Over the weekend, I traveled to San Francisco to attend Iranian.com’s first music festival. Although I previously lived in the Bay Area for many years and still am in touch with several old friends, no one knew that I was coming. “The trip was unexpected,” I planned to explain should I run into a surprised, brooding friend. This one was for me, a quiet and private journey, a lonely pilgrimage to immerse into a sea of strangers bearing a striking resemblance to what I crave…
The flight to California was uneventful. I arrived late Friday night and planned to leave early Sunday morning. On the other hand, my Saturday was full of anticipation. I stayed in my hotel room, watching the digital clock standing still, mocking me with every remaining hour. The food brought in by the room service sat untouched on the dinning table. Having no intention of eating, I sipped on the drink occasionally as I paced up and down the suite. The cell phone on the coffee table kept vibrating relentlessly. Someone needed me but wasn’t going to have me… Not that time… That day was mine…
I fell asleep in the afternoon and woke up to the sound of an alarm precisely at 5:00pm. A quick shower, a hasty make-over, and a last minute glance around the room. “Do I have everything?” I worried. “Uh, the map!” Without it, the dream would never materialize. The maze of one way streets together with the twists and turns of the big city insultingly baffle this country girl… Purposefully I left the hotel at 6:00pm; it was too early for a 45 minute drive to the heart of San Francisco but not enough time for the allotted “what ifs.”
The drive was tedious but uneventful. “How did I ever survive in the big city without MapQuest?” I smiled while parking the car around the corner from the Palace of Fine Arts. The parking lot was nearly full. As I watched Iranians run towards the building shivering in cold, I remembered what I had forgotten: A warm shawl still draped over the love seat in my hotel room…
As I stepped into the lobby, I felt as if I had crossed through a threshold separating the intangible world of the cyberspace from reality, a gateway into a home that has been mine for nearly seven months, a refuge into the realm of those who dare to dream. The faces of strangers were warm and welcoming. I felt at ease at the first sight…
It was 7:35pm. My Will-Call ticket lay restfully on an empty table, awaiting my arrival. All other guests had already claimed their pre purchased tickets and were lining up to enter the auditorium. A few stragglers were negotiating at the Box Office for the possibility of a better seat; procrastinators were buying tickets late, hoping for a miracle to sit exactly where they had intended to sit for nearly two months: “Are you sure there is nothing open in the front row?”
I found my seat in the first row next to an Iranian couple affectionately holding hands. The man still had his wool coat and cap on, probably shivering from the bitter cold like me. The lady glanced at me several times perhaps hoping for an acknowledgement, a friendly smile, or the face of a long lost friend, but it was only me: An introverted and shy stranger! Not knowing what to do, I shoved my face into my handbag, hoping to stay there for the entire duration of the show, just the next three and half hours… But I had to emerge back up soon for air, holding a camera in dire need of an imaginary adjustment. “I miss my laptop; I wish I could hide behind the Internet for ever!” I whined to myself quietly.
By 8:00pm, the audience hall was full, buzzing with Farsi and English conversation. The two seats to my left were still empty, seductively inviting the couple to claim them as their own. A few minutes after the Master of Ceremonies, Elham Jazab, had greeted the audience, that’s exactly what the couple did: They grabbed those seats, not knowing with that simple act they had set in motion a series of events that will forever change my life…
While the charming and funny Elham Jazab was entertaining the audience, two young Iranian ladies arrived late and sat in the couple’s empty seats next to me. Soon they were hooting and hollering with laughter similar to the rest of us. The young lady sitting immediately to my right was strikingly uninhibited, at ease with herself, expressing her thoughts, her pleasures, and disappointments without reservation. She commanded my attention. So I turned slightly and looked. “Where have I seen that face?” I asked myself but regretfully could not remember.
Throughout the show, we exchanged a few words politely and warmly. In a couple of occasions, she even reached to hold my hands in hers, sharing a human touch that conveys friendship when words fail. I found her unreserved touch reassuring and returned it while marveling at the strength of her character. “Where has she learned such confidence intertwined with elegance and aura?” I kept asking myself time and again…
All the entertainers and artists at the music festival were, without a doubt, extraordinary and phenomenal. The lovely Ziba Shirazi simply took my breath away and left me at awe of her talent. Faramarz Aslani brought back memories of my mother singing Ageh Ye Rooz in the empty hammam. The blossoming pianist, Sahba Aminikia, left me thunderstruck with his compositions and at the end dumbfounded when he asked the audience to accompany him by singing the words to a supposedly “famous and well-known” song. I neither recognized the song nor knew the lyrics…
The young lady sitting next to me joined the audience and muttered a few words, but before long, even she resorted to humming “la la la la” without any prohibition. I leaned over to ask her whether she knew the words or the original artist’s name. She shrugged with a mischievous smile and continued her playfulness.
During the intermission, together with her companion, she disappeared into the crowd, leaving me with my thoughts and a looming desperation. I have come all this way to meet Jahanshah Javid but had no prospects of finding him anywhere amongst the tidal wave of unknown faces engulfing me. “Do something! Anything! Find him!” I ordered myself while looking around aimlessly.
At the start of the next show, she bounced back beside me, holding a CD she had just purchased in the hallway. I asked what it was and she replied that it was one of Ziba Shirazi’s albums. Anxious to own the same treasure, I headed outside the audience hall to find the vendor. When I came back, she inquired, “How did it go?”
“I bought two CDs,” I boasted and showed her the new additions to my library of songs.
Before settling down into my seat, I noticed that I had arrived late, and a comedian was already performing on the stage, referring to Jahanshah Javid occasionally in good humor. I suddenly had a brilliant idea:
“Do you know where I can find Jahanshah Javid?” I asked the young lady sitting next to me.
“Yes. He is my father. He is standing there!” she replied, pointing to a dark corner.
“Could you do me a favor? Could you tell him that Laleh is looking for him? I would love to meet him if it isn’t too much trouble for you,” I pleaded desperately, adding a few customary Iranian tarofs.
“Yes, of course. I will,” she assured me with a bright, mesmerizing smile.
Relieved and thankful, I turned my attention to the stage and enjoyed the rest of the program but as the hour of departure loomed closer and closer, I knew what I had to do: I introduced myself to the young lady and asked for her name. “Mahdiyeh,” she replied.
“I have seen your pictures,” I said sheepishly, stuttering and stammering through a few other words which were barely audible.
At last, because of Mahdiyeh’s grace and kindness, I met Jahanshah before leaving San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts at 11:45pm, making a promise to myself to cherish the gift of Iranian.com and its presence in my life forever.
Next time, I might even build up the courage to meet some of you…
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