A good sport
Chehel Setun of Qazvin and Dai Jan Napoleon
By Brian Appleton
November 9, 2002
In a few days time, we were all piled on a bus going from Tehran to Qazvin
[See last episode: Misadventures
of Kai Kaous]. As soon as we were out in the countryside, the director and co
producer Doctor Parvin started to dress down the entire crew like a football coach
about their lack of cooperation and professionalism and so on and so forth. I was
quite impressed by the absolute silence which followed her diatribe... in fact we
rode the rest of the way in silence.
When we arrived at the Chehel Setun of Qazvin, there was a strong wind blowing in
the white trunked birch trees all around the grounds of the mansion. The white trees
were filled with black ravens who were totally upset by our arrival. Seems they had
had very few visitors. The air was filled with the sound of them scolding us with
their disapproving call, "Chalk... chalk... chalk... chalk... chalk."
This cacophony of sound and wind went on for the entire time the crew was setting
up including a tower across from the second story balustrade where the cameraman
could zoom in for head shots when the scene was out on the balcony. The scene had
a certain beauty in fact, with the black crows jockeying for positions on the sparse
white birch branches in the heavy wind like aircraft circling a runway... The shafts
and rays of sunlight came down through the flickering birch leaves and made the stain
glass windows sparkle in a rainbow of colors...
I stood spellbound watching this scene without moving for a long time drinking in
the sounds... Finally the crew had finished erecting the camera tower and since I
did not have a role in this scene, I climbed up the ladder and sat down next to the
cameraman Bijan to watch as the scene on the balcony began to unfold.
Out came an old man dressed in lacy black clothes like a portrait of Velasquez to
meet Prince Pietro Della Valle who had just dismounted his winded horse with streams
of froth from its mouth and bands of sweat on its flanks from a hard gallop away
from the field of battle where the Ottoman's had kicked our butts in Azerbaijan.
Actually come to think of it I dismounted from the horse having played his double
while he was in the party tent drinking ice water, the precious dear...
Anyway I was having a hard time following the dialogue with the old man screaming
in Farsi with theatrically bulging eyes and shaking jowls but Pietro was saying his
lines in Italian which I could follow better. I think that Pietro was asking the
old man, who turned out to be portraying the Spanish Ambassador to Court of Shah
Abbas, whether Spain would consider joining forces with the Vatican State to stop
the advance of the Turks. In fact Pietro's mission in visiting Iran was to represent
his uncle the Pope in petitioning Shah Abbas and his forces to join them also against
Well the Spanish Ambassador apparently wasn't having any of it and behind him with
a serious scowl on his face was Kai Kaous dressed as his page in those ridiculous
pantaloons the Europeans wore back them, they ballooned with huge pleats and yet
didn't even reach mid thigh while the rest of his legs were covered by black tights.
His upper body was covered by a white baggy sleaved blouse with one of those repeating
"S" curve stiff laced collars that went completely round his neck in a
circle... He looked so silly it was all he could do to keep his straight face long
enough to be filmed for 30 or 40 seconds and no lines.
But the director was not picking on him. She seemed to be focusing on trying to get
the old man to stop shouting his lines so loud and projecting his voice since he
was not on stage with an audience down in the wings who needed to be sure to hear
him. She kept explaining that with film acting since there was a microphone at the
end of a boom hanging right over his head but out of the sight of the camera that
he had no need to be yelling so loud but I guess it is hard to teach an old dog new
This went on for what seemed like hours. If I had been asked whom out of all of us
aspiring actors would have been most likely to succeed, the old man would not have
been my pick. However life with its inevitable irony picked him, for he was Nakhshineh
who went on from here to be the main star in the very popular TV series adapted from
Iraj Pezeshk's novel Dai Jan Napolon. >>> See
By evening the virus bug the crew had caught to be out to get me had
spread to the cameraman whom I had assisted all day long. In what I mistook as an
act of male bonding he challenged me to a Vodka Drinking contest. I should have sensed
the atmosphere of a cowboy gun fight dual that began to creep into the proceeding.
When I arrived at the appointed place and the appointed hour there was a long narrow
table like you would see set up with the food service for a banquet only down the
entire length of both sides ran two long thin grey lines of half pint bottles of
Bijan, the camerman had kind of an odd shaped ungainly body. Although he was a fairly
young man his body looked middle aged like he had spent far too many years hunched
over behind a movie camera. However tonight he had the air of a champion. He exhibited
a certain confident professionalism and even wore a special drinking hat for the
occasion as we were outdoors in the garden of the Chehel Setun of Qazvin. I began
to get the sinking feeling that he had had a lot of practice at this and probably
had built up a higher tolerance to alcohol in his blood stream than I ever had.
None-the-less, I wanted to be a good sport about it because I had the vague notion
that perhaps this was an Iranian tradition and I didn't wish to offend my host by
not participating nor did I wish to be perceived as a coward. I don't think I will
ever understand why so many men of every country and culture in the world seem to
think it is a sign of the ultimate machismo to be able to ingest and metabolize vast
quantities of poison and survive the experience even as the liver goes into a tail
spin from overdrive but they do. I mean just think about it, alcohol can be used
to preserve dead fish and reptiles and other specimens of dead life for centuries
in the display cases of museums...
Anyway to make a long story short, Bijan sat on
one of those office chairs with wheels and started methodically twisting the caps
off of one little bottle after another downing the contents of one after another
and tossing the empties into a great tub stopping only momentarily to make sure that
I was keeping up with him.
After what seemed like an interminable length of time at which point we had consumed
some obscene amount of vodka, probably near 70 of these little bottles, I suddenly
realized that I could no longer sit up straight let alone stand up and I keeled over
off my chair in slow motion onto the ground with a dull thud. My head suddenly felt
like it was an iron anvil being struck by a hammer. I was sure that I was going to
die and frankly would have preferred death to the way I was feeling.
Bijan's moment of self satisfied victory was short lived however since every sound
began to feel like someone was jabbing my brain with a knife and I began to scream
accordingly. When all the cheering section finally realized that I was not joking
but was really in trouble they ended up taking me to the emergency ward of a local
hospital where I started praying outloud with the famous opening lines of the Koran:"Bismillah
al Rakhman al Rahim, and if God had had any mercy and kindness he would have snuffed
me out on the spot but instead He arranged for a couple of shots of adrenaline in
my hips with giant long hypodermic needles which returned me from the brink of my
And as everyone of you who has been there, done that knows, you always promise yourself
and God that you will never get drunk again but being weak mortals prone to memory
loss for some reason given enough time we always end up trying it again sooner or
later and once again we vow it will be the last time for sure...
However I don't know what I was thinking to have accepted
the drinking challenge anyway because come to think of it I have never had a lot
of tolerance for these foreign substances we call narcotics or stimulants. I mean
the one time I was talked into trying opium in Iran, it made me puke and everyone
kept saying, here eat these candies and that won't happen but the last thing I want
to do is eat something after I've puked.
One time I tried to smoke one of those little black Toscano cigars that my host in
Siena, Italy had offered me in the privacy of his dining room after a sumptuous feast
and I took one puff and immediately became nauseous. I managed to avoid creating
a scene long enough to be escorted to the guest room where I was offered a bed in
which to take a siesta, which by the way is a terribly civilized custom I think.
No sooner did I lie down than I tossed my cookies all over the sheets and I had only
just met these people who were in- laws of a good friend of mine.
Everyone in the house was asleep so I tippy toed around until I found Pia, the maid
and explained the situation to her in whispers offering her a handsome tip if she
could clean the mess up without letting the hosts on to what had happened. She agreed
At least she agreed to the clean up but not to keeping her mouth closed about it
apparently because several weeks later, I ran into my former host in a popular coffee
bar in the middle of town and he asked me if I were ready to try one of those black
little Tuscan cigars again handing one over to me.
I didn't want to appear to be rude so I took one little puff and bang I fainted dead
away landing with a crash on the floor in public this time...when I came back around,
my "friend" with the cigars said:" Oh well don't feel bad, these cigars
are not for everyone, in fact we have a saying here in Tuscany that Tuscan Cigar
smokers are born with one in their mouth." Ouchie, poor moms...
I wish to leave you with one more example of my intolerance for these foreign substances
which took on mythological proportions. I had just started dating my secretary at
work in Tehran and I invited her to come with me to an office party being thrown
by my boss whom I had not met socially before outside the office. She met me at my
house and before we went to catch a taxi to the party she offered me some Hash. I
said that I didn't have any cigarettes to make it into a joint with since I never
smoked the stuff. So she said don't worry just eat a piece, it's much better than
Always in the spirit of not wanting to offend people who are trying to be generous
to me, I obliged her. It tasted like what I imagine Shit would be like... and that
was that and I thought nothing more of it. We hopped a cab and arrived at the party.
It was a very large house with a huge swimming pool in the side yard and lots and
lots of people I didn't know.
I was having a conversation with someone when at some point I began to realize that
I couldn't remember what I had just said and had to guess what to say next hoping
that it would be related to whatever I had just said but I didn't like the feeling
and I worried that people would notice. That would have been bad enough but all of
the sudden the person I was speaking to Žs head grew very, very large and his nose
which appeared like a giant iceberg threatened to poke me in the eye. I was terrified.
It was just like that bad breath commercial they use to have on American TV.
I decided that perhaps a nice swim in the pool might sober me up. The next thing
I knew, I had stripped off all but my shorts and was doing a Tarzan impersonation
complete with chest pounding and yelling as I did a swan dive into the pool. Realizing
at some point when I came back up to the surface that people were staring I got a
little self conscious and got out of the pool, put my clothes back on and started
looking for my secretary. I couldn't figure out why everything looked so blurry and
only much later realized that it was because my eye glasses were at the bottom of
I couldn't find her so I went upstairs in this strange house and looked for a bathroom.
I thought maybe I could puke that shit out of my system like you can with alcohol.
The moment I shut the door to the water closet and turned around I found myself screaming
and clutching at the walls because the toilet was about 100 miles down appearing
as a tiny white dot at the bottom of a mine shaft towards which I was falling. Horrified,
I went and found a vacant bedroom and decided I would try to sleep it off.
I remember realizing at some point that there was absolutely no way to stop the hallucinations
which would just have to run their course until my system had metabolized that shit
out of me. It was possibly one of the most helpless feelings I have ever experienced.
As I lay there on the bed, I suddenly found myself struggling through the hair on
my arm which appeared to be as big as tree trunks in a large forest, so big around
I was having a hard time holding onto them.
I got up and went down stairs and tried to blend in and make small talk as calmly
as I could until I noticed that my right leg was tap dancing out a tune like it was
playing a drum in a rock band to some tune only it could hear. Finally I saw my secretary
and grabbing hold of her hand I whispered in her ear: "I am in serious trouble,
you have to get me out of here."
It was amazing because as soon as I got back to my home in familiar surroundings
with no one else but her around, I became relaxed enough to almost enjoy what was
left of that experience and in fact I got an attack of the giggles imagining what
I must have looked like to that crowd when I did my Tarzan impersonation. That was
the last time I ever ate shit and that is one promise I have managed to keep.
The irony was that I found out weeks later that all those people from work at that
party that I was so worried about making a bad impression on were all serious Tariakis...
who even rubbed looleh on their baby's gums when they were teething. Even my ancient
old landlady herself used to enjoy the Senatori brand... which I would pass on to
her when well meaning people would give it to me for Now Rouz presents...but sorry
puking just wasn't my cup of tea.
By the way I don't mind sharing these experiences with my reading public because
they should act as a deterrent and secondly I have no intention of ever running for
public office unless of course someone invites me to replace Ross Perot as the leader
of the Populist Party. Sometime I must tell you what I thought about his stupid movie
the Wings of Eagles" about how he supposedly single handedly went back into
post revolutionary Iran and sprung three of his arrested American employees from
jail and managed to get them out of the country. I mean for Cripes sake anyone who
was there during the revolution knows that every jail in Iran was emptied out during
the revolution. His was no unique act of heroism.
One guy we knew who was sent to pick up a package at Mehrabad which turned out to
be 2 kilos of cocaine in an apparent sting operation was in for a 10 year sentence.
We used to dedicate songs to him at night on the radio. The next thing you know the
revolution came and the liberators went around unlocking all the jail cells and sending
the prisoners packing for home. Our friend yelled: "Long live Khomeini"
and jumped out the window of his cell onto the roof of a passing taxi which went
speeding off down the street.
In his wildest dreams, I'll bet he never imagined a revolution would cut his jail
sentence short after only one year. He who shall remain nameless was smart enough
to figure out that the revolutionaries would probably smack him back into jail once
they figured out what he had been in for so he left the country passing his brother's
passport off as his own.
So, I'm sorry Mr. Perot but I'm not buying and I guess I just told my readers what
I thought of your story, didn't I? >>> See snapshots