TEHERAN, the capital of Persia, has a population of over 300,000 and is located on an elevated plain in the north central portion of Persia, south of the Elburz range, which lies between it and the Caspian Sea 70 miles to the north. Mt. Demavend is a part of this range, a giant volcanic mountain attaining approximately 20,000 feet in elevation. This unusually beautiful mountain, not unlike Mt. Fuji in appearance, and dominating the view to the north, also the nearer heights of lesser magnitude which possess rare atmospheric coloring, gives to Teheran a charming setting.
It is, however, another Persian city of mud buildings, but naturally, being the capital, its adobe buildings are much more pretentious, both in design and size. I do not wish to convey the idea that there are no comfortable or pretentious homes in Persia. In the larger cities we visited there were always a few good native homes, hid by high mud walls and enjoying small courts, gardens, and pools, this being especially true here at Teheran. European residents endeavor to implant among these foreign surroundings a home more nearly approaching those found in their homeland, although lacking in plumbing, sanitary facilities and heating apparatus, everywhere so common in America, where these comforts are taken for granted rather than accepted as a blessing. These everyday comforts and luxuries are only fully appreciated after months of forced doing without. There are here at Teheran some fairly good buildings, the foreign embassies, those of Great Britain, Russia, and France, being among the best examples. There are also within the heart of the city the municipal and government buildings, bank buildings, and the palace of the Shah, the latter surrounded by high walls, within which are a lot of buildings architecturally unrelated and in none too good state of repair. It is this common neglect that gives such a shabby appearance to Persian cities.
It is this palace of the Shah that contains the famous Peacock Throne. Whether it is the same precious couch valued at $30,000,000 that Nadir Shah of Persia carried away in 1738 as loot from Delhi appears to be a question, but in any event it is carefully guarded and may only be seen after considerable effort. It still remains without a doubt the most elaborate piece of oriental art, of which Lord Curzon’s description is as follows:
“The entire fabric is overlaid with a plating of gold, which is exquisitely chiseled and enameled, and is absolutely incrusted with precious stones, among which rubies and emeralds are the most prominent. An elegant balustrade containing inscriptions in panels runs round, and the lofty back, which is one mass of gems, rises to a point in the center whereupon is fixed a circular star of diamonds, with scintillating rays, made to revolve by a piece of mechanism at the back. On either side of the star are two bejeweled birds, perched on the edges of the back-frame and facing each other.”
To me the most imposing and attractive building in Teheran was the fine, well proportioned and colorful Sipah-Silar Mosque. Its dome rises well above the surrounding buildings, by which it is hemmed in, and one may only glimpse its interior through its lovely sublime porte, the façade of which is as colorful as a Persian rug, it being decorated and encrusted by highly colorful glazed tile. There are also the substantial buildings of the American College and American Mission Hospital, but as a whole it must be admitted that Teheran has the appearance of a shabby attempt to effect grandeur without stability and permanency; thus everywhere the hand of decay and ruin is laid heavily.
Our host, Dr. Jordan, also afforded us an opportunity to visit some attractive gardens within the walled compounds of some of Teheran’s most pretentious homes. Good they were, in fact exceedingly attractive when viewed in a land possessing so little beauty in the way of trees, shrubs, and extensive landscape gardening, parks and parkways, but I saw nothing that I thought would make an American or Englishman envious or desirous of transplanting. One thing, however, that seems to be an inseparable feature of all Persian gardens is the lovely pools, often of glazed tile, into which water is usually kept bubbling or flowing. I discovered, however, that one must not expect in this land of the Camel and the Sun (for I saw no lions), palaces encrusted with tile, porcelain, and arabesque, set among gardens of roses in which Persian nightingales (bulbuls), celebrated in oriental poetry, sing mellifluous melodies to the accompaniment of rippling water, flowing fountains, and pools in which perhaps is an ibis gracefully standing on one leg among gorgeous lotus blossoms. That, too, is a picture that belongs to the literature of Harun-el-Raschid, who was born here in 765, and not a present-day reality.
The only touch of color such as one might expect to see in Persian cities, is in the highly decorative, tile-encrusted entrance gates, of which twelve pierce the massive mud walls of Teheran, also portions of the façade or portals of palaces and public buildings. These, in turn, would not bear close inspection, for one would be sure to discover that large flakes of the highly colored glazed tile had fallen away, exposing the bare mud wall underneath. One sadly regrets this, for these gateways and arched portals at Teheran have a charm and character quite their own and are distinctively Persian, and deserve to be care-fully preserved.
I can truly say that the most interesting feature of Teheran, at least to me, was the huge bazaars. I was told they covered approximately one square mile. One could wander and loiter in these bazaars for days, for they never lack in interest. Here one brushes shoulders with the Persians, the inhabitants of Teheran. It is an unending throng that constantly flows through the narrow up-grade or down-dale passageways. It is hard to imagine a square mile of city practically entirely under roof, shafts of light penetrating through small openings in the tops of the vaulted domes. And such wonderful groined archways, sufficient to delight the soul of an architect or sketch artist.
What would not I give for just a few penciled sketches by Albert Kahn.
You are pushed, shoved and knocked along by the teeming crowd of men, women, children, donkeys and camels that crowd these passage-ways. Several times I found myself unceremoniously pushed among a bevy of black-robed, veiled ladies of theno, not the harem or who knows, I might be there yet, for as Hafiz says, “He will never find the true path who from it has never erred.” Anyhow, nothing happened, we moved on and were attracted by the more mundane things displayed in the myriad shops of the bazaars, anything from carcasses of fat-tailed sheep, to jewelry and Persian rugs.
That reminds me, I must not forget the fat-tailed sheep, for that would be leaving out of my account one of Persia’s principal articles of commerce. It supplies wool for rugs and garments, and a sheepskin coat (pelt out and wool in) is a common article of wearing apparel for the men of Persia. Leather from its hide is made into shoes of the most brilliant shadesred, yellow, greenas well as into saddlery. It is the beef, pork, ham, bacon, mutton and sweetbreads (from the brain) of the Persians, and likewise the leaf-lard, for that is where the broad tail comes into its own, for it is composed of several pounds of solid fat and all that is necessary is to slice off a piece and use it as we would lard.
And speaking of jewelry, with the present craze in America for ear ornaments, gigantic and oriental, this market would make the fair shopper’s heart flutter in raptured excitement and also swell the bank account of the said shop-keepers, who reposefully sit or squat among their wares. There are large crescent-shaped filigreed gold earrings that would hang from ear to shoulder and equally large pendants set with turquoise or dangling with little gold coins, also jeweled nose studs, but come to think of it, the latter had not yet come into vogue when I left America. There are most interesting engraved talismen that should make excellent ornaments for some of those fancy elaborate silk garters worn by ladies, but which I must confess I have seen only in store windows.
Of the thousand and one (that is an Arabic phrase) articles for sale in this biggest, best, and most interesting bazaar that I ever visited, not even excepting the Souks of Tunis, I only emphasized three in my introduction, and one was rugs.
The shopkeepers sit upon them, they hang along the passageways, they are piled up in great piles or often seen just carelessly thrown before some shop whose doors are locked and as far as I could see no one watching them. In our own land I fear they would accidentally roll off the platform onto some passing donkey’s back, and of course in such a labyrinth of alleys and passage-ways and exiguous thoroughfares no one could be expected to know where to return them. There is only one thing that would embarrass me were I to return to Teheran. Surely, I would visit that most agreeable host, Dr. Jordan, president of the American College, and his lovely and gentle companion, Mrs.. Jordan, who added so much to the comfort and pleasure of our stay in Teheran, but first, last, and always, I would be thinking of those days of endless tramping through the bazaars in which Dr. Jordan so patiently joined me hunting for certain rugs which, to my great disappointment, I never found. The sizes I desired were unusual, especially two, which were 25 by 15 feet. If I found a rug that I liked and which was the correct length, then it was much too wide or too narrow. If, on the other hand, it was the right width, in every case it was too short.
As to their cost, I thought at first that I was miscalculating the value of tomans, for the prices asked seemed so cheap. A toman equals one dollar, and is divided into krans, equalling ten cents, and a still smaller denomination, with which I had no occasion to become acquainted. Beautiful Kermans, Khorasans and Ramadans were offered at approximately one dollar to one dollar and a half per square foot. Of course that was the net price in Persia, and to this would have to be added transportation and the United States tariff, which would probably increase the cost about seventy-five per cent. There were other varieties smaller in size and finer in quality that were, of course, higher in priceSarucks, Feraghans, Sultanabads, Sarabands, etc. Because of the freedom with which I use these terms, do not imagine that I lay any claim to knowledge concerning oriental rugs. One must not, however, expect to find in these bazaars modern farm implements, automatic machinery or locomotives, for Persia must needs first pick up a few centuries.
I must not neglect to mention just a few of the characteristic, but often inapplicable names used in Persia. Be it understood I write them in their English translation. “The Street of the Tulips,” a thoroughfare without tulips; “Diamond Street,” the only reminder of the brilliant being pieces of looking glass set in the wall of the gaudy, taw-dry, entrance to the palace. I read of a lady named “Chastity of the State “what a responsibility; and another “Gaiety of the Dynasty,”there is a name for a Parisian ballet dancer; while a couple of men’s names which I gathered from the same source were equally expressive” Magnificence of the Royal Intimacy,” a name assigned to the eunuch of the palace, and a character in comedy was dubbed “Uncleanliness of Commerce.
But I fear I am digressing. What should interest every American, is the influence that American people and American institutions are today exercising in Persia. This is what our minister to Persia, Dr.Kornfeld (and I was proud of our representative) said to me as I visited with him in his drawing-room at the embassy:
“The biggest thing that is being done today in Persia and which will have the greatest effect upon its future is the work of the American Mission School.” And that remark introduces the subject. The story of this school, established more than fifty years ago, can best be told in the language of a pamphlet prepared and distributed by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, New York City.
“The Persians say: `The Americans have a factory in Teheran where they manufacture men.’ For the past fifteen years the American College has corresponded to a good preparatory school or high school in America, with primary, grammar and high school departments, doing in addition a certain amount of college work. The active enrolment has risen from 66 in 1900 to 540 in recent yearsthe utmost capacity of the present buildings.
“One of the remarkable things about this school, and especially the boarding department, is the class of pupils enrolled. While pupils from every grade of society and every race and creed are accepted without discrimination, an unusually large number are children of the nobility and the other most influential families of the country. More than one-fifth of the pupils are sons of government officials. Last year at one time among the sixty odd boys living in our one double dormitory there were two brothers of the prime minister, the son of his immediate predecessor, six grandsons of the three most prominent prime ministers who have governed Persia in the past fifty years, and who together ruled the country about thirty years. It is as if some school in America should number among the students two brothers of President Harding, a son of Wilson, two grand-sons of Taft, three grandsons of Roosevelt, and a grandson of Cleveland, and the sons of governors too numerous to mention.
“In addition to these there are studying in the school the sons of other cabinet ministers, or royal princesfirst and second cousins of the Shah, of governors of provinces, of other high officials and influential menboys, who, whether educated or not, will in future years be among the rulers of Persia. Seldom if ever has any school had such an opportunity to mold the new life of an awakening nation.
“As in ancient times all roads led to Rome, so in Persia today all roads lead to the capital. The influential and progressive men from every part of the country, in order to keep in touch with the national life, flock to Teheran, and they want education for their children. In addition the school has such a reputation that boys are sent to it from the most distant parts of the kingdom, twenty, thirty, forty days’ journey by caravan and remain in the school for years without ever returning home. While it would be possible to fill the school with the children of those who are able to pay full fees and so increase the income of the school, the children of the poor are not neglected. It is a rule of the school to accept ten per cent to twenty per cent of free pupils, and a pupil once enrolled is never turned away because of inability to pay.
“The boarding department has never drawn a cent from America and never expects to. It is not simply self-supporting in that it pays all its own expenses, but nine wealthy boys are charged enough to support ten, and in this way we are enabled to help a number of deserving poor boys to an education they could not otherwise obtain.
“The spirit of the school is most democratic. The sons of princes, aristocrats and the wealthy mingle on terms of perfect equality with the children of the poor, share the same seats, attend the same classes, rub shoulders on the football field, and all learn to be friends. In the boarding department each boy makes his own bed and takes his turn waiting on the table. All are being taught the dignity of labor.
“The young men trained in this school are exerting an influence out of all proportion to their number. They are found throughout the length and breadth of the empire in positions of honor and trust. They are members of parliament; they are secretaries in the state departments of the government; they are chiefs of customs, of post-offices and telegraphs in various cities; they are officers in the army and in the police departments; they are found in the banks, native and foreign; they are physicians, teachers, editors of newspapers, and some of the best textbooks in the vernacular have been prepared by our graduates. The enlightening influence of this school has been one of the important factors in the awakening of Persia and the establishing of free institutions and constitutional government.”
America may well be proud of this American institution, inculcating American ideals into the minds of the young men and women of Persia without any attempt of proselyting. Much of the good will that today exists in Persia towards America has been engendered by the unselfish devotion to an ideal on the part of the splendid and able staff that conducts the affairs of this institution of learning. Great is the influence exercised on a nation by good and wise instructors. In my humble opinion it is next to that of the mother, and usually how little are they re-warded as counted in material things.
Upon being introduced to Persians the following remarks were common : “Glad to meet an American,” “America, a friend of Persia,” “America, the big strong country that helps the weaker nations.” As a native American, my pride swelled, for one is inclined to accept such homage as a tribute to himself and his countrymen, and doubtless they were so intended, but I was not so short-sighted as not to quickly recognize that in reality these tributes but portray the respect and gratitude that such missionaries as Dr. and Mrs. Jordan, Dr. and Mrs. Funk, Dr. and Mrs. Packard, Dr. and Mrs. McDowell, with others, have prompted by their devotion and sacrificial work among these people. The gentlemen mentioned stand foremost in their professions and possess a nobility and virility of character that makes them pioneers in blazing the Trail of Christ.
I do not ascribe the good will of the Persians as due to the life of the average American who is busy in the homeland with his own selfish pursuits, and I give these credit only so far, as they have supported by good conduct and financial aid the work of these missionaries. This is not a sermon but vital facts regarding Persia. Great is the opportunity of instructors and medical missionaries. How can one more effectively prompt gratitude and even touch the heart than by relieving pain and suffering and healing the temple of the soul. My hat is off to the medical missionaries first, last, and all the time. And this introduces one more subject I must speak about, for it, too, supplies an important picture of Persian life.
Some of the experiences of these medical missionaries are indeed unique, and often they encounter unusual difficulties due to religious and superstitious beliefs. For example, Dr. Funk, of Hamadan, recited the following incident that had occurred just two or three days previous to our visit :
In the town of a nearby mission station a Mohammedan man fell from his horse, rendering him unconscious for several hours. Dr. Funk was consulted and recommended surgery (trepanning), which recommendation the relatives, however, could not concur in until a mullah had been consulted and the ceremony of “cutting the book” performed, which means that a Mohammedan priest (mullah) is called in and opens at random the Koran, and if the text on the page opened to, decrees favorably, the undertaking is ventured, otherwise not.
In this instance, when the mullah performed the ceremony of “cutting the book,” the page opened to read: “This will raise a dead man to life.” Could a truer or more appropriate message be sent by Allah? No wonder they believe in “cutting the book.”
On the other hand, he told of a very serious case that was brought to his attention demanding an immediate major operation. They promised to bring the woman at once to the hospital. Dr. Funk and his nurse made everything in readiness but first the ceremony of “cutting the book” was invoked by the family, which portent resulted unfavorably. The patient instead of being carried to the hospital was the next day carried to the cemetery.
As we sat in the dim lamplight and the genial doctor related these tales, I could almost fancy one of Ali-Baba’s great earthen jars with a filmy genii coming forth, holding the slender thread of life and revealing the fate of some ill suppliant, as though Kismet was the universal law and men were but creatures of destiny.
Dr. Packard told of having a Mohammedan patient consult him whom he advised that an operation was necessary. The mullah was called to “cut the book.” The cut was favorable. Then the date was determined upon, but the book must again be consulted in order to settle the time of the procedure. Again it was favorable. Then friends who called advised seriously against the operation, which resulted in once more “cutting the book.” Again favorable.
You would have thought that it was now a case of three times and out, but not so with your Mohammedan, for to and behold, when the operation was about to be performed and he discovered the surgeon, Dr. Packard, all in white, another serious situation had arisen for be it known this is the color of the winding sheets of their dead, therefore, once more the oracles must be consulted to see if the white robes of the doctor were approved by the Koran through the ceremony of “cutting the book.” You could not expect cards to repeatedly cut a queen of hearts, and in this instance Allah in the fourth cut declared unfavorably. Would you believe itthe operation there and then was deferred and ignorance and superstition once more paid the penalty for ignoring science.
The doctor told me of another instance in which an operation was interrupted and prevented because the patient sneezed. Had he sneezed twice the omen would have been favorable, but once was fatal. And so I could go on reciting many other like instances told me, which were indeed humorous enough were it not for the sad sequel to each of these little pathetic tales, which are not from the Arabian Nights’ tales, but they are the Arabian Nights of the medical missionaries of Persia.
I shall not attempt to discuss the political situationthat would be presumptuous, but I do know that the Persians are dissatisfied with their Shah, who prefers the capital of France to the capital of Persia (I admire his taste) ; that Riza Khan, officially known as Sardar Sipah, seems to enjoy the confidence of the Persian people, and by building up an effective and loyal army corps has more securely welded a stable state of government in which law and order prevails. I am not so sure, however, but that the average Asiatic or oriental mind prefers a government by a dictator rather than accepting the responsibility of a representative or democratic form of govern-ment, for while a parliament may by a legislative act confer the privilege of the franchise upon all its male inhabitants, they cannot legislate the knowledge and ability for the intelligent exercising of the power granted.
Persia needs friends and finance to assist her in stabilizing her government, constructing her railroads, and developing her resources.
By means of travel we store away in the library of memory recollections that become the magic carpet of Baghdad on which we may sail to this land or that in which we have previously journeyed. My journey to Persia grows richer in reminiscences as days pass; an accomplishment enjoyed more as a memory, than as an experience. Even when in the future I hear played that popular melody, Over There, it will have a new significance, for this tune set to Persian words is now the national anthem of Persia.
The more I saw of Persians, the more respect I had for donkeys. (No disrespect intended toward the Persians.) Someone will some day awaken to his opportunity to discharge a world debt by erecting a fitting monument to that faithful, humble, good-natured, submissive, abused and much used little animalthe donkey.
The return journey occupying five days was quite uneventful, and upon reaching Baghdad we found awaiting us the motor cars which we had previously arranged to meet us upon our return from Persia.