Lara Setrakian, part of our recent expansion of reporters stationed around the globe, blogs from the Iranian capital: This week in Iran I saw my first bits of the rich and ancient Persian culture. I saw it in a Qajar-inspired painting (at left) and in a poster by the local UN office showing the Millennium Development Goals illustrated by scenes from the epic Shahnameh (at right), the Persian equivalent of the Iliad. I remembered my Persian friends back home in America who are so rightly proud of their cultural heritage. They feel cheated that 4,000 years of Persian history are buried under a public image of terrorism and friction with the West. Monday was 22 Bahman, an Iranian national holiday marking the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. I filed a report from the state rally for the World News Webcast. Hundreds of kids at the rally, there on a school field trip, were clamoring to have their picture taken. (At left, below.) I was afraid I’d start a riot with my camera. People here are thirsty to tell their story and to connect with outsiders who haven’t seen normal people and normal daily life in Iran. This week I also saw how Christians live in Tehran. I was welcomed and invited to eat at the Armenian Club, a restaurant open for foreigners and non-Muslims where women can go without covering their heads with a hejab, which is required everywhere else. The food was delicious. Even in their most honest moments of conversation it seemed that as a religious minority considered “people of the book,” they felt relatively free and happy living within the Christian spaces of Iran. Many have children in the United States and could move abroad if they wanted, but they choose to stay. On a practical note I have to be very careful about what I spend here. The Iran embargo means there’s no using credit cards, so I only have what cash I carried in. For now it’s dampened my hopes of taking home a Persian carpet. I still, however, bought a number of DVDs from Iran’s robust film industry and picked up clearly bootleg copies of Disney movies like “Tarzan,” and “Brother Bear” (at left), dubbed into Farsi. I suppose one of the few upsides of the embargo is that there seems to be no enforcement over piracy or intellectual property law. Aside from taking note of it as an employee of the Walt Disney Company, I thought it was interesting this generation in Iran and America will grow up with a common point of reference – kids “Finding Nemo” on opposite sides of the diplomatic divide. This was also the week that Iran postponed talks with the US over Iraq and that announced President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad would go to Baghdad March 2. I haven’t done enough reporting yet to understand fully today’s Iran-Iraq relations. But there are some things I’ve noticed. Economic ties seem strong (trade between Iran and Iraq reached $2 billion this year, according to state news agencies). The Iran-Iraq War, which ended in 1988, is still remembered vividly. It was a bitter 8-year conflict that unleashed some of the worst of Saddam Hussein’s brutality. Many of the Iranians who died are remembered in posters and fresh paintings (at right) that hang in Tehran. There are more of those paintings than of "death to America" billboards (though there are a solid handful of those). Iran and Iraq have gone from heinous war to close friendship in less than twenty years (Saddam’s ouster certainly helped). More reporting on that shift to follow.