Full of the Empty 1998 (the very condensed version)
|Funny bus sign.|
Mr. George was waiting for us upon our arriving at the terminal. Before going through the security x—ray machine, he noticed that we didn’t have our “internal tickets” from Shiraz to Isfahan. Panic set in and we tried to get a hold of our Iranian travel agent in Dubai—Mr. Massoud. Funny, he wasn’t in his office so we hurried on to the check-in area.
|Brian Rose in Imam Square, Isfahan.|
‘You are only staying for 4 days in Iran?’
Initially, he gave me a start, but then I didn't bother telling him that the visa does not start until you enter Iran. George called the travel agent again. Luckily, this time he was there. We were thinking of all the possibilities that would await us in Iran: having to buy a ticket there, would the guide be waiting for us and what other surprises awaited our presence. Massoud answered the phone—
‘No’, he reassured George, ‘there was no problem as the guide would look after
the ticket when we arrive in Iran.’
Phew! That was close and a load off our beleaguered minds. It was at this point that I promptly left my rocket launcher cum monopod at the telephone booths where George had been talking. On approaching the plane, Rose noticed I didn’t have my monopod. I got off and told the Indian maitre’d that I forgot something in the airport. He told me that I couldn’t return to the airport for security reasons. He calmly wrote down my seat number and said he would try to find it for me—I didn‘t have much faith in him and kissed the tripod goodbye. We were sweating buckets and I had already misplaced my monopod—not a great beginning! We finally got seated on the ageing Aseman Iran Airline 727 and one of the stewards came up and asked me for my seat number. At first, I thought that he was trying to shift Rose and me so as to accommodate some Emirati women. However, as it turns out, he was trying to find out if I was seat 18F. Then along came the monopod, thrust from hand to hand down the length of the plane and finally into my waiting hands—what a relief!
|L-R Brian Rose and George Evashuk, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.|
The landscape looked tortured much like the Iranians had been over the past few years since the war with Iraq. First of all, they were screwed over by the Shah and then they were forcefully converted into an Islamic Republic of the Mullahs. However, in spite of their brutish features, the Iranian passengers all smiled at us. We passed over razor edges, serrated knives of brown land that separated long swathes of dried lakes. Some of the peaks looked like they had brilliant granite outcroppings, but, upon closer inspection it was drifts of snow. Great buttes of bleached rock and uplifted vaults. There was evidence of rivers and dried wadis that carved their signatures through the strata and towns pooped up on their alluvial fans. We twisted this way and that way as if we were trying to sneak between mountain passes. I was starting to wonder what tack the pilot was trying to take on his approach to Shiraz.
We finally landed and the temperature reminded me of the Canadian Rockies— warm sun on the face and a cool breeze on the back—no pollution! As we were waiting in our line-up, an Iranian overheard our conversation about being hassled by the Iranian customs. He laughed and said—
‘You don’t have to worry as they only hassle Iranians!’
We handed over our passports and the official scrutinized our photos, in particular, mine. George and Brian were ahead of me and managed to get through unscathed. My passport did not have a very flattering photo and I looked very much like a cross between Jerry Garcia, who is gratefully dead, and one of the mad students of the Taleban in Afghanistan. Rose caught the guard’s worried expression and laughed out loud saying—
”Yah, I wouldn‘t let him either.”
The guard laughed too, as he probably hadn’t seen the likes of me in Iran since the Shah’s time (maybe we should call him Marjoribanks).
We eventually got through which was decorated with mug shots of his holiness—Ayatollah Khomeni and his hair apparent, Ayatollah Khatami. There was a festive feel to the place as many of the returning Iranians were greeted with garlands of roses from loved ones and next of kin. We were greeted by a different rose. Out of a crowd of Iranians came a rather pretty Iranian woman covered in the mandatory hijab with a big fur wrap around her shoulders and a floor length black coat.
She seemed to know who we were but we hadn‘t a clue who she was. Above the din, she tried to tell me her name but it sounded like she was saying her name was Frozen Ass. She tried again—
‘Hello, my name is Frozan Nahas, I am your International Guide for Iran.’
|Martyr or Basiji Mural in Shiraz.|
“Thank you”, I replied and whispered to Rose
‘How does this guy know it’s my birthday?’
Rose looked dumbfounded and asked me—
‘Is it your birthday?’
‘Of course not, but I appreciate the gesture.’
I smiled back and said—
He just smiled back oblivious to the fact that it was the Iranian New Year and not Christmas nor my birthday.
|George at ruins of Cyrus palace, Pasargadae|