Today was strange, wonderful, and varied. We stopped at a number of sites very quickly, including a beautifully decorated shrine to an Imam's nephew, a madrase
(theological seminary), and a shopping excursion in the Karim Khan.
We also made a stop in the city's wax museum, which is filled with local luminaries: poets, academics, royalty, clergy, revolutionaries...imagine Madame Tussaud's without Twiggy or the Beatles.
One other stop was the Eram Botanical Gardens, run by Shiraz University. Iran is not a desert nation, though it is a very dry country. The mountains that surround this city are a distinct brown; the sharp, cloudless blue of the sky and the green of this garden place stand in stark contrast.
Paradise is a Farsi word that has made its way into a number of languages, including English. The original meaning, as I understand, is something akin to a walled garden. Standing here, with the birds singing in the trees and couples sitting on benches in the cool afternoon shade, I begin to get some sense of how such a garden might have been paradise for folks in the ancient world. I also have a sense of how far removed this scene, and so many others from our time here, is from the many anxieties our loved ones have carried throughout our trip. It is impossible to describe the disconnect between these experiences and what we thought we would experience. But if being in Iran can give a window on paradise, then perhaps there's hope for this world.
We took another in-country flight this evening, this time to Isfahan, a city which promises to be more beautiful than even Shiraz. Our arrival was topped by a group of young people who spoke little to no English but insisted on having their pictures taken with us, a scene I can only describe as chaotic, surreal, and infectiously giggly.