An Iranian man, with his large arm hung out the window of a dilapidated sedan, tells the travel writer Rick Steves he loves Americans; the author of numerous European travel guides nearly reciprocates by saying Americans love Iranians before stammering and reversing course. In this moment you realize the host of "Rick Steves' Iran" comes to the fertile crescent with the same worn out stereotypes many Americans might have with the Middle Eastern nation.
Of course, this is exactly what Steves is attempting to do with his hour-long venture into the people, customs and landscape of Iran and he does it well. (Viewers in the San Francisco Bay Area can watch an encore airing of the program on KTEH-54 on Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. Others around the country can click here for the date and time in your area.)
Steves' high-definition camera lovingly captures the capital of Tehran in vivid, bright blues and greens. My personal vision of Iran conjured up a gray, dusty and dank metropolis. According to Steves, the city's downtown, parks and transit system are comparable to anything he has seen in Europe.
Through Steves' cameras we find the large demographic of young people to be inquisitive with a strong grasp of the English language. The young women featured in the program are some of the most beautiful in the world and they adapt to the stringent morality laws and customs with a certain sense of come hither feminine coyness. Iranian law says women must cover their hair with a chaddor, yet we see many stylishly sporting their bangs out from under the scarf covering their heads. Steves also gives potential male travelers a good tip: do not shake hands with women, it is disrespectful.
The program makes mere mention of Iran's theocratic style of government but does not dwell on its human rights issues. One reason may be the fact the program is sponsored by the United Nations to foster understanding between countries, and Steves' is just a traveler opening the viewers minds to a distant land, not hoping to change their politics.
While "Rick Steves' Iran" may not nudge you toward spending precious vacation dollars in the Middle East, it does show Iraninans are not much different than ordinary Americans. They question authority, dream of their future and enjoy family and friends. It is a snapshot of humanity our government and mainstream media rarely portray between the images of American hostages and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rick Steves will discuss this PBS program Monday, Jan. 26, in Palo Alto, Calif. For more information, visit the The Commonwealth Club web site.
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