Magazine article The Spectator

Where to Take the Nuclear Family

Magazine article The Spectator

Where to Take the Nuclear Family

Article excerpt

Is there another Iran? One where people care about things other than turning yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride gas? One where the fashion accessories are not just nuclear worker's face masks or chadors? One where the price of watermelons is more keenly debated than the scale of the Holocaust?

Iran does not top most people's destination lists in the current climate -- but worries of suicide bombings and kidnappings that plague its neighbour Iraq are uncommon in an very welcoming country.

The greatest danger to your health in Tehran comes from the gridlocked traffic.

If the hideous pollution from ancient cars filled with asbestos doesn't make you sneeze and cough, there is the seeming certainty of being run over. Pedestrian crossings are rare, and no driver pays attention. The only safe tactic is to wait for a group of locals to amass, put them between you and the oncoming vehicles while you step directly into the traffic hoping it will slow down. In this process of blind faith you can see origins of the Shi'a cult of martyrdom. One of many Iranian ironies is that most of the rusty white 'paykans' which churn out the pollution, while reminiscent of Cuba, are actually a version of the Hillman Hunter.

Endless clichés are written about the two contrasting Irans -- 'the land where East meets West', 'a proud nation of tradition and modernity'. Like most clichés, there is some truth to them. The divide cuts across Tehran -- the south is poor, conservative, run-down and yet more fascinating with its museums, heritage and government buildings. The north is full of urbane, upwardly mobile yuppies, eating second-rate Italian food and prattling on their 'handy' phones. Like London, perhaps.

Those well-informed, educated Tehranis joke that 'most Iranians wouldn't know an atom bomb from a pizza'. Iranian food is a mixed bag. While most restaurants are either traditional or Western style, a menu will not really offer a choice, but merely suggest 20 different types of kebabs. While you might overdose on kebabs, the best food is to be found in people's houses. If you can secure an invitation, it is well worth the treat and you will experience mouth-watering lamb stews, bejewelled rice with pistachios, fresh herb salads and tasty unleavened bread.

Ayatollah Khomeini's image is still imposed on the visual landscape. …

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