Are We There Yet?

October 2, 2013
Esfahan

One of the special opportunities that a person has when traveling, especially to very distant lands, is to grow further in self-awareness, both personally and culturally.  Such is happening on this trip to Iran.

On our visit to Chehel Sotun, a 17th century palace complex constructed under Shah Abbas II when Esfahan was the capital of Persia, we saw several different individuals who were restoring some of the paintings on interior walls, as well as gardeners maintaining the luxurious grounds, and stones and bricks ready for use in reconstruction projects. 

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Without too much trouble, we could imagine foreign visitors arriving for lengthy stays and elegant parties.  We could, perhaps somewhat less easily, hear what sounds musicians might have been playing during such occasions.  But, it was just us, along with modern travelers, trying to capture the sounds and sights that Chehel Sotun provided.  Such restoration is not a too distant kin to the palace’s becoming more of what it had originally been so that we can see better what once was.

Both modern and ancient Persians have taken time from their day to improve their physical health.  At the Hammam-e-Aliqol Khan, a public bath house built in the late Safavid era, a newly restored set of rooms with dioramas showed the intricate process of not only bathing, but getting a massage, and relaxing as well. 

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Private rooms with partially intact mosaics and murals showed how 17th century artisans decorated such a space.  In fact, if a person couldn’t afford to pay an attendant to scrub his or her back, there was a stone self-service piece that had a bumpy surface embedded into at least two of the walls.  Now, Iranians frequent parks all around their cities to maintain their health by using the brightly-colored exercise equipment installed in neat rows alongside garden spaces with fragrant roses nearby.  So, physical restoration happens which can enable new health.

We can strengthen our own cultural self-awareness through travel if we are really paying attention to the back-scrubbing, mind-tickling opportunities.  So, are we there yet?  Have we arrived where we will stay put in our own minds and cultural hearts?  I really hope not,  as we pick up the chances to see more of what other cultures have to offer us.  Am I the same person who arrived in Iran 10 days ago?  Nope.  Great!

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