I wrote one week ago that autumn had arrived. Yesterday, winter came: I stepped out onto the platform of the Tabriz railway station just as a light snow began to fall.
The city of Tabriz is ethnically distinct from most of Iran. The first language of people here is not Farsi, but Azeri. I got an advance taste of this difference on the train from Tehran. The three men I shared a cabin with spoke mostly in Azeri.
As a member of the Turkic family of languages, I was hoping that I could understand and communicate to some degree in Azeri. Speaking the Uighur I learned back in Xinjiang worked just fine getting around Uzbekistan. Uzbek and Uighur may go by different names, but I found that those two languages share enough common grammar and vocabulary that communication is no problem. Azeri must be more distant. Over the past couple days I've found that I understand very little. The only part which sounds familiar are the numbers, which sound exactly the same as they do in Uighur.
I'm finding Tabriz to be a really pleasant city. Traffic here seems less of the mad rally I've seen everywhere else around the country. There are lots of smiles on faces around, I've come away from many interactions with a smile myself. People here are patient when I fumble for language. Expressing what I wanted at the post office took me ten times longer than it took any of the other customers, but nobody on either side of the counter seemed particularly bothered. The teahouses still serve up hookahs, old men sipping and puffing at adjacent tables find it curious that I'm from so far away. I'm happy to chat--my last few days to try to communicate in Farsi.
As I strolled about the bazaar this afternoon I looked up for a long while at the stretch of domed arches above the concourse. I wondered if the Tabriz bazaar would be the last I see of this traditional style of architecture. I've grown accustomed to this, it's the way the roofs of every bazaar around Iran are built. It's ornate and beautiful, a style I hadn't seen in my travels before. Perhaps I will find it is the default way bazaars in Turkey and other points around the Middle East are built as well. However, even if I do encounter such arches down the road, I think what I was contemplating while staring up at the ceiling was not so much differences in architectural style, but the distance I have come. I'm on the verge of Europe. The majority of goods in shops around Tabriz are from Turkey, with Roman script on the packaging.
In a few days I should cross north into Armenia, a Christian nation. The distance is not far, but it will the first time I cross out of the Muslim world on this trip.