Iran 2016 — Journey to a Politically Incorrect Land

“Boy, you really do like danger, don’t you?”  “Better not bring any bibles with you.”  “What are you going there for?  They hate us”

I turned a deaf ear to all the nonsense.  People whose horizon is no wider than a television screen, who wouldn’t know a visa from a lottery ticket, are not the kind of people I take seriously when I plan a trip, even if they’re family and friends.  So where do you think I was off to?  If you guessed Israel, you’d be wrong, but that would be a more sensible answer than the country which had thrown everyone into a tizzy.

There’s only one bad thing I can say about traveling to Iran, and that is that the tourism authorities there make it so restrictive for Americans to visit that it would discourage all but the most determined.  To discuss all the red tape and related hassles would take several paragraphs, so I’ll just touch upon one aspect.  Before even applying for a visa, you must furnish all your flight details (among much more information) which are reviewed in Tehran, which in practice means purchasing an air ticket before you do anything.  But your visa application can still be rejected, and if it is, the Iranian interests section in the Embassy of Pakistan, with whom you must deal, even though they almost never answer the phone (there is no Iranian embassy in Washington D.C., and inexplicably, the Iranian UN consulate in New York, one hour from my home, does not issue tourist visas) is not responsible for any financial loss.  Catch-22, Persian style. 

Visas, for countries that require them of Americans – and most countries outside Europe and the western hemisphere do – are, for the most part, easy to obtain.  Depending on the country and how and where you apply, you can almost always get them on the spot, or within three working days at most.  It took me nearly TWO MONTHS from the time I booked my tour to the day a Fed Ex driver knocked on my door requesting a signature for the packet containing my passport with Iranian visa attached.  Ridiculous!  And that was another thing – booking a tour.  I had called the Iranian UN consulate to ask if I could travel around the country independently, and was told I could.  Winging it has always been my style, except in those few countries where this is impractical or impossible.  Yet everything I read on the internet indicated that U.S. citizens were required to join an organized tour.  Tiring of all this confusion, that’s what I finally did, booking with a British outfit with a solid reputation for down to earth travel.  When I finally got to Iran I discovered that there’s an extensive and low-cost public transport network with plenty of budget hotels everywhere – my kind of place – but it is indeed true that American and also British citizens can enter the country only if they have pre-booked an organized tour.  All other nationalities are free to go where they want and do as they please, except, of course, Israelis, who are banned from Iran and most countries in the region. 

Since no American airline flies to Iran – we don’t deal with countries that sponsor terrorism, you see – I chose to get there on Emirates, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, which flies nonstop from New York to Dubai, the UAE’s largest city.  Dubai is the air hub of the entire Islamic world and the world’s busiest international airport – two facts I was not aware of.  I was supposed to catch the 10:20 AM flight from New York to Dubai on October 19, arriving 7 AM local time on the 20th, have a look around for two days, then fly to Shiraz, Iran on the 22nd to begin my tour.  As it happened, I had to attend a funeral on the 20th – a personal story I won’t go into here – and since it was imperative that I arrive in Shiraz the morning of the 22nd on Flight FZ271 or else be refused entry and presumably deported on the next airplane headed back to Dubai – on the 18th I scrambled to change my itinerary so as to depart New York on the 20th on Emirates’ 11 PM flight, and reschedule my Dubai stopover on the way back  home.  This I managed to do after paying a reasonable penalty fee.  That was the last flight, more than twelve hours in duration, that ensured my timely arrival in Shiraz.  Crossing eight time zones, I landed in Dubai on the 21st at 8:15 PM local time, and having canceled my hotel reservation, curled up on the floor in a corner of sprawling Terminal 3, physically and emotionally spent, hoping security wouldn’t tell me to get up and go sit in a seat.  They did leave me alone, but to my amazement, flights to every conceivable destination in North Africa, the Mideast and Central Asia took off without letup through the night, and with all the hubbub and loud announcements in Arabic and English you can imagine how I slept.  Then at 5 AM came the muezzin’s call to prayer.  Many times I’ve been charmed by this eerie cry echoing from minaret loudspeakers high above the friendly neighborhood mosque, but this was the first time I ever heard it indoors as it resonated through the ultra-modern food court and duty free shops.  Everything about Dubai, a city drenched in boundless oil wealth, astonished me, but that’s a story for another time.  But for me, all these little episodes are inseparable from the memories of my trip to Iran.

Shiraz is Iran’s sixth largest city and the airport there is small and relaxed.  The line at passport control was not long but I held it up when my turn came.  Not me, actually, but the desk officer: it’s not every day an American turns up here, and he repeatedly punched the keys on his computer.  My visa number undoubtedly gave him access to my life story as I had furnished it two months earlier.  I wasn’t worried; I knew everything was in order, and that a tour rep was supposed to pick me up within the hour.  Finally, he stamped my passport, handed it to me with a smile, and said, “Welcome to Iran.”

Over the next week I was to hear those words many times from curious, everyday people who approached out of nowhere and asked, “What is your country?”  When I told them, the invariable reply was, “Ah, America.  Welcome to Iran.”  I had read about this gracious welcome accorded all foreign visitors, so I was not really surprised, but it was heartwarming just the same.  I’ve met lots of nice people in many countries, but nothing equals the hospitality I experienced in Iran, as anyone who has been there can attest.

There were seven others in my group: five British, one Italian and one Pole, all of them, with one exception, good travel companions. Sharzeh was our bus driver and Hesham our English-speaking guide. Our itinerary: three nights in Shiraz, three in Isfahan (also spelled Esfahan), one in Kashan and one in the capital Tehran – a total of roughly 700 highway miles, barely a dent in a country the size of Alaska. I was still muddled from events of the previous 48 hours, and was happy that the first day of the tour was a free day, with some arriving on late flights. The Eram Hotel was modest but pleasant, with miniature flags of thirty nations in the lobby welcoming guests from around the world. The American flag was not among them, but desk reception was most courteous to me. I find it strange writing about an organized motorcoach tour (we had a big bus all to ourselves), which by my definition involves too many group activities and not enough interaction with the locals. We did a lot of sightseeing and saw many splendid things in Iran, but I’m going to omit most and only touch on some others.

One place I must mention is the Nasir ol-Mulik mosque, our first stop on the first full day. This structure was built to allow the sunlight to filter through the many plate glass windows, bathing the floor and interior pillars in kaleidoscopic colors, a breathtaking sight and a wonderful introduction to all the beautiful works of man in this country, though the best was yet to come. There were other attractive sights of historical interest, but the business and residential areas were a bit tatty, though nowhere in the country did I see poverty. Here and there were portraits of, I presume, government officials with the signature beards and turbans, and banners hanging over the streets with messages in Farsi, the language of Iran, which is written in Arabic script. There was much road construction, and crossing the street was an ordeal, especially since in this part of the world, as in most, the concept of yielding to pedestrians is unknown. Hesham took us into a bakery where bread was being cooked on hot pebbles, a method probably going back to the dawn of history. The baker offered us several sheets that had just come out of the oven, and with typical Iranian grace, refused any payment. It was the most delicious bread I’ve ever eaten. By the end of the day, I was certain of what I’d already known, that there was nothing to worry about in this country except for aggressive drivers and earthquakes.

Nair ol-Mulik mosque

Younger readers of these lines may not be familiar with the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted Reza Pahlavi, better known as the Shah, and brought the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, his nemesis who had been living in exile in France, into power. The Shah was a corrupt and despised puppet of the U.S. and Israel who leased his country to corporate oil interests. Our relations with Iran immediately soured, and became critical when students in Tehran stormed the American Embassy and took 52 U.S. diplomats and citizens hostage. They were held for 444 days before being released. The glowering visage of Khomeini, who died in 1989, was permanently stamped in the psyche of Americans who today are older than 50 or so, and Iran has been demonized in the controlled media ever since. The low point of this antagonism came on July 3, 1988 when the U.S.S. Vincennes, a ship in our naval fleet which is always looking for trouble somewhere, then as now in the Persian Gulf, shot an Iranian civilian jetliner out of the sky, probably by mistake, killing all 290 passengers and crew.

Iran, an ancient nation known as Persia until 1935, and a respected member in the comity of nations today, is obviously detested by the media mass mind controllers, and every negative image of the country flows from that fact. The reasons for this hatred, as I see it, are fourfold: Iran is one of the few countries on earth that will not play ball with Jewish international finance; the leaders of Iran recognize that America is a belligerent and decadent nation and refuse to take orders from Washington; they also understand that Israel is terminal cancer and that its days are numbered (the widely parroted story that they have threatened to “blow Israel off the map” – an idiom that does not exist in Farsi – can be dismissed as just another slice of kosher baloney: Iran has not attacked another country in more than one thousand years); they also have had the gall to openly dispute and even mock the Holocaust tale, going so far as to host an international historical revisionist conference.

A few years ago I toyed with the idea of visiting Iran, and at that time there was a huge mural painted, I believe, on the side of the former U.S. Embassy showing a vertical American flag, the fifty stars replaced by nine skulls, falling bombs aligned with the stripes, and in huge black letters the words “Down with the U.S.A.” I saw the photo of this mural on the internet, but tourists visiting Tehran were forbidden to photograph it. This came to mind the second day as we walked to visit a famous shrine in Shiraz. On a courtyard wall was a much smaller mural, the size of a door, with the words “Down with America” on one side and “Down with Israel” on the other. “Can I take a picture of that?” I asked Hesham. He winced. “The people don’t like it,” he said. What he meant was that ordinary Iranians are offended by this kind of heavy-handed, government-sanctioned propaganda. He didn’t answer my question. I sensed that he was pained by the thought of my showing this image of his country to people back home, so I did not take a photo.

I wanted to get some insight into the political and everyday realities in Iran, so while on the road I asked Hesham, who sat in the front and spent much time chatting with Sharzeh, if I could sit next to him and ask questions. Fine, he said. I did this also with the guide who replaced him halfway through the tour. I probed gently at first, with the intention of gradually getting down to brass tacks: was he aware that there were plenty of bloodlusting Jews in positions of power in both Israel and the U.S., along with a few gentile lackeys, mainly Christian Zionist nut jobs, who wanted to see Tehran go up in a mushroom cloud? Just how much of a threat did he and Iranians in general perceive America to be? I never got that far, however, because I sensed that he would be uncomfortable talking about such things. But I did learn that Iran was much more secular than I had imagined. Hesham told me that he himself did not attend religious services and that there was widespread discontent with some aspects of Islamic law, especially the dress code. As most people know, this prescribes that from an early age females have to cover their hair with a headscarf, known as a hejab, but a clarification is necessary here: I only saw five or six women with the full facial covering which, from what I understand, is seen everywhere in hardcore Saudi Arabia. In Iran most, not all, women dress in black and wear a black hejab. Shorts, incidentally, are strictly prohibited for both sexes.

Alcohol is also forbidden, but Hesham told me, with a smile, that if you want it you can get it. He implied that it’s only a slap on the wrist if you get caught – kind of like our Prohibition era. He surprised me by saying that a considerable number of Iranians are addicted to drugs, and even more surprisingly, the government tries to help such people. “But not the people who sell drugs,” I said. “No,” he grimly replied. I didn’t press it, but I know that drug trafficking carries the death penalty in several Asian countries, and is imposed without hesitation in Iran. In fact, Iran is a world leader in this category, second only to China – or so I’ve read. Pedophiles, rapists, murderers and other miscreants are publicly hanged in Iran, and if you’re so inclined, you can watch videos of these executions on YouTube. I was curious about all this, but again, felt it would be tactless to bring it up with Hesham, a sensitive man.

In 1984 I traveled for five weeks by public bus around Turkey, Iran’s western neighbor. Turkey is a favorite of mine – hospitable people everywhere and so many ruins of civilizations past that I think of the country as a vast outdoor archaeological museum. In ancient times this entire region was an east-west corridor of invading armies and wandering peoples, all of whom left their mark. In Iran the most famous of these is Persepolis, north of Shiraz off the road to Isfahan, which dates back to 515 B.C. Some of the bas-reliefs here are well preserved and most impressive, but I would’ve preferred to explore Persepolis at my own pace. Hesham knew his history but my mind tends to wander while listening to canned talks about the Achaemenid Empire and the Safavid Dynasty. There were about twenty buses in the parking area and hundreds of foreign tourists walking among the ruins – the usual adventurous culprits from western Europe, mainly France and Germany, and of course Japan. In all, we came across about forty foreign groups during our trip. I was happy to see so many people getting a look at the real Iran, and hopefully educating others after they returned home. I ran into only one American group among all these, and was able to chat with a few of them for only a minute; they said they were on a tour sponsored by the University of Chicago, but they were older people, not students. Even foreign female tourists are required to wear the hejab, but no one makes a fuss, and after a while it starts to look quaint; the Japanese ladies in particular looked whimsical in their Moslem headgear.

Since lunch hour was slotted into each day’s activities we were more or less compelled to take our midday meal as a group at a designated restaurant, but I didn’t mind this. There were usually two or three other tour groups present. All these restaurants had a wonderful ambience, and the food was always good, chicken and lamb being the staples, along with wonderful local cheeses and an array of unusual and tasty soups and vegetable dishes. Twice on our tour we ate lunch at rest areas on the highway, which threaded the country’s typically desolate landscape of barren mountains and scrub desert. You could buy fuel, have a decent sit-down meal and buy sundries and refreshments at these rest stops. It was like driving across Nevada on Interstate 80, minus the slot machines.

There were also some pull-offs where truckers and bus drivers had their log books or GPS devices – Iran is up to date with the latest technology – checked by police to ensure driver compliance with local regulations. At one of these, a woman in our group took a photo from inside the bus of Khomeini’s portrait which adorned a small building, unaware that it was a military post. Two soldiers came on the bus, and with Hesham translating, told her to delete the photo. They were very polite and got off the bus without even waiting for her to delete it.

I saw very little of Iran to be able to make comparisons, but I can’t imagine arguing with those who consider Isfahan the country’s brightest jewel. Rather than go on and on about the incredible beauty that graces this city, I ask the reader to view the many images instantly accessible on the internet by typing “photos from Isfahan.” Even so, I plead guilty to overusing the word “beautiful” in the next few paragraphs.

The heart of Isfahan is Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Ringed by an arched wall above which rise domes and minarets in dazzling blue and turquoise, it is the world’s second largest public square. Behind the walls and surrounding the square is a covered market or “souq” common in the Mideast where you can buy practically anything, except that this one covers a staggering two miles. There are also courtyards leading off the square, and in one of these I came across an arresting sight: a turbaned mullah sitting on a low platform, behind which was a large and most unusual sign in English. I would’ve loved to take a picture of it, but of course my camera battery had run out of juice an hour earlier. The sign read something like this: “Islam is not a violent religion. Let us calmly discuss our differences, and work to achieve a peaceful understanding.” Never had I seen a message like this anywhere. I found it pleasing, even touching, and when I thought about it later I realized that it embodied Iran’s sincere message to the world. Facing the mullah was a French tour group of about twenty listening attentively as one woman acted as their spokesman. Her expression revealed irritation at the mullah’s answers to her questions. They were conversing too fast for me to follow, but it seemed that she was grilling him on the imposition of Islamic customs in France. Considering that, as far as I know, this problem stems almost entirely from the invasion of France by natives of her former colonies in west and north Africa, not Iran, and moreover that she was a guest in his country, not the other way around, I thought the French lady was being quite rude.

After dinner that evening, Hesham brought us to small museum where he said there’d be an hour-long musical performance of traditional Persian music. By the end of the tour I had overdosed on museums, but this was something special. The museum’s curator, who also was the lead musician in an ensemble of four, traveled all over Iran collecting hundreds of well-preserved instruments of all kinds that went back centuries, and personally arranged them for display. It was a labor of love and had to be a herculean task. After the performance, which took place in a small room with only us in attendance, we had tea and pastries with the musicians, who were most gracious.

I’ve always been impressed by the folk art of ancient countries, even the poorest ones which have suffered greatly. It’s a tradition of striving towards the perfection of beauty, handed down to artisans from generation to generation. Persian rugs are legendary in this regard, and during our second afternoon in Isfahan Hesham brought us into a carpet gallery near our hotel which annoyed me at first – I figured it was the old game of him getting a rake-off from any sale – but I liked the proprietor’s approach. He said, “I will show you many rugs, and I’ll be happy if you buy, but that is your decision and I will not pressure you.” As tea was served his assistants proceeded to unroll fifteen or twenty rugs and carpets for us to examine. One of them, a small cream-colored rug with an extremely intricate pattern which, we were told, was made of pure silk and took four years to weave, was the most beautiful man-made object my eyes have ever beheld. Unfortunately, I was not prepared to part with the equivalent of seven paychecks, and went home rugless.

Late that afternoon, Hesham informed us that there was an emergency in his family and he had to return to Tehran on the overnight bus.

He introduced us to Tourak, who would be our guide for the remainder of the tour. What a difference: Hesham, tall, young, handsome, polite, reserved; Tourak, short, funny-looking, pushing seventy, and as we were soon to find out, a born jokester, full of irreverent opinions to boot. That evening, though, wanting some privacy, I skipped the group meal and went for a long walk down the main thoroughfare, grabbing a shawarma (lamb sliced from a rotating spit) sub from one of several take-out shops. I could’ve been in the downtown district of any big American city, except that it was totally safe and civilized, the sidewalk crowded with families, couples, friends out for a pleasant evening stroll. By this time I had discovered that the country, despite its official name of “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” was far more secular than I had imagined, but I never thought I’d see a guy cavorting in front of a children’s clothing store trying to attract customers – a guy dressed as Sponge Bob!

Stunningly beautiful Isfahan at night

We had a free afternoon on our final day in Isfahan. In the souq I had seen many shops selling handicrafts – affordable and incredibly beautiful hand-painted vases, jewelry boxes, plates, clocks and such – and I had decided that I wanted to return here and buy some gifts. I mentioned this to Tourak, who stunned me by saying that it was illegal for me as an American to go off on my own, and for him to allow it. He was supposed to be with me at all times. This restriction, he added, had just been lifted for British tourists. Now I was confused. Hesham had not mentioned this, nor had Tourak the previous evening when I went out for a walk. He already had made it clear, however, that he didn’t believe in dumb rules.

“Could I get into trouble if I get caught?” I said.

“You might. Your name is Italian and you look Italian, so if anyone asks, just say you’re from Italy.”

“But I don’t know the language. What if they start speaking to me in Italian?”

“Ah, you.” He waved me off in mock disgust.

“Maybe I should just say I’m Canadian.”

“Good idea! But take my cell phone number just in case you have a problem.”

I gave him something to write on, deciding not to mention that I had left my cell phone at home.

“Could you get into trouble for this?”

“Don’t worry about me,” he said, snapping his fingers. “I’m cool.”

I felt a bit uneasy about all this. Despite some infringements, Iran is a basically free country, and I could not imagine any informers lurking in the souq, nor could I imagine a shopkeeper calling the police to tell them about a footloose American tourist. I knew I’d be asked my nationality wherever I stopped, and in retrospect, I wish I had taken my chances and simply said I was American. What could have happened to me, really? Instead, I lied and felt cheap about it. Four times I said I was Canadian, each time receiving a friendly greeting, and hoping this would not lead to more questions. Once it did. “From Toronto?” “Near Toronto,” I replied, followed by relief that the curiosity ended there. I did my shopping, and with the help of a city map I got at the reception desk, walked the mile back to my hotel without incident, grateful that all street signs, like all highway signs, are in both Farsi and English.

Tourak was full of interesting opinions, I discovered as we drove north. I had always assumed, without ever looking into it, that the Shah had been widely hated in Iran and that the Islamic Revolution had been the country’s resurrection. I always thought that the Ayatollah was greatly loved by most people as the man who personified their religious and patriotic aspirations. Tourak told me that only the older religious people thought highly of him. He alluded to the Shah’s rule as the good old days and called Khomeini a monster – his word. He said that Khomeini killed off Iran’s top military leaders in piecemeal fashion, and this gave Saddam Hussein the green light to invade Iran in 1980, commencing a bloody eight-year war (though relations between Iraq and Iran are now amicable). How much of what he said is true, I don’t know; I’m simply relating what the man told me. He seemed to like Iran’s present leader, Hassan Rouhani, but referred to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who ruled the country from 2005 to 2013, as a “lunatic.” He said Ahmadinejad shut the country to foreign tourism. I always figured that both Khomeini and Ahmadinejhad, so detested and vilified in this country by the Jewish media, had to be good fellows for that reason alone. As we rode, I caught a glimpse of an American flag illustrated in an uncharitable way on a distant building.

Kashan, a small city of adobe settlements, was different from the other places we stayed, but as everywhere in Iran the warmth of the people was abundant. While touring the town we ran into two young Norwegian women who were traveling independently and having a marvelous time. They joined us for dinner. While waiting to be served, I addressed Kirsten, who was sitting across from me.

“So, what did people back home say when you told them you were going to Iran?”

“Oh, they said we’re crazy, we would disappear, we would be taken hostage, all these stupid things.”

I’d always thought that Scandinavians were more enlightened than the rest of us, but I guess I was wrong. It seems like the poison of Talmudic lies and hatred has seeped to the northernmost reaches of Europe.

Of Tehran there is little for me to write, as we arrived in the afternoon and I flew out early the next morning. A huge, soulless city with horrendous traffic jams is my blunt and perhaps unfair assessment of Iran’s capital. My scheduled flight departure was twenty minutes earlier than that of Martin, one of the Brits in my group, so we had hotel reception arrange a taxi for us. Checking out at 6 AM, I mentioned that I had made two phone calls to the U.S. last night and would pay for them now. “Don’t worry about it,” the receptionist said. Amazing. The taxi driver came in and spoke to the man, who told us that the cost was 800,000 rials. $23, split two ways, for the eighteen mile ride to Imam Khomeini International Airport: no complaints.

Traffic was already building at that hour, but we made it to the city outskirts in reasonable time. I was sitting in the front seat, and up ahead saw a large sign directly above the road depicting what appeared to be a plain American flag. As we got near it, however, I noticed that the red stripes were shaped like matchsticks. The driver, who appeared to be about 60, knew only seven or eight English words, about double my Farsi vocabulary.

“Obama good?” he asked me.

“Obama no good.”

“No?” He seemed surprised, even offended.

“No good,” I repeated.

If that creature did one good deed, I reflected, it was achieving a slight thaw with the government of Iran, and so most of the ordinary citizens there probably like him for that reason. That thaw, I’m afraid, is going to refreeze when the Marxist mutt hands the reins to the Judaized jerk. As difficult as it was getting into Iran, I’m glad I did it when it was still possible.

“Rouhani good?” I asked the driver.

“Good,” he nodded.

“Ahmadinejhad good?”

“Ahmedinejhad bad,” he said, flapping his arms.

“Khomeini good?”

“Khomeini BAD!” he shouted. This time he violently threw out his arms.

Two miles ahead lay the enormous mosque and mausoleum complex, just off the road, where Khomeini was laid to rest. Tourak had pointed it out as we approached Tehran. Now, driving south, we were passing it again. With a scowl, the driver pointed to it, said “Khomeini!”, and spat in the direction of the Ayatollah’s remains. Amazing.

We reached the airport, and each of us handed our driver four 100,000 rial notes. He shook his head, went into his wallet, and showed us a one million rial bill. Ah well, I wasn’t about to end a great trip by making a scene over three bucks, and Martin felt the same way. There’s your tip, I thought. And what should I have expected from the driver of an unmarked, unmetered cab? He put our bags on the curb and gave each of us a dead fish handshake and a sad smile, as if he felt guilty for cheating us. Later it dawned on me that he was the only dishonest person I had come across in Iran.

In my travels there are always pleasant images that, for whatever reason, stay engraved in my mind. The most memorable one from Iran is a group of seven- and eight-year old girls dressed in their school uniforms and pink hejabs who were visiting the Ali Qapu Palace in Isfahan on a field trip. They waited in a separate line outside the admission gate, as we and large group of Germans did. Upon noticing all the foreign tourists they began waving and calling out “Hello! Hello!,” giggling among themselves and becoming a bit unruly, as their teacher looked on with both annoyance and amusement. All of us took photos or videos. As I reminisce about this most delightful scene, I find myself brooding over something else: any psychopath who would drop bombs on these endearing little girls in the name of “fighting terrorism” deserves a pair of big, strong hands wrapped around his throat.

With the proliferation of uncensored facts and commentary on the internet, it’s tempting to think that an ever-growing number of Americans is getting fed up with being lied to every day, but I have my doubts. Every person to whom I mentioned my upcoming trip to Iran expressed dismay; not one had the slightest idea of what Iran and its people are really like. One man who, in a small way, has illuminated this benighted land is Rick Steves, host of his own TV travel show and author of a bestselling series of guidebooks to every country in Europe. Rick Steves is a guru to millions of American tourists who set out to see Europe on their own; what he publishes is holy writ. On a few occasions he has traveled beyond Europe’s boundaries to more exotic lands. In 2009 he traveled to Iran with a camera crew and later produced a documentary about his trip. Although strictly mainstream, and given to sappy political ideas, he was deeply touched by the kindness of the Iranian people everywhere he went and has lectured around the U.S., trying to get his message across – an arduous task when taking on a global media octopus that has been dehumanizing the wonderful people of Iran and demonizing its leaders for nearly forty years. A lively speaker, his presentations can be seen and heard on the internet.

Keep up the good work, Rick. The truth will win out in the end.

American travel writer Rick Steves with Iranian women

(Note: I wrote this in December 2016, two months after my trip. Sure enough, Donald Trump wasted no time antagonizing Iran’s leaders in every conceivable way with his big, stupid mouth, and took credit for the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, on January 3, 2020. I don’t know if it’s now possible for U.S. citizens to visit Iran, but if it is, now that international travel has opened up somewhat – albeit with proof of Covid vaccination required in many countries – you can disregard the absurd “Level 4” warning by the State Department, which makes it sound like you’re taking your life in your hands if you go there. Of course our Jewish news media continues their projectile vomiting at Iran – state sponsor of terrorism, gravest nuclear threat in the region, blah, blah, blah – and even after more than forty years of it, the American suckers keep lapping it up.)