Under the 3/4 moon, at 11 pm, our plane. bearing the sleek logo of 'Iran Air' came to a smooth landing at the Tehran airport. We were met by one of the staff from IPM, and found that one of the other speakers, Willem Haemers, from the Netherlands, was on our plane. (He had noticed that someone looked like Rick, but it could not be, because he was with some 'Iranian woman'. He had only seen us from the back, and he noticed Kathy's appropriate matching robe and headscarf). Here at the Tehran airport, a 'palm tree' welcomed us; but still we did not know what to expect.
We were taken by taxi; destination: the IPM Guest House. The freeway looked much like ours,except that the green lit freeway signs in were in both English and Farsi, And after midnight the road was full of cars, and the city was wide awake! The Alborz mountains, like the mountains of Santa Barbara and Pasadena, were a dramatic and comforting sight. They shone in the moonlight and made us feel at home.
We were greeted by a large plate of fruit. A welcome sight, delicious, refreshing, and symbolic of Iranian hospitality. We were offered this again and again, with variations in the fruit selection. The cucumbers were always there.
Another variation was a melon plate, usually a type of watermelon, and a smooth, yellow, oval melon, cross between honeydew and cantelope. We had never had this at home, but recently we've found something similar, and we've been eating some every day! Fruit is plentiful in Iran.
We had a room on the third floor of the guest house, which had a kitchen at one end and a computer room for our use on the other. All the invited keynote speakers stayed on this floor, other speakers and participants were on the second floor, and came up to the cheerful dining area on our floor for breakfast, just outside our kitchen. The bedspreads were pretty, the beds were comfortable, not too soft, but tiny, the bathrooms marble floored and Western, with European showers, the rooms had wood desks and shelves and plently of closet space. Someone had very thoughtfully designed these living spaces. Our room had a mountain view. And we had talking animals on our rug!
In the morning, after a good five-hour sleep, we were greeted by the wonderful breakfast atmosphere that we came to expect, and that we miss even now, when we think about it (but we have our own wonderful breakfast atmosphere at home). Outside the kitchen was a reception area with tables set, and a buffet table with breakfast treats. We were so used to this service that we never took a photo! All week, our international group gathered there, and ate, and talked, a friendly beginning to our days. We will never forget the hot bread, delivered to the guest house fresh every morning, There are several varieties. 'Sangak' was our favorite, strewn with sesame seeds, about 1/2 inch thick. It is cooked on hot stones. Another similar one that we liked was was 'Barbari'. Kathy loved to spread them with the ricotta tasting smooth cream, and carrot or berry jam. Always, there were warm hardboiled eggs, just cooked, cold cuts butter, Iranian feta like cheese.There were coffee crystals, but the tea was so good, we never even tried it, even though we usually drink coffee in the morning. There was always a pot of hot tea, very strong. We were shown that one pour a little in the bottom of the cup, and then the hot water to the brim. Mostly, we didn't get a chance, because Mr. Breakfast, as we fondly came to call him, was always rushing with a smile to take care of us! He was hired by IPM as our caretaker-cook at the guest house. He worked very hard, and whenever he saw any of our group coming he literally ran to bring us tea, and a melon snack or whatever we should have. When we arrived, he smiled a lot, but spoke no English. By the time we left he was saying 'Good Morning!' and 'Thank you very much!' with a twinkle in his eye.
Now, this is the only photo we took of 'Mr. Breakfast', and we were astonished to find that it was the only time he wasn't smiling! Well, he's almost smiling...
Rick started the day by working in our room on his talk. The apples over our bed were brought from California! We thought we might need fruit! We were so wrong. We kept them for decorations while we were there, and then gave them to 'Mr. Breakfast' on our last night, hoping he could turn them into applesauce or something.
Kathy went down the hall to the computers. (Our computer worked in our room off line only, at first, but later a computer expert was sent by IPM to hook us up to the internet in our room.) The only problem was that we were so busy that we hardly could get to it! When Kathy stepped out of the door to her room, even for a moment, she had to have her headscarf on, and be covered from head to toe. This took a lot of patience!!! Rick helped by pinning the headscarf on a lot. Here she is, ready to walk our of our room.
As she was working, a young woman came up to her and said sweetly, 'if there is anything you need, please tell me. Would you like some tea?' This was Mandana, our translator and 'hostess'. For an hour they talked about poetry, and traveling, and about their lives and home. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. We are still in touch by email.
It was the day before the official start of the conference, and we were still a small group. But their were activities planned. We had our first ride on our minbus to a busy downtown Tehran restaurant.
We had our first taste of lamb and chicken kabobs, served with an Iranian non-alchoholic beer, which we came to find refreshing and tasty. These were always available in the kitchen refrigerator at the guest house. One was dry and the other had a slightly sweeter, lemony flavor. They were for different 'moods'.
Our drive into town at noon, was possible, we were told, was because it was Friday, which is like Sunday at home. Otherwise the traffic would have been terrible. It was wild enough as it was.
Driving through the streets of Tehran on this and many other occasions one thing we noticed was that this was not a poor city. It was busy, clean, well kept, with good buildings. It did suffer from pollution from automobiles. There were 'no smoking' signs everywhere, in restaurants official buildings, and on all public transportation. They drove nice cars. Food was plentiful. People did not look 'poor'. There were few beggars. The most obvious difference from home, as we have said before, was women's dress, and the women we spoke to said: 'This is our problem; right now, there is no solution'. They are fashionable, beautiful women. Kathy emulated their patience.
While we are on the topic of traffic, there is the universally popular topic of conversation: parking. We saw this car parked in a driveway in Isfahan. Mandana told us that the sign above it reads ' If you park here, all of your tires will be flattened!'
Our hosts had another treat in store for us next. It was a visit to the glass and ceramics museum. It was so beautiful that it is another story on its own! That's Willem Hammers, from the Netherlands, a keynote' invited speaker, who thought Kathy might be an Iranian woman, smiling in the right corner.
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