Monday, April 10, 2006


Sticky notice: to read the full story, have a look at my book Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan”. Visit my online bookshop. Order a copy and keep me on the road!

After visiting a ruined caravanserai in the village we stretched our thumbs towards Esfahan, where Alba waited, and where we were transported in a dash by an immense white Volvo truck. Even if we avoid acting the role of the traveler for whom Iran is a collection of blue mosques to be serially photographed, it is impossible not to be enchanted by the complexity of the Persian architecture featured by Esfahan. Here, in the ancient Persian seat of power, it is mandatory to let the eye be puzzled by each variation of the complicated patterns that find harmony in the mosques and bridges as the words in a prose by Borges. The Roman architects themselves couldn't find as rational solutions to the old problem of to transit from a square basement to a domed roof. You find yourself diminished in Imam Khomeini Square, surrounded by arched galleries, mosques and minarets…

Esfahan is also famous for its bridges, of which the most strolled is the Si-o-She, meaning literally 33, accounting for the number of arches keeping it standing. All bridges are stone metaphors: they connect, they gather, they are a lecture beyond their function. But Steven (reminding us he is an engineer) seems offended by how little people revere a new, odd, concrete bridge which allows heavy traffic nearby. "Only three arches are needed now instead of 33 -he states proudly- Science progresses!" It seems I was the only one that thought that bridges could only be nice or ugly.

One of those bridges was our meeting point with Alba. Before setting foot on road we had arranged the basics. We would try to hitch truck rides so as not to split. Alba, to avoid being harassed or unregarded, would say she was married to any of us. The first vehicle was a 405 of two guys who enjoyed the road as they watched videos on a portable DVD player hanging from the roof. In such airplane we reached Chahar Ra village, where a side road that seemed to disappear among mountains tempted us. We were aware that we were most probably missing the nomads by taking that turn. But we were in the move.

It was the beginning of a marvelous series of rides, either on the back of trucks, 4000 meters high mountains shaping the infinite blue, or in the cabins of small Saipa pick ups, were we hardly fitted better than the bricks in the Tetris, vibrating with the entire mechanic, bebrothering each cylinder and each bolt. The drivers would smile and ask our names and professions, and Alba would check in whose knees she was sitting on before saying who she was married to. What if we tell them that the three of us are married together? We never did. After each ride, the driver would invite us in for tea, or if it is dark, to stay overnight. A truck carrying an entire family for picnic slowed down as the women in the back started handing us oranges and apples. As they sped up, the women started to wave us good bye, blessing us with a motherly smile…

Persian hospitality can be expressed mathematically: if we draw a line from A to B (where A is the start and B the destination) and we accept that a line is formed by infinite dots, and the we accept that each dots invites us in for tea and to know his cousins and uncles, then we will never arrive to B. In New Year's holidays, when all Iranians go picnicking and lie down in their carpets aside scenic roads, we found ourselves walking fast in an attempt to get to B, hurrying the pace as if we were in the Bronx, but we were only trying to dribble teatime, that here is not 5 o' clock but has settled in the whole circumference of the time device. Such is the average dweller of the Axis of Evil…

Said this, by nighttime we become more receptive. In Khafr, a mountain village at 2100 m, we arrive with no friends. It was already dark so we entered what seemed to be a video rental shop, a bit frightened by a bonny woman who had raised her arms in the middle of the street and caused a lightning. One of the guys at the video shop spoke English, and said to have a solution for us. We declared we were happy to put up our tent (that hardly accommodates 2 of us). As the Iranians associate the tents with refuges and miserable conditions, they never allow us to use it. We were driven to some premises that were midway between a tourist office and an ecology awareness center.

In the morning we understood it was a UN sponsored initiative. When the door closed Alba enveloped us in one of her experiments. She pressed record in the camera and demanded us to create a perfect country from scratch, with its geography and political system. So was born a confederation of self sufficient communities inhabited by individuals of a race product of the mingling of all races (so nobody could claim pureness), where there wouldn't be any army and most political decisions would be approved after a mix of democracy and computerized approval carried on by a highly develop system that Steven considers viable.
Regardless all our chit chats, we woke up in our beloved real world, where races hate each and armies are self sufficient. We decided to attempt reaching Shiraz by the mountain road network, but by mid afternoon we discovered the road became blocked by snow a few villages ahead, forcing us to take the main road again. At some point we found a small pick up driving some 200 km towards Kazerun, on the way to the Persian Gulf, but with road connections to Shiraz. When we arrived we discovered that the driver expected some money in exchange, and the driver discovered in anger that we knew that was not the deal. The scene was worthy of Dante's books, the three of us running along the muddy streets of a village whose name we ignored, and the pick up following us with its headlights. A San Fermin without bulls. It could have run over me, but the driver got a bit confused when I hit the car with both hands, and drove back. Then somebody was out to see what the noise was about, and offered asylum to us. Next morning we had a great lunch with htese new friends. And then it was time to go back to the road.... on the way to Shiraz!!!

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