Saying goodbye

My last post about Iran… Time to say goodbye and go on with my trip, go on with this blog. Time to say goodbye and say thank you. Thank you to Sara and her parents who welcomed me with love, generosity and opened hearts.

Time to say goodbye to Isfahan and its gardens by the riverside. Time for a last walk, pick up a white rose, sit down and just turn it slowly round and round making the small drops of water sparkle in the morning sun.

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As all Persian things must end, I’ll close these posts about Iran
with a poem. Beloved Hafez will help me:

از بس كه چشم مست در اين شهر ديده ام/حقا كه مي نمي خورم اكنون و سرخوشم

I’ve seen so many eyes drunk with love in this town,
I think I’m drunk too, although I swear I’ve had no wine to drink.

 

My Persian experience

I don’t know how much I could tell you so far of the great love I felt growing in my heart while I was in Iran. Iran is a country you go to for its history (and I mean 2500 year old history), in which you discover true jewels of architecture and beauty, but in which you feel in love with the people you meet..

I am not speaking only of my friend Sara’s family (and she has a wonderfully big family: a family reunion with the close relatives only from her father’s side, uncles and cousins, was a gathering of at least 25 people) – who was always kind, warm, welcoming me with smiles coming from their hearts, not only their lips. But women on the streets were looking at me and smiling, in the bus a woman insisted on giving me a place to sit down, in Shiraz our guide offered to bring me a pair of shoes if mine would get broken, every time I was buying something – and it was obvious that I did not understand much of the banknotes (they had just cut some zeros, but the banknotes were still in the old currency) – people were very careful to give me the right change and let me understand that they gave me the right change.. Of course, you will also have guys that were saying things or trying to speak to me in English just because they saw I was a foreign girl, more approachable than Iranians girls in their minds. But besides that, or even including that, Iranians are a people that I saw truly eager to communicate with the outside world, to know and to welcome foreigners and to show themselves as they truly are, warm, curious, kind, beautiful people, not like the westerners generally imagine then to be.

I also loved the food, with dishes cooked for 3 or 4 hours with lemons and dry fruits, with sweets that are not very sweet, but rather flavored, with all kinds of fresh fruits, all grown in Iran, from green lemons and figs to the most ordinary (for me) fruits, cherries, apples, cucumbers (and yes, in Iran the cucumber is eaten rather like a fruit than a vegetable).

I absolutely love the Persian traditional music and I keep listening to Sedigh Sharif, Salar Aghili or Taje Esfahani..

And I love many other things about Iran. Some of them are in the pictures below, with some little explanations under them.

And others are in this other gallery, no explanation needed. Just enjoy :)

Sunset at the edge of the world

(written during my trip in Iran, 25 April – 12 May 2013)

Shiraz-8970Coming back from Shiraz. Watching through the window of the bus as the sun is falling, fading, slowly, behind the mountains. The light filtered through the clouds has a delicate beautiful feeling to it. To the east, the sky is still blue and the white clouds receive faint reflections of red and orange and pink – hints of the revolution happening on the other side of the sky, on the other side of the world.

It seems as if we are moving towards the sun, as if the road is going to disappear into the incandescent light in front of us. I look at the sun through the corridor of the bus. Back here it’s still a normal world, with people chatting, listening to music, with clocks, days, years, distances, buses and meaning. But there, into the light, everything disappears into nothingness. And this light bewilders me, enraptures me with hypnotic power. I cannot turn my eyes away, I cannot run away from the immense force of this incandescent black whole which seems to absorb everything.

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And fast, almost without me noticing, the sun fades behind the mountains. The last piece of it disappears behind the horizon, as an eye slowly closing, leaving behind it wonderful warm colors of red, orange and grey. The ground gets dark, fading into the night, but the sky still keeps for some time the memory of the incredible turmoil which just has happened to the west.

I start thinking about my life, about where I am now in my life. Yes, I am really in Iran, I am really on a trip around the world. And in this moment I am alone – it is me, just me. There is nothing and nobody else, all that I can feel now inside of me is all I have; and I will carry it with me around the world. I feel utterly free and utterly alone – in the same time. But I am ok with this feeling of loneliness: I always thought that in the end we are alone, that in this world you can share moments with others, but that ultimately, in our most inner self, in our core hearts, we will be alone.

I thing about my future life, about what it would be. I wouldn’t like this trip that I am taking, now, at 30, to be the highlight of my life. I am thinking why not take another sabbatical year when I am 60? Wouldn’t that be nice? I try to open up my heart and my senses and to probe the future in order to understand how this other one-year trip would be like. How would I be like at 60? How would I taste then a trip around the world?

And I start sensing in my body that part of me that experiences the world and that I feel will remain the same throughout my life. As if I can feel that woman traveling around the world at 60 in the body of the 30 year-old woman who is now coming back from Shiraz and looking at the colors of the sunset. I feel that my most inner self, that part of me that in this moment I start feeling, that I let expand and inhabit me, will not change. It will be the same.

And, instantly, I feel terrified. As if I am on the top of a cliff and I am about to jump into fin air. 60 seems so much closer to death. Another 10 or 20 years. Close to the not-being, to the unknown. I feel the ground disappearing from under my feet. My heart stops beating for a few seconds and I cannot breathe. I feel the death that is in my body.

This is how it should be, I know. Death is inevitably braided in our bodies the day we are born. And it is not that I think that existence stops when the body dies. But I do think that after death there is a different existence, a different way of experiencing life. And the woman I am now, the 60-year-old woman that I feel in my body, they love this life and they love living it, with all its ups and downs, its suffering and joy.

I bring air into my lungs and breathe slowly, with the pain and the memory of death still inside of me. After having occupied my whole being, my whole body, the feeling of all this naturally and gradually disappears.

It has been a long time since I didn’t live such an acute feeling of death. I almost thought that this fear of dying faded away or was replaced with my trust into the existence. How foolish sometimes we are. As every fear or pattern that we have inside of us, it is still there. Maybe it does not have (anymore) the power to dictate your every movement, maybe it is just so dim that you cannot see it in the light of every day life. But in the shivering light of the sunset it can re-appear. It is there, it will always be there. And all I can do is acknowledge it. Let it be and witness it.

Shiraz, Hafez’s home

(written during my trip in Iran, 25 April – 12 May 2013)

Foreword: Many of the historical sites I visited in Iran accompanied their guest’s visit by traditional music, played from loud speakers spread around the place. I truly enjoyed this, merging with all my senses into the Persian culture, letting the air, the sun, the sounds fill me, enchant me. I listened to Iranian traditional music while writing this post. So I invite you, too, to listen this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyv1Y7wtrkM.

There are two things for which people come to Shiraz: one is Persepolis; the other one is Hafez’s tomb. Having lived in the14th century, Hafez is Iran’s most loved and cherished poet.

During my short visit in Shiraz, I went to Hafez’s tomb two times. After coming back from Persepolis, new friends I made during that trip proposed to go out. And naturally (I was later to find out) our first stop was the large garden where Hafez’s tomb is located. Until 22.30 or 23.00, when the garden closes, groups of young and old people are coming and going, walking around, drinking chai at the traditional café or just sitting close to the tomb of Hafez and reading, aloud or just for themselves, his poems. Actually, this is what impressed me the most: the tomb is not a place that Iranians come to visit, but rather a place to come and meditate, a place where people act with the reverence and respect I am used seeing back home in monasteries and churches. Iranians, I am told, trust that Hafez can provide them with answers to questions about their life and the future. Ever since hundreds of years ago, people would come to his tomb, randomly open his book of poems and read the first poem they lay their eye upon: the poem would be the answer to their question. Kings who were contemplating attacking new territories, pregnant women wanting to find out if their baby is a boy or a girl, young girls wishing to know when they would marry… Even more, every house is bound to have a book of Hafez’s poems and whenever a member of the family would have a doubt about something, they would turn to beloved Hafez for an answer.

I loved Shiraz: a city full of gardens, a bit lazy and slow, reminding me of my hometown Iasi..

Ancient Persia

(written during my trip in Iran, 25 April – 12 May 2013)

We waked up early in the morning to go to Persepolis. One day before I had arrived to Shiraz, a city in the southern part of Iran, famous for being close to the historic site of Persepolis and for having been the home to the tomb of Hafez, the great Persian poet.

Under the bright Iranian sun, we merged for one day into the long history of ancient Persia, starting with the Necropolis, where the tombs of Darius I the Great, Darius II and other Persian kings were carved into the stone of the mountain more than 2500 years ago. Then we visited Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia, burnt down following the conquest of Alexander the Great, and the ziggurat shaped tomb of Cyrus the Great. In between, I rode for the first time in my life a camel (well a horse too, because the guy with the camel kept insisting, showing the horse: “pictures, pictures!”).

While I was walking by the stone carved silhouettes of the Persian soldiers, images of the same figures from my old history books came back to me – at that time I had never thought I would see them so close… I thought about my high school history teacher, evoking in class the figure of Darius the Great. He loved so much the Ancient period that instead of 2 or 3 months, we studied it for an entire year… Here, Mr. Busnosu, this one is for you!

The story of Persian carpets

(written during my trip in Iran, 25 April – 12 May 2013)

This morning one of the cousins of my friend Sara proposed to accompany her to the Imam Square. I did not understand precisely what we were supposed to do there, but did not ask too many questions, as my (almost) nonexistent Persian and her little French did not give room for extensive dialogue. But all Sara’s family was so kind and welcoming, and her cousin showed, every time we met, a lot of warmth and willingness to communicate, that I could not say no.

On the way I understood that we were going to the carpet store owned by the husband of one of her friends. Well, I had already seen several carpet stores in the bazaar, but why not? When we arrived there, one of the people welcoming us asked me in English if I would like to know the story of Persian carpets. Well, of course, but just know that I am not going to buy any, I am on a long trip and I really don’t have any place for a carpet in my luggage.. No problem, was the answer.

So, here we go! First and foremost, there are two types of Persian carpets: the carpets woven by the nomadic tribes and the carpets woven in cities, following the Safavi tradition.


The carpets of the Safavi tradition (dynasty ruling Persia in the 1600s, during which the first patterns for carpets were created) is what one would generally call a “Persian carpet”. They are made by hand, following a specific pattern. So one woman would weave and another would, following the pattern, dictate to the first the exact color to be used for each thread of the warp. As you can imagine, a Persian carpet woven in this technique would even need up to several years to be completed, depending on its size and the complexity of the design. They are produced in several of the historical cities of Iran. Each city has its particularities, especially with respect to the materials being used: in Isfahan they use angora wool and silk, in other cities just silk, in others, different types of wool. I must admit that I like the Isfahan carpets more, because there are not all shinny and bright as the carpets woven entirely out of silk, but they rather have just some elements of the design, a spiral flower for instance, woven in silk, standing out from the rest of the design with a delicate shine.

Generally, the design of these carpets is created around one central point, from which the rest of the design evolves – it is the symbol of God, the creator of all things existing. Life expands from this one central point into simpler or more complicated spirals or chains of flowers and leaves. Inevitably we reach the border of the carpet – it is the borderline between this life and the next. Various patterns from the design of the carpet are drawn on this border, as if to say that our deeds from this life will follows us into the next.

But in Iran you will also find another kind of carpets: the nomadic carpets. They are woven by the women of the various Iranian nomadic tribes. The main difference from the Safavi carpets is that these carpets do not follow a pre-designed pattern: the woman creating the carpet does not have a pattern to guide her, she weaves following a design she has created in her head. Again, tribes from different parts of Iran weave different carpets, especially in respect of the color used: in the north the colors are darker – brown, black, dark red; in the east they use more orange and bright red, while in the south you can find lighter colors, white, light yellow mingling with darker colors.

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Take this carpet, for instance, made in the east of Iran, close to Afghanistan. It symbolizes the tree of life, with each generation giving birth to another. Flowers, serpents (symbols of long life) and poppy flowers and seeds (as people in that region used this plant to cure various diseases) symbolize wishes of happiness, longevity and health.

Young girls would weave alongside their mothers until they would be 12-13 years old. At that point, they would start weaving their own carpet and when finishing it, they would show it to the whole family – as proof that they no longer were little girls, but that they had grown into young women.

Some of the patterns used by the Iranian nomads in their carpets reminded me of the carpets that my late grandmother used to weave. This thought makes me smile and reminds me of something my father told me before I left: the human spirit is everywhere the same, creating, loving, suffering in much the same way, irrespective if that person lives in the mountains of Peru or in the cities of France or on the bank of the Ganges.

Imam Square – the heart of Isfahan

(written during my trip in Iran, 25 April – 12 May 2013)

Isfahan rose

After my first encounter with Isfahan (Khaju Bridge by night, remember) the city opened to me, slowly, building by building, site by site, just like a rose bud opens into a flower and slowly lets the world discover its inner most hidden petals, its deep heart.

Isfahan is a city that at first did not tell me much. Of course, I was excited to arrive here and meet the family of my friend Sara, but the city itself, with it greyish sand-color buildings, not more than 2 or 3 floors in the center (restriction meant to protect the historical heritage of the city) did not speak to me. That is until, one day, Sara brought me to the Imam Square.

Build in the 1600s during the Safavi dynasty, the Imam Square (now officially called Naqsh-e Jahan) is a huge place, having on its sides the royal palace of Ali Qapu, the entry to the Bazar and two mosques, the bigger Shah Mosque and the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque.

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The Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque is the first mosque I ever entered into in my life. A rather small mosque, it was initially built for the private use of the shah’s wives.

What I felt in this mosque … After going from the bright sun outside through a sinuous shadowy hallway, I found myself standing under a dome that was as grand and majestic, as soft and incredibly near, surrounding me form all sides like the arms of a mother. There was no space in that room that was separated from the dome, that was not under the force and the spell of the wonderfully entangled decoration of its walls. I walked slowly, very slowly, breathing and letting everything sink in. Opening. Opening my senses and opening myself to grasp all the beauty that was before me. I cannot pinpoint what impressed me so, I cannot tell you, this or that were the things that captured me – maybe another would even say that all this is nothing at all. But in that moment and in that place I was overwhelmed by the beauty, the magnificence, the colors, the never-ending circular shapes and lines in front of me. I whirled slowly a few times letting all the colors mingle – what an incredible experience should have been for the Sufi Dervishes to whirl under similar ceilings… High double-layer windows filtered the light and their shape seemed to change as I was walking around the room. As if to let you understand that in that moment you are no longer under the power of the omnipresent sun, but rather in another world, in another universe.

The other mosque in the square, far bigger and more eye-catching, as well as the royal palace Ali Qapu, unveil that Persia of the seventeenth century, that wonderfully rich and mysterious Orient about which I was reading during my school years. And the capital of this Persia was Isfahan. Isfahan – half of the world, as the Persian used to say.

In between visits, Sara took me for lunch to a traditional Persian restaurant, where we ate sitting on wooden beds covered with carpets and well equipped with pillows. But about food and traditional restaurants I will tell you more in another post!

Until then, as the Persian say, hoda hafez – may God be your guardian!

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Note on my posts from Iran

In the Istanbul airport, enjoying the wi-fi, a glass of beer and the fact that I can write you!


My dears,

I am back from the other end of the word! Well, some would say I am still at the other end of the world: I am sitting at the bar of a café in the Istanbul airport, waiting for my flight back to France and looking through the photos and blog entries I wrote while I was in Iran.

As you may have noticed, after the story of the Khaju Bridge, there were no more posts on my blog. That’s because a few days after my arrival, the Iranian government announced that “ships crossing the ocean damaged the cables providing internet to Iran and that, consequently, the speed of internet would slow down in the following days”. Oddly enough, this “unfortunate incident” seems to happen every 4 years or so, when elections are getting closer (and presidential elections will be held in Iran in about one month). As one of my Iranian friends was saying with a smile, they could at least try and find each year a different excuse.

Even before this incident, accessing my blog and facebook accounts was not quite a piece of cake, as I had to use a special software to avoid the filters installed by the government to block access to certain sites and, then, to have a lot of patience because, obviously, the use of that software was considerably reducing internet speed. After the government’s announcement, however, it became impossible to upload any pictures, whether on facebook or my blog.

As such, I saw myself reduced to recording my memories offline, with the wish of sharing them to you when I would have better internet access. That’s why in the following days I will post more often and my posts will mainly refer to Iran. Getting to know Iran and the Persian people was a wonderful rich experience for me and it will probably take a few posts to finish telling all my stories. In the hope that it will not too much or too bothersome to you, I tell you goodbye for now and see you soon from Europe!

And here you have the soundtrack of this I-am-back-and-so-glad-to-write-to-you-again post:

Welcome to Iran – Khaju Bridge

My first encounter with Iran’s long history (and when I say long, I do mean thousands of years): the Khaju Bridge, in Isfahan.

The Khaju BridgeWe were still recovering, my friend Sara and I, after a 20 hour trip from Paris to Ispahan, to the house of my friend’s parents, when Sara’s father proposed to go for a night walk on the riverside. We dressed warmly, we took the customary scarfs to cover our hair and we were ready to go!

Build in 1650, the bridge was used for pedestrian and caravans’ passage, as well as a place for games and fireworks organized in honor of the king. But rather than facts on its history, I would like to tell you about the feeling of the Khaju Bridge.

Even though it was close to midnight, alongside the river’s banks (which actually are more of a huge park), people were still having dinner or drinking chai (made, of course, on the spot, using small gas cylinders – because Iranians like their tea the same way Italians like their pasta: hot, very hot). From time to time you would see a circle of fire glittering in the night – it was somebody trying to light the coal for a waterpipe. Make no mistake, we are in Iran: you could recognize women from a distance due to their (very often) black clothes, long sleeves and covered head, and couples would openly be seen together only if married.

The bridge was full of people coming and going, having their walk, talking or even having their pick-nick right there, under one of the many arches of this two-story bridge. It is under one of these arches that we stopped to buy some kind of boiled beans from an old, simple-looking man. After giving us one each to try and understanding I am a foreigner, he whispered to the ear of my friends’ father: “You have guests, it’s better your don’t buy from me – the beans were boiled yesterday.”

Our impromptu guideAnd yet another unexpected and beautiful meeting was to happen that evening: when visiting the upper part of the bridge, a man approached us asking if we knew this and that about the bridge. No, we did not know. So he engaged into an actual tour of the bridge, taking us up and down, showing us how the bridge was closed to become a dam, the way the arches of the lower level formed the shape of a candle, the glittering eyes of the lion guarding the bridge. He spoke in Persian, so I could only follow through my friends’ translation. But I liked his open, candid way of speaking to us, the energy and passion he put in his account, his shyness in being photographed.

Isfahan-4One of my favorite moments on Khaju: sitting on the stone steps on one side of the bridge, looking and listening to the water rushing thought the sluice gates beneath us. It was as if the water was taking us into another dimension, far and free from the chatty and crowded world outside, a place of silence, a place of meditation.

As we were about to leave the bridge, a little red rose caught our eye. It seemed to me that the Khaju Bridge was saying goodbye.

Farewell, Khaju!