Sunday, 17 January 2016

Why I Love Tehran

I love Tehran; that should be clear by the title and also if you have ever met me in person. I love that city, I love its geographical situation, its unplanned urban planning, its supposedly non-existent history, and even its dirtiness. I think Tehran is everything a city should be. I am not blind to its problems: overpopulation, air pollution, lack of social equality, grass like “construction” schemes, and crazy crazy traffic. I do not deny that Tehran is hard to deal with, it is for many unpleasant to live in, and I mourn almost daily the loss of its old character, particularly in the parts where I call home and is now a jungle of ugly sky scrapers. But I consider all of this a symptom of the fact that Tehran is a quintessential “city”. Somewhere where “urbanity” takes its real sense. It is NOT a big village, the “positive” description given to many nice cities of the world (eg. Vienna). It is a “jungle of smoke and iron” indeed. But that is what makes it so special.

I am a thoroughly urban person. I like cities, the bigger and crazier the better. Not that I don’t like rural areas: I enjoy walking in the woods and looking at the nature as much as anyone, and hiking is probably one of the few forms of sport I really enjoy. But I love living in cities. I don’t like cities which are just a collection of residential and commercial areas attached to each other via streets. Living in Los Angeles, and even worse Orange County, California was probably the most excruciating experience of my life. That is why I love London, my second hometown after Tehran, and all its rush and impatient people and overcrowded Tube and random assembly of pubs and narrow streets and ugly buildings (seriously, the Gherkin?). 

Even more than that, for me a city is where I can say “I know what was there before”. I like knowing that before this ugly shopping mall was built here, I remember it being a collection of dilapidated turn of the 20th century semi-detached houses. I love remembering my own image of how the Southbank looked (ugly, grey) before some “brilliant” persons decided to build the whole London Eye and Co. travesty there. I lament the fact that when I was growing up in Tehran, our house was surrounded by vast pieces of waste land which are now dotted by scary and appalling apartment buildings. I feel sorry that the area where I went to school and was made up of small alleys covered with trees is now full of nouveau riche houses and commercial establishments and even a famous cafe. I feel sad that people do not know the history of my city and think that Tehran is just the dumping ground for all of Iran. I hate it that people from other cities in Iran come to Tehran and think that Tehran has no history and nothing in it is worth preserving, and knock down old buildings and build malls and office buildings. But at the same time, I feel like I know a secret when I recognise the shape of the historic “Grand Hotel” behind the façade of all the modern electrical equipment shops. I try my best to help preserve what remains of the history of my city, but at the same time, I know and realise that this is part of urbanity. The fact is that the Tehran I remember was a shadow of what my mother remembers, and the same is true for her Tehran and the one in which her grandmother was born. The Tehran we all know and knew was built on top of an old village, of which nothing remains but memories reflected in old names (Darkhoungah, Ab Mangol, Chaal-Meydoun) and a mental image of what was.