Revolutionary Ride – Lois Pryce

A late blog post! I was out getting a pap smear, like a responsible adult. You should get one too, unless you’re against being both responsible and adult. (Yes, men, you too. Not having a cervix is no excuse.)

This week’s read was Revolutionary Road: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran by Lois Pryce which, yes, was published recently. (Look, Ma, I’m reading my comp titles!)

Quick, one-sentence summary: solo woman drives across Iran on a motorcycle, makes friends, has adventures. So there’s your context, and way more of a summary than I usually give.

This book was fantastic. Enough personality in the voice to enjoy her company as my travel experience guide, but not so much as to overwhelm and make things come off as narcissistic. And she was constantly open to be re-educated, as I’m going to call it, on her assumptions about Iran and its people.

I think those are my top two needs in a travel book: a good voice and a willingness to learn/explore.

She does both. As I just stated. Keep up, here.

The description of the scenery was… fine? Serviceable. It rarely went to the florid, which was sometimes disappointing. It was definitely more of a “this was here, that was there” for the bulk of it, though she did occasionally stray into some artful prose, often while referencing Freya Stark. I wasn’t drawn into it like I was for Patrick Leigh Fermor, but his entire style of travel writing is heavy, beautiful scenic prose.

I’m still trying to figure out how I want to do it, myself. Fortunately, I’m not yet at that stage of my edits.

The book’s dialogue was strong, she had loads of characters, an entire cast of people to draw from and interact with and that constant companion shift was welcome and pretty lovely, giving more to the book and illustrating her takeaways about the general Iranian culture.

And, lastly, as I need to wrap this up and feed the cats, this book does an excellent job giving basic Iranian history without venturing into the realm of the dull. It’s informative, it’s just long enough to get the jist to the reader, and then it connects with the narrative in such a way as to bring things perfectly together.

In sum: great read, pick it up (if you’re into reading), and enjoy yourself.

Some quotes for your reading pleasure:

“I would take up what I had now termed the ‘Habib Challenge’ — I would travel to Iran on my motorcycle and have a look for myself. Destination, Shiraz, supposedly the friendliest city in the world’s unfriendliest country. I would travel alone, not with the entourage of a guided tour, bust just as me, a regular Brit, talking to regular Iranians.”

“Ever since the embassy-storming episode of 2011, the granting of visas to UK citizens had become such a fickle business. I imagined it presided over by some demonic bureaucrat in Tehran, brandishing his all-powerful rubber stamp and laughing maniacally while burning the applications of hapless Brits in his wastepaper basket.”

“It was a mystery to me how the Iranians, so warm and helpful in person, became lethal maniacs behind the wheel. Cars, trucks and buses tore past at terrific speeds, so close I wobbled in their slipstreams. Often drivers would be yelling words of encouragement out of their windows, giving me the thumbs up, or even filming me on their mobile phones as they simultaneously forced me into the ditch. I mentioned the phenomenon to a few people in passing when I stopped for tea and fuel, and was met with laughter and cheerful boasts that Iran had the highest rate of road deaths and injuries in the world. It seemed churlish to complain in the face of such national pride.”

“Could this situation get any more awkward? I wondered. The manager grinned, slightly uncomfortably, to give him credit. What was I meant to do now? Say ‘Er, yes, well, sorry about the sanctions, stealing all your oil, deposing your favorite prime minister and all that, but an you stop rubbing your thigh against mine now please.'”

“To arrive in Tehran on a motorcycle is like being pressganged into playing a relentless video game. Constantly forcing you onwards and upwards, level upon level. You must keep moving, keep up the pace, never stop. If you drop your guard, just for a second, you’re done. It’s a commitment; once you’re in, you’re in and if you’re lucky, you’ll be spat out at your destination, trembling and disorientated, and fundamentally altered on some molecular level.”

“But now I felt a shift insider me, a physical sensation of something rising up, boiling over. Ha! Mr Basiji, I didn’t group up in 1980s anarcho Bristol for nothing! My anti-establishment hatred of bullies in uniform found its way to the surface right there on the baking streets of Tehran. I could not have stopped myself if I tried. And I didn’t want to. So I looked him in the eye and told him to fuck off.”

“Would I go home now if I could? I always asked myself this question in times of loneliness or difficulty, and the answer was always no. I knew from my previous journeys that this gloominess was a passing phase, all part of life on the road, but it didn’t make it any easier in the moment. It wasn’t about being brave, or toughing it out, or any of that air-punching motivational language; all that was required in these moments was to keep plodding on, quietly, resolutely, without fuss or drama.”

“The highway was almost empty now and the relief that this day would soon be coming to an end flooded over me. I knew that everything would pass, and accepted that, for now, my bike and this open road was my home, and that was OK.”

“My initial reaction was mild panic at being lost so utterly and suddenly, but I had a whole day ahead of me, the rare luxury of nowhere to be at any time, and an entire mountain range to explore. I breathed deeply and decided to relish the uncertainty, Eman’s words ringing in my ears: ‘You are so free.’ This was the very essence of freedom, and to worry about the minor details of where exactly I was, or where I was going, was to waste the moment.”