Saturday, May 2, 2009

Esfahan (continued)

The weather's not been at its kindest since we got to Esfahan, taking some of the joy out of the trip. It's rained every day and there was a thunderstorm last night, thankfully after we got back to our hotel. But we've managed to maximise our time in the sun, and kept to tea houses, covered bazaars and palaces during drizzly periods.
Yesterday (Friday) most shops and sights were closed, so we went south to Vank Cathedral, the Armenian church serving a community that's been in Esfahan since the Safavid era. It was a shock walking into the church: a sudden flood of figurative imagery, technicolour, wall to wall and floor to ceiling, after days of arabesques and geometric, abstract motifs broken only by the brown friezes of Perspeolis. The cathedral contained a mix of naive Armenian-style paintings and oils in the manner of Italian and Flemish renaissance works.
It became apparent exactly how much of a shock the nude sculptures of Indian temples must have been for Islamic rulers and their armies.
We took a cab to the easternmost of Esfahan's historical bridges, the Shahrestan bridge, built in the Seljuk era about 800 years ago, and walked west for about five kilometers from there. The river is almost non-existent right now, partly because of the season, and partly, I suspect, because of a dam visible beyond the Shahrestan bridge, but the walk was great fun nevertheless. It seemed that all the families in Esfahan were picnicking in gardens and parks along the river. There were barbeques going, and games of handball, impromptu singing sessions, card players, even a jogger or two.
I haven't seen a single mali at work in these parks, but a substantial percentage of the revenue of Esfahan's municipal corporation must go toward their upkeep. There's some elaborate topiary on view as well: hedges in the shape of everything from birds to teapots.
In the evening we returned to Imam Square, and got drawn into a conversation with a local couple and their friend who was visiting from Shiraz. In Iran it's almost impossible to avoid dinner and homestay invitations, and difficult to wriggle out once the invitation has been extended. It's a great place for people who like making friends in new places, but Jabeen and I tend to have a pretty tight schedule, and though we welcome conversations, we never commit to anything more.
Only one of the trio who engaged us at Imam square spoke any English, and then only a few broken sentences, but that didn't prevent us from being asked very elaborate questions through gestures. The woman wanted to know from Jabeen: How long have you been married? Why do you wear no wedding ring? Do you have children? Why not? And so on. Having learned we have different surnames, neither wear nor carry wedding-related paraphernalia, and have not bred any progeny, she began to suspect that we were not, in fact, man and wife.
In the end we got away lightly, accepting their offer of an ice-cream treat, a sickly sweet combination of falooda and vanilla softee, but dodging the invite for a drive to Khaju bridge, dinner at their home, and a double bed for the night.
In five hours we take an overnight bus to Tehran. We will get there at dawn, and hopefully find the hotel has understood our reservaion request and has a room waiting. Check out / Check in time in Iran is usually between 2 and 3 pm, which is great unless you arrive at dawn.

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