2. Because the mountains are more beautiful and wild and colorful and ragged and scary than elsewhere.
3. Because the Persian script is fascinating.
4. Because whole families move on a motorcycle without a helmet, the children in front of the father, and the mother behind him, her black chador swollen like a sail.
5. Because from door to door, shop to shop, taxi to bus, you cross different musical universes, where language, voice and instruments merge in a melancholic thread.
6. For all the faces, bodies, voices, looks of all those you meet, for everyone speaking to you.
7. Because you can tell the story of Esther and Mordecai to Iranians sitting on the ruins of Pasargad.
8. Because there are eucalyptus and cypress and sycamore and poplar and willow trees everywhere. Because between two chains of arid mountains you find bright green rice fields.
9. Because you can drink khâkshir which is delicious and smells of rose, but you do not know what the small brown seeds floating in it are.
10. Because you remember Aeschylus, you remember the Persian messenger telling about the lamentations of Xerxes and about the king’s throne on the promontory above Salamis, you remember the sceptre of Darius – and you stop at the foot of their graves.
11. Because you meet taxi drivers who listen to poetry while driving, and even if you do not understand Persian, the rhythm, the sound, the music of the language cradle you along the road.
12. For the donkeys laden with bags. And for the mechanical beasts, which are just as tired and loaded with the same bags.
13. Because there are mosques even in the motorway service areas.
14. Because crossing a street is an adventure, because accidents are more dramatic than elsewhere, because the traffic is terrible, because the wrecked cars are exposed at the motorway toll booths.
15. Because the children are clever, they play laughing on the lawns in the cool of the falling night, the elders guide the smaller ones in gardens and ponds, and their parents speak softly to them.
16. Because you meet improbable people, these Zoroastrians thundering against Islam, this young man quoting you from Waiting for Godot in the middle of the desert, and this girl with scratched and colored fake nails on her toes, long and sharp like claws, her face like a hostile mask, who tells you with vivid gestures how her brother was hanged last year.
17. For the men sitting on a carpet in the street, or in the shade of the trees along the road.
18. Because the Magi came from Persia.
19. Because the night in the desert is full of stars, and the Milky Way is more milky here.
20. Because surviving the summer heat is a spiritual experience unlike any other.
21. Because the mullahs are also fathers, and you see them playing with their children on the courtyards of the mosques.
22. For the herds of black sheep grazing the yellow stubble under the sun. For the fatigue, for the dust.
23. Because sometimes the summer sky turns black and it rains some drops. You sit in the citadel of Shiraz, waiting for the freshness to come.
24. Because there are towers everywhere, and anti-aircraft guns, and dusty and unshaven soldiers who are bored in their bunkers, forgotten along the border with Nakhchivan (as are forgotten, unshaven and dusty, without doubt, the others on the other side of the Araxes).
25. Because you can learn to decipher a carpet, read the sky and the stars, read the gardens and palaces, trees, mountains and snakes, roosters, peacocks and lions and fish ponds, the whole paradise within its crenellated wall.
26. Because whole days pass without seeing a single dog, and you can play by counting them, to break the monotony of the journey.
27. Because the rams, as formerly in Ur, still stand on their hind legs to graze the leaves of the trees.
28. Because you are endlessly confused by that currency with multiple zeros, by the prices expressed in tomans and the banknotes of rials adorned with the portrait of the ayatollah – he said 10, spreading his ten fingers, I guess it is 10,000 tomans, which makes 100,000 rials, but now he moves his hand twices, no, it will be probably 20 or perhaps 30, that is, 300,000 rials?
29. Because you were told not to speak about politics or religion, but everyone is talking to you about politics or religion.
30. Because the Regent’s Mosque in Shiraz looks like a dark forest.
31. To get lost in the crowd of the bazaars – or to walk in the deserted avenues. For the musicians asleep against a wall. For the old people pushing their carts. For all those weaving their carpets in the shadow of the trees along the road.
32. Because travelers have roamed Persia for many centuries, and there is no reason to stop.
33. Because Tabriz or Soltaniyeh have not changed much since 1673, and Jean Chardin could still draw the same Mausoleum of Öljaitü, the eighth Ilkhanid Khan, who died 1316, and ten years earlier wrote a letter to the French king Philip the Beautiful, to propose an alliance.
34. Because at the bend of a road, the curve of the mountains, the color of the earth, the thorny clumps, the long dark wool of the sheep, the shepherd leaning on his staff, all evoke Giotto and Tuscany.
35. Because before going there you wanted to look at everything you never had time to study: Zoroastrianism, Gnostics, Messianism, Neoplatonism, Shiism, Mongolian history, the Seljuks, the Achaemenids – and once you arrived, nothing counts but Persian, the sense of direction, bus schedules, the taarof, sign language, patience, wisdom…