Nesfe Jahan, pt 52

17 November 2010

We arrive to Tehran, and I’m immediately reminded why I hate big cities. It takes me an hour to not find the subway station, and I look so confused I get a free lift on a motorcycle. Another mad ride. Here, everyone drives like a cab driver, and the cab drivers… well… they’re more expensive here, risk compensation I guess. Still not easy to find a decent restaurant, still not easy to find cheap tea places. Medium museums, the best of the country. I’ve got a sneaky suspicion this country is about buildings, nature and people. It really takes a different mindset to be a tourist here. But I’m done with Tehran, I’m giving up after 2 days. I’m going to Kashan, a small city, wedged between desert and mountains. Probably more my kind of place. And I do have to go into the desert.

I’m walking inside the grounds of the palace museum, and an old man asks me if I’m English. I reply I’m Belgian, and he seems a bit disappointed. He tells me that he’s looking for a native speaker to translate some things he’s found in Newsweek. I’m, surprised, but dare him to take his best shot. I notice the copy of Newsweek is inside of an Iranian newspaper, and when I ask he replies it’s to keep it clean. He’s been reading it for over a month, front to back, diligently underlining everything he doesn’t know. Next to him is a notebook, filled with the scribblings of tens of other tourists. Either he hasn’t found a decent dictionary, or he’s lonely. I explain him “standard fare”, “to swab the deck with something”. “pumped-up”. It gets funnier when we get to “chick”, “chick-flick” and “sexed up”. It gets really interesting when we get to “Freudianizing”. Never heard of the guy. I explain it in terms of “Khayyamizizing”. “mutagenic” is also complicated. He draws a bland when I talk about genes. He draws a blank when I talk about DNA. But his English is excellent, and I talk philosophy with him for a hour. Another tourist comes by and a three way conversation starts. And it falls apart over one word. What the other tourist, and me, call “what in Europe we see on the news”, he calls propaganda. And, in an instant, the two hours we spend is ripped as easy as a butterflies wing. He excuses himself brusquely, and goes off to have tea with a friend. When I get out of the museum, he’s coming back in to sit on his trusty bench. He walk up to me, and explains. “Don’t get me wrong, we really like you”. We. You. Both plural. This country is fucking hard, it can be amazingly subtle, melancholic and useless.