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The time to run to Iran
Should wearing a headscarf put you off visiting Iran? Anna Shephard found it more of a help than a hindrance
The Times
November 13, 2004

Anna Shepard -Times Online
WHILE it is possible to find tour operator packages to the unlikely holiday destination of Iran, my approach was to go my own way. I had two female guides there — Coco, a friend from university who moved to Tehran to learn Farsi and study religious theatre, and Negar, an Iranian who had recently returned from the US. This was the catalyst; it was now or never.

A risky waiting game followed as my holiday lay in the hands of the embassy. I avoided booking flights until the visa arrived, as I was warned that applications were not always accepted. Nearly two months later, with no time for wimping out, my passport plopped through the door bearing an impressive-looking stamp, leaving less than a week to sort out flights and suitably shapeless clothing.

The headscarf issue often takes precedence in anything written about Iran. Yes, it’s true, women have to throw a bit of cloth over their head in public, but the tiniest strands of rebellion are starting to creep through: many women wear the hijab loosely, and have replaced scrubbed complexions with make-up.

I found its homogenising effect a bonus. In two weeks, my capable guides and I travelled on Iran’s trains, unhurriedly and without a hint of trouble, between the capital and Iran’s pièce de résistance, Esfahan, by way of Yazd. Anti-Western sentiment, displayed vigorously on billboards and in graffiti scrawls, was not reflected in the attitudes of people we met.

In this time, we could have rattled around many more of the country’s sights, but by first staying in Tehran for nearly a week — in the comfort of my friends’ apartment in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood — I overcame the disorientating blast that hits those fresh off the plane.

Dismal guidebook descriptions prepare you for the worst. “There’s no longer so much as the slightest whiff of the Orient about Tehran,” cautions one. Overpopulation and bad town planning are responsible, yet Tehran is still home to 20 per cent of the population; it has the energy — and furious driving — to match. Getting around solo was daunting at first, but taxis were cheap and the drivers — many shockingly overqualified in Iran’s harsh economic climate — spoke brilliant English.

We spent a morning visiting Ayatollah Khomeini’s humble home, where we were guided, painstakingly, around the memorabilia. For a contrast, we roamed around the Shah’s old palaces, scarcely touched since he fled the country in 1979.

With mirrored walls, lashings of gilt and a fresh colour scheme for each room, the White Palace would be the perfect setting for a costume drama. Although the authorities hope the public will be disgusted by the Shah’s ostentatious displays of wealth, I couldn’t help feeling that visitors were secretly enthralled.

In the afternoon, we lounged in the fashionable coffee shops of the Fereshteh district, Tehran’s answer to Kensington, feeling positively underdressed and undergroomed compared with the city’s beautiful people: the women flawless, with their skinny jeans visible under their tunics, and their often surgically sculpted faces. Tehran encapsulates Iran’s most intriguing contradictions.

Ever a slave to my shopping habit, I arranged to include a Friday in my stay in Tehran, as that is the day that the Jome bazaar, a fleeting Aladdin’s Cave of treasures, takes over a car park in the old business district of Manuchehri, and is a hugely popular draw for Iranian thrift shoppers. Piles of glowing fabric brought along the historic silk route from as far as China and Pakistan jostle alongside antiques, Persian rugs and curious bric-a-brac. –Anna Shepard

برای متن کامل به سایت تایمز مراجعه کنید من بخش اول آن را آورده ام که متاسفانه لینک مستقیم ندارد. روی جلد ضمیمه “سفر” تایمز هم به ایران اختصاص دارد با عکس درشتی از دخترهای مشکی پوشی که بستنی می خورند: آره ما بستنی می خوریم. ایرانی ها مریخی نیستند!- از تایمز آخر هفته

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