Madame Bayaz and the auratic space of the nation
Benedict Anderson's well-worn articulation of the nation state as
'an imagined community' in which the rituals of mass communication with
the help of the print media, the radio, the television, the film industry
and the internet play a central role in configuring a sense of belonging
to a space shared by others who are similarly positioned as citizens, is
not necessarily sympathetic to the sensation of instability which shapes
Madame Bayaz's vision of the national.
Madame Bayaz who is sitting comfortably in her Manhattan studio atop
the most fabulous well-worn rug from Qom, feels quite at home right about
now. The well-worn rug, like Anderson's notion of the national, is a family
heirloom that goes back many generations. But it is from this time and place,
where I sit, drinking a cup of hot 'damm-ed' tea in a Qajar tea-cup (a cup
I snagged in 1998 when Leyla Diba and her colleagues curated a fabulous
exhibit on Royal Persian Art for the Brooklyn Museum) that the concept of
national belonging seems contingent, however imagined Anderson may claim
it to be.
As I turn my tea-cup in my hand and as my ringed pinky finger caresses
your enameled astrological sign on the lip of the cup, I remember the places
in which the two of us encountered one another in the vicinity of this,
my orange tinted rug, and how we were in this way wrapped in the auratic
web of the nation.
If you could just stop munching down those Belgian bon bons for a moment,
Aries, I will attempt to remind you of that blissful moment in your childhood
when you sat on a leather couch, holding on for dear life so you wouldn't
slide off the big leather couch in Tahereh Khanum's apartment. There, a
group of friends and your mother gathered in the cold of winter (made even
colder by the swerving winds of the Nordic Laplands), to play the sitar
and sing traditional Persian songs. Do you remember how, as you peered onto
the book shelves where Tahereh Khanum stores her cups and saucers, you saw
the most exquisite sculpture of dancing dervishes, which, because of the
back-lighting in the shelves, looked like they were dancing shadows, twirling
to the sound of the most stunning sitar performance taking place in Tahereh
Khanum's living room? Here, in the blissful synesthesia of sight and sound,
the aura of the nation engulfed you and at the brink of tears you let go
of your hold and slipped -- WOOPS! -- and fell onto my silk heirloom. I
carried the rug home with me that day and, some years later, moved it to
Minnesota. Judging from the vibes I'm getting through my pinky as it touches
you sign, it seems that you're out to enjoy some travel to cold destinations
this month. Listen to the warm, inviting sounds that hail you back home.
We came in from the freezing cold, rubbing our hands together feverishly,
blowing hot air, and jumping up and down, hoping that, once inside The Caspian
restaurant on University Avenue, we could warm up with a cup of hot Persian
tea. You should be reminded that world's best chelokabab, isn't at Reza's
in downtown Chicago or at Javan's on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles,
as some tend to claim, but right here at The Caspian in Minneapolis, Minnesota,
where Iranian academics from surrounding universities and their friends
gather for lunch on weekday afternoons. That winter's eve, you helped me
move in to my new digs, carrying my precious silk heirloom as if on a silver
plate. Then you drove me to this, my favorite restaurant, where you proceeded
to eat a heaping plate of The Caspian's special chelokabab with hot sauce
and sour somaq, washing it down with douq, the minty yogurt drink, which
you decorated with your bring- your- own- wherever- you- go marcino cherries.
What were you thinking? Honey, don't mess with traditional foods this month.
You'll get everyone around you sick to their stomach. And remember that
the instability of the national does not mean that you can destabilize the
aura that encases traditional national foods -- even in exile.
In Cincinnati, Ohio one day last year, I went to a party thrown by an
old friend. I had brought my rug with me that day to help my friend decorate
the house so that it would look more authentically Persian, whatever that
may mean to a social scientist. I met you there that evening as you walked
around and around the rug studying it in detail. The angular patterns, the
browns and blues and the maker's signature intrigued you. Then you told
me all about your own collection of Qashqaie rugs, bought patiently over
the years from this auction and that. (Ohioans can't possibly know the value
your dazzled spirit places on the torn up old rags.) You told me you wished
some day to go to Iran to see these rugs being made and that short of that
your only wish was to some day own a hat from the makers' tribe. Donning
the hat, you said, may give you an insight into the genius that goes into
the rugs' process of production. Your wish is granted this month as Madame
Bayaz, writing to you from the bazaar in Shiraz, has purchased a grey Qashqaie
hat made to fit. Here's hoping that it'll magically transport you , as Madame
Bayaz' precious heirloom does, in the web of time and space that connects
the enraptured citizen to his or her own imagined nation. Even if that means
that the nation one is imagining is the nation of one!
As I was telling Gemini over there, my silken heirloom has magically
transported me to Shiraz where I'm out hunting for deals at the bazaar.
Don't worry, my tea-cup is with me. (I never leave stolen goods around for
others to steal from me, you should know.) The cup is in my pocket and my
pinky finger is firmly rubbing your sign. 'Scuse me? What is this! I sense
that you're attempting to be creative this month, Cancer. You're in one
of these stalls, I can tell. Where? Where? And... oh!... and... OH!... Really?!
Do you really think that no one will be able to tell the difference between
my silken rug and the one you're making? Expressing creativity through forgery?
Whatever! No doubt, you'll fool the German tourists, Cancer, and that's
all that matters if you want to be in business. As long as they believe
it to be authentic, you've got your finger in the auratic pie called the
nation. Good luck with the sales this month. Bring it on home!
About this time last year, I was circling Tehran's Meydan-e Enqelab ("Revolutionary
Square", as one should call it, for the number of revolutions each
car has to make around the square before it can point itself in a non-circular
direction). I had your hand firmly in mine as I ran around inspecting one
bookstore after another to see if I could find a gem for my collection of
antiques on astrology. I guess I may not have been paying enough attention
to you, poor baby... Do you remember how you tugged and tugged at my rupush
and how, as a consequence, my hair cascaded out of my militant maghnaih
right in front of the pirashki store where your hungry eyes spotted something
hamburger-like to devour? The streets of Tehran are inhospitable to the
de-veiled, hamburger eating culture you're used to, so we took a couple
pirashkis home and had them along with fresh sabzi at our dining room table
atop my beautiful orange rug which we had spread out in the Yusef Abad apartment...
Your reading then, Leo, based on the images that just came to me as I touched
your astrological sign are as follows: a) you're going around in circles
this month, even though you want something real bad and b) no one's paying
attention to you, because c1) you're de-flated or de-veiled or because c2)
the people around you are just plain patronizing. My advice to you is to:
Make a point of snatching what new clothes that patronizing emperor may
have on and then eat your way out of the national crisis.
Before we became a dore (which happened in Sagittarius' reading) the
girls and I, each with a hanky in hand to pat down our cold -induced sniffles,
arrived around 9 o'clock to the darkened backroom of the Mercury bar on
the Lower East Side of Manhattan to watch a friend of a friend play her
guitar. The room was smokey and one could say that we collectively performed
our own jazz with the marathon of sneezes, sniffles and coughs that ensued.
We walked into the room expecting Haale G. to be setting up. Instead the
room was packed with a whole band of grungy, tattooed girls there to watch
an all-girl Rock and Roll band that preceded Haale's show. There is something
intoxicating in experiencing the excitement of a room full of expectant
women. Expectant, that is, because the star of the night will perform their
life experiences for them to the tune of F minor on stage. The all-girl
band captured the interest of the dancers in our small band of Persians,
too. But when Haale stepped up to the stage, there wasn't room enough to
contain the expanse of our collective emotion. A beautiful, young, Persian
pop star... all our own! Right there! On stage! Strumming her guitar, swinging
her booted heel behind her and charming us with her lyrics about a vagabond
friend and a wide-eyed seamstress with a perfect New Yorker accent. (No
doubt she can keep up with Aries' mom on that sitar, too!) Check out the
band's CD reviews at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/haale.
Virgo, then either, go back to bed and tend your cold or step up to the
Persian rug I just Fed-exed you, pretend its your lit stage and sneeze and
cough your own version of contemporary pop. You'll feel better by the end
of the month.
The surprise with which you encountered Shirin Neshat and collaborator's
new piece "The Logic of the Birds" was what forged the friendship
between you and I. You were so surprised that an artist born in Qazvin would
bring in so many "white people" to her version of the Attar's
"Conference of the Birds". That night in Barcelona, I couldn't
help laugh at you and then accept the invitation to go out for a meal with
your friends. The performance, a multi-media piece including an accomplished
film by Ghasem Ebrahimian projected onto three screens, accompanied by the
enchanting primal voice of Sussan Deyhim and the mesmerizing uncharted movement
of untrained actors on stage had us famished for some substantial nourishment.
The group of us eventually ended up in my apartment that night after the
meal. Do you remember? We had nuts and dried fruits and tea as we read the
"Conference of the Birds" aloud and wondered if the three-dimensional
homage of sight and sound was a tribute to Attar, or to the surrealists
and dadaists of a previous age or indeed to the aesthetics of a post-modern
age in which the aura of the national takes on unrecognizable forms. Forms
which none the less sustain our longing for the authenticity of "homeland".
Your reading this month, Libra: get postcards of your favorite paintings.
Put them on your fridge. Study them daily and stop worrying about the loss
of auratic art in your life-time. Nothing is going to stop the process of
disintegration from happening. No need to slash your veins in disappointment.
Just live in Daliesque bliss!
In blossoming Toronto in May, I walked into a panel on contemporary Iranian
Art. Against the backdrop of a silk rug which I recognized as my own, a
contemporary handsome Persian Roland Barthes spoke of Googoosh's advertised
image for an upcoming performance in North America. Part of an outfit in
black and white, Googoosh's lapel gripped a red rose. Not all of us, not
even all musician, or singers or visual artist or sportsmen, go from being
idols to "becoming image" in a life-time, though Walter Benjamin
would say that all of history is rescued in image-form. Barthes, or shall
I say, Reza Farrokhfal in this case, read this national singer as an image,
a signifying myth capable of transporting the fantasies born to a time long
ago of national belonging to the present of geopolitical dispersal. What
is the national, but that rose whose brilliant color reminds us in the techo-colored
present that her wearer once meant something to our sense of self and still
may? This month, ponder what gives you your sense of national belonging
by blurring the boundaries between the past and present. Or here's an even
better suggestion: Buy my Qom antique off me and take a load off your mind.
Thanks. That's $300,000,000... Qabel nadareh, jooni. And in cash please!
I am feeling the softness of the orange heirloom on my back and sensing
the glitter of the enameled rim of the tea-cup as it lights up to the sunlight.
Its rays gently warm the back of my eyelids and fill me through and through
with the most serene smile. A sudden bing, bam, boom and my eyes are wide
open and stunned by the most jarring close-up of a dirty heel, an arch of
a foot the size of Tehran and five fleshy curved toes only two widths of
a finger from my face"Ease yourself into the pose. Let your hip fall
open to the left as you look over your right shoulder." Ah yes, we're
in yoga class and as usual I've refused to rent a stinky mat from the front
desk (I don't know why they always happen to misprint the name for those
mats at yoga centers: "STICKY MATS $1"?! They're never sticky
enough to keep me standing and, frankly, their most common denominator is
that they're stinky) Where was I? Oh yes, the yoga class. Last week, at
our monthly dore, an eating frenzy which constitutes our connection to the
national aura, I discovered that everyone of my Persian girlfriends had
dumped her most recent partner for a weekly two-hour yoga session. Here
in the serenity of movement amidst sweaty bodies and limbering limbs, everyone
of my girls has found the key to a happy life without the hazards of commitment
and eternal bouts of disappointment. "It's Y. O. U. R. yoga, not GAP
yoga. Just do you and enjoy!" as the gurus advise. You were there before
this stunning horde of beauties ever got there, Sag... In yoga class, that
is. You knew flow before any of us. My pinky on your sign says its time
you take over the heartache column and send all those casualties of love
off to purchase stinky-mats-4-a-dolla' of their own.
Kandahar! Kandahar! It's the rage these days and the house of Makhmalbaf
is benefiting immensely. I rolled up my rug and packed my tea-cup and threw
my lot in with those who'd rather avoid the torment of the manipulative
drama of a sister's journey back to Afghanistan. I went, instead to a theatre
where I could watch the most accomplished documentary made in the recent
year by the then Paris based Su Abadi, a documentary entitled "SOS
Tehran". The film was made to document the services offered by Islamic
Republic to the poor who nonetheless need introductions to potential spouses,
sex ed., counseling, marriage dowries, and wedding ceremonies. Abadi did
a fabulous in-person introduction in French to the hour-long documentary
at the film festival in Oslo, Norway. The festival's French translator (a
total moron, I'd say) translated her talk from French to English for a Norwegian
speaking audience. (I don't know what to make of that! Anyway...) The film
itself was in Persian with no voice-over. It contrasted the state services
with the private practice of a Freudian psychoanalyst who brought together
a group of young teenage girls all in search of their true love in the city
and full of complaints about their fathers, on the one hand. And, who, on
the other hand, offered group therapy to couples with intimacy problems.
Abadi was right about what she said in that badly translated introduction.
The film she made showed an Iran that was nothing like the kind of Iran
we see in Makhmalbaf, or the old Panahi, or Kiarostami. Her characters spoke
frankly about their experience of everyday life in Iran under the Republic.
One such frank phrase sticks with me: Jomhoori-ye Islaami mard-haa raa akhte
karde,va zan-haa raa shelakhte karde. (The Islamic Republic has castrated
the men and made whores of the women.) And these words of advice impose
themselves on my sensitive pinky: See if you can get yourself out of the
box-office circuit and into a theatre where you'll get to see something
not intended to manipulate you, Capricorn. You're vulnerable this month.
So, by all means, keep away from Kandahar!
As a child we used to take you for walks in the Park-e Shafaq in Tehran
where two bronze statues decorated the square. One statue still sits on
the edge of the covered fountain in the central square putting the final
knot on his shoe lace and the other leans on his elbow some distance away
in the periphery of the square. Back then, this statue looked onto the care-free
bougie strollers and their children in fifi outfits and jet white tights.
Today the park has a traditional sofr-ekhane (a traditional restaurant)
where you can smoke apple tobacco in water pipes on outdoor double bed.
There's also a theatre there, where small companies perform translated plays.
A dar-be-dar pizza delivery place is also close at hand... Too, the disheveled
usual suspects. In my recent viewing of Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's brilliant
"Zir-e Poost-e Shahr" ("Under the Skin of the City")
I was reminded of the lead, Golab Adineh's, performance at the Park-e Shafaq
theatre in the play "Poof". A piece about a battered wife who
makes her husband disappear magically into thin air. I was reminded simultaneously
of a conversation I had with a cabbie about his involvement in 12-step programming
in Tehran and his intimation that Park-e Shafaq now is the center for illegal
drug distribution in Tehran. These images come to me as I rub my pinky on
your sign, sip my tea, and follow the patterns of brown and ash gold and
blue on my orange antique rugAs if to say, Aquarius: Let go of the past!
Regardless of the nostalgia with which you approach it, that image of national
purity (in childhood hymns) will not return except by way of a contaminated
present of real lived life to remembrance. Go to Covent Garden, listen to
some soothing jazz, and then move on!
The relationship between you, Virgo and Capricorn this month is unprecedented,
so let me ask that you read their entries, paying specific attention to
the following missing, though significant details: 1) In real life, the
all-girl-band arrived after Haale's performance. 2) The psychoanalyst told
the girls with complaints about their love lives and their strict parents
(in Abadi's film) to add a little anti-depressant to their dads' waters
every night and stop worrying about coming home on time.What should you
make of this? My astrological tea-cup has made a full revolution in my hand,
Pisces, and my pinky on your sign tells me, to advise you that whatever
you dream up this month, do it in reverse order in real life. Have order
your entre before the dessert. And put on your hat and gloves BEFORE you
go out the door, even if you've seen the sun shine outside your window.
In other words, take the necessary precautions and do them in order. And
then follow this piece of wisdom: whatever the matter might be with you
indeed, whatever problems or hurdles you may encounter, blame them on someone-else's
frayed nerves and then furnish them with enough sedatives, so that you can
make a timely get away on a magical silk rug heading nowhere. Where ever
it might take you, the web that is the nation will keep you close enough
Some useful terms:
-- Damm-ed: from dam kardan, meaning steamed. For tea steamed the Persian
-- Chelo-kabab: A traditional Iranian dish of meat and rice
-- Dore: a theme based get together
-- Maghnaih: a prefabricated head scarf to go with a rupush
-- Rupush: an overcoat I most women wear instead of the veil.
-- Sabzi: Fresh herbs served with most traditional Persian meals
To contact Madame Bayaz write to: firstname.lastname@example.org