Is That A Gun In Your Desert Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Nov 21, 2010, 10:47 PM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:48 pm

I’d been trying for years to get an Iranian visa, even to the point of visiting the Iranian consular office at the UN two years ago – which got me a smile and lovely coffee table book, but no visa.

They like to control media coverage, and I was considered media for some reason. But when Rick Steves – who is definitely media – got a visa last year, I contacted the man who arranged his trip, and we decided to try a tourist visa, which meant keeping a low profile and doing no official interviews. The risk was that since Googling me would make it obvious what I do for a living, some official would think I was trying to outsmart them, and I would get the wayward hiker treatment. So I said nothing publicly about the trip to reduce the chances that my name and my show would be associated with a visit to Iran.

It may have been paranoid, but that’s the advice I got, and we were never hassled. (Until I got to US Customs with my Persian rug. More about that later).

So on November 5, we took off for Tehran.

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First surprise: even though Iran is now officially an Islamic utopia, where Ayatollah Khomeini watches you even from your wallet, its big cities look a lot like ours — choked with traffic and terrorized by maniac drivers. The accident rate is so high, police require passenger buses to carry speed monitors that must be stamped at safety checkpoints (which also check for drug smuggling).

This billboard says – roughly – “Drive safely, I’m waiting for my Daddy:”

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That’s the softer side of the government. The other side is the censorship – which showed up the first time I went on line from the hotel:

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Other sites brought up an intercept page in Farsi. Among the blocked sites: Huffington Post, VOA, and the Seattle Times. Not blocked: The News Tribune, the Seattle PI, and MyNorthwest.com. I couldn’t figure out why the PI was safer for Iranians than the Times. Maybe Danny Westneat scares them.

We saw Persepolis, various ancient tombs carved into the mountains, and the tomb of Cyrus the Great, but what really got us pressing our noses aganist the windows was the huge nuclear installation outside Natanz. Our guide advised us not to take pictures, and I obeyed (it’s mostly buried under giant mounds anyway), but once he gave the all clear, I started snapping the desert. Check out what I found when I blew up an otherwise ordinary landscape shot:

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That was about three miles from the site. I’m guessing the Israeli Air Force has a whole scrapbook of these.

Iranians are hardly unified behind their government, but one thing they do support is the nuclear progam… if you didn’t catch the subliminal nuclear messaging in the detail from the bank note above, take a closer look.

Coming up tomorrow: “Why Don’t They Hate Us?”

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Is That A Gun In Your Desert Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?