MARCH 27, 1959
TEL AVIV, Israel—Our flight from Shiraz to Isafahan, in Iran, was a comparatively smooth one over rugged mountains and desert land. We were fortunate, it seems, for we were told that ordinarily this is a rough flight, as the one from Shiraz to Teheran.
It appears that only about one-third of the land in Iran is productive, arable land. Another third produces a little, but the remainder is just desert, which for a good part of the year blows with the wind and envelops everything in a cloud of dust. We were fortunate to be there during one of the weeks that were fairly free of sandstorms.
I can compare the desert land only with that of the Sahara. Nothing at home in Arizona or New Mexico that I have seen gives me the feeling of such complete desolation. Where the land does produce something, this achievement is credited to underground wells, and in flying you see these holes spreading over quite large areas.
What trees we saw were rather small, and part of the reason for this is that their roots cannot get down to where they can get adequate water. I blame this lack of water on the reckless cutting down of trees over the years, but one Iranian told me that less water had begun to fall even before the trees were cut. Then, with increased cutting, there was less and less chance of holding the moisture and now the rain, what little there is, washes the soil off the mountains, which today look like bare rock. They are cruel-looking mountains because they stand out so starkly against the sky. There is snow on some of them and from Teheran you see the highest peak, which is about 19,000 feet.
The Persian gardens, which have come to be so well known throughout the world, stand out like oases, with their tall cedars and pines and always the water for decoration in reflecting pools. Flowers grow all through the year. High walls of mud and brick are built around these gardens, both in the city and out in the country, apparently just for purposes of privacy.
In fact, one gentleman said to me, "We Persians look after ourselves and our immediate families. We have never been taught that we had any responsibility toward a community or to those who are not able to look after themselves."
This idea of community responsibility is a new idea that is just beginning to take hold with many of the younger generation of men and women and probably will mean great changes in the whole economic condition of vast numbers of people as the years go by.
In Isfahan we viewed a most unusual scene in all our travels. In a little, dark, underground room we saw two blindfolded camels, each turning a huge wheel, as they walked round and round. From large cakes of flaxseed they were turning a heavy press that extracted the linseed oil.
The operation of the press was most interesting. An enormous log is brought down by means of leverage on a pulley by the weight of three men who hang onto the end of the log. The man who swings out at the very end says "Allah," which sounds like a prayer for his safety as he swings into space until the log finally comes down to where he can drop off. All this while the camels do their weary plodding.
The whole scene dimly lit by one of the old oil lamps with a wick, such as the Romans used, was a weird and strange sight. I doubt if this method of the camel press will last very much longer, even in this part of the world, so it was worth seeing because of that fact.