2010
03.14

SYNOPSISWith Roya I explored Shushtar in the morning.  With four other girls I spent the afternoon.    This is about hotels, shrines, people and a few other things such as TV and trash.  From a mother who kills her son to roofs without satellite dishes.

Harrassment today was about zero!  I knew that the minute I was with somebody, especially somebody local, things would change and that, despite my red pants!

Roya picked me up at the hotel.  I am quite dismayed with this hotel.  They claim to be a “touristy hotel and restourant” (yes, spelled with an “o”) yet nobody speaks a speck of English.  I am paying twice what I am usually paying because I did not want to expose Nicola to culture shock, yet; they have none of the services you would expect:  No toilet paper, no towels, just for starters.  I don’t want to go as far as mentioning internet or cable TV.  It only goes to show that price means little.  For $8 in Palmyra I had a TV, a towel and toilet paper and clean sheets.  I have less here.  Their breakfast this morning was an embarrassment.  Olives and labne are long gone from the menu – that seemed very Syrian.  In fact, I have not seen an olive tree in days.  But the rations of cheese and jam have dwindled, too.  In exchange you get more dry bread than you know what to do with.  Their business card is all in Farsi…  That is completely useless if they want to deal with “tourists” – unless they only mean local tourists.   Again, even the $8 hotel in Palmyra had cards that were bilingual.  So far, above and beyond, ranks the $24 hotel in Teheran with Mousavir making sure that everything was taken care of as best as possible and avoidable lapses.  At least we have AC.  In 35 degrees Celsius that is a plus.  And it works.  That can not be expected just because the AC unit is sitting there as I found out in Andimeshk.

Roya took me from shrine to shrine – I had the Lonely Planet list to work through.  She was not very big on walking and insisted on taking a shuttle taxis as soon as we had more than two blocks to walk.  I think that’s why she is overweight…  She commented on that fact mournfully, yet seems to fail to see the connection.  I did not object since I had forgotten to put my sunscreen on and was highly vulnerable to the scorching sun they enjoy here even in their “winter” times.  I was told that in real summer, temperatures reach over 50 degrees Celsius.  You cannot even be outside for more than 10 minutes between 10 AM and 5 PM.  What a life!  But this is not the desert.   I wonder what causes such brutal heat around here.

There were some bizarre and some interesting monuments in store for me today.  One of the shrines – visibly just what you would expect from this architectural type:  a tower, a dome, green flags and an embroidered cloth over a tomb inside a silver-grid shrine filled with money and devotees around.   But it stood out to me for its origins.  A woman had beheaded her own son to trade his head against that of a long-dead holy man, the LP stated!  Wow, wow, that is devotion gone bezerk!  But people come and worship there today.  I was rather horrified.  How can I focus on the holy man if I know that about it!

Shushtar is located at the dividing line between the Zagros Mountains and a huge fertile plane.  It is here that already in ancient times irrigation was controlled through a series of pumps, water shoots, locks, and pipes.  Somehow they managed to raise the water by over 2 meters to distribute it effectively.  This system was considered a wonder of the world.  Roman slaves are credited for building it.  We saw a few surviving ancient bridges, waterfalls and locks in addition to all the shrines.

One of the mosques I had looked forward to as it is about the oldest I have come across so far, from the 9th century!  That is very early in Islamic history.  It was beautifully restored – restoration was still in progress judging by all the building material in the area – but it was closed!  What a bummer.  Through some metal gates I could see that it had a one iwan courtyard.  An iwan is that arched niche that I already described a bit inside Damascus villas.  Many mosques in this part of the world are based on courtyards with iwans.  But usually, there are two, three, or four.  Not just one.  This must be the beginning of a development which culminates in the four iwan style.  Well, there is more homework for me to do…

After a vanilla soft ice cream with carrot juice, Roya and I parted.  I finished my tour on my own.  But it was no more than 15 minutes when I no longer was alone.  There were four girls at the water shoots who wanted to talk to me.  And within a few minutes I had an invitation to join them for lunch.  They seemed prepared with a huge picnic basket which they had lugged here all the way from Ahvaz, where they were from.  One of them spoke English and translated back and forth.  How could I refuse an opportunity to hang out with some women?   By now I knew the town better than they did and directed them to a courtyard in a beautifully restored Khouzestan villa.  A huge tree shaded the yard.   On one side it was open to the river overlooking an ancient bridge.  We sat, ate and chatted for a good two hours.  I missed a few shrines that way, but in the end, they are very similar to one another and none of them stood out for a particular style or age as far as I could tell.  I had to think of Venice and Rome where after a couple of weeks you just cannot see another church or another Tintoretto!  I know that sounds barbaric, but even as an art historian, at some point I have enough of third rate Italian Baroque painters.  OK, for a Tintoretto, I will still keep going.  But it’d better be a famous one.

I finally solved the TV mystery!  I did not share this mystery with you yet.  But here is where it started:  In Shush I looked down onto the town from the French castle and noticed two things – no trash, no satellite dishes.  These were the hallmarks of any Syrian rooftop!  I kept looking and confirmed the picture in Dazful, Andimesh and here.  I mulled this over as a possible lack of money.  But no – even on the fancy villas there were no dishes.  I then considered that there might be a different system in place here – perhaps, TV channels are provided through high speed cables, or some such thing.  And finally I thought – I bet, cable TV is forbidden here.  And it is!  Yet, three sources told me that they all have satellite dishes.  Just not on their roof tops.  If they were visible, the police would be knocking on their doors.  So, everyone has it but nobody sees it.  The old story:  Put pressure on your kid, your students, your society and they will do exactly what you don’t want them to do behind your back, anyhow.  What else is new?  I am glad to hear that the Iranians are bypassing internet filters and are getting their hands on as much TV as they want.  In my hotel, however, I am restricted to four government-run channels.  One seems to be sport, one a talk show, one a religious channel and one a movie channel, no foreign movies of course.

In the late afternoon I walked across an ancient dam which runs over the river right behind my hotel.  I observed the shore lines and again, was struck by the fact that there was no visible trash here.  I had photographed shores all over Syria and Lebanon – they were mind-bogglingly filthy.  Persians like to make a racial problem out of these differences putting down the Arabs.  I don’t think it is the way to go.  But there must be something in cultural values that accounts for these differences.  Where does one start to raise a clean and tidy people versus a trash-blind one?  That is a question, I cannot answer.

Good night.