there’s a hidden beauty that shrouds tehran. it’s not the obvious, overt type. i don’t find myself mesmerized by architecture and city planning as i explore the city through the backseat of dilapidated taxi cabs. perhaps it’s because of the season, but the barren gardens haven’t captivated me either as i’ve walked the narrow side-streets.
the beauty, like most things in tehran that i have seen so far, is subtle.
it exists between the bland skyscrapers that have ruined the facade. between buildings that pierce the sky with no regard for maintaing a consistent identity. between traffic that suffocates drivers at all hours. between the heavy breaths of polluted air.
and yet between all those things, there are hints of the grandeur the city once exuded. hints of the momentum it had for thousands of years that came to a stop in the 70s.
as i walk through the oldest parts of the city today, where the signs of the past are more pronounced, i still only see it in pieces.
i see it where i would expect it – in the nostalgia-filled stone arches of windows from old buildings that have not yet been destroyed. many of them have been torn down and rebuilt in a more ‘modern’ style. but here, in the center of the city, some windows still reveal views of the past.
i see it in the playful blue mosaics that decorate the entrance of some of the most beautiful mosques i have seen. i see it in the interiors of those mosques whose walls are designed with thousands of tiny mirrors, leaving the prayer rooms glittering with light in what i can only assume was meant to be a metaphorical statement.
i see it in the attempts to rebuild the abandoned ceilings of the grand bazaar to restore more of the old charm the passageways once held. this is the largest bazaars i’ve ever walked through, and i instantly find myself lost in its halls, overwhelmed by the noise and the crowds of people rushing to complete a purchase.
i grab the frills of my cousin’s jacket to make sure we don’t get separated as she leads me towards a tea shop. between rushed breaths she gives me quick facts about the bazaar. there are tens of thousands of vendors, millions of visitors each day. the visitors are not tourists, i quickly observe. i don’t hear a single word in a language other than farsi, but the commotion makes it hard to hear anything clearly.
somehow i hear an unfamiliar wooden clanking and move out of the way quickly enough to not get hit by the empty trolly being pushed by a man in a rush to get somewhere.
i throw myself up against a window to give him space to pass, and as he does i turn to see the details in the display case. i see a menagerie of ornate silverware: perfume boxes, serving trays and candleholders with intricate hand made carvings that reveal the patience of a culture that is built to endure.
as we walk out of the passageways and back towards the square, something steals my attention. a crowd of men, looking like they are going to attack each other. i tug my cousin’s jacket lightly, signaling for her to wait. i don’t want to be caught in the middle of a fight, but as always my curiosity brings me to a stop.
i begin to create the story in my mind. they must be competing vendors, angry at each other for some sale that one got and the other didn’t, i imagine.
but as she sees my mind wander off, my cousin laughs and quickly corrects me. this group of men, screaming into their bluetooth ear pieces, waving and hovered over one single mysterious space are the unofficial gold market of the bazaar. they buy and sell on flimsy paper sheets and their system looks completely confusing to me.
behind them i see older men that look unfazed by what’s going on. each stands alone, tapping his pocket. these men are the unofficial exchange services. we approach one and ask what the price of the day is. exchanging dollars for rials, the transaction is complete within seconds and he goes back to his state of disinterest.
i go back to eyeing all of the activities around the old square.
this is what i see here. crazy chaotic beauty.