Buckled in a business class seat on a Lufthansa airliner scheduled to depart from Frankfurt, Germany, to Washington D.C. , on September 29, 2017, I turned to the man sitting next to me and asked, "Are you travelling through Frankfurt from somewhere else?" The passenger responded, "I am travelling from Israel. Where are you coming from?" I said, "From Tehran." The demeanor of the man sitting next to me changed from passive to interested. Both of us chuckled modestly.
The U.S. and Israel are declared enemies of the official Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran has been classified as a member of an "axis of evil" by political/military administrators in the U.S. and is the well-known chief nemesis of the Jewish State of Israel. Iran and the U.S./Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations.
Ed Boshart shooting pigeons in Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Persian: میدان نقش جهان)
The conversation above occurred as I was returning from a 15-day tour of "Persia" (Iran), organized by a tour operator (Mountain Travel Sobek) and accompanied by the widely admired "Father of Adventure Travel", one of Sobek's cofounders and adventure travel guide/author Richard Bangs.
During my sojourn in Iran, I found its general populace to be anything but antagonistic to Americans (or Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, or any visitor or community for that matter). Of roughly 70-plus countries I have visited over a lifetime, no other nation surprised me as much as this one -- insofar as its inhabitants are inclined to publicly express and display unabashed and extraordinary admiration for the United States, and Americans especially.
The photographs I took of the various cities and lands of Iran during my visit, and my observations in the execution of this endeavor, will change the minds of friends and acquaintances about this nation, formerly known as Persia. In forthcoming blogs, and perhaps a pamphlet/book, I believe I can prove with images and comments/stories that Persia is alive and well, its inhabitants are hopeful of good things to come, and the government is an unlikely provocateur of global mayhem.
The political stratosphere that seems to promote distrust and outright hate, it appears, is completely disconnected from the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of citizens of this country on the ground.
Richard Bangs is the tall gentleman on the left, with the white hat. A tour guide is on the right.
Three photographs I post first are mostly in jest, rather than representing a serious depiction of my experience in Iran in 2017. For sure, there are clusters of anti-American/Zionist slogans scattered about the country, but these are decidedly scarce and mostly a formalism driven by media and political special interest groups. I never was accosted in a threatening or less-than-friendly manner (except modestly by immigration officials at the airport) by any inhabitant of Iran during my stay. On the other hand, there were innumerable incidents of unexpected generosity and proffers of good will and well wishes (plus cakes, candy and teas/coffees) from every sector of the society - from teens, to families and older adults and even recruits in the military.
Video game, or war game (Iran)
In these first images, I am taking liberties on some aging military hardware deployed in Iran's largest open public square/park located in the southern desert region in the city of Esfahan (Isfahan). The weapons in front of Esfahan's famous Blue Mosque are part of a temporary military display presented in conjunction with the country's celebration of "Defense Day", a holiday closely resembling Memorial Day in the US.
The juxtaposition of militarism against the backdrop of Iran's powerful and generally revered religious establishment leaders is perhaps familiar to Americans. But the display on this day was oddly not intimidating -- as the jovial gathering of the American members of my tour group (plus a well-established and respected Iranian guide) in front of a provocative banner -- Down with the US, etc., -- attest. Moreover, no passerby or military attendant to the display appeared to pay attention at all to our photo op or my flirtation with the rather dated anti-aircraft gun. No, I did not join the Revolutionary Guard. I was merely shooting down pigeons -- rather, myths and superstitions from the stratosphere.
Finally, the last of the three personal images posted here reflects the height of soldierly diligence in the presence of an American inquisitor, me. I asked a group of soldiers if I could photograph them. They looked up briefly from the table huddle, nodded, and redirected their attention to a video game.
My future blogs will be educational and even entertaining, to anyone who is interested and wants to occasionally check them out. The people, the architecture, the amazing bazaars, the history and the landscape hold clues to a legacy that has been cultivated by one of the world's greatest empires, the Persian Empire. The empire eventually fell down, as all empires do. But Iran is now on the cusp of moving into the sphere of First World nations again. It is a bridge land between the West and the East. The goods of both spheres flow back and forth across this very dry, desert theocracy. Despite financial and travel sanctions, or no sanctions, the people of Iran have what it takes to proceed and make progress constructing a modern civilization of their own (despite persistent flaws) with contributions from every corner of the planet.
Stay tuned for more photos and observations (but the photos should be carefully scrutinized on a large screen).
Few Americans have visited Iran, or will in the near future. And yet Persia has played one of the key roles in the evolution of the world's civilizations. So I think it is important to place Iran in some context based on direct experience and personal presence. A little transparency, however brief the encounter behind it, should allay persistent misgivings and ill-conceived notions of this nation perpetrated decades ago and since then nursed into a kind of paranoia about Shiite Islam. Jews too must acknowledge that Cyrus the Great, millennia ago, preserved their community by rescuing them from Babylon and guaranteeing their safe passage back to a place called Israel.
Philosophy of Travel
Richard Bangs is the tall gentleman on the left in the group photo, wearing the white hat. Check out his background as an adventure travel expert and innovator by googling his name and books on the Internet, and download some of his YouTube postings. Also, be on the lookout for a motion picture soon (Riding the Dragon's Back) that is based on a book: The Great Race to Raft the Wild Yangtzee, authored by Bangs with Christian Kallen. Originally published in 1989, and winner of a Lowell Thomas Award that year for best travel book, a trailer explains that the book has been slightly revised “to emphasize the drama and excitement of its narrative of competition and challenge, although the chapters on Chinese exploration and history remain. This is modern river exploration at its best, and the book has inspired numerous whitewater enthusiasts over the years to emulate its adventurous spirit.”
My own forthcoming blog on Iran is less physical and more cerebral. As usual, I travel focussed not on the travelers but the travel. Despite confinements imposed by group travel, such as this one taken in September 2017 within a very narrow timeframe of 15 days, I have a collection of photographic images that are both telling and timeless. It will take some time however to sort and arrange them into a whole tapestry — into a hypothetical Persian rug.
That fabric, woven from chance encounters and snapshots (using a professional camera and not a cell phone), is of course incomplete and liable to be full of holes. And yet, the very history of the Persian empire and its evolution into a place known as modern Iran is a subject of intense controversy among historians because there are so few written records to refer to. The complex history of this central Asia country can be pieced together only from fragmented accounts and by assembling broken stone monuments and edifices scattered over vast desert plains and mountains, and looted.
Finally, in the spirit of cerebral philosophical musings, I suggest that examining carefully selected single photos of travelers like myself is worth the effort, especially if they convey a place or time that we ourselves missed or will never have the opportunity to witness first hand. Each image is a slice of a whole loaf. Many photos when combined bring the loaf into focus.
Abstraction and Reality. A new emerging, but still controversial, scientific “theory of everything” posits that there is no time actually. And space itself is an illusion. Rather, a combination of quantum mechanics and relativity is possible because existence is a quantum box; a reality that has specific boundaries but uncertain outcomes. This concept is described as gravitational loop theory. There is no “big bang” beginning and no troublesome infinities, but rather “bounces” and limits. This means essentially that each of us in relation to each other and our location is a twinkling participant in probabilities. This is magical thinking, if not outright spiritual. I advocate neither but consider the implications. (I detract, but there is an analogy here that links such abstractions to our daily real life experiences).
Similarly, in classical terms, history is not absolute or certain. Our participation in it is not pre-ordained or determined. A nation’s behavior, like the attitude of the citizens that inhabit the place, is not immutable or static. There are many threads and materials that interact and create an impression. The past and the present are blended within a labyrinth of possibilities that eventually lead
to the future.
Each one of us is on a journey, whether short or longer, and that pilgrimage contributes to the destiny of everyone. Over many months, I hope at least a few of my relatives and acquaintances (friends, I hope) — who are interested — will follow me across Iran and examine its treasures and the delightful people who live there. The current political/religious jargon that divides Iran, Americans and Israel, in particular, will inevitably melt/evaporate within the realization that life is a common experience that should be and will be shared. Violence, on the other hand, is merely a clash driven by misinformation and miscues derived from it.
Disclaimer: I do not expect any response or comment on my blogs and photographs at all. However, I welcome thoughts or ideas from anyone who does want to share them. Any unwanted notices or postings may be placed in the spam category, if you wish. I am not always aware of duplication on my contact lists or facebook account. And again, there are many details in the photos that may escape one's attention on small screens (i.e., cell phones).
Some Samples of places/life in Iran.
Blue Mosque, Esfahan, Iran
Yellow Mosque, Esfahan, Iran
One small sample of the art of Islam....
Palace (Esfahan): Masjed-e Shah (Masjed-e Imam): angles toward the ceiling reveal a constant flow that changes perspective with every movement (the ceiling is the greenish area while the read is the intersection of a wall extending to the ceiling - abstraction)
A Peek at the Bazaar
(Face in a Crowd)