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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Memory Traces

July 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

one million cologne – Gabe’s pinkies – flashing neon signs in Farsi – “Eastern toilets”… with a hose – “Ambassador Stevens!” – the lights illuminating the freeway into Tehran – driving in Mohammad’s car and hearing Messle Khodet – our icebox in Yazd – courtyards cooled by qanats – walking alone through the all-male section of a wedding party – beautiful North Tehran women with enviably large hair; I need a “bump prothesis” – Secrets Under the Scarves, Episode 426: hot, topless quarriers! – Hamid’s morning “Salaaaaaam!” – every day’s a holiday: Imams birthdays, the Prophet’s revelations – “Kheyli mamnoon pedaram,” “khahesh mikoonam dokhtaram” – the “Persian Version” is always better – siesta – the hallucinogenic effects of saffron – “rich, green-eyed, Persian husband” – Patty’s six-year old laugh – “My dear, I cannot build another Persepolis just for you” – domed carpet modeled after Sheikh Lotfoallah Mosque for $28,000 – bastani! – manteau shopping at Yaas, the Persian Target – “hubbly bubbly and tea” – Fantah! – Dub-bai – Gabe has another “appointment” – Shah Tom – tissues instead of napkins – “Time to scarf up!” – 169 knots per square centimeter, Caspian sea silk, all natural dyes – “Another nose job sighting!” – four types of Persian architecture: ziggurats, columns, squinches, square-based domes – Rebecca looks like a babushka – zam-zam cola – “Farsi balad neestam.” – all the Persian children look like miniature adults – “The traveller who forgets his homeland, when in May, goes to Shiraz.” – contemplation – holy water – another teacup with Naser Al-Din Shah’s face on it – pomegranate juice – Is that in rials, tomans, or dollars? How many decimal places? – double-butted Persian sheep – asiatic – lamb kabob is always our favorite – “Bezam berin, rafid!” – eram, behest, pardis-gotta admire a language that has so many words for “paradise”! – “Another shopportunity!” – “A Persian escalator! Oh boy!” – “Be careful, you may think you’re in the bazaar, but half of it is actually Chinatown.” – “Let’s do it!” – “Daddy!” – Amanda’s birthday cake at Abbasi Hotel – watching the baker throw bread on the oven wall, then eating it a minute later – entire families (father, mother, child and grandma) crammed on the back of a moped – “tight little package” – “I kind of enjoy switching from daughter to harem member.” – parents in absentia – “Toothpaste in Farsi! Fire extinguisher in Farsi! Cheese wrapper in Farsi!” – eggplants are the best vegetable ever invented – Farah Diva – “Heave-ho Rebecca, heave-ho!” – “Oh look. We self-segregated again.” – The Iranian-American Friendship League – Patty takes three showers a day – Chuck’s snazzy purple shirt – Mercedes sedan police cars – the national soup: barley – non-alcoholic Bavarian beer tasted like Lysol, unless drenched in lime – our edible Quran – “Was that the call to prayer?” – “You mean, you would like it if it weren’t essentially what it is?” – “Rebecca’s first wife, and I’m the understudy.” – no shoes at the mosque, or on the sedan bed, or anywhere inside – Imam Ali has eyelashes like a Maybelline ad – “Let’s extend to the Caspian Sea!” – “Dear Mom and Dad, Greetings from Baghdad!” – pistachio, saffron, walnut and Persian melon ice cream; daily – “You look demonic in your visa picture.” – Persian cat–meow! – trying to cross the street in Isfahan, at the risk of being killed – 4,000 year-old cypress tree – Nescafé instead of actual coffee – scarfless in the women’s restroom at Mehrabad Airport – waxed eyebrows – every thing’s closed between 1 and 5 pm – only people in the restaurant, again – Gabe’s date with a cute Isfahani and her male…. classmate – Tom loves flan – Turkish MTV is the only thing on at Ferdossi – “Would your lives ever really be complete without this carpet? You’ll regret it!” – “So, are you married?” “Oh, no I’m not.” “And how old are you?” “20.” “Oh.” – “The Great Satan has come to the axis of evil!” – “Quebleh towards Mecca” – “Time to blog!” – “You’re a harlot.” – “She’s getting her Master’s in International Affairs. She speaks the international language of love.” – “You have Barbie hair!” – “Ma’am, your Iranian passport please?” “Oh, no, I only have the American one.”

Half of the World

July 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Apadana, Darius the Great's ceremonial palace, where he and his court would celebrate Norooz, or the Persian New year

We’re just arrived back in Tehran, where it all started and where it’s all about to end. After Shiraz, we were whisked away to Isfahan, famously dubbed “Isfahan, nefs-e jahan,” or “Isfahan, half of the world” because of the commerce that thrived there under the rule of Shah Abbas the Great. Before we could arrive in Half of the World, we took a detour to the highlight of our itinerary: Persepolis. This is the famous site of Darius the Great’s ceremonial palace, dating back to the sixth century BCE, and the sight is awesome. The grounds were burned (reportedly) by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE, leaving only remains–but the sheer size of this place is enough to see the pomp and circumstance of Darius’s court. You enter through the Gate of Nations, meant to represent all the territories under the Persian Empire’s control under the Achaemenids, and looking up at 60-foot rock reliefs, all I could feel was small and in awe. This place was older than anything else I had ever visited, and kings–true kings who ruled the “four corners of the civilized world”–had walked through the same gates I was. Persepolis was one of the first things I ever visualized about Iran, and truthfully probably the first part of my eclectic education about the country. Though my knowledge would be compounded later in Beatrice Manz’s comprehensive course, History of Iran, it all really started in a dingle (a double room inhabited by a single student when a roommate moves out) in Tilton Hall, one of the all-freshman dorms at Tufts. When people ask me how I became interested in Iran, I can always trace the answer back to that room, on that April night at the end of my freshman year. It was all quite odd, actually. After dressing up for the Arabic Academy Awards that afternoon, a mandatory event for all first-year Arabic students to showcase our final video projects, I was surreptitiously invited by my friend Afsheen to crash Friday night Shabbat services at Chabad House. So, after an afternoon of Lebanese food and Arabic chatter, we promptly stuffed ourselves again on gefilte fish and challah–as the only two non-Jews in the room, we spent a lot of time humming along to prayers and avoiding any questions about religious beliefs–but the food was great and the night was just beginning. Somehow we ended up back in his room that night, with a whole bunch of friends, listening to Persian pop music on YouTube–after a few music videos I started asking questions, and soon we were watching clips of documentaries about the great, ancient, Persian empire. It’s a rare pair that enjoys ten-part YouTube documentaries on a Friday night, but somehow I found it all fascinating. This was a whirlwind glimpse into a place I never considered myself fit to hold opinions on–Iran was wrapped up in political connotations, a language most foreign to me, and a whole bunch of misconceptions that I didn’t have the time, energy, or confidence to investigate for myself. But there we were, he telling me about Zoroastrianism, the ancient Achaemenid kings and translating lyrics using a mixture of Arabic, English and Spanish–all things that brought this place closer and closer to me. Perhaps I could know about this place after all. By this time everyone else had cleared out, we had been sitting on uncomfortable dorm chairs for hours, and we were both enraptured by a six-part series on Persepolis. All sorts of recreated scenes played out before us: Darius’s palace, replete with massive columns, Xerxes’s ceremonial rooms, and of course, a procession of kings through the Gate of Nations. My education would continue past that night (which lasted from four in the afternoon to six in the morning, no joke)–him teaching me about his homeland, me reading about it, academics theorizing on it–but that little video of Persepolis was the starting point of a seemingly endless passion, and here I was seeing it in the flesh. Things seemed to have come full circle.

So, we traveled on to Isfahan, Half of the World–which was almost as surreal as Persepolis, though for an entirely different reason. Instead of incredible size and enviable age, Isfahan is a city of stunning beauty that seems entirely out of place. Running through the city is a huge dried-up riverbed (it fills with water in the wintertime), and along either side of the river are two parks, stretching twenty miles on each side. These parks are larger-than-life reincarnations of famous Persian gardens, stretching as far as the eye can see. Large sycamore trees shade the sidewalk, grass stretched for blocks and blocks and flowers spring up at every corner. However, like most things that seem too crafted to be naturally formed, Isfahan has a very conservative and at times oppressive feel. The city lost the most amount of martyrs during the Iran-Iraq War, and it is still considered a center for fierce patriotism. But oh, to see this city is to behold something immortal. Imam Square, the second largest square in the world, houses a couple of mosques (Sheikh Lotfollah and Jumeh Mosques) and an old Safavid Palace, Ali Qapu. The architecture in this square is exquisite, detailed, and like the rest of the city, a little elusive–Isfahan was shrouded in impenetrable greenness, everywhere from its trees to the tiles lining the Friday Mosque (Jumeh Mosque) and the color of its famous enamel handicraft. Perhaps like its riverbed (othwerwise called the Zayanderud River, or “life-giving” river), the purpose of this ex-capital had dried somewhat, but its effect was just as stunning.

And from the beauty of Isfahan we have returned to Tehran, city of script and verse. We leave for the airport in a few hours, and I miss this place already. We’ve said goodbye to our guide (baba, or “daddy,” as he’s come to be known), our driver (Hamid) and the rest of our group. I’m hopeful that my eclectic education is still growing, twisting and speeding along without my control and into some new adventure into the depths of the Persian identity. All I feel is lucky, and extremely humbled in the face of all I have seen, all whom I’ve talked to, and all I’ve discovered here in Iran. For all of you who can, learn anything about this place–pick up a book, google”Hafez” or “Rumi” or “Sa’di,” find a friendly Iranian and ask questions, or get your hands on some Persian music and get to know this place for yourself. I am so grateful for that one spring night freshman year, when an acquaintance became a close friend and I got a glimpse into a culture I never thought I would be educated enough, or that I even deserved, to study or to know Iran’s changed my life forever, and I am so lucky I got to travel here myself, make my own opinions, and continue this particular education. Shab-be kheir, goodnight, and lots of love from Tehran!

Approaching Persepolis

The Gate of All Nations, where all the vassal states of the Persian Empire entered to greet the Shah


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