Golestan Hotel is the most elegant small hotel in downtown Tehran. The manager’s office with its leather armchairs and ebony work desk is the embodiment of Oriental luxury. The reservation for a twenty-and-some-member group must be arranged in the proper way, it cannot be done simply by e-mail. A meeting at eleven o’clock, handshakes, coffee, soft drinks. Family, health, business. Apart from the reservation, we also touch upon the topics of advantageous currency exchange, further collaboration, discount hotel reservations across the country, support for my preparatory tour in Kurdistan. Meanwhile, life goes on, a Russian tour leader comes in to beg for rooms in the packed hotel, they find them for him. In the meantime we chat in Russian, he is a photographer, organizes photo tours across the former Soviet Union and in the Middle East, we exchange addresses. A young Chinese couple comes to book flight tickets, I ask them in Chinese. They have a tourist office in Shanghai, specialized in exotic tours within China. Tibet, Sichuan, Yünnan, just where I want to organize a tour in next year. They invite me, promising to help me in everything. At one we shake hands with the manager, we exchange good wishes. The room reservation took a long time, but it passed usefully.
A taxi to Darband, the bohemian quarter of northern Tehran, where the city’s elite goes out to dinner and to let the fortune-telling parrots draw them verses of Hafez. The thin, gray-haired taxi driver is from Iranian Azerbaijan, the city of Urumiye. “Are you Turkish?” I ask of him in Azerbaijani Turkish. “No, no”, he answers in surprise in the same language. “Persian?” “No.” “Armenian?” “No.” “Then?” For a while he stares out of the window, and then he turns to me. “You are Christian, not Muslim, aren’t you?” “Yes,” I say. He makes the sign of the cross. “I am Assyrian Christian.”
The clay walls of the old town of Kashan. At the corner, a little old man passes next to me. He looks back in surprise, trying to reconcile the Kurdish pants with the large telephoto camera. Soon I see him again in a small mosque courtyard, in the midst of the Ashura preparations, while explaining to four other men what he has just seen. “There he is”, he points at me, when I show up. They call me over. “From where?” “From Germany.” “Bayern München gut!” they shout. “Iran is good?” they ask. The Persians consider it a mirage if a foreigner just speaks to them in Persian. In the best case, they reply in short phrases, but they usually just gesture. In this case, you have to play barkochba with them in concise Persian phrases. “Yes, I love Iran very much.” “Which is better, Germany or Iran?” “I like Iran.” “What is good in Iran?” “The people” They look at each other with disbelief. “Are you a Christian?” “Yes.” “Is Islam good?” “Muslim people are very good.” As encouragement, I add the Shiite salutation of Ashura, “Ya Hossein, long live Imam Hossein”, killed at Kerbala almost one and a half thousand years ago on this day. The old man in the middle gets up, goes to the neighboring kiosk, buys an pineapple drink. He ceremoniously bows before me, offers it on his hand as a tray. “Please accept it.” I ceremoniously say thanks for it. Taking photos, shaking hands.