Out of the Blue
July 25, 2011 § 2 Comments
We had been going for hours. It was after dinner at Hotel Abbasi, Isfahan, on the night of Amanda’s thirty-sixth birthday, and upon request Bahman had taken us back to the Imam Square’s Imperial Bazaar to find the perfect blue enamel bowls. Rebecca and I had seen the small bowls the day before, at Vank Cathedral in New Julfa, but disregarding the “If you love it, buy it,” travel motto, we assured ourselves we could find them later–the city was filled with enamel workshops, after all. So that night we were back at Imam Square, along with the rest of the Isfahanis. Families were picnicking on the large lawn in the middle of the square, while women lifted by five-inch designer heels and men stuffed into faded denim pants pushed past us to the bastani shop (we’re not the only ones with the ice cream obsession), as we pushed through the dark and the heat to any enamel shop we could find. “How about these?” Bahman would ask, holding up blue, turquoise, and light pink soup bowls. The artist nodded slightly, firing off something in Farsi. “They’ve been fired three times, at 150º C, you can’t find any with this quality!” Bahman translated the artist’s persuasion, his eyebrows raising and his forehead giving up small beads of sweat. No, we told him, these are too big. So onto the next shop, we pushed our own way through the crowds swarming under the arches of the well-lit bazaar to find those bowls.
There’s something about intuition. I will be the first to pledge myself to science, philosophy and reason before all superstition, but something else seems to be at work lately that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s all the feel-good movies I’ve inundated myself with since returning to the US from Iran two weeks ago, but I feel confident in saying I know what I want. For the first time in my life, things are perfectly clear and I have no more questions, doubts, pro-con lists cluttering my mind–I just know that I want to keep studying Iran. My beautiful adopted parents, Chuck and Rebecca, had such dreams for me. As the youngest on the trip, we would often sit around the breakfast table at the hotel in Shiraz or in Tehran, everyone making fun of the fact that I don’t understand certain cultural references (“That was before my time,” I’d say, sullenly), and everyone would bank on my future for me. CIA agent, Ambassador, Cultural Attaché, Photojournalist–the titles were never-ending and exhilarating. But it was Chuck and Rebecca, Georgetown natives, who held the biggest of dreams for me.
We had just entered our fourth shop, upon the suggestion of our tireless guide (“I have a friend who works in this one!” Bahman told us, enthusiastic til the end), when Chuck was tempting me with dreams of a career at the State Department. “Think it over,” he prodded. “You know, they can pay for grad school–you have to ace your GREs and have a solid GPA, but you can go for free.” “Really?” I said, fingering a little blue vase. “Oh of course! JD, PhD, MA, whatever.” “But doesn’t it make more sense to get your MS in Foreign Service or something?” “It doesn’t matter what you study, just so long as they have you after graduation.”
The words were intoxicating. My parents, in all their generosity and support, told me that they’d finance my undergraduate career but any advanced degree was on me. So, being the relatively frugal person I am (when it comes to my own funds–I have no problem spending their money!) the question of being in debt at 24 was not even a consideration. I’d only go for my Master’s if it was a pre-professional degree,” I told my dad on the way to the airport on my last trip back east, “Because otherwise, the cost is too high.” But as I stood in that little shop, still exhausted from looking for those perfect bowls, I saw a world of possibility open up beyond the stone arches of the bazaar. I’ve always loved to collect, to take advantage of opportunities and feel like I’ve gotten some great deal or made the most out of something, and I knew that if I truly had the chance to barter two more years of study for a three year contract with the State, I would jump to keep studying Iran. It’s pathetic, really it is–people think I’m irresponsible, a little crazy and probably too enthusiastic to seriously conclude anything about anything, especially Iran. My, a-hum, Doctor, while shoving a metal contraption somewhere metal should never be, asked me about my summer plans and then said, “Oh honey. Why Iran? You’re an American.” But as Chuck sat on that dirty plastic chair, in a sea of turquoise, aqua, cerulean and the deepest of all blues covering vases, plates and bowls that were either too big or too small or too not right, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d already found what I’d been looking for; or rather it found me: the knowledge of exactly what I want. For so long I’ve been quite adept at intuiting others’ wants and needs–but my own were so elusive, always hiding out of sight. But that’s the thing about Iran. Nothing is as it seems and even the most inconvenient of truths are right there in plain sight.
And there, six shops later, the perfect bowls were waiting for us. They were the precise size–for, say, olives during book club (as Rebecca was planning on using them for), or jewelry on the nightstand (as Amanda was planning on using them for), or gifts, as mine will be. I was only going to buy one, maybe two, but on a gut instinct I got three, and ended up with a discount. It was somewhere in Iran, between the hyperactive nights in Isfahan to the lazy afternoons of Yazd, that I stopped hearing everything else and I didn’t figure outwhat I want, per se, but I came to know it. As if it had been waiting all along. I don’t know where I’ll end up for grad school–Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service? Harvard Grad’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies? London’s School of Oriental and African Studies?–but I’m not done with Iran. It’s what I want, and I’m not afraid to pursue it. As Rumi once said, “All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”