Travelling overland in Iran and working on a documentary it seems incredibly apt to write a blog about two of the most inspirational adventurers we’ve come across, Issa and Abdullah Omidvar.
During the mid 1950’s two valiant brothers from Iran, with $180 between them, decided to go on an adventure that would take them around the world. A daring journey that would carry them through some of the most challenging terrain. Initially setting off on two British 500cc Matchless motorcycles armed with photography and film making equipment the brothers headed east through Pakistan, India, South-East Asia and Australia. They crossed the Pacific from Japan to Alaska, headed to the Arctic and then south through Canada and the Americas, travelling the entire length of the Andes, to finish with a trip to the Antarctic. Their homeward stretch took them through Europe back to Iran after a 7-year adventure of a lifetime. A brief stint at home saw the two young brothers catch a bad dose of ‘itchy feet’. Refuelled and raring to go in their newly donated Citroen 2CV van the brothers headed across the gulf to Mecca and then on to complete a 3-year anti-clockwise lap of Africa including the arduous task of getting through the Ituri rainforest in the Congo.
Their eagerness to immerse themselves into other cultures as they travelled led to the pair shooting incredibly perceptive anthropological short documentaries about the tribes people they set out to encounter.
It is this defiant attitude towards the unknown that leads to remarkable encounters. For us the most memorable stories have come from diving headfirst into the unknown!
Throughout their 10-year expedition they had the opportunity to make films about Congo Pygmies (the short ones), Nilotic peoples (the tall ones), Amazonian cannibals, Polynesian islanders, Aborigines and the Eskimos living in the frozen lands of the Arctic.
The films document a time before globalization and outside influence where countries of pure beauty existed before being tainted by the industrial invasion from the west; countries where the people seem less jaded and weary of foreigners, happier and more comfortable & self-assured.
British Pathé newsreels and other documentaries of the time were produced from a belittling western perspective with an air of colonial conceited arrogance. The Omidvar brother’s films offer a unique counterpoint where respect and a willingness to learn are the basis of kinship. This simple value is epitomised beautifully by their motto hand painted across the front mudguards of their bikes "All different, all relative". This affinity with the people they met often put them in a unique position, not of an outsider, but of an accepted member of the tribe.
Issa and Abdullah produced and edited the films on the road. As they travelled from town to town they would deliver lectures and screenings in any establishment that would take them from small village halls to big universities. As a result various newspapers wrote about their explorations leading to a certain degree of fame. To quote Issa “We had the opportunity of visiting, and holding talks with most presidents, prime ministers, kings and cultural personalities of the world”. Their autograph book is testament to this.
In the late 1960’s their adventures were broadcast as a weekly TV show gaining them near celebrity status in Iran. In 2002 a prominent museum dedicated to their travels opened in the Gate House to the Green Palace in the Sa’d abad Cultural complex. The museum is a fascinating insight into the lives of the two brothers and features their camera equipment as well as many of the artefacts and photographs, collected and taken from 1954-1964.
One of the most interesting and macabre items is a human shrunken head that was gifted to the brothers by the Jivaro Tribe in the heart of the Amazon.
Visiting the museum and marvelling at the amazing photographs made us realise one thing in particular, it is the photographs that convey the passing of time that are really interesting! Culture, lifestyle, fashion and ‘the everyday’ change faster than a timeless landscape!
As we travel around Iran it is clear that the Omidvar’s ethos of friendship through mutual respect and understanding is a value that is still fully ingrained into Iranian culture.
Unfortunately the inclination to ignore preconceived typecasts and a willingness of openness, acceptance and understanding towards strangers is not practiced to the same degree in western culture; it is a lesson that many of us could learn from.
It is this simple characteristic that opened many doors for the Omidvar brothers and the wisdom of their learnings as intrepid adventurers is summed up simply by one word painted on the rear of one of the motorcycles “Peace”.
The inspirational story of the Queen Farah Diba Pahlavi’s life is a complex one of fairy tales, politics and tragedy.
A commoner and young architecture student, she was chosen to replace the King Shah Mohammed Reza’s second wife, Soraya Esfandiari Bakhtiari, after she failed to produce an heir to the throne. Their engagement in November 1959 was announced to the world via the cover of Life Magazine where the glamorous ‘soon-to-be’ Queen was pictured wearing a stunning dress by Dior.
One month later, aged just 21, and 19 years the Shah’s junior, Farah Diba married Shah Mohammed Reza garnering worldwide press attention. Dressed in a gown designed by Yves Saint Laurent and wearing a newly commissioned Diamond Tiara designed by Harry Winston their marriage announced the arrival of possibly one of the most loved, stylish, forward thinking and inspirational royals to have ever reigned.
Just 10 months after the wedding she gave birth to a son solidifying her position; the occasion was marked by dancing in the streets. A succession of children followed; another son and two daughters.
After the birth of the Crown Prince the Queen was free to dedicate more time to activities that interested her. As time progressed the she became much more involved in government affairs. Using her husband’s influence and proximity she drew attention to causes that concerned and interested her, particularly in the areas of women's rights and cultural development.
Over time she became one of the most vocal and highly visible figures in the Imperial Government and became the patron of 24 educational, health and cultural organizations. Her significant contributions to social reforms and her influence in the emancipation of women played a vital part in bringing Iran into the modern era. During her reign women played an increasingly important role in public life and occupied important positions in all areas of administration; parliament deputies, senators, ministers, ambassador, lawyers, judges etc.
During the early 1970’s, her humanitarian role earned her immense popularity. She travelled a great deal within Iran, visiting some of the more remote parts of the country. Wherever she went, people cheered her and struggled to touch her. She would meet with local citizens earning her the title ‘The Empress of Hearts’.
Her popularity was not just confined to Iran, it was told that Charles de Gaulle liked her more than any other first lady, even more than Jacqueline Kennedy!
The Imperial Government in Tehran was aware of her popularity this was exemplified when she was crowned as the first Shahbanou, or Empress, of modern Iran. The naming of a woman as Regent was highly unusual for a Middle Eastern or Muslim Monarchy.
Visiting the former Royal Palace of Niavaran the Queens love of architecture becomes blatantly apparent. Designed by Mohsen Foroughi and finished in 1968 the building mixes traditional Iranian architecture with 1960’s contemporary design. The huge eccentric electric retractable roof has a hint of James Bond baddie lair about it whilst traditional Iranian furnishings bring the design back down to earth.
Located nearby, in a beautiful piece of 1970’s contemporary architecture, is the Queen’s personal library. The interior is designed by Aziz Farmanfarmayan and consists of three levels: the main reading room, a balcony and an underground basement for storing artefacts and paintings. Untouched for over 35 years the library is a fascinating time capsule, the collection of over 22,000 books reveals and typifies the Queens interests.
Mainly comprising of books about art, philosophy and religion, a quick glance across the shelves reveals a sneaky peak at how Iran’s future could have turned out radically different had the royal family not been ousted. Books about Islam share shelf space with titles like ‘Eastern Religion and Western Thought’ and ‘Western Modern Art’.
The library also houses a fascinating collection of autographed books, including a Walt Disney signed book presented to the young Prince, that highlight the relationship Iran had with the U.S. at that time.
Amongst her many patronages she supported the often controversial Shiraz Arts Festival which ran from 1967 until 1977. The festival featured live performances from Iranian and Western artists including avant-garde performances by John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
The Queen’s interest in Contemporary art is also expressed throughout the entirety of the palace although the majority of the collection is now housed in a designated gallery. Impressive works by Warhol, Dali and Picasso share wall space with a fine collection of Iranian contemporary art from the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Her love of contemporary art was exemplified in 1976 when Empress Farah commissioned Andy Warhol to do her portrait after they met at a White House dinner hosted by President Ford. In the summer of 1976 Andy Warhol spent a week in Tehran to photograph the Empress with his Polaroid camera.
The Empress’ most enduring accomplishment was the founding of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. In the early 1970’s the Queen began assembling an absolute collection of modern and contemporary art, from the Impressionists (Monet, Pissarro, Renoir) right through to the cutting edge minimalists of the 1970’s (Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin). The Empress took advantage of a depressed art market and led a panel of experts who toured European and American auction houses in order to build the prestigious collection. More than 300 significant works were purchased, reportedly for less that $100 million. The collection was seen as a gift to the people of Iran. The museum opened in 1977. Two years later Ayatollah Khomeini deemed the collection to be unfit for Islamic eyes and the newly formed anti-western Islamic Republic promptly put the collection into storage where it remained mostly unseen for 25 years.
The collection which includes prominent works by Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Braque, Miró, Magritte, Dali, Pollock, Johns, Bacon, Warhol, Hockney, Lichtenstein, Stella and Richard Smith, who I had the pleasure of working with in 2002, is estimated to be worth as much as $5 billion. It is considered the most comprehensive collection of modern art outside of Europe and the U.S.
The Queen was not only interested in contemporary art she took an active interest in promoting traditional Iranian art and culture to the world. Under her direction and through her patronage numerous organizations were formed to promote Iranian heritage inside and outside Iran. She oversaw the return of hundreds of historic Persian artefacts from foreign institutions and private collections and built national museums to house the recovered antiquities.
During her reign Queen Farah Diba Pahlavi was the epitome of style, the essence of sophistication and an embodiment of how far women had come under her husband's reign. Her significant contributions to social reforms and the emancipation of women continue to be associated with her name. She was an intellectual and stood up for the things she believed in, the quintessential Queen.
The Last Empress of Persia is now in her 70’s and has lived in exile since the Iranian revolution in 1979.
The days and weeks that followed our robbery in Tehran have been a rollercoaster. The sheer distress and heartache of losing so many of our precious and vital possessions left us with the awful desperate feeling that this might be the end of our trip. We started to feel unsafe and panicked in the city, emphasised by the deterioration of the film project we had be invited to join in Iran.
The only thing that saved us has been the help and support from friends new and old, near and far and the kindness of strangers in Iran who have offered everything from places to stay, meals, equipment and travel assistance.
We have seen hospitality here in Iran like no other country, I don’t think we have travelled on the Metro once without leaving the train with a dinner invitation. Following our robbery we received so many emails and messages from people offering assistance that it was simply humbling. People have given time and effort to help us get back on our feet, going out of their way to help two foreigners. Kind strangers helped us translate documents, took days off work so they could assist with police, offered a place to stay, invited us for dinner and donated essential equipment necessary for us to continue. So many friends around the world and in Iran shared our plight through various social media channels, eventually reaching people with connections and the capacity to help us.
Back home our good friends Mike and Sarah took it upon themselves to set up a fundraising page to allow friends and followers who wanted to help us to continue our trip a way to do so. The response has been staggering. To Mike and Sarah and everyone who has been so generous- you have literally saved us. Thankyou from the bottom of our hearts.
We came to Iran to show the world what a wonderful country this is. In an unfortunate twist of fate, with the terrible event that occurred here, we have managed to achieve this more than we could have planned. Through adversity has come strength and friendship and we hope this story of generosity and kindness between people of differing countries and cultures will shine bright in a dark time of suspicion, hatred and mistrust in our worlds history.
Bad times for Bee-bee. Parked in the wrong street at the wrong time in Tehran. On the night of Saturday 31st October/Sunday morning between 11pm - 6:30am in the Qeitariyeh area thieves smashed our window and stole most of our possessions from inside.
We are devastated and heartbroken. Bee-bee is our home and our stuff enables us to travel the way we do. We worked so hard for years to save and buy our equipment, plus many things were personal, sentimental and simply irreplaceable.
We are working with the police to help them find who did this, with the possibility of tracing our stolen items. We have made some incredible friends here who are helping and supporting us. We want to continue with our ‘View to Iran’ film project- despite this upsetting experience we have loved travelling in Iran and the people here are some of the most welcoming and friendly we have ever met. We owe it to these good people to finish our documentary.
For now we are stuck in Tehran, needing to replace essential items before we can realistically and safely move again- spare car parts, tools, camping equipment, medicines and clothing. For a full list of the items taken please check our Facebook page.
THANK YOU for all the support we have received from within Iran and around the world- every single share, comment, message and gesture has lifted our spirits that little bit more.
We will keep this page updated with any news or developments…
این روزها، اوقات غمگینی برای اتومبیل ما، بی بی است. بی بی در زمان نامناسب در مکان نامناسبی در تهران پارک شده بود. شنبه شب گذشته، نهم آبان 94، بین ساعت 11 شب و 6:30 صبح در منطقه قیطریه، سارقان شیشه اتومبیل ما را شکستند و بیشتر اموالمان را از داخل اتومبیل دزدیدند.
در حال حاضر ما درمانده و دل شکسته ایم. بی بی خونه ماست و وسایلمان به ما امکان سفر به این شکل که سفر می کنیم رو میدن. سال های متمادی ما به سختی کار کردیم و پس انداز کردیم تا تجهیزاتمان رو برای سفر کامل کنیم. به اضافه این که خیلی از این وسایل شخصی بودن و ارزش معنوی زیادی برای ما داشتند و غیرقابل جایگزین کردن هستن.
ما مشغول همکاری با پلیس برای پیدا کردن دزدها و امکان ردیابی وسایلمون هستیم. اینجا دوستان فوق العاده ای داریم که به ما کمک می کنند و از ما حمایت می کنند. قصدمون اینه که پروژه نگاه به ایران رو ادامه بدیم. علی رغم این اتفاق ناراحت کننده، ما عاشق سفر در ایران هستیم و مردم اینجا از گرمترین و مهمان نوازترین آدم هایی هستند که تا بحال دیدیم. بنابراین، ما به پایان رساندن ساخت این مستند رو به این مردم بدهکاریم.
فعلا در تهران گیر کردیم. لازمه وسایل ضروری (مثل لوازم یدکی خودرو، ابزارها، تجهیزات کمپینگ، داروها و لباس ها) را دوباره تهیه و جایگزین کنیم تا بتونیم با امنیت به سفرمون ادامه بدیم. برای دیدن لیست کامل اقلام سرقت شده، لطفا به صفحه فیسبوک ما مراجعه کنید.
به خاطر حمایت های همه شما از داخل ایران و اطراف جهان بی نهایت سپاسگزاریم، تک تک پست ها و کامنت ها و پیام های شما به ما روحیه داد و حالمون رو بهتر کرد.
اخبار جدید را از طریق همین صفحه به اشتراک خواهیم گذاشت.