|First night in Tehran
A mid summer night's dream amid the yaas
By Brian H. Appleton
July 24, 2002
It was the summer of 1966. "I was sixteen and never been kissed." I
was landing in the darkness at Mehrabad Airport by myself for the first time in my
life having flown that day from Rome to meet my schoolmate Touss, named after the
birthplace of Ferdowsi. I was going to spend the summer with him and his family and
I didn't know what to expect.
I was a little nervous when I saw an absolute wall of people with their faces pressed
to the glass wall outside the arrival concourse and I was wondering how ever I was
going to find my friend. Suddenly a huge cry rose up and a certain section of that
wall began waving and undulating distinctly from the rest of the crowd. An entire
clan complete with a small army of servants and former servants and neighbors, a
bus driver former servant, a gigantic former chauffeur, the neighborhood barber had
all been sent out to meet me.
In a matter of minutes I was kissed and hugged more times than I can count by people
I had never met before both men and women and children and my bags were taken from
me and I was practically carried to the car. We sped through the streets of Tehran
passing Mehduneh Valliad where a huge line of people were waiting to see How the
West Was Won, starring Jimmy Stewart.
When we got to Touss's house on Kuche Goharshad, it was quite dark
and I couldn't really see much except that all the rooms seemed to open onto a courtyard
with a loggia around it where there were quite a few people sleeping on mattresses
because it was cooler. Touss's mom who was tall and thin and as beautiful and exotic
looking as Queen Nefertiti of ancient Egypt welcomed me with open arms and in her
voice which was warm as honey and sounded like the purring of a cat, asked me if
I wanted a hamburger for dinner?
I told her that I did not have to have American food although she was very kind,
but that I would like to try everything Iranian that they ate. She made me some Cotlet
that night but from then forward I had something Persian and different every day
from Dom Balon, Gigar, Margz, Kookoo Sabzi, Zaboon, to Kalam Pache on the hill top
with the sunrise. We even had noon-e-barbari toasted on top of the bokhari and then
stuffed with caviar for breakfast. I learned to drink tea from little gold rimmed
glasses, taking the sugar cubes into my teeth and sipping the tea through them and
I learned the joys of shirini and candies like Nogl and Gaz.
And whenever we boys got hungry when the cook was off duty, we would go across the
street to Rafi at his Armenian deli and eat baloney sandwiches and drink Ab-e-jo.
Anyway, that first night they took me after dinner through an archway into a beautiful
Bagh with a Hose in the middle of it and although it was dark, I could smell the
incredible perfume of jasmine all around me in the air. I could hear a nightingale
singing in the distance. They showed me to a wooden bed where I was to sleep and
across the garden Touss's younger brother Kavous ( as in the Kai Kavous epic) pretended
to be asleep on his wooden bed through-out the entire proceeding of my arrival and
my dinner because he was so desperately shy to meet me. In the weeks that followed
he quickly overcame his shyness and we became the very best of friends.
Eventually he even ventured abroad to study in Paris
and became fluent in French and I can remember at the end of each summer when he
would see me to my train at Gare du Nord to head back to Orly to fly home, we would
weep and weep and weep silently with the tears steaming down our faces as the train
pulled away. Sometimes in Rome on a Sunday, without saying anything, he would pull
the car over to the side of the road and the two of us would just listen silently
to the 800 churches of the Eternal City all ringing and ringing their bells. We nicknamed
Kavous Lord Halifax because everything had to be just so for him when it came to
his attire, his cigarettes, his pressed and tailored shirts, his endless perfectly
polished rows of shoes...his watches Van Cleef and Arpels...his coiffures, his eau
de colognes...Francesco Smalto...
Anyway, that was my first night in Tehran, sleeping outside in the jasmine garden
of summer, under a black sky thick with stars. A tabby cat suddenly came from no
where and hopped up on my bed to spend the night purring next to my feet. I learned
the next day that his name was Khick Ali Shah and that he had three brothers: Zard
Ali Shah, Sephid Ali Shah and Motori Eshotori. The latter was translated roughly
for me into: "Camel Motor" because he was camel colored and purred so loud
he sounded like an engine.
Off I went into dreamland and everything was magic until sunrise at about 5 am when
suddenly I was violently awoken out of slumber by the most god awful noise like some
kind of a steam locomotive getting derailed off its tracks right outside our garden
wall in the kuche. It was actually as it turned out a donkey which refused to move
because he was protesting his two huge saddle baskets full of Kharbose! "Khar
bos e? I don't think I had ever heard a donkey bray that loud, that long and that
close by before and when one is not expecting it and has no idea what it is, it can
give you quite a start!
All morning long before the heat of the day a stream of street vendors came drifting
by calling out their wares. I was enchanted. There was even a knife and scissor sharpener
and a man with what looked like a large one stringed harp that he used to re-fluff
your pillows and mattresses for hire. I came to love the sense of the passing of
the seasons that these vendors brought years later when I lived in Tehran. There
was a season for raw dates and one for raw pistachio nuts and one for those little
flat tire shaped white peaches and one for Beh and Pomegranites and one for Gerdou.
Later that first day the cook Roya took me around to all the bread bakers so I could
see the different kinds of flat bread: Barbari, Taftoon, Sangiak and Lavash. I loved
the way that the bakers would hang the long noon-e-barbaris off nails on the opened
wooden doors and shutters of their shop fronts for all the world to see and smell
and I remember that one of these loaves only coat 70 rials and they were so good
to eat still hot and steaming from the oven...
Next, Saburi, the former servant turned bus driver for the "Wahed Coompany"
insisted that I ride his bus with him for the rest of the afternoon. It was hilarious
because we soon departed from his normal route and he gave me a grand tour of Tehran
including Mehdune Shahriad. He only stopped the bus for cute young girls for my benefit
even though most were Chadoris. As soon as they realized what a good time we were
having most of them joined in our conversation and the veils gradually fell away
to reveal blue jeans and western style blouses. Saboori was so proud of his bus,
so proud of his city. He took me to lunch at Koorosh Department store and I remember
a chandeliere that was several stories tall and reflecting pools and fountains.
What a perfect day it had been and that night Touss's
family and some of their friends took me to Hotel Darband and we went dancing. I
remember that summer of 1966, the Frank Sinatra song: "Strangers in the Night"
was playing and so was: "Hey Mister Tanborine Man..." By the end of the
evening we were all relaxed and feeling no pain and telling stories and jokes in
our booth when suddenly I managed to bang my head against the large print on the
wall above us. It came off its moorings and landed on all our heads.
Thank heavens it did not have a glass pane over it. Our heads went right through
the paper print and there we were all within the picture frame staring at each other
in utter amazement until we suddenly all started laughing. I can guarantee you that
no one who was within that picture frame in Darband that night in 1966 if they are
still among the quick will ever forget it....they may have forgotten my name but
not that night...