnameh reading the poetic verses, alongside wall paintings which depicted the stories. Today, during Muharram, professional singers recount the tales from the Battle of Karbala. I’ve also heard that you can still find those who recount the tale along with its parallels from Shahnameh.

(Another example of this kind of correspondence that is not quite relevant to this post, but I’ll mention anyway, is the trilogy in Shi’a Islam--Allah, Muhammad & Ali--which translated for the Communists (who grew up in a religious atmosphere) into Marx, Lenin & Stalin. The trilogy roughly represents Theorist, Practitioner & Warrior. You might have noticed something like this in the film Persepolis when, as a child, Marjane Satrapi sees Marx at the level of God. My friend who explained me this phenomenon, used to read about Communism simplified in children’s books, and draw paintings of Marx)

In ancient Iranian tradition the concept of strength was also very important, and this can be seen still today. Many of Iran’s best wrestlers are idealized, their photos hanging all around town. On Ashura strong men take turns carrying a giant (and very heavy) “Alam” on their shoulders—Alam (photos to the right) is a Shi’a banner, heavily decorated with iron figurines, decorations and feathers. Many of the decorations are very Iranian, for example lions and peacocks. This has also been declared illegal, although we saw several men lifting them.

















As the central aim of festival is mourning, all the things you might expect can be found: people dressed in black, crying and chanting "Ya Hossein", beating their chests...

But there can't help but be happy moments. While the content of the ceremonies and the feelings of many people are sad, meanwhile plenty of people are also having a good time. It is one of the only opportunities to spend days and nights out in the streets with huge crowds of people, for a very legitimate reason. Young people saunter around, exchanging glances, chats, or perhaps a phone number. In the last years the facilities and music styles have developed, with neon light shows and traveling sound systems. I’ve heard several people refer to it as discotheque.










Of course a large segment of the population is quite serious about it. Another substantial segment does not participate at all, for example my family, even though many of them are religious.

Since the days of Constitutional Revolution, the ceremony has sometimes taken on a political character. It has been banned in various cases: Iran in the 1930s and in Iraq under Sadaam Hussein (This year 2 million Iraqis marched at Karbala). Although its ideology and mobilization power contributed a great deal to the 1979 Revolution, it may still be regarded as a threat today. In the most pure sense, it is a cry out against injustice, whatever form that may be. It is also an excuse to gather, and express emotion.
It is hard to stop the people on these days, otherwise the authorities might appear as hypocrites.

Ashura and ceremonies dedicated to it's remembrance are practiced all around the world including Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, India, and even in Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica where it's known as "Hosay" and in Indonesia known as "Tabuik."

In another post-modern twist, I've also heard it described as a day of “showing.” Men show their strength along with other various male qualities. Women go out, showing off their beauty and charms...
As I rambled around the streets of Tehran, I definitely noticed this.

Although many people still take part in Ashura due to belief and tradition, many of them also utilize the rare opportunity more practically: whether it is to voice a political statement, eat some Nazri, hang out with friends, escape into the meditative trance of Noha, or perhaps find a future husband.


For more photos click below:


Ashura


Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Swimming Pool

"Do you wear a chador when you swim?" a friend of mine asked me. "Well, there are plenty of 'women only' swimming areas...although there is such a thing! It's called a "Burkini!"

I’ve realized that minor details of life here, the logistics of say swimming in the Islamic Republic, are of interest. Beyond that, those details are often filled with some colorful and funny story.

So here's how it went: The pool is near my house, a 15 minute walk down Vali Asr Street. A relatively fancy area, the facility is average but expensive for Iran standards: $7 per entry or $50 for 10 entries. (I managed a $1 discount for my one time entry)

When I entered the "locker room" which was really a hallway, I wasn't sure if I should strip down right there. I'd heard stories like this: a Western raised Iranian girl naively strips bare and the women bombard her with shrill rebukes, cursing their eyes for having seen such an indecency. I found a "dressing area" up some stairs, next to where some buxom ladies in tight lycra were practicing what looked like Pilates, slipped on the new one-piece and stretchy swim cap I got in the bazaar, and sashayed discreetly down to the pool.

The pool was an average to small sized rectangle, and unusually steamy. In the front shallow end 5 or 6 madams gently bobbed around. My cousin had been to the same pool a few months earlier and got in a fight with some ladies of a similar description, after bumping into one of them. "AYYYYY" she had screamed. "MY LEGGGG, AKHHH"....an so on.


It appeared safe enough though, and I was already there, so I went for it.

All eyes unwaverinly upon me, I stepped into what turned out to be an oversized jacuzzi. I managed to swim around the massive of sweating ladies and to the deep-end, ready to begin my laps. The fun had just begun. The ladies were walking, or bouncing, back and forth, the width of the pool which was about 4 meters. I figured I could manage to dodge them each time, but that proved impossible as their speed was never consistent and sometimes they would even stop somewhere in the center. So I’d swim to a point and turn around just before touching them. But then strange things kept happening. Some of the women started swimming the length of the pool also, they’d take a couple laps, always right where I was swimming, stop in random places, continue the bobbing in the shallow end. Other women continued some sorting of bobbing in the deep end, I'm not sure how. I was constantly changing my route. At one point I could have sworn a concerted effort against my lap swimming (I guess it's not so common here) . It felt like a video game, and I was that ball which bounces back and forth from the walls trying to avoid little rockets. The bobbing always went along with gossiping. From the bits I could gather, it was mostly about who has lost or gained weight recently.

I was getting rather warm. Imagine swimming laps in a big jacuzzi with various obstacles strategically moving about. And not just any obstacles, but these old fat Iranian women - not something you really want to mess with. I had to take a couple breathers. While cooling off the top half of my body, I would watch the theatre in front of me for a minute--Synchronized Swimming Iranian Style--then join the field once again. It was almost more dangerous than crossing Vali Asr.

When I think of it the Swan Lake song still pops in my head. During one of my little breaks, a giant rippled ass floated inches away from me, followed by feet splashing violently near my face. The same woman was bouncing earlier. She wore goggles and a nose plug and jumped more fervently than the others.

I managed to swim for an hour, physically bumping someone only once. She was nice, and didn’t attack, so I’d say it was a pretty successful initiation--that’s exactly what it felt like.

Later in the sauna, I sat facing 3 of the fat bobbing ladies from the pool. They were huddled around something, and on closer inspection I saw that it was a picnic! They were peeling tomatoes, oranges, cucumber, sweet lemons and shalqam (a type of Iranian turnip), along with bread and cheese. All this in the heat of the sauna.

In between gossiping, they would offer me chunks of bitter tasting fruits, which had some health benefit or another...."This one helps you digest," being the remedy of choice for most.

I remember bits of their conversation:

-“Is there any salt there?”
-“No, I forgot it.”
-“Ok that’s better anyway. We should stay away from all things white.”
-“Yes, better that we don’t have any salt”
.....
-“Does your husband still drink a lot?”
-“Not so much, every once in a while some whiskey…”
-“You know, alcohol is pure calories!”
-“Yes whisky is bad for cholesterol.”
-“Yea, like I said it’s pure calories!"
.....

They briefly turned their fickle attentions to me:

-“Ohh, she has such a nice body doesn't she...Yes, you have such a nice body”
-“Well, she hasn’t had kids yet!”
-“Yes, we had kids, and when you have kids you just have to eat so much. You have to eat so much that you want to get sick. It’s horrible!"
-“Yes and then you have to breast feed, and you don’t want to the milk to go dry so you are forced to eat a lot again. Or else you’ll have to answer to your husband.”
-“It’s such a good thing you don’t have a husband yet.”
-“But I do have one.” I said.
-“Oh thank god!”
-“Yes thank god!”

Then they quickly went back into their world, gossiping and talking again mostly about weight gain/loss:

“Remember that trip, that’s when I gained all the weight. Yes, because the food was so good....”

I couldn’t bear the heat much longer, and I was trying really hard to finish the shalqam…so I left. “Goodbye” I said "Nice meeting you."

Ghorboon-et beram!! (“I’ll sacrifice for you”—typical Iranian greeting), they took turns saying.

When I told my friend the story, she said I should burn some Esfand (an herb Iranians burn to rid the evil eye) immediately. So I did. I like to do it from time to time anyway.

The gym was blasting some up-beat techno music, but no one seemed too enthused. One girl walked leisurely on the treadmill and another stood next to her chatting. The center of action at this place was definitely the pool. After my shower, I took another peek inside and found the ladies bouncing inside the steam again. They were there when I arrived, and it looked like they were just getting comfortable when I left an hour and a half later. Perhaps they think they will sweat off those pounds…only to go eat them again in the sauna.






<----Early 20th Century European Swim Suit

"Burkini" ----->





And here is a similar story I read, with an different perspective, from over in England...


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Snowy Weather

On Friday, I called a friend:
"What's up I said" (probably in some kind of sombre voice)
"Ohhh" he said "It's Home Alone 2: Lost in Tehran!"

"Yes" I admitted, laughing the cracks out of my throat, "it's been a bit lonely since Slobs left. And with this weather. It's very pretty, all snowy and white. But it's also just giving me an excuse to hibernate..."

I read in the Economist recently that French farmers used to practically hibernate in the winters. It proved in their advantage economically, as they burned less energy and thus consumed less. Yes, makes sense.

Okay, so I ventured out! It was snowing again, but this time those beady little cruel flakes, more like pellets. They kept getting stuck on my hejab, so I could see the little runaways from the corner of my eye. The wind drew swirly designs with the snow pellets on the gray sky canvas.

We went to an exhibit about the Hejab, more specifically the "Kashf-e Hejab" (this is when the Shah forced women to unveil on January 7 1936), along with the history of hejab-wearing around the world...The exhibit was massive, though a bit shabby.

In one corner, a series of cartoons illustrated the logical development of a young girl on the wrong path: It starts out with the shrinking of the hejab and wearing of heavy make-up and tighter clothes. Then she watches foreign films which display decadence and immoral behavior. Eventually she starts hanging around those "bad-boys" with spiky hair. She is introduced to marijuana and in the next drawing her eyes are heavy and strung out. She goes to parties, takes ex and dances with strange boys. She pierces her lip and wears tight clothes with holes in them. Starts shooting heroin.....In the last slide, the girl is getting into a stranger's car, to sell her body it appears, when she sees the man to whom she had refused marriage earlier in the story. He is overjoyed, driving by with his fresh new bride.

So the moral of the story? 'Bad hejab' is a gateway drug. Just say no! It sounds a bit like my parents reasoning when I was a teenager (they will probably kill me for this!) I do admit it came in handy with all the snow. The exhibit took place accordingly in "Hejab Street." Recently, they also had a fashion show, which you can read about here.

It's still snowing. People make fires along the sidewalks in front of shops, and shovel snow off the tops of roofs without looking to see if someone is passing down below. I've seen teenagers dressed up all fancy, girls with full make up and high-heeled boots, having massive snow fights. Some people, especially taxi drivers, go around in slippers. My friend's landlady came to collect her rent wearing pajamas beneath her coat.

Most of the school's and public offices closed for a week, and the airport was a complete disaster. One German football team was stuck in Tehran for 3 days, several of my friends made 3 trips to the airport before finally departing. I kept my man for 1 extra day, though it was 1 chaotic day. Yesterday was Slobs' birthday, we haven't spent it together in years. Have we ever?? Hopefully it's the last one we spend apart.

I've heard several things over the past week:

1. Everything closed for so long not only because of local conditions but also, in solidarity with small towns who were experiencing gas and electricity shortages, for overall conservation. (In a country with one of the highest reserve of gas and oil)

2. The reason many flights were not (and maybe still are not) taking off from the airport is because of a shortage in wing dryers (wings must be dry before take-off or else they freeze) due to sanctions on various plane parts--including wing dryers.

3. The new excuse when something wasn't available: "Mamlekat ta'teel ast" ("the state's on holiday") wee heeee

4. Intro of one radio show: Woman: "Sard-e!" (It's cold!)
Man: "Pas goosh kon ke garm beshi" (So listen, and you'll get warm ;)

5. It hasn't been this cold, or snowed this much, in anyone's memory.

Today I go back to school...and my other life starts once again...


Here is an overview with some photos of the past snowy weeks....click on image below--->

snow in tehran

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Disco Fever

Massoud's magnetophone (reel-to-reel) with an eclectic party mix!

video

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Slobs in Iran


Slobs: OK, where shall I begin?

Neenee: Airport. Or plane?

Slobs: Sure. Arrival to Imam Khomeini Airport seemed like arriving to Serbia. The plane landed at 5am so we had to wake up the passport control guys. There were 4 booths for foreigners, but only one guy to check our passports. As he was slowly walking towards the booths we were all trying to guess which booth he’ll sit in. I was betting on booth n.2, but our sleepy policemen passed it by, so I rushed towards the booth n.4 and ended up in the middle of the line. That was ok, as it took only 15 minutes to go through the procedure. Guys at the back of the line probably had to wait 30 minutes, but hey, it’s not that different in JFK or Heathrow, for Serbs at least.

The airport is an excellent building, brand new and clean. Even though it was 5am there were many people waiting for their relatives, and I noticed that many of them had bouquets of flowers.

Neenee: Some ugly flowers?

Slobs: Not at all. It was quite nice, and I thought it was a good idea. I waited for people so many times at airports, but never with flowers.

Neenee: I’m not surprised. What about the plane, did you notice women putting on their hejabs in the last minute?

Slobs: Yep, none of the women had it on in Istanbul, and all of them had it on for the passport control. It was a last minute action, just before we left the aircraft.

I went on to take a taxi and I was very glad to see that it functions quite well. There are 2 official companies that get you to central Tehran for around $15. The drivers have their IDs displayed, and they report through Motorola about the passenger and destination as soon as you enter the vehicle, so I felt completely safe. It takes about an hour to get to town, and I quite enjoyed watching sleepy Tehran waking up. It looked astonishingly gigantic, as we were passing block after block of apartment buildings, something like suburbs of Moscow :)

Neenee: So what about when you saw Neenee? Have I changed?

Slobs: I’ll come to that later. First I want to describe my first impressions of this place. I don’t know if other readers of your blog got the same impression, but I had a feeling that Tehran was going to be way different than other middle-eastern cities, somehow more organized, more European or something.

Neenee: It definitely has the middle-eastern flavour, but I think it’s pretty unique.

Slobs: Well, honestly, I couldn’t spot any difference between Tehran and say, Amman.

Neenee: What do you mean you couldn’t spot a difference? You just said you’ve seen block after block of high-rises. It’s massive!
Slobs: Yep, but I’m not talking about size here (you are such a girl, thinking of size first). It’s the layout, highways that don’t have marked lanes, pavements that are separated from the driveway by a foot-high vertical curb. The highway would change from 4 to 2 lanes without any warning, or you’d have a tractor in the fastest lane, without any lights.

Neenee: Add a married couple in the back and you are in Serbia :)

Slobs: Sort of. It is just about my expectations, I expected it to be different, and I’m not saying it’s bad, I love middle-east, so it’s not about that. For example, you were talking about Vali Asr being the most beautiful street in Tehran, and it has pretty cool trees, but also Cairo style traffic and Basra style motorbike drivers that make their way through the crowded sidewalks…

Neenee: Anyway, I'm not sure if I've given this general impression to other readers. And Vali Asr Street is much prettier when trees have leaves. And maybe it’s considered one of the prettiest comparing to the rest of Tehran.

Slobs: Exactly. So what to expect from the rest? Anyhow, once I was over with the shock of the first impression, I started enjoying it a lot. Actually, this entire post is going to be about first impressions, because I’ve been here just for 5 days now, so I didn’t even scratch under the surface. However, I know I would like it here a lot.

Neenee: Why? Because of skiing? :)

Slobs: That too, but mostly because of the middle-east-easy-goingness. I felt that in conversations with people, that ‘mafi mushkileh’ approach to life, how do you say that in Farsi?

Neenee: Several ways, moshkeli nist…or eshqali nadareh (no problem)

Slobs: Yep, whatever your problem is – take it easy, we’ll find a solution.

Neenee: You have to think like that here, or you’ll go crazy. It is laid back, but it’s also the way to cope with difficulties, maybe.

Slobs: Probably, it is very soothing, relaxing.

Neenee: And how do you like the kabab?

Slobs: Excellent, almost like in Serbia :)
You could use some pork in that mixture!

Neenee: Pork is ok, but not in kabab!

Slobs: You’ll learn one day. Anyhow, I liked other food even better. Dizzi, aka Ab Gousht (pronounced with your fingers opening and closing my lips, aababababbb gougougoushhhhht). For our Serbian readers, this is very similar to what my mom calls Rinflaish, which is when you boil a chicken soup, but after it’s boiled you take out all the vegetables and meat to serve just the soup, and then use the veggies and meat for the main course. In Serbia you eat it with horseradish, in Iran you mash up the meat and beans until it’s like a thick paste and eat it with fresh herbs, bread and pickles (turshi).

We came across a no-name hole in the wall restaurant in Tajrish market that served excellent Baqali polo, which is rice with baqali (lima) beans and roasted lamb. That area is really great for the little food stands and holes which serve big delicious portions of worker’s type foods. We popped in one of those for tasty bowl of Ash – traditional thick herb soup (chorba) with beans and noodles topped with fried mint and kashk (something like yogurt). Yummi!!

Neenee: But you didn’t try the boiled beets, what kind of Russian are you?

Slobs: Bad one, obviously. I know it’s a local delicacy, but I’m at odds with beets. Maybe some other time. You see, we are real Iranians now, constantly talking about the food.

Neenee: Ok, lets move on then.

Slobs: Deal. Friday bazaar – Jomeh bazaar. I’m not really a bazaar type of person, but this one was a delight. Bazaars I’ve seen usually sell Chinese junk that people buy only if they have no other choice. Jomeh bazaar was nothing like that, as it was mostly antiques and local produce that was on display. The antiques were not some boring porcelain dishes or some expensive pointless furniture, but really interesting practical things that people used at the time. Like, a Victorian coffee grinder from England, or Russian photo cameras from early 20th century. I especially liked those locks, like the one in the picture, that came in shapes of a bird, cow, or a colorful horse. They are not some artsy designs, these are real locks used in real households.

Neenee: We asked the guy who was selling them why they were made so pretty, and he responded in melancholic Iranian style – “in general everything was made prettier back then”.

And all the old money, Yugoslav, Russian…Old photographs, maps, jewelry…it’s like a giant time capsule.

Slobs: Yes, and that German helmet from the oil-drilling team, back in the 30s.

Neenee: You also described our apartment as a time capsule!

Slobs: The apartment is great. It reminds me of communist Yugoslavia, where kitchen appliances weighed in average more than 20 kilos. And moving the oven 2 meters would require 5 men. We even succeeded to play music from Masoud’s magnetophon (AKA reel-to-reel !!).

Neenee: Yea after 30 years of silence! That was a crazy moment. Disco flashback!

Slobs: I really liked the mix, Masoud obviously had a fun party. Starting out with easy pop tunes, advancing to some serious upbeat disco, and finishing with 20 minutes of slow dance/make-out music. Well done Mr. Khoshnoudi. We loved Roxy Music – ‘Love is the drug’, and David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ layered between some mean funky tunes.

Neenee: There was even P Funk! :)
Okay, so how about the ski trip, we just got back from--with achy and muscles I never knew existed!

Slobs: We wanted to go to Dizin, the bigger of the 2 main ski resorts. But we couldn’t, and although the taxi service assured us to get there in 2 hours, we ended up staying in Shemshak because the road to Dizin was closed. Organizing that trip was pure Middle Eastern experience, as nobody could give us info on whether the road was open or closed. Not even the taxi service whose business is driving people from point A to B.

Neenee: Yes, and it seems the cab operators don’t really communicated with the drivers, so even when you come to some agreement on the phone, the driver shows up with no knowledge!

Slobs: However, Shemshak turned out to be an excellent experience; it was my first chance to snowboard on an altitude above 3000meters. I have to say that I have rarely come across such a quality of snow. These days in Europe you have to rely on artificial snow, but on 3500 meters, you are guaranteed heaps of fresh power since it snows often.

@Kopaonik Crew: The ski center reminded me of the top part of Jahorina, minus Pracha. 2 chairlifts take you to the top, from which you have 3 official routes, and thousands of free-riding possibilities. Small roads cut the hills on either side of the slopes, giving excellent opportunities for jumps, and landing in meters of deep snow. I really missed you guys, we would tear that mountain apart (pojeli bismo planinu).

Neenee: What about the hotel? Any other impressions of Shemshak?

Slobs: We had the privilege to stay in a hotel that is right on the slope, in a warm and clean double room for 30 Euros a night.

Neenee: Yes it was decent. The hotel was very empty, a bit eerie, like another time capsule! Seemed like we were the only guests…

Slobs: Funny thing, Iranians seem not to stay in hotels in 7 days holiday stretches. They rather go several weekends in a row, than just once in the season. We happened to be there on regular working days, so the hotel was empty. But the slopes were all ours.

Neenee: Yes, and some people come for day trips (only an hour from Tehran), and many have or rent apartments

Slobs: Well, that’s another peculiarity. Only one hotel, and hundreds of apartments, and several high rises. It is quite a pity that building isn’t very regulated, the place is becoming ugly. There are 3 cafes in the entire ski center, and after 6 pm all you could do is go to your room and sleep.

Neenee: Yea, bring a book! TV is crap unless you enjoy the repetitive horror of BBC world, or lucky enough like you were to find a football match such as Liverpool v. Manchester City. J

Or find a party…that’s another reason people prefer apartments, you have more privacy. Everyone gets takeout or delivery, and sits at home with a glass of whiskey, for example. Like the young guys who invited us up for a drink. They seemed eager to show us that Iranians like to have a drink once in awhile, and some of them even take a little flask up on the mountain…

Slobs: Who would ever want to go to a cafĂ© if you can’t drink or dance?

Neenee: Um, you would? They were just missing some backgammon!!

Slobs: Yep. So people prefer to go to each other’s apartments and organize some small private parties. The result, 1 hotel, 3 cafes, and 100s of private housing.

But, if the aim is to have a good ski day, Alborz mountains offer great conditions. I had several unforgettable rides.

Neenee: Yes, and hopefully we’ll get to check out Dizin this week. It’s a bit further, maybe couple hours, but the slopes are wider and not as steep and bumpy as Shemshak. You wouldn’t believe me, but Shemshak was really hard, especially the first day! Second day, the weather was so unbelievably perfect that everyone was so happy, including me. There was a great atmosphere on the slope, and the snow was soft also, so Neenee finally did some turns J

Slobs: Lets not forget to mention that taxi ride with a glorious Paykan from Tehran to Shemshak costs about $15, the day ski pass $14, Rent of Snowboard+boots $15, and giant meal in restaurant with soup and drinks about $6.

Neenee: Not bad.

Ready to Rock!?

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Tehran Impressions


To be continued…