Ash-e reshteh nation
Our diluted culture
March 29, 2005
As I put away the items that are only used once a year for the
Persian New Year, I think of my culture and wonder if its evolution
will ever end. I shake the cookie crumbs from my mother’s
old termeh and hope the cleaners can remove the melted wax that
candles have left behind. I eat the last cookie and promise myself
to go back on Atkins the following day. The overgrown and uneven
sabzeh gives out a sour odor and I wonder if it will survive outside
until sizdah-bedar. The goldfish has died and I’m
ashamed of my sense of relief in knowing that I no longer have
to clean its bowl.
Nowruz is gone and, for the first time, I’m glad I won’t
have to write the word for a whole other year. I have a hard time
adjusting to the newly-approved spelling. Somehow it sounds more
Afghani than Persian, but hey, who am I to argue with the scholars?
On Sunday, the Iranians of San Diego had a fantastic time at
Balboa Park. Not only did we celebrate Nowruz again -- eight days
after its arrival -- but the Mayor unveiled the monumental copy
of the first declaration of freedom by Cyrus the Great, and everyone
wished everyone else a Happy Easter. Two American musicians --
an oboist and a kettle drummer -- repeated the same set of notes
on their dohol-sorna until I could sense the approach
of my suicidal nervous breakdown and probably would have if I wasn’t
rescued by the aroma of chicken kabob.
There’s a subtle melancholy to a nation in exile. I wonder
if other nationalities share this feeling or is it only us Iranians
who seem so out of place? It felt as if hundreds of us had gathered
in search of a misplaced pride. United as we appeared, I sensed
a profound separation. When they played the Ey Iran --
I tried not to think of the change in my national anthem, instead,
overcome by strong patriotism, I sang along. A woman who stood
on a bench and managed to completely block my view nagged, “We
didn’t come here to hear you sing!” I stopped mid-song
and, as I walked away, wondered if the other five hundred who continued
to sing had heard her.
We gathered to once again find fault in one another, we pushed
and shoved to find a location with the best view of the ceremonies
and shamelessly cut the food lines. The garbage cans soon overflowed
with empty Styrofoam dishes and the organizers didn’t make
a secret of the fact that once again we had annoyed and disappointed
them, that perhaps we weren’t worthy of their efforts. In
the end I’m sure we each concluded that we were the better.
Those who seem to have fully adapted
to their new habitat acted as if they were beyond this level of
nostalgia and those in denial of a lost culture found something
to hang onto as they gave the other cottages a condescending glance. “The
House of Iran is the most glamorous of the bunch,” they said.
Then again, aren’t we all about glamour?
The haft-seen, the flower arrangements and the antique display
were all beautiful, but neither the honorable mayor nor his nervous
bodyguard seemed to fully grasp the significance. As for me, eight
days after Nowruz, the novelty had worn off.
I stared at the red white and green flag which seemed to be missing
something in the middle. The golden lion and sun has been absent
for years and those of us who left before the revolution have failed
to welcome the new Arabic emblem. I felt as if something ought
to be there, something that would make me believe that is still
my flag. I guess I do miss that silly lion, after all.
The Janbazian dancers came from LA and performed their simulated
ballet to a lovely piano tune. I bought a bowl of ashe reshteh and
stared into the thick soup. Of all the symbolic items, I realized
I could best identify with that mixture, for we seem to have become
a nation of ashe reshteh: a delicious combination of too many diverse
ingredients that tastes wonderful and brings back memories, but
can also cause pain, leave an unpleasant after-taste and make you
regret the pleasure of it.
When white doves were released--to signify the imminent peace--I
wondered if any of us knew the true meaning of the word and if
those white doves were anything but a means for the dove seller
to make a buck. Would their freedom sustain or would someone capture
them for yet another show? My eyes followed them as they soared
into the blue sky and I knew that somewhere under that same blue
sky a whole nation had celebrated Nowruz in its entirety and in
a most humble fashion. A new day had fallen on a people and the
new year had brought them the promise of a better life. A sense
of detachment tore at my heart and my eyes welled with tears.
The oboist and the kettle drummer circled the crowd and repeated
the same set of notes, over and over and over...
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance
writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e
Gham" (see excerpt).
Visit her site