iran: 4 posts

In The Rose Capital of Iran

“The ancient Iranian city of Kashan is sometimes eclipsed by its more famous neighbour, Isfahan, but as I wander around Bagh-e Fin – a vast garden turned into an architectural jewel by the 16th-century Shah Abbas I – I fall under a spell that only Kashan could conjure, with its sandy beige Agha Bozorg mosque, winding streets and remarkable rose plantations. Indeed, roses are the main reason for my trip.” The rose capital of Iran, Kashan, inspired the latest article for my FT column, Radiant Rose Perfumes.

I visited Kashan during the off season for flowers, but nevertheless I had a chance to meet rose distillers and sample perfumes and fragrant waters. The aroma is sweeter, fruitier and warmer than that of Bulgarian or Turkish essences with which I usually work. I’m not the only one who found Iranian rose essence extraordinary, and I discovered that Émilie Coppermann and Francis Kurkdjian were among the perfumers who were fascinated by this material.

In my article, I describe the roses of Kashan and fragrances that remind me of my visit. To read the full piece, please click here.

If you were to do a scent trip anywhere in the world, which places would you have liked to visit? (Let’s dream and pretend that neither time, money nor visas are an issue in our trip planning.)

Photography via FT, a rose distillery in Kashan

The Invention of Minimalism

A group of students was standing in front of the Mark Rothko painting taking notes as the museum guide talked about the artist’s life and his inspirations. I would have walked past the crowd had the curator not suddenly dropped one phrase, “As we all know, minimalism in art was invented in the West.” I was admiring Rothko’s use of vermilion red, an intense hue that made me think of Indian kumkum (the crimson powder Hindu women use to draw a mark on their foreheads) and Russian lacquers, when the West claimed Minimalism.

nishapur-bowl

Leaving aside the absurdity of referring to Rothko as a “minimalist”–a label he would have rejected outright, it’s senseless to separate artistic achievements by arbitrary parameters. To see why, one should leave the halls devoted to 20th century art and walk through, say, the expositions usually housed in the Eastern wings. If the museum in question is the Met in New York, then the Department of Islamic Art is where I would take you.

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Persian Rice Cookies (Nan-e Berenji)

One of the best things I tasted in Iran was a cookie. On the tray next to the rosewater flavored walnuts, almond baklava, salty dried cherries and pistachio nougat, little pale rounds topped with poppyseeds looked the least impressive of the lot. But when I bit into one biscuit, and it melted into buttery cream in my mouth, I was instantly smitten. That’s how I discovered rice cookies, Nan-e Berenji, the classical Iranian pastries.

nan-e berenji

Nan-e Berenji has a delicate sablé-like texture and a rich perfume of cardamom. Throughout my trip, I looked for this simple confection in every town I visited, but none have rivaled the version I found in Yazd, a city famous for sweets. Yazdi rice cookies were the same golden color as the adobe walls of the ancient town, and a simple shape belied their decadent flavor.

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Iran Impressions

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.

nasiralmulkshiraz

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.

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Latest Comments

  • Elisa in Top 10 Summer Picnic Scents: I do love Eau de Reglisse! It’s the only truly summer-appropriate licorice scent I can think of. June 25, 2017 at 6:07pm

  • Elisa in Top 10 Summer Picnic Scents: I absolutely love the smell of grilling peppers too! And roasting green chiles 🙂 June 25, 2017 at 6:05pm

  • kpaint in Top 10 Summer Picnic Scents: Mmm, yes they take on that jammy smell when they’re roasted. I also love the smell of grilling peppers – heavenly. June 25, 2017 at 1:34pm

  • Aurora in Top 10 Summer Picnic Scents: Good idea to have a mood board: picnic is perfect to evoke summer and it’s an enticing list with some choices I’m not familiar with. I will wear a lot… June 25, 2017 at 11:42am

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