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September 2002

Broken heart

"What does a broken heart look like?" I wondered at twilight as the rain started drizzling once again, three weeks into the monsoon. I've often believed that it looks something like the bits of porcelain that spatter on the floor after your love throws the cherished plate at you when she discovers you've been out with someone else, jealous of the beautiful stranger that now has you completely under a spell.

The concept of the heartbreak as a broken porcelain plate intrigues, it is true, but more recently I've come to the conclusion that although the formal components of a broken heart may well have the look and the feel of a revered piece of porcelain, its minutiae have the qualities of a long playing record -- the 1950s equivalent of the shiny CD you stack in sixes in your boom-box. The LP record, for those of you who can't remember ever having a broken one, is one of those slim, black circular shaped media with deep dark and lighter grooves and a hole in the middle. These days you can pick one up at a thrift store for 25 cents a piece.

Whereas the reference to the image of a smashed piece of porcelain has a dramatic familiarity, in that we've seen lost love symbolized so many times with this iconography at the movies, it is far more difficult to imagine its accurate description in the form of an old, broken LP. Intuitively, the metaphor doesn't quite stick, to say it with some economy, but its value and function in today's currency is right on the money. In truth, broken hearts are worthless.

When I think of a broken heart, my scarred version of Paul Simon's 1980's album,
Graceland, recurs in a synesthetic cacophony. For it always sticks at this point in the song: "...loosing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you're blown apart. Everybody sees the wind blow..." I always hear it playing after waving goodbye to the yellow cab that takes my love and their belongings away, and when I return to the apartment we shared to pick up the shards of a relationship that ended, once again, tragically.

That slice of what you may as well call a melody, plays over and over again and in its repetitions, each line, each groove, each fragment of the relationship gains in meaning. My attempt, all the while, to figure out what sign, what moment, what hint, what shade of a mood it was that was missed or that passed me by and that finally led to my solitude, leads nowhere.

It is this repetition of the tragic relational fragment that crystallizes the essence of the nation's relationship to the gramophone record. It repeats moments of exchange that leave the future fundamentally bankrupt in relationship to the past. You'll see what I mean in a moment...

When "The Gramophone Company" brought its first specimen to Iran, Pick, the company's representative asked the Shah for a farman (an order). The farman was not granted easily. Pick himself went to the Mozzafar al-din Shah's court to record the voice of the royal personage and thereby to show the potential of the new gramophone to the Shah himself and through him, to the burgeoning middle class that was to be the company's dormant customer. Five records were made in the course of this visit. Two of them bear the seal and signature of the Shah and date to January 16, 1906.

A third one, that according to Pick, imprinted the Shah's praises of the gramophone, ironically lacks his penned his signet. Pick comments, as he registers this regrettable failure in a letter to the home office in England, that the "Shah is old" and" kneeling on the floor is difficult for him". Be that as it may, the gramophone became a chronicler of the passing days in Iran, a representative of national culture and the engraving site for the will of nation's leader almost immediately.

Key to understanding the gramophone as the site of the enunciation of the national, are the sealed and signed records which document two exchanges between the Shah and his courtiers. In the first record, the Shah thanks his grand vizier and his foreign minister for the services they have granted his court and his nation. The vizier notes that he has been in the service of the court for forty years and adds that if he were to live a hundred more, he will want to continue his service at the court.

The foreign minister, too, adds a few rather tepid words about his hope to continue his service to the court, to which the Shah responds that he is pleased with the minister's services as well. The second record proceeds similarly, though here, the Shah comments on the good weather, and on the degree to which he has enjoyed the day. "This winter was much fun and I hope," he says to his vizier, "that your services are rendered in such a way that We shall always enjoy Ourselves." The Shah also advises his vizier to serve the people of Iran (Ahaliy-i Iran) so that they too enjoy themselves.

What punctuates the introduction of the gramophone to Iran and the transformation of its function in the hand of the Qajar monarch is the inscription of a fleeting tactile temporality: of climate, of contentment, of pleasure, of desire and of government... not on paper, mind you, but on wax. The wax becomes a chronicler of sorts, making the pleasures of the present palpable for an eternity.

Such is love when it is inscribed on the wax of the heart. In the heat of the present, the heart feels the weight of the invaluable fleeting moment. But when it is broken, its links to that past-which was once enlivened with the pleasures of a fleeting present -- become repetitive and only worth the pennies in cash you pay at the counter as you walk out of the thrift store.

Picking up the shards of yet another outlandish tragedy, Madame Bayaz will listen for what the stars, in all their wisdom, repeat to you in their gramophonic communications. There's nothing approximating slavish devotion, tender remembrance, and the continuation of desire in the words they speak to you. In love and war, as they say, revenge is the only game in town.

Farvardin: Aries

Go on! Bring down that axe on the king-size bed. Then give the other half to charity.

Ordibehesht: Taurus

Burn that haiku! That love note was designed to trap you!

Khordad: Gemini

Can't make up your mind? Write an opera. It's the only genre capable of capturing the tragedy you've written for yourself.

Tir: Cancer

Cash in the diamond ring. And spend it on a Porsche. The two it'll fit is you and that broken heart.

Mordad: Leo

Get yourself involved with a bi-polar, chemically dependant beauty and move the beauty in. That'll keep you busy for a few years.

Shahrivar: Virgo

Can't stop seeing red when you see them wandering about town together? Slash all four of their tires.

Mehr: Libra

Join the YMCA! Find yourself a squash partner and hit that ball to smithereens.

Aban: Scorpio

Get yourself to the airport! And don't miss the plane to Rio. The crowds will absorb the pain, by and by. I assure you.

Azar: Sagittarius

Instead of changing the locks, file down the key to your house on their key chain. It's cheaper and you can always make them another one at the corner store.

Dey: Capricorn

Throw away your phone just before the sanitation truck arrives. And if you decide you need one after all, well, there's always the pay phone around the corner.

Bahman: Aquarius

The easiest thing in the world is to replace your old flame with someone new. Easy, huh?

Esfand: Pisces

Dare to eat that peach. And never look back! I'd try to whistle too with the mouthful.

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