Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Everything sounds so wonderful!
Guidebooks always make the mundane and normal sound good. It seems to me that when looking for the writers they look for people who like absolutely type of ‘attraction’ to be seen. It is practically incomprehensible for me that the same person would view such a wide array of different things with the same enthusiasm. Because of this, things are often made to sound just wonderful when in reality while they may be quite unique, they do not really do much for me. Such was the case at Taq-e Bostan (“one of the highlights of any visit to western Iran”), a set of carved alcoves.
More to my liking in Kermanshah was the Takieh Mo’aven ol-Molk – a building that commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein. It had that sort of characteristic Iranian look to it, covered with turquoise tiles, one room with stained glass windows that cast an array of colours on the floor and in the back, a courtyard garden in front of a few massive pillars and typical Islamic arches. The guard there, who served double-duty as a kind of groundskeeper, both jobs his tasking for his twenty-month compulsory military service, spoke excellent English. He said he had been learning English for only three years but for the first year spent six or seven hours a day practicing and now spends about two or three. After several days of not being able to speak to anyone, it was good to be able to spend a few hours speaking English without having to simplify my speech or slow down. I don’t mind simplifying my speech, speaking clearly and slowing down in order to make myself understood, but it is very trying to continue a conversation for any length of time while doing this. At the English language school where I was taken, the advanced students told me how it is practically impossible to get any new books in English and they must instead rely on reading only the classics which are permitted by the government here. Given that Iran is a great trademark and copyright infringer, I would have thought that someone would have managed to cater to this market.
Hollywood in Iran
The same students asked me if I had seen about a million different Hollywood films. I’m not a great movie-watcher, so I had not seen most of them. Many of the titles they mentioned were the kind that I sincerely believe are tailor made for markets outside North America and Europe...like Vertical Limit. Having spent some time in this part of the world before, I am aware of the way that some people here see America because of the movies they watch, and it is quite disturbing. For these guys at the English school, for example, they thought America is full of “dancing girls” and is “perfect and wonderful” but that everyone carries a gun and kids kill one another all the time. The conversation then turned to Bowling for Columbine. I assured them that Canadians do lock their doors most of the time and the oft-cited comparison between US and Canadian gun ownership statistics per capital being roughly equal is incorrect. Some Western women who I have talked to on my last trip to Iran and last year in Pakistan in particular said the not by any means universal but dangerously frequent feeling towards western women is that they are all like Christina Aguilera and Brittney Spears are in their latest music videos. I must emphasize that none of these attitudes I have reported here I suggest to be universal, but I have encountered them all enough times that it suggests they are common enough attitudes that they are cause for a bit of concern.
While I think of it, they all thought that it is wonderful that Arnold Schwarzenegger is now Governor of California.
The following day, Monday, I headed up here to Sanandaj. There is nothing really of interest as in some of the more popular places in the country. Perhaps this is why I have not seen another foreigner since I left Tehran. Not one. Generally I prefer places that aren’t overrun, but usually when there are no foreigners around at all, it is for good reason. For me though, after spending that brief period in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sanandaj is fairly interesting. And, despite there being no other foreigners in town and there not being any evidence of many coming through here at all, the people are quite friendly. In my experience, in places like this the fear of outsiders can often override the sense of curiosity among local people, but thankfully that is not the case here.
The Iranian Mullet
I got another haircut yesterday. The barber was blind. Maybe not actually blind, but my head sure looks as though he was. As was the case in Suli, the barber left too much on top – and after asking three times to trim it further, he finally tamed the beast and gave me a coif I can live with. Thankfully he didn’t give me a mullet, as they seem to be quite common here in Iran – and not the mini-mullet kind that unfortunately seemed to be putting the reputation of Montreal as a fashion/image-conscious city in jeopardy just before I left there in April. Somehow, some Iranian men get the same haircuts that some would have sported at home when Wayne Gretzky won his first Stanley Cup. It is quite funny to see a group of Iranian men standing on a street corner all dressed like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and with mullets like Mel Gibson had in Lethal Weapon One eyeing chador-wearing girls. I find it hard not to laugh when I see them comb out their wonderful mullets in the mirrors that line the walls of all the restaurants here in Iran. Seeing it just makes me want to sign them up for the Kiss Army.
So, next time a news program shows a street scene of Iran when and on account of the numerous mullets you think it must be file footage, think again.
And all those mullets just make me wonder if there are any mullettes lurking beneath those chadors.
I plan on leaving here Wednesday morning and making my way to Esfahan, perhaps with a stop on the way. After that I plan on heading back up to Tehran.