Winding dusty yellow streets, bazaars full of traders, delicately tiled mosaic interiors and tea houses with the most ornate and precious of teaware is what comes to mind when thinking of the streets of Persia.
Soon after landing in Tehran, I realised that I was in one over-polluted, over-populated civilised mega-city, not at all in the bazaar-lined labyrinth of streets I had envisioned. There were definitely no brass lamps housing blue genies or magic carpets with golden tassels ready to fly me to a whole new world.
Before being able to find a postbox to send off my complaint letter to Disney, I fled for the countryside.
One long distance bus and three shared taxis later, I arrived in no-man’s-land; a small town wedged between the northern mountain ranges called Shanderman. By coincidence it was the weekly market day, and set up along the main drag spilling into the alleyways were vendors selling everything from underwear to tupperware to farm wear. People were selling, people were buying and people were eating. There was an energetic hum to this little unknown city.
The faces of the Shandramani struck me as different to those of the 9-5 city dwellers that I had seen in the capital. These faces were kissed by the mountain air. Wrinkles deeply creased their faces and thick moustaches tickled the underside the men’s noses. Men wore suits, not the kind you might wear to the office as there were clearly none around, but the kind you might wear when strolling down the main street with a flock of sheep. The women were draped in vibrantly coloured headscarfs made even more striking against the blackness of their clothes.
While I was wandering the market, a man wearing brown woollen trousers paired with a matching woollen vest and standing no taller than the 5”1 that I stand, came and introduced himself as Arjang. During this time of year he called the mid level of the mountain his Autumn home. He was a Taleshi nomad and was only in town to buy supplies at the market before heading back up for the evening. In an act of true Iranian hospitality, he invited me to come and stay with his family.
3pm, in a Persian-made Peykan rust bucket of a car, we made a bone crunching 2-hour journey along the hairpin roads of the mountainside. At one point the road was no longer drivable, so we stopped the car and travelled the rest of by foot.
Night was falling fast, and the temperature along with it. The farm dog was barking whilst running circles and two colourful ladies, Arjang’s wife and daughter, came to meet us. They wore an ensemble of mismatched prints. Polka dot headscarves wrapped tightly around their faces, reds and purples laced in their long sleeve blouses and floral motifs printed in their full flowing A-line skirts.
Torchlight directed us towards a building in the distance and we followed the white beam of light until we reached a smooth orange clay-clad structure. There was a small opening where a half size wooden door formed an entry to their home. Through the door, the kitchen was central - the heart of the house, the eating room was to the right and the sleeping to the left. We went straight into the eating room following the glow of an old oil lamp. The flickering golden light cast across the room caught details of the hand woven carpets lining the floors, the rough sawn timber planks forming the walls and the rusty potbelly stove that provided much needed heat for the mountain nights.
A floral picnic mat was unfolded and laid before us and within minutes, plates of cracked walnuts, white cheese, fresh tandoor bread, tomatoes and tea accompanied by elegant bowls filled with sugar cubes were spread out in a feast fit for a king.
I had found my Aladdin’s Palace. Although there was no genie appearing from a lamp, there was definitely magic in this small nomadic village.
That night I threw my letter to Disney into the fire.