Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Getting Around in Iran

                                                                =“Sholuq” in Persian can refer to a traffic jam or any other confused mess

Marty and Sam at the Shaking Minarets (Monar Jomban) of Isfahan.
The guides enjoy getting in one of two 14th century minarets and shaking, which makes the opposite one shake. This has been a major Isfahan tourist attraction since the 19th century.

A note to readers:  When you see when some of the things I write about took place, you may say to yourself, “Gosh, that’s ancient history!  I wasn’t even born then!”  Let me put you at ease.  I try to show you the world we lived in, but even after all these years, many of the most colorful things in Iran haven’t changed!  Iranian people are still very gentle, intelligent and friendly people.  Most of them.

Getting Settled.  We found our house in Sahebgraniyeh, in the northern part of the city. It was a very upscale part of the city—every home was enclosed by high walls, and within the walls were very pleasant gardens and tall trees.  About three blocks away was Niavaran Palace, the palace where the Shah usually lived.  He had several all over town from which to choose.
Our landlord was a wealthy Persian engineer.  In our garden lived a little family.  Hossein Massoumi, with one eye that looked askew, was our gardener. His wife, a teenager, was Keshvar, and they had two small children-- Nassir, a boy, about 5, and Batul, a girl, about 2. We lived in a nice house with glass all along the south wall, which was our living room and hall, looking down over the whole city of Tehran We had a beautiful swimming pool, filled with ice-cold spring water, and on the hottest days, that water was still frigid.
Our house in Tehran, with son Mark and
German Shepherd Schatzi in foreground.

We were at 5200 ft. of altitude, and the city slopes down to the center, at about 3750 ft. above sea level. Windows along our back upper floor allowed beautiful views of the Alborz mountains, which border Tehran on the north. It was October, 1970.

Karaj Dam near Tehran

Our "Bomb" of a car. It took quite a while for our car to arrive from the U.S., so we rented a car from PKEOM (Persian Knights Enlisted Officers’ Mess), an American servicemen's club that traces its roots back to the lend-lease days of World War II.  These cars were known as “PKEOM Bombs.”  We had this car until our 1966 Ford Falcon station wagon could arrive.  We thought we’d get out and see some of this beautiful country, so we drove up to Karaj dam in the mountains.  The scenery was magnificent, but we soon found out that the brakes on our “Bomb” were imaginary.  While we were up there the car started to spout steam, and we drove downhill as fast as we could, to find help for our problem. We finally reached a village where there was a filling station and drove in, with steam coming from all over.  I had never opened the hood, and then found out that I couldn’t. 
Anytime Americans showed up somewhere, a crowd of curious Iranians would gather.  They are a very helpful people, even if they haven’t a clue what they are doing. Several men tried to help open the hood, and finally a mechanic did it with a big crowbar.  The water pump was “tamum shod”—finished, he declared, and so this looked like it was going to take several hours.  A cab came by that already had an Iranian family in it, but the driver and the family were glad to have us, so our family of five jammed in, and off we raced to Tehran, with about 11 people including the driver.
Iranian taxi drivers always go as if they were on fire, so fast that you know you are in grave danger.  You learn early on to say, “Yavash!” (Slow!!) and this might make the American feel better, but it has absolutely no effect. 

Tehran traffic “Sholuq”, or impossible traffic jam.

“Sholuq” or “Shalook” is a beautiful, uniquely Persian word that is made for the Iranians.   They use it to refer to any scene of confusion, and through our American eyes, we saw a lot of sights in that happy, casual country in the days before the traveling religious police, ordering women to put the chadors back on their heads. 
Iranian traffic in 1970-72 reflected that Iranians were just getting used to the idea of having cars, and in Tehran they had a lot of them.  And they drove them in the middle of the street, on the left, and on the right, and on sidewalks. 
From what I hear about Iran today, not much has changed, except there are many more cars.
In that environment, traffic jams, or shalooks, happened all the time.  And it seemed that the Ministry of Police, as soon as they detected such a situation, dispatched a more senior police officer to correct the situation.  We often laughed to see that when traffic was really screwed up, you’d see a General in the police ministry, uprooted from his comfortable desk, directing traffic, and screwing it up even more.

 Photo of Marty and me on the road in the desert south of Tehran.

Trip to Astara.  It was springtime, and I wanted to drive up the western shore of the Caspian toward the Iranian Border with Soviet Azerbaijan. This was a very green, colorful part of Iran, and here, too, the people dressed as they had for centuries. I was driving my Ford Falcon station wagon, and the road was more a muddy wallow.  We bounced and sloshed all the way, an all-day drive to arrive at Astara, right on the frontier.
            The car was completely covered with mud—you couldn’t tell it had been yellow before.
            There were large rice paddies here, and on the hills they were growing tea. 
When we returned to Tehran two days later I had to have all four shock absorbers replaced.
            When we arrived in Astara, we had no idea where we would stay for the night, but we found a tiny, very elegant hostel that had been recently built for the Chairman of the Presidium  of the Soviet Union, Nikolai Podgorny, for his October 1970  visit to inaugurate a 40-inch gas pipeline from Iran to the USSR, passing through Astara. 
            The Shah had been there, and there had been a big celebration and ribbon cutting and so forth, but now, it was just an unused, but very excellent hotel with four empty suites, and all the staff to look after them.
            So we stayed there. 
            [Note: After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Iranians cut off the supply. In 2006, Iran and Azerbaijan, the country adjacent to Astara, signed an agreement for the gas to come the other way, to supply Iran.]
Rice Paddies in Gilan, near the Caspian Sea, in Iran
In background are tea groves.

We got to visit with a lot of plain, everyday Persian people during our two years in Iran, and found them to be wonderfully friendly and helpful. Where they might differ from Westerners in their familiarity with technology, they were generous, intelligent and fun to be around.
Western coverage of Iran and Iranians, or Persians, in recent years may have painted them as America-hating, single-minded Islamic fanatics. However, I think you will find that those people are in the minority.  
Many, many Iranians want the same things that we want.  They definitely do NOT want to return to the seventh century, the time the Islamists think that things were better for them. 
They do not want to take orders from America, or do our bidding, and that’s fair. 
I hope that one day soon Americans and Iranians can sit down and work out our differences, because I think we have much more in common than some may imagine. 
All the talk about the Iranians building a nuclear weapon, and wiping Israel off the map strikes me as unproductive rodomontade, or vain bragging and bluster.
The Israelis talk about launching air strikes to wipe out Iran’s nuclear manufacturing sites, and we know enough about the Israelis to know that is not idle bluster.
However, the net result is that the United States, no matter what we think or want, will find ourselves sucked into another war in the Middle East.
Such a waste of blood and treasure, and for what?

I look for the day when Iran and the U.S.A. can be friends again. Both nations have much to gain!

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 Rawleigh's 1917 Almanac

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Baby Doll: Warner Bros. Picture, an Elia Kazan Production of Tennessee Williams' screen play, starring Karl Malden and Carroll Baker; Advertising-Publicity Campaign Packet 1956 Warner Brothers. Advance Publicity campaign and advertising campaign samples for film"Baby Doll", has been called “notorious, salacious, revolting, dirty, steamy, lewd, suggestive, morally repellent and provocative.” This was 25-year-old Carroll Baker's second film, and she received an Oscar nomination for her part in the film. Its advertisements and posters featured a sultry young "Baby Doll" curled up in a crib in a suggestive pose, sucking her thumb.   21 x 28 cm. Paper folder contains Samples of Ad Campaign and Big Ad-Pub Campaign. Very good. (7092) $29.00. Advertising/Cinema

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Burdock's Blood Bitters 1892 Almanac and Key to Health 1892 Buffalo, NY: Foster, Milburn & Co. Josiah Lewis of Sing Sing, NY had dyspepsia for years with no cure until he took Burdock Blood Bitters. Hettie McCourtney of Remus, MI had a pain in her back, head, heart, poor appetite, constipation and more until she took BBB. Mrs. Samuel Rieder's little boy (of Summit Hill, OH) had sores all over his body and legs, couldn't stand on his feet. " I gave him two bottles of BBB, and now he looks like another boy altogether." Almanac offers many testimonials and health advice, cures for Dyspepsia, dizziness, headache, variable appetite, souring of food, heart palpitation, constipation, biliousness, scrofula, rheumatism, pain in loins, dropsy, female complaints. Just take Burdock sugar-coated pills, Burdock's Blood Bitters, Dr. Wood's Norway Pine Syrup and Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil. Mrs. Wm. F. Babcock of Norvell, MI was "run over by a team of horses and a lumber wagon, and not expected to live, but my friends bathed me in Eclectric Oil..." 32 pp. 14.5 x 20 cm. Paper booklet, good. (7024) $24.00. Advertising/Medical

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