I like coming home. It makes me sad.
As we entered the last few days, thoughts inevitably turned to home. Reunited with our travelling companions after their overnight hospital stay, we left Shiraz under leaden skies.
Several hours later we entered the Murghab Plain and arrived at the lonely, yet extraordinarily beautiful site of Pasagardae. Here, on a poppy strewn landscape, beneath seething clouds of rolling purples and greys, we wandered through the few remnants of Cyrus 1st, great capital. Of all the monuments it is only his tomb which stands out. Rebuilt by Alexander the Great it stands forlorn, weather beaten and silent, beside the car park.
The group had become jaded. Many had moods that matched the weather, sullen and changeable.
But if you need a city to lighten your mood, if you want to go somewhere that will provide a feast for the eyes and a spiritual uplifting, then there are few places better than Esfahan.
Our hotel, a former caravanserais, was enormous. It’s vast wings enveloped a central courtyard of delightful symmetry and simply finding your room required a degree in orienteering!. I felt very at home. It was very organised. Very civilised. Everyone said hello. It was also very quiet. Nobody slammed a door. Nobody ran in the corridors. It was very neat and very cool.
But eating there required a feat of endurance and prayers to a higher power.
To begin with they didn’t have a big enough table for us all to sit at and so we were dispersed around the lavish dining room. Our meal order then went like this :-
8.30pm – order soup starter. Wave at fellow travellers. Get intimately acquainted with pot plant on table. Sip water slowly. Wave some more.
9.30pm – look confused when soup arrives as its been so long you’d forgotten you’d ordered it. Eat in three mouthfuls. Tiny bowls. Damn!
10.40pm – main course arrives. Stomach thinks someone has cut your throat. Peer anxiously at plate and pray they haven’t forgotten anything!.
11.15pm – attract waiters eye and ask for ice cream. Told that ice cream cannot be served in dining room but would I please go to coffee shop ?. Eagle eyed Autustic traveller smiles benevolently at waiter and points out that the group over there. Yes, them, the ones SITTING TOGETHER, and who came in after us, and who are on a tour being put on by the Daily Telegraph, are EATING ICE CREAM in the dining room!!!!
11.25 – waiters huddle. They agree, ice cream shall be served! Hurrah!
11.40 – ice cream is served. It’s not what I ordered. Sent back!
12.00 – meal concluded after correct ice cream consumed!
In the midst of this chaos (very slow chaos) M convinced Peter that Iranian airlines aircraft were death traps and we shouldn’t trust them to get us back to Tehran from Esfahan and that we should go by road instead of taking our scheduled flight!. I don’t like change. I wanted to fly. But I was outvoted.
Next morning I was up early and stood on my balcony, sipping a coffee, and discussing the state of the world with my utterly charming room maids. Thanking them I left my room, turned right instead of left and walked the entire circumference of the hotel, down to breakfast.
Where Peter was having a nervous breakdown.
Peter had lost his briefcase. In losing that he had lost his world. His passport, money, camera, notes, tickets, everything was in that case. He carried it everywhere with him, a constant companion. He had searched the hotel, he had searched the coach, everyone had searched the coach, the police had been called but all to no avail. He was utterly bereft.
To this day, I don’t know how it wasn’t found. Clarification. I don’t know how nobody else found it. I know how I found it.
They talk of things being hidden in plain sight. Of overlooking the obvious. And that’s what I think happened. You see, between Pasagardae and Esfahan, Peter sat behind me. We were talking, as we often did, about archaeology and archaeologists. He had his brief case then because it was on the seat beside him. And I think that he had so convinced himself that it couldn’t or wouldn’t be in that area that nobody actually checked. I got on the coach with our driver, I walked down the aisle and casually reached beneath my seat. I emerged holding a battered brown briefcase.
The driver yelled, our guide turned around and Peters head whipped found so fast it almost toppled off his shoulders as I stood in the doorway to the coach and waved the briefcase in their direction. I have never seen a man move so fast. Peter, best described as portly, suddenly developed the reflexes of a gazelle and was instantly beside me and our guide hugged me to his chest like a long lost son!. Peter was reunited with his belongings and I, the hero of the hour (ahem!) was promised a mountain of ice cream!
But that will have to wait….