Wild Persepolis

Mil writes: We left Shiraz on Day Five to visit the ancient city of Persepolis, seat of the Persian empire until it was sacked by Alexander the Great, and a rich source of national pride. The 2,500-year-old ruins are staggering: immense, complex, beautifully-detailed, a city standing on a massive stone platform raised above the surrounding plain.

As we sat down to drink coffee after a lightning tour of the Hundred Column Hall and other treasures, Em pulled out her sketch book. Schoolgirls descended on her. Dressed entirely in black, with black headscarves, these teenagers looked like the Western world’s stereotype of oppressed Iranian youth. They were anything but. Continue reading

Unarmed Iran

Mil writes: In Shiraz, on Day Four, while we were waiting for our minibus to show up, a man walked by carrying an old old rifle. He was dressed in civilian clothes, walked along casually without a care. Probably a hunter, we guessed. The striking thing about the incident was that he was the first and only armed person I’ve seen in Iran (and it’s now Day Seven).

I’ve seen hardly any soldiers or police, and those I’ve seen have not carried guns (truncheons but no guns, so far as I could see). In London, it’s not uncommon to see armed police, but even the unarmed police in Hastings wear stab jackets and handcuffs and a baton and other equipment, and they look paramilitary. Police we’ve seen here wear a hi-visibility tabard saying ‘Police’, and maybe carry a truncheon. This doesn’t mean the police here are to be trifled with, or that there isn’t a massive security system here, there is. It’s just that, on the street, guns have not been visible. Continue reading

Shiraz fragments

Mil writes: We got up early on Day Three to fly from Tehran to the southern city of Shiraz. Airport security pulled me aside, puzzled by my plugs for charging my camera batteries, but decided an extension cable was non-lethal. On the plane, Patrick noticed that two young women removed their headscarves during the flight. Learning this later, the women on our delegation were envious: the scarves were really hot on the plane. Susan has been told that ‘susan’ means ‘burning’. Arriving at Shiraz airport, the entrance hall was being massively expanded. More public construction! It’s been everywhere we’ve gone.

Shiraz was Warner than Tehran, drier. Palm trees rather than plane trees. The roads in Shiraz were lined with orange trees (often bearing fruit!). Continue reading

Water is brightness

Mil writes: Day Two, Sunday 10 February, was an extraordinary, unexpected opportunity. Central Tehran was a big news story around the world, with the massive demonstration to mark the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, addressed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The crowds shouted: ‘Marg, marg Amrika’ (‘death, death to America’). Our hotel looked out onto the route of the demonstration, but we saw none of this!

The authorities were anxious about having stray American (and British) peace activists anywhere near the crowds. (Everyone keeps telling us how Iranian people love American people, but in the next breath we’re told we have to stay with our guide for our own safety.)

So we were bussed out of the centre of Tehran around 8am, long before the demonstration was scheduled to start at 10am.

The streets were deserted as we headed north. North in Tehran means higher ground, cooler temperatures in summer, wealthier districts. We arrived in what looked like the Kensington of Tehran, very upscale, to be met by a closed gate.

The authorities may have been anxious to get us out of the centre but they had not factored in their own national holiday to mark the anniversary of the Revolution. The palace complex Mr Yazd had been told to take us to was closed. Not that surprising for 8.30am. It opened at 12 noon.

Mr Yazd responded immediately by suggesting ‘the riverside’ – ‘for the ladies’.

Tea shop platforms

Tea shop platforms in the stream.

Continue reading

Two Museums, Two Halves

Mil writes: It’s Day Four and I still haven’t written up Day One! Things have been hectic with early starts after a tiring beginning.

Our first day was dominated by the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). We visited two museums, the Holy Defense Museum and the Tehran Peace Museum, which complemented each other in unexpected ways. Neither existed when Emily visited here in 2006, though members of her delegation had conversations about starting a Peace Museum that may have helped water the seeds of the idea (that had already been planted by visitors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

The two museums differ vastly in scale and accessibility. The Holy Defense Museum, which is a war museum, is a huge, gleaming, shiny modern shed hundreds of metres long on the side, employing a hundred people. The Tehran Peace Museum is a modest hall with some side rooms for administration and meeting (and an IT room described as a ‘Virtual Library’ – which no one appeared to be using) with a handful of staff.

The Holy Defence Museum is way out of the centre, the Tehran Peace Museum is tucked away in a park in the middle of Tehran. Continue reading