Elvis and Arlo In Iran
A travelogue of two American tourists during their first visit to Iran
April 16-26, 2009

April 16: Tehran
April 17: Tehran
April 18: Tehran-Yazd
April 19: Yazd
April 20: Pasagardae
April 21: Shiraz
April 22: Persepolis
April 23: Isfahan
April 24: Isfahan
April 25: Isfahan
April 26: Abyaneh-Kashan

April 18

We meet Hossein, who will be our guide for the remainder of the trip.  His English is not quite as good as Cyrus, but he is enthusiastic and friendly.  We go to the Bazaar.  The merchants of the bazaar (known as bazari) are very powerful, religiously conservative, and have strong ties to the government.  They have a lot of control over wholesale prices throughout the country. 

The Tehran Bazaar is huge, sprawling over 10 km, but not very picturesque.  Traditionally, the Tehran bazaar was split into corridors specializing in different types of goods, including copper, carpets, paper, spices, and precious metals, as well as small traders selling all types of goods.  It is largely a wholesale bazaar; goods are distributed throughout the country from here. There are some interesting bits, including spice merchants and some handicrafts. Three merchants ask to have their photo taken and tell us how much they wish for better relations between our two countries.

tehran bazaris

George and I take a last walk to Tehran Gardens; enjoying ice cream along the way. Of course, this means we don't want much lunch and settle for soup at the hotel.  We check out. The hotel clerk lived in Los Angeles for 12 years and is a fervent Dodgers fan. He proudly shows us a CD of an Iranian movie his daughter starred in and tells us she is now attending UCLA, hoping to become film director.

In the Safavid era (1501/1502 to 1722) it was decided that the national jewels belong to the National Treasury of the government, apart from the personal properties of the sovereign. These jewels form the foundation of the National Jewel Museum. Many of the jewels are French, made by Boucheron.  Some date from the Qajar dynasty; others are from the more recent Pahlavis. The security at the Jewel Museum is very tight; no bags or cameras, and shrill alarms sound frequently as people lean too close to the displays. A tribute to excessive wealth, the glitz is a bit overwhelming and includes eye-popping specimens such as the pink diamond of Darya-ye-Noor (182 Carats) and the golden globe of Naseredin Shah, made of 34 kg of pure gold, and encrusted with over 50,000 individual jewels.. On the globe, southeast Asia and Britain have been distinctly defined with diamonds, and India with rubies.

Our favorite displays are jeweled swords and daggers and the famous Peacock Throne.  The original Peacock throne was from Mughal India. The term was later used to describe the thrones of the Persian emperors from Nader Shah Afshari to Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Off to the airport.  Women go through a different security line than men, but there are no long lines as there are at most Western airports.  Our flight is delayed because of a military air show earlier in the day.  It leaves two hours late. Hossein translates the announcement at the beginning of the flight: "Pull your Hijabs (head scarves) forward to cover up so you can enter heaven".  This is not reassuring, but the flight is uneventful. When we land in Yazd, we are surprised to hear a knock on the airplane's mid-section door. The attendant then opens a hook-up window and the plane is prepared for unloading. A rather unusual and human note to the usual airport procedures.

The city of Yazd is first mentioned in historic records from roughly 1000 B.C., when it was part of the Median Kingdom. A desert oasis, Yazd’s distance from important capitals and its harsh natural surroundings help keep it out of the way of  major troop movements and destruction from wars. For this reason, it retains many of its traditions and ancient architecture.

yazd minarets and badgirs

When Genghis Khan invaded Persia in the early 1200’s A.D., Yazd became a safe haven and home for many artists, intellectuals and scientists fleeing their war-ravaged homes.

Yazd has a large network of qanats (an ingenious ancient watering system). Many old buildings in Yazd still make use of badgirs (wind towers), a clever form of air conditioning for underground rooms. Yadz is very peaceful compared to Tehran, and the desert air is very refreshing after Tehran’s pollution.

yazd badbigs

Our driver, Mohammed, meets us at the airport and takes us to the Dad Hotel.  It is delightful, a restored caravanserai--the ancient equivalent of a motel or road stop. Rooms are centered around a lovely rose-filled courtyard and fountain. Our room is very comfortable and quiet, and the bath facilities are very good.
yazd dad hotel courtyard

We meet up with a young Iranian couple who speak very good English and like to talk to tourists. We all go to the Marco Polo restaurant in the Orient Hotel. We eat outside on the roof looking out over the minarets.  Camel meat is surprisingly tasty, and there's good eggplant and yogurt dishes.

By an odd coincidence, we meet a man from our home town. He gushes about how much he loves Iran; he's been here many times.  He mentions how he feels safer anywhere in Iran than in many capitals of Europe. As he is clearly "out of the closet" I asked "Is it difficult being gay in Iran?" He replies: "No, it's so easy!  I have many gay friends here, and there's a large homosexual community.  I've brought several gay friends with me here with no problems".  He would like to bring his mother for a visit to Iran, but as she is in her 90s, he is afraid she would have too much trouble with the toilets.  Except in the hotels, Iranian toilets are ‘squatties”: porcelain holes in the floor.  You place your feet on the raised platform on either side and flush or pour water down the hole when you’re done.  There’s always a bit of hose available, which people use to wash their backsides--we cannot figure out how they do so without soaking their clothes (we carry tissue paper with us). The floors in the toilets are always wet.  I notice that when western-style toilets are available in airports, elderly Iranian women line up to use them--I imagine squatting becomes more difficult with age.

Meanwhile, George is being teased by our Iranian dinner companions about me leaving him to speak to another man. One jokingly offers to beat up the interloper. George assumes they are poking fun at the obviously gay man. However, the expressions of extreme shock on our companions faces when we mention him being homosexual made it clear that they hadn't perceived it.  I think part of the reason it is easy to be a gay tourist in Iran is that there is no open homosexuality, so most people have not developed a 'gaydar'. In addition, Iranian men are comfortable touching one another and walking hand in hand.

We walk back to our hotel. The mosques, shrines and clock towers are beautifully lit and very scenic at night.

yazd night_filtered