I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with your family and friends. If you’ve been following my blog you will know that right now I am in Tehran, Iran. It is a city that occupies a special place in my heart. It is intrinsically connected to my childhood as I have been coming here for as long as I can remember. Because of this its shortcomings are a great cause of sadness. Undoubtedly, it is even more upsetting for my parents who have seen their city transformed beyond almost all recognition in the last 35 years. The biggest problem, and something that everyone talks about, is the pollution. It gives the skyline an unnatural haze and burns your throat and nostrils. It is so bad that the schools have been closed on the days it was unbearable. For two days I was puzzled because I couldn’t figure out whether my coughing was because of a cold or a result of the pollution. It turns out it is the latter.
Despite this, it is an exciting place to be. The city is pulsating with vitality and there is never a dull moment. The hustle and bustle of the crowds, the hooting of horns, and the sound of azan prayer projected from the minarets, provide the soundtrack to life. The sheer volume of people and vehicles means that certain skills need to be learnt while in Tehran: meandering through crowds, striding assertively through traffic to cross the road, dodging motor cycles, and avoiding street vendors. These are the basics without which you won’t get very far. I’ve definitely honed these skills while I’ve been here.
Although I know Tehran fairly well I have treated myself as a tourist and dragged my parents to various cultural sites in the process. We visited the complexes of Sa’adabad Palace and Niavaran Palace. Sa’adabad complex has a number of buildings, but the most striking are the Sa’adabad Palace itself and the ‘Green’ Palace further up the mountain. The Green Palace is one of my favourite places in Tehran and I remember visiting it when I was 9 years old. Important world leaders from Jimmy Carter to the King of Egypt have wined and dined at the residence. However the most remarkable aspect is the beautiful ‘mirror work’ in the Shah’s bedroom and the reception room. The design can be seen in many of the palaces throughout Iran: the chandeliers reflect onto hundreds of little mirrors arranged in a geometrical style. Unfortunately any photo I took cannot do justice to its dazzling effect.
A trip to Tehran would not be complete without seeing the Grand Bazaar. It contains anything and everything you could ever want. In the labyrinthine passages you can find everything from fluorescent bras and common tat, to gold necklaces and hand-woven Persian carpets. It is also a great place for people-watching. The amount of women with crazily drawn-on eyebrows after intensive plucking is unbelievable! There is a myriad of magnificent moustaches amongst the middle-aged to older men. The younger men tend to have hairstyles that defy the forces of gravity because of the amount of hair gel.
After the aimless wandering, a snack of beetroot and broad beans washed down with a cinnamon-infused tea served to sustain us until a trip to the legendary Cafe Naderi. My parents have always spoken nostalgically about the cafe. Over many decades it has served as the primary hangout for the Iranian intelligentsia. Nowadays it retains its art deco style and the waiters are as much an establishment as the building itself. They are kindly, doddery old men that serve tea and coffee with a warm smile and a shaky hand. Though it is not a patch on its former glory, it is a charming little place and I hope it will keep drawing customers as a reminder of Tehran’s intellectual history.
I still have a few more days in Iran and won’t be celebrating the New Year tonight/tomorrow. I hope you will have a riotously entertaining night, and I wish you all the best for the year to come. I must say my relatives in Iran find it funny that Westerners have the New Year at such an arbitrary time of the year. The Iranian calendar is based on astronomy and so the new year is celebrated on the first day of Spring, in March. So enjoy your scientifically insignificant celebration!