Our tour guide Abbas picked us up at our hotel this morning to drive us to Shiraz, with a couple stops along the way. Today Abbas was wearing a tan hat that had “Cal” written on it in the typical way you see it on all those shirts and hats in Berkeley, though not in the blue and gold. I asked him where he got it and he said in Esfahan.
After a couple hours in the car, we stopped at some shady grass by the side of the road to sit down and have tea. We have tea several times a day here in Iran–with breakfast and lunch, and any social occasions or meetings. The typical Iranian way to drink tea is to put a sugar cube in your mouth and then drink the tea so the cube melts in your mouth. It’s a nice effect, though a little too sugary for me. We also had poolaki, a kind of candied sugar drunk with tea. Most of the time, the only coffee you’ll find is instant, which is hard for an avid coffee drinker like myself, but the tea is delicious.
Our two stops on the way were Pasargardae and Persepolis, cities that reveal the beauty and depth of Iran’s ancient culture. It was a rough day for wearing hijab–it felt like it was in the 90s or so—but the sights were amazing. The main attraction in Pasargardae is the Tomb of Cyrus. Persepolis features an entire complex of buildings that are thousands of years old, including palaces and tombs. It’s amazing to see these ancient artifacts up close, especially coming from such a relatively young country. (Once again, my slow internet connection is thwarting my attempts to upload photos, but I’ll have plenty for you when I return).
The theme of my discussions with Iranians today was the difficulty of coming to the United States. While we were touring Persepolis, a young man with a hat emblazoned with “TEXAS” came up to David and asked him where he was from. When he said the United States, the man said, “what a good country!” He told us that he really wanted to go but wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to in his lifetime because it is so difficult to get a visa. Later in the parking lot, I talked with an engineer from Shiraz who expressed similar frustration, talking about the various restrictions Iranians face in wanting to go to the US, and the additional hurdle of the US not having an embassy in Iran since the Revolution. He said he wants to be able to visit the United States and meet real Americans, since most of what he knows about them comes from watching films. I told both of them that we are working to build better relations between our people and our governments so both Americans and Iranians can more easily visit each other’s countries.
One of the favorite pastimes in Iran is picnicking, and the parking lot at the Persepolis Complex was a popular spot today. A very generous Iranian family invited us to sit with them and fed us delicious homemade Iranian soup, with garlic, spinach, pistachios, onions and more. It was a wonderful ending to a full day; tomorrow it’s on to seeing the sights in Shiraz.