Sight-seeing and friend-making in Tehran
This morning someone from the travel agency met up with us to show us some of the sights in Tehran. Our tour guide, Samira, was excited to have people from the US to show around since Americans don’t come through very often (she says the most frequent visitors are Germans). She was also excited to have someone around her own age (she 27 and gives a lot of tours to retirees). Samira studied history at the university, and I was very impressed with her knowledge about Iranian culture and history as we went through various museums and sights. She took a course on US history as an elective at the university and was very interested to learn about the American Revolution. She’s also a big fan of Metallica, Nirvana, and Queen and is “in love with” Freddie Mercury (Queen apparently is popular in Iran because of Mercury’s Iranian heritage). Samira said that like Americans, she feels that Iranians are generally optimistic about President Obama.
We were joined for the day by Nadali Bay, from the Center for American Studies. He says it is the first NGO in Iran dedicated to studying American politics and promoting peace between the US and Iran. I’m convinced that Nadali knows more about American politics than many people in the US. He talked a lot about what to many people are probably obscure political people and stories—Vali Nasr and his role advising the Obama administration, the string of failed Commerce Secretary nominees, the White House Correspondents dinner, the recent arrest of several members of Congress outside the Sudanese embassy. He talked about reading Hillary Clinton’s autobiography and how he wished she were president. I found that point particularly interesting since one of the reasons I did not personally support Clinton in the primary was because of her relative hawkishness on foreign policy, particularly saying she would “obliterate” Iran. One of the most hilarious and telling things he said that revealed his (and his friends’) political wonkiness was that because his last name is Bay, some of his friends call him Evan Bayh, after the relatively obscure senator from Indiana. He also watches a lot of American TV on cable, including CBS News, David Letterman and sometimes Oprah. It turns out that he was missing out on some of the most important American television (in my opinion), as he had not heard of “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report,” so hopefully I’ve can turn him into a fan.
Our first stop was the Tehran Bazaar, a web of alleys crammed with people selling everything from clothes to spices to jewelry to carpets. We were picked up by a carpet seller who wanted to show us around and teach us about nomadic carpets. He was very proud to tell us that his brother Hossein Hosseiny is featured in the Lonely Planet book on Iran on page 123. I checked it out when I got back to the hotel and he is in fact recommended as a good and fair carpet seller. After we visited the Imam Khomeini Mosque in the bazaar, he showed us all different types of carpets and designs, and displayed the intricacies of the carpets by having us pick out different animals that are hidden in the designs. All of the carpets were hand woven based on designs that exist solely in the mind of the person designing the carpet. They were beautiful and his hospitality and generosity with his time were much appreciated.
We followed with a trip to the Golestan palace, an opulent palace complex that is home to museums and a beautiful garden. We saw art by the famous Iranian artist Kamal-ol-molk, among others. Samira asked us what we thought about the lifestyle exemplified by the palace’s chandeliers and elaborate mirrors and decorations. We all agreed that it is beautiful to look at but ultimately excessive and money that could be better spent. We rounded out the first part of the day with a visit to the ceramic and glass museum after a delicious lunch.