. That evening, we had a nice dinner at the hotel and my birthday celebration continued! I got a box of chocolates...didn't take long for my love of sugar to become evident to all, three painted Persian plates that I had been admiring in the bazaar earlier and also some fragrant organic body products from Sal and Carolyn who have a body product business in Australia!Afterwards, a group of us played cards. First gin and then a Persian bridge variation (yes, mom, I now know how to pay a bit of bridge!) We were being quite scandalous, because card playing is illegal in Iran, but like most everything here, what is illegal in public is often enjoyed in private.
The following day on the 14th, we toured the city of Arbaqu and saw some beautiful historic houses. As we were waiting to go into one of them that was still locked, an elderly gentleman was strolling past and it turned out that he was the son of the original architect of the house. He too was an architect and had until recently, due to some family tragedies, been personally involved in much of the restoration of the home. We spoke with him through Reza as he did not know English and he shared some of the details of the home that we wouldn't have otherwise known about. One of the ingenious features of these older homes were the wind towers which circulated air throughout the homes
. This feature, combined with the underground water systems allowed the homes to be quite comfortable in the blazing heat. Unfortunately, the newer homes are far less interesting and utilize AC for cooling and are much less energy efficient. The historic water system tunnels throughout many of the cities originated in the mountains, were man-made and ran home to home providing much of the usable water for the population. Nowadays, the aren't much used. Of course, there were problems inherent in the systems such as the perils of being 'downstream' and getting the water than had already run though many of the other homes! After the homes, we visited a 1400 year old mosque currently under restoration which had two mehrabs, one that faced the original holy place for Islam in Jerusalem before Mecca and then the one that faced towards Mecca which is the direction for prayer for Muslims now. The mehrab is a niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla, i.e. the direction of Kaaba that Muslims should face when praying. Reza talked with us in detail about the structure of the Iranian government that was established after the revolution about 30 years ago. It is loosely based on the French structure with Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches. The president is chosen by the people, the judiciary branch is chosen by the spiritual leaders. The spiritual leader is chosen by an elite parliament and is known as the mullah. Ayatollah is a rank of mullahs. I'm sure you all are familiar with the famous Ayatollah Khomeini. My summary is grossly inadequate but it gives you a basic idea of how the government is run. Prior to the revolution, the government was more of a dictatorship headed by the Shah. According to Reza there was an organization called Savak which was created in part by the CIA and by the Shah's government to help to keep a hold of power. The atrocities carried out by the Savak were in part responsible for some of the populations' outrage at the Shah and the partial motivation for the revolution. The West has had its fingers in the affairs of this region for quite a long time. Understanding our involvement is essential to better understanding the current state of affairs here and why in addition to positive feelings towards Americans, there is also animosity...although it wasn't directed at me personally.
We said our goodbyes to our new friends in the early morning of the 13th which you may not know is my birthday and set off on our way to Arbaqu. My tour mates and leader, Reza, made this day very special for me. I was sad being away from friends and family but the thoughtfulness of my tour mates and leader and the nomads helped quite a bit. They sang happy birthday to me while we were sitting with the nomads for breakfast. Meg gave me a posey that she made down at the river earlier in the morning and the nomads gave me a bag of dried yogurt to take with me. The taste was interesting but it was the thought that counts, right!? We headed out to Arbaqu to a hotel that was a bit out of town in the desert. We visited the Tomb of Cyrus in Pasagardae on the way, basically a large rock tomb in the middle of nowhere with scaffolding all over it for restoration, I assume? In the past, the grounds were lovely gardens etc but now only sand and desert remained. When we got into town, we saw a huge ice house where the used to store ice, a 4500 year old cypress tree and the 11th century Gonbad Ali Dome where we had chai and watched a beautiful sunset fill the sky