Friday, April 07, 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!
My first impression of the capital, fostered by the homogeneity of its cars, is the resemblance of gone DDR or some other ex Soviet Republic. Occasionally, a Chevrolet Camaro stands out in the traffic: a sequel from the times when USA and Iran were good friends and the Shah was still in charge. As in Cuba, the cars of tackled down regimes are kept. At the center of Teheran is Imam Khomeini Square. There, in the roof of the Ministry of Communications stand satellite dishes of all diameter, matching well the esthetics of a police regime. (Two hundred meters away heroin dealers do their business around the Metro stairways). From a public phone I dial the number of my local contact in Teheran, a girl called Zohra, who is member of Hospitality Club. Even if I never use hotels in big cities, especially in complex Teheran it makes more sense to meet the real people in order to get a feeling of what is going on.

The taxi with which Zohra picks me up abducts me from the legality of Khomeini Square and drops me in a different world. We are in Café Photo, inside a mall, somewhere in Northern Teheran. While the old city, in the South, is conservative, reverent, crowded and poor, the North was an experiment of the last Shah to recreate the rules of the game in Europe. Consequently it enjoys broad boulevards; its inhabitants are more educated, richer, and notably less enthusiastic about living in an Islamic Republic than those in the South.

Zohra integrates the crew of that reservoir. Like the other girls in the café, she wears her hejab as far back as possible, letting clearly visible her short reddish hair with a blue stripe. Fair enough, had it been for her, the scarf would already be obstructing a sewer grid. Zohra plays a bit with one of her four earrings and says:
”People is tired, artists are more tired.”
If I take away the scarf in a movement of imagination, the girl I have in front is a punk. But it is scarcely relevant, for what alienates her is the simple wish to carry on a normal life. Since the Islamic Revolution on ’79 there is no difference between civil and religious rules. The Komiteh, or Moral Police, frequently sentences those who are caught red handed drinking alcohol or in a public display of affection (a kiss will do) to a wiping session. Sex before marriage –love in its more pristine stage- lands you in jail for a long time. In comparison, Romeo and Juliet’s Verona was Teletubbieland. If Shakespeare would take up the pen again, no doubt he would set his drama in Teheran. Here is where the devices of life are veiled while those of death are proudly exhibited, tanks and choppers outside headquarters, or in murals in front of schools.

Zohra’s dream is to have a rock band. But she knows it’s out of the question. How to organize a concert if a party where beer is present can set you behind the bars? According to the Iranian Law, women can perform music only if the audience is solely composed by other women. Of course, life and common sense, as the rainforest, always find a way. They become furtive. Bands play in private parties, alcohol is smuggled from Russia (locals will proudly tell you it’s even possible to choose brands of Vodka) and opium parades tied to unmanned camels who march alone from Afghanistan (only then I understood why dealers in Spain were nicked camels). But nobody smuggles smiles and that’s obvious.
- Something is missing –regrets Zohra while Che Guevera stare at us, as wiling to escape from the poster that pins him to one of the walls of the café.
The anthems dedicated to things missing are always sung in low voice. Nowhere like here will you see so many people whispering to each other. In Iran, whispering is an art. The recent introduction of text messages has also provided young people with another tool of normality, in a country where dating a girl is an act of defiance.

1 comment:

saladeembarque said...

Hola Juan Pablo, llegué a tu blog por la página de hospitality club, mi nombre es Sergio e invité a mi madre, de origen palestino, a visitar por primera vez en nuestras vidas, la tierra de sus antepasados.
Vijaremos al medio oriente en julio y me gustaría conversar contigo para que me recomendaras algunas cosas. Si te interesa ayudarme te pido me escribas a mi mail,

un abrazo desde Santiago de Chile,