Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Last of the Iran Posts

So here I am at the end of this series of blog postings about my trip to Iran, April 23 – May 14, 2011. I posted the first one on the shepherds on June 14, made 51 blog entries in June and 9 in July for a total of 60.

I think each post kept getting longer and longer. The more I studied where I had been and what I had seen, the more words just poured out of me. I would be delighted if you take in every word. But skimming through the entries or just looking at the photos will be enough to acquaint you with this complex and fascinating country which I have found intriguing ever since I heard my mother play In a Persian Market on our family’s piano so many years ago.

Geographic Expeditions is doing the world a great favor in offering these tours to Iran. As more people have the chance to see Iran first hand, to talk with the people, to see the ancient culture, to get a feel for the complicated and fraught politics of the country, these travelers, like me, will be enlarged by the experience. And if these people return home to share their experiences, gradually we will all become better informed, with more understanding of the Persian culture and with greater compassion for the Iranian people. At least that is my hope. I owe Geo Ex a great debt of gratitude for making this trip available to me and to my traveling companions. I am so fortunate to have made this trip. It was inspiring. And it is with great pleasure that I now share it with you.

I’ve done my previous travel blogs on this site (London/Syria and Bali), on a day-by-day basis, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3…. While I was able to email from Iran, the computer systems in our hotels were not especially reliable, and the government blocks the blogosphere. So I had no choice but to wait until I was home to put something together.

With my extensive travel journal done, I knew I didn’t want to duplicate the journal format on this blog. Instead, I decided to group together similar topics and experiences. When I started out, I didn’t know how many topics I might cover or even what they might be. But after a few chatty introductory posts back in mid-June, I found my stride and started to identify the topics that interested me the most. They turned out to be Food, Poets, Art and Artisans, Domestic and Functional Architecture, Monumental Architecture, Religious Architecture, and finally Ancient Ruins. I now look back and am stunned. I had a lot to say and it look longer to write (four weeks) than it did to take the trip (three weeks).

I prepared for both of my trips to Iran by reading a lot of books. But in these last four weeks, I have learned so much more, or have solidified what I already knew, in a deep and profound way. Gathering all the ruins together, for example, and grouping them by dynasties, I can really see what Sassanian bas-reliefs look like from one site to the next; I can see the Achaemenian fixation with being carried by vassal tribes; I can see the huge influence that Zoroastrianism had on both of these dynasties.

I have been able to put together some pieces of a gigantic puzzle called Iran by looking closely at one topic after another: doing research, studying sources, and using my own experience and photos to tell the stories. A history, art history, culinary, sociology, anthropology, and archeology class all rolled into one. What a thrill it has been to learn in this way. I did it for myself and now I get to pass it along to you.

So finally here are a few photos I wasn’t able to include in any of the topics. They are the loose ends. I really don’t want to tie Iran up into a nice neat bundle. Doing so would render this remarkable culture and country a grave disservice, for it is neither tidy nor neat. It is complicated, with loose ends of many sorts. I want to leave it that way, for loose ends open up the possibility of change.

Are these the photos we see when the news media speak of Iran? I think not.

We saw these alms boxes all over Iran and saw many people giving money. The best spot, I thought, was right after the collection booth on a toll way.
Tissue boxes were always on restaurant tables, usually in place of paper napkins. They were particularly handy for those of us who picked up colds along the way.
These metal hand and faces and hands were tacked to the door of a mosque by people coming to pray. The mosque is now the Calligraphy Museum in Tabriz.
When someone in the neighborhood dies, the family positions a glittery mirrored box with the photo of the person on a main street with information about the funeral.

These shy young Kurdish girls were visiting the gardens of Taq-e Bostan with the Sassanian Dynasty bas-reliefs. I loved their outfits.
Here I am in front of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on Imam Square in Esfahan. My favorite mosque in my favorite city on a gorgeous afternoon. I wish you had been with me.

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