Monday, October 20, 2008

From Afghanistan to Ethiopia, Xerxes over-extended his empire: My report from Iran # 4

(Photos are of Shiraz, Persepolis, German tourists, picnicers and lemon-flavored non-alcoholic beer. Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

A few days ago, I arrived in the Iranian city of Shiraz -- famous for its roses, nightingales, poets and wine. "People here love to have fun," one Shirazi told me. "We especially love to picnic." And it's true. Everywhere there is grass, you can see people sitting on blankets and eating -- even on traffic medians.

Hey, my son Joe is in a rock band called "123 Picnic". He should bring his band here. It would be a big hit.

"It's illegal to dance in public in Iran," someone told me, "but you can dance at private parties."

Then I went off to visit Persepolis, the former capital of a vast Persian empire. "Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great conquered many of the surrounding countries," said our guide, "but both of them were wise, organized and benevolent kings. They tolerated and even encouraged different customs and religions, and made certain that all people prospered under their leadership."

And then along came Xerxes. And he was a punk. All he did was make war. He conquered every single country from Greece to India; from Ethiopia, Egypt and Israel to as far north as Afghanistan. He over-extended his empire, got everyone pissed off, finally got his comeuppance and died.

Next I went to visit Xerxes' necropolis. His tomb was carved into the side of a cliff and it all looked very impressive, like Egypt's Valley of the Kings. But dead is dead. And despite all his posturing, Xerxes still ended up as a mummy in a cave.

Which logically leads us to thoughts of George W. Bush, who over-extended his empire too. I'd love to see GWB end up in a cave as well -- but preferably alive, so that all us tourists can come and gape at him too.

Before coming to Iran, even I had no idea of the depth of archaeological presence this country contains. According to the Lonely Planet, it is easily as impressive a tourist destination as Egypt or Angkor Watt. Planning your next vacation? Seriously think about going to Iran.

There are tons of tourists here in Shiraz BTW. Most of them are from Germany but some of them, surprisingly, seem to be from South Korea.

In Shiraz, I came down with a light case of Khomeini's Revenge, got lost in the bazaar and saw a palace full of mirrors. Each mirror was about two inches by two inches square and there were millions of them. "One governor of Shiraz had ordered a bunch of mirrors from Europe and when they arrived, they were all broken -- but he used them anyway." The effect was brilliant. I wanna go home and fill my home with mirrors too. It's very fung shuei.

My friend Chris just e-mailed me that I should try to go meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so I did -- at a wax museum. We did rock-paper-scissors and I won. So now he's agreed to give up nuclear weapons. Good job, Jane!

The way that the people of Iran seem to feel about nuclear weaponry is, "We are surrounded by Israel, Pakistan and India and they all have The Bomb. If they agree to disassemble their nuclear weapons, then fine. We will no longer have a need to develop ours."

And as for Iran being a theocracy, there is less pressure here to make everyone adhere to the state religion than there is in Saudi Arabia, Israel or even parts of South Carolina.

At Persepolis, I was showing some high school girls photos of my family and they all agreed that my son Joe was a BABE. And they were very disappointed when I said he was married. But he really should consider bringing his band to Iran.

At the tomb of Hafez, the famous Shirazi poet, I got my fortune told by a parakeet. "You will become the leader of your tribe." I'm up for that.

And then we left Shiraz and went off to Pasargad and Esfahan. "Bye bye Shiraz."

PS: If President Ahmadinejad -- or anyone else for that matter -- wants to listen to or book my son Joe's band, go to their website at "We'd totally play in Iran," e-mailed Joe.