Everybody Loves the Assassins

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Tim Cahill travels the Iranian countryside, hiking up to the ruins of the Assassins’ castles:

So we walked up the sloping back side, among sagelike flowering bushes watered by the snowmelt from a few late drifts. Snow-crested mountains soared all about and the sun reflected off the glaciers like so many mirrors. We summited, then found a way down on the east side of the face, skiing in our boots through steeply sloping scree fields that led eventually into decorative and absurdly ornate fields of wildflowers. There were yellow buttercups and purple and white flowers I couldn’t identify, interspersed in various swirling patterns. I saw there the elements of complex design so appealing in Persian rugs or in the tile work of various mosques.

It was still several miles across a vast marshy meadow to camp, and when we dropped over the lip of an undulating swale, six or seven huge shaggy dogs, each weighing in excess of 100 pounds, surrounded us. There were a lot of teeth in evidence, and perhaps a thousand sheep and goats grazing nearby. A shepherd shouted a command and the dogs dispersed, grumbling among themselves. Many of them, I noticed now, were pretty banged-up. They walked with an assortment of limps.

The dogs were a kind of sag gorg, a wolf dog, and some wore thick leather collars with metal studs on them, because wolves always go for the neck in a fight.

“How many times a year do they fight the wolves?” I asked.

“Five or six times a night,” the shepherd said. It seemed an implausible number to me, but then again, it did explain why half the dogs were limping.

Later we watched seven shepherds milk their animals, all in a chaos of dust and finely organized confusion. Shahram translated a few questions back and forth. Later, on the way back to camp, Shahram said, “You are the first Americans they have ever seen. They wanted to know how relations were between our countries.”

“What did you tell them?”

“Could be better. I said that you guys came to meet the people and see the culture here. I said that was good, because the image Americans have of Iran is all desert and camels and terrorists. I said what you were doing would help ignorant people.” We walked on a bit. “Of course I was bullshitting.”

“Actually,” I said, “you weren’t.”

His main lesson learned: Iranians throw trash everywhere — which is the same lesson you learn in India, etc.

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