We woke up late. Now we are in a hurry and thanks god for the new Tehran subway! it's still uncompleted but it covers almost all the city allowing to move in a decent time. It's crowded, and that gives an idea of the huge ammount of people living, working and daily moving in Tehran, because the streets are permanently blocked by the traffic jam.
The rush time is crazy, especially on the lines crossing Azadi Tower area, because there is located an important bus terminal. Fortunately - for me! - on the Tehran subway women have got a dedicated space. That isn't true for men, indeed the subway trains are mixed, but women can opt for the only women part, that's less crowded the most of the times, and in rush time it's preferable to be squeezed among other women than in a crowd of men... well... at least I prefer! The subway is a moving bazar: any kinds of vendors get in and loudly advertise their merchandise, and people buy. It's perfectly legal. Male vendors shouldn't get in the only women train... but they do anyway.
Golestan ('place of flowers') was the official residence of the Shah, who used to listen to his subjects sitting on his majestic marble throne. I have already been here but it strikes me again the joyful concept of this 'hall of throne', open on a beautiful garden rich of flowers and refreshing fountains. Golestan complex includes several palaces and I'm looking forward to visit again the stunning 'mirrors palace', all decorated in small pieces of mirrors reflecting the light and creating an incredible athmosphere. Pure splendour.
It's midday, the azan (or 'adan') softly comes from the nearest mosque. A family pray on the grass and I silently join. Now we are hungry: Golestan Restaurant, inside the palace, is not cheap but very very good. Traditional Persian dishes are well cooked and potions are large.
It's very hot in the early afternoon and we are sitting on the grass when a man in a uniform comes to us. I recognise him: he is a 'pasdaran'. Very kindly and in a good English he tells us that it's forbiden to sit on the grass. We thank him and move to the nearest bench.
Wow! times have changed! I remember that in my last stay pasdarans were very strict and almost unfriedly: a political fight was in act opposing the liberal President Khatami and the Supreme Guide Khameni, so Pasdarans were sent around enforcing the dressing code and laws regarding drinking, music, men and women public frequentation... Now they are all smiles, especially with tourists. The democratic President Rouhanni has been elected for the second time. He signed an historical pact with the International Community about nuclean energy development for civil use obtaining the lift of sanctions. Iran is opening to the world and finally the world seems to understand that Iran is a friendly, safe, peaceful country.
In the streets outside Golestan a big crowd is busy shopping in the Grand Bazar and in the many shops all around it. We are in the Southern part of the city, more working-class and more traditional. Here the Revolution had one of its center, the other one being in the University among radical students embracing Islam as a political ideology. Even now in the Grand Bazar you can see groups of people, especially men, sitting on a pile of carpets or standing in front of a shop sipping tea and animately discussing.
The Grand Bazar is huge! we have been walking up and down in his corridor for almost two hours and we didn't see it all. And walking it's hard because of the crowd and kinda scaring because of the porters' carts riding full speed. Porters' work is vital for the Grand Bazar as its dimensions don't allow to pick up the acquired stuff directly by car, especially when you bought something big or many items. It has to be carried outside. And given that the porters are paid piece work... they run like hell!
Exhausted, we emerge. Airconditioning makes the subway especially nice! Few stops and there we are: just in front of the ex USA embassy.
The last time I have been here standing and taking pictures it was forbiden, we had stopped by the other side of the street discretely shooting from inside our bus. Now I can pose few inches from the wall, covered on anti-American graffiti from the days of the hostages crisis.
The embassy is abandoned. There are project about it, to transform it in a museum or to the place of a students' association. But - just like the hijab - it has got such a symbolic value that its normalisation requires time. Iran is moving on, slowly but steadily. Only, it is moving in its own direction and can't accept any external forcing.
TO BE CONTINUED