Memory Traces II: Trinkets

July 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Take off your escarf.” – Hamid’s soulful eyes – Gabe meets fashion students at Moshir al-Mamalak – stolen prayer stones from the Jumeh Mosque in Isfahan – Gabe’s eggs – “I’m sorry my dear, no dancing for you.” – the Parthian Pinhead – green tea or black? – the perfect enamel bowls without saucer – Patty’s the only one who orders faloodeh-bastani for me! – Amanda loves her watermelon – when the girls are alone, all we eat is bread and lines of cheese – Daddy’s ghetto – “where’s Gabe?” – fruit plates: oranges, apples, and Persian zucchinis – Tom’s Axis of Evil Tour: Cuba, North Korea, Iran – two separate security lines at Mehrabad – “Chuck, I think our surrogate daughter is a little pixellated.” – the American-loving owner of Shahrzad and his guestbook – “How much was the carpet?” “$125,000. But he made money on it–he traded one of his Caspian Sea properties, and he’ll take the carpet as down payment.” – Bebakhshid. – another long bus ride through the mountains, and Amanda’s asleep – Hamid’s music: persian pop/flamenco/poetry recitation – “Five million dollar single-family homes.” – ice cream in that Northern Tehran mall, right off of Vali Nasr (Pahlavi) Boulevard – bird-pecked fortunes at Hafez’s tomb – “This used to be called Queen Elizabeth Street. Now it’s Farmers’ Street.” – creepy male mannequins at the Isfahan bazaar –  Rebecca’s glue stick – “Hey Gaaabe, wanna pass me a water?” – mango juice (nectar) in Yazd – Persepolis was astounding – Patty and I have matching manteaus, Rebecca and Amanda have matching manteaus – “You know who Maz Jobrani is? You should have a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies!” – turquoise necklace from Shiraz – “That’s where Mr. I’m-a-nut-job works.” – Chuck attempts a duet with Rojan – we see a Saudi woman in a burka at a restaurant in Shiraz-how does she eat? – an actual coffee shop in New Julfa-latte please! – To badi. To latti. – individual servings of mast-o museer in Ayabaneh – fesenjan – delirious at the Tehran Contemporary Art Museum – Persian herbal infusions: one tasted like drinking a rose, straight; the one with vinegar, honey and cucumber cools us down; and the clear one is actually pure mint and sugar – “You are the only Americans in Isfahan right now. Oh, yes, the Police must keep your passports, just so they can keep an eye on you.” – our room in Shiraz comes with a complimentary Quran, and book of Hafez poetry – Amanda and I stay up gossiping and giggling all night – Mr. Olympic at the gym–did he have green eyes? – charity collection boxes protect against seventy disasters – carrot jam, sour cherry jam, cedrate jam – black turban means you’re descended from the Prophet on your father’s side, white on both sides, and green on neither – sangak, lavosh, barbari, taftoon-we love all bread – special Isfahani pudding tastes like arroz con leche Tah-chin, the national dish – “You have something on your shirt?” “What?” “Got you!” – trying to order pomegranate juice by ourselves at Mahtab truck stop – “This is a beautiful, eighteenth century Safavid caravan saray. Look!” – Patty’s chador is falling off in the mosque – lion attacks a bull at Persepolis, a symbol of Spring overtaking Winter, for Norooz – who wants a full camel head for dinner? – Chuck gets a kiss from a shirazi at Eram Gardens – pictures of martyrs line the side of the highway – “Baba!” – “Amandah! Rebeccah! Alexah!” we love our long a’s – crossing the street alone in Isfahan is impossible and terrifying, we need a local.

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Love in the City

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today we’re in Shiraz, perhaps the sexiest part of Iran. The manteaus here are short, the scarves are designer and pushed far, far back on the head, and the jeans are tight. And that’s just the women! The men all seem to wear painfully tight jeans and small little t-shirts as they whip around the city in motorbikes. This is the city of love. Our guide, Bahman, is already adding a new career path to his impressive resume–actor, basketball player for the national Iranian team, model, investor, marine, translator, tour guide, and last but not least: international matchmaker. For some reason he seems to have adopted us four women as his American daughters (and, when that gets boring, we joke that we make up his harem, haha) and he sees it as his duty to marry us off to wealthy, attractive Persian men–especially me, being young and naive and in need of a nice man to buy me expensive Persian rugs. It started our very first day in Iran, when I happened to comment to Rebecca that the guard at the National Crown Jewel Collection had the most piercing green eyes. And, as the infant of the group (everyone either has grandchildren, children my age, or could be my grandparents–but I love them all like my own Persian family!). It was instantly remarked upon that I should find a rich green-eyed Persian husband. Immediately. And, this city, Shiraz, is the place to do it. We visited Hafez’s tomb this morning, a Persian poet who did as much for this country’s national identity as the Quran did (some might argue). He wrote of love–between two lovers and between the devout and the divine. This is called the city of love, nightingales and roses, citing oft-used images in Hafez’s poetry. And his tomb serves as the same purpose as his poetry did: to defy reality and to make the unknown known; shirazis come here both to pray and find dates. No joke. We saw whole families approach the marble tomb, encrusted with the writings of this famed poet, touch two fingers to the cool surface and whisper memorized prayers under their breath, eyes closed, hoping for some guidance from the man who knew all things. Then, along the perimeters of the tomb, where perfectly manicured Persian gardens provide shade and fragrant scenery, we saw those same fashionable women, make-up and heels and headscarves, sitting exceedingly close to men their age, talking about what I’m not sure, but the body language needed no translation.

The Tomb in the early morning

Young Shirazis meet at the tomb

We all had our fortunes told by the might Hafez, still influencing things from the grave–for a dollar (10,000 rials) we paid to have a little bird peck out a folded fortune. The fortunes start off with a poem, and continued on to give us advice. Bahman interpreted mine for me, “You are in love with someone and only have eyes for them, but this is in vain” he read, “you are fixated on a closed door, and do not see all the open doors surrounding you.  You would be wise to learn from those more experienced than you. Luck is like a butterfly, you must catch it before it flutters away.”  Ugh. This is what Hafez has come to tell me?  We were all sitting around the dinner table, feasting on another meal of kabob, saffron rice, fesenjan (the best walnut-pomogranate-chicken stew you’ll ever taste in your life; similar to Mexican mole in both taste and color) and, of course, epic amounts of bread–but my fortune didn’t quite seem to match the delicious excesses of the meal.  Fixed gaze on a closed door?  What does that mean?  Does that refer to my studies, my friends, love interests, my view of myself?  “It means,” philosophized Patty, “That you should be considering blue and brown-eyed Persians as well.  You’re closing yourself off!  “Patty is one my favorite people on this trip.  She is frank and honest, but she’s always up for seeing a new sight, asking questions of our guide and looking for information in all she encounters.  She’s older than my dad, but I swear she acts like a sixteen year old half the time, and a six-year old the other half. My surrogate mommy on this trip is Rebecca, a freelance writer from DC.  She came with Chuck–the two of them have been together for 25 years, and have been to over half the world’s countries combined.  You can tell she’s a writer–she always has stories to offer from her far-off travels (a horse-riding incident in Mongolia, a Rotweiler attack in Cambodia, a Santa Claus mix-up in Argentina), and she’s probably one of the funniest people I’ve met.  I plan to live with her and Chuck if I ever go to grad school in DC–here’s hoping! Chuck is a philosophy professor, which is instantly obvious when you observe him walk–he ambles, meaningfully, around every monument, painting, piece of classic Persian architecture–he takes everything in, quietly but enthusiastically, all while carrying a little navy blue umbrella to shade himself.  Gabe is the rogue of the group; he is famous for skipping our on dinner one night to go on a date at Hafez’s tomb. He had met some nice local tour guide earlier in the day, and they made plans to meet up that night.  He borrowed my Farsi phrasebook the first day of our trip and never returned it–instead he used it to start a conversation with everyone he met who would talk to him. And, because Persians are the most polite, interested, and chatty people on the planet, he quickly made friends with female fashion students, art students, museum guides–anyone and everyone.  Tom, a retired lawyer from Houston, bears a striking resemblance to the Mohammad Reza Shah, and he has thus been nicknamed Shah Tom,  He’s “shawsome.”  Even the natives look at him a little sideways sometimes, inquiring, “Are you from around here?”  But then he breaks out his Southern accent, hardened in Mobile, Alabama, and the distinction is clear.  Amanda, my roommate, is an English teacher from Ohio, but she and I have the most fun gossiping about the rest of the group late at night.  She has the biggest heart and the cutest laugh–and it’s her birthday in two days! Our guide bought her a turquoise necklace–one of the only two stones locally mined –for her birthday. Speaking of our guide, he might just be the incarnation of everything Persian, but exaggerated. he is the most generous man on the planet. His grandfather was a khan, or leader, for the Bakhtiyari tribe, which he eventually left to join the military, but leading groups runs in his blood. He has such pride for his country, and he knows everything about it, and shares it all with us in the hopes that we might love it too. He’s spent more than my entire college tuition on Persian carpets in the last three days, some for the Tehran condo and others for the Caspian Sea villa, and yet others for the property he might be buying in Shiraz. This guy is loaded, and it makes it all the more enjoyable for us to have a Persian sugar daddy that constantly feeds us bastani (ice cream–saffron, please!) mango, pomegranate, and orange juice, chai, coffee and anything else our hearts desire–we’re the luckiest adopted kids on the planet!

I don’t quite know if Hafez was directing me to a broader field of study, a different world view, or maybe just a small reminder that I am one of the luckiest Middle Eastern Studies majors to be visiting Iran first-hand. But perhaps I was being warned not to get too comfortable and to continue to soak up everything around me. The Iranians build humility into their mosques and their lives, and I have so much to learn from them. If the “more experienced” I’m supposed to be learning from is my group, then I’m in good hands–these people have all sorts of dreams for me, from future Ambassador Stevens to Iranologist to perfectly-coiffed tehrooni (Tehran is probably my favorite city though I’ve loved them all!). Or, perhaps I am just reminded to not over-romanticize everything, and that there is always more to learn. Though if I never stopped learning about this place, I would be happy–I haven’t found my green-eyed Persian man yet, but I am still madly in love with this place. So much for finding love in Shiraz!

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