Shiraz – Eshphahan
Early morning, we depart Shiraz. The bus glides down the arrow straight highway, a warm knife cutting through the desert’s soft butter. The barren landscape gives way to rolling hills. The dessert dips and crests, the pavement never deviating from its stubborn plane. Soon the ripples find concert and rise into mountains, then towers, then spires. Massive craggy, angular peaks now blot the horizon, we push on. The weather has its say. Dirt devils twist and wretch as they cut paths through the sand. Gale-force winds blast the bus, tires search for traction as the behemoth, broadsided by the force of the wind crabwalks between lanes. It threatens to rain but does not. Sunset comes. A lustrous purple coats the globe like a fine wine inside its glass, a panoply of colors - oranges, pinks, turquoises - smatter the horizon like a million fireworks.
As we approach Esphahan the sky goes black. Nature has hidden its glory for the evening but Eshphahan, o beautiful Esphahan, is happy to pick up where she’s left off. It is a magical place; an artist’s commune, a city of music, a land of trees, full of aqueducts, antiquity, colors, and solace. As we arrive her face is a glow in the calm fall night. Esphahan straddles a wide central river. A radiant amber glow floods the 16th century bridges that cross this central artery, each archway formed like a candle’s flame, lighting up the night sky. Children dance and skip in the streets as their parents converse about art, politics, or life, as they stroll. Streetlights do not pierce, they emanate. This is a place of calm, serenity and peace.
The next morning – more of the same. Leaving the hotel we cross the ancient bridge. A sonorous note beckons from below, I descend. Within the corridors of the 16th century masonry an older man stands, back to the wall, head up toward god as he sings. Passion oozes form each note. He is in a tailored suit, his voice bounding yet supple. This is an ancient tradition as men have wandered to these hollows for centuries to sing for the masses. Their words not only harmonize, but also speak to their knowledge. Men sing poems and sonnets attempting to demonstrate their knowledge of the world and command of literature. The men take turns in this original rap battle. It’s a beautiful tradition. I thank the man for his melodic gift. He looks at me, extends both arms and touches my face with watch hand, “beautiful man” he says, and then we depart. I will come to find there is much of this in Esphahan, each word a poem, each gesture, an embrace.
Each step brings more beauty. Esphahan is a city of 4 million and it is said that there is a tree planted for each and every one of them. Every street is tree lined, every public space filled with flowers. Esphahan too is home to the world’s second largest public square, after Tiananmen in Beijing. Yet, unlike many other large public squares, this one is not designated for political posturing and grandeur. Rather, this is a place of life. The walls are cobblestone and old, they house jewelry stores, restaurants, and artisan enclaves. At the center is a giant fountain bordered in concentric rectangles with immaculately manicured gardens. Young Eshaphanians (if that is the term) congregate at the center to sketch and paint. Young couples gaze into each other’s eyes and laugh, old men smoke water-pipes and contemplate philosophy. The air is sweet. Hose drawn carriages carry tourists around the perimeter. People work diligently but cannot be hurried. The mosques rise from the exterior walls, large and ornate but not overbearing.
We continue our afternoon, we tour mosques and citadels, their towering walls a testament to the ingenuity of those who created them and the treasures, which they have held and continue to hold. We eat traditional foods and visit the bazaar. Everywhere we go people are kind and welcoming. It feels like Aspen. But, one needs to allow 40 minutes to walk each block due to all the unexpected but always anticipated conversations and pleasantries to be exchanged along the way. The magic that had been missing in Iran, it has been found.
We will spend two days here. They won’t be enough. Each stroll and new friend, each sight a new memory, Esphahan is packed with beauty, kindness, and serenity. I don’t need it to end, but it does and we board a 14 minute flight back to Tehran. No hunting knife this time, Eshpahan has tamed me. These last 48 hours will not be forgotten anytime soon.