Wednesday, November 22, 2006


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Having problems uploading images will try again later... (Sunday maybe)
The thing about traveling in Iran is that you aren’t just traveling through space, you are traveling through time. The space is already dramatic enough… a short trip takes you from Tehran north into a lush forest and south into the desert. It also takes you to a village where people heat with wood or an oasis where people gather water from an underground stream.

You can go from the emerging cosmopolitanism (yes, even here) of Tehran to fundamentalist Islamic culture in a short drive.

Our trip to Yazd (Keivan wrote two trip reports and is working on a third, so I will just write about Yazd) was a bit like that. I mentioned earlier that on the way, we met Moses -- that was not his name, but he looked more like Moses than Charlton Heston or Michaelangelo’s statue – and his wife who was equally Old Testamenty in a long embroidered dress, with two thick black braids, and a well-groomed unibrow (not a contradiction! Among some Iranians a woman with a well-groomed unibrow is sexy. At first I thought it was bizarre; now I also find it attractive.) The two run a bizarre guest house in an oasis somewhere in the desert, so who knows, maybe they wandered there.

But Keivan will tell you about that…

I’ll tell you about Yazd, a city on the Silk Road that is just amazingly beautiful. We hired a guide to ensure that we didn’t get lost its mazelike streets. He took us to all the highlights: the huge towers of silence where the Zoroastrians used to leave their dead to be eaten by vultures. “The practice stopped when the city got too close to the towers and people started finding bits of bodies in their gardens,” our guide explained. Boys on motorbikes rode up and down the hills leading to the stone tanks that used to hold the dead.

It was Al Qods Day when we were there, which means huge anti-Israel, anti-American rallies. Our part of Yazd, despite being a revolutionary city, had a pretty lukewarm rally when the cameras were off… turn the cameras on and you see something else entirely. The group we saw seemed to be barely interested. Its leader tried to get the crowd worked up, but to no avail.

I know that we just saw one small leg of the march; I know that huge crowds turned up, but what we saw was impressive for being so unimpressive. I was, frankly, relieved.

The highlight of our day was a visit to the Friday Mosque where huge groups of women were participating in a gathering said to be of help women with problems getting pregnant. The women had taken over the mosque and were exchanging fabric and measuring each other for colorful chadors. Other women were there for help finding a man. First they read their fortunes from the inside of walnuts (like tea leaves or coffee grounds); then they climbed to the dome of the mosque and walked around it 7 times while saying special prayers.


You heard me. Walnuts, fabric exchanges, and circling the dome…

“The 135th generation of David is buried here,” our guide told us. “Every year, Jews from all over Iran make a pilgrimage to his grave. The funny thing is that when they leave there is no sesame halvah left anywhere in Yazd.”

Some traditions are the same all over the world…

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006



The new 20,000 tuman rial note... (Well the 2-year old note. There are so few in circulation that it still feels very new)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I've Gone Native

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This may seem like a small thing to you, but it’s a large thing to me…

I used to be so meek while shopping: patiently waiting my turn at the counter, never interrupting the purchase of another customer, getting angry when other customers were served before me… And then today I caught myself interrupting another customer and not waiting my turn. I did it all so thoughtlessly that it was only when I was chomping on my Snickers bar that I realized what had happened: I’d gone native.

You see, in Iran if you do not demand attention, then you aren’t really ready to buy. That’s all there is to it. It’s not rude. It’s just a fact. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Really interesting article in the Los Angeles Times

Found via Christopher Dickey's blog: The Shadowland Journal: Of Persians, Poker, Bluster and Bluffs:

..At least 250 years before our country was founded, Persians were playing bluff-based card games with decks of four suits: coins, goblets, polo mallets and scimitars. In the late 18th century, their vying game As-Nas (My Beloved Ace) became the prototype for the 20-card French game poque. Introduced by Napoleon's troops to New Orleans, poque evolved into 52-card poker on Mississippi steamboats in the decades after the Louisiana Purchase. Union and Confederate soldiers played the game between battles, then brought it home to every state and territory. By 1970, when the first World Series of Poker was hosted by Benny Binion at his Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas, the variation of choice was no-limit Texas hold 'em. During the next 36 years, the number of challengers in the main event mushroomed from seven to 8,773, including players from 56 countries. But only one country besides the U.S. has produced more than one champion: Iran."

Oh, and a note to some secret friends: it seems that Iran *did* indeed invent poker.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Revolutionary Traffic posted at Mideast Youth

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I have another post at Mideast Youth, this one based on the rantings of -- who else? -- a taxi driver.


The driver looks over at the Mercedes next to us being driven by a hip young thing bobbing his head to Iranian pop. “The children of the revolution,” he says pointing to the young man. “Look at them. They have not worked a day in their lives. We have so much traffic because the only thing they do all day is drive around. They are without work. I work all day...”

Monday, November 06, 2006

Housin Boom

The next installment of my Mideast Youth posts is up. Here is a bit:

“Look at Dubai: the apartments are better. The construction is better, the details are better. In Dubai, they have nothing. Nothing. They have to import dirt from Iran. Everything has to be imported. Iran has everything. We have the land, the marble, the stones, the bricks: everything we need. Still, apartments in Dubai are cheaper than apartments in Iran. Why?”

The Lost Check

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A friend of mine lost a blank check. First she called the bank to tell them. Then she went to the bank to give them an official, notarized letter for their files. It did not stop there… She had to get an official government letter as well…

I went to some government office/court today accompanying a friend who had lost a check and needed – I believe – an order to arrest anyone using that check. The offices were housed in a converted apartment building that had not been cleaned in god knows how long. The white walls were gray with dirt. The veins in the marble floors had been eaten away by something: maybe harsh cleaning fluid (the floors are probably cleaned once a month) or something else, who knows. The narrow stairways were packed with men neatly dressed in ill-fitting suits, sloppily dressed men in slippers and colorless collarless shirts, young men with big hair, dirty jeans, and bizarre t-shirts, women in black, soldiers, and police. Our task was to get about a million signatures so that we could, finally, get the warrant.

Well. Four signatures.

Each floor held a different surprise. It smelled like deodorant and unwashed men as we headed to the second floor.

On the second floor an older man sat on the floor with his head in his hands and one wrist sporting a loose handcuff. His accompanied soldier sat pitiless in a chair and watched while the man dry heaved into the nearby garbage can. Withdrawal? I think so.

After the second floor, we were sent to the first. "No, we used to sign these letters, but we don't anymore," a bearded man told us. "You have to go to the fourth floor."

We went up and waited outside a door. In front of us a man and a woman had their ears pressed against the door listening to the arguing going on inside the room.

"It's war," a well-dressed man told us. "Civil war."

We laughed.

"You just need a signature?" the man asks. My friend nods. "Go on in."

We go in. They are actually holding court or mediation inside the office. Chairs are set up facing the mediator/judge. A woman in a chador sits to his right. He is lecturing the four people sitting in front of him. We hand over our letter to a non-combatant behind a desk.

"Can you please get a signature quickly?" my friend asks.

"I'll call you," the man behind the desk says and ushers us back outside.

A fight breaks out inside, and we all move out of the way as the yelling spills out into the hallway. "Get out of here!" one of the plaintiffs yells at a young man in a t-shirt and loose-fitting jeans. A soldier follows them both.

After we get our signature, we are sent to another floor where a woman in a chador stamps the letter and sends us across the hallway to get stamps. "After that, go to the building across the terrace for the warrant." A tired man slowly slowly puts two stamps on the letter and then sends us for another signature. Here it smells like Iranian chicken sausages frying in fat (Hebrew National, where are you? What about selling kosher as halal?)

The judge who needs to sign the letter is holding court. "It will be about 20 minutes," we are told.

We wait. Court ends. The judge's door opens. We wait. We go back in the office. "Khanum [miss/ms/ma'am], you have only been here five minutes. I told you twenty."

We've been waiting at least 15 minutes by now. We go back out and wait. "Khanum, come in," the judge calls to us. We go in. He quizzes my friend, and then quizzes me. "Why did you come along?"

"We're friends."

"Where are you from?"


"What are you doing here?"

"My husband is Iranian."


We go back out and wait. We wait. "See what it's like?" my friend says. "The judge works, but his employees do not. Government… This office is better than the tax office. When you go there, they just drink tea all day and tell you to wait."

The guy waiting next to us leans over to read our documents. He starts asking questions which my friend graciously answers while I think, "What business is this of yours?"

"Can you help this woman and her American friend?" the judge calls out.

A woman comes out of the office. "What did you say to him?"

"Nothing," my friend tells her.

She begins work on the warrant which she completes incorrectly and with great confusion. Her colleague redoes it for us. Forty minutes have passed.

"You see," the man says handing over my friend's document. "Twenty minutes. Exactly."

Friday, November 03, 2006

It's the economy stupid!

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I am writing a series of posts about the Iranian economy and posting them at Mideast Youth. The first of those is a conversation between me and a young taxi driver. Here’s a bit:

Me: “Why are you bothering those women? Do you think they’re cute?” I’d rather say: “are you flirting?” But, oh, the limitations of a non-native speaker.

Driver: “Nah, Babba… It’s not that. These girls: just look at them. All they do all day is spend Daddy’s money. They do not have to work a day in their lives. They are the obnoxious ones, not me.”

“There are some people in Iran who go to bed at night hungry and there are some people who have so much money that they do not know how to spend it. Do you think that’s right? It’s not right.”