Feeling the Chill

The festivities were over and life in Esfahan, Iran’s third largest city several hundred miles south of Tehran, had returned to normal. The metal scaffolding in front of the Iman Mosque in Khomeini Square had been taken down and the square’s imposing fountain had been turned off. A late autumn moon rose over the dome of the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque, turning its curved blue surface a haunting purple in the twilight.

Earlier in the day, I had seen the four-wheel drive of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad roll into the square. It was surrounded by his supporters, many of them bused in from the countryside, as he stood and greeted them. Functionaries had passed out posters with the image of Ayatollah Khomeini. Ahmedinejad spoke for about forty-five minutes, defending Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy, and the crowd chanted at the appropriate applause lines. By evening the president had departed, the paid loyalists had been bused back to their villages, and the square had returned to the Esfahanis.

But the evening chill had driven most of the locals away, too, so I, a visiting American, stood out all the more. Soon a young couple sitting on a bench beside the fountain asked where I was from. Firouzeh (not her real name) wondered if I had been at the rally. Yes, I responded, the Revolutionary Guards had miraculously let me through and I’d managed to shoulder my way to the fourth row of supporters. When I asked if she had attended the rally, she scowled. Virtually...

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About the Author

Christopher Thornton teaches at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.