Isfahan the beautiful

To start, Isfahan smells wonderful. There are trees everywhere, grassy parks with fresh cut grass and lots of flowers and the general central part of the city smells like a garden. The air here is different, more humid than the rest of our Iran experience. I found that I didn’t need to drink quite as much water today. The weather is overcast, but quite warm.Pool,Esfahan

Our main guide, Soufi, is down with food poisoning. Apparently, lunch yesterday got him. We mostly had a lamb and eggplant stew over rice, and he ordered chicken kebab, usually a staple here. This one was something else. Poor Soufi! This morning he showed up at the Friday mosque, looking and sounding like someone who should be flat in his bed!

The local guide, Eshan, is a terrific substitute.Eshan in Esfahan

He is irreverant, funny and extremely honest about his opinions about just everything. From the inaccurate (in his estimation) historical references in a mosque, to politics, to literature and films he is not shy to make his opinions known. He is about 5’9″ tall, plump with very dark black hair and eyes. He says that he is Baktieri, from the nomad tribes, and that his family moved to Isfahan when he needed to start school. He studied art in university and has a lively understanding of the paintings and sculpture that we see with him.He has a wife and two young sons.

The day started with a garden, and a museum. The museum was in the garden, and featured 16th and 17 cen. fresco paintings inside, and mirror work outside in the porch area. Eshan says that the mirrors are polished stone, probably mica, that doesn’t tarnish. It does still look pretty good after 400+ years!

The interior of the building has frescos from the early 17 cent, when some European artists were invited to Persia to teach their form of painting, including the concept of perspective.The results are both wonderful and sometimes humorous. There is one painting of a lady having a meal or tea with a european gentleman, and the details include a funny hat and very curly long hair on the man, who is clearly enjoying himself. Most of the paintings are of Persian scenes, with bright colors.ceiling fresco, Esfahan

Our next stop was the Armenian neighborhood ( since the 1400’s Armenians have been here) and the main church of the community. Inside the church were murals depicting various biblical scenes, and one fabulous Last Judgement painting. The devils and the torture the poor souls were undergoing were luridly painted and very ghastly. There was a small group of teenage boys there who were giggling at all the naked flesh shown, I was in awe of the sight of someone’s intestines being uncurled from his body!

As we entered the complex, 5 girls were leaving for lunch. They stopped and talked to me and another woman, Susan, from Santa Rosa. They asked the usual identification questions, where are we from, how do we like Iran. Then one woman asked If I liked Bush, I said no. How about Ms. Rice? Also no. I repeated my phrase that most people in the US now do not like Bush. She then asked what do the American people know about Iran? Very little I had to tell her. Our media covers only the government, nothing at all about the people, which is very sad. I hope to find some way to encourage more information about what Iran is really like to be on the media, any ideas are very welcome. I added that in America, I can disagree as publicly as I want with my government and nothing will happen to me. That is something that sets us apart from Iran where dissent has very strict limits. One can complain about government inefficiencies, but not about the officials.Bridge in Esfahan

Our lunch spot was just a short walk away. Most of us ate from the salad bar, intending a lighter lunch than our usual. But, one look at the dessert bar, and we all lost our good intentions! Desserts here are nearly always creme caramel, jello or ice cream. The array here included layer cake, mousses, puff pastries with chocolate sauce, and much more. We all indulged, and waddled out!

A nice nap would have been very welcomed by the group, instead we went to the “old Friday mosque”. This is a complex of buildings dating from the 10t Cent to the 16th Century. It features gorgeous ancient brickwork, carved stucco and tile work.9th Century brick,Esfahan

Eshan talked to us about the Persian influence on Islam, and on the architecture of mosques in Iran as opposed to in Arab countries. He argues that the Arab mosque is very simple, with one entrance and few attached buildings, one minaret. Persian mosques have multiple “porches”, two minarets and a much more complex architecture. He attributes all of this to the Persian ability to appear to acquiese to the invading culture, but to actually subvert it into something that reflects the underlying Persian culture. It’s a complex argument which he illustrated with the model of the mosque and lots of arm waving. He may be right.ceiling tiles,esfahan

Whether the Persian culture will be strong enough to throw off the current rulers and open up more to the West, and inevitably to American culture, and still retain their core values is an open question.

Some of us then accompanied Eshan to a carpet store in a mall of sorts across the street from the hotel. We were treated to tea and a short illustrated lecture on Persian carpets. After looking around a while, Denise asked if I wanted to go with her to another store where she has bought carpets before. I had decided not to buy a carpet here, I don’t really need anything, etc. but I went along with her and 3 others.

Her store was in the complex around the Maidan, the huge public square with mosques and a palace on each of it’s 4 sides. We dashed in, due back at the hotel by 8 for her to lecture to the group about carpets. I looked a quite a few, saw one or two I liked, but not enough to buy. I went home resolved that I did not need a carpet.

After dinner it was laundry time, and I was exhausted. This city is full of surprises and many opportunities to spend your money. Despite the lack of American tourists, the Italian, Germans and others are filling in the shops pretty well. I have done my part to help the Iranian economy


Published in: on April 30, 2008 at 11:07 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It is a shame, isn’t it, that the news focuses on government and not the accomplishments of citizens. That was always my complaint with about every history class I’ve ever had . . . it’s always been about the history of war in that particular country, yet presented as if it’s the entire picture.

    How odd and interesting if the most important dates in history that get recorded revolved around, say, women’s accomplishments in the arts. And that was the filter through which everything else that occurred in said country was compared to. 🙂

    Have you had a chance to venture out on your own, or with a friend, away from the group? After that much bussing about, I would really enjoy the chance to stay put 1/2 a day in a cafe and 1/2 a day wondering around.

    Btw, excuse my ignorance, but what is a fire temple? And why/how are the fires burning for so long? And I forget, but how much longer do you get on this journey? I am really interested in seeing the pictures!



  2. Hey Karen, Just let you know that I have been reading your blog and it’s great. I feel like I actually want to go to Iran. This a great way to hear about the everyday lives and customs of a country that we are told is the enemy for so long. I love reading about the minutia of traveling. Can’t wait to se some of the pictures.

    Your cousin Richie

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