February 21, 2003
I needed to get away from Hell-Ay for a while. Go somewhere neutral, somewhere
I'd never been before. Somewhere that held no memories for me, good or bad.
I got on PCH north because I had always heard what a scenic drive it was. On one
side the ocean, on the other rocky hills. A narrow path with many curves stretched
out indefinitely before my eyes. It was like a Hitchcock movie: Nature in all its
glorious and at the same time sinister splendor.
I drove for many hours. I can't remember how long. At one point, my cell phone rang.
As usual, I struggled to reach it but instead got lost in the far depths of my purse.
A woman's purse is a black hole, a Bermuda Triangle where men and beasts are swallowed
up alive. I could almost hear the voice of Rod Serling, standing smugly at the side,
making his spooky commentary:
"There is a sixth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension
as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light
and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the sunlight of his knowledge.
This is the dimension of women's purses. It is an area that might be called the Twilight
For an eternity, my fingers searched blindingly inside for the desired item, bumping
painfully into hard objects, getting twisted and knotted, hitting dead end streets
from which I had to reverse carefully. When I finally managed to grab the phone,
I had one idea in mind. I lowered my window and gleefully tossed the maniacal little
object out. Phewwwww.... I felt free.
As it was getting dark, I decided to go off an exit at random. I had no idea where
it would lead me. To my delight, I realized I had reached Santa Barbara. This would
be a great place to spend a few days in retreat, away from all the perverted Mr.
Slimys, sharp-tongued Chloes, and uncaring Samis of the world.
I checked into the first hotel I reached. My only condition was to get a room with
a view of the ocean. The hotel clerk was sweet and accomodating. She immediately
took care of everything. I felt this was a good omen for my plans here.
Did I really have any plans? Not really. I just wanted to check out momentarily from
the "real world" and spend some time with myself! I have always been a
bit of a loner. I may have been an only child, but for me the term was never synonymous
with "lonely child." I never felt the need for any brothers and sisters.
Some people may view this as further proof of my self-centeredness, I just see it
as self-sufficiency. I have learned from early on to make friends with my books,
my movies, my thoughts. They, unlike others, have never betrayed me.
I woke up to the sound of the waves outside. I immediately headed outside. The
pier was not far off. It was a beautiful sunny day. But what I especially liked was
the fact that this town seemed so deserted.
I strolled along, hands in my pockets, inhaling the salty sea air. For the first
time in a long time, I could partake in what the French have admirably termed "flaner",
which can roughly be translated as "strolling along lazily with no destination
or purpose in mind."
I stopped in every cheesy tourist shop, did a little wine tasting, admired some paintings
in an art gallery. Then I headed into town which basically consists of one main street.
At one intersection, I suddenly caught sight of a movie theater: Yes!!! It was like
seeing an old childhood friend. I remember I used to go watch matinees by myself
all the time when I was in undergrad. Oh the free time I used to have back then!
They were the only years in my life where I could spend every minute doing exactly
what I wanted. And this was the type of movie house I always liked. Not the glitzy,
monstrous mall cinema that is so frequent in Southern California. This one looked
more like the artsy, old-time movie house like the Angelica, which was my favorite
place in New York.
I looked at the program and my jaw dropped. It was as if someone had laid out a buffet
of delicious strawberry tarts before me. Some lunatic had decided to showcase a festival
of silent movies. My dad and I grew up on silent films like Laurel and Hardy, Charlie
Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. But we watched them at home on TV. That
was a shame because these silent movies were made for the big screen. Back in the
time where a close-up of Lillian Gish's eyes told more stories than the most elaborate
script in today's Hollywood. I bought a ticket and went inside. The theater was almost
empty except for a senior citizen couple sitting in the front row, a couple of teen-agers
making out in the back, and a few loons like myself scattered here and there.
I was just in time to see Menilmontant, which is to this day one of my top ten movies
of all time, silent or non silent. The melodramatic story of a beautiful girl orphaned
at a young age and subsequently "corrupted" by a big city cad is filmed
with such a modern feeling to it that you can hardly believe it dates to almost a
century ago. And the leading lady's facial expressions are so poignant that it would
make the most stone-hearted man shed tears.
I stayed at the theater all afternoon, reliving Fritz Lang' M, the predecessor to
all serial killer thrillers. After being scared out of my wits, I was doubling up
with laughter at the Buster Keaton classic "Sherlock Jr." God, how could
cinema have been so vibrant, so alive, so relevant at one time and now all we get
is "I know what you did 2 summers and a half ago????" What in the hell
It was already dark by the time I emerged from the movie house and I was hungry.
I decided to try my hotel's seafood restaurant located on the top floor because the
same sweet hotel clerk had recommended it to me. While looking out at the ocean and
munching on my delicious grilled salmon, the couple seated next to me struck up a
conversation with me. They were there on their honeymoon and asked me to take a photo
of them, which I gladly did.
Although I had a lot of fun chatting and joking around with them, I couldn't help
but feel a bit depressed when I got back to my room alone. They looked so right together.
They were either holding hands, touching knees, or caressing each other's hair all
throughout the night. All the tick-tock tick-tock biological clock jokes aside, I
simply felt the most natural human need. To have a bond with someone else, spiritually,
emotionally, intellectually, whatever. To feel connected to someone out there in
the world, to feel that your life and your decisions matter to someone else, and
would affect their life path. Even an only child had these longings after all. Is
it too much to ask?
I decided to take it easy and just install a little paradise patio for myself
with the gorgeous ocean view in front of me. First, I went to the local grocery store
and got all the goodies to sustain me throughout the day: fresh fruit and salad,
gourmet cheese and crackers, some white chocolate, and a nice bottle of rose to top
it all off. I also bought myself a sketchbook and some pencils, as well as a note
pad. I was feeling a creative urge, the likes of which I had not felt for many years.
In the past, I would always spend any free time (and sometimes even skip classes)
at the MOMA or the Met, and sketch endlessly before the works of Munch or Lichtenstein.
Then I would come home and put together my own canvas, on which I would try to reproduce
what I had seen. I always loved to use acrylics because it was so much easier to
experiment and mistakes could be easily rectified. I didn't know if I would feel
like drawing, writing, or simply getting drunk under the sun today! But I was going
to be prepared for any event.
Wow, I have stayed up literally for 27 hours in a row. I don't know how or why
but I have managed to blacken some four dozens of sheets of paper. It all started
with a little doodling, and scribbling down some favorite lines of mine from the
movies and books. This is how I always used to drift off when I was bored in class.
I would try to remember the striking lines of the book I had just been reading and
write it down to test my memory.
This time, the line that kept coming back to me again and again was from Franny and
"Act, Zachary Martin Glass, when and where you want to, since you feel you must,
but do it with all your might. If you do anything at all beautiful on a stage, anything
nameless and joy-making, anything above and beyond the call of theatrical ingenuity,
S. and I will rent tuxedos and rhinestone hats and solemnly come round to the stage
door with bouquets of snapdragons. "
Isn't it the most amazing visual image? To this day, it remains my very favorite
passage in literature. The funny thing is, depending on my mood, it is either very
fulfilling or it deepens my depression. Lately, I have felt more than ever that I
am part of the legions of "phonies" who could never create anything "beautiful."
Again with the masochist Nazanin!
The second favorite line of mine is also from a Salinger book but it comes from "Seymour:
an introduction", probably the best short story written ever. It is when the
old man who is mute writes down his reply to Buddy's invitation to join him and the
rest of the wedding guests to his apartment. The old man scribbles something on a
piece of paper which takes a bit of time, to the great exasperation of everyone waiting
for him in the suffocating heat. When Buddy finally receives the old man's note,
it reads simply "Delighted." I wish I, like the old man, would take the
time, no matter how inconvenient, to voice my thoughts, desires and intention so
delicately. But I don't think anyone nowadays takes the time to be so poetic.
Anyways, I was scribbling and scribbling, all these lines from memory. From Salinger,
to Fitzgerald and Hemingway, with a detour from Camus and Balzac. After a while,
I found that I wasn't quoting from my favorite books anymore. I wasn't even consciously
thinking anymore, just letting my pen take control and write. All these weird thoughts
and ideas found their way onto paper. I paused to read and realized these were random
observations about my life: From childhood to the latest heart break, it was all
I decided to try to arrange them in a narrative way, and ended up filling the gaps
along the way. Sometimes, the urge would take me to illustrate a paragraph or two
with a little cartoon. By the end, I had an illustrated mini-autobiography of yours
truly on my hands! What a waste of time, I laughed. You couldn't get more self-centered
than this. I mean, who was I, lowly little Nazanin, to partake in such an egomaniacal
exercise? I had way too much time on my hands. It was time to start thinking about
getting back. But for now, I felt completely drained. I crawled under the covers
of my bed and fell into the deepest sleep I had experienced since Ali and I broke
Tomorrow, I would head on the route back "home." It would be a tortuous
trip, on more than one level.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell
me to fix it.