The Caspian then and now
Even more beautiful than I remembered it
August 15, 2004
We left Tehran in the early morning hours. Ever since the earthquake
the shorter road to the Caspian has been closed so we had to take
the longer, Haraz road, that cuts through the rugged and magnificently
soaring Alborz Mountains.
I do not remember when I was here last but it must be at least
During the years living abroad I always looked back at my memories
of this place, where I came to vacation with my family as a child
and teenager, with that fondness that comes more from a sense of
loss than a simple nostalgia for the past. The loss of a place
as much as a way of life. A way of life that is itself not well
remembered but badly missed because it occurred when everything
seemed possible both for the country and for the woman that I was
When my friend invited me to come to her waterfront villa I agreed
with the excitement of a returned exile who yearns to renew her
memories and give a location to her feelings. When you live in
exile feelings always seem to come from a place, once home, but
now, far away and ever fading. In those years of absence from Iran
every seaside resort from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean reminded
me of the Caspian where I first beheld that wonderfully wet and
salty flavor of sea air.
The drive to here from Tehran is itself dramatic. The snaking
road takes one up from the city beyond the line of smog and into
the belly of the mountains. The rise in elevation is so quick that
one feels it in the ears. The air becomes cool and the mountains
pierce the clouds like craggy and crooked fingers of an old man
reaching out to god. The sheer tallness of the mountains is breathtaking.
At one point in the road, in Pollur, the snow-capped Damavand peak
appears with awe-inspiring suddenness.
Passing through the
tunnels--opportunities for mischief when we were young--the
road descends into the Caspian area, where the mountains turn green
and the humidity of the sea acts like a hot house for the lush
I remember as an adolescent how I loved taking car trips in Iran.
The movement of the car and the frame of the window from which
I looked out at the landscape provided a cinematic backdrop for
my daydreams. I could go on for hours that way never feeling bored.
I miss the ability to daydream like that.
Return home for the exile who has yearned it for so many years
is always disappointing. No place can live up to an exile’s
memory of it. But the Caspian was even more beautiful than I remembered
it. The sea is vast stretching to what seems to be a forbidding
north (perhaps because it used to be the Soviet Union). It changes
colors by the minute as though reflecting the accommodating nature
of Iranians vis-à-vis changing tyrants through out history.
I had been warned by well wishing friends that “ the Caspian
has become too over-developed.” But having watched other
places, like the South of France, grow in the past two decades
this place seemed somehow still quaintly un-developed.
From the Haraz road the first town that you descend on by the
sea is Amol. I remember driving to Amol to make phone calls to
my father when my mother ran summer camps here for oil company
workers’ daughters. There were no private phone lines back
then. As a little girl I loved the shops that line either side
of the main strip selling local crafts mostly made of rattan and
all kinds of beach gear like swimming rings and blow up balls.
Taking the road that crosses the Caspian from one end to the
other we saw rather thin looking cows crossing the road and blessedly
few buildings that smacked of “development.” The closer
to Nowshahr that one gets the closer the sea becomes to the mountains.
My friends villa is located at a point where it enjoys both close
views of the tree covered mountains and the sea.
The villa is typical of the villas built by the wealth-to-do
of the ancien regime. A gate opens to a lushly tree-lined drive
that leads up to the villa. There is a look of ancient gentility
about the place -- like it has seen better days. It reminded
me of the aging star’s mansion in, the movie, “Sunset
Boulevard.” The place looks sad. The paint is old and chipping
the pool has not been painted in ages and the garden looks like
it needed grooming. The tennis court, I was informed
by my host, is now under the sea. The house itself is beautifully
built with all the right nooks and crannies of a vacation home.
Its best feature is a rather large balcony that looks out on the
The sunny weather turned the minute we drove up to the villa.
Big, pregnant, gray clouds invaded the sky with dramatic flair.
A warm and wet wind swept across the sea making the waves rumble
in ever more rapid succession. The sound of their clash against
the rocks seemed angry -- as if tired of the many days of clam
they had decided to revolt and make their presence known in loud
roars of discontent.
I was happy by this turn of the weather. A
sunny day would have clashed too much with what I felt inside.
A mixture of sadness for something lost and happiness about something
revisited -- a feeling I have often had since my return to Iran.
goodbye to spam!