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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Back in Tehran / Lebanon on Thursday

Back in Tehran / Murals of the Former US Embassy
Monday 2 June 2008: Got onto a bus to Tehran. An English speaking 22 year old Esfahanian – let's call him Ali - sat beside me on the bus. We spoke quite a bit, perhaps too much when I was quite tired from the poor sleep last night. Although he was only 22 y/o, he looked more like early 30s. Middle Easterners age quite quickly. For instance, the Israelis have just released a 38 y/o Hezbollah turncoat – he looked as though he was in his early 50s. Although it could well be that he had aged while in Israeli prison, I have seen enough of such old-looking young Middle Easterners during the past few months in the region. Many locals thought I was in my mid or early 20s, which was rather hilarious. They were evaluating my age using their usual standards.
Ali was on his way to Tehran to join his parents on a holiday on the Caspian beaches. There's going to be 5 days of holidays this week – 2 additional days declared by the government over the 4th June death anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini, 5th June anniversary of Khomeini's arrest by Shah that marked the start of his resistance movement and the standard weekly Friday rest day. The death anniversary of Khomeini was supposed to be a solemn day of mourning and reflection, but many people, especially the middle and upper class of Tehran, Esfahan and other large cities regarded this as an opportunity to get away and have fun on the cool beaches of the Caspian.
"We just want to get away from all that public mourning, especially on TV. We Iranians mourn too much and in public." Indeed, in the past few days, banners and huge black billboards with images of Khomeini had suddenly risen everywhere, on top of those that are found year-long. State TV ran documentaries of Khomeini non-stop as though he had only died yesterday (instead of in 1989), plus images of public memorial ceremonies in which men and women in mourning dress marched with black flags, wailing loudly, shouting slogans or beating their chests loudly in typical Shiite expression of deep sadness and sorrow.
Across Iran, I saw huge portraits of not only Khomeini but also that of Khameini, whose was often shown standing next to Khomeini. A huge mural across the entire western outer wall of Kowsler Hotel in southern Esfahan was self-evident. The English caption below the portraits of the two men said, "Obedience to Khameini is obedience to Imam Khomeini." The political message seemed to have underscored the relative political stature of the former.
The bus got into Tehran at 3pm – as punctual as ever – Ali told me that bus companies would be fined if they arrived too early (that would be evidence of speeding dangerously) or too late (customer rights), and this is monitored by police at the various checkpoints across the countryside that we stopped briefly several times on each bus journey I took.
I was in Tehran merely 10 days ago but the city has now been transformed into Mourning Central. Black flags and banners everywhere and even more Khomeini posters than before. The taxi that drove me to the hotel even passed me a mini Khomeini mourning poster. However, as a local told me, the Tehranis will all go for a beach holiday this week, instead of mourning for Khomeini as the government would prefer to see.
I checked into Atlas Hotel in North Tehran – curious about this supposedly upmarket area. Quite expensive at US$45 but the rooms were nice. LP said it cost about US$25 – how prices have changed. I walked around the area and took interesting photos of anti-US murals at the former US Embassy where the Embassy Hostage Crisis took place shortly after the Revolution. Fortunately, no policemen went after me for taking the photos.
Then I walked across parts of North Tehran. Tried to find Chinese restaurants listed in LP but one had shut down and the other could not be located. Internet, then dinner at local place, followed by further jalan jalan, and back to the hotel.
Tuesday 3 June 2008 Tehran:
Much ado with nothing in the city of official (that's all) mourning
Tehran is a dead city today. It's a mistake to come to Tehran today. Everything is shut. Even the National Museum which I thought might be opened for today is an additional holiday announced by the government, not the actual original holiday (which is Wednesday). The TV continues to play Khomeini non-stop, and endless speeches by Supreme Leader Khameini and a whole string of ayatollahs, cheered on by crowds of fist-clenching men in black mourning clothes. Huge banners on the streets, some showing Khameini weeping at the death of Khomeini, others showing Khomeini with images of revolutionary martyrs. Most Tehranis, I think, are basking on the beaches of the Caspian Sea, three hours away by car.
Maybe I will do some writing today, and pop by the boiled goat head restaurant not too far away.

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