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In Iran, there's poetry in everything

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Iran is a country of poetry. Neda Kazemi – daughter of an Iranese father and a Dutch mother – knows this better than anyone. Her traveling agency Ciran organizes hiking trips and travels through Iran.

For the new issue of Happinez: 'Being in the here and now', anthropologist Neda guided journalist Marjoleine de Vos and photographer Joss de Groot on a trip through the country. Poetry was the central theme of the trip.

What do people expect when they go to Iran? Does it live up to their expectations?

People often come to Iran because they're looking for the roots of civilization. They want to see a much-discussed country with their own eyes. I think Iran makes travellers think about several things in advance: they have heard that it can be dangerous there, but also that it’s beautiful, and that people are very friendly.

Once they arrive, the country often exceeds their expectations. Most people know that Iran is the birthplace of civilization, but they had no idea that there’s so much history to be found there – that nature is so beautiful and diverse, and that people are this friendly. If you find travelling most satisfying when it surprises you, then Iran is probably the most rewarding destination on earth.

Iran has a rich tradition of poetry, with poets like Hafez and Rumi. Do you see poetry in Iran’s daily life?

Absolutely, in everything. For instance, in the language. In Iran, it’s hard to find someone giving a speech without quoting part of a poem. Most expressions are lines from poems. Everyone cites poetry – the baker, the taxi driver, the professor, everyone.

There’s a lot of poetry to be found in graveyards, too. I lost my dear sister when she was just thirteen years old. On her grave, there are two lines from a beautiful Hafez poem. When I visited Hafez’ mausoleum with Marjoleine de Vos one morning, there was a man there who immediately found the poem for me and recited it so emotionally that, of course, I cried. These rules describe my sister’s life so accurately.

Why do you think poetry is so important for Iranians?

Farsi, the Persian language, is a language made for poetry. Farsi and poetry are closely connected. And perhaps every country triggers different senses. For instance, some countries have a prominent painting tradition. In Iran, it’s mainly about poetry and philosophy. My father always used to say that in Shiraz, where two of Irans best poets come from –Hafez and Saadi- you couldn’t become anything other than a poet. The city radiates romance. In springtime, the streets smell of fresh blossom, nightingales fly through the air. The city intoxicates you.

Does poetry play an important role in your own life?

It’s always been intertwined with my life. My dad was a professor in applied arts, he knew a lot about literature. He used to sit in our garden with friends, quoting poems for hours. Sometimes there were tears in their eyes, just because of the beauty of the words. Thirteen years ago, I married Mohammed. For him, poetry is one of the reasons to live. On the invitation to our wedding there was a poem, and he always brings collections of poems when we go away for the weekend. When he was young, he had to fight, because Iran was at war. Even in this heavy period, when death was around the corner, he carried Hafez poems with him every day.

What could we learn about Iranian life?

Travelling to Iran is more than a beautiful experience, it’s enriching. The best lesson from Iranian life is probably how to live in the present. In Iran, you experience a feeling of timelessness. You realize that you’re in a place right now, that this moment is valuable, and that you wouldn’t want to miss it.

Another thing that sticks with you, is how welcoming people are in Iran. They share happiness, they share sadness, they share their homes. If I visit someone, it’s no problem if I bring ten others. It’s a spiritual country, not a materialistic one. Love and friendships are number one. 

What’s your favorite place in Iran?

That’s a difficult one, the entire country is beautiful. I’m in love with every inch of my home country. I love the mountains in Northern Teheran, where I grew up and sometimes went skiing. But Yazd is also fantastic, a mindblowing town in the desert where you can stroll through the alleys for hours. Another favorite: the currents in the mountains, with their refreshing water.

Photo: Joss de Groot