Saturday, December 12, 2009


I've wanted to visit Iran since 2001, when I interviewed local Iranian-American filmmaker Mansooreh Saboori about a documentary she made on the 1999 total solar eclipse in Iran. She told me about the ancient Zoroastrian fire temples there, and I was transfixed.

Some basic Zoroastrian beliefs:

-There is one universal and transcendental God, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated Creator to whom all worship is ultimately directed.

-Ahura Mazda's creation—evident as asha, truth and order—is the antithesis of chaos, evident as druj, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict.

-Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster's concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism.

She also told me that the Iranians knew she wasn't a local (because of her gestures, and the way her headscarf kept falling down and she didn't seem to care). You can read the article here.

It's been in the back of my mind ever since: I want to get a headscarf and go to Iran. I've watched the films when they are shown here of course, and I love to read about the Parsis, the Zoroastrians who migrated to India; many now live in Bombay (one of the most famous was of course Farrokh Bulsara - aka Freddy Mercury. Another is my secret crush, monklike Tata Enterprises chair Ratan Tata).

But I wasn't obsessed til the other night, when public TV traveler Rick Steves was on the local pledge drive and mentioned that he'd done a special about Iran that you can watch online. He said that the people of Iran don't hate Americans, and know that it's the two governments that have a problem with each other (they sound a lot more thoughtful than we are).

The video is riveting. The people are welcoming and wonderful. The poetry, mosques, landscape and ruins are astounding. Some of the shots took my breath away - almost moreso than anything I've seen in India - and now I want to go there even more. So much for letting go of desires....

You can watch it above (click twice to get to the Hulu page or click here, so you can see it in full screen mode). It's well, well worth an hour of your time.

One can only hope that the rest of middle America sees it, too.

Maybe if they put it on between NASCAR races....


  1. Me too, just hope things improve enough in my lifetime so I can make the trip. Fot some reason the thought of visiting iran excites me more than India or China, guess i grew up with Herodotus. Can you imagine what their Museums must be like.......

  2. Actually, Rick Steves found that the museums exhibits were surpisingly empty. Apparently most of the treasures were gutted by the west (many can be found at Chicago's Oriental Institute). Maybe we can join their trip to Iran in April. Since the dollar is weak, you may be more able to afford the $5,500 pricetag.

  3. Tell me about it... ever since I met H, I have dug out all the travel fictions (barely a few) and were totally fascinated by its beauty, very much under travelled ... and I love all the books I have read so far... wish there were more recent ones.

  4. rick Steves is great, this should be a must viewing for all.

  5. I saw the RS Iran special when it originally aired. One part that stuck with me was this very fleeting, but revealing moment. These two young woman say that they “love the American people.” Completely spontaneously, RS starts to reply “we love you too.” But he catches himself and instead says, “We want to understand you.” RS’s first impulse was to reciprocate the loving sentiment. How beautiful. How profound. He realized he couldn’t express love for Iran and Iranians on TV (or speak for all Americans), so he checked himself. But it gave me hope that behind the political noise we’re all ready to sit and break bread, chapati, and pita together.