Iran Life – What A Relief

Persia and Persepolis – two sides of the same coin. You cannot think of one without the other! (this post has been saved from Archers and first appeared in June 2014)

shahJ was there in autumn of 1978, just a few months before the revolution that overthrew the despotic regime of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his queen, Farah Diba. In 1971 Persepolis was used as a backdrop for the celebrations of the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great. Whilst most Iranians lived in poverty, crushed under the heels of the hated, US-trained, SAVAK  secret police, the Pahlavis squandered an estimated $200,000,000 (at 1971 values) on this recreation of the grandeur of a once-great empire. J, was performing at a festival organised by the Shah’s sister and, I hasten to add, was not paid what I consider she is worth and neither did she get a sip of the Château Lafite Rothschild 1945 champers that had flowed so freely seven years earlier! She has wanted to go back ever since.

1971 – the ‘tent city’ created around the ‘Field of Cloth of Gold’ theme

Anyway, let’s get back to the touristy bit. Persepolis, I have to say, is a pretty impressive place. If one has just a modicum of imagination it is impossible not to gasp at the size and grandeur of this monument to ancient imperial might.

an aide to a modicum of imagination

There is a mass of information and photos available online so I’m going to concentrate on one particular angle that blew me away – the staggeringly detailed relief work that gave a real insight into the scale and complexity of the empire. That these amazing monuments to the power and reach of Cyrus and the skill and artistry of the masons have survived in such pristine condition is a miracle. If you plan to visit Iran before you die, and you should (visit, that is), then Persepolis is a must.

J and I had the benefit of having a young archaeology student by the name of Vahil as our guide – he was wonderfully enthusiastic, very knowledgeable about his subject and good looking to boot, or so J informed me.

J and guide Vahil with the iconic monumental entrance behind
the ‘Gate Of All Lands’
the Armenian delegation – prominent partners of the Persians
Median (military) nobleman
astonishing detail from a scabbard
J pointing out the Ethiopian delegation bearing gifts

The reliefs you are looking at are carved into a type of black basalt rock that is incredibly hard – I imagine it is difficult to work but has resulted in a durability that has sustained them for 2500 years. UNESCO World Heritage status ‘rules’ forbid anything other than brushing away the dirt of centuries. There are, however, one or two places where part of the carving has been polished back to how it would have looked in Cyrus’ time. The Armenian delegation above is an example.

the iconic lion attacking a bull theme that appears in many places
old Persian cuneiform script
Cyrus’ elite troops, the Immortals
finally, a few kilometres away lie the Tombs of the Kings (WikiCommons)

So, ‘What a relief’ I hear you say, ‘that’s the end of that!’

Alan in Okçular

Iran Life – Needles In Haystacks

This is a story that epitomises why J and I avoid group travel and prefer to wander off from any designated path or route – why exploring ‘off the beaten track’ is so much fun and far more enriching than following the person with the coloured flag or umbrella or t-shirt around the same old tired touristic sites!


As I posted earlier, the flight to Mashad near the eastern border was a real disappointment. The 120km road trip to Neishabour in Khorassan-Razavi Province to the tomb and shrine of the great Omer Kayham and an adjacent shrine to yet another pious nonentity was a real non-event and all we wanted to do was get away from the place. Our guide was deeply concerned that this part of our tour was such a disappointment – ‘What can I do to make it better?’ I’d vaguely remembered a sign along the road that pointed off to a ‘wooden mosque’ – let’s go there I said. It took a bit of driving around in circles, but eventually we found the road and drove the 10km or so to the site.

It was a delight, especially after all the past (and still to come) disappointment surrounding Mashad. Named Choubin Village (choubin means wooden), the place is a large compound full of trees, flowers, running water and bird song – a haven. Scattered around were wooden or adobe constructions – all of them simple, home-spun and all of them a delight to the eye.


The wooden mosque and library, in particular, were a pleasure to be in and explore. The village is the brainchild of an engineer by the name of Mojtahedi and is said to be earthquake-proof. It is certainly  constructed using unique principles of web-like lattices. Compared with the wonders of Iranian construction and design; from amazing mosques and religious buildings to fabulous gardens, qanats, wind-towers and adobe palaces, Choubin Village is a very modest, under-stated affair. That said, in many ways, it out-shone many places for its quirkiness and the  peaceful atmosphere and beautiful birdsong.



the library
a selfie
library interior
farm buildings and water tower
new adobe lodging places under construction
it’s a working farm as well
another glimpse of the delightful interior of the Wooden Mosque of Choubin Village

A few shining needles from the disappointing Mashad haystack!

Alan in Okçular

Urgent and Important

Urgent and important – sometimes there just isn’t enough time (or inclination) to deal with both. To do another ‘Iran Life’ post (urgent – well, sort of) or bog off for a couple of days head-rest (important)? To clean up the workshop after building Gülay’s exercise machine (again, sort of urgent when you consider the state it was in) . .

don’t look!

(rescued from Archers first posted June 2014)

. . or go walk a mountain with a friend, photograph some flowers (even though I forgot my main camera); eat fresh-caught trout in a village restaurant in the mountains; visit an amazing eco-project and generally chill?

Sod the urgent, we said . . let’s do the important!

So, off we went to Burdur which is a rather unlikely place to escape to, even if it is for only a couple of days. Actually, the town and province is now home to a certain ranking bureaucrat of our acquaintance and visiting him is not just a pleasure, it is always an interesting experience. We had often said to ourselves that we really ought to go and explore the ‘other side’ of Burdur lake and the mountains and so it was that with a little ‘official’ guidance we spent the day doing just that.

Lisinia Project – general view towards Burdur Lake
looking towards the wildlife rehab area

We started at the Lisinia Project, a private initiative founded by veterinarian Öztürk Sarıca and manned by a team of enthusiastic volunteers. The project aims to resurrect the barren soil of the area and return it to full, organic production. So far they are doing a great job! Using organic foods, herbs, etc they research and demonstrate the links with processed foods and artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides to cancer and other diseases. As a vet, Öztürk also takes in injured and sick animals and birds and treats them, either readying them for release or providing a permanent home. From an over-friendly wild pig to injured raptors to a stork with an artificial leg – from organic herbs and fruits to organic rose essence, you can find it here. We loved the place and we will be going back. Here’s a link to learn more.

rose essence distillation plant
smelling the roses
Aargh, Jim lad! (stork with artificial leg)
this little piggy stayed home!

From Lisinia we clambered a small, rocky hill overlooking the lake – a chance to blow the cobwebs away, photograph the view and enjoy the relationship between J and our bureaucratic ‘son’.



view to Burdur

Then it was off, up the big mountain for a long way on roads that do not appear on maps or Tom-Tom devices! J and I love villages and village people, a fact well known to our host. Eventually, the track ran out at a smallholding cum fish farm cum very basic restaurant – the sort we love – no frills, no fancy waiters trying to be witty and no fancy prices! Salad made from veg pulled from the garden and fried trout that had been looking forward to a future ten minutes earlier! No GMO, no added hormones, no nasty chemicals – trust me, there is no finer meal than that!

the restaurant at the end of the universe

We set off for an after-luncheon walk but were rained off by the same storms that flooded parts of Denizli and Aydin, although we only caught the edge of it. So, a lot more tea and coffee was drunk and much talking and dossing about done. Later, we moved back to the city side of the lake and climbed the mountain there. J and our host made it to the top and I got to within a few hundred metres – with so many photos of flowers to be taken, a few hundred metres was not a bad price to pay. Anyway, they used the tracks whilst I was scrambling about in the rough – well, that’s my excuse. A few pics because I know you love this stuff!

balancing bug Burdur







Russian Marbled White – Melanargia russiae far from its home in the east

Finally, in order to ensure that the important didn’t get in the way of the urgent, we detoured to a certain winery of our knowledge and filled the car with cases of the finest to restock J’s decidedly bare cellar. Now that really does smack of efficiency – combining the urgent and the important with the essential!

Alan in Okçular

ps workshop’s done too – forty winks before the boss breezes in and catches me – fat chance!


Update 2.0

By coincidence this popped into my ‘inbox’ from Brother Ahmet. This the first ‘proper’ prototype to be built by a ‘proper’ engineer and will need further mods before it is fit for purpose. When compared with the scrap-heap lash-up that I knocked together it is a thing of beauty. Hard to describe how delighted I am to see this whole thing moving on.

A short wait and the video should appear for you – fingers crossed this time!

Alan in Okçular

A Half-Braked Idea

Gulay-SerifeEven occasional readers of this blog will know about Gülay Çolak. Gülay is paraplegic, paralysed from the chest down after an appalling accident about 15 years ago. What is not paralysed is her love of life (most of the time) and her indomitable spirit. Her attitude has won her countless admirers and friends. Here she is with her daughter, Şerife, at the Çaliş Christmas Fair.

(saved from Archers and first posted March 2015)

During the past eighteen months or so, she has had a rough time with ulcers on her foot that failed to respond to medication. After two failed skin grafts the prospects for her were not good and the cause of the problem lay in her inability to exercise properly and get her blood pumping around her limbs.

So it was that a good mate of mine, Ahmet, and I put our heads together to find a solution. We designed and built a prototype exercise machine that would work-out her arms, heart, lungs and get her legs moving. I’m not going to bore you with details all over again, you can read about that here and watch a video here.

The machine worked, her ulcers healed and the exercise routine is helping to ensure that there should be no recurrence.

If only life were that simple! Gülay has now developed diabetes, and this, too, is directly related to her inability to work-out properly.

It was head-scratching time again! Gülay has considerable strength in her arms – you wouldn’t want her to put you in a head-lock, for example! Exercising on her machine with those arms was altogether too easy and she was hardly getting puffed on her 40 minute sessions – something had to be done to put some serious ‘grunt’ back into the job.

There have been various suggestions made, from fitting one of those fan things you see on rowing machines to nicking an electric retarder from a long-distance coach! Come on guys, I’m working out of what amounts to a garden shed! My idea, based on what I know I can manage, was to fit one of those disc brakes that you see on modern mountain bikes. Great idea, but could I find the parts? Could I hell-as-like!

In the end, in desperation I messaged a friend, Jane Akatay, from Land of Lights newspaper. Jane knows everybody in Fethiye and she facilitated contact with Gareth Patten, a cyclist and, as it turned out, all-round decent chap (even if he was ‘born in Wales, by the grace of God!’ (according to his FB profile)).

Gareth is the flagpole for Fethiye Spor!

Gareth understood instantly what I was trying to achieve and sourced the parts to do the job. When we met up in Fethiye to exchange bits for bobs – a bob was a shilling in old money – this splendid fellow refused to take payment. Said it was his contribution to the project – how generous is that? Thanks, Gareth. When you meet Gülay you’ll no doubt get one of her special hugs/head-locks!

Gareth’s contribution – just about perfect!

From here on the pictures can do the talking – it was a bit of a struggle over two days to get the thing set-up as precisely as it needed to be considering it’s not fitted to pre-positioned mounts. Suffice to say, it works a treat and is now back home with Gülay. She is busy preparing for the big, four-day Marble Fair in Izmir where she and her family are honoured guests of the Denizli Marble Manufacturing Chamber. She has a commission for a whole bunch of portraits, painted on marble, of the various bigwigs like provincial governors and mayors, to get finished and I didn’t want to bother her by asking for her to pose with the finished machine. I’ll get some pics when she’s back home and not so stressed.

here she is with a couple of the not-quite-finished-yet portraits
Stage 1: wreck a perfectly good crank
Stage 2: fix disc to mutilated crank
Stage 3: create lash-up to fix position of calliper mounting bracket
Stage 4: callipers mounted and aligned (above and below)
Stage 5: and her special leg supports re-fitted
Stage 6: micro-adjustable brake control fitted
Stage 7: cabled up and waiting to be reunited with the other bit – job jobbed!

So, once again, thanks Jane for the intro; thanks Gareth for your generosity in sourcing and gifting the parts.

Alan in Okçular

Working Out With The Green (and pink) Goddess

A quick follow-up on Gülay and her exercise machine. Apart from any small mods that may crop up to make things better with the ‘scrap heap’, the ball is now well and truly with my chum Ahmet and his  technocrats and engineers in Istanbul. It seems that if we need any backing, whether technical or financial we can turn to the TÜBITAK – the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey. I find that amazing, but Ahmet knows about these things and has the contacts and skills to pull this off.

Down here in Okçular we have the hard job of waiting it all out. Meanwhile, Gülay gets to build her muscles, pump a bit of blood and model her fancy, spotted green ‘pantalons’ and lurid pink top – enjoy!

ps we fixed the chain rattle! (and just look at her daughter’s face at the end)

(saved from the ashes of Archers and first posted June 2014)

Gülay’s Work Out Machine from Alan Fenn on Vimeo.

Alan in Okçular

The Mother Of Invention

b-drink-0111-p1-haddockIf there actually is, or ever was, anyone out there waiting with baited breath for the next episode of ‘Iran Life’, breathe in and relax for there is plenty more to come – just not yet. There is more to life than rakı and spinning great yarns!

(saved from ‘Archers’ first posted June 2014)

Anyway, many of you know about our dear ‘daughter’ Gülay; a lady of great character and not a small amount of courage. She’s going through a really rotten period in her life – over a year ago an abscess opened up on her heel and it has proved really stubborn to treatment. Two skin grafts have already failed and another graft using muscle tissue as well as skin in now in the offing. This is a daunting time for her. A big element in the grafts failing is her inability, as a paraplegic, to exercise properly and the necessity to get blood pumping to the area around the wound.

‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’, or so it is said! That being the case, I and my bosom-buddy, brother – call us whatever you like, you won’t embarrass us – Ahmet from Istanbul, put our heads together and did some cogitating. I’ve often wondered what ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’ meant and now I know having been privy to some of his amazing/bizarre drawings that have cluttered up my in-box!



don’t dismiss mummies or elastic bands – already moving on to other ideas!

Ahmet is a university boy whose imagination knows no bounds. I, on the other hand, was indoctrinated with the parachute soldier’s mantra of ‘two’s up, left-flanking, bags of smoke and play it off the cuff’! He’s a thinker, I’m a bodger – he works things out ahead of time, I knock something together and figure out later how to get my arse out in one piece!

So it was that we decided to put together a prototype machine that would give Gülay’s heart, lungs and arms a good work-out whilst helping to pump blood to her feet and legs. If we can figure out her requirements then we’ll get something made by professional engineers (this is Ahmet’s sphere) in Istanbul that will also be marketable at cost (or less through subsidies) to other people with lower limb paralysis. The Letters of Patent look very impressive and I wonder what they are referring to when I compare with what has taken shape in my workshop!


Where to start? Well, a couple of perfectly serviceable, second-hand bikes, a pile of steel off-cuts, a driver’s seat from a crashed car and my workshop seemed like a good place.

cobbling the ideas together into something ‘real’
Boffer going ‘two’s up, left flanking, bags of sparks and . .’
the crash dummy is looking for a new job!
the patent, adjustable locking mechanism
J has been manfully engaged in testing out the prototype at each stage

Last evening we saw Gülay, who is home for a few days before heading back to hospital, and talked about the project and the problem of how to fix her legs to the machine when she can’t have any pressure at all where the abscess is. She came up with a pair of custom-made foot/ankle supports that are no longer of use – with a couple of bits of cut-down drain pipe and a few metres of velcro they may very well be the solution.

What you’ve seen above is a selection of photos of the progress of the project from a pile of bits in the corner to a working/functioning model. It is not finished yet, but as the cat is well and truly out of the bag as far as Gülay is concerned, here it is in all its ‘Heath Robinson’ glory! (minus lower leg supports that are yet to be worked through)


Real engineers will be able to turn this in to something that is chainless, fully adjustable, looks good, works good and by golly will do you good! It will also, in all probability, look nothing like the above pile of scrap! If ever Gülay, Ahmet and I needed a lot of crossed fingers then now and the next couple of weeks would be a good time.

Alan in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Until The Next Time

Last night J and I did something we swore we’d never do again – go to a music concert in another parochial backwater! Truth to tell I’d given up on ever being able to enjoy any live performance where plebs without a moment’s thought for anyone else bring children and wailing infants into the venue; scrunch about in sweet packets; talk and are never off their bloody iphones and soddin’ ipads!

(salvaged from Archers of Okçular and first posted 30th May 2014)

Give me Istanbul where people, real fans of whatever music they are there to enjoy, know how to behave – and do! Give me Istanbul – whatever the flight costs, it’s worth it not to have these . . these . .

Anyway, as I was saying, we went to a concert in Fethiye last night to hear the Tombak and Daf playing of a young man from Iran of whom we’d never heard – Mohammed Reza Mortazavi. In spite of all of the above listed pig-ignorance, this performance was just amazing! Phenomenal! The most wonderful, virtuoso tour-de-force by an absolute master of the craft.

Rather than write about him, here’re a few minutes to whet your audio-buds. For those here in Turkey who still miss You Tube here’s a simple work-around: Download and install the Google Chrome browser (Chromium if you use Linux/Ubuntu like me). Then install the ZenMate add-on and Bob’s your uncle – you have You Tube. You also have bandwidth to choose some of the really good stuff from this guy, I don’t! Now, enjoy this amazing musician at work:

above with Tombak and below with Daf

After last night we won’t be going to any more parochial concerts . . well, until the next time!

Alan in Okçular

Iran Life – Rayen Citadel

Our itinerary included the once magnificent Bam Citadel – but it didn’t seem right somehow. Much of Bam, along with its citadel and thousands of its inhabitants was destroyed in an horrendous earthquake at 5.26am on 26th December 2003 . The quake was only 6.6 on the Richter Scale but was shallow at just 10 kms depth – the devastation was immense and the loss of life almost incomprehensible at 26,271 dead and more than 30.000 injured.

General view of Bam (WikiCommons)

Bam citadel and city are constructed of adobe – the largest mud brick fortress on Earth – they have stood against natural disasters for in excess of two thousand years – yet such was the scale of this catastrophe that the authorities even considered moving the capital city from Tehran which is also subject to earthquakes. The Bam disaster marked a turning point in building and earthquake planning in Iran, and a turning point for us – even though the citadel at Bam has had a lot of restoration, to spend time gawking as a tourist just didn’t seem right. So, we decided to visit the Citadel at Rayen instead.

Citadel of Rayen

The Arg-e Rāyen lies in Kerman Province at the base of Mt Hezar which, at 4420 mts, forms an impressive backdrop. The age of the citadel is unknown, it had been inhabited for at least a thousand years until it was abandoned about 150 years ago. Gentle, considerate restoration began in 1996 and the site has since attained UNESCO Heritage status – it is well deserved!

Parts have been restored to full functionality, especially the Governor’s houses, which clearly show the splendour and grandeur that once existed here. Adobe walls at least three metres thick protected the inhabitants from external threats. Great towers provide views over the surrounding countryside and the present day town where many still live in houses of a style that is unchanged over hundreds of years.

Describing the sheer scale of the place is difficult – the intricacy of the adobe brickwork domes and arches is amazing, the durability of straw and mud astonishing and the glow of the place in the sunlight is enchanting. It really is a vision from another world. It may not be quite as grand as Bam but it has been spared the destructive power of the moving earth and it is, in its way, just as impressive.

Picking out a few photos from the masses taken was never going to be easy – here is a feeling for this amazing place:

the alleyway to the main gate
massive timbers above the gate
part of the old bazaar and restored walls
once grand two story homes
J and guide Feraidoon underneath the arches
some of the restored houses
surveying the Governor’s house
old and restored
and more restored
trying to convey the scale of this place
’nuff said!
J surrounded (as usual) by excited students
typical Rayen street and houses – durable, eye-pleasing adobe

I have not found it easy to convey the sheer size and majesty of Rayen Citadel, it is an amazing place. The balance between restoration and preservation can be a very fine line indeed – Rayen has succeeded wonderfully in this regard. It is well deserving of its UNESCO Heritage recognition and should be on your itinerary when you get around to visiting the ancient lands of Persia.

Alan in Okçular

Iran Life – The Beating Heart Of Persia

Insofar as a nation can be said to have a heart, then the beating heart of Persia, of modern Iran, is Hafez! Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī was a Persian poet who was born in 1325 and died in 1389. A native of Shiraz, the cultural heart of Persia, he lived and died here, hardly venturing outside of the city apart from a short period in Esfahan and Yazd for health reasons related to his writings annoying the rich and powerful!

That his works have had a profound influence on the lives of Persians and modern Iranians is without doubt. His book of verse is to be found in every home of whatever status almost without exception. Modern day Iranians can and do quote his words to fit almost any situation that arises. Little is known of his life and yet the impact of his poetry in Iran and across the globe is profound. From Goethe to Thoreau to Emerson and even Friedrich Engels his influence has been immense.


Hafez was buried in the beautiful Musalla Gardens in Shiraz. The current mausoleum was constructed in the 1930s and it is a place of pilgrimage for aficionados of the word.


The books of his words are treated as a source of inspiration for the future as Iranians open them at random in the belief that whatever page they find foretells the future. As evenings draw in and the loudspeaker system begins to gently paint his poems across the night sky, young lovers can be seen in quiet corners of the gardens checking out their future together by random openings of pages of his verse. Hafez is not to be taken lightly!

When J and I arrived on our ‘pilgrimage’ the very first thing we had to do was have our future foretold by the fortune-telling budgies at the entrance. I have to tell you that the future is good, as you would expect, if you want repeat business.


As we wandered around we became aware of a certain, small party surrounding a cleric. Our enquiries established that he was the member of the all-powerful (unelected) Supreme Council that in this case oversaw the activities of the Ministry of Culture.


Being good old fashioned egalitarians we decided to push the boundaries and join the party. We were astounded to find that mixing in was no problem as we were soon engaged in lively conversation with one of the very few security aides who were escorting the council member around. When you look at the entourage of security that prevents Turkey’s PM, RTE, or the President of the US, from getting close to the people and having a grasp on reality you can understand our amazement.


As if to reinforce the importance of Hafez in the life of Iranians, in the middle of the clerics homage to the poet a guy walked up and started to spout his verses at great length. Everyone sat or stood politely and listened attentively until he was done, offered there appreciation and then carried on.

J and the interloper

You can see from the photos that we were right in there with the cleric, his wife and the security bods – amazing in this day and age! Later we rubbed shoulders in the gift shop as we bought nick-knacks together!

Alan in Okçular