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May 2002

Madame Bayaz has screen memories

We were at a profound and spirited honoring ceremony in the presence of the great Caribbean poet Kamau Brathwaite, when my Persian hypochondriac darling turned to me and said, "I'm quitting cosmetics for good." She, the one who religiously comes to my neighborhood to do her weekly manicure continued, "I mean, I'm even thinking of quitting nail polish and cuticle cream altogether. There are just too many chemicals to have to consider, you know. And all this infertility in the 30-something generation is statistically related to chemicals. That's what they say. And I tend to believe them."

I like her too much to respond with my staple carefree "Oh whatever..." so instead I suggested a product. "How about something organic like Aveda?" I realized, then, in the midst of Barthwaite's impassioned recital of "the drums are addressing you..." that our charmed existence is so at odds with the quotidian dreams of those who live the "nation language". The existence of those young girls who dream of the day they can show a little pink on their toenails as they wander about a smog-filled city under a hot, worn and tattered hijab. What bridges the gap between them and us, I wondered? What makes us all Iranians?

And it was then in a thundering moment of inspiration that I remembered another conversation at an outdoor café where
Maryam's US-born film director, Ramin Serry, exchanged words with the novelist Manoucher Parvin about living the 1979 hostage crisis in the US. Ramin, was too young to remember too much and Manoucher too much of a poet to not fabricate a memory on behalf of all of us. But it was in the recollection of images and news clips that the two artists found common ground. Images... as bridges?

Serry's film, as I see it, functions to bridge the gap between those who live the "nation language" and those of us who don't. It does so in its recollection of images. Screen images, in particular, in the truest Freudian sense of the word. That is images that make childhood memories alibis for unspeakable desires and imaginings developed at a later age.

Maryam, a young, religious convert, Ali, arrives in suburban New Jersey after the Iranian revolution to live with his secular Iranian-American uncle and his wife and daughter, Maryam/Mary, in the period spanning the Shah's hospitalization on the 17th floor of a New York mid-town hospital. And it is in this period that the rage that Ali feels about the tragic death of his activist father under the shah's ruthless force, SAVAK, is translated into screen memories, literally fabricated images couched as childhood recollections of his uncle killing his father in their familial Tehran home.

Mme Bayaz

Farvardin: Aries

Put yourself in Ali's place. The death of your father turns you into a political activist, and the passing of your religious mother turns you to the Koran. What you become is the perfect national subject under the Islamic Republic, but not as a function of its ruling ideology per se. Would this configuration of your psyche allow you to enjoy the carefree pleasures of a roller rink in the New Jersey suburbs, I wonder? Your Maryam movie-stars, darling Aries, caution you. It's a time of reflection, now. And a time for you to understand where all the fear and the rage is rooted. My guess is that it's the function of the familial, rather than the political as you so stubbornly insist.

Ordibehesht: Taurus

Imagine being the phone that communicates a protective Iranian father's words to the suburban American teenage boy, Jamie, on the other end of the line over the dinner table in Maryam. "You want to talk to Maryam? Talk to her at school tomorrow," her father barks. What would it take for you to redeem some agency of your own? What would it take for you to slip out of his hand and fall close enough to Maryam, so that she can talk to her puppy love? I suggest that instead of regurgitating this month, Taurus, that you in your birthday month, become slightly more slippery. Remember these words of wisdom as the month runs its course: The only path is not the straight and narrow especially not in communication issues.

Khordad: Gemini

A simple and oversized yellow ribbon around the Foshay tower in Minneapolis signifies the US condemnation of the hostage taking in Iran. In Maryam, this brief flash of newsreel, recalls the fervor with which the US showed support for its national subjects in Iran. A support that condemned all Iranians, everywhere, for acts of a few on the national soil. If the film does anything to evoke your inner emotions this month, Gemini, it is to suggest that your approach be a little less categorical. Put the yellow ribbon in your hair instead and skip the preaching and the judgement as you play hopscotch down your suburban alley.

Tir: Cancer

There's a glare on Maryam's car window that provides the transition from the blue hued scenes of Ali's childhood to the present of the New Jersey suburb. You're that glare this month, Cancer, that light that balances the past and the present, providing the shades of colorful transition in between. Simply try to still the voices that speak from beyond the grave and try to focus on the presence of the living. Things might get too complicated otherwise.

Mordad: Leo

In the women's bathroom, American teenagers tease Maryam for not being allowed to put on make-up. They laugh at her bushy eyebrows and suggest that she should get rid of that giant caterpillar on her upper-lip that shows up on screen when she reports the news on the school's cable TV. The oddity of this all is that Maryam quite obviously plucks her eyebrows as does Ali, and she is clearly not as hairy as one could be given Iranian genetics. Such misperceptions of you are in the works this month, Leo. Although, come to think of it, they're not misperceptions at all. They are simply fabrications. I encourage you to call people on it. Start a fight. And why not?

Shahrivar: Virgo

The ironic dichotomies that shape your life this month appear as a montage in the opening sequence of Ramin Serry's Maryam. Here, images of the Shah with his oversized 70's glasses drinking wine with Jimmy Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini on the plane back to Iran from Paris and then hugging and kissing a little girl after his first ceremonial speech at Beheste Zahra, images of Iranians in transit living at odds with their quotidian lives are cut to The Cars' "Good Times Roll". What brings you closer to these images though, Virgo, is the retrofit of the 70's sequence. You may be living in 2002, but you sure dress like you were living in the 70's. According to the Sunday New York Times you're a decade behind. Go shopping for heaven's sake! Go shopping and relieve us of the sight of you!

Mehr: Libra

When Maryam goes on her first date with Jamie at the skating rink, she takes Ali with her. It is a party of sorts and given his Iranian ways, her father insists that the two of them take a gift. Maryam, who's quite concerned about her father changing his mind about her outing, rushes into the house and grabs a bag of pita bread. Ali shares this bread with two stupid American drunks at the rink. They offer him some hashish but Ali turns them down. The boys find it funny: "Hey that's what the cleaning lady says, too: I don't do da-rugs." Funny. Your racial slurs are making every one laugh this month, Libra. But I have to tell you, that's bad karma.

Aban: Scorpio

Ali is angry! Angry at the Shah. Angry at SAVAK. Angry at his uncle. And he blames everyone of them for killing his father. When his uncle refuses to participate and sees no reason to go after the Shah, who's after all feeble and in bed at a hospital in NY, Ali screams at him "You're a weak man and your raised you daughter to be a whore." Shocked, Shohreh Aghdashloo who plays Maryam's mom, slaps Ali straight across the face. Frankly, this is her best performance in the film. It might be yours too this month, Scorpio, don't stand for injustice and slander. You can always opt for violence. Will you?

Azar: Sagittarius

Thursday nights in Tehran pack the pizza shacks with families craving that something extra that rice and stew just doesn't provide: Pizza drizzled with ketchup on top, Persian style. In Maryam, Maryam takes her cousin, Ali, to a pizza shack and tells him that what they're going to have is just a piece of bread with tomato sauce and cheese on top. Ali, responds by commenting that they have pizza in Tehran, too. Oh, I guess we hadn't realized that?! What he doesn't know, is that what he's had is a meager national variation. Nothing compares to New York style pizza and the nominal conjunction doesn't bridge that gap. The moral of the story, you ask? Taste is where it's at for you, this month, Sag. So channel your energies accordingly.

Dey: Capricorn

In the film, Reza, one of the young men in Maryam's circle instructs Ali, her newly arrived cousin, in the art of dating women. Reza recommends the chics in English literature. They're the hotties. I have no doubts about that. Try to score this month by getting your inspiration from books, Capricorn. Drop math. Math won't pay off in the end.

Bahman: Aquarius

The scenes that show the young Ali as he watches his father bleed to death on a backgammon board are shot with a blue filter in Maryam. We would know that these scenes are Ali's memories of his childhood without the excessive blue hue, but the blue exaggerates the fact with excess. That's your deal this month, Aquarius: excess. Just know that we, your audience, would get the point without that little extra trick. As for the rest, that might be your pleasure. And your pleasure is what you will, no doubt, insist on. Well, La-di-da!

Esfand: Pisces

Much has been said about Mariam Parris awesome performance of the Iranian Jersey girl, Maryam, in Serry's film. But the most stupendous part of the performance is perhaps her ability to cover over the British accent and play the part of and Iranian-American suburbanite who is capable of balancing an act that blends the part of a dutiful Iranian daughter with the fun loving and frivolous American teenager. Your star this month, Pisces, is all about hiding a core while playing out the dichotomies that make you who you are and it doesn't sit well with you. I suggest that you just act out! Everyone else will be!

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