I mentioned in the previous post that even the moon was remarkable in the vast country of Namibia, that it seemed so close to Earth we could drive right into it, as it rose, for a picnic. And so here we are. You probably didn’t know that scrubby little trees grow on the moon and that parts of it are red.
Nah, I’m just kidding. We were really on an alien planet. Well, OK, it just looks like one, anyway … a wonderfully strange and surreal landscape inside Sossusvlei National Park. Because I was on a fixed safari, I didn’t do a whole lot of research into where we were going, it’s not like I could make any decisions about my itinerary. So when I was told we were going to see the Dead Vlei, I was intrigued but didn’t know what to expect. Any place with “dead” in the title is going to appeal to my curiosity. More so than someplace with “vivacious” or “joyful” in the title. Perhaps I’m just a generally morbid person … death and darkness have a special tunnel into my little soul. The Dead Vlei, however, is anything but dark.
We’d spent the early morning among the graceful red Sossusvlei dunes. Did I mention they were red?? I’ll show you more in an upcoming post. We were told the best approach to the Dead Vlei was to climb up a particular dune and slide down into it. The view from the dune top was interesting if not wholly compelling to me.
But down, down into the vlei I romped. I sank into the sand up to my knees with each step, creating little avalanches. It would have been way too messy to log roll and deal with being suffused with sand (as was my true desire to do), so I settled for running as fast as I could. Given as how with each step I post-holed up to my knees, I wasn’t exactly The Flash, but it was fun to go as fast as my little ol’ body would take me into this renowned place of death.
The Dead Vlei is a white clay pan in the middle of the dunes. Vlei is an Afrikaans word for a flat area, kind of like a valley. The dead things in this vlei are trees. Once there was water for their roots to drink, but now it’s so dry in the vlei the trees have not only died, they can’t even decompose … there isn't enough moisture to support the organisms that break down the flora to recycle and rebirth it into new life. The trees are bereft of life, sap, leaves, but not of skeleton – their dry bones have remained here for hundreds of years.
Once on the bottom inside the Vlei of the Dead, it was an eerie world. I thought how strange it would be to have been lost wandering the desert one dark and moonless night and finally stumble into this hard, flat area where it was easy to lie down. You sleep. And you wake up in this stark land of tree bones. You’re in a ghost town, but the wooden structures are the raw trees rather than processed timber nailed together. Abandoned, the desiccated trunks and limbs stand testament to those heady days of life – a raucous age when things grew, and therefore each day was unpredictable … the dawn never knew which limbs would grow that day, by how much, or in what shape.
I try to imagine standing there when the last leaf fell, fluttering poignantly to the ground, unaware that its journey was more poetic than most, heralding a new age of sterility with its gentle repose upon the ground, lying solitary as if the green days were just a geologic dream. Then the breeze solemnly carried it away on its shoulders like the coffin in a funeral.
One of my favorite Annie Dillard lines is, “The sea is a cup of death.” So much biologic drama that results in battles and dead organisms. The Dead Vlei is a plate of death. But unlike the ocean, a writer of complex nail-biting plot, the earth down here is a more literary and pensive writer – introspective, a student of detail, exploring the slow heartbreak of being abandoned by time, as the energy and motion that are its expression gradually grow cold and distant, and finally leave like a faithless lover.
I wonder what events those trees have stood sentinel over through the centuries. But actually, upon further consideration, since they dried out, the place hasn’t exactly been a social hub for nature. The tourists, and there were plenty, are likely the things of most interest. For example, me. :)
We traveled north from the hills of the red desert. Through more desert, miles upon miles of tan sand in small undulating dunes like wavelets of sand.
Eventually the land gains topography again. Nearing the Angolan border, rocky hills spring up from the plains. It is an ancient land, purple, red and weathered. Green begins to leak into the landscape in scrubby brush and acacia trees. The vegetation has been splattered across the landscape like droplets of paint, or planted as in a new garden, where the gardener has spaced the bushes with the expectation they will grow to fill in the empty stretches. The Kunene River runs through the dark dirt and sparse vegetation like a line of saliva in a parched and yawning land. Flanking it, a dense and verdant carpet covers the valley floor … so many trees, like a migrating flock of birds landing for the night.
After crossing so much arid desert land, Epupa Falls erupts from the landscape as if a great vein has been punctured beneath the surface. Water spills and tumbles and roars and sprays, spread so widely across a shelf of land, it seems like it could be fatal … maybe it’s the femoral artery and will bleed out, leaving the surface to shrivel and desiccate like a mummy, another vlei of death.
We got up before dawn to watch the sun create a new day behind the falls.
It did a splendid job, but with my little amateur camera and feeble amateur skills, shooting into the sun without a tripod or particularly wide angle lens, I couldn’t capture the morning water’s silk. Nonetheless, no moment spent at a waterfall is ever wasted … these geologic sculptures are liberators of the soul, the tumbling of life’s essence, the freefall of the little molecules most crucial to our existence.
And here next to the glorious falls, the tree trunks are carved with names of people, tourists and locals, who meet their inglorious demise via the most ancient creatures of the river … the crocodiles.
And here are some creatures neatly reflected in the Kunene River: (1) A portly pig belonging to a local villager, probably of the Himba tribe.
(2) A rather unkempt Shara belonging to nobody in particular, nowhere in particular. A wandering soul … some tell me they think I am lost – a lost soul. But look … here I am, right here!
Africa is a huge continent. The United States could fit inside a fraction of it; the Sahara Desert alone is the size of the U.S., and below it unfolds the enormous territory of Sub-Saharan Africa – the iconic Africa of elephants and lions, gorillas and chimpanzees, and the roots of human evolution.
My third trip to Sub-Saharan Africa I spent in Namibia … once part of the country of South Africa, now its own large and desolate country; I read somewhere it’s the second-least populated on the planet (after Mongolia). Much of it lies flat and nearly barren, other areas are covered in deep red sand dunes and desiccated like an earthen mummy, and I can't remember now if I ever saw clouds in the sky or not.
Even the moon seemed disproportionately large. One time when we were driving toward it, the entire horizon was a moon; it seemed as though we were going to drive right into it – we’d be eating lunch in a crater. Turns out parts of Namibia in fact conjure the word "moonscape" in one’s mind. (see my post on the dead vlei ...)
Watching the sun set there is like watching it set on the ocean – you can watch the sun be swallowed by the horizon, like a snake swallowing a rat. During the day if you stare at the sun you can’t depict its movement, it’s like watching a starfish cross the ocean floor. But when it contacts a perfectly flat horizon, you feel you are seeing the inner workings of the universe, like the gears of a watch have been exposed. Do you know what 950 miles per hour looks like? It looks like a sunset in Namibia. It’s weird to think it’s our planet spinning – nay, whirling like a dervish – that pulls the sun down. (Roughly 950 mph was calculated with the approximate median latitude of Namibia)
But there are the sizable oases, patches and hills and terraces of green when the water table rises closer to the surface, where wildlife finds refuge and humans have lived for a vast stretch of time. A crowded waterhole, a San bushman …..
Namibia feels to me like a sacred place, a place that compels one to contemplate size in relative terms along both axes of dimension – space and time. You know that peculiar feeling you get at the back of your neck when you are on the edge of something profound … that’s how I often felt. Humans and animals have co-existed throughout Africa since the advent of humanity, so there is nothing unique about Namibia in that regard. But somehow in this particular shared space, this shared length of time, the curtain is thin – the past doesn’t fall into a void behind you but waivers all around you. As much as your body penetrates the space in which you stand and move, time penetrates your body as though it is the corporeal entity moving through the space of your body.
In the wide open spaces of Etosha National Park I found a contradiction in feelings of size. Sometimes the landscape dwarfed the animals and painted a portrait of aloneness – somewhat sad, somewhat heroic.
Other times the large mammals loomed –magnified by the lack of other landscape features for context. Where I saw them in Uganda and South Africa, they typically shared their space with the topography of trees and bushes in close proximity. But in much of Etosha there was just flat land, sometimes all the way to the horizon, or only a tree or two to break it up. In the other countries, elephants could suddenly pop out of the bushes, or even suddenly disappear into them, but in Etosha they often materialized slowly, perhaps a cloud of dust foretelling their arrival as they mosey closer.
This slow “materialization” was a fun feature in Etosha. It must be even more pronounced on the great savannas in Kenya and Tanzania, but I (sadly) haven’t been there to witness it. So in other places I’ve been, the animals emerge from the thickets fully sized, fully formed, but here they start as a mystery and evolve slowly from a spot on the horizon, growing larger and larger. Sometimes the dot grows until it is towering above you.
But sometimes the dot grows only as big as a sweet little rhino – a youngster playing in a waterhole at sunset.
And sometimes a dot in a sand dune that you have to squint your eyes to see it wiggling and wonder at first if it is really moving closer to you, climbing uphill, turns out to be a child of poison in the sterile pile of sand.
And among this all, the modest size of humans. Technically, we can measure up to some of the antelope species, to jackals, lion cubs, a number of birds. But mostly, such tiny creatures we are in the African theater … entering the world to fit in the mere footprint of an elephant.
But our tiny little feet grow. They grew long ago to walk vast distances driven by need or by curiosity, we’ll never really know. They walked, so to speak, all the way to where I live in Colorado. It feels good to fly back to that ancient birthing ground of species large and small, returning like a boomerang thrown long, long ago, to bask in the sun and bathe in the moon, my long brown hair fluttering in the breeze behind me.
While most people probably think of a “ghost town” as something from the 1800s or early 1900s, really it’s any town that has been wholesale abandoned by living people so that essentially only ghosts remain. Or zombies, or whatever. When we first visited Gilman, Colorado, close to fifteen years ago, the place felt like the residents had left only a week before. In fact, they had been evicted about fifteen years earlier, in 1984, when the EPA mandated the evacuation due to toxic pollutants as a result of the mining operations. Something like 8 million tons of mining waste was bestowed Superfund designation. So this year marks 30 years since Gilman was abandoned.
It would have been a beautiful town to live in … surrounded by and embedded in swaths of golden aspen, perched on a shelf on the side of Battle Mountain smack dab in the middle of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. There were still daisies in bloom, even among patches of snow recently fallen; I imagine in spring there are lovely fields of mountain flowers. The first photo below is taken from the train station in the valley, looking up ... you can just make out some of the town buildings at the top.
Lots of other cryptic office equipment takes up floor space in the abandoned buildings and curiosity space in my head. Also file cabinets by the dozens and log books, bins of machinery parts, etc. -- in short, tons of random stuff from domestic items to office items to industrial items. Some more shots below of some of the buildings and areas in town. The little wooden structure seen out the window is a fire hydrant/hose house. Lots of these dot the grounds of the town. Sometimes the copious graffiti seemed to ruin a shot, but then you realize it just adds to the bizarre-ness of this modern ghost town.
Along the way, there were numerous ruins of old mining contraptions and buildings, of an era that pre-dates most of the buildings perched on top at the townsite or at the train station. Can you pick out the tiny old wooden building along the mountainside? :)
And so at last, my dear readers, we have come to the end of our unique and amazing experience through an ancient, beautiful and hospitable land. A few last pics for you. First of all, the Imam Square, formerly known, of course, as the King's Square before the revolution. This public square, they say, is second in size only to China's Tianenmen Square (Beijing). As the second-largest public square, it is now used largely by picnickers, for arts and crafts festivals, concerts, and other public events. It is surrounded by the bazaar and Imam mosque and Imam palace. In the old days of kings, when Isfahan was their capital, this square was used to play polo. You can still see the stone goal posts standing near the ends. The king looked out from his balcony to watch the sport below. (Undoubtedly drinking the finest wine from Shiraz ... :) Yes, in case you've wondered, before the strictures of Islam outlawed alcohol, Shiraz, Iran, was the city in which Shiraz wine was "invented," refined and renowned.)
Now the Imam square is still full of horses, but they merely take visitors for rides around the square in carriages. And if cars drive terrifyingly fast on the roads, the horse cart drivers spur their horses on with similar maniacal zest and disregard for the pedestrians. I laugh to imagine a horse-drawn carriage moving at that speed through the pedestrian malls in Colorado, or even through the market square in Krakow or Italian plazas. The horses stick to the cement paths around the outer edge and the picnickers to the grassy interior where colorful flowers accent the lawn.
I had asked Reza if we could have a picnic one night. So on our last one in Isfahan, we hooked up with Arash, his best friend we met in Kerman, and Mohammad, his friend we met in Shiraz and along the highway. Let me now illustrate for you the Iranian dedication to tea and picnic: Reza and Mohammad had determined through phone conversations that they would be passing each other on the highway at a certain point, heading in opposite directions. So they set up a meeting point and time calculated on their relative traveling speeds. We pulled off the highway and soon Mohammad's car crossed the highway and came over to park behind ours. Reza got out, opened the trunk of our car to produce a thermos of hot tea, cups, and some snacks. They stood there and had a sort of picnic on the side of the highway. One of the funnier scenes I’ve witness while traveling was when we parted ways, in a gesture of familiarity, Mohammad started to give Erik the same traditional farewell as he gave Reza, as most friends do, which was three kisses on the cheek. Reza told Erik he was supposed to return the kisses on Mohammad's cheek. It's not like this is the only place in the world men embrace each other this way, but fortunately we don't live in any of those places because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Erik squirm in his boots like he did when he had to kiss a man he barely knew. This is true and lasting humor to me.
Anyway ... back to the picnic in the square ... we bought the typical picnic fare and, along with a family of Spanish tourists who were currently in Arash's care, we had a little picnic. A selfie composed and executed by Mohammad:
One afternoon we drove to the outskirts of the city to see some very ancient ruins, Atashgah, perched high on a hilltop. It's also known as the Marbin fortress. Following us up were a Saudi Arabian couple, the woman dressed in full black chador and dainty pink tennis shoe-esque footwear (note "-esque"). She seemed to have no problem climbing up. She hesitantly admired the view from the top. But when it came time to walk back down, fear overwhelmed her. Her face drained of blood and she went white as a sheet. It hadn't occurred to her she must walk back down the same steep slope. As I started to scamper down, she said to me, "You are so brave!" I tried to give her some encouragement, but she was so scared holding her husband's hand, it was clear she needed more help than that, and Reza stepped up to bat, taking her other hand. To me, the most amusing part of the scene was that, even though she was grateful, being from a country with far more strict and draconian codes of Islamic conduct, she couldn't bring herself even in a time of need to hold a strange man's hand. She pulled her sleeve down over her hand in order to grasp Reza's with a fabric barrier between their skin. The whole way down as the two men walked beside her she prayed out loud in a chanting prayer. Poor thing was truly frightened to death. Near the bottom, the slope relaxed and Reza left her to catch up to us. At the very bottom we stopped to talk amongst our three selves, and the Saudi lady and her husband arrived as well. She thanked us from her heart and then had her husband take a photo of her with us. The next night we ran into the couple in the square in Isfahan and waved at each other. Just one of those little episodes that will stick in my mind.
I will leave you now with one of the more beautiful and interesting places we visited, but probably the most unexpected ... a Christian church. This was inside the Armenian Quarter of Isfahan, known as Jolfa, where Armenian refugees from the Turkish genocide early in the 20th century have resided in relative peace. If you were part of a Christian community before the 1979 revolution, you were/are allowed to remain so. The interior of the Vank cathedral is covered in lush, vibrant paintings. The architecture is an interesting mix of traditional Islamic and Christian.
The ex-pat we met several times at the coffee shop in Isfahan said he likes to attend church service here. I think the reason why he attends is hilarious, yet after having lived in America for 40 years, I can see his point of view: he goes so that he can see women's bare heads ... their hair and neck. It must feel weird to come back to your native country after all that time and, as a single man, never see these natural features of women he has seen every day for 40 years.
As part of the church complex there is a museum about the Armenian genocide. Something I didn't really know about. There were some really graphic photographs of dead bodies in one of the first exhibits, and school kids were nonchalantly passing by. Kind of weird. But some interesting artifacts were on display, items the refugees brought with them from their churches and homes in Turkey.
We came home with boatloads of souvenirs. We came home from Iceland with a rock and a magnet, and a postcard picture of the latest volcano eruption ... we couldn't afford anything else! Similarly, from Barcelona, only a Dali tee-shirt and a Gaudi tea cup ... too pricey. But our luggage was laden on the way home from Iran with all kind of signature crafts including a Persian carpet! (pretty much the smallest, cheapest one the dealer had, but it's still pretty cool) Everything was quite affordable. We even bought some decorative tiles ... we knew that sometime this year we needed to replace/re-tile our steam shower and bathroom. Which we did this summer with some lovely Persian tiles to display. This is the tile shop with the modest kiln from which we bought them.
If you want to travel to Iran now that you've seen how awesome it is, be sure to contact me (with the blue contact button above) for information on how to contact our guide, as I would love to recommend our guide and friend, Reza, to anybody. A couple books I read about Iran which I would recommend to anyone with an interest: The Cypress Tree by Kamin Mohammadi, a nonfiction book about a family displaced by the 1979 revolution ... very interesting first hand perspective of these tumultuous events. Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour, a fiction novel which also provides heaps of cultural insight into Iranian society. Hope you have enjoyed your vicarious journey with me through Iran.
So I think you have learned your lessons in Iranian architecture by now, right? … reflecting pools, mirrors, arches, etc. So what are some of the prominent points we have learned about their culture? Did you say tea? Good job! How’s this for a tea pot??
Reza took us to a traditional tea house in Isfahan … the kind where women get the traditional Islamic second-class treatment. They’re not allowed in the back room where the men hang out. They have to stay in front in the “family section.” So I stayed and twiddled my thumbs at our family table while Reza showed Erik the back room. They both said they wouldn’t want to be there anyway, that the family area (also basically equating to the tourist area) was far more pleasant; the back was thick with hooka smoke and felt seedy to them. So that’s fine, but it still didn’t really make me feel any less sullen about the fact that I couldn’t go back there even if I wanted to; I had to sit by myself with my arms and my head bound in stifling fabric in the summer heat, staring at the ceiling. But of all places to be left alone staring at the ceiling, this was probably the best of them. You can see here it is full of hanging lanterns of every type and size. Was actually very interesting. Reza’s friend, Mehran, joined us … by now we were being joined regularly by his various friends who were starting to feel like our friends, too, several of whom we had played laser tag with in Kerman, including Mehran.
Outside of this tea house is where we saw one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. I didn’t get a good capture … the pics all came out blurry, but you get the idea. This cat had a harem of chickens whom he adored. He rubbed up against them, pushing his head into their feathers. When we tried to approach him he got skittish and nearly ran away ... didn’t like humans, only chickens. This happened to be on Easter Sunday, by the way. And coincidentally, at lunch that day, one of the items on our menu was “bunny burger.”
In spite of his love for tea, Reza also had a love for espresso from a single particular coffee shop located in the corner of a little courtyard inside the bazaar in Isfahan. I’m not sure if this fondness for the coffee is distinguishable from his fondness for the girls who run the shop … But they were super nice. And one of my business cards is now tacked to the center of their back wall. :)
It was here that I was cajoled into drinking my first espresso. Ever. I can’t stand coffee or anything coffee-flavored, even the smell of it bothers me. But I decided to be a team player with Reza and Erik. This was such a momentous and rowdy occasion that Erik documented it below. I had a piece of chocolate in hand as a chaser … that is what you see me frantically trying to shove in my mouth after downing the espresso.
We went to this coffee shop several days in a row. The fun thing about our time in Isfahan was that we stayed there just long enough to get a wee bit of familiarity and routine, visiting the bazaar every day and this coffee shop. Each time we were there, so was an older man who had been an ex-pat in America for 40 years until his father became ill and he moved back to Isfahan to care for him. Once here, he founded an English school. So it was interesting talking with him, as he of course left Iran before the revolution and came back to a completely different country. As such, he was far more cynical about Iran than Reza seems to be. But he did say that the last few years under President Rouhani have been "like heaven" compared to the decades previously. He was quick to point out many problems and hypocrisies which, when we asked Reza for his opinion on the topics, Reza mostly backed them up but with less emphasis ... so my guess is that on many issues the truth lies somewhere in between (for one example, the prevalence of heroin addiction -- ex-pat says it's rampant, Reza says it's fairly mild).
We went to the bazaar every day in Isfahan. It was huge. Here is one of the entrances (from the Imam Square), but you (or at least *I*) wouldn’t properly guess at how extensive it is from this relatively humble entrance.
The are so many side alleys and whole courtyards branching off the main corridors. Sometimes even a series of courtyards, one after another. I'd love to slice off the top of the whole complex and get an aerial view of the place. I was so surprised to see such a spacious courtyard as this when I peered through a doorway along one of the corridors.
There was one whole "branch" for the gold market and exchange, which was a glittering alley, indeed. As I mentioned in Tehran, there is no stock market here and Iran is forbidden by sanctions to bank with or be financially involved with other countries like the U.S. Their own local version of Wall Street takes place literally on sidewalks and in bazaars.
Though I loved the feel of the bazaar when it was full of people, my favorite time was during the afternoon siesta when most of the corridors were virtually deserted. The goods were still all displayed, so actually it was the best time to inspect them. Can you guess what is in the rows of glass jars? This is the stall of a perfumery -- perfumes and colognes, and also scents such as rose water and jasmine. You select your “flavor” of smell and then they put some in a smaller vial for you.
A couple different times somebody from a bakery in the bazaar would come by and give us free cookies! We ate lunch inside the bazaar on a couple of occasions, as well, and had delicious food at this place pictured, which was one of Reza’s favorites … he said he would choose to eat there just about every day if he could. The man is cooking up lamb meat in the giant pan. (Which is what I mostly lived on in Iran, incidentally – lamb meat.)
But what I most enjoyed during these quiet times was that you could really appreciate the fine architecture.
I’m going to make an assumption that it’s difficult to obtain mannequins due to the sanctions. Iran has learned to make a lot of goods and materials that it can't buy abroad out of necessity; but less important items, such as camping gear and I’m guessing mannequins, haven’t been taken up by Iranian manufacturers. So the mannequins in the bazaars were hilarious. Some of the child mannequins were full-on, almost horror-movie-grade creepy with wild hair and crazed eyes. (blurry photo below, middle kid reminds me of Cousin It) The men had their hair and many of their facial features simply painted on, and often there were chunks of plastic missing from their faces or limbs. The men's hair styles and coloring fascinates me. I think I would like to meet these mannequin fashion designers.
This is another scene, below, that I as a Westerner found amusing and I’m sure Iranians thought I was a little wacko for taking photos. (Though, maybe lots of Westerners take the same pics.) But the displays of women in black chadors are one of the things that really make you realize you’re in a very different culture. The little kid was particularly creepy, and I could definitely see her starring in the zombie-child role in some B-grade horror flick. So these chador stores were basically like fabric stores -- with bolts of different types of black fabric for the women to choose from ... some just completely plain solid fabric, and others with subtle patterns and textures. Then the lady or a tailor would sew the chador from it.
And ... I can't help but add that I was struck (perhaps only as a [cynical] Western woman could be) by the symbolism of the black-clad women being chained to the brick pillars. Yeah OK, they're only plastic women, but standing there with only their little plastic faces showing, demonstrating how the real-life woman might look -- might *pay money* to look -- strapped side by side to a building ... this is how I felt sometimes in my hijab (albeit a blazing red scarf sitting loosely upon my head) and my long sleeves clinging to my arms in the middle of summer, denied by some men their hand in greeting and by others even their voice and their gaze in acknowledgement ... symbolically chained to an immobile wall of archaic dogma. But then, that's just me ... I always think of shit like that. :)
The other activity we did a couple of nights, which is a very popular activity with the locals, was visit one of the spectacular bridges over the Zayandehrood river. Though to be sure, visually-speaking, it would have been rather more spectacular had there been water flowing underneath the bridges. As it was, the long, many-arched bridges span a wide stretch of sand. Dry sand. The riverbed has been dried up for almost a decade. Such a pity. According to an article I read in The National, it's likely a combination of decreasing rainfall in the area and mismanagement of water resources by the central government since the revolution. In the past, the river not only provided an economic center with its fisheries, but these bridges were literally the hub of social activity in the city. Though they are still very crowded, one gets a subtle vibe of nostalgia ... as though the activity of going there is a habit and an homage, but one that will fade away sooner than later. We went to two different ones, and they each were brimming with pedestrian traffic (and the occasional scofflaw ruffian motorbike traffic) ... and I felt melancholy to think of the dried-up riverbed robbing the citizens of so much more than water, as if that weren't unfortunate enough.
It was very pleasant strolling along the top of the bridges, but the most interesting parts were below in the arches that hold them up. Namely, here is where people sing. It's so great. Reza says it can actually get competitive ... so, like, first one guy is sitting on the bridge singing, then another guy takes over and tries to up the caliber, and then another guy, etc. And people gather all around to listen. There are no jars for tips. The singers aren't looking for money, only for the approval of their temporary audience and perhaps the satisfaction of upping their comrade singers. And let's be clear ... these aren't just some Joe Shmoes who sing in their shower in the morning and think they're good; there were some really talented people (men). Here are a few shots from the arches underneath the bridges.
The best part of the singing, though, was that the crowd would clap and join in at the choruses -- they were so involved and interactive. I had not the slightest clue what was being sung about, but I had presumed they were religious songs. I guess that shows some sort of preconception of the population, thinking that surely any public activity must be of a religious nature -- hurray for another Western assumption founded on ... what? Not even on misinformation, but on complete lack of information and understanding of the general citizenry. Even at this late stage in the game, after hanging out with Reza's friends in their private homes and playing laser tag, etc., I still had this unconscious assumption of religious zealotry, of religious dominance in all personal activity. So ... what I'm driving at, of course, is that the songs weren't religious in any way. They were songs from movies of the 1970s ... pre-revolution soundtracks. Back when people could watch whatever movies they wanted to. And clearly such movies now hold a special place in the collective memory. Those gathered in the underbelly of the bridges knew well the tunes and lyrics, and they sang with absolute joy. It was delightful and infectious, and I couldn't have been happier standing there in witness.
There was even ... gasp ... a man dancing in public to some of the singing. A man who to all appearances and whiffs was a healthy three sheets to the wind. We asked Reza what happens to a person who is drunk in public. He said that it really depends on the police officer who apprehends the drunkard. By law, the offense carries a not-insignificant consequence. But apparently, as everywhere, people who have the power of the law in their hands differ by nature, and some are more tolerant, perhaps even sympathetic, than others.
I had thought this would be my last post from Iran until right about now. I realize at this point that it's quite long already, and I have at least two other things I want to cover. So I'm going to close this one out now that you've had a taste of some of the regular, every-day activities of the average Iranian citizen living in Isfahan -- tea, bazaars and bridges. :)