Alone, together.Posted: October 9, 2014
Photo: Babak taking a picture of Parviz in Andabad, a village in northwestern Iran.
If I have any choice in the matter, I rarely travel with guides. I like solitude. I also like learning things for myself, in my own roundabout and impressionistic way. But there was no other option for me to travel in Iran. American tourists are watched closely for obvious reasons, and in fact, there are only a hundred guides in the country (out of four thousand) who are licensed to accompany Americans. I felt absurdly privileged to be allowed to travel to Iran in the first place, so I accepted whatever terms they gave me.
A friend of a friend, Babak Kianpour, arranged my whole trip; he’s with us for these first few days. My guide is Mohamad Shirkavand, a young engineer just out of “uni.” Our driver is Parviz Sabery, a retired teacher of literature. They are all wonderful: kind, respectful, and good-humored.
When I travel alone, I’m in charge of my lodging, schedule, food, itinerary, everything. But in this case I don’t have to be in charge of anything. It feels really nice, for a change. I feel so taken-care-of, like a baby princess. We drive and drive and drive in the cold mountains in northwestern Iran, and I’m content to sit at the window and watch the endless Forms pass, hill after hill, gully after gully, village after village, shaggy brown sheep and green torches, boxes of bees on the cliffs, women in black chadors, men in argyle sweaters. We stop for hot tea and biscuits at an overlook. We get back in the car, cheeks burned by the wind. Mohamad, Babak, and Parviz have long impassioned conversations in Farsi, of which I understand maybe five words, so in a very real way I have my solitude after all, and the rhythm of their talk becomes a sort of lullaby to me, a soundtrack to the endless Forms; and in my still-jetlagged state, I nod off, and when I come to, I realize that they’ve all gone quiet for me.
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