The morning sun streaming through the stained glass windows throws a confetti of colors onto the walls of the Masjed-e Nasir al Mulk. The unusual rose petal shade of its tile work–different from the vivid blue favored elsewhere in Iran, gives this mosque a romantic aura. Then again, Shiraz, a town in southern Iran where Nasir al-Mulk is located, is imbued with romance, from its lush orange filled gardens to the tombs of its illustrious poets where people gather to recite favorite stanzas. All of this exists next to the modern Shiraz of skyscrapers, expressways and high-speed communication technologies, a combination that first strikes me as unexpected.
Before long, however, I get used to such contrasts. “What does it remind you of?” ask friends and family, but the truth is that Iran is unlike any other place I’ve visited. It is a sophisticated, twenty-first century country with its own distinctive culture. It’s neither the saccharine vignette of roses and nightingales of the Victorian orientalists nor the grim and humorless vision of western newspapers. It’s much more complex, much more interesting and much more beguiling. From the first day I landed in Tehran and began to explore the sprawling, crowded capital city, I felt comfortable enough to venture wherever my curiosity took me. Thanks to the good will of ordinary Iranians, who are delighted to explain their country to a foreigner, my discoveries were constant.
I wanted to visit Iran for years, a desire that was strengthened by my work in fragrance. I often suspected that the modern French face of perfumery hides other traditions and origins, and the more I delved into the history of scents, the more I felt determined to make the journey. Fragrance has a long history and culture, but you’d never guess it by looking at the trite marketing campaigns that sell perfume solely as a luxury commodity. Read an average press release, and you’d be forgiven for thinking of scent as a necessary tool for seducing the opposite sex. I wanted to step aside from that, to read the antique manuscripts, to see the traditional distillation equipment and to visit places where fragrance was an integral part of culture.
It will take me a little bit of time to process my Iranian impressions and to sort through the thousands of photos I took. I expected Iran to be fascinating, but I was still amazed by the stunning architecture, Persepolis, blue tiled mosques, mirror inlaid palaces, gold decorated churches, and rose filled gardens. But, without any doubt, the best part of my journey was the people. The Iranians I met were friendly, warm and generous. Such daily encounters made my stay unforgettable. I will leave with many new friends and wonderful memories. Although my Iran trip is at its end, in a sense, it has opened a new chapter.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin. Top image: Nasir al-Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran. Second collage: Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Esfahan; blue tile work in Esfahan; Vank Armenian Orthodox Church in Esfahan.