Day 259: But isn’t booze here illegal?

The 33 arches bridge spans gracefully across the Zayandeh River, Esfahan

I’m intoxicated and so is Big Evil who’s driving us around Esfahan for a taste of the “nightlife” here. KF is in the backseat saying silly things, clearly a tad drunk. We’re halfway through the bottle of vodka Big Evil had just bought from the neighbourhood dealer. This is a side of Iran I never imagined of experiencing…

Iran is a country operating under Islamic laws, but having had the fortune of staying with several Iranian families (2 weeks in Iran, only 2 nights in hotels), what I see is a nation of youth breaking free from strict rules that make dating, drinking, or – for women – showing hair, singing and dancing (in public), illegal.

Naqsht-e Jahan square, Esfahan

There are many things that aren’t allowed in Iran, but many things happen beneath the surface. Getting around prohibitions here is as easy as getting around the Irani firewalls that block Facebook.

Whilst men and women have separate sections on public transportation (bus or metro), we learned quickly that this didn’t mean they were segregated in reality. We’ve seen the occasional dating couple strolling along rivers or parks, keeping a watchful eye out for police. To our surprise, most of our Iranian friends have had ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends; we even couchsurfed at an unmarried couple’s home. Although living together before marriage is uncommon, dating is… and the days of arranged marriages only apply to conservative Muslims.

Imam Mosque, Esfahan

But isn’t Iran a conservative Muslim country? I’m not even sure. Perhaps the reason behind my uncertainty lies in the fact that there are many who aren’t really Muslim but forced to obey Islamic principles, thanks to the Islamic Revolution.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Esfahan

I thought Iran would be like Syria and other Middle Eastern countries we’ve been – where streets are full of mysterious cloaked women in black. Instead, we found Tehran a welcoming sight of fashionable women sporting skinny jeans & heels, lipstick & aviators, and loosely worn headscarves – all bending the rules of hejab, Islamic law that requires women to cover hair and body curves. Iran is possibly the fashion capital of the Muslim world where vanity is evident on every young adult’s nose, literally so.

Many young adults have had a nose job, even men. Replacing your nose with plastic is an Iranian phenomenon that is hard to understand. Just passed your exam? Ask daddy for a fake nose. Just graduated with flying colours? Ask daddy for a fake nose. Done neither? Put a bandage on your nose and fake your fake nose!

Magnificent interior of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Esfahan

But perhaps looking good is just as important here as in any metropolitan society. Afterall, girls and boys aren’t stuck at home waiting for mommy to set them up. Discos or nightclubs might be illegal, but there are house parties where boys meet girls and girls meet boys. No booze, no fun, no problem. Vodka & whiskey is just a phonecall away.

Or you could drive by and pick up a bottle (maybe two) from the neighbourhood dealer, the way we watched Big Evil do earlier this evening.

Portal of the Sheikh Lotfollah, Esfahan

Indeed, my perception of a conservative land had been dwindling daily but the moment of truth came as the booze dealer opened the boot of his car. There, wrapped in black plastic bags, laid the holy contraband. It was only alcohol but the dealer looked nervous (rightly so because Jumong was drawing attention as usual). Big Evil translated his question; I almost rolled over:

“Skyy, Absolut, or Grey Goose?”

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One Comment

  1. ace says:

    architecturally magnificent. and the story to match :)

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