Tehran: The Many Become One

Cosmopolitan Smog - view from Tochal Ski Mountain

Tehran, the largest city and capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran, fans out below the Arborz (Erburz) Mountains at the northern edge of the vast and mostly arid Iranian plateau. The first of the Qajar kings, Agha Mohammed Khan, named Tehran the country's capital in 1778. Today the sprawling city of roughly 14 million people often is smog-filled and traffic-clogged as the old (Tajrish Square) and modern structures clash or blend (depending on one’s perspective) in a cosmopolitan puzzle at nearly one mile above sea level. Any trainee tourist preparing to negotiate Tehran’s streets on foot is coached on how not to get killed by cars, trucks, or motorbikes while crossing the street. It’s best done in groups with one of the party sacrificing self (as decoy) to deter and even halt careening vehicles.

Sliver Moon over Tehran (September 2017) - view from Espinas Hotel

First Class, Espinas Hotel (the modern)

The wealthier north end of the city squeezes up the slopes of the Tochal ski mecca. In summer and winter the multi-level Tochal gondolas serve multitudes of nature lovers, mavericks and youthful men and women adventurers who put themselves above it all. For the fashionably decked out youth especially, the dry wind at heights over 11,000 feet tests the limits of fluttering hijabs and wafts of cigarette smoke. These are the heights where the symbols of cultural oppressions are secretly scorned.

One of the longest lifts in the world

The Alborz Range

This image shows a variety of mountaineering styles in clothing and behavior

One young woman, in her twenties I think, confessed to me while we cycled around the waiting rail at the ski lift that she was on the mountain without her parents' knowledge. They were "conservative," she suggested with a disappointed look. She asked what the labor situation was in the US and could she get a job there. Naturally, we both acknowledged that political obstacles also stood in the way of her desire to emigrate or visit. Her encounter with me, an American, seemed genuinely ecstatic and exciting. Her smiling anticipation of adventure and embrace of imagined liberation from the hijab lit a spark within me, but triggered a silent and hidden sadness too (a recognition of the vicissitudes of life lived longer).

By contrast to this young hiker's unloading, I shared a downward glide on the lift with three middle- aged men who decided to sing loudly the traditional Shia chants of devotion to the imams, for my special benefit. There was no getting away from the enduring myths of the nation.

Down below, in the streets are littered with cosmopolitan noises. It was a Thursday, the first day of the Iranian weekend (Thursday and Friday are the weekend, not Saturday and Sunday). Everyone with legs or wheels crowded the evening markets or loitered on the steps and in the courtyards of the numerous imposing mosques and shrines to the imams and the imams' offspring (imamzadeh). After devotions and prayers, the individuals in these flocks of citizens jostle one another in the startlingly well-stocked and carnival-like caverns of the immense mazes, famously known as the market bazaars. There is nothing on the earth that is not within the bazaars, seemingly below the earth. And of everything, there are untold quantities of the thing. After all, Persia was a tributary of the Silk Roads of history.

To visit an imamzadeh tomb, women must be covered in special cloth and dress, and even tourist female visitors must enter private rooms in order to be properly adorned. However, once in the square or hovering over sacred ground, all visitors partake in a common chorus of greeters and meeters, in festive picture-taking, and in jovial relaxation — before making the trek into the bowels of the bazaar at, for instance, Tajrish Square in central Tehran.

Tajrish Square, Tehran

To be continued... edboshart@gmail.com

#SilkRoad #Persia #Iran #photography #fineartphotography #travel #Tehran

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