Thursday, August 21, 2014

Trip to Iran!!!

Last spring I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Iran at the invitation of Tehran’s Fajr Music Festival. I was excited at the prospect from the very first whisper and my expectations were exceeded in every good way.
Tehran feels just like Naples, Italy to me, but five times bigger. Everyone is very busy and the traffic is chaotic. In general, there was a southern European feel, even the people looked European, and not at all Arab. The clothes are largely Western style, though there is the occasional woman wearing an abaya. Head scarves are mandatory for all women, tourists too, but they are typically worn at the back of the head so the front hair shows a lot. Everyone we met on the street was very friendly, open and extremely cultured. The Iranis have a phenomenal and long history and it’s a natural part of their being. Oh, and the food was delicious!

Since I don’t look very Iranian I stood out and was talked to a lot. People constantly approached to ask questions (in very good English) like: Where are you from? How do you like the concerts? How can you like the concert if you don’t understand the words? (I like the music.) Do you like wearing the scarf? (It’s the rule so I have to, but I don’t mind.)

Also on the trip were two representatives of the Philadelphia Symphony and my colleague, the Secretary of the Board of Ministers, plus our two guides, charming young ladies who took us everywhere.

The first three days in Tehran were filled with meetings and concerts. There were visits to the Museum of Music, the Golestan Palace and the Grand Bazaar. I met with the Arts Deputy of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance as well as with directors, composers, and current and former government officials, among others, all leaders of the musical and artistic community in Iran. The meetings were a general exploration of the possibilities of a cultural and musical exchange between the two countries via the Royal Opera House Muscat. We also got to meet a Tehran-based maker of violins, violas and cellos. If he turns out to be as good as they claim it might make more sense to send our house instruments to him for repair than to ship them all the way to Europe.

Each evening we attended two concerts, one at 6:30 the next at 9:00, sometimes in different venues. We heard the Rastak Music Ensemble (ethnic Iranian music), the Academic Orchestra of Tehran (with singers), the Saba Choir from Khorasan province, The Passage Ensemble (instrumentalists), Salar Aghili with the Raaz-o-Niaaz Ensemble, and the Iranian String Orchestra (contemporary Iranian music). The groups were all quite good, some more engaging than others, some singers more interesting than others. I was really struck by the Tehran mixed voice choir that performed a variety of music, even an Italian mountain song, "Bella Ciao", which I know so well from my friends in a chorus in Verona - Music has no borders!  Women are not allowed to perform solo, but in a group it’s just fine.

To give more insight into Iranian culture and heritage we were taken to Isfahan for the next two days. The main feature of the city is the Palace square.

While we were crossing the square yet another gentleman approached to engage us in conversation. He ended up inviting us to visit a “power house” that evening and we said “Why not?” We had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be fascinating: a kind of Iranian gym with traditional strength exercises and very traditional weight tools...certainly effective.....who needs the modern electronic gym machinery!!?? We did not take part, we just watched the stocky men run through their routines to the beat of a drummer who set the speed of the routines.

There were of course several opportunities for shopping on the trip and I may have obliged.
First in Tehran:

A few of images of beautiful tile work in Tehran:


And below, many images of beautiful and fascinating Isfahan:

Typical Isfahan artwork, hand painted metal plates and bowls, so detailed, amazing to watch as they paint them!

The big, rectangular square of Isfahan is the center of the city. Two amazingly beautiful mosques, souk, many shops, more shopping opportunities...look for yourself:  

                                       Filigree silver work that one cannot but admire !!

Typical restaurant with excellent food !

Great views and lots of mountains around Isfahan, but also around Tehran (great skiing !!) and in many parts of Iran.

Our Hotel court yard:

...and our hotel restaurant:

Some artistic paint touch-up (I asked him if I could take a photo of him at work)

A little rest in the hotel court yard:

The beautiful palace on the main square

Here is a model of the square which shows the two mosques, far end and center-left, centre-right the Ali Quapu Palace, at the bottom part starts the souk

View from the Palace and inside:

The interesting music room in the palace with acoustic niches all over:

The Palace from the outside with the typical horse carriages that circle the square for those who feel it is too big too walk all around:

The big mosque

Fabric printing shop, all printing done with traditional carved wood blocks

A Ferrari horse carriage......or at least it thinks it is !

The smaller mosque on the square, but no less impressive than the big one !

More opportunity for "shopping accidents" !

In the foot hills of Isfahan for dinner at a log-house restaurant:

The famous Khaju Bridge at night

The late night flight back to Tehran was followed by more morning meetings and shopping, and then the return to Muscat.
 It was a wonderful trip and I hope to be able to visit another time and meet my new friends there again. Of course, there is so much more to see of Iran, starting with Shiraz, and I can't wait to see it all some time!

 Mamnoon & bedrood !!!
(Thank you very much & goodbye)