I was sitting on our couch one Sunday recently, going through the paper and spotted an advertisement for the latest James Bond film “Golden Eye.” It's always the same, with each new Bond film I live to see, a grin forms and I eventually give in to a chuckle and murmur, “Areh Jooneh Ammat!” — I guess the nearest English equivalent would be “Yeah, right!”
One of the things I love most about our heritage is the pure Iranian-ness of its sense of humor, which is so beautifully simple, yet so powerfully funny, that here and now, when I remember that day, I am magically returned there and then, and for a while, I am 16 again.
Although the date is fuzzy, and I couldn't tell you if it was winter or summer, one thing I know for sure, it was “The Spy Who Loved Me” showing at one of the theaters in Tehran (I am sure because I fell in love with Barbara Bach in that film.).
Some friends and I were standing in line waiting for the theater doors to open. As usual, we had purchased our own tokhmeh and nokhodchi — salted melon seeds and chickpeas — from the street vendor around the corner and were talking about girls, Honda 750-fours, how a Peykan Javanan could beat the pants off a BMW 2002 any day, and, as always, what a pain our math teacher was.
It is at this point in the story where I must stress how important it was to select the proper “blend” of tokhmeh and nokhodchi. The true connoisseur knows you must select just the right amount of each type of tokhmeh accompanied by the right mix of nokhodchi (Everyone knows that nokhodchi is like a speed bump in a road; it's only job in life is to regulate the speed at which you go through the tokhmeh). It is the thing I miss most when seeing a movie here in the U.S.
The doors finally opened and we rushed to the seats in the balcony section where we could avoid the downpour of tokhmeh skin and leftovers. The chatter of people, accompanied by the “click-clack” of expert teeth cracking tokhmeh, filled the theater.
Suddenly, the lights went out, and the immense red velvet curtains began to sway their seductive hips from side to side, and finally swept away like two dancing wine maidens momentarily brought to life, released from the prison of their miniature painting. Grateful to escape, yet reluctant to reveal their mystery, they flew away, as the enormous, silvery snow white screen expanded to fill the room. The movie was about to begin.
I have seen this film several times since, and I still cannot recount how it begins. My memory only seems to kick in from the time Bond, simultaneously wrapped in a fur skin and an appropriately unwrapped enemy agent, in front of a fire, in a log cabin, somewhere on a snowy Swiss mountain, has to make the unexpected, but usual, quick exit.
Many people admire different skills in 007. Mine is how fast he is able to put on his clothes when needed. James exceeded my wildest expectations by not only jumping into his ski suit but slapping on his skis and a backpack! The sound of cracking tokhmeh picked up as the action began. This was going to be good!
With enemy agents on his tail, he swished and swooshed his way through snowbanks and picturesque scenery. His skill would have instilled envy in the young village kids who would sneak onto Shemshak and Dizin to teach us using only the soles of their Bella boots or homemade skis.
Except for the sound of tokhmeh, the theater was silent as bullets whistled and screamed past. 007 took out enemy agents at will, even skied backward for a period, simply to unload one of the missiles in his poles on a poor unsuspecting, but nevertheless sub-machine-gun-toting, soul.
Finally, Bond, out of options, and more importantly ammunition, realized that his only path to freedom lay in a full speed, straight line down the hill. The sound of tokhmeh skin hitting the floor rose to a semi-roar. For a while it sounded like the rushing of the river in Lashgarak, where my father used to stop to buy mahi (fish) kabab or jeegar (liver kabab) for us on the way to Shomal.
There was only one problem facing 007 — the hill ended rather rudely with the biggest, longest, dead dropoff cliff anyone had ever seen. Bond seemed to genuinely enjoy the torture he was putting us through as he calmly and effortlessly sailed out and over the edge.
He fell. And fell. And fell. He fell for so long I thought I would have enough time to go to the restroom and get back in time to see him surely splatter himself all over Geneva.
Slowly he reached for the back of his boots and undid his skis. The sound of tokhmeh reached a fever pitch as the skis sailed violently away like so much shattered debris. Then, it seemed like his backpack began to ripple and shudder in the rushing wind of freefall. Finally, it exploded to reveal a parachute which he had been hiding all along. The parachute unfurled completely to show the red, white and blue colors of Her Majesty's flag.
Silence fell over the theater. Tokhmeh cracking, and breathing, stopped as the incredulity of what we had just witnessed encaptured us. Suddenly, without warning and at the precise moment, a voice, a voice like no other throughout the world, a voice that only a typically tokhs Tehruni could have, broke the silence and announced, “AREH, JOONEH AMMAT!”
The theater rocked with such unbound laughter for so long that time seemed to bend, stretch, and for a brief moment, stand still as we rolled from side to splitting side, welcoming the bliss of blindness brought by tears to our eyes.
Tehran's movie listings in October 1978.