The Grand Bazaar - Nilufahr Cooper

As my grandmother led me into the crowded bazaar, a breeze blew the few strands of hair that had escaped my hijab out of my face. I was relieved to discover that the turmeric-scented air of the market was cooler than the temperature of the streets of southern Tehran. The extreme Middle Eastern sun was warm for March, especially under my knee-length jacket and headscarf.

While my eyes adjusted to the darker environment, a hum of conversations, occasionally interrupted by the shouts of a vendor, echoed throughout the elaborate space. The structure itself, my grandmother said, had “only” been around for 400 years. But, this location had served as a place of trade for over a thousand years.

The bazaar was a labyrinth of corridors and chambers with tall ceilings and beautifully tiled archways, each area dedicated to a specific good. From fruit to yarn to refrigerators, one could find anything in the bazaar. My grandmother said that I could roam the halls for days and still not see every shop the market had to offer.

The tiled passages were bustling with people. Signs advertising clothing brands and specialty items hung from the ceiling. We passed by shops with platters of fragrant spices piled high and barrels of salty nuts and sweet dried fruits covering every square inch of the room. Copper kettles and silver pots hung delicately from the ceilings so it looked as though one tremor could cause them all to come crashing down. Others had dozens of colors of pens and markers, all meticulously sorted into their own cubbies.

The purpose of our trip, however, was not related to art or cooking supplies. We had made the trip to the Grand Bazaar because we were missing several key elements for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. In the weeks prior to this holiday, Tehran is always abuzz. Everyone buys new clothes, special cookies and pastries, and the seven symbolic components of the Haftseen table: the dried fruit of the lotus tree, sprouts, apples, garlic, sumac berries, vinegar, and a sweet pudding called Samanu. There are also usually flowers, sweets, goldfish, and colored eggs to represent the vibrancy and renewal of nature that comes with spring.

A few minutes passed, and my grandmother came to a halt in front of a small store. We stepped inside to find flowers of every shape, size and color lining the walls of the room. The air was misty and fresh. It was as though the crowded, noisy allies of the Bazaar were a world away. My grandmother explained the importance of having lots of flowers and plants around the house. She said that Nowruz is a time of rebirth, and thus, it is customary to have one’s house filled with living, growing things.

We bought so many flowers that a man working at the shop had to help us carry them back through the bazaar until we emerged on to the busy sidewalk. Cars beeped and drivers shouted aimlessly at the traffic. I checked the time and realized it had been over an hour since we entered the market.  My grandmother was right; it was easy to lose track of time in a place as vibrant as the bazaar. We thanked the man as he stopped a taxi for us and loaded the flowers into the car.

“Eideh shomah mobarak,” he shouted as the car pulled away, “Happy Nowruz!”