The forbidden flower
Outsight and inside out, Part 2: A travelogue on an outer and the inner landscape
April 19, 2006
Lendas, Thursday 15th Sep, 2005
Whereas most people had to come to terms with the existence of a forbidden fruit, I as a child had to accept that there was a forbidden flower called khar-zahreh (oleander).
Well what I mean is that there was probably no species of flowers growing in Abadan that I had not tasted except for oleander.
I only remember a few occasions of being conscious of the fact that I was eating flowers while standing alone facing plants in the garden. But this was only when I was already 9 or perhaps 10 years old. I can say this, because this was my age during which we lived in a different house with a large garden full of flowers and also a vegetable garden in the back of the house before we moved subsequently to Tehran, where most our relatives lived and the climate was not as unbearable for my parents as it was in Abadan during the Summers.
Its name was Khar-zahreh. Not to be compared with its noble name in Latin Oleander (Nerium oleander), a name which makes me think of a knight dressed in black riding on a white horse picking up the silken handkerchief thrown by the Lady and kissing it before starting a joust.
Khar-zahreh, well it sounds like the knight dressed in beige riding on a grey donkey after a portion of goosht koobideh and raw onion (bitten in chunks and not chopped- you must be joking) appearing on the scene burping while the donkey keeps kicking and braying. And the knight is holding a laptop in one hand and a photo camera in the other.
And when the Lady throws her kitchen cloth for him to wipe the dust off the screen, he jumps head first, not only hurting himself but also the donkey he had glued himself on to.
And so the joust ends before even starting, as Khar-zahreh is no match for Oleander.
My memory of the date when a beautiful flower became finally Khar-zahreh with a no, no written on it:
We are visiting a relative with whom we had little contact at the time. Their son has just started to walk - so I must have been about 3 ½ years old - he is a sweet little boy and gets a lot of my mum’s attention while we are walking around their garden. I am surprised. I hadn’t seen my mum doing so much gooji gooji baby talk before.
Next scene: I am standing outside their house there is an open space in front with houses surrounding it on three sides. The ground perhaps is covered with grass. There are a considerable number of oleanders on this space planted a few metres apart from each other. I am standing in front of one of the shrubs as tall as a small tree, perhaps not as unreachable as others.
I am absorbed by the beauty of the flowers and am conscious of the fact that I had seen them before, but perhaps not so close as this time. I can hear the voice of my mother and her relative saying goodbye at the door behind me. Then I am almost snatched away from the scene of my vision of those mesmerising flowers surrounded by the dark green pointed leaves shining as if greased.
Next: We are sitting in the back of a fully packed car. My mother is on the left side with perhaps someone sitting between us who may be my older sister.
My mother is telling me a story about someone who ate khar-zahreh and got extremely sick with nausea and pain.
I am looking at my mother’s face while she is telling the story. I can see a deep anxiety and tremor in her face that is transforming into an emphatically expressed but quietly told story about the poisoning effect of the plant on a third person.
While she was talking I was also thinking of khar (=ass) and asked a few things in connection with it, in the line of if it poisoned the ass as well? And the way the ass reached for it? By my first mention of the word khar her face got confused and lost its intensity- but only for a second – then she continued as before and didn’t elaborate on the ass story but there was something about the ass becoming very ill as well which made me think of the sick ass more vividly than I could of a person with an unclear face, as at that age imagining a person’s face one hasn’t met is much harder than the shape of an animal with an untwisted face. The situation remained serious throughout the conversation.
Today I have no memory of her talking about khar-zahreh previous to that day, but there and then in the car I knew that this was the second time she was talking about this plant. But this time it was more what her face and voice were conveying that begged for my obedience. One thing was now clear. It was her deep fear handled so graciously that printed a no, no on oleander on my mind.
During this conversation no one else in the car was talking which indicates that everyone else was also concerned and waiting for my mother’s didactic method to have its desired effect on me.
Today I can see that my mother who had lived with her beloved grandmother until the age of ten was able to combine her deep worry with an intuitive choice of style and ancient wisdom and transport both of us into the land of Kelileh and Demneh, where my imagination would respond to her imagination in order to learn a fact necessary for my survival.
And oh yes, her grandmother used to be a widow and well known in Kangavar for the compound powdered herbal remedies she made in a compressed form for anal administration (Arabic: shiaaf in Persian also called shaaf or shaafeh ), as apparently this was still a safe and accepted practice in 1930’s Iran. My mother remembered proudly how people very keenly asked and collected the remedies from their home for free.
I felt so honoured and was so touched when in spring 1994 my mother told me, with a half hidden smile, that I was like her grandmother. I knew that she was the most loved person of my mother’s childhood and perhaps also the only one she felt so much loved by as a child. This granny had sadly died (from grief?) within 2 years of my mother’s departure.
There were no girl’s schools in Kangavar (Concobar) in the 1930’s. A fact which made my mother to decide to take the offer of her father and join his new family in a different town, so that she would be able to attend school.
The grandmother sent her with a ready made uniform and the books in a new school bag so that the attending of a school could not be delayed in any way (my mother’s father was her ex-son in law. As a result the means of communications for her would have been much more limited especially in those days and these days).
I have no doubt that my mother’s father did have the intention to send her to school, but here there was a message from the mother side by the granny saying: look I am giving up a part of my soul. As you can see she’s got all the gears and if there was a school for girls in Kangavar she wouldn’t choose to leave. So you better be giving her what she is coming for. And beware I am watching.
The strong relationship between my mother and her grandmother must have been well known amongst the family, as the sudden death of the grandmother was not revealed to my mother until she decided to go back to her grandmother two years later once the opportunity arose due to the uncle’s (amoo) visit. There was no one in the new family who could have emotionally engaged with a 12 years old sensitive girl grieving for the most precious person in her life.
In those days families had a child every two years who grew up alongside each other. It was enough for parents to provide for their basic needs but emotional need did not really count as one.
Once my child mother was told she could not go back as the grand mother was dead, she was left alone to come to terms with it.
(Typing this - in October - makes my tears flow all over my face. I cannot say if I am crying or weeping. It must be her childhood’s tears flowing through my eyes)
While growing up I learned to notice that the maternal relatives of my mother - who are Kurdish - were particularly well trained in giving messages through symbolic gestures and taking it for granted that they would be understood, which also happened to be always the case.
So, culture is not just determined by language, art and costume, which are constantly going through change or disappear altogether anyway, but also by communication through the use of other media than the language and the body language. This aspect is more difficult to pinpoint by the anthropologists who try to spend time in the community they are interested in.
It is a kind of internal communication culture.
Iranians are quite advanced in this, so much so that if any one of them reveals their story based only on this kind of communication, without having ever even met any participants of that story, the people brought up in west in particular would assume the person is being paranoid, imagining things or is – that lovely and useful word - projecting.
For this reason many Iranians who live alone, quite literary loose their minds when living in a western country, whereas if they returned to Iran they would instantly be integrated into the mass symbolic communication without that anyone would feel threatened by their imagination.
In this way an Iranian who would be diagnosed a borderline character with a tendency to psychosis when under stress - let us say in Germany - would be comfortably integrated back in Iran and in worst case described only as khol (permanently silly).
The culture in the late-capitalism stage tends to take the means of communications for their face value. Just as a Sufi love in Western psychology could be simply described as an obsession or fixation on a person as the love object, which is not necessarily wrong but it is reductionist.
It is only for the sake of simplicity that I have generalised by using the term western. In fact there is nowhere else as much variety in psyche of people as in Europe and that’s why both world wars started in Europe.
For instance the ability of the British people in lateral thinking is no where else in Europe to be seen. Just watch their ads or a typical comedian -who wouldn’t use an animated face which is more due to the influence of the American comedians- to see what I mean.
Although I must add that this ability has declined on a steep slope during the last 25 years. I still remember how the first ads I saw in a cinema at Leicester Square delighted me with its complexity, whereas many of them are now pure stupid.
On the other hand the bravery in direct communication with no adornments which is due to sharp intelligence - however frequently at the cost of empathy - is a German speciality.
So if you love bare honesty and want to practice it go and live in Germany.
And whereas British people cannot live without feeling guilty Germans hate to feel guilty.
In Taverna Elpida
The skin of the sea
A shimmering raw silk
And the tamarisk trees
As the green fingers of the rock
In rust grey beige Canyon like
Yet not so proud
Always looking back
To Minoan times
Kissing the goddess
Between clouds and the sea
The skin of the sea
Invading my eyes
Stroking my eyelids
The lids of my eyes
The skin of the sea
* * *
The clouds marching on a line
above the sea
There the open mouthed fish
with a comb- instead of a fin- moving backwards
or is it the shoe of Aladdin?
There comes the sitting half man half lion
like Sphinx (Abolhole- Abu al Hole)
There is a monster behind him
he is changing to a gorilla
Behind him there comes Zeus
holding a weak boy’s throat
the young looks at him imploring
his face changing to another sphinx
Zeus is getting bigger
and sphinx changes into two loving faces
absorbed in each other.
Further we have an orang-utan
sitting on a sofa quite relaxed
It turned to a lady with a hat from early 20th century
Then two dogs back to back
A dark cloud moves in they have faces they blow and go forward from right to left(west to east).
In fact if it is possible to read fortune from a Turkish coffee (Greek coffee) cup then why not from reading clouds?
Two sibling littlish cats are being playful on this terrace. I am the only one in this taverna as guest. Mother / daughter (?) owners, sitting in the back talking occasionally.
It is too early for Greek dinner time and too late for coffee time. I am having retsina, which brings me back to the taste of flowers or gum from plants.
Three Geranium pots in front of me / strong breeze / two are in flowers- purple and pink- and one has just green leaves in abundance and no flowers.
The cats have white chests; on the back they have grey and dark spots.
The tamarisk tree (which is a native tree in this island hence not a weed as it has turned to be in the United States) bending towards the sea; it is so still at trunk and so playful with its needles of leaves like hair of a beloved resting in breeze and whispering sweet words of lightness into one’s ears. And the sound of the waves in this little bay called Lendas are mine are mine when I become all ears from toe to the tip of my hairs all ears.
And the tamarisk trees whisper with the breeze: I’ll be here when all of you are gone and does it really matter?
>>> Part 3
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