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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Kermanshah

This is the last bit of my travelling impressions.

On the following day, 17 June 2010, we visited the bazaar of Kermanshah, where traditional shoes (geeveh) are woven. The ones that are still used by local men are usually woven in cream thread, but women’s and children’s slippers and shoes are woven in a variety of colours. I bought a tiny pair of shoes woven in turquoise and yellow, now displayed on our mantelpiece, and another similar one to take to my nephew in Athens. I also got a bag sewn of real kilim, not like tone ones sold in souvenir shops. The friendly shopkeeper suggested that we go round the bazaar to see the old gate that was brought back from Imam Ali’s shrine in Najaf, Iraq, when a new one was installed there. He didn’t have any more information on this, but the gate was worth seeing. I touched the old wood; my hands tingled with the vibrations of prayers that have been said over the centuries in Imam Ali’s shrine. For a moment, my eyes welled up wondering whether I would ever visit the holy shrines in Najaf, Karbala, Samarra and Kazemain, all in war-fraught Iraq.

As with gates in traditional houses, it has two different door knockers, one on each leaf. The heavier one which produces a heavier sound was meant to be used by men and the lighter one by women. Believers have tied small pieces of ribbon or fabric to the door knockers, a visual metaphor of the knotty problems of their everyday lives and a physical anchor of their prayers for a solution. On either side of the gate two candle niches carried small lit candles, and on their low railing, more ribbons and small padlocks are attached, with the same significance.

We returned to the Taq e Bustan for late lunch. It was late afternoon when we decided to sit in the grounds for tea before the long drive home. We left Kermanshah at 6.30 pm. At about 10 pm we stopped at a leisure park near the town of Razan. Local families had spread their picnics on the grass, while children played around on the swings. We had a supper of freshly baked barbari bread, white cheese, tomatoes and fruit and then set off again. We arrived home at 4 am, as the call to the morning prayer was heard.

Bisotun

This is the next instalment of my travelling impressions from our trip to the west of Iran in June. One more to go!

On Wednesday 16 June after lunch we left Hamadan. About 95 km from Hamadan lie the remains of an ancient temple: sources are at a variance whether it was dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis or to Anahita, the ancient Persian goddess of water. Investigations indicate that it dates from late Seleucid/early Parthian times.

Driving westwards, an immense rockface is visible through the wide plains from tens of kilometres away. The modern road follows the trail of the Achemenid Royal Road which ran from what is now western Turkey across the Zagros mountain range, Hamadan (or ancient Ecbatana) and then turned southwards to the imperial capital Susa. The Bisotun rockface is a UNESCO listed world heritage site and carries stone reliefs recording Darius’ victories. The almost perpendicular rockface must have functioned as a huge billboard, proclaiming the glory of the Achemenids to the world and, it is assumed, to Alexander the Great. I climbed up until the Hercules statue, carved in 148 BCE and carrying an inscription on Greek, until I sprained my foot and that was the end of my climbing ambitions. I had to satisfy myself with the descriptions of the carving provided by brave daughter and husband who climbed up to the relief.
We arrived at Kermanshah at about 8 pm, and visited the Taq Bustan complex, located in the old hunting grounds of Sassanid kings. In celebration of the glories of their reigns, two grottoes or arcades are carved on the rockface, depicting the Tree of Life, the goddess Anahita and a Sassanid king, whose identity is uncertain. The complex also contains a pool with paddling boats and is surrounded by traditional kebab cafes.

Time was getting on, so we left Taq Bustan at about 9.30 pm to look for a hotel room, and then, once again as in Hamadan, because we did not have any identification that showed we are related, we had to visit the branch of the local police responsible for public places. We stopped at a garage to ask for directions to this place. When the mechanic heard what our problem was, he invited us to stay in his house. “This is no empty formality,” he said, “like the Tehranis do. Really, by God, if you don’t find a room or you don’t get the document, you are more than welcome to stay the night.” We thanked him and went on our way.

After chatting with the two young officers on duty, we got the coveted document that would allow us to check into our hotel room.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Baba Taher

After a two-week break, I would like to get back to my impressions from our trip to Hamadan a month ago.

On the morning of 16 June we visited the mausoleum of Baba Taher, the writer of mystical poems that are often set to traditional Iranian music. Earlier this year during my lessons of traditional Iranian singing, I had to learn this quatrain set to the Tusi melody of the Mahoor mode.

Del-e asheq be peyqami besazad
Khomaralood be jami besazad
Mara keyfiyat-e chasm-e to kafist
Riazatkesh be badami besazad


Again, in an awkward translation for which I take full credit:

A heart in love lives on the Beloved’s message
A drunkard lives on a cup of wine
For me, a glance from your eyes is enough
Like an ascetic who lives on an almond a day

The last line is a reference to the Beloved’s almond-shaped eyes.

Within the same grounds the mausoleum of a grandson of Imam Hossein is also located. Just like other mausoleums, the internal walls are decorated with mirrorwork, an art that was developed in Iran, as I understand, as a result of the import of mirrors from Europe, mainly Venice, at a time when mirrors were very expensive. Inevitably, some breakages took place in transit, and the ingenious Iranians devised a way of transforming the broken pieces into an art form. Small pieces of mirror cover the interior walls in symmetrical patterns: for the fist-time viewer the effect is dazzling, like a palace out of the Thousand and One Nights, as the light is reflected on thousands of tiny mirrors.

The mirror and light are potent symbols in Iranian culture, so their arrangement can also be seen as a representation of the One true God as the source of Light being reflected in the multiplicity of the physical world.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Traditional Medicine

In the previous post I mentioned Abu Ali Sina’s system of traditional medicine, so I thought I’d post some more detail on it. The following is an extract from Chapter 7 of Among The Iranians.

Traditional medicine

Zoroastrianism, the ancient Iranian system of beliefs, established a dualism that exerted a strong influence on all aspects of Iranian life. The ongoing battle between the God of Good/Light (Ahura Mazda) and the God of Evil/Darkness (Ahriman) was seen as an ever-present threat to the overall balance of the world. As a result of this struggle in the physical world, night follows day and winter follows summer as one or the other god attains temporary victory.

A similar struggle between good and evil manifests itself in every human as illness, which is nothing more than a sign of imbalance within the body. (endnote 2). The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (b. 490 CE) described this physical balance in more detail. Considering every human as a miniature of the cosmos, he linked the four natural elements (air, fire, earth, water) to the four humours in the human body (blood, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm) and classified each with the qualities hot/cold and dry/moist.

These elements, named humours, co-exist in a delicate balance in a healthy constitution. (endnote 3). However, this classification does not pertain only to humans but to all foodstuffs, which can come to the aid of the diseased individual by helping bring the system back into balance/health.

Every Iranian housewife knows the basics of this system and applies it in the dishes she prepares and their combinations she puts on offer for her family in order to ensure their health and well-being. Common ailments can be treated by the application of this system: for example, a tummy ache, especially in children, is usually an indication of ‘cold’ predominance in the body and is usually remedied with some crystallised sugar (nab√Ęt) in tea, both of which are ‘hot’. A sore throat may indicate a surplus of ‘heat’, so the patient should avoid the consumption of ‘hot’ foods such as pistachios and walnuts that would exacerbate the condition. I understand that this system, known as Greek Medicine is practised in India too, whereas, surprisingly, we Modern Greeks know next to nothing about it.

Traditional medicine has always been and still remains a reliable resource for the maintenance of family health, not least because it treats the patience as a whole and does not only address the symptoms of the illness.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Technological help needed

To those of my readers who are kind enough to leave comments, I would appreciate some help in the form of email to my address at the top of the page.

Question: why do your comments appear in Chinese characters? Do I do something wrong?

Answers will be most appreciated by a technologically-challenged blogger.

Many thanks

Abu Ali Sina

This entry continues from the previous post on our short break to the west of Iran. On the second day of our journey (15 June), we visited the grave of Ibn Sina (Abu Ali Sina or Avicenna), the 11th c. scientist, astronomer and physician.

The grave complex is adjacent to a pleasant round garden at the Bou Ali Roundabout, and includes a small museum with the works of Ibn Sina in different languages. My attention was drawn to an inscription of a poem by Ibn Sina in the book room, which runs as follows in Persian:

Az qahr-e gol-e siyah ta owj-e zohal
Kardam hame moshkelat-e alam ra hall
Birun jastam ze qeid mokr o hil
Har band goshoude shod magar band-e ajal


In a free (and rather awkward) paraphrase, this roughly means “I have been able to unlock the mysteries of nature, from the humblest plant until the heights of the planets, and I have been able to escape from the machinations of enemies and to break all fetters, except the fetters of death.”

Abu Ali Sina’s Canon of Medicine book was the main medical textbook in European universities until the 17th century. His medical outlook sees the human organism as a whole, consisting of body and soul. The body’s health depends on the balance of the four humours (earth, fire, water and air), the main elements that the physical world is also made of. Any imbalance in the four elements within the body gives rise to illness, hence many of the treatments in this system depend on various foodstuffs that re-align the body’s balance.
This is a topic I have written in some detail in Among the Iranians, but it may be worth coming back to in the next post.