Tehran Travel Blog› entry 13 of 13 › view all entries
Having survived a series of snowstorms in the foothills of eastern Turkey, I find myself in Tehran aboard a bus full of itinerant travelers as myself. I check into the Amir Kabir hotel which is a one star, or in the case of Iran, a one Lion hotel situated in an alley replete with automobile repair shops. Grimy cafes lining the backstreets.. It is the place to hang out if your on the world tour plan. No shortage of like-thinking compatriots and it is easy to find. Look for the body shop with the highest stack of tires, and look right behind it. Urban landmarks become imbedded in one’s head and this is a fortunate thing. Trying to find your way back to your hotel staggering around the inner city streets, wasted on opium at 2:00 in the morning in of Tehran, looking for a familiar site can be quite daunting. Trust me on that one.
Tehran- where eastern and western cultures meet. Tehran, which has managed to display the worst elements of both - Moslems and traffic. What a hell hole. What a series of contradictions. Nothing gets done and it takes forever not to do it. A once proud capital of the Persian Empire, the decrepit city boasts grime and poverty. Primitive ignorance seems widespread despite the Shah’s attempt at universal education. The Shah’s illegitimate claim back to the glory days of Cyrus the Great, Darius and Xerxes are tenuous at best, but combine tenuous with a heavy handed dose of SAVAK intimidation and what initially appeared to be questionable history rapidly becomes sublime fact. Fear will do that to you.
What is most astounding are the occasional glimpses afforded a visitor as to the splendor that is the monarchy, in both its present and previous incarnations. On my first day, I get my cholera and typhoid inoculations renewed. The nearest hospital is known as the Louis Pasteur Institute. While now a threadbare institution, it former glory seeps through.. Originally a medical facility of first ranking, the Institute had become the victim of neglect and now could be charitably described as a run down clinic that I’d be hesitant to bring my dog to. The shots seemed to work though, and to this day I have an inoculation certificate from there which has found its way into my permanent travel mementos.
In the basement of a non-descript office building downtown that proudly billed itself as the Central bank of Iran ( I never saw the peripheral bank), is a cafeteria. Behind said eatery is a vault. Stored in the subterranean chamber was a collection of jewelry that made Queen Liz’s collection in the Tower of London look like cracker jack baubles. Included in the Shah’s permanent collection was the famous Peacock Throne - crafted from solid gold, encrusted with precious stones, and carved in microscopic detail. It looked lovely, but for watching football, I’d prefer a barcolounger with its extending footstool, impulse massage and a beverage container. For impressing heads of state though, the Peacock Throne wins hands down. The piece, while beautiful, was plundered from one of the mogul dynasties in India years ago, which sort of takes away from the cachet of the thing. Additionally, there is a solid gold globe, measuring about six feet in diameter, inset with pearls demarcating the equator and tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The oceans were emeralds, the Persian Empire consisted of diamonds, landmasses were demarcated in rubies.Two eight foot high golden candlesticks, each containing 666 pearls representing the number of verses in the Koran bracketed the globe. Opulence abounded and glory sparkled. The jewels were the ultimate example of all that the Ayatollah clamored against in the revolution that was to follow a few years later. Speaking of revolution, you could smell it in the air, right there with the shish kebabs. Turmoil was fomenting under the surface and one could sense that the repressive regime was due to topple.. As a political observer whose leaning could charitably be described as somewhat right of Genghis Kahn, I am a strong believer in the concept of enlightened Despotism. In this century, no one exemplified what I consider to be the perfect monarch more so than Shah Reza Pahlavi. The king was the beneficiary of a western education; he was handsome and fit, leonine in stature and presented a regal symbol to his people. His political positions on the middle east and North America reflected enlightenment. He planned and developed universality of education. The best and the brightest were recipients of free university at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge and other world class institutions of highest learning. Oil revenues, while feeding the grandeur of the royal family, were also used to develop infrastructures, roads, and hospitals. The Shah’s fatal flaw was his desire to do too much too soon. The intent behind access to quality universal education abroad was simple in theory. Iran’s intellectuals were to go overseas and return with their newfound knowledge to help a blessed oil-rich Iran evolve from a feudal mid-eastern state to a world leader in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, Shah Pahlavi did not take into consideration other seductive elements that come with higher education. Specifically, a romance with alternative political theory that is presented in the hallowed halls of learning. Nowhere else but in those ivory towers can relationships with Marxism, dialectic materialism, communism and other non-practical but intellectually seductive concepts have such an opportunity to breed in fertile, naïve, thirsty minds. What returned to Tehran were not carriers of the blueprints of a new society, but rather a collective of thinkers who questioned the very values, beliefs and tenets of the person responsible for their enlightenment. Anti-American and anti-western demonstrations began to promulgate. The end of the regime was visible to me. The ultimate direction that Iran would take was not evident, but I knew something weird was up. My suspicions were brought home one afternoon while engaged in a conversation with a local youth. Despite his broken English, he was able to convey a terrible antipathy toward the west, the US in particular. I pointed to his T-shirt, which he wore with overt pride. I asked him if he was able to read English. He answered in the negative. At that point I felt that a long explanation into the finer points of the inherent contradiction between this young man’s espoused political beliefs and the Dallas Cowboy’s T-shirt he was wearing would be lost. Not on me, though.