I spend a fair amount of time on Enqelab Avenue as it and its side roads have many bookshops. And I’ve come to realise that I am something of a book enthusiast. I often start walking at the junction with Vali Asr Street on the north side and head towards Enqelab Square.
This takes me past the entrance to Tehran University. Sometimes I cross the road here as there is a junction with a pedestrian crossing. It’s not the safest place to cross, but safe is a relative term when crossing roads in Tehran. There aren’t so many bookshops on this side of the road, but there are some. I’ve probably visited all of them at some stage.
After crossing at Enqelab Square I usually carry on a little further into Azadi Street on the south side as there are a few more bookshops hidden away here. The shops here have more secondhand books. Sometimes the books I want are out of print. Other times I like rummaging. One doesn’t know quite what one will find.
I cross back over Kargar Street onto Enqelab Avenue. In this area there is the constant sound of people calling out پایان نامه پاین نامه /pāy’ān nā’meh/, meaning ‘thesis’. They are touts for people offering to assist students to write their theses. Other people offer typing, and ترجمهٔ رسمی /tar’jo’me’e ras’mi/, meaning formal or official translation.
There are also recordings being played aloud from some shops showing how ‘easy’ it is to learn a foreign language. The languages being read aloud are usually English or German.
While the shops have materials for all the major languages, visiting them is instructive: there are usually shelves full of English language tutorials and IELTS and TOEFL course books. A long way in second and third places there are much smaller number of German and French books.
Then I walk back towards Vali Asr Street. It is here where most of the bookshops are located, and so it’s where I tend to do most of my book browsing. Certainly I have picked up some very good books here. There are also some secondhand bookshops which have older, out of print books. There are some old Persian language books which I would to get my paws on.
I prefer physical books to digital copies. Although I appreciate the obvious advantages and convenience that digital books offer, I can’t quite compare them to a book printed on paper. However books are heavy and sometimes bulky.
The forest of bookshops gradually thins out, and Enqelab Avenue becomes much like many other streets in Tehran. On reaching Vali Asr Street I use the metro station underpass to cross over back to the north side of Enqelab Avenue. Crossing via the road is possible, but there is a metal fence for some distance to suggest to people this is not a good idea – the fence is visible as two blue squares turned through 45 degrees in the second photograph below. I don’t know what singles this junction out for special consideration. The junction of Enqelab Avenue and Vali Asr Street is certainly busy, but I don’t know if it is more busy or more dangerous than other places in Tehran without the barriers.
Why are we here, that is the question?Vladimir in Waiting for Godot
I discovered Cafe Godot a few years ago. Its entrance stuck out from the interchangeable entrances of the other shops nearby. I make a point of visiting this cafe from time to time, but I’m not a regular. The photographs below are taken on different visits.
I prefer to sit in the entrance way, at a table by the side of the wall, partly shielded from the street by the plants, and with a fan overhead. There is a photograph of Samuel Becket high up in a corner. The very light cream coloured walls are unobtrusive.
From this vantage point I can see for a brief moment people walking past, or a bus stopping at the bus stop in the middle of Enqelab Avenue. There are more tables inside but I rarely sit there.
My usual choice here is Turkish coffee and a slice of whatever cake. But I’m not a pedant. The coffee and the food have always been well presented. I like the chequered table cloths, and that a small glass of water is provided with the coffee. It shows attention to service. This cafe, I think, obliges the younger, cooler people from nearby Tehran University. That’s what the clientele appears to me to be.
There is one unavoidable problem which goes in concert with sitting in the entrance way: the sound of traffic. Enqelab Avenue always seems to me to be a noisy street. One sound I almost cannot endure comes from the little motorcycles. I have no idea what they do to the exhausts here, but whatever it is it makes them very loud and unpleasant. The sound reverberates off the walls. Quite how Tehranis turn a deaf ear to this sound and desensitise themselves, I do not know. But they do seem to be able to.
On my visits here I usually spend about half an hour sitting and relaxing and trying to ignore the sound of the motorcycles.
The inner doorway has now been redesigned. The photo below shows the state in July 2019. The Samuel Becket photo is now inside.
I think the subject of cafes and coffee shops in Tehran (and Iran generally) is worthy of attention. I’ve mentioned this in another post already but here seems an appropriate place to revisit the subject. London (and the United Kingdom in general) has far too many chain coffee shops. The coffee in them is generally average, and so is the service. I can’t remember the last time that I went to a chain coffee shop in London and said to myself: what a great place, or what great coffee. Indeed, I don’t think I have ever said that.
There are good coffee shops in London, with good coffee and good service. But they are the not the norm. The norm in London for coffee shops is average, at best.
While there are chain coffee shops in Tehran and throughout Iran, the small independent coffee shop is the norm. The coffee is better, and so is the service. The complete variation of decoration and crockery and food on offer is better for the customer. I could write a whole guide book on Tehran coffee shops and cafes with photographs, and you would not see two photographs with the same decoration. Corporations simply cannot comprehend this. For them, uniformity equates to efficiency, and hence to more profits.
As elsewhere, if a coffee shop in Tehran is not very good, word gets round. It loses customers, and will eventually close. It is, for me, a more instructive example of the overworked phrase ‘the market is always right’ than the torpid chain coffee shops occupying the best sites in London despite selling lacklustre coffee. Perhaps Londoners have different taste buds, but I don’t think so. For some reason corporate averageness seems to succeed in London.
After leaving the Cafe Godot I am close to the Metro station or the bus. The metro is quicker, with one change. The bus offers better views.
The photograph below illustrates why photography is important. Things change, and over time their memory becomes lost. This was the old entrance to Cafe Godot which first grabbed my attention.
Cafe Godot is located on Enqelab Avenue close to Vali Asr Street,