23 August 2015
A city of contrasts
To step into Tehran is to travel into another world. A city where women seem to either be dressed in black chadors, or glamorous head scarves pushed back on the top of towering hair pieces and bandaged-wrapped noses. This is a city where the mullahs are ostentatiously the elite class, as they urbanely glide through city streets in the finest black organza, mustard fabrics and white or black turbans.
Everyone has time to talk
As a foreigner it is almost impossible to pass through the city without being asked the following two questions, whether in a park, a restaurant or the metro: “where are you from?” and “why are you in Iran?”. Nearly everyone wants to know. It wasn’t possible to sit in a city square and read more then three pages of a book after several hours of idle conversation or in-depth discussion about Iran and the world. Everyone has a view, mostly muttered quietly as the mullahs coast by.
Religion, commerce, Persian nationalism and modernity
Tehran beautifully balances four cultural pillars of the nation that could otherwise be incompatible: religion, commerce, Persian nationalism and modernity. This can be seen in the colourful and emotionally intense shrines to Shiite saints, the crowded city bazaars, the Persian museums and iconography that reaches back to the ancient Achaemenid Empire – including the zoroastrian phoenix hanging off many necklaces and shopfronts, and modernist urban architecture and street art. Tehran is a country of significant wealth, a robust middle class and many shopkeepers.