Tourist & Resident Guide to Iran

Friday, December 22, 2006

Iran's Azeri Turks

If you hear a language other than Farsi on the streets of Tehran, most likely it's Azeri Turkish. Closely related but not identical to the national language spoken in Turkey, Azeri is spoken as a first language by about 20% of the Iranian population, mainly concentrated in the provinces of Eastern and Western Azerbaijan but it is also very commonly spoken in the capital. Estimates of just how many Iranians are ethnically Azeri Turks vary widely. One very commonly quoted statistic makes Azeris the largest single population group in Iran, making up 30 million of the country's population of ?70 million?.

Turks are stereotyped by other Iranians as flashy with their wealth and Turkish women are said to be great cooks and hardworking wives but rather expensive to maintain. Sadly, Turks are also widely ridiculed as being congenitally stupid. Jokes about Turkish simpletons make up a large majority of the new jokes circulating around schoolyards, workplaces and universities. Turks are also ribbed for not being able to pronounce the Farsi letters "(ghayn)" and "(jim)".

The Islamic Republic, as well as the Imperial Government before it, has tried to play down differences between Iranians and Azeris - perhaps fearing that an awakened sense of Azeri nationalism could threaten them. The Azeri language is not taught in schools, not even as an optional second language. Ironically, many powerful members of the political establishment - including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - are themselves Azeri Turks.

Turks have also experienced more serious persecution in modern Iran. In 1981, an uprising in Tabriz was brutally put down by the new government with heavy weapons and summary executions. However, on the whole, Iranian Turks do not have a strong urge towards separatism. The vast majority consider themselves as Iranian as Farsi speakers do.

The Cartoon Controversy

The most recent clash between Turks and the government came in the summer of 2006 when a cartoon published in the Iran Daily newspaper depicted an Azeri cockroach failing in an attempt to learn the Farsi language. The inflammatory image was not taken at all lightly by Azeris who took to the streets of Azerbaijan's major cities in thousands. Newspapers were burnt and offices of the offending publication were surrounded by angry protesters. In the end, the editor of the Iran Daily was sacked and President Ahmedinejad himself travelled to the region to patch up relations. The importance of up to 30 million voters clearly made the trip worthwhile.

Travel Guide to Iran

Books on Iran

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Aash" restaurant Enghelab Square Tehran

Aash Restaurant, Enghelab Square

Known to all Tehran University students and frequented by artists and bazaar traders alike, this "aash" restaurant is my current favourite spot for lunch in the city.

There are just two versions of the thick soup dish on offer and you get the feeling it's been that way for years. There's aash-e reshteh which is meatless and heavy with beans, pulses, herbs and wheat noodles and a minced meat-rich slop originating from Isfahan that I forget the name of. Both weigh in at a slim 500 Tomans.

The guy at the counter has served so many bowls that he won't even look at you until your money is on the counter. Once you get (or rather your cash gets) his attention he'll fill your bowl and dash kashk (a kind of dairy product something like a super-rich yogurt) and mint sauce over it and hand you half a naan-e barbari (see previous post).

Located on the northeast corner of Enghelab Square. Climb down the stairs and you'll see the two huge vats right in front of you.

Travel Guide to Iran

Guide to Tehran

Books on Iran

Iranian food

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Barbari Bread

barbari bread

This is "naan e barbari", one of the breads that is available fresh all over Tehran and Iran. It's crisp and golden on the outside and soft and white in between the crusts. Usually quite generously salted, barbari is tasty enough to eat on its own and one of the perks of going to buy it is the right to eat it piping hot on the way home. You can see from the picture that I've helped myself to the "head" of the loaf on the left.

It's often said that no matter how hard hard up you are for cash, you can always treat yourself (and/or a friend) to "barbari o nushabe", that is, barbari bread and fizzy drinks.

Travel Guide to Iran

Books on Iran

Iranian food

Monday, November 06, 2006

Buses in Tehran

Tehran city bus
There's probably no need for tourists to take buses in Tehran. But for those living and working in the city they are a great help. Private taxis are unaffordable for most and even shared taxis are expensive for many. So the bus - being practically a free ride - is a necessity.

Tickets are bought from manned (usually an old man!) kiosks at major transport intersections and they cost 200 Tomans (about $0.20) for 10.

One thing that might bother foreign visitors is the sex segregation. Women ride in the back and men in front. Some might find it ironic that in minibuses and shared taxis no such pains are taken to separate men and women.

There are no signs in English and I've only once ever seen a map that showed bus routes - labelled, of course, in Farsi.

Travel Guide to Iran

Guide to Tehran

Books on Iran

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Iran Travel Bonus

The Iranian government is offering cash bonuses to the country's travel agencies to lure foreign tourists to the country.

The Iranian news agency reported that the Tourism and Cultural Heritage Organization will offer US$20 for every American or European tourist who visits the country with a US$10 offer for every Asian tourist.

Iran is looking to expand its tourist industry especially for visitors from the USA and Europe.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come out against planned legislation to require US travelers to be fingerprinted at the nation's airports.

Travel Guide to Iran

Books on Iran

Monday, October 23, 2006

From the Ceasefire Campaign

Dear Friends,

North Korea's nuclear test last week showed that policies of
isolation and threats of regime change will not prevent the spread of
nuclear weapons. We need to act quickly, before the Bush
Administration makes the same mistakes in Iran. The UN Security
Council is scheduled to discuss sanctions on Iran this week, making
it critical to get as many people as possible involved in this
campaign over the next few days, while world leaders are debating
their options. Click below to send a message to President Bush,
calling on the US to enter direct negotiations with Iran:

The last thing the world needs is a global nuclear arms race, so
let's seize this moment to show the Bush Administration that the
world has a stake in resolving things with Iran peacefully ­ and will
hold him accountable.

Talks between the US and Iran won't guarantee a solution to the
nuclear problem, but no talks will guarantee failure. There is no
military solution to this issue, and President Bush's aggressive
policies have begun to spark a global nuclear arms race, as countries
rush to build nuclear weapons. There have been several calls, even
from prominent members of Bush's own Republican Party, to change
course. Join this rising chorus by clicking below:

The Bush Administration is starting to learn that it ignores global
public opinion at its peril. Let's send a strong message to President
Bush ­forward this email to your friends and family, and encourage
them to help prevent the nightmare of a new global nuclear arms race
from becoming reality.


Books on Iran

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cars in Iran

According to a 2004 report in the Iran Daily, Iran would have 25 million vehicles on its roads by the year 2020 up from the 2004 figure of 5.4 million. Of this number, approximately half are crammed in to the capital Tehran.

Iran License Plate Iran has had its own car industry since the 1960s and now exports cars to a number of other countries including Russia and Belarus. Iran Khodro Industrial Group, the country's major vehicle manufacturer, hopes to export 250,000 cars to the world market by 2010, targetting such countries as Egypt, Turkey and Eastern Europe as areas of growth with plans for joint production ventures under license in such countries as China, Senegal and Syria.

Iran's first mass-produced car, the ubiquitous Paykan, based on the 1966 Hillman Hunter, was produced domestically by Iran Khodro from kits shipped by the British manufacturer Rootes. In 1978 Peugeot took over the defunct Rootes Company, and production was shifted under license to Iran, ceasing only in 2005.

The Paykan has been superceded by Iran Khodro's new model, the Samand, which is based on the Peugeot 405. Plans are underway to produce a hybrid version of the Samand under pressure from the government to reduce vehicle emissions in Iran.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Government clamps down on ADSL use

The Iranian government has instructed providers of ADSL internet services to limit private users and internet cafes to a maximum connection speed of 128kps. No reason has been given for the new ban but it follows in the footsteps of an intensification in internet content filtering.

The new restriction will effectively prevent internet users in Iran from receiving multimedia content such as foreign news and entertainment broadcasts and will also make downloading large files more difficult.

The Telecommunications Ministry has said the order will stay in place until "new regulations for providing ADSL services" were issued. It is still not clear whether this means the restriction will stay in place but ADSL providers and users are not expecting the decision to be reversed.

High-speed internet connections of 256kps and 512kps had been available in Iran for little more than one year before the current order was issued in mid-October.

Books on Iran

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Helmi Drum Showroom Tehran

Ostad Helmi and his tonbaks
Ostad Helmi, pictured here in his home/showroom, produces most of the tonbak drums in Iran. His walls are hung with a tremendous assortment of traditional musical instruments from Iran and elsewhere. In the gaps are photographs of memorable occasions from his long career.

tars on the wall
I visited Mr. Helmi to buy my own drum last week. A percussionist friend of mine accompanied me and recommended an udu - a clay jar drum with a circular hole which, when struck correctly, makes a kind of gulping-air sound. Production of this African-style drum has recently been started in Iran. Though fun to play, the udu didn't have quite enough volume for my liking.

So after testing out a few instruments, I finally settled for one of Ostad Helmi's famous tonbaks. It is mainly played with the fingers and has a low, breathy "ton" sound when played in the centre and a much higher, crisp "bak" sound when played near the edge.

helmi tonbaks
It is a goblet-shaped drum which can be made from a wide variety of woods and skins. It is one of only two distinctively Iranian drums - the other being the daf - and is mainly seen accompanying traditional Iranian music ensembles.

I'm not sure I'm yet playing it in quite the way it was intended but it certainly feels great to bang on a drum! Thanks Mr. Helmi!

Iranian Music CDs

Books on Iran

Guide to Tehran

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Ardebil Carpet

the reproduction Ardebil CarpetThe floor of the shrine to Sheikh Safi od-Din in Ardebil, northwest Iran, is covered with a reproduction of the most famous carpet in the world – the Ardebil Carpet.

Facts about the Ardebil Carpet

  • Originally woven as a pair in either 1540 or 1586 making it one of the oldest carpets still in existence.
  • The carpets were commissioned by Shah Tahmasp (1514-1576) who ruled Iran from the age of 10. They would have taken about 4 years to complete.
  • They covered the floor of the Sheikh Safi Shrine for 3 centuries before being bought by a British traveller in 1890.
  • They each measure 10.5m by 5m and contain some 30 million knots.
  • The lamps at either end of the design are different sizes to create an illusion of perspective – this is because they were intended to be viewed primarily from one side.
  • The 19th century British designer and socialist William Morris called it "the finest eastern carpet I have seen". It was he who persuaded the Victoria & Albert Museum and public donors to raise £2,000 to purchase it – at the time an enormous sum.
  • It is thought that the V&A Ardebil was restored using parts of its twin.
  • The V&A carpet has recently been laid on the floor for the first time in over a century as the centerpiece of the new Jameel Gallery of Islamic art. The room in which it is displayed is fully lit for only 10 minutes every half hour.
  • The sister carpet was purchased in 1931 by J. Paul Getty who later donated it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • Modern carpet weavers were paid 100,000,000 Tomans to reproduce it for display at the Ardebil Shrine.
  • There is a copy of the Ardebil carpet in 10 Downing Street and Adolf Hitler had a copy in his Berlin office.
  • Both of the original carpets are signed and dated with an ode by the 14th century poet Hafez:-

I have no refuge in this world other than thy threshold
My head has no resting place other than this doorway

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Images: Ancient History of Iran

A huge variety of bric-a-brac is on display at Tehran's Jomeh Bazaar (Friday Market). Iran's last monarch and his wife are pictured here among the antiquities - very much part of the past.

Shah's coronation photos, Jomeh Bazaar

Another iconic figure of the 20th century, this time commemorated on a specially woven Persian rug.

JFK carpet

Books on Iran

Tehran Sightseeing Guide

Monday, August 21, 2006

Iran’s Fuel Leak Naghadeh

gasoline queue, Naghadeh
gasoline queue, Naghadeh
gasoline queue, Naghadeh
The twelve-pump state-owned filling station in Tehran’s Velenjak suburb had never seen a queue like this. Though constantly and doggedly jammed with an irreconcilable jumble of aging Paykan taxis, family-owned Kia Prides and sleek German status-mobiles, there is never more than a 20-minute wait.

But here in Naghadeh, West Azerbaijan, it was nearly a kilometre before any indication of the petrol station could be seen above the roofs of the jeeps and pickups that filed motionless down the dusty highway. There was, however, no sign of unrest. The drivers, resigned to spending the day here, either slept or chatted and shared tea and melons in the shade.

The complete absence of regular city cars at this local filling station told the whole story. Naghadeh, situated southwest of salt-infused Lake Urumieh, is a prime filling point for gasoline smugglers. The nearby border with Iraq has become porous since US forces handed control over to Iraq’s own forces four months ago. All of these sturdy, hard-working vehicles will take their full tanks west into Iraq and then finally to Turkey where petrol prices are ten to fifteen times more expensive than at Iranian pumps.

No greater irony can exist in oil-rich Iran than a shortage of petrol. Iran consumes 70 million litres of petrol per day while its refineries produce only 40 million – making Iran a net importer of petrol despite having the world’s third largest oil reserves.

The causes are well-known and endemic. Government subsidies keep pump prices down to as low as 800 Rials ($0.09) per litre which encourages wasteful consumption and provides an incentive for smugglers.

Government plans to curb this problem through rationing have been shelved due to the absence of a framework to track consumption and the general public’s heavy over-reliance on private cars and taxis. Indeed it is hard to imagine car-clogged Tehran taking rationing or a hike in petrol prices lying down.

Shortages, intolerable waits and empty pumps have motivated Naghadeh residents to pre-empt the national government in taking action. They have forced local lawmakers to accept a rationing system of their own design. Computer systems which track the registration numbers of vehicles coming to local pumps have been supplied and programmed entirely at the expense of private citizens. Motorists are now limited to one full tank every three days. Since most smugglers try to make one trip per day, this measure is set to cut queues significantly.

Nevertheless, this local measure is unlikely to be a precursor to any national efforts. While oil revenues continue to be buoyed by soaring prices, Iran will not be forced to take any painful measures to ease its dependence on imported petrol. For the meantime at least, it can afford to feed its unhealthy addiction by providing the rest of the world with the raw materials to feed their own.

Iranian Music CDs

Books on Iran

Guide to Tehran

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Azadi Monument Tehran

Tehran's most famous architectural symbol is the Azadi (“Liberty”) Monument in Azadi Square. It was constructed in 1971 as part of Mohammad Reza Shah’s celebrations to commemorate 2,500 years (by his own count) of Persian monarchy and was hence named the Shahyad Tower. It was given its current name after the 1979 revolution which saw all indications of the former regime stripped from streets of the city.

The 50m tower, clad entirely in cut marble, is said to combine Islamic architecture and the earlier Sassanid style. Situated near Mehrabad Airport, it was the first sight to welcome visitors to Tehran for many years before international flights were recently redirected to the new Imam Khomeini Airport near Qom.

The basement floor houses a museum and cultural centre and the roof can be accessed by elevator. Though it retains great affection among Iranians, the Azadi Tower is now in competition with the 435m Milad Tower for its place as the symbol of the city.

Azadi Tower

Azadi Tower

Azadi Tower

Guide to Tehran

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Iran Images: Resistance Stations in Vanak Square

At major pedestrian and traffic intersections around the city of Tehran, makeshift shelters have been set up to spread the anti-Israeli message. If there was any ambiguity about the position of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding Israel, there can be no doubt about it now - "Israel must be wiped out [sic] the world".

Resistance Station, Vanak Square

Resistance Station, San'at Square

Book on Iran

Photographs of Iran

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Images: More Pro-Hezbollah Propaganda

The pro-Hezbollah propaganda machine goes into overdrive in Tehran.

Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah

Hassan Nasrallah pictured in the rear windscreen of a Pride hatchback.

Hassan Nasrallah

Photographs of Iran

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Images: The Smiling Face Of Anti-Zionism

anti-Zionist window sticker
Snapped on the windscreen of a bus in Northern Tehran. The avuncular Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Lebanese leader of Hezbollah, smiles on warmly as his men march off to war with the "illegitimate Zionist entity".

Photographs of Iran

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mountain Walk at Darakeh

Summer turns Tehran into a white hot pit. And in much the same way as one places rocks around a fire, the mountains around the city seem to focus all the heat into the centre. Thankfully, they also provide sun-stricken city-dwellers with paths up to cooler climes. Deprived of altogether less wholesome entertainments, one of Tehran’s most popular weekend activities for all ages is “kuh raftan” – going to the mountains.

There are three main paths into the mountains in the north of the city where Tehranis flock at weekends.

I used to go here a lot. It’s an easy walk from where I live and – smog allowing – you get amazing views of the city but that’s about all it’s got going for it as far as I’m concerned. In winter, skiers and snowboarders from Tehran’s wealthier communities drive up the broad path to the first station where they take the telecabin (cable car) to the high peaks. In summer though, the shadeless, dusty, flat track is hardly inviting during the daytime and who wants to go mountain climbing at night? Plenty of Iranians seem to, however, many stopping at the broad asphalt plateau at the first station to drink tea out of plastic cups and some at the surreally located paintball range which seems to have landed from another planet on the otherwise bare slope.

view of Tehran smog from Tochal
I’ve only been here once – and even then I didn’t go far up. From what I saw, this is easily the most commercially developed of the three. The narrow path that follows the cascading river is flanked on both sides with unbroken ranks of restaurants and coffee-houses, mostly quite large, with countless carpeted daises. Multicoloured fluorescent tubes and globes light up the white stucco crenellations of these establishments make the whole place look like a mountain-themed amusement park. Good place for a first date.

By far the most appealing to nature lovers and the closest you’ll get to a genuine hike without leaving the city. The path starts in the narrow streets of an aged suburb shaded by tall plane trees and cut in two by a gushing stream that accompanies the walking path all the way up to near the peak. Unlike Tochal, the path never gets wide enough to allow more than four people to walk abreast and, for a city defined by indecorous driving, it’s refreshing to find that Tehranis are perfectly civil when faced with heavy pedestrian traffic.

The suburb of Darakeh
mountain path at Darakeh
Pretty soon after leaving the last of the suburban residences behind, you can see families and groups of friends picnicking in shady spots by the wayside. Groups of schoolgirls maqne’eh tight, huddled around a secret. Lads lying out, using each other as pillows and passing the gheliyun. Some stop at the teahouses which stud the path until about two hours in, where old plane and walnut trees give their shade generously and you can order tea, dates and adasi (lentil soup).

Darakeh Coffee Shop (but everyone drinks tea)
The path is rocky and challenging enough in places to make the unaccustomed huff and puff. But that doesn’t deter a handful of specialist traders from making up a scattered, eclectic bazaar on the earlier sections of the mountain path. For instance, the dervish who sells organic cotton garments and imported Indian throws from his cliff perch, and the bookseller with his modern Persian classics and translations of Western philosophers. They and the kamancheh player who busks for change in front of the bookshop add their spiritual spice to the sunglasses and hat sellers and snack vendors.

mountain herbs for sale
Having passed the stalls selling plump black cherries and pulpy mulberries we now see the orchards from which they came, the parasitic city now left far behind. Energetic teenagers try their height, jumping up at the branches which hang over the wire fence, their upper reaches still fully laden but the ground now covered with the stains of fallen fruit. We are now in productive lands. The crowds thin out slowly as you get higher but Iranians are quite prepared to carry full picnic sets including rugs, kettles, portable barbecues and gheliyuns in their tight-packed rucksacks quite a way up the mountain path. Once they’ve found the perfect spot by the riverbank, they may take the opportunity to pick the pungent wild herbs that grow there, cool their feet in the icy water or just savour the freshness of the air and the sound of the water, perhaps forgetting, just for a moment, exactly which city it is they’re from.

Darakeh Valley

Tehran Sightseeing Guide

Friday, July 21, 2006

Quotes: A Hard Act To Follow

"You can't force people to believe that, simply because the representative of God has died, the man now sitting in his chair is the new representative of God."

--from "In The Rose Garden Of The Martyrs" by Christopher de Bellaigue

Buy In The Rose Garden Of The Martyrs by Christopher de Bellaigue from Amazon

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Images: Moraq Mosaic Tiles

This isn’t a historical building by any means. It’s just a decoration on the outer wall of the compound of an official building on Valiasr Avenue. It is, however, a nice example of the Moraq (mosaic) style of Iranian tilework in which small pieces of glazed tile are placed closely together over a previously laid-out pattern to form a decorative panel which can then be cemented to a wall.

This form of tilework reached its peak in the Timurid Period (14-15th century CE) and can be seen on monuments in Iran such as Goharshad Mosque in Mashad, (1418 CE), the Jom’eh Mosque of Yazd (1456 CE), the Jom’eh Mosque of Varamin (1322 CE) and the Khan Madreseh in Shiraz (1615 CE).

More on tiles as soon as I get some good pics!

Photographs of Iran

Friday, June 23, 2006

Quotes: The Importance of Carpets

"To us, a carpet is a vital necessity. You spread a carpet on a wretched, parched desert, lie down on it, and feel like you are lying in a green meadow."

--a carpet seller in Ryszard Kapuściński's "Shah of Shahs"

Visitor's view: Interpretations of hejab

The reception girls never turn up before 9. That means I’m in there with my thoughts for about 30 minutes before the school wakes up.

They have to wear the “maqne” because we are an educational establishment and have some small but important part to play in maintaining society’s values. For a woman, normal streetwear must include a headscarf tied over the hair and this is open to a range of interpretations.

It's pretty safe to judge who you can and who you mustn't chat up by how much hair a girl reveals. The maqne is the headdress of the education system and the office. It reveals the face, it frames the face, it isolates the face. It is impossible to look coquettish in a maqne. No woman would wear one as a matter of personal preference.

It is about as far as the authorities will push liberal-minded women to observe the dress code – force them to wear the less revealing, less comfortable covering in formal settings. And chador-wearers always wear chadors. It is hard to imagine, and it is seldom seen, that a tent- wearer (another common usage for the word “chador”) walk down the street with another wearing the hejab to a lesser degree of diligence. Never mind a fashion statement. Iranian women wear political statements.

Book Review: Shah of Shahs

By Ryszard Kapuściński

Shah of Shahs by Ryszard KapuścińskiMohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, embarks on an ill-considered push towards modernization, fuelled by oil wealth and driven by a greed for admiration. Kapuściński recalls photographs, using them as cross-sections of history’s great worm through time. Here, Reza Pahlavi, the Shah father, is pictured with his young son. They wear identical uniforms. The symbolism is powerful and entirely intended.

Lacking entirely the iron resolve of the first Shah, Mohammad Reza could only inhabit indolently the high life of palace and ski slope. Kapuściński, in his mind, interviews the young Shah for Hello! magazine. “The most difficult thing to do while living in a palace is to imagine a different life – for instance, your own life, but outside of and minus the palace.” And so further and further he detached himself from the people he ruled over, though never forgetting to lash out at them from afar, consciously or unconsciously aping his paternal role model.

Iran too has its own psyche and hang-ups. The unconscious rural poor are irreconcilable with the Pahlavi ego, keen to strive forward. And the rebellious streak in Shiism means that Iranians are never sad to see their Shahs’ heads fall. One of the most delightful moments in this book is when the author conjures up the first Shiites’ teaching Iranians that “you can be a Muslim without being an establishment Muslim… you can be an opposition Muslim! And that makes you an even better Muslim!” “Shiism”, he later defines is “a form of national survival” but he does not face head-on the brooding spectre of Ayatollah Khomeini in his reckonings. The rise of the Islamic Republic only proves that “it is not always the best of men who emerge from hiding.”

In one of the longest sections of the book, Kapuściński turns novelist and tells of the first tentative words of opposition in the fashion of a Dostoevsky, but instead of a murderer as a subject/protagonist, he follows a returned émigré intellectual who witnesses the beginnings of unrest but remains in denial, running in fear from SAVAK. Then from the novel to the theatre. Kapuściński goes on to portray the Shah as an incompetent director using vast amounts of “imported scenery” for his play, “The Great Civilisation” – an absurdist piece in which, against his wishes, the extras tear down the stage at the end.

A veteran of political unrest (by his own count, Iran was his 27th revolution) journalist Ryszard Kapuściński leads us on an impressionistic journey through the roots in history and psychology of the players right up to the tipping point “when the policeman shouts but the man doesn’t run.” His observations weave the mundane with the profound to achieve drama, involvement and even comedy. Clearly appreciating the Python-esque surrealism, he includes, from an Iranian newspaper, an interview with a professional “wrecker of the Shah’s monuments” who unwittingly tells the story of the last Pahlavi monarch through that of his own travails with rope and hook.

“––Does that mean you would pull down, he would set up, then you would pull down what he set up, and it kept going like this?
––That’s right. Many times we nearly threw in the towel. If we pulled one down, he set up three.”

Will Yong

Buy Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński from Amazon

Iran Book Reviews

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Azari Traditional Teahouse Tehran

The Azari Traditional Teahouse One of the best places in Tehran for a “traditional” Iranian dining experience.

Sweet, hospitable smells of flavoured tobacco waft through its beautifully-restored patterned brick façade. The atmosphere is everything at this superbly executed establishment and a warm greeting from the staff tells you that considerate service has also been brought into the mix – an important factor in a place so ideal for foreign visitors.

Pass the local men filling the brightly-lit café-style antechamber with scented smoke and then through to the courtyard. The high, peaked canvas roof, propped up by its sturdy pole rather gives the impression of a luxurious tent. The central pool and creeping plants further add to the outdoor feel.

Guests either doff shoes and sit on a carpeted dais or huddle around tables. Little fluted glasses of tea are set on saucers with a satisfying clunk almost as soon as you are seated. Closely following are plates of succulent dates and soft, freshly-baked cookies. The food, though limited to a choice of fried freshwater fish, chicken kabāb or ābgusht, is of a high standard. The waiters, in traditional dress, are very polite and will serve and set to work mashing your abgusht with a flourish.

Though there was a time that even traditional forms of music were considered “haram” (i.e. against God’s will) and banned in the Islamic Republic of Iran, now things are considerably more relaxed. One night’s entertainment at the Azari consists of 3 different musical acts.

On the night we visited we were greeted by the well-intentioned chanting of a folk singer accompanying himself with a hand drum. His style of singing is still employed in the training centres of the Pahlavan, Iran’s traditional wresters and body-builders.

He was followed by an ensemble of kamancheh, santour, daf and vocalist performing traditional songs quite professionally, if not very enthusiastically. The final duo, however, made up for any deficit. The poker-faced deadpan of the santour player could not prepare us for the lightning speed and bravado of his playing and the singer/daf-player gave it all he had.

It would be hard to find a better combination of traditional setting, cuisine and music than at the Azari, anywhere in Tehran.

Location: Southern end of Vali-e Asr Avenue near the central Railway Station.
Tel: 021 55373665

Iranian Music CDs

Books on Iran

Guide to Tehran

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Carpet Museum Tehran

Not far from the Museum of Contemporary Art and also adjacent to Laleh Park, the Carpet Musuem of Iran is one of the most rewarding to visit of Tehran's many museums.

Most of the carpets on display are from the 19th or 20th centuries but there are a handful of older specimens from as far back as the 16th century.

Contrary to information provided in the Lonely Planet: Iran, photography is permitted though use of flash is not.

Hunting and wildlife scenes show off the carpet makers art to the greatest extent.

Carpet Museum, Tehran

Look at the dynamism of the animals and birds among the swirling floral design of this carpet.

Carpet Museum, Tehran

Some of the more abstract geometric motifs reminded me strongly of Native American patterns.

Carpet Museum, Tehran

Carpet Museum, Tehran

The “Tree of Life” is a common motif in Persian painting as well as carpets.

Carpet Museum, Tehran

This “Tree of Life” design incorporates portraits of dozens of important personages throughout history…

Carpet Museum, Tehran

…including a very gruff-looking Queen Victoria.

Carpet Museum, Tehran

Here is a carpet depicting the impressively-moustachioed Shah Abbas the Great of the Safavid Period.

Carpet Museum, Tehran

Tehran Sightseeing Guide

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art

On the west side the very lovely Laleh Park is a low-lying dun-brick building functioning as Tehran’s most important museum of contemporary art.

In the construction itself you see something of the struggle in all Iranian art to reconcile the traditional with the modern. First notice the skylights raised from the roof. Reminiscent of the “badgirs” of Yazd or Kashan, these allow the harsh sun to softly light the central sunken well of inner space – itself a modern interpretation of the cool underground havens of desert city residences.

Labyrinthine corridors spin off the central hall and guide you through the history of modern Iranian art. There are many fine pieces and some deep, absurdly comfortable armchairs from which to view them from.

Here are some of the pictures I took before I was caught on one of their countless security cameras.

This is one of the museum’s most impressive calligraphic works. Swathes of tightly packed Arabic script radiates out from an unfathomable centre. A profound message of divine unity. I will have to make another trip to note the name of the artist.

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art

Another by the same artist.

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art

And this is just gorgeous.

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art

Guide to Iran and Iranian Culture