A Teacup in Tehran September 2019 - By Caroline Fakhri

Elahe Heydari in her studio by @carolinefakhri

Art in Iran

Little is known outside of Iran about its art and artists, especially since the Revolution in 1979 forty years ago; since then foreign travel in and out of the country has been severely limited.

So on a recent trip I was privileged to be given access to not only an Iranian artist’s recent paintings but also to visit her in her home where she has a studio and runs art classes for children. Elahe Heydari, who was born in 1968 in Tehran, started painting at a young age and has continued to do so ever since selling and exhibiting her art both in Iran and abroad.

She had her first solo exhibition in 1997 at the Mansoureh Hosseini Gallery and her first group exhibitions also in 1997 both in Tehran. Since then Elahe has exhibited outside of Iran including India, Portugal and London.

Over the years Elahe’s style has changed and she has experimented with different mediums such as oils and charcoal. When I visited she showed me her latest paintings, a set of mouthless portraits of women. When I asked if the mouthless women represented the lost voice of women in Iran she insisted this was not the case, she just didn’t like painting mouths. For me though the portraits made me think of the repression women have faced in Iran since the country turned into an Islamic Republic all those years ago. Above all I am pleased to see that art and female artists are thriving and more importantly exhibiting their work in the Islamic Republic.

@carolinefakhri

Muharram in Iran

The streets are thronged with people and the atmosphere has a carnival like air about it but this is no joyful celebration, this is the mourning month of Muharram when the Shi’a Moslems, majority in Iran, commemorate the death, some1400 years ago, of the third Imam in a line of twelve, Imam Hussein.

From the first of the Arabic month of Muharram, followed in Iran for religious dates, the build up to Ashura and Tasura is palpable. The only music broadcast anywhere and everywhere is a lament to Hussein’s death. Stands are set up in the streets offering free, sharbat, a sugary drink, tea, biscuits and fruit and as the days go by whole meals including rice and different types of stews.

Ashura and Tasura fall on the tenth and eleventh of Muharram, the days of the battle when Imam Hussein was slain on the plains of Karbala; the days beforehand are a build up to this event,

Men and women young and old fill the streets to see the spectacle of the processions; the men beat their chests with chains as loud drums and melodious chants fill the air.

@carolinefakhri

Open Air dining in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Open Air dining in the Islamic Republic of Iran We drove up the Imam Khomeini Express Way to the relative cool of Farah-zad so we could eat in the open air, sitting cross legged or lounging on benches covered in traditional Persian carpets.

Although the place was busy we parked with ease guided into a parking space by an employee of the restaurant, the nearest thing to valet parking one might find in Iran.

Our hosts chose a restaurant called Fakhteh, a slightly unfortunate translation for turtle dove, and also a slightly strange name, in my opinion, for a restaurant.

First impressions were good. Coloured lights adorn the outside and a fountain surrounded by plants with water cascading over three levels awaits you at the entrance. We skirted around the fountain, down the steep steps onto a terrace with numerous seating areas, some occupied already with diners, each one secluded by tall plants which gave one the feeling of being in your very own garden, giving me the opportunity to remove the compulsory hijab, a requirement for all women in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We took our shoes off, clambered up onto the benches and propped ourselves up on the cushions, very much resembling a scene from the Persian Empire days, strangely, being replicated in a TV serial broadcast on the screen above our heads, soundless, because it is the mourning month of Muharram, when Imam Hussein, the eighth Imam in a line of twelve Imams, was killed on the desert plains of Karbala, Iraq, 1400 years ago.

Comfortably seated we perused the menu and chose succulent chicken kebabs, white fluffy rice, mirza-ghasemi (an aubergine dish laced with garlic from the Caspian Sea coast of Iran) barley soup to start, which was on the house, all accompanied by freshly baked flat bread. We drank doug, a yogurt drink - alcohol is prohibited in Iran - finishing off with pots of tea accompanied by delicate pastry rolls filled with vanilla cream and crystallised sugar on sticks.

The service was slick and food absolutely delicious.

8 September 2019

Dinner at Fakhteh Restaurant, Farahzad, Iran by @carolinefakhri

Arjill Frooshey. (Fruit and nut shops) in Iran

Arjill, the collective noun in Farsi for dried fruit and nuts of which, in Iran, there is such an abundance there are shops dedicated to selling only this. Once upon a time my Father in Law owned such a shop, situated in a prime location, in Tehran, opposite a maternity hospital and next door to a cinema. My Father in Law supplied cinema goers with bags of pistachios, sunflower seeds or Japanese seeds, for them to munch their way through whilst watching the film. The only problem was these seeds, still in their husks, were discarded by the consumers of said seeds, creating a floor covering that one had to plow through on the way out of the cinema, almost like kicking through a carpet of dry autumnal leaves in London.

Visitors to the hospital opposite bought bags of walnuts to give to new mothers in a bid to increase their energy levels and help them produce copious amounts of milk for their new born babies. My Father in Law also sold tins of compote, fruit in a manageable form for recovering invalids. That was forty or so years ago and shops like my Father in Law’s still exist selling a myriad of nuts straight from rough coarse sacks arranged on the floor with other produce stacked on shelves around the shop, all the way up to the ceiling, optimising every last centimetre of space.

This time in Iran I visited an arjill frooshey situated in the busy thoroughfare of Sattar Khan in the West of Tehran, Ayoub. Ayoub is as sophisticated as my Father in Law’s shop was simple. It still has the fruit and nuts displayed loose, now no longer in sacks but in large metal containers depicting scenes from Iran’s ancient past, the warriors of the Empire and guardians of the palace at Persepolis. Ayoub is a large, brightly lit shop, so crammed with mouth watering goodies it is hard to choose. Attentive staff package up your goods of choice into beautifully designed carrier bags and boxes making them the perfect gift for friends and family.

A visit to an arjill frooshy is a definite must on a trip to Iran.