Monday, November 21, 2011

Iran Souvenirs: Tchotchkes for the Home

I decided to share some pictures of the souvenirs I brought back from Iran.  They had such great stuff at the bazaars that I had a horrible time choosing what to buy!

Because the United States embargo on Iran, I could not use travelers' checks, credit cards, or debit cards.  Strictly cash only.  Since the Iranian rial is so weak against the US dollar, I wasn't too worried about running out of money before the trip ended.  I stowed $1000 cash in my money belt and boy was it more than I ever needed.  I bought a ton of stuff, used a chunk of it for tips for our drivers and tour guides, and I still had several hundred leftover when I was done.  Iran is an incredibly safe country, and the only time I felt slightly unsafe was being corralled through "airport security", which basically is where, in my case, women elbowed each other to get themselves and their possessions through the scanners first.

Here are some of my finds from Esfahan...

This is an enameled copper dish, about $10.  Iran is known for its miniaturist painting, i.e. pictures and designs painted with teeny tiny brushes containing only a few hairs.  The man who owned this shop allowed me to try painting an item he was working on, but I think I did a horrible job!  He asked me how hard I thought it was, and I admitted it was very difficult.  Bowl is for my mom.

Turquoise!  These 6 pieces cost me $250, including the 10% I negotiated down.  The four round ones on the bottom are for earrings (pair for me and a pair for my mom).  The one of the top left is for my sister, and the top right is mine; these two will be made into pendants.

Camel bone boxes painted by a miniaturist student.  My box is on the top, sister's is on the bottom.

What the inside looks like.  I still can't believe it's made out of camel bone!  $50 for both.

My "apothecary" jar.  Enameled copper by the same artist as the bowl.

Inside the jar.  This cost about $15.

And the pièce de résistance: my copper lantern.  These things are everywhere.  Solid copper and hand forged.  Cost: $35.

A couple of notes!
  • Bargaining in Iranian bazaars is not the same kind of bargaining we see at garage sales here in the States.  Americans are used to automatically offering half price, but this is totally unacceptable to Iranian merchants.  Standard discounts are usually no more than 10%.  Depending on whether or not I was buying multiple items, I adjusted my offer accordingly, and I was never declined.  A nice thing is that all merchants generally accept USD.
  • Turquoise is cheaper in Iran because of the exchange rate and the plentiful supply of quality stones, but they are not dirt cheap.  On the upside, they are actual turquoise stones.  The majority of turquoise in the US, as I have learned, is reconstituted.  Because turquoise is so fragile and the layer of stone so thin, it's hard to get good pieces.  In the States it's a common practice to take inferior stones, crush them, then mold them into a desirable shape.  I may have been able to get cheaper stones at home, but they more than likely would have been artificial.  I purchased my turquoise from a reputable jeweler.  Also: jewels/stones are usually purchased separate of a setting.  Labor is cheap in Iran, so most Iranians have their jewelry custom made.  I unfortunately wasn't in any city long enough to get my stones set.
These are only some of my souvenirs, so I'll have to take pictures of the rest.

Hope you enjoyed looking!


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