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February 21, 2003
The Iranian

Part 20

March 8
Day 1

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 Zone."

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.

March 9
Day 2

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 happened?

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?

March 10
Day 3

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.

March 11
Day 4

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 Zooey:

"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 there.

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 up.

Tomorrow, I would head on the route back "home." It would be a tortuous trip, on more than one level.


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