Postcard from... Tehran


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It’s 4am in Tehran and I can’t sleep, having flown in just 90 minutes ago. Turning on the light in my hotel room, I open the pages of Shah of Shahs. Fittingly, it’s an account of a journalist sitting in a Tehran hotel room in the middle of the night. Unlike Ryszard Kapuscinski’s experience in 1979, however, there is no revolution outside my window.

“I can hear gunfire from the depths of an invisible city,” writes the Polish journalist. Unable to leave his room, Kapuscinski recounts the story of the Iranian monarch’s dictatorship in a unique style: he describes a series of historical photographs scattered on the table beside him, one by one.

Whether these photos really existed, I can’t tell. But in his vivid depictions of secret police and aristocratic excess, the book flows like fiction and perhaps tells a greater truth than a straight report.

Kapuscinski’s words in my mind, I’m excited about the approach of morning – to see the city in daylight. Driving from the airport through the dark and empty streets earlier, the brooding spirit of revolution still felt close. But perhaps I shouldn’t let my imagination get the better of me – a lot has happened in the 35 years since Kapuscinski was here, and all cities feel a bit spooky at night. Don’t they?