BEING THERE (Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry) by BRADBURD D

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The following passage from Sir Henry Layard, written about an experience in 1840, could with small changes describe our experience: I was not without hope that at Isfahan I might find an opportunity of joining a caravan, or a party of travelers, going to Yezd, and that I might even perform the journey without attracting the attention of the Persian authorities. I determined, therefore, to separate from Mr. Mitford. . We accordingly asked for separate firmans [travel documents], which were promised to us.

Grass records the heroic struggle of the Bakhityari, including their challenge by a river whose wicked current threatens disaster; our film is an ironic representation of the nonheroic lives of Komachi who were pastoralists, but seemed far from being the descendants of Genghis Khan or the proud rulers of the Iran of tribal dynasties. Living and traveling with them, we ultimately felt more secure in person and in possession than we had in New York City before we left. From the events following the breakdown of our jeep on our first trip from Tehran, to the Tang Mordan and beyond, we almost always felt we moved within a layer of protective hospitality.

From Qaleh Asghar we drove on to Esfandagheh. The road followed the bottom of a dry stream bed, led us across the stream I described in the last chapter, and took us over mountain passes on a narrow, winding, and often rough dirt track that we later learned was part of the Komachi migration route. We saw and learned many things on this trip, but among the first was how to drive where there is no road. American television is filled with ads for four-wheel-drive vehicles that go storming up mountains, scramble over rocks at high speed, and take on the world in an arrogant and aggressive fashion.

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