11 July 2015

Faith Tested

Given what I’ve been through in the past couple weeks, I am naturally hesitant to declare that I finally have all my problems sorted, but things are indeed looking positive as I write this on Saturday evening in my Tehran hotel.

TNT delivered the new starter motor to the tour agency in Shiraz this morning, and they’ve given it to the driver to bring to me along with El Guapo tomorrow morning.

My Dad’s health appears to have rebounded slightly; MJ says he hanging on for me, and I am sure that is the case. So I am increasingly confident I will arrive in time to say good-bye to him, but also concerned about the suffering he is enduring as a result.

I’ve just received word through Mehdi that the driver is setting out with El Guapo from Shiraz and is expected here early tomorrow morning.

And I expect my extended visa to be ready for collection tomorrow.

So, whilst it’s difficult to utter the words ”if all goes according to plan” at this point without experiencing a deep sense of irony, my realistic expectation is that I will be on the road before noon tomorrow and in Tabriz tomorrow evening. I hope to arrive at the Armenian border before noon the next day, and although the last four borders I've crossed were successively more difficult to clear, I hoping that I have finally broken that particular curse and will have a routine and problem-free exit from Iran and entry into Armenia.

Today was therefore hopefully my last day of sightseeing in Teheran, and we spent it in a more successful attempt to visit S’ad Abad. Most enjoyable about the visit were the grounds themselves, which were beautifully landscaped, heavily shaded and watered by numerous streams, which made the area noticeably cooler and more comfortable.

Reza Pahlavi Shah's "White Palace"

The main sites were two Palaces, one imaginatively called the Green Palace, and the other the White Palace. The Green Palace was constructed by Reza Shah, and the White Palace by his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. To me, both palaces were most notable for their relative simplicity and lack of ostentation, especially in contrast to the Qajar-era equivalents. The Green Palace is probably less than 800 square meters in size, and the White Palace perhaps twice that, big enough for a tract mansion, but modest as a principal residence for a monarch officially referred to as the ”King of Kings”. In front of the White Palace were the two bronze legs, cut off at the knee, all that remained of a statue of the last Pahlavi pulled down during the revolution.

All that is left of the statue of the last Shah

There were many other museums on site, including the Museum of Fine Arts, but more than we could take in in one day. We had a look at the imperial collection of fine automobiles, again rather modest in both size (about 10 vehicles, including a snowmobile) and ostentation — mostly Mercedes and Rolls Royces, but nothing too showy. More interesting was the miniature painting museum, which included many artistic interpretations of the poems of Hafez, Omar Khayyám and other Persian poets. Several of these depicted drinking, sexual behaviour and other un-Islamic themes, and almost certainly would never be publicly displayed in Qatar or many other Arabic countries, an indicator that despite the reputation of its government, Islam here is still moderate, at least in comparison with the Wahabi-influenced Gulf states.

On the way back we had another wander through the bazaar at Tajrish, where I admired the freshness and breadth of selection on display at the fruit and produce vendors. One thing I had been looking for Iran — so far, unsuccessfully — was some Iranian caviar. In the bazaar we were approached by a random stranger who offered me a tin of something labelled ”Bluga” for 80 USD. I was hesitant, and Mehdi also was not entirely confident about the guy, so he told him to come to our hotel at 18:00 this evening. Mehdi figured if he actually showed, it was an indicator that he was probably legit.

The bazaar at Tajrish

After making the long slog back to Teheran, eating a late lunch and having a short nap, it was 18:30, the guy hadn’t showed, and the front desk clerk suggested another location to buy some. After walking for better part of an hour to a location near the German Embassy, we were told the shop we were after had moved to a new spot, just 5 minutes walk from our hotel. However, there was another shop nearby, so we decided to check it out. No Beluga, no Sevruga, only ”pressed”, the lowest grade of Iranian caviar was available for 1.7 million riyal, around 50 USD. However, it appeared of reliable provenance, with a production date on the label and a lead seal proving that the wire bail keeping the lid in place had not been tampered with. I decided to buy the tin and also check out the place we were originally looking for near our hotel.

We found it about 20 minutes later, and the shopkeeper produced an unsealed tin of what he said was Beluga. I’m not entirely expert in these things, but I do know that Beluga consists of large, distinct grey eggs, and visually it passed muster, so I forked over another 2.2 million riyal for 200 grams. Not quite cocaine prices, but getting close. On our way back to the hotel we met up with our friend from the Tajrish bazaar, who told us he had arrived at the hotel two minutes after we left (he was supposed to come between 17:00 and 18:00). I told him he was too late, indicating the shopping bags I was carrying. He apologised for being late, and offered me his tin of ”Bluga” for 750 000 Riyal, half of his original price. I declined.

I kept both my tins of caviar on ice and put them in the fridge in my room. El Guapo, of course, is equipped with on-board refrigeration, so getting it to Yerevan should not be difficult. Carrying to the USA with two changes of planes and 19 hours of travel will a little more challenging; hopefully I can charm a flight attendant into keeping it in the fridge for me, and also hopefully I will not forget to collect it at the end of each flight. Beluga has been almost impossible to lay hands on these days, and when you can — e.g., at Dean and Delucca in Doha — it was outrageously expensive, typically 300 USD for the smallest container. So if I manage this, I and my very closest friends will be enjoying some in Ann Arbor in the near future.

It’s evening now, just waiting for my dinner to be delivered before getting some sleep in preparation for what I hope is a successful departure from Teheran tomorrow, with vehicle, replacement starter motor, and passport with visa extension.


11 July 2015


1 comment:

Christopher Smith said...

the beluga was totally legit... had some rolled up in blinis with cream, so "ono" as we say in Hawaii... wish there was more!!