20 Apr 2017
Loafing in Laleh Park
We hit Tehran after midnight, were driven an hour to the Laleh Hotel, checked in, and pretty much collapsed into bed until a late breakfast. We spent the rest of the day not doing a real lot. We ignored all the nearby museums and art galleries, refrained from finding a day tour, and just lollygagged around.
Luckily the Laleh Hotel is well-situated. There are shops just over the road not too far out of the Western model – including the tiniest Ikea store ever. And the sprawling green expanse of Laleh Park is all around.
Once we had unpacked our bags, worked out the internet, shopped for a few necessities like throat lozenges – I was coming down with something in the cold line – and a kilo of the most awesomely plump and sweet dried apricots, it was time to get out and about.
Thursday, so the park wasn’t as packed out as it is on Friday, which is the local Sabbath. We walked under the trees through a maze of shady paths, the open irrigation channels funnelling brown water amongst the groves.
If there is one thing the Iranians do well, it is public parks. Everywhere we went in Iran, every city had a huge central park – often several – where the residents strolled and relaxed, and teams of gardeners laboured. Playgrounds, lawns, fountains, and flower beds are plentifully supplied, sometimes formally laid out, often seemingly haphazard in arrangement.
In some provincial cities, camping is permitted. “Those living in the country come to the city for shopping or to visit, and they can stay overnight in the parks,” we were told. Neat little communities of family tents would spring up and vanish each night. Not in Laleh Park, though.
I was able to get reasonably close, but rarely within touching distance. Worth saving a few scraps from meals, I guess.
The park, as one might expect, attracted a fair share of retired folk, mothers with young children, students, and whoever else found a way to avoid the working day. It was a pleasant and casual atmosphere.
Even the gardeners seemed happy enough at their various and unending tasks. Now with spring in full flight, the flowers were blooming everywhere in abundance and variety. It was a place to lift the spirits and I happily scampered around, trying to capture as many photographs as possible.
Lost in a trance
Something about the Northern hemisphere. I’ve got a great bump of direction back home, but with the sun on the wrong side of the sky and moving in the wrong direction, it affects my bump something horrid.
Still, it was a pleasure to roam more or less randomly around. There were delights at every turn: sculptures, topiary, fountains, groves, whimsical flower beds, benches with footrests, lawns and kiosks.
Eventually, we headed for home; the Laleh Hotel’s distinctive shape is visible from most of the park.
Our tour group were arriving at lunchtime the following day, so we enjoyed an afternoon nap, a little catching up on social media – not Facebook, though! – and headed up to the top floor French restaurant, survivor of the Revolution and not, I’m afraid, much chop nowadays.
We had hoped for dinner in the hotel’s delightful little jewel box of a Persian restaurant, but sadly that had been taken over by a tour group.
Oh well, I knew we’d get our fill of Persian food over the next two weeks.
Parks and people
I live in a city with a great deal of public open space, but every day, it seems, the council is trying to claw back a little so they can build stuff on it. High-density housing and shopping malls, preferably.
Public space shouldn’t be regimented and exploited. In the same way that airports are being turned into shopping malls, public space is being crammed full of ways to channel people into organised ways of pulling money out of their pockets. Public seating is scarce and uncomfortable, but cafes are full of places to sit down. Oh, and order a latte and chips whilst taking your ease.
The best cities have wide areas where people can stroll or cycle or play or just sit. Laleh Park – and every other Iranian park – has plentiful benches, paved areas for games of badminton or volleyball, lawns for spreading picnic blankets on, and shady groves to explore or sit under.
No admission fees, no requirement to do anything but relax. The people are happy and relaxed. Funny about that.