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Fiction

A Persian thing
I am tired of this Persian-Arab conversation, which I am not winning

 

August 1, 2005
iranian.com

The plane circles around one last time before landing in Charles de Gaul airport, on a cloudy and cold November afternoon. As I look outside the tiny window, I wonder about the human condition, my dismal experience with the females species, and J-Lo's butt... not necessarily in that order. The plain lands a little after 3.30 pm. I pick up my luggage and take a cab to hotel Le Meridian, not too far from the Arch d'Triumph. Forty-five minutes or so later I am in the lobby of the hotel.

The woman at the reception has a thin face and small lips. Her long blond hair is tied at the back. She looks slightly constipated. We do some rudimentary chit chat -- she in French English and I in Persian English -- before she gives me the key to my room. Room 2012. Once in my room, I put the suitcase on the bed and look around. The window opens to the inside of the building.

I walk back downstairs and tell the receptionist that I want a room with a view to the street.

"Sure, no problem", she says. Then, while staring at her monitor, she mumbles something in French to the other woman.

"Is there a problem?" I ask.

"No, of course not, I thought you'd prefer a quite room, facing the inside." Then after a pause she asks "Are you Arabic"? putting the stress on the second "a", like the French seem to do.

"Why do you ask? No I am not an Arab, I am Persian, from Iran." In my mind I add,... and it seems you have mashed potatoes for a brain, how can you not tell the difference between a Persian and an Arab? Am I being unreasonable? I ask myself. Of course not, I hear myself respond.

She says, "Yes, I mean from that part of the world. Arabic people like windows to the street."

"Do they? Really? I didn't know... I just prefer to see the world rather than the cement walls inside."

"No problem" she says, before mumbling again to the other woman -- perhaps something like: "look at this guy, first he doesn't want to admit he's Arabic and now he wants a noisy room."

Bloody French, I think to myself. She gives me the key to room 3135. I go back up and change my room. Now I can almost see the Arch from my window.

I take a shower and shave. Before leaving for my appointment, I pick up the phone and call Washington DC. I want to hear the sweet voice of this lovable woman I have recently met. Of course, she probably isn't as lovable as I imagine. I don't know. In my experience, behind every sweet woman lurks a wolf -- quietly but surely. She is from Lebanon. I hope this time it works out. I'm tired of looking and nothing ever working out.

About 2 months later
At the video shop I look for House of Sand and Fog. I hear it's about the Persians in LA. I want to watch it with her. We've been seeing each other for over two months now. She's a delight to look at and exciting to be with, although may be a tad too spontaneous and fast-paced -- in contrast to my slow approach to life. I am trying to get used to her personality. And of course she's an Arab. I love her nevertheless. It's a bit ironic really that I am in love with an Arab woman. Occasionally my natural Persian prejudices annoy her. So far she has put up with them, but I know it's starting to bother her.

In the evening I go over to her house. After dinner we put the video on. I sit down on her new white sofa. She lies down with her head on my lap. I run my fingers through her long and soft hair as we watch the movie. Everything is nice and happy. Until, that is, we get to the scene when Shohreh Aghdashloo shouts to that anti-Christ Ben Kingsly about not wanting to live like bare-footed backward desert Arabs, or something to that effect.

She jumps up, looking startled. "What the hell is that all about? Is this what you think of us Arabs?"

I try to calm her: "She doesn't mean it that way. Persians in LA are a bit racist and anyway she's referring to the Bedouins in Saudi Arabia, people who invaded us, not Arabs in Lebanon or Jordan or Egypt."

She is quiet during the rest of the film, but obviously pissed off. Damn video, damn Aghdashloo. I decide to rent Lawrence of Arabia or a video of Om Kolthum next time...

After the movie we go to a party of some of her relatives. It's a kind of introduction to her family; she wants to test how they react to me. They are mostly nice people but a little too Arab. The men have thin moustaches and the women big butts. The gathering is in a characterless party room in an apartment building south of the Potomac. Coca-sCola is the only drink, served with lots of greasy Arabic food. The people are nice to me though, they seem to approve of me. But, hell, shouldn't they feel honored? I am, after all, Persian. I don't express my thoughts, but she can read my mind.

Back at her house, things are calm for a while. Sitting on the white sofa, we are affectionate to each other. I softly kiss her young-Julie-Christy lips. She calls my name lovingly in my ear. I playfully make fun of the Arabic way she pronounces my name, especially the heavy H sound... Then blast... she explodes. All her repressed anti-Persian feelings come out, mostly in the form of unintelligible Arabic swear words -- I assume. She's livid. "How can you make fun of my Arabic?" I try to explain. I was only kidding, I love you, but she doesn't want to hear.

After a few minutes of this she finally switches back to English: "I've had it, I'm not going to put up with your Persian s**t anymore...Go marry a f**king Persian bitch". Wow. What can I say to this? Where can I find a Persian bitch? And at this late hour? My response is a bit more measured: "I hope you marry Saddam Hussein."

The relationship lasts another 30-40 seconds. I pack all my stuff from her house -- a total of one toothbrush -- and leave the house, fearing she might throw the TV at me. She is a woman after all.

A few weeks later
I meet an old friend for dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant near DuPont. I am still trying to get over my breakup. Its' been very tough. Why can I not ever make any relationship work? I have been thinking of moving to the dark side -- Dart Wader or something.

"Your problem," says my friend "is that you think Persians are God's gift to humanity. That's why you lost her."

"Oh please..." I interject "Can't you see I am suffering? Is that all you can say? And I am tired of people like you who put us Persians down. Isn't it enough that everyone else in the world is so negative about us? Contrary to what you think, we Persians are noble and Persia was a great country. Have you forgotten all our great kings, Cyrus, Darius, Anoushirvan, and the rest of them?"

"OK buddy, no need to get excited. But for your information, when this Anoush guy was king, Persia was no paradise. In fact it was a kind of theocracy. Ansar-e Hezb-e-Ahuramazda ruled. And believe me they were not cool. In fact they were not any nicer or sweeter or more titish mamani than Ansar-e Hezbollah. They killed lots of non-Zoros....".

I stop him, "That's bullshit. This is all Arab and Western propaganda. I pee on Alexander and all the other uncivilized stupid morons who ever invaded Persia. Persia has always been great. Even the name sounds great. In fact I think it was a huge mistake to change the official name to Iran."

My friend laughs: "What difference would a name have made?"

"Have you no brains? Persia was an old nation with a great history and was respected around the world. But what do we have now? When people hear of Iran, they think it's another British-made Middle Eastern country from the 1920s, full of Moslem fanatics. A country with no identity otherwise, no history..."

He interrupts: "Suppose they hadn't changed the name, what would people have associated Persia with? Exactly what they associate Iran with now, i.e. oil, revolution, fundamentalism, terrorism, and so on. These things are not static. In fact, if we hadn't screwed up later, the name Iran might have done good for the country, because it meant to suggest that this was now a modern country, unlike Persia, which was very dirty and backward and dusty, with ill-looking kings who had no visions, and thought of nothing but opium and women in their harems. Read any European traveler's account. For God's sake, what's in a name is what's in the thing itself."

I am tired of this conversation, which I am not winning. I wish she was sitting in front me instead of him. What a painful existence. Why is life so hard? Why do I miss her so much? "Ok, let's order food, I am hungry. What you say may be true, but who cares? I still want to be Persian, not Iranian, not Arab", I say, as I turn toward the waitress who's approaching our table. She looks pretty. Could be Turkish, or even Arab. I smile at her.

"You will never learn. You will never grow up. Maybe you should move to Tibet for a while…and find a guru, it might do you good," my friend says before ordering his usual Adena kebab.

The characters in this story are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real characters is purely accidental.

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