Written and photographed by
San Ramon, California
Yes, that's right! I have been spending Sizdah Bedar at Vasona Park in Los Gatos, California, almost every year since I first moved to the Bay Area in 1984.
The event has been growing larger every year but remains fairly unknown to Iranians outside of the Bay Area. Nevertheless, last year when the 13th actually fell on a Sunday, the park was full on Saturday too.
This year's estimated crowd? More than 10,000.
To handle so many Iranians, many of whom took the lawn into their own hands and created mini nation-states for themselves, the police and rangers were out in full force. They spoke s l o w l y and LOUDLY to make sure the visitors could understand.
"T h e r e a r e NO MORE p a r k i n g s p a c e s ! Y o u ' l l h a v e t o p a r k o n t h e s t r e e t a n d W A L K ! "
The smell of kabab, asheh reshteh (soup) and polo (rice) filled the air and loud qer-kamari (hip-shaking) music could be heard throughout the park. People were everywhere. Blankets were spread out on the grass, as clans staked out their territory. The interesting thing about us Iranians is that it's easy to join just about any clan on Sizdah Bedar.
Along the bike/jogging trail, groups of people were walking, talking, posing, modeling, flirting and discussing politics and money and who said what about whom.
It was great. Older men walked the traditional qadam; stereotypical Iranian dads walked with their hands behind their backs, wearing genuine but unnecessary looks of concern on their faces. Large-bosomed, short mothers walked arm-in-arm like penguins with old school mates they had just found.
People talked very fast. Everyone wore sunglasses. Young couples pushed high-tech strollers and Eddie Bauer and Gap were eclipsed only by Calvin Klein and DKNY.
Teenage girls in baggy pants and little tiny backpacks ran up to each other and in perfect "Beverly Hills 90210" accents said things like, "Oh my God! I am like, so bored!" or "So then he said...then I said..." or "Hey look! It's Kat! That is so cute!" Teenage boys looked very serious and a little too much like rap artists.
I couldn't help wondering what the non-Iranian, who had made the mistake of coming to the park that day to test out those new mountain-bike or rollerblades, was thinking. Some were angry but most were wildly amazed at the exuberance and joy displayed all around them.
When you looked out over the horizon, you could see the sky filled with bouncing volleyballs, soccer balls, frisbees and a hard-hitting American football game or two under way.
Surprisingly, I saw many dads throwing baseballs back and forth to their kids! I didn't see my favorite game of alak-dolak though. I guess a stick and a nice limerick doesn't have the allure it used to.
The park has a small lake in the center, fed by a flowing stream. This year rainfall had been above normal and young mushroom-cap-haired boys were showing no mercy with the ducks, swans and seagulls, as they fired barrage after barrage of rocks and sticks at the poor creatures.
Kids were all over the place. I met a pair of twins on the path and had to take a picture. What I noticed most was that all of the faces were purely Iranian; the haircuts and clothes could not mask it.
You can't help but get a sense of immense hope when you see so many Iranians having such a good time. I was reminded of Jahanshah's lament at being alone on New Year's Eve in New York's Times Square and how he would have been cured when he saw the discarded sabzeh (germinated wheat) I was watching float down the stream.
I sincerely hope that next year we will see you out in Vasona Park! Don't worry, you can drop your blanket right next to ours!
Sizdah Bedar, or "thirteenth outing," marks the end of the Iranian New Year holidays. The thirteenth day of the new year is considered unlucky and people leave their homes to spend the day in the countryside.