Zerky at the Caspian Sea

Zerky at the Caspian Sea

By the time we reached the Caspian Sea at Astara, on the Soviet border, that monochrome, earth-toned world we had been living in for so long turned into warm sunshine and green. This fertile strip along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea is Iran’s breadbasket, a vast agricultural area generously watered by wet winds off the sea colliding with the east-west running mountain range. What a relief it is to see color again, and farmers living off hospitable land. Here at last is the Azerbaijan we had imagined. Or rather, there it was in the Soviet Union, a few hundred yards on the other side of the border. For today Azerbaijan lies in two countries, some of it in the Soviet Union and some of it in Iran.

We have been reading our history books once again. They tell us that after World War II in the early days of the cold war, Stalin set up a puppet government here in Iranian Azerbaijan. But once the war had ended, where we now are was behind the iron curtain. A few years later Stalin’s puppet government collapsed, after which Iran took back the southern shore of the Caspian. Azerbaijan still remains split between these two countries.

Heading east along the Caspian, we discovered that this coast is fast becoming a vacationland for Tehran’s growing middle class. Since it is an easy day’s drive from Tehran, the country’s capitol, Caspian beaches are a welcome relief from the torrid summers of the interior. Resorts are springing up along the Caspian Coast, and we have now found ourselves a delightful beach to camp on near a motel for fifty cents a night. Now we are busy “recuperating” for a few days by lying on this wave-less beach, eating cheaply priced Iranian caviar and drinking even cheaper Russian vodka. I had never tasted caviar before, but it sure is good. You are having a good time, too, Zerky, splashing around in the water and throwing sand at poor Tarzan. But he is happy, too, scampering around on the beach and splashing the water on you too. That is his purpose.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky

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