Angela-Corrias

Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: As Iran’s tourism industry grows steadily, the corporate media’s stereotypical portrayal of Iran becomes unpopular and sometimes ridiculed by the Western citizens.

With the influx of foreign tourists into Iran, especially from the European countries, more people are getting familiar with the unseen face of Iran as a country with an ancient culture, civilization and several natural and cultural magnets unknown to the world.

An Italian journalist and photographer, who has traveled to Iran in the recent years three times, tells Fars News Agency that the media’s clichés about Iran are obsolete and tiresome.

Angela Corrias believes that Iranians are civilized and educated people and hospitality is a significant part of their culture and life.

“I find media trend of keeping using obsolete clichés quite tiresome. In Iran, I’ve always perceived a high level of education,” she said. “All my Iranian women friends are very independent, either studying or working, and by no means discriminated or kept at home by either their parents or husband, and to be honest this is not only my point of view. I know many people in Italy who have been to Iran and share my views.”

Angela Corrias is a freelance travel writer, blogger and photographer. Born in Italy, she left her home country after college and since then she has lived in Dublin, London and Shanghai, alongside traveling around Asia, the Middle East, Brazil and Europe. Among the others, her work has appeared in Chinese newspaper Global Times, Forbes Travel Guide, Literary Traveler and GoNomad. She writes about her travels in her blog Chasing The Unexpected.

In an interview with FNA, Ms. Corrias told us about her wonderful experiences in Iran, her viewpoints about the Iranian people, culture, literature and the Western media’s portrayal of the Middle East nation.

Q: Iran is a destination which the Western tourists choose to explore cautiously, and sometimes fearfully. They are constantly being told by the corporate media that Iran is not a safe place, does not have any representation of modern civilization and its people are aggressive and fanatic. What did you think about Iran before coming here? Have your preconceptions changed after visiting Iran?

A: I went to Iran for the first time in 2011, and although many people did ask me whether I was worried or not, I didn’t feel much anxiety. I must say, back then the attitude of Western media towards Iran looked far more aggressive than today, which makes me think and hope [that] things are slowly changing for the best.

Of course, I can’t deny that the first time I went to Iran my feelings were different than when I traveled to any other country, and certainly part of this sense of uneasiness was caused by mainstream media coverage. Fortunately, now, as Iran’s tourism industry is fast growing, more people are visiting the country and realizing by themselves that what they had previously read doesn’t match with reality. Which, if we think about it, it’s both sad and unsettling for a number of reasons, not only the full realization that media are not the mirror of the society as they claim to be, but also that they don’t seem to make enough effort in providing readers with the information they are looking for.

This being said, it’s also worth mentioning that, at least for what concerns Italy, which is my home country, despite the notions national and international media might broadcast, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs clearly states in its travel web page “Viaggiare Sicuri”, and I quote, “The overall safety conditions for the travelers who intend to visit Iran are good, thanks to both a thorough control by the local forces and an attitude traditionally welcoming towards Western tourists, especially Italian, of the population and local tour leaders.”

It goes without saying that my first trip of 2011 confirmed Iran as a perfectly safe and pleasant destination, so pleasant that to date I’ve been three times, and counting.

Q: What made you decide to visit Iran after traveling so many countries across the world? Were you aware of the Western media propaganda against Iran and their horrific depictions of Iran as somewhere in which you’re normally harassed as a foreign tourist, where there’s no freedom, etc.?

A: Traveling is my true passion, I’ve led an expat and semi-nomadic life for about ten years, during which I came to know travelers, expats and people from all over the world, Iranians included, and with most of them I became friend. I must say that I’ve always been inclined to travel offbeat and lesser-visited destinations and Iran just seemed to perfectly fit my temperament and whet my appetite for the unknown. More to that, the Persian Empire has always been part of my school years teachings, the deeds of Darius The Great, the comparisons with the Roman Empire, the tales of such a fascinating ancient civilization and its elaborate architecture and decoration patterns feeding the imagination of all Italian students.

Of course I’ve always been aware of media trends. Moreover, being a journalist myself makes it easier for me to read between the lines and understand articles published on certain outlets in specific historical moments. However, the good news is that now you don’t need to be a journalist in order to have a clear idea of what’s going on, always more people are less influenced by media propaganda thanks to a greater availability of alternative information and to traveling being made easier for everyone.

Q: So, what was the most striking and remarkable aspect of Iranian culture and lifestyle, in your view? What did you find in the Iranians which attracted you the most? Are there traits which can be commonly found in all Iranians, regardless of their ethnic background or the part of country where they live?

A: The very first aspect that comes to my mind, and that I always list as the number one feature I perceived as common everywhere I’ve been to in Iran, is the local sense of hospitality. However, as this is quickly becoming a cliché, I feel compelled to explain what I came to think of famous Iranian hospitality, namely the ease with which Iranians welcome their guests, be them foreigners or not. What struck me is how comfortable they are with people they have just met. Last year I was on the train from Tehran to Tabriz and a woman from Tabriz, just after ten minutes we were talking, or better trying to, mainly with body language since I don’t speak Persian, immediately invited me to her house.

I think one of the most colorful aspects of Iranian culture, which seems strictly connected with local concept of hospitality, is the elaborate practice of ta’arof, and I find it amazing how much energy and creativity Iranians put into it, probably something I have found only in Iran during all my travels. It’s with pleasure that I can proudly claim I have been the target of some ta’arof moments, sometimes because I usually travel with Iranians and this is mainly something between Iranians, sometimes because I get mistaken for an Iranian myself quite often, only to leave my interlocutors a little disappointed when they understand I’m not. This is obviously not the only reason why I started learning Persian.

Q: I think one of the overlooked facets of Iranian civilization is the ancient Persian architecture. Don’t you agree? As I looked through the pictures you’d captured in Iran, I found that you were apparently struck by the kaleidoscopic designs of palaces, mosques and bazaars in different cities, and especially the ornamented and intricate patterns of the domes. Iranian architecture is not luxurious, as seen in the skyscrapers of New York, but it’s inspiring to so many visitors. What do you think about that?

A: Actually, some of my very favorite spots during my travels in Iran are the ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae, which I’ve visited twice and where I won’t mind going back again, as every time I notice a different detail and take pictures from different angles. It’s only a coincidence that on my website I haven’t written a post about it yet, but it’s on its way, along with the images I captured both times I went there.

During my latest trip, which just ended last April, I had the chance to visit Tehran more thoroughly and particularly enjoyed the architecture of its back alleys, where buildings belonging to different eras sit side by side and give a precious insight of what life was like back in the days. In architecture, luxury is something that depends on the place, period of time and also on who’s looking, I think. Every historical building is precious, and in this matter, Iran is literally a treasure trove. This is also one of the reasons why I like to return to Iran, just like Italy, potentially every corner hides a story.

Along with the cities’ architectural features, I admit, I have a particular knack for exploring local bazaars. I love to watch how daily life carries on for both sellers and customers, their habits, the way they interact with each other, the workers darting back and forth with their carts full of products, and the goods on the display, all traits that reveal so much of a society. Obviously, I would grasp much more if I spoke the language, but as I mentioned before, I’m working on it.

Q: How do you see the manifestation of Iran’s ancient culture and literature in the modern life of the Iranians? In their daily conversations, for example, Iranians frequently use proverbs, ironies and excerpts of poetry and parables created by the renowned Iranian literary maestros in the distant past. There are also other ways that the Iranian people take pride on their glorious past. Was this noticeable to you in your trips to Iran?

A: Already the first time I went to Iran I developed the idea of how much Iranians like to refer to their literature and culture. Little by little, as I explored more of the country and met new people, this impression of mine got stronger. I find it amazing how poetry plays such an important role in daily life. I’m particularly referring to Hafez. Every time I went to his mausoleum, I saw many people not only paying tribute to the poet but also reading his verses as if near his tombs were somehow more valuable. It’s here that I learnt about the tradition of reading his poems to seek advice on love and life, and I think it’s fascinating that this happens all year long as well as in a special occasion such as Yalda night.

One more thing that I noticed and that I always like observing and taking picture of is Iranians’ love for nature, how much they enjoy staying outdoor, their absolute passion – and expertise – for picnics, and how much they cherish green oases to the extent that this is also a pattern you can find anywhere, from the decoration of mosques and carpets, to house décor.

Q: You traveled to different Iranian cities, from Rasht to Lahijan, Isfahan to Shiraz and Ardabil to Tabriz. Which city appealed to you the most? What did you like more: the natural beauties of the north or the historical sites and magnets of Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd?

A: Difficult to pin down to only one city as every place has its own features and aspects that drew me there in the first place, such as Isfahan’s beautiful decorations, Shiraz’s poetic and relaxed atmosphere and the unusual landscape and fantastic textiles of Yazd, while in Guilan I obviously enjoyed its unspoiled nature. I always remember with pleasure and like to go back to Shiraz, probably for its cultural appeal, but then I realize I enjoyed all the places I’ve visited, to the extent that the second time I brought my parents with me to show them why I liked Iran so much.

Truth be said, as I mentioned before, this last time I was there I had the opportunity to see Tehran’s hidden spots and I think it deserves to be considered a tourists’ point of interest just like major destinations of the likes of Isfahan and Shiraz. Culturally very active and vibrant, I feel I can experience Tehran like Rome, with every day a new activity.

Q: Is the portrayal of Iran in the corporate media fair and realistic? They seem to be intent upon popularizing these clichés that Iranians live in the deserts, still ride camels, have several wives, imprison the women at their homes, etc. Now, after visiting all the major Iranian cities and getting familiar with Iran, what do you have to tell your friends in Europe and North America?

A: Obviously I don’t think it’s fair, let alone realistic, and whoever travels to Iran will share my views. I always speak very enthusiastically about Iran and my experiences there, to the extent that many of my friends now want to visit. Also, I constantly receive comments, messages and emails from my readers looking for tips on what to see and do in Iran, so I guess also my articles and posts effectively convey what my opinions are.

I find media trend of keeping using obsolete clichés quite tiresome. In Iran, I’ve always perceived a high level of education. All my Iranian women friends are very independent, either studying or working, and by no means discriminated or kept at home by either their parents or husband, and to be honest this is not only my point of view. I know many people in Italy who have been to Iran and share my views. The highest number of tourists in Iran come from Italy, sometimes it looks like the more media try to give a bad image, the more people seek alternative information. This, in my opinion, is the best evidence that media are blatantly letting down their readers and readers are becoming always more aware of it.

This interview was originally published on Fars News Agency