In 2011, at the height of tension between the British and Iranian governments, travel writer Lois Pryce found a note left on her motorcycle outside the Iranian Embassy in London:
… I wish that you will visit Iran so you will see for yourself about my country. WE ARE NOT TERRORISTS!!! Please come to my city, Shiraz. It is very famous as the friendliest city in Iran, it is the city of poetry and gardens and wine!!!
Your Persian friend,
Intrigued, Lois decides to ignore the official warnings against travel (and the warnings of her friends and family) and sets off alone on a 3,000 mile ride from Tabriz to Shiraz, to try to uncover the heart of this most complex and incongruous country. Along the way, she meets carpet sellers and drug addicts, war veterans and housewives, doctors and teachers – people living ordinary lives under the rule of an extraordinarily strict Islamic government.
Revolutionary Ride is the story of a people and a country. Religious and hedonistic, practical and poetic, modern and rooted in tradition – and with a wild sense of humour and appreciation of beauty despite the comparative lack of freedom – this is real contemporary Iran.
We had the pleasure of recently interviewing Lois Pryce, so it made sense to then read and review her most recent book too.
It is a fun, challenging book. Iran, on one hand seems alien and scarry, these were the people that took the US embassy staff hostage, back in the days of Carter. And yet it is also a highly sophisticated tech savvy nation too, with some fine film directors, who have often won prizes at Cannes, and more recently in the Oscars Best Foreign Film categories. One movie was even smuggled out on a USB stick to achieve international coverage and audiences. As Pryce travels the country she finds, time and time again highly intelligent and sophisticated people, doing their best to live a normal life under the restrictions of a country that has it’s own highly political and seemingly unaccoutable religious police.
At the same time, again and again she encounters the kindness of strangers, in this deeply complex, orthodox and innovative, conservatively religious and forward thinking country, with so many paradoxes and internal conflicts. Pryce experiences so many positive encounters, while also having to wear the traditional clothes expected of muslim women, something that always seems strange to western perspectives. She meets many women who attempt to push the line as far as possible, and are at risk of being summarily stopped by official religious purity enforcers. It is a challenging experience for Pryce and of course the local inhabitants who have to deal with this on a daily basis.
Overall you still get the impression that Pryce loves the place deeply, and was inspired and awed by the people she met and the things she saw. As political trends ebb and flow countries like Iran go through periods of being harder and easier to visit. Which makes us fortunate, that if it is difficult for us to currently visit Iran, we can at least explore, enjoy and understand it a little better vicariously through Pryce’s informative and engaging travels there. She is a true successor to the writings and travels of Ireland’s own inspirational female traveller, Dervla Murphy.