Sunday, March 11, 2012

Post #208 - Carpets and Schoolkids

This continues the Esfahan portion of my 2006 trip to Iran:

Riverside interview
Beside the Zayandeh River which divides the main part of Esfahan from its southern quarter, some our of our group were interviewed by CNN correspondent Mr. Aneesh Raman, including Melissa Van, a peace activist who lives with her artist husband in an intentional community on Staten Island. Melissa emphasized the warm reception that we had had everywhere we went and how most of our stereotypes about Iranians were being proven false by first-hand experience. The correspondent, usually based in Iraq at that time, was enjoying his “R&R” in calm, safe Esfahan. (I was to learn later, though, that according to Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, we have already begun a military operation inside Iran, about which he said, "It's a very serious question about the constitutional framework under which we are now conducting military operations [there]." They are, according to the journalist Sy Hersh, operating in Azer, Baluchi and Kurdish parts of Iran. One wonders for how long Esfahan and points west will remain peaceful.) [This was during the Bush administration; I have no information about whether such operations continue up to the present.]

A class of neophytes
Our guide took us to a carpetseller who was known to him, where we learned about, gazed at and haggled over carpets and kilims of every size and variety. Emily Johns, a peace activist and artist from Hastings (UK), did a marvelous sketch of our group of American carpet neophytes being tutored by the proprietor on distinctions between “city carpets” and “tribal carpets”, “gol-o-bolbol” (flower and nitghtingale) patterns and prayer rugs.

As afternoon merged into evening, we strolled the ancient bridges on the Zayandeh and were introduced to their endearing features:

-- the engineering prowess evident in the mid-17th C. Khajou Bridge, where water of any level is directed to best advantage by the design of the piers, and later feeds an elaborate series of irrigation channels downriver; in the middle of the bridge is a small building that was used by the shah as a resting place in fine weather, or on a specially festive occasion.

-- the spaces under the bridges’ archways, where friends share a cup of tea or singers of plaintive love songs go to take advantage of the unique acoustics. One whom we happened upon sang: "When my heart is broken, I will take my grief from my enemy to my friend, but when my friend is gone, who will I take my broken heart to?";

Bringing the Shah Nameh to life
-- a show, based on the famous Shah Nameh of Ferdowsi, that quickly drew a crowd to the riverside embankment to hear about a king who was overthrown by his people after they understood his conniving intentions. Ferdowsi spent 30 years of his life composing the 60,000 verses embodying Iran’s myths and heroes that have assured his place of preeminence in Persian literature.

-- the cooling spray wafting ashore from a fountain in mid-river on that warm evening;

-- the beauty of the 300 meter-long Allah Verdi Khan Bridge constructed in 1596, usually called See o Seh (or “Thirty-Three”) Bridge for its many arches. (An old story has an Esfahani saying to a foreign visitor: “Show me your finest bridge – I will show 33 bridges!” But Iranians always tell of a deeper and far more charitable message: “Show me your willingness to meet me half-way, and I will go 33 times that far to reach agreement with you.” A lesson for modern times, perhaps?)

Chahel Sotun ("40 columns") Palace
The following day -- a day of discovery -- began at the Chehel Sotun [“forty columns”] medieval palace, where rich murals of feasts and battles glow on walls as high as 20 meters, and ceilings make your head spin with their intricate and subtly colored geometrical patterns. Our group report for that day included these lines:

"While we listened to our guide give us background about the palace, a group of tiny young girls wearing turquoise uniforms and a variety of light colored chadors, to indicate age, came into the large hall with their teachers. As the girls moved into the room, they quickly noticed the strange group of foreigners sharing the space with them Shy smiles creased their tiny lips when their glances met ours.  Like a herd of little lambs, one or two would wander from the group and stray over to us for a closer look. They bravely approached, eyes wide open, taking in our differences, until one of the teachers would gently herd them back to the group. As they left the hall, several peered back giving us parting glances. Once they were gone, it was just a 400-year-old room of memories."

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