Back from Arabia and glad to be home! Egypt is such a favorite country, but after traveling there over 7 times already – this is my last trip there for awhile. It would have been great to have taken the opportunity to travel in the remote western Oasis areas, but it was not in the cards this time. It was great to see the many friends I have accumulated there over the years, but it is finally time to leave well-enough alone and focus other adventures for awhile.
Visiting Dubai was interesting, but it is still very much a City in its infancy. It will take some time before it’s soul develops any character. It was rather astounding to visit the small and meager National Museum which featured a video focusing 100% on the future. Although there is diversity in the brands when it comes to the shopping malls, there are certainly no bargains for our poor weak dollar! I was able to get out and do a desert safari with a Yemeni driver and some Kazak tourists which was really fun. Anyway, everyone has different travel objectives and my interests have always been culture oriented. In a city with 80% foreign residents, it was just not my bag….
Hal-e shoma chetor ast? Who bead? Who bam. Kheili mamnunam. Khasteh Nabshi. It takes all those words, like a fine Persian poem, to say hello in Farsi. I guess I should know as my good friend Karman (a Tehrani – not to be confused with a Yazdi by any measure) seared those words into my brain and after 21 days they finally stuck! Of course, when I try to impress anyone with my Farsi today, everyone always asks me if I was married to an Iranian otherwise how could I know how to say hello in Farsi so well? Moreover, most Iranians become suspicious when they hear that I went there initially all on my own as a solo traveler covering over 8,000km in a car with Karman as my guide and driver to scout out the location before I brought my group of intrepid travelers for a further 34-days! Of course, during my visits, unless I was inside my hotel room, I had to dress in the Islamic tradition which meant I had to wear a black mid-calf manteau and scarf at all times. Funny enough after wearing this get-up for awhile, I became accustom to it. So much so that when I went to visit a US friend’s sister living in Tehran, when she told me I could take off all my outerwear while in the confines inside her home – I took off my scarf but declined to discard the manteau. The weather had been warm and I did not happen to have a heap of designer clothes underneath like a lot of the locals do. Suffice it to say, you can stash a lot underneath that disguise. When I met the woman in the photo above at the Caspian Sea seaside resort of Bandar-e Anzali (our jumping off point to the village of Masule), it was fascinating to watch her pull out a book and all sorts of other items that were stashed away underneath her shroud. Too bad she did not pull out a small tin of that infamous tasty black Caspian Sea caviar! Honestly, there is nothing more amusing than a little cultural exchange…but all kidding aside, as a tourist it is easy for me to make light of the day-to day aspects of the mandatory restrictive clothing for the women there. The truth is that in places like Ahvaz you could actually die of a heat stroke because of it.
Although I spent quite a bit of time in Iran as a tourist and traveled farther and wider than many Iranians do themselves in their own country, I find that there are still places I would like to explore. For instance, I never did get over to Baluchistan. Although after a couple glorious days exploring the museums, squares and gardens of Esfahan, Kamran did drive me across the black sands of Dasht-E-Kavir (the Great Salt Desert) to Gonabad in the south of Khorassan province where I purchased several small cellophane bags of the local Saffron. It would also be something if I could somehow follow the magnificent nomadic migration in the Spring, although the tribes are using trucks more and more these days to haul their tents and animals. I guess that is progress…
So, this post leaves me here dreaming I was in Shiraz with Kamran at the “Shotter Abbas (Baker Abbas)” restaurant on Khakshenassi street, Gaz square, which serves up plates of that beautiful jasmine rice smothering a nice round ball of butter with pistachio and raisins, two Lari Kebobs and some nice hot nan. In Los Angeles there is a restaurant near my sister’s house in Sunland, CA called “Olive Branch Restaurant” located at 3658 Foothill Boulevard, La Cresenta, CA 91214 which has outstanding Persian Cuisine and worth any effort to get there. But my all time favorite is “Javan Restaurant” located at 11500 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025 and I have driven all the way from San Diego to LA to meet my sister Liz there for lunch on several occasions! If anyone else has recommendations for other fine authentic Persian style restaurants – please feel free to leave a comment…..Khoda hafez!