Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Agonist In Iran's Holy City

Sean-Paul Kelly from The Agonist had a piece in our local San Antonio Express News yesterday. It's a travel story on his visit to Iran's holiest city, Meshed.
I crawled out of the car just as the sun set and walked into the hotel. Members of the Tajik national soccer team milled about the small, two-star hotel lobby; a curious mélange of Tajik, Farsi and Russian filled my ears.

"Passport please," the attendant asked. I fumbled through my money belt but quickly complied.

I looked up, behind the desk stood a clean-shaven young man with slightly receding hair and cheerful, pecan-colored eyes.

"You are American, yes?"

"That I am."

"How awesome!" he exclaimed in almost perfect American English.

"I've never met an American before," he said excitedly and then came out from around the lobby desk, arms outstretched, exclaiming all in one breath, "This is the best day of my life. Can I hug you?"

After two weeks of kind salutations, warm welcomes and polite, almost infectious pride, I still wasn't prepared for an outpouring quite like this.

"Sure, why not," I replied, a tad embarrassed.

"So, now that I've hugged a complete stranger, tell me your name?" I joked, a feeble attempt to get through this awkward moment.

"Amir Isazysadr," he said, stretching out his hand.

"Sean-Paul Kelley," I replied.

We shook hands vigorously. Full of contagious enthusiasm, I liked him instantly.

"Why Meshed? It is a big, dusty, ugly city, filled with too many people."

"Gohar Shad," I told him, as if in a whisper. "If I'm lucky I will see the Gohar Shad."

"The mosque surrounding the Shrine of the Imam Reza is splendid," he said.

"Are you Muslim?" he asked.

"No, I am not."

"That is a pity, my friend, because one pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Imam Reza is equal to 17,000 Mecca pilgrimages, or so say the mullahs."
Was Sean-Paul successful in his attempt to visit the holiest shrine in Iran? Go read his informative and charming account to find out - it ends with a small surprise.

And Sean-Paul, you're a great travel writer but I hope you don't ever give up political writing because your strong voice would be sorely missed.

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