Experiences are connected to things we read or hear or get lectured in. The ah-ha moment of seeing something in front of us that we have read about. The understanding that comes with Captain Hindsight. But not only in a way of “If I had known”, but also in “wow, I know now and how special makes that, what has been”.
Sitting in a morning lecture on the influence of Timurid architecture, scribbling notes while glancing views on the power point. Ten people in a room, one talking, me listening. I write down something about octagonal shapes and eight minarets, as I glance at a picture from the corner of my eyes that seems familiar. I see light garlands pendling in the wind.
I re-adjust my view.
It’s just a domed building. No garlands, no movement on the picture. But I still see it.
Pink, green, yellow, white. No light emanating from them as it was daytime when we visited. The light garlands must have been there for a celebration. And we were there to pass the day. Sa’s turquoise scarf, her observing eyes, our scarce words speaking of the language barrier, our smiles of overcoming it. As we were walking along the excavation site, I tried to make sense of the building, tried to connect it to something. But my total ignorance of Iranian history and Islamic art and architecture back then, showed me a beautiful building. And through the lack of a common language between my hosts and me, and the absence of any guidebook (yes, there are people travelling without guidebooks, which makes it much more interesting to explore!), I was left with admiration alone.
What I didn’t know -and wouldn’t know for some years- is that I was standing in the former capital of the Mongol Il-Khanid rulers of Persia (Iran), who built this master piece in the 14th century (1302 to 1312 AD). The dome that I tried to get onto a photo -my problems illustrate how huge it was or how inapt I was in photography- would turn out to be one of the largest brick domes in the world, just at the theoretical engineering limit for a brick dome. I couldn’t decipher the inscriptions back then, nor could I understand how the patterns were constructed out of names (Allah, Muhammad and Aliin this picture). For me it was a day-tour to interesting old buildings whose history I didn’t know. I walked away from the others, into one of the buildings. In a niche I come to sit and overlook the area, contemplating how I got here and what this all means. Nothing made sense back then yet, despite the immediate tales we tell ourselves – we travel, we explore, we learn, we make connections. Stranded in a couchsurfing adventure in a home of an Iranian family, communicating, but rather guessing on the implications of words and phrases, gestures and courtesy, I couldn’t possibly know that four years, – crazy travels including living in Afghanistan and driving a Rickshaw through Iran – later, I would sit in a classroom in the Netherlands and see a picture that explains where I had been in the first days in Iran, back then, when I forgot to note down where I had been and was never able to reconstruct it. Until today.