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A good sport

Chehel Setun of Qazvin and Dai Jan Napoleon

By Brian Appleton
November 9, 2002
The Iranian

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 the Turks.

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 tricks...

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 snapshots from this film

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 Vodka Saghi...

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 coma .

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 thank heaven.

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 smoking it.

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 the pool.

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 "On 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 from this film

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Fly to Iran
By Brian Appleton






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