shiraz: 3 posts

Haft Seen and Hafez

Happy Nowruz! نوروز مبارک ! Nowruz is also called the Persian New Year, and it’s celebrated on the spring equinox, usually on March 20 or 21 in the Western calendar. This year, it took place on Wednesday March 20, 2019 in New York and Brussels, and on Thursday March 21 in Tehran. It’s a holiday that cuts across religious and geographical divides, and it’s celebrated in many countries around the world, especially the ones that had a link with ancient Persia. Along with Easter, it’s my favorite holiday, because it’s about rejuvenation, light and spring.

I’ve already written about the tradition of haft seen, a special spread of symbolic items that have deep significance on Nowruz. As I’ve mentioned, a book of Hafez’s poetry is an important part of haft seen. In the same spirit, I’ve selected a poem to share with you. I hope that the new year will be filled with beauty, happiness and inspiration for all.

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Illuminate Our Night Into a Day

Come through the convent doors: illumine our night into a day,
Scent with perfume the assembly of the holy men.
If a preacher tells you to forsake loving, give him a cup of wine and tell him to refresh his mind.


Whenever I feel depressed about the current state of affairs–quite often lately, uncertain about the right course of action, or if I simply need a brush with something beautiful and profound, I turn to Hafez. It may seem strange to seek advice in the writings of a 14th poet from Shiraz, but Hafez’s work is so rich and multifaceted that it invariably gives me a new perspective. He too lived through a period of political upheavals and anxiety, and as Goethe said, “In his poetry Hafez has inscribed undeniable truth indelibly.”

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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.


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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