Shiraz – Saturday April 17

I took the morning off and read in my room after breakfast. About 9:30 I got restless and I headed out to visit some of the mosques I wanted to see. They were located in and around the bazaar. I had a great morning and found all of the places I was looking for.

The most interesting was the Masjed-ye Khan in the central of the bazaar. While the inside was undergoing extensive renovation, the real interest were all of the mullahs walking around inside. The mullahs are the Iranian clergy and this place turned out to be a training school. It was the first time I had had a chance to take some photos of them in an unobtrusive manner.

My tourist duties out of the way, I spent the rest of the morning wandering the bazaar. Zand boulevard, the main street in Shiraz, splits the bazaar in two pieces: the part to the north is called the new bazaar. New in this case is a relative term: it simply means it’s newer than the southern part. Both places had pretty much the same kind of goods: fabric, spices, carpets, jewelry and so forth.

I also found the tourist part of the bazaar and continued my search for another rug. I didn’t see anything that really grabbed me, but I did find an interesting shop that sold old silver. It was located in a lovely caravanserai that had a pool in the center. As I was bargaining for a small, engraved silver box, I told the owner I was from America. He was delighted and said he would give me a good price if I would do him a favor.

He had received a letter from a friend in New York who was coming to visit in a few weeks. He was afraid that if he replied by letter she wouldn’t receive it before she left. He wanted me to deliver a message by phone when I got home. I figured it would probably be an interesting conversation and it might also get me a lower price, so I said I would. After we agreed on a price for the box he gave me his friend’s phone number.

The day after I got back home I called his friend and she was delighted to hear from me. She turned out to be quite knowledgeable about Iran and it was an informative talk. On the other hand I have no way of knowing if I got the best price on the silver box but, I’m still happy with the deal.

I stopped across the courtyard at another shop to buy some fabric for my mother who loves to sew. I met a pleasant Iranian student there and we went walking in the bazaar together. He told me he had just gotten married and I congratulated him. He asked if I was looking for anything in particular and I told him, yes, a kilim. He offered to take me to a shop run by a friend of his dad’s. I’m usually very weary of shopping this way, but I hadn’t seen anything I liked so far in Shiraz. I figured I had nothing to lose.

So we walked over to his friend’s shop. Along the way we stopped to meet several other shopkeepers who were his relatives. It was fun meeting them and no one tried to sell me anything. Finally we got to the carpet shop. I explained, through the student, that I was looking for a small kilim. The owner showed me some he had hanging in his shop and, when I didn’t see anything I liked, he took off to his storage room. He came back with a new pile. Again I didn’t see anything I liked. In fact, they all looked the same to me. The design was coarse and they weren’t of very good quality but off the shopkeeper went again. While he was gone I suggested to my friend that he tell the guy to stop. “Oh, let him go,” he said, “He really wants to sell you something.”

And so it went. Soon we had a pile of kilims knee-high in front of us and there was nothing I was even mildly interested in. It was time to stop. The shopkeeper had worked up a sweat and wasn’t looking too happy either. I told him I didn’t see anything I liked. He told the student, as he gestured at the pile in front of us, that there must be something wrong with my eyes if I didn’t see anything there I liked. True, I guess, from his prospective. I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable and figured it was time to move on.

The student and I walked a little farther together. As we did, a particularly good-looking woman walked past us. He made a comment, the kind that guys all over the world make in such situations. I said, teasing him a little, “Hey, you’re married now.” He retorted, in the best male fashion, “It doesn’t hurt to look.” True enough and boys will be boys even in Iran. Soon after that we headed our separate ways.

Farther along in the bazaar I met two little girls, maybe 8-10 years old: they just started walking along with me. We tried to talk but didn’t have a common language. That didn’t stop them from tagging along for awhile. When they got ready to leave one of the girls reached into her book bag and pulled out a pencil, slightly chewed on one end, which she proudly handed to me.

I was actually a little embarrassed. I didn’t know how to respond to this spontaneous generosity. I was also a little worried that when she got home and told her mother she had given her pencil to some tall, skinny American she would get in trouble – but she was so charming I just couldn’t refuse. I thanked her as best as I could.

While this was going on her friend, not to be outdone, got out her ink pen, about 2/3’s used, and gave it to me too. This only increased my discomfort. I thanked her also and we said good-bye. I hadn’t gotten very far before the second girl tapped me on the arm. When I turned around she gave me the cap to the pen. I looked at those two girls, smiling so proudly at me and wished I had something from my country I could give in return. Money just didn’t seem appropriate. I vowed I would be better prepared in the future.

Back at my hotel, I sat in the garden writing for awhile and then decided to take the rest of the day off. I was starting to run out of energy and decided to withdraw into a book.

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