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Tim Boxer

Nina Boxer

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Mother in Tehran grocery

Iran Extends Invitation
To American Tourists

Photos by Tim Boxer

HE Western perception of Iran is a state in hot pursuit of enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon, a government that supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a president who threatens to evoke the mother of all holocausts to wipe Israel off the map.

That is the conventional wisdom in regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Actually there is another face of the people of this ancient land. Believe it or not, Iranians are eager to embrace Americans. (Donít let those official-looking "Down with America" signs on the streets of Tehran unnerve you. Thatís mullah propaganda.)

I spent nearly two weeks in the country and discovered what I believe is the essence of the common people. They are a proud nation, keen to point out that they are not Arabs but descendants of the mighty Persian Empire.

When the Arab hordes swept across North Africa and the Middle East and imposed their Arabic language and Islamic religion on all the people they conquered, the Persians accepted Islam under threat of the sword. At the same time they held fast to their native language, Farsi.

Tehran cityscape

Today the people do not speak Arabic but Farsi ó and English.

They Love America
ALMOST to a fault, Iranians are courteous, kind and friendly. In Tehranís Hassan Abad Square, two men who perceived Iím a foreigner said, "Are you Russian? We donít like Russians. Are you American? We love Americans."

People will greet you with a smile, exchange cards, and bow slightly. I joined a gentleman at breakfast at the Esteghlal Hotel, which was the Tehran Hilton before the 1979 revolution. He stood until I sat down. I insisted that he neednít stand up. "Thatís what we do," he said.

Woman with sculpture at ITOC

However, on the road all bets are off. Put a Tehrani behind the wheel and he or she is instantly transformed. The highways and byways are clogged bumper to bumper all day. Each driver feels the road belongs to him or her exclusively, and youíd better not get in his way. Everyone is in a hurry, driving to overtake the car in front, fighting to get an edge. If youíre in front they show no mercy Ė they speed up, cut you off, straddle two lanes, even share one lane with another car. Effortlessly and, miraculously, everybody gets to where theyíre going with not a scratch. It is all utterly amazingÖand frightening.

Iíve found no other city that surpasses car-crazed Tehran, not the traffic of Beijing or the clogged streets of Manhattan.

Almost everybody I met boasted a connection with the U.S. My guide Sheikhani told me that his daughter Yekta works at the Marriott Hotel in Las Vegas. He comes to the U.S. every year to see her. He took me to see the Sahra hotel and restaurant at Taleghani Ave. 41 (phone 888 29095). His relatives are the owners. They are three brothers, two of whom currently live in Minneapolis.

In Tehran a man named Farama said his brother graduated from the University of Oklahoma and is a physician in Connecticut. In Shiraz, a travel agent, Bahman, told me that his uncle is a barber in the Bronx. "You go there. Heíll cut your hair for free." In Isfahan, my tour guide Nasr spoke highly of his brother the doctor who lives in Brooklyn.

Tehran Convention Center

On Kish Island I watched the dolphins perform. They were the only ones that didnít claim a relative in America.

On Imam Square in Isfahan, the second largest square in the world (after Beijingís Tiananmen), one young man said he owns a shop here specializing in tablecloths. "I havenít seen an American in six months," he said. "We want Americans to come."

The state is a theocracy, so expect to see banners everywhere with images of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and the current Supreme Leader Khamenei. Donít be offended by signs "Down with America" that you will encounter. I believe that is a temporary holdover from revolutionary passion. You will surely find, as I did, that the people of Iran truly love America.

Herve Barre of UNESCO and
Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashaee

Welcoming Visitors
IN FACT, Iran is making plans to compete in the global tourism market. In their first such effort, tourism officials invited 132 travel agents and 20 travel writers to the First International Tour Operators Convention in November in Tehran. They came from 42 countries including Germany, Kazakhstan, India, South Korea, Lithuania, Portugal, Nepal, Armenia, Russia and, of course, the United States.

The idea, said Ebrahim Pourfaraj, president of the Iranian Tour Operators Association, is to "show the beautiful side of Iran, our culture, to tour operators and the media. We want to show our rich heritage to the rest of the world."

Herve Barre, in charge of sustainable tourism for UNESCO, came from Paris to encourage the Iranians to preserve their cultural heritage "which is not only an instrument of peace and intercultural dialogue" bus also essential for developing tourism.

Welcome to Isfahan

According to the United Nations World Travel Organization, Barre said, cultural tourism accounts for 40 percent of total tourism. And Iran is rich in culture, history and heritage.

The vice president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaee, emphasized the importance of tourism to the development of the country. He welcomed tourists from all countries to visit Iran.

"Darkness and ignorance promote hatred," Mashaee said. "We have to help people know each other. Tourism is very important for global security. We consider the development of tourism as a strategic matter."

He said Iran is ready to open a new chapter in the world of tourism. "Iran is ready to serve, to help love and friendship materialize."

Touring Iran
There are many competent tour operators who will serve as your host in Iran and arrange such types of tours such as culture, history, desert, nomad, trekking and skiing.

Sima Mohammadzadeh
Mrs. Sepideh Sajjadi Gh.
Iran Doostan Tours

On the street in Isfahan

Hotel construction in Shiraz

Sunset at Persepolis

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Travel Guides

An Eye for Iran is a perceptive picture book created by photographer Kazem Hakimi, born in Shiraz but living in the UK since 1974. In 2004 he visited Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashad and photographed the people of his native country. He has a keen eye for the unusual, like the woman enclosed in a burqa standing by her motorcycle. Such contrast! His black-and-white candids stirred many exciting memories of my recent trip to Iran. Enjoy Hakimiís wonderful images and you will find yourself on an Iran Air flight to the land of the ancient Persian Empire. Garnet, 60 enjoyable photos, $34.95. www.garnetpublishing.co.uk.

Petra: A Travellerís Guide is a comprehensive key to the ancient abode of the Nabateans, one of the lost cities of the ancient world. This handsomely illustrated paperback offers history, help in planning your trip, how to get there from Amman or Aqaba, useful phrases and addresses, and 12 walking tours, plus an overnight itinerary. Also practical advise how to survive: using the non-existent toilet, dealing with insects, going Bedouin, resisting romantic encounters with the natives, and proper behavior and dress. Garnet, 236 pages, $16.95.

Moon: Spain is a comprehensive little volume that you can carry in your bag. Youíll find it fully packed with information youíll need while traveling to Madrid, Barcelona, Aragon, Cantabria, Galicia, Andalucia and several other interesting destinations on the Iberian peninsula. Good information on getting around, finding accommodations, looking for food, and valuable tips for travelers. Donít leave home without this essential Moon Handbook. Avalon Travel, softcover, 912 pages, $24.95. www.moon.com.

If youíre contemplating a move to another country, you need to consult Moon books, the prime source for relocating to foreign lands. Avalon Travel has just published three new books in the series: Living Abroad in Canada, Living Abroad in New Zealand and Living Abroad in Australia. Each volume is packed with essential information ranging from planning a fact-finding trip to history, government, prime living locations, employment opportunities, health resources and a French phrasebook for Canada. (In her praise of Canada, Carolyn B. Heller, who moved from Boston to Vancouver, couldnít find one word to recommend Winnipeg! Many people in recent years have happily moved to my native city.) Avalon Travel, softcover, $19.95 each. www.moon.com.


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Touring The Sights In
Eternal City Of Rome

By David Boxer

Sistine Chapel Ceiling: Michelangelo's frescoes on the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel. This is the one room in the Vatican Museum where photography is prohibited. It is also the one room where everyone is taking pictures.

Street performer

Hellenistic prince at National Museum of Rome

Shop on Via Condotti

St. Peterís Square



Temple of Saturn

Arch of Septimus Severus

Trevi Fountain

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