Saturday, February 26, 2011

Isfahan / Esfahan / and so long Iran

"Isfahan is half the world", the saying goes. This entry is to attest that whatever else is true about Iran - Esfahan is magic. 

1) Spelling: Isfahan or Esfahan. Take your pick. The word exists in Persian, or Farsi, or Parsi, and not in English, other than as a phonetic approximation. This explains the various spellings in English of Farsi words. "Farsi" itself is spelled AND pronounced variously. There is history behind this. The "P" sound does not exist in Arabic, and at one time, when Arabs overran the joint, Farsi became the name of the local lingo, since the Arabs couldn't say 'Parsi". "F" was the best they could muster. Persians got the place back, eventually, but the Arab word for their own language stuck. Kind of. It's a complicated place. Even a sound can depend on how people sit with their own history. Some people describe themselves as Iranians, some as Persians. Sometimes this is interchangeable, sometimes it's political. Persia is a great and ancient culture, traditionally cosmopolitan and tolerant - but ruled for millennia by monarchs. Iran is more recent, and now ruled by religious despots who tolerate nothing. This, more than anything, tells me that this regime will not last. There is something deep within the DNA of Persia that will not suffer, indefinitely, a repressive,  anti-global, anti-modern police-state. The only questions are, when will it shift, and how much blood will that shift cost?

Hmm. And that post began as an explanation of spelling…

One of Isfahan's many bridges

Another of Isfahan's many bridges

Ali Qapu Palace, Isfahan 

Directly across from the Ali Qapu Palace - the  Sheik Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan

  Ross by Mosque light

Well-dressed young Isfahanians

Imam Square, Isfahan

Chehel Sotun Palace, Isfahan

Chehel Sotun Palace, Isfahan

2) I am glad I came to Esfahan. It has changed completely my perception of Iran. In Tehran, I was beginning to loathe the place - too much pollution, chaos, ugliness and fear. But that is Tehran, and not representative of the entire country, I suspect (well - fear is  everywhere, i suppose, given the regime in power). But Esfahan is beautiful. The people are wonderful. The air is clean. This is an Iran I would like to return to.

Imam Mosque (formerly Shah Mosque), Isfahan - dating from 1611

Imam Mosque, Isfahan

 Sheik Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan - dating from 1617

  Sheik Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan

Imam Mosque, Isfahan

 Jomeh Mosque, Isfahan. 
The oldest mosque in the city - dating from the 7th century AD - and built on the foundations of a Zoroastrian Fire Temple

 Jomeh Mosque, Isfahan

 Jomeh Mosque, Isfahan

 A design that contains a poem, Jomeh Mosque, Isfahan

Brick work, Jomeh Mosque, Isfahan - every section of ceiling has a different design

Jomeh Mosque, Isfahan

3) The Hotel Abassi. Wow. An ancient caravanserai, turned into a luxury hotel. I have never stayed in a place like this before. In Europe, it would doubltess cost well over $500 a night. Here, it's $75. The place is covered with hand-painted wall panels, mosaics, mirrors, and chandeliers. It is an enormous square of a building, with a beautiful central courtyard and garden. The ancient dome of a mosque looms over the hotel, from the adjacent seminary. The food is good. The internet, for the first time during this trip, is fast, and works without a problem. And the weather is perfect. Sunny, 18C in February. I don't look forward to the return to Canada's weather. I do look forward to the return to Canada's freedoms.

Main lobby, Hotel Abbasi

Abassi Hotel, Isfahan - the lunch room

Abassi Hotel - a corridor

 Abasi Hotel - the upstairs lobby

 Abassi Hotel - the breakfast room

  Abassi Hotel - the courtyard

  Abassi Hotel - the courtyard

 Abassi Hotel - the courtyard
4) The guide who leads myself and Manuel (my Colombian companion - who runs the biggest theatre festival in the world in Bogota), is named Iraj Honarju. Iraj is lovely. Soft-spoken, and  well-educated. It is the biggest luxury of this trip to have such an informed guide give us such a personalized tour of an ancient city. In the Imam Khomeini mosque - formerly known at the Shah Mosque, and dating from 1611- Iraj sings a prayer in arabic. We listen to the sound-engineered echo (the architect build the dome so that sound from a specific central location has seven distinct echoes - astonishing). We visit palaces and other mosques - dating back 600 to 900 years. We visit the Grand Bazaar. I buy two rugs and two tablecloths - the latter from an ancient little man tucked away in a shop that is not easy to find. There, he sits and hand-prints tablecloths. Sitting with him, on the two days I visit, are young "tourist police", simply there for his company "We really like him", they say. I do, too.

 The Entrance to the Grand Bazaar, Isfahan

 Isfahan Bazaar

 Isfahan Bazaar

 The man who hand-prints cloths, and me

 See what I mean? Lovely man. 85 years old.

5) The flight from Esfahan to Tehran. I sit beside a man who wants to practice his french. But we end up speaking mostly in English (his french needs quite a bit of practice!). He is young, and works for a Chinese-owned tech company. He, too, is unafraid of saying how much he hopes for the end of the regime. He also says that it's a big risk to fly in Iran - it has the worst air safety record in the world. A result of the sanctions, he says. Iran can't buy new planes, so they end up with the world's second-hand dregs.

A Fokker 100 - could be worse. Could be Russian.

Central Iran

6) At the luggage carousel in Tehran (i make it), another man - early fifties, perhaps, comes up to chat. I realize I am, perhaps for the first time in my life, in a place where i am considered exotic! This man openly despises the regime, and says so. He calls them medieval. They cannot last, he says. Iran will rejoin the world. 

7) I am met by N. and another Canadian/Iranian friend from Toronto, and go to N's place for dinner. N. calls the visual artist whose work I bought - Estabragh - and we speak, on speakerphone, with N. and L. translating. She is very young, and excited to have sold a piece. We're now Facebook friends - although her entire page is in Farsi! I chat with N. about his play - which I am determined to get produced in Toronto. I've been helping him correct his english (impressively, he has written the play in his second language). We will continue to work together. 

At dinner, with Estabragh on speakerphone...

8) The flight out. A 45 minute drive to Imam Khomeini International. 5 hours to Frankfurt. 8.5 hours to Toronto. Back to winter. I have seen much in the past 13 days.

Imam Khomeini International Airport

 Frankfurt Airport - my ride home

The view from my apartment. Toronto in February...

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