Published: November 4th 2009October 25th 2009
Sunday I had an early start to Shiraz for the seven hour bus trip from Esfahan. Empty dry lanscape to gaze at through the dusty windows. We pass a small truck, almost overflowing with its cargo of juicy-looking sib. Another truck with a load of sheep, and two men only just clinging to the back. A third truck with the disheartening word 'Tesco' emblazed on its flank. A huge sign proclaiming 'Persian Gulf's Premier Entertainment Venue', next to a deserted carpark and several piles of broken bricks. The bus was an old and faded luxury model, with engine problems that required hourly stops and staff running back and forth to the rear with containers of water. I couldn't see smoke, so I assumed it was not on fire - yet.
Shiraz was big, but on first impressions similar to other Iranian city-towns; square grey buildings, taxis. The main street was busy with traffic and shoppers. Near the hotel where I stayed was the clothing and shoes shopping district. Around the corner was oddly the battery quarter - three of four shops that only sold small batteries. All shops in Iran are grouped together in this way. Streets full of young
people; the effects of the post-revolution birth-rate surge are obvious where ever you go. I booked a half-day guided trip to Persepolis for the following morning and then did some blogging. Monday 26 October
The trip left at 8am, but there was no breakfast of carrot jam and tea to gird me, for quite simply, "She no turn up." Now that's what I call casual staff. I was happy to have a big serving of juiced carrots and sib from a cafe instead. There were six of us on the tour, plus a driver and a guide, in our cozy minibus. The guide wore white gloves to protect her hands from gettng brown. Surprisingly one of the travellers was a student from Traralgon - not many miles from my final destination in Australia. I took that as a sign of my getting closer to my destination.
The day was warm and dazlingly sunny. Not too warm that it was uncomfortable, but we were frequently told that earlier in the year the heat is perishing. The ruins of the ancient city were an amazing sight; I won't tell you about the history - you can remember that from
your school history lessons (what am I saying - Google it) - just my impressions in words and pictures. The immense pillars framing views of barren hills and a copse of native trees were amazing. As were the bas reliefs of the various nationalities that lived in or visited when the city was at its peak - African, Chinese, Egyptian, and many others, their generalised racial-facial features carved in remembrance alongside nineteenth-century graffiti from British foreign officials. Arresting carved animal images, especially the constant bull-eating lion theme that is thought to have a seasonal meaning. Zoroastrianism. The steel bones of the most-recent Shah's welcoming city-of-tents, that saw wild parties (always the description for the hated Shah's socialising) thrown to welcome dignitaries to view the ruins. Necropolis - where the great kings of that early period were intombed, high in the hillside. Impressive scale.
Back in Shiraz I had to rush to the bank to change some money before it closed mid-afternoon. Omid, the head of foreign exchange for that large branch of Melli Bank, was keen to know where in Australia I was from. The guards armed with maching guns always made me a tad nervous in the banks,
so I answered as formally as I could, to speed up the transaction. "Which city has the best universities?" asked Omid, a large, square-shaped serious man. This was an odd question to ask in order to exchange my US dollars for rials. He as well wanted to emigrate, and was well on the way with his research and paperwork. His seven-year-old daughter was very bright, he said. They will live where the best university is. We chatted about Australia and universities for a while, and he gave me his card and clasped my hand very firmly and said, "Welcome to Iran. If ever there is anything you need help with while here - anything - I will help."
I had a snooze back at the two-star hotel - TV with 20 minutes of English-language news at midnight, its own squat, and balcony overloooking non-working building site. Craig from Liverpool, and from my point of view from the Istanbul train, turned up in the hotel lobby. He had just had some dizi with the retired Turkish judge, whom he had met down a side street. Dizi! I had read the description in the food section of the guide book, and
was eager to try it out. Essentially peasants' food, it sounded like a hearty feast and a good change from kabab.
I followed Craig's street directions to the hidden courtyard, and sat on a Persian carpet-covered bed-like sofa by the fountain. My dizi arrived in about ten minutes, with an embroided cloth spread on the carpet. Loads of flat Arab bread, a large bowl of hot stew - beans, assorted vegetables, chunks of meat and fat - a mound of basil, mint and other herbs, a whole lime and some red cabbage. I tried to look as if I knew how to eat it, remembering the instructions from the book. I tore up pieces of bread into the empty bowl and poured off the liquid from the stew on them, eating them with a fork. Very good stuff. Then half the stew I tumbled into the bowl, half the herbs, cabbage and limejuice, and mashed them up with the pestle supplied. Then I took my first mouthful with a palm-sized piece of bread. Delicious dizi! It was a gorgeous taste of heartiness keenly cut with the freshness of the herbs and lime. I never had dizi again in my
remaining five days in Iran, but everywhere I went I asked for it. Be prepared for me to try to replicate it if I ever get the chance to cook for you!
There are more photos below