2010
03.05

SYNOPSIS: I visited the Golestan Palace and meet with Mozaffar to make travel plans.  A few words about the dress code in Iran.  A slow day in Teheran and the decision to move on.

Mozaffar, the travel agent agreed to meet me over lunch today to talk about travel plans.  That cut my day in half a bit and only allowed me to do one thing this morning.  I chose the Golestan palace – a 19th century palace by the Qajars – the last Islamic dynasty before the Shah, if I get that right…

It is within walking distance and it was open.   I would have much rather seen the famous crown jewels, but they are only open two hours, four days of the week; the jewels and the other museums just have to wait until I come back.  I decided that I will start my trip into the heart of the country tomorrow.  I don’t feel up to the challenges of a huge, crowded, dirty, traffic-jammed city like Teheran at the moment, especially since there is little of historic value.  I will save that for the end of my trip.

The palace is in the middle of Southern Teheran.  I am sure when the Qajars built the palace it was not yet so crowded all around.  It is a fine example of how to overdo it.  Islamic art, particularly Persian art, is known for its tile work.  It is used over simple brick buildings to create the most elaborate and impressive surface decoration.  I can’t wait to see Esfahan – a city full of prime examples of this.

By the 19th century this art form had run itself a bit into the ground and had become the stereotype.  The Qajars also were heavily influenced by Europe and seem to have tried to either compete or outdo the European courts.  This attempt creates a colorful and playful result which in some places is borderline awkward.  When naked putty angels appear on an Islamic palace something has gone astray.  The palace houses a variety of small art collections and a few famous palatial rooms that are open to the public.  No photography is allowed inside, so I only got a very limited number of inside shots.

The most interesting part to me was the painting gallery.  As I said, Europe must have been the godfather to the idea that every emir, sheikh and prince of the time had to have their portrait painted on glass or canvas; this is unusual within the framework of conventional Islamic art.  A few landscape paintings featuring the Qatr palaces were also part of this collection.  Each and all are painted in the most naturalistic and detailed style bordering on one hand on the tradition of naïve painters or on the surrealistic tradition on the other hand – if those two poles make any sense.   Gold, glass and glitter are everywhere – completely overdone, but still emulated a lot in today’s restaurants, villas, and private homes from all I can tell.

I met Mozaffar at a nice hotel which features a great lunch buffet. Too bad this was not the place for me to photograph, grill the chefs on the ingredients, etc.  So, we just enjoyed the food and tried to figure out a travel scenario which will allow me to see what I originally planned and at the same time accommodate the 17 day visit by Nicola from London, who decided to join me after all here in Iran.  One of the complicating factors is that Nicola’s visit coincides with Noruz:  The New Year holiday, arguably the most important and most celebrated holiday in all of Iran.  For two weeks, Iranians are off work, visit their families and have fun.  Everything, we are warned, comes to a total standstill for about four days, and for nearly two weeks, things are slow and inadequate everywhere.   Hotels and public transportation are booked and over booked, etc.  We shall see…

Lunch today was the first time that I had to wear my scarf inside, in a heated restaurant.  I have a thin, scarf, but I thought I would roast beneath it.  I had to eat with that thing on my head, too, the straps always dangling into my food.  This did not put me in a good mood.

Speaking of scarves:  I was surprised last night to see that Parvin in her own house put on a scarf every time the Afghan servant, a male, was in sight.  In her own house!  She explained that only in front of women and family members can she be without head cover.  I felt for her.  However, I decided that inside the hotel, I take off my scarf.  I consider the hotel to be my home and everyone who walks around in it my temporary family.  So far nobody has said anything even though I got a few looks by local men who stay here.

Today I walked quite a bit to the palace and back.  If in Syria people have looked at me, here I feel that I am being stared at.  My feet in particular.  I wore my sandals today and a black suit.  I was completely happy with myself when I looked into the mirror this morning and thought I would pass muster.  But my socks were gray.  That had slipped my attention.  I could see people’s eyes going down to my feet.  The whole time I wish I had worn black socks.  Black socks would not have stood out in my top to bottom monochromic look.  I can already see how this feeling of being looked at can wear you down to the point where you just want to run and buy that chador so you can hide under it.  But I will not.

Yesterday, I was perfectly dressed according to shariah fashion requirements.  I went to visit a mosque at the bazaar.  The minute she saw a foreigner entering, the reception woman grabbed a chador and wanted to hand it to me.  I pointed to my ankle-long brown overcoat and asked her what possibly could be wrong with that?  All body language, of course.  She had to admit, that her chador had nothing to add to my coat and let me in as I was.  The nerve!  I am trying so hard.  It will be a challenge to walk for the next 50 days with people staring and with that scarf on my head; hopefully on my head – it has already slipped a few times…  How the women around me look all so natural with their head covers is beyond me.  I look like a fish out of water.

Good night.