Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Shiraz’

A New Divan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th August, 2019

Genius Loci Weimar 2016 / Ackerwand / Foto: Henry SowinskiIn Weimar, where the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe died in 1832, there is a monument: two solid seats, facing each other. They look as if they are waiting for two people to come along and exchange ideas across a divide that is nonetheless bridgeable. And that is indeed their function, actual and metaphorical, recalling the encounter between East and West, the Islamic world and the Christian, in particular the Persian poet Hafez/Hafiz (1315-1390) and Goethe. Hafez was born and died in the garden city of Shiraz and he wrote of love (towards favourites, whose gender is contested, thanks to the ambiguity of the Persian language), wine and religious hypocrisy. Not someone who the the mullahs at the head of the current Islamic Republic of Iran therefore might view with favour, one might imagine, though when I visited Shiraz some years ago (long after the 1979 Revolution), people in Shiraz still brought up Hafez’s name, and recited his poems. Even if one cannot understand Farsi the rhythm  is intoxicating. Goethe obviously felt this, too. His encounter with Hafez was through the translations of the gifted Austrian Orientalist and diplomat, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall. In particular, Goethe was inspired by Hafiz’s work to write his own West-Eastern Divan, published in 1819 — a collection of lyrical poems suffused with the tastes and perfumes of the Orient and effectively an act of homage to Hafiz. Goethe’s work was not greatly appreciated by his contemporaries, unlike much of his output. But it caused echoes across many countries and resonates still today.

A New DivanTwo hundred years on, to mark the bicentenary of the original publication of East-Western Divan, the UK-based publisher Gingko has produced an admirable and elegant volume that is also an act of homage: A New Divan: A lyrical dialogue between East & West (£20) that is itself a celebration of artistic sensibility transcending geographical and ideological or religious boundaries. Edited by Barbara Schwepcke and Bill Swainson the volume contains poems by 24 authors, East and West, in nearly a dozen different languages, with English translation on the facing pages. The act of translation is itself at the heart of the project, as most of the poems in English are renderings by an English mother-tongue poet based on a more literal translation by a third party. To emphasize the importance of the nature and art of translation even more, there are three essays (among a few others) which follow the poems and which give added food for thought. The poems themselves are to be read and reread, some raising a smile, others a wince of pain, all inviting the reader to enter into the poet’s state of consciousness. Beautiful, certainly; troubling at times, particularly when one considers the traumas that the whole of the Middle East and North Africa has been going through in recent years. I think Goethe would have been intrigued, and I hope Hafez would have been proud — knowing that seven centuries after his birth, under the fiery reign of Timur/Tamerlane, his influence persists.

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Iran Lays out the Welcome Mat

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th December, 2015

Espinas Palace hotelThe successful conclusion of nuclear talks with Iran earlier this year means that the Islamic Republic has been losing its pariah status with much of the previously critical world. This should lead to far more inter-action between Iran and erstwhile enemies, including the “Great Satan”, the United States, and bilateral improvements in visa regimes. The head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organisation, Masoud Soltanifar, expects that this warming of relations will lead to a sharp rise in the number of foreign tourists to his country, and in preparation for this, Iran has been building no fewer than 125 4-star and 5-star hotels to cater for the anticipated influx. A number of leading international hotel corporations have been involved in this frenzy of building, including France’s Accor Group and the UAE-based Rotana.
PersepolisAs someone who has travelled very widely in Iran, I can testify that it is indeed a treasure-house of cultural heritage, from the atmospheric ruins of Persepolis to the historic tea-houses of Isfahan and the rose gardens of Shiraz. It’s true that the capital Tehran is one of the most congested and polluted cities on earth, but even there there is much to enjoy, from the large downtown bazaar to the jaw-droppingly vulgar complex of palaces inhabited by the last Shah. Of course, 36 years after the Revolution that ousted the Shah, this is still a strict Islamic Republic in which women have to cover themselves, mixed swimming pools are a no-no and you won’t find anything stronger than a non-alcoholic beer to drink.  But for anyone who is willing to accept those cultural differences Iran is about to lay out the welcome mat and share its treasures with the world.

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