“It’s complicated.” — Bourdain in Iran

Many thanks to the Persian acquaintance who tipped me off to the latest episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown show. This was his first trip to Iran, and it was marketed as “very different than we thought.”

As someone who’s been studying Persian and thinking about traveling to Iran, it was beautiful, but not necessarily as shocking as CNN was pitching it. The big shocker that they supposedly encountered was that most Iranians were warm, welcoming, and not at all anti-American.

The only really surprising thing for me was that a major news network continues to market a show by saying essentially that it’s amazing that people in another country are not jerks. Two years ago, Nicholas Kristof traveled around Iran and came to more or less the same conclusion: despite what you may think, people there are friendly and enjoy life.

Unfortunately, there are also a a lot of uncomfortable moments in the Iran episode. For me, the most jarring scene was a meal that Bourdain shared with Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi, married journalists based in Tehran.

In July, just a few weeks after the episode was filmed, the Iranian government arrested them without charges. Yeganeh has since been freed, but Jason remains in jail.

Watching the episode didn’t fundamentally change my view of Iran. I already felt, as Bourdain says at the end, that “it’s complicated.” Yes, the government does do terrible things like arresting journalists with reason. At the same time, I find Iran fascinating and look forward to seeing it for myself. I fully recommend the episode for anyone. It’s visually beautiful, and I learned a lot of about Iranian cuisine and got to see Iranian people introducing their country.