The many faces of Persia (Iran Part 3)

Shah Isfahan Mosque. There used to be a long expanse of turf where this fountain now is. The Shahs of the Safavid dynasty played polo for amusement on its green grass.

So we made it back, in one piece, but just barely. From this latest flying experience I have extracted the following worth its weight-in-gold insight: NEVER AGAIN will we fly Lufthansa to Iran or to Europe or to anywhere else the bloody airline says that it will take you. Apart from one steward, who really was so much more than Lufthansa deserved as an example of a good employee, they did their utmost best to worry us at every leg of this trip. We lived through a nearly lost flight in spite of the fact that we were at the airport more than three hours in advance of our scheduled departure AND with boarding passes on hand mind you; we also survived having to deal with the sheer incompetence of their on-the-ground personnel (except perhaps for the nice pregnant lady at the departure counter in Frankfurt) and we succumbed to more headaches than I will ever care to feel in the span of one day. What that spells is auf wiedersehen Lufthansa and ein Glück, das wir das (good riddance) to you.

Anyway, it has been 2 days of waking up at around 1:00 am. I try to stay in bed and sleep. I do. But I've got a serious case of the sleep snatchers. I know that it is going to take a while to reverse this whole my day is backwards phenomenon but looking on the bright side, you can not imagine how much I'm getting done in the wee hours of the morning. Productivity extraordinaire. Never mind that I'm falling asleep as I'm trying to type this post. The pitch black cup of coffee I just had is bound to kick in any moment now and in my midday exhaustion, I'm finding it quite liberating to just type without mentally editing what I'm putting down. Perhaps sleeplessness is the key to unblocking my inner cascade of verbosity. Then again, this all just might read as mad ramblings tomorrow. We'll just have to see.

So yesterday I spent the better part of two hours downloading and editing through several hundreds of photographs (about 400 to be precise), in order to select the most passable of my photo-journalistic efforts. It was a disappointing exercise. There wasn't much there that you could call truly "good." I'm not being harsh with myself, just honest. Were I still in one of my photo critique classes, I'm sure my fellow students would shred me without mercy. I'm hoping you'll be more kind.

Without further ado, the little I know of Iran...

Ceiling detail of the Masjid-i Shah Mosque, Isfahan.

Most of us who live in the Americas suffer from historical nearsightedness. Faced with the advantages of our modern lifestyles and the relative youth of our colonizing past on this continent, it is perhaps easy to forget, or put into context the ancestry of our European forbears. Much more difficult even to wrap our heads around the antiquity of Oriental and Middle Eastern cultures. I can tell you that while flying over the sprawling vastness of modern-day Tehran with its crowded construction and segmenting highways, that even perceiving how contemporary it looked from above, that by contrast, the very air I breathed felt ancient, that the underlying architecture of the land looked time-worn, immemorial, old. On this, my second trip to the country of my husband's childhood, I felt even more the mental displacement of period and place. The proximity of the past something that seemed like I could peel my way into, if only I were capable of shedding the plastic-sheeted illusion of this, our present time.

There is something about Iran that forever and pervasively reminds you of your blip-like insignificance, that hints of knowledge long sacrificed to the rhythms of the seasons and the memories of those who are no longer alive to tell their secrets and their truths. I suppose that were I a native, accustomed to wending my daily way through this living torrent of history, that I would feel less overwhelmed, more capable of blinding myself to the images my spotty knowledge of Iran insists on supplying for me, like 3-D glasses I do not have the benefit of removing. A double vision of made up instances that are solely the product of what I've read and my overly active imagination.

Early morning inside the cobbled interior of the Baazar, Tehran

That is why I can step into the cavernous murkiness of the baazar in Tehran and substitute the all black-clad women, smothered in their mantos and hejabs for bejeweled, doe-eyed beauties, swathed in embroidered silks, adorning their tresses of silky curls with jewels and pearls. To me, it makes no difference if it ever happened or not, I just see it all, tantalizingly diffused, but for all that, beckoning with baroque richness, dazzling in all-hued color.

Burberry hejabs and Louis Vuitton bags. The affluent young in Tehran.

For the moment, I'll stop here but I'll surely continue blogging on Iran for a couple more posts. Before I go, I leave you with some of the photos I took and I would like you to know that I'd simply love it if you'd ask me questions about anything you might want to know that I'm not addressing. My memory always works better when it has something to trigger it. Until next time then. I'm happy to be back. Milena

Another mosque in Isfahan.

Women in Tehran are very fashionable. Here is the latest in designer mantos. All the girls want this new kind of draped and clingy body covering.

Easy rider Persian style.

The fruit section of the Baazar in Tabriz. You cannot imagine how wonderfully sweet it all tastes. I devoured kilos of apricots and cherries during my stay.

Amu Javad (M's uncle Javad) helps me to haggle for a qilim that I wanted to purchase. We probably paid more than it was actually worth. The seller looked ridiculously happy when we walked out of his shop.

The standard look of young Tehrani men of fashion: Dark sunglasses, jeans and black t-shirts. Iranian men are kheily -pronounced hailey- (very) good-looking. I should know, I caught myself one...

Cherries from the garden of my husband's grandmother's house. They will get picked and made into breakfast compotes that later get slathered onto bread with butter or paired with a soft, feta style cheese (panir).

Signs everywhere are in both English and Farsi.

Chesca: Since you asked for it specifically, here you have it, a photo of me with my hejab on. I'm melting from the heat behind my shades.


  1. What a fascinating trip inside of Iran. Thanks for taking us along on the trip. And those pictures looked great. (Although the one of you in the hejab makes me wonder if Iran is ready for the possibility of women engaging in wide spread crime spree - pull the hejab up over the mouth, don sunglasses, and suddenly there is no identifying facial features. It seems to me that they're prime for an all-Bonnie, no Clyde rash of bank robbers.)

  2. I only read and don't comment, but the last picture in the previous post "Iran part 2" - guy in white shirt and jeans - looks awfully like the former Shah of Iran.

  3. Ron: you've obviously been watching too many movies. Still, not a bad idea, an all-female robbery club. I know where I'd strike first. The vault that holds the crown jewels. And thank you. I'm really happy that it adds some insight. I know what a mere scratch on the surface my observations are but I'll try to flesh it out more.

    Anonymous: Funny you should say that. My husband made the exact same comment. There are many Shah look-alikes in Iran. Kind of bony, gangly men with prominent cheekbones and that shock of thick white hair many remember from his later years. The man is dead and gone though. I saw him ailing in my home country of Panama many decades ago. It ain't him.

  4. Milena,
    thanks for the special picture.
    LOVE IT!!!
    you look so glamorous.

  5. You DO look glamorous. And though you say you were melting, you look very calm, very cool, freshly and collected.

    And I love your photo documentary post. Without the photos we, your audience would be lost, without your words we would be less sure of who you are and how you've experienced this trip.

    I'll look forward to more. And the cherries with panir sound just divine.

  6. Your photos are a feast, and your words are dessert. It might be the other way around, even. Both are beautiful and so interesting. I love your stories, and the voice you use to tell them.

    In that last photo, you look very cool and lovely.

  7. Chesca: Your sweet compliment made my day. I actually told M, you have to take one. Chesca asked for it.

    Cce: M has this saying where he tells me that heat and cold are all perceptions of the mind. At this time, I was thinking 'snow blizzard'. Glad to see it worked. WHO would have thought the stupid trick worked?

    I also have more photos for you. The problem for me is choosing. There's also a ton of the hubby and the kid mixed in and I had to nix many of them for that reason alone.

    Divine. That's about right. Saeed, M's cousin would bring us newly baked bread every morning from the corner bakery. Still warm with soft feta and the sweet tartness of the cherry compote plus slurps of the tea in between. Breakfast never tasted so good. I gained FIVE pounds.

    Jennifer: For the rest my day yesterday, the phrase "your photos are a feast, your words are dessert" made me flush with pleasure. Thank you for such kindness.

  8. Love hearing more about your trip. Funny, we had a similar experience with Lufthansa and vowed the same thing, NEVER AGAIN! What a pretty picture of you in your hejab. You fit right in! Glad you are home safely. I left a comment in my blog about your visit to Denver, but not sure if you will find it so here's what I said:
    "That would be so fun to meet. We live downtown. Highlands Ranch is 30 minutes (or more depending on where in the Ranch) from downtown. Let me know when you are coming and maybe we can set up a get together!"
    Looking forward to more of the trip to Iran.

  9. Wow. Amazing photos and what an incredible trip.

    Sorry for your airline misery.

  10. What a lovely blog, with such interesting content ! I'll definitely be back soon to read some more .... & thanks for visiting my blog via Link Referral, too !
    Lynda (East Africa)

  11. Milena, thank you for sharing the pictures, they truly are worth a thousand words in giving us a more realistic picture of what Iran is really all about, so unlike what we see on tv. Of course, you are absolutely beautiful in your hejab!

    As to a question, here's mine: As you know, there are millions of Azeries living in Iran. My question is, how did they get there? Are Azeries originally from Iran, or did they migrate there over the years? I've never been clear on this point.

    And finally, I just left Jennifer's Thursday Drive post today about the tree and I read your comment. I wanted to let you know how much your comments there touched me. You brought up such an important point about how we impact our children.

    Welcome home, we are so glad you are back!

    Sleep well,


  12. I don't like Lufthansa too. I had a bad experience with a steward...was very rude. He shouldn't have been allowed to work as a steward. Anyway I also will never ever fly Lufthansa because of that experience.

    Very nice pictures and thanks for sharing us your trip to Iran. Now it's like I have been there too.

    You look fab in that picture with a hejab on!

  13. Erin: Thank you so much. How'd the party go? And count on my contacting you prior to going to Denver. I'm going to visit my sister Alex who is expecting her first child come mid-October. I'm thinking early August here and then for sure I'll be there again for the birthing. Also, let's form our own "never fly Lufthansa again" club. We'll be the charter members.

    Kelcey: Glad you liked them and me too Kelcey, me too.

    Lynda: What a nice discovery your own blog was for me today. You live such an interesting life. You had me when you mentioned you were nearly to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.

    Suzanne hey! How are you? Yes, images can sometimes show what words can only hint at. As to the question (a really good one by the way), I'm putting on my professor hat here, wait a sec...
    Well, Azerbaijan used to be part of Iran. In fact, Baku, used to be the capitol city for the province of Tabriz which now as you probably now, is the northen-most province of Iran. M's family is from there and in temperament, language and looks they are very different from the rest of Iran. For starters, they speak a mix of Turkish and Azeri. That is why M could speak fluent Azeri while he lived in Azerbaijan. Also, they are somewhat less open than the normal Persian, I'm making a possibly incorrect assertion here but that particular trait might be due to the fact that Tabriz has always found itself at some crux-like-quandary throughout history thanks to its geographic positioning. Finally, in the outskirts of Tabriz, if you go further into the country, be prepared to see many blond light-eyed, light-skinned people. Here you will see the remnants genes of Iran's Greek heritage, Turkish (and through that line European) ancestry, as well as the leftover imprint of the Russian invasions of Tabriz.

    Hope someone doesn't shred me to bits on this mini-historical (quite possibly made up) lesson. ;-)

    Pinay Jade: You've just been inducted in the boycott Lufthansa hall of fame. Welcome. And thanks, I'm beginning to think I should tie a scarf around my head more often. I can tell it has struck the sophistication chord and hey, I'm all for being thought fabulous. You're sweet. Thank you again.

  14. I'm a 25-year-old boy from Iran. Thank you for informing your fellow countrymen about Iran and it's people. You Americans should now that there is a very big difference between Iranian people and the ruling regime. We love people of all countries including the U.S. and all the animosity you see in media is only from the despotic mullahs that have taken the whole country as hostage. Iran is a safe place for tourists with lost of wonders you'll never experience anywhere else in the world.


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