One of the things that I don’t think people realise about Iran is that it’s huge. It’s vast and covers a range of geography, flora and fauna. Our journey, from Kerman to Shiraz, took 11 1/2 hours!. In fact our days, from breakfast to bed, lasted anything from 14 to 18 hours as we travelled north to south and east to west.
We drove across the arid desert.
Iranian roads aren’t particularly interesting. They don’t bend or curve. They’re very Roman. Very straight and therefore quite dull. You watch the scenery for a while and yes, it is breathtaking but you can’t do that for 11 1/2 hours without going slightly stir crazy so, a bit like flying, departing and arriving were great, the bit in between ?. Not so much.
In this driest of dry countries we arrived in Shiraz, the city of wine and poets. Our hotel, the Homa was regarded as being one of the cheapest luxury hotels in the world!. You could tell it was. Luxury I mean, the “Death to the USA” sign in the lobby had been freshly polished to such a sheen that I swear I had to put my sunglasses on.
The next day did not begin auspiciously. Our driver and his bus boy had a major row in the lobby of the hotel before said driver ran off in a bad mood. Said mood was not improved by his running, at full tilt, into the glass entrance doors of the hotel. He thought they were open. They weren’t. Nose meets glass. Nose bleeds. Ouch!
Still, it was sunny outside!
Shiraz is a lovely city. If you compare it to Tehran it’s a very lovely city. But then so is Mogadishu and, as I understand it, that’s really not a lovely city. Tehran sucks. Just reminding you. In case you’d forgotten.
We visited the Persian emperors. They’re dead but I’m sure they appreciated it. Their tombs are curious affairs, high up off the ground in cruciform chambers so you can’t go in to see what’s in there but you have to admire them from about twenty feet below. I presumed that, at some point, a scaffold or something had been constructed in front of each tomb so they could place the occupant within but there was no clue as to whether that had been the case. Like many sites it’s not really touristy. There were no guidebooks, postcards, audio guides or things we’d expect today.
One of my reasons for wanting to visit Iran was because, when I was young and my autistic interest was Alexander the Great, I knew of his wars against the Persian Empire. I knew of Darius and Xerxes. I knew of Persepolis!.
But let me digress for a moment because two things happened before I got to Persepolis proper. I shall call them “The I and M affair” and “The curious case of the Iranian National Trust”.
The I and M Affair.
You might recall I and M. I, the investment banker and M, the little old lady. Well, it was here, at Persepolis, that their long running and simmering feed erupted into open war.
I had money. That’s I the banker not I as in the singular pronoun! He had money and M did not so, after a while we were subjected to her careful budget analysis on a daily basis and I’s snorts of derision.
It began when she was asked to pay for her ticket. M rummaged in her purse and gave a groan as she parted company with her precious money. From the back of the group came the sound of a primeval mastodon bellowing across a swamp!
“You stupid woman” shouted I. M turned and squeaked indignantly, “Who said that ?”. “Me” said I with relish. He went on “You stupid old woman. Coming here and constantly moaning and whining. Haven’t you got the money ?”. M pulled herself up to her full height of 4’11” (at least) and, quivering with rage she walked up to him and waved a finger under his nose. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that. You impertinent man. How rude, how very, very rude, no manners at all, such rudeness, yes, well, well I never….how rude”.I eyed the wagging finger warily, “You daft old bat” he sneered. And so it went on. And on. And on. We talked amongst ourselves. The Iranians looked bemused and it was only Peter, after much persuasion, that pulled the two apart.
The Curious Case of the Iranian National Trust.
I had been persuaded, as a result of the Great Funeral Blunder In of earlier times, to join the Iranian National Trust. I had paid my joining fee (5p) and, for my investment, I had been given a little blue badge in a little plastic container.
I wore that badge proudly. Everywhere I went I would walk up to one of the custodians and show them my badge. They would nod and smile and summon a fellow custodian who would peer at my badge and then nod and smile at me. I imagined them saying “Look he’s invested in keeping our monuments safe. Let’s smile to show him our appreciation”.
And so, at Persepolis, I sauntered up to buy my ticket safe in the knowledge that my little badge granted me free entry. The guard watched my approach with interest. I stood in front of him, smiled inanely and offered him my breast upon which was pinned my little blue badge. He nodded. But he did not smile. He shrugged his shoulders. This confused me as he made no move to actually give me a ticket. I tried again. This time he pulled a face. Not being good at face interpretation my first thoughts were either (a) he’d had a sudden and violent case of tummy ache or (b) he was suddenly repulsed at the prospect of dealing with a foreign devil.
I was wrong on both counts.
He shook his head. He shook his head and he said “No”.
He then reached behind him and produced another little badge in a little plastic container. But this one was brown. What was this ?. Did I have to join again ?. Was I going to have to join everywhere I went ?. Was I going to have a collection of little badges ?. Had I been duped by a man at a wake ?. Yes. Yes to each and to all. So I handed over my 5p and watched as he proceeded to remove the little brown badge from its packaging. He motioned me forward. He smiled and then, quite casually, he stabbed me with the pin and impaled me upon my little brown badge.
Our National Trust has never been like this….