Fasham is a small village about eighty kilometeres or so north-east of Tehran. The scenery is very pretty: it nestles on the higher footslopes of the Alborz mountain range, and it is much greener than the dry geyish-yellow mountain slopes of northern Tehran. The air too, is immeasurably cooler and fresher: you need blankets in the midsummer, and no air conditioners are required. There are restaurants and cafes dotting the roads and highways from Tehran, and on weekends, heavy traffic blocks these roads full of day-trippers trying to escape Tehran pollution.
A little mountain footpath winds up from the main Fasham road, leading to a mountain spring with ice-cold water, and more and more hills and mountains. One side of the road is a steep drop into deep valleys, the other side climbs up steep mountain sides. An amazing variety of wildflowers, plants and trees thrive on both sides- my favourite was a sort of low-climbing bush, or fern which looks like a soft green drifting cloud during the first few weeks of spring. At the beginning of this road, you can look back over your shoulder and see the whole of Fasham village spread out beneath you. It is so hideous.
Why are modern Iranian buildings so desperately ugly? Fasham looks like the remnants of a half-bombed ruined town from the war movie: dirty streets, broken pavements, impoverished-looking children, stray smelly animals, dusty shops selling out-of-date ware, incredibly ugly square buildings, half falling down. There is a full river flowing through Fasham, and it is full of rubbish, at some points it looks as if a whole household has flung their entire waste into the river. What is wrong with Iranians? Why do we hate the outdoors so much- not just making no efforts to beautify their surrounding, but actively and spitefully spoiling the existing natural beauty?
I do not blame the mullahs for this one. The blame is for us. The government can be blamed for not enforcing existing laws- but surely no mullah told people to build and live in ugly dwellings, to throw garbage by river and mountain. Part of goes back to our paranoid indoor-outdoor culture: for us, real living goes on indoors, behind closed doors, and the great outdoors simply does not matter. Nobody cares, and so pollution runs riot. And the other part of it?
We visited Mahone Bay, a small historic village about a hundred kilometeres from Halifax a few weeks back. Although having no significant natural advantages over Fasham -yes- it is sitting by the water, but Fasham has the mountains- the beauty and cleanliness of the village makes you catch your breath and marvel. The pavements looked as if they have been vacuum-cleaned. The shops sparkled, and every single thing inside them was pretty and desirable. We stopped at a coffeeshop which was overflowing with flowers: scarlet geraniums, and lovely cakes shining behind glass counters. Simply walking along the single street of the village, from one end to the other, was a like a spiritual healing exercise. Painters were sitting here and there with their easels stuck out in front of them, attempting to catch the beauty on canvas.
A painter sitting outside in Fasham would most likely not be harrassed by guards and oficialdom, but they would be jeered off by the locals. And what would he want to paint anyway? Ugly half-built buildings crawling up beautiful high greeny-yellowy-purply mountains.