Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ladies Who Lunch

I was a little bit nervous about lunch in Andon, first because it was gender-segregated and I would be separated from Ahmad, but second because I didn't want to get sick! Luckily, I had a lovely time and so did my stomach!

All of the women headed next door to the neighbour's house, while the men stayed in the original house we were visiting. A long plastic table cloth (soffreh) was layed out and set with the obligatory fresh herbs (sabzeh).

It was a bit chilly but it was nice to eat al fresco. 

 The ladies were served gormeh sabzeh (which can be made vegetarian/vegan, but usually contains meat).  It's an Iranian stew served over rice.  With so many guests to serve, the rice is cooked in a huge pot that's brought right to the dining area:

(Notice that shoes are removed before you sit on the carpet to eat.)

Our hostess found out that I was vegetarian and went to the trouble of making me a separate dish, kookoo sabzi, (centre, below) which is one of my favourites (actually is there any vegetarian Iranian food that's not my favourite??).  It's a delicious spinach and herb-filled kind of frittata, but it's lighter than the traditional frittata or omelet.

My drink here is a freshly-mixed mint and yogurt drink called dough (pronounced doog).  Previously, I had only seen bottled dough in Iranian grocery stores but I didn't care for it as it's very sour.  This drink was fresh and light, a perfect accompaniment to a sunny outdoor lunch.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where's Waldo in the Village of Andon?

This was my outfit for the trip:

The women are more conservative and religious in the villages, in general, so of course I stuck out like a sore thumb amidst all the black chadors (the black sheet, essentially, that the women wrap around themselves).  It wasn't really a problem, as I was still dressed acceptably in my long manteau (trench coat) and hijab.  Luckily, my sister-in-law gave me a more subdued hijab, as I had only brought brightly coloured ones, which would be inappropriate to wear outside during the holy days of Moharrem.

Even the young girls were wearing hijabs, even though it's only required at age 9:

This girl has a winnie the pooh hijab!

Here's me with some young teens in the village:

Spot the foreigner!

A lot of the women still wore the black chadors inside the house too:

The woman second from the left, who was our hostess, is wearing a house chador which is made of lighter fabric.  Often when women visit another home the hostess will offer one of these house chadors to wear instead of the heavier black chador. 

I even tried one on for fun:

After a little while visiting, the women wanted me to go in another room with them where they were more relaxed. 

They brought out cheetos (regular and crunchy), which they called by name....

(The father operates a convenience store out of part of his house). 

Then they showed me wedding photos and videos of a couple of recent family weddings, which seems to be a common occurrence in these women-only groups.  In the photos the women are unrecognizable because of all the heavy makeup.  They wear Western style dresses with lots of skin showing in the female-only section of the party.

The women were very friendly and eager to try to communicate even though some couldn't speak any English.

As we were leaving, our hostess asked me if in America they say "Death to Iran" like they say "Death to America" in Iran.  That was pretty funny! 

Muharram...It Ain't Christmas

We arrived just after the start of the holy month of Moharram (also spelled Muharram).  Moharram is the month that begins the Islamic new year, but it's not a celebratory month.  Rather, the tone is more like Lent in the Christian tradition.  During the month, the martyrdom of Mohammed's grandson, Imam Hussein, is commemorated, particularly on Ashura, the 10th day of the month.  (The Islamic calendar is lunar, so the date changes every year for our calendar as well as the Iranian calendar). 

Anyway, the mood is very subdued during this month.  Most women don't wear bright colours or even makeup.  It was quite a contrast to the American and Italian Christmas cheer we had just come from.  Ironically, the colours of Moharram are red and green.  So these colours were displayed prominently, though with a completely different meaning!

Our first full day in Iran was Tasua, the day before Ashura, also a holy day.  Every neighbourhood has some sort of events, at minimum a parade of local men and boys flagellating themselves with zanjir, chains with handles attached.  This was the local parade:

The men wear black and hit their chests while singing.

Some play music while others hit themselves with the zanjir.  The chains are heavy, but most men were letting the chains glide over their backs, so it didn't seem to be painful.

The young ones were into it too.

At the local parade word spread quickly that "a foreigner" was watching.  They seemed excited that I would be watching their parade.

Next, we headed to a nearby village where they observe the day full force.  I even got to try out the zanjir at Ahmad's relatives' house:

I don't think you're supposed to be smiling during this, but hey, I'm new here!

In the village more elaborate parade groups came by. 

These look pretty heavy!

This guy's a professional!

And there was more self-flagellation...

You can see the guy on the right has a tea pot to offer the men tea.  The neighbours also offer sweets and dates to the marchers.

The village had erected a tent for the groups doing passion plays that come by throughout the day from different neighbourhoods.

We saw several passion plays commemorating different parts of the Battle of Karbala and the death of Imam Hussein. 

The green guys are good and the red ones are the bad guys.

Some plays even included horses, which made the front row a little iffy when the horses started acting up! 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different...IRAN!

We arrived in Isfahan at around 4 AM, which is pretty common for international arrivals.  Just before we disembarked the plane, all the women whipped on their hijabs (minus a couple who wore them the whole flight), as is required by the government of Iran. 

Customs was very smooth.  After that we picked up our bags and headed to the exit where our luggage was scanned to ensure we didn't have any alcohol or other contraband items inside.  (I was scared that they would deem my Entertainment Weekly magazines inappropriate, but they didn't physically search anything.)

Next we procured a private taxi to take us to Isfahan (about 4 hours away).  The taxi driver looked about 15 and sported a jacket with a large D & G (Dolce and Gabbana) on the back.  He was also glued to his cell phone a lot of the time!

Some scenes on the road from Tehran to Isfahan:

It looks just like New Mexico, but it reminded me more of the images I've seen of Afghanistan, which was a bit eery...

No billboards?  No worries...just write your ad on the mountain:

Ingenious marketing! 

Christmas in Roma

It was Christmastime in Rome, but there was no snow and plenty of sunshine:

 The Christmas lights and decorations were strung up in the Roman streets:

Even the Nutella was decked out for the season:

This was taken a the Christmas market in Piazza Navona, where we browsed through the stalls full of ornaments, figurines and toys.

This is the witch, Befana, who brings Italian children presents on Epiphany.  I considered buying one, but wasn't so sure I wanted a witch hanging on my Christmas tree!

And finally, some pictures of the Vatican at Christmas.

I hope YOU had a

Our Mini Roman Holiday

We made it to the Trevi Fountain...

And managed to thow in a few coins to ensure our return to Rome:

Here's hoping our next visit is longer than 12 hours!

Outside the Pantheon...

...and inside the Pantheon...

We saw some of Rome's many beautiful fountain sculptures...

The birds like this one!

At Piazza Navona

A quick taxi ride and we are in Vatican City!

This photo of us was taken by a lovely Swiss man who was preparing for his ordination at St. Peter's on Christmas day.

Enjoying the sunset on our walk back from the Vatican to catch the airport shuttle bus.  Even though I had an exhilarating day in Rome, I'm definitely tired here!