Two mornings after this I take a spin out on the Doshan Tepe road, and, upon wheeling through the city gate, I find myself in the immediate presence of another grand review, again under the personal inspection of the Naibi-Sultan. Disturbing two grand reviews within "two days is, of course, more than I bargained for, and I would gladly have retreated through the gate; but coming full upon them unexpectedly, I find it impossible to prevent the inevitable result. The troops are drawn up in line about fifty yards from the road, and are for the moment standing at ease, awaiting the arrival of the Shah, while the Commander-in-chief and his staff are indulging in soothing whiffs at the seductive kalian. The cry of "asp-i-awhan Sahib!" breaks out all along the line, and scores of soldiers break ranks, and come running helter-skelter toward the road, regardless of the line-officers, who frantically endeavor to wave them back. Dashing ahead, I am soon beyond the lines, congratulating myself that the effects of my disturbing presence is quickly over; but ere long, I discover that there is no other ridable road back, and am consequently compelled to pass before them again on returning. Accordingly, I hasten to return, before the arrival of the Shah. Seeing me returning, the Naib-i-Sultan and his staff advance to the road, with kalians in hand, their oval faces wreathed in smiles of approbation; they extend cordial salutations as I wheel past. The Persians seem to do little more than play at soldiering; perhaps in no other army in the world could a lone cycler demoralize a general review twice within two days, and then be greeted with approving smiles and cordial salutations by the commander and his entire staff.
Through November and the early part of December, the weather in Teheran continues, on the whole, quite agreeable, and suitable for short-distance wheeling; but mindful of the long distance yet before me, and the uncertainty of touching at any point where supplies could be forwarded, I deem it advisable to take my exercise afoot, and save my rubber tires for the more serious work of the journey to the Pacific.
There are no green lanes down which to stroll, nor emerald meads through which to wander about the Persian capital, though what green things there are, retain much of their greenness until the early winter months. The fact of the existence of any green thing whatever - and even to a greater extent, its survival through the scorching summer months - depending almost wholly on irrigation, enables vegetation to retain its pristine freshness almost until suddenly pounced upon and surprised by the frost. There is no springy turf, no velvety greensward in the land of the Lion and the Sun. No sooner does one get beyond the vegetation, called into existence by the moisture of an irrigating ditch or a stream, than the bare, gray surface of the desert crunches beneath one's tread. There is an avenue leading part way from the city to the summer residence of the English Minister at Gulaek, that conjures up memories of an English lane; but the double row of chenars, poplars, and jujubes are kept alive by irrigation, and all outside is verdureless desert.
Things are valued everywhere for their scarcity, and a patch of greensward large enough to recline on, a shady tree or shrub, and a rippling rivulet are appreciated in Persia at their proper value- appreciated more than broad, green pastures and waving groves of shade-trees in moister climes. Moreover, there is a peculiar charm in these bright emerald gems, set in sombre gray, be they never so small and insignificant in themselves, that is not to be experienced where the contrast is less marked.
Scattered here and there about the stony plain between Teheran and the Elburz foot- hills, are many beautiful gardens-beautiful for Persia-where a pleasant hour can be spent wandering beneath the shady avenues and among the fountains. These gardens are simply patches redeemed from the desert plain, supplied with irrigating water, and surrounded with a high mud wall; leading through the garden are gravelled walks, shaded by rows of graceful chenars. The gardens are planted with fig, pomegranate, almond or apricot trees, grape-vines, melons, etc.; they are the property of wealthy Teheranis who derive an income from the sale of the fruit in the Teheran market. The ample space within the city ramparts includes a number of these delightful retreats, some of them presenting the additional charm of historic interest, from having been the property and, peradventure, the favorite summer residence of a former king. Such a one is an extensive garden in the northeast quarter of the city, in which was situated one of the favorite summer palaces of Fatteh-ali Shah, grandfather of Nasree.
It was chiefly to satisfy my curiosity as to the truth of the current stories regarding that merry monarch, and his. exceedingly novel methods of entertaining himself, that I accepted the invitation of a friend to visit this garden one afternoon. My friend is the owner of a pair of white bull-dogs, who accompany us into the garden. After strolling about a little, we are shown into the summer palace; into the audience room, where we are astonished at the beautiful coloring and marvellously life- like representations in the old Persian frescoing on the walls and ceiling. Depicted in life-size are Fatteh-ali Shah and his courtiers, together with the European ambassadors, painted in the days when the Persian court was a scene of dazzling splendor. The monarch is portrayed as an exceedingly handsome man with a full, black beard, and is covered with a blaze of jewels that are so faithfully pictured as to appear almost like real gems on the walls. It seems strange - almost startling - to come in from contemplating the bare, unlovely mud walls of the city, and find one's self amid the life-like scenes of Fatteh-ali Shah's court; and, amid the scenes to find here and there an English face, an English figure, dressed in the triangular cockade, the long Hessian pigtail, the scarlet coat with fold-back tails, the knee-breeches, the yellow stockings, the low shoes, and the long, slender rapier of a George III. courtier. From here we visit other rooms, glittering rooms, all mirror-work and white stucco. Into rooms we go whose walls consist of myriads of tiny squares of rich stained glass, worked into intricate patterns and geometrical designs, but which are now rapidly falling into decay; and then we go to see the most novel feature of the garden-Fatteh-ali Shah's marble slide, or shute.
Passing along a sloping, arched vault beneath a roof of massive marble, we find ourselves in a small, subterranean court, through which a stream of pure spring water is flowing along a white marble channel, and where the atmosphere must be refreshingly cool even in the middle of summer. In the centre of the little court is a round tank about four feet deep, also of white marble, which can be filled at pleasure with water, clear as crystal, from the running stream. Leading from an upper chamber, and overlapping the tank, is a smooth-worn marble slide or shute, about twenty feet long and four broad, which is pitched at an angle that makes it imperative upon any one trusting themselves to attempt the descent, to slide helplessly into the tank. Here, on summer afternoons, with the chastened daylight peeping through a stained- glass window in the roof, and carpeting the white marble floor with rainbow hues, with the only entrance to the cool and massive marble court, guarded by armed retainers, who while guarding it were conscious of guarding their own precious lives, Fattehali Shah was wont to beguile the hours away by making merry with the bewitching nymphs of his anderoon, transforming them for the nonce into naiads.
There are no nymphs nor naiads here now, nothing but the smoothly-worn marble shute to tell the tale of the merry past; but we obtain a realistic idea of their sportive games by taking the bulldogs to the upper chamber, and giving them a start down the slide. As they clutch and claw, and look scared, and appeal mutely for assistance, only to slide gradually down, down, down, and fall with a splash into the tank at last, we have only to imagine the bull-dogs transformed into Fatteh-ali Shah's naiads, to learn something of the truth of current stories. After we have slid the dogs down a few times, and they begin to realize that they are not sliding hopelessly down to destruction, they enjoy the sport as much as we, or as much as the naiads perhaps did a hundred years ago.
That portion of the Teheran bazaar immediately behind the Shah's winter palace, is visited almost daily by Europeans, and their presence excites little comment or attention from the natives; but I had frequently heard the remark that a Ferenghi couldn't walk through the southern, or more exclusive native quarters, without being insulted. Determined to investigate, I sallied forth one afternoon alone, entering the bazaar on the east side of the palace wall, where I had entered it a dozen times before.
The streets outside are sloppy with melting snow, and the roofed passages of the bazaar, being dry underfoot, are crowded with people to an unusual extent; albeit they are pretty well crowded at any time. Most of the dervishes in the city have been driven, by the inclemency of the weather, to seek shelter in the bazaar; these, added to the no small number who make the place their regular foraging ground, render them a greater nuisance than ever. They are encountered in such numbers, that no matter which way I turn, I am confronted by a rag-bedecked mendicant, with a wild, haggard countenance and grotesque costume, thrusting out his gourd alms-receiver, and muttering "huk yah huk!" each in his own peculiar way.
The mollahs, with their flowing robes, and huge white turbans, likewise form no inconsiderable proportion of the moving throng; they are almost without exception scrupulously neat and clean in appearance, and their priestly costume and Pharisaical deportment gives them a certain air of stateliness. They wear the placid expression of men so utterly puffed up with the notion of their own sanctity, that their self-consciousness verily scorns to shine through their skins, and to impart to them a sleek, oily appearance. One finds himself involuntarily speculating on how they all manage to make a living; the mollah "toils not, neither does he spin," and almost every other person one meets is a mollah.
The bazaar is a common thoroughfare for anything and everything that can make its way through. Donkey-riders, horsemen, and long strings of camels and pack-mules add their disturbing influence to the general confusion; and although hundreds of stalls are heaped up with every merchantable thing in the city, scores of donkeys laden with similar products are meandering about among the crowd, the venders shouting their wares with lusty lungs. In many places the din is quite deafening, and the odors anything but agreeable to European nostrils; but the natives are not over fastidious. The steam issuing from the cook-shops, from coppers of soup, pillau and sheeps'-trotters, and the less objectionable odors from places where busy men are roasting bazaar-kabobs for hungry customers all day long, mingle with the aromatic contributions from the spice and tobacco shops wedged in between them.
The sleek-looking spice merchant, squatting contentedly beside a pan of glowing embers, smoking kalian after kalian in dreamy contemplation of his assistant waiting on customers, and also occasionally waiting on him to the extent of replenishing the fire on the kalian, is undoubtedly the happiest of mortals. With a kabob-shop on one hand, a sheeps'-trotter-shop on the other, and a bakery and a fruit-stand opposite, he indulges in tid-bits from either when he is hungry. With nothing to do but smoke kalians amid the fragrant aroma of his own spices, and keep a dreamy eye on what passes on around him, his Persian notions of a desirable life cause him to regard himself as blest beyond comparison with those whose avocations necessitate physical exertion. All the shops are open front places, like small fruit and cigar stands in an American city, the goods being arranged on boards or shelving, sloping down to the front, or otherwise exposed to the best advantage, according to the nature of the wares; the shops have no windows, but are protected at night by wooden shutters.
The piping notes of the flute, or the sing-song voice of the troubadour or story-teller is heard behind the screened entrance of the tchai-khans, and now and then one happens across groups of angry men quarrelling violently over some trifling difference in a bargain; noise and confusion everywhere reign supreme. Here the road is blocked up by a crowd of idlers watching a trio of lutis, or buffoons, jerking a careless and indifferent-looking baboon about with a chain to make him dance; and a little farther along is another crowd surveying some more lutis with a small brown bear. Both the baboon and the bear look better fed than their owners, the contributions of the onlookers consisting chiefly of eatables, bestowed upon the animals for the purpose of seeing them feed.
Half a mile, or thereabouts, from the entrance, an inferior quarter of the bazaar is reached; the crowds are less dense, the noise is not near so deafening, and the character of the shops undergoes a change for the worse. A good many of the shops are untenanted, and a good many others are occupied by artisans manufacturing the ruder articles of commerce, such as horseshoes, pack-saddles, and the trappings of camels. Such articles as kalians, che-bouks and other pipes, geivehs, slippers and leather shoes, hats, jewelry, etc., are generally manufactured on the premises in the better portions of the bazaar, where they are sold. Perched in among the rude cells of industry are cook-shops and tea-drinking establishments of an inferior grade; and the occupants of these places eye me curiously, and call one another's attention to the unusual circumstance of a Ferenghi passing through their quarter. After half a mile of this, my progress is abruptly terminated by a high mud wall, with a narrow passage leading to the right. I am now at the southern extremity of the bazaar, and turn to retrace my footsteps.
So far I have encountered no particular disposition to insult anybody; only a little additional rudeness and simple inquisitive-ness, such as might very naturally have been expected. But ere I have retraced my way three hundred yards, I meet a couple of rowdyish young men of the charuadar class; no sooner have I passed them than one of them wantonly delivers himself of the promised insult - a peculiar noise with the mouth; they both start off at a run as though expecting to be pursued and punished. As I turn partially round to look, an old pomegranate vender stops his donkey, and with a broad grin of amusement motions me to give chase. When nearing the more respectable quarter again, I stroll up one of the numerous ramifications leading toward what looks, like a particularly rough and dingy quarter. Before going many steps I am halted by a friendly-faced sugar merchant, with "Sahib," and sundry significant shakes of the head, signifying, if he were me, he wouldn't go up there. And thus it is in the Teheran bazaar; where a Ferenghi will get insulted once, he will find a dozen ready to interpose with friendly officiousness between him and anything likely to lead to unpleasant consequences. On the whole, a European fares better than a Persian in his national costume would in an Occidental city, in spite of the difference between our excellent police regulations and next to no regulations at all; he fares better than a Chinaman does in New York.
The Teheran bazaar, though nothing to compare to the world-famous bazaar at Stamboul, is wonderfully extensive. I was under the impression that I had been pretty much all through it at different times; but a few days after my visit to the "slummy " quarters, I follow a party of corpse-bearers down a passage-way hitherto unexplored, to try and be present at a Persian funeral, and they led the way past at least a mile of shops I had never yet seen. I followed the corpse-bearers through the dark passages and narrow alley-ways of the poorer native quarter, and in spite of the lowering brows of the followers, penetrated even into the house where they washed the corpses before burial; but here the officiating mollahs scowled with such unmistakable displeasure, and refused to proceed in my presence, so that I am forced to beat a retreat. The poorer native quarter of Teheran is a shapeless jumble of mud dwellings, and ruins of the same; the streets are narrow passages describing all manner of crooks and angles in and out among them.
As I emerge from the vaulted bazaar the sun is almost setting, and the musicians in the bala-khanas of the palace gates are ushering in the close of another day with discordant blasts from ancient Persian trumpets, and belaboring hemispherical kettle- drums. These musicians are dressed in fantastic scarlet uniforms, not unlike the costume of a fifteen century jester, and every evening at sundown they repair to these balakhanas, and for the space of an hour dispense the most unearthly music imaginable. tubes of brass about five feet long, which respond to the efforts of a strong-winded person, with a diabolical basso-profundo shriek that puts a Newfoundland fog-horn entirely in the shade. When a dozen of these instruments are in full blast, without any attempt at harmony, it seems to shed a depressing shadow of barbarism over the whole city. This sunset music is, I think, a relic of very old times, and it jars on the nerves like the despairing howl of ancient Persia, protesting against the innovation from the pomp and din and glamour of her old pagan glories, to the present miserable era of mollah rule and feeble dependence for national existence on the forbearance or jealousy of other nations. Beneath the musicians' gate, and I emerge into a small square which is half taken up by a square tank of water; near the tank is a large bronze cannon. It is a huge, unwieldy piece, and a muzzle-loader, utterly useless to such a people as the Persians, except for ornament, or perhaps to help impress the masses with an idea of the Shah's unapproachable greatness.
It is the special hour of prayer, and in every direction may be observed men, halting in whatever they may be doing, and kneeling down on some outer garment taken off for the purpose, repeatedly touch their foreheads to the ground, bending in the direction of Mecca. Passing beneath the second musicians' gate, I reach the artillery square just in time to see a company of army buglers formed in line at one end, and a company of musketeers at the other. As these more modern trumpeters proceed to toot, the company of musketeers opposite present arms, and then the music of the new buglers, and the hoarse, fog-horn-like blasts of the fantastic tooters on the bala-khanas dies away together in a concerted effort that would do credit to a troop of wild elephants.
When the noisy trumpeting ceases, the ordinary noises round about seem like solemn silence in comparison, and above this comparative silence can be heard the voices of men here and there over the city, calling out "Al-lah-il-All-ah; Ali Ak-bar." (God is greatest; there is no god but one God! etc.) with stentorian voices. The men are perched on the roofs of the mosques, and on noblemen's walls and houses; the Shah has a strong- voiced muezzin that can be heard above all the others.
The sun has just set; I can see the snowy cone of Mount Demavend, peeping apparently over the high barrack walls; it has just taken on a distinctive roseate tint, as it oftentimes does at sunset; the reason whereof becomes at once apparent upon turning toward the west, for the whole western sky is aglow with a gorgeous sunset-a sunset that paints the horizon a blood red, and spreads a warm, rich glow over half the heavens.
The moon will be full to-night, and a far lovelier picture even than the glorious sunset and the rose-tinted mountain, awaits anyone curious enough to come out-doors and look. The Persian moonlight seems capable of surrounding the most commonplace objects with a halo of beauty, and of blending things that are nothing in themselves, into scenes of such transcendental loveliness that the mere casual contemplation of them sends a thrill of pleasure coursing through the system. There is no city of the same size (180,000) in England or America, but can boast of buildings infinitely superior to anything in Teheran; what trees there are in and about the city are nothing compared to what we are used to having about us; and although the gates with their short minars and their gaudy facings are certainly unique, they suffer greatly from a close investigation. Nevertheless, persons happening for the first time in the vicinity of one of these gates on a calm moonlight night, and perchance descrying "fair Luna "through one of the arches or between the minars, will most likely find themselves transfixed with astonishment at the marvellous beauty of the scene presented. By repairing to the artillery square, or to the short street between the square and the palace front, on a moonlight night, one can experience a new sense of nature's loveliness; the soft, chastening light of the Persian moon converts the gaudy gates, the dead mud-walls, the spraggling trees, and the background of snowy mountains nine miles away, into a picture that will photograph itself on one's memory forever.
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