Considering my taste in men, it should've come as no surprise that I found myself falling in love with Tehran. Still, like almost every one of my other passionate, destructive, and usually irrational relationships, Tehran's love took me by surprise and happened almost out of the blue.
I was walking on Mirdamad Avenue (definitely not one of the most beautiful streets in this world) on the eve of Imam Hossein's martyrdom. In order to get to the other side, I had to use the pedestrian bridge, which for no apparent reason has a spiral staircase covered with red awning leading up to it.
As I got to the top and crossed halfway, I stopped and looked down at the highway. It was a clear day and the grass and trees looked a bright green, the exact same shade of Crayola green I used to draw grass with as a child. To my right was an empty highway and to my left… the rest of the empty highway leading to snow-covered mountains. My heart swelled up and contracted: Yikes! I was in love.
In appearance, in character, in quality, and in quantity, Tehran falls into my pattern of love. It is a big city, huge both in its size and its appetite. This is not to say I only love big men but the truth is that I've never let a beer belly get in the way of a true self-destructive passion.
My men, like my city, cannot be picky eaters nor of the variety that stop after the first beer/whiskey/glass of wine. I can safely say the two most painful relationships of my life have been with two men of incredible appetites, two men who loved to eat (and cook) and from whom I have received along with a broken del, a del-e sir.
Tehran beats them all: It devours all that comes its way, expanding, and growing every which way, always giving the appearance of being on the verge of explosion yet somehow miraculously absorbing it all and moving on to the next course, next village, next set of suburbs that come its way.
In many ways Tehran mirrors not those who founded it but the man who shaped it, molded it, and poured into it his own amazing zest for life: Nasir al-Din Shah, another one of my lifelong loves. In 1867 began a four-year long effort to expand Tehran from a city of four gates to that of twelve placed at various points on the city's soon-to-be octagonal outer limits. He not only shaped the city architecturally but also artistically:
Tekkiyeh-ye Dolat, was a three-story theater space built of white bricks and decorated with colored tiles where every year the city's grandest ta'ziyehs were performed. I associate Nasir al-Din Shah with Tehran not merely for his physical mark on the city but in the way his appetite for life seems to linger on in the streets of Tehran and in the people who populate it.
Like the king himself (and the men in my life), there is great debate over how great of a city Tehran is and what exactly is so great about it. They are complex figures where adjectives such as good or bad seem to always be inadequate for describing them. You have to be there, with them, to understand what makes them tick and usually you sometimes don't even understand that. You just know you're hooked.
More than a king, Nasir al-Din Shah was a human being whose passions, likes, and dislikes jump at you from the pages of his travelogues. He is funny, observant, frank, and always eager to get the essence of his experience across to the reader. He prefers to go to the Hermitage Museum rather than walk around with the Emperor in Russia. He loves photography and travel both within Iran and outside.
Tehran, unlike the beautiful city/museum of Paris, for example, is a city; it just can't be anything else. It is all roads and houses and pollution and decay and people. It is lived in and even at night, and despite the lack of nightlife like bars and nightclub, it pulses with energy.
Most importantly, Tehran seduces me, the way the most influential men in my life have seduced me: On most days the city looks like it has nothing to offer you but grief. It is polluted and crowded and it takes hours and hours to get from point A to point B. It is self-absorbed, selfish, withdrawn, and unlike more inviting cities, it rejects intimacy in favor of a promiscuous all-inclusiveness.
But right when you're ready to give up and leave, right after hours of arguing with yourself, thinking of all those other places you've been to where the sky was really blue and would fill your lungs lovingly with oxygen, right when everything about it seems absurd (“I was so happy before it/him. What am I doing here with him/it?”), it offers you an inkling of comfort, love, intimacy, and for a second you believe that the two of you, despite all the hardship, belong together because no one else can understand Tehran/him the way I do.
An illusion, an illusion that keeps stretching and increasing the love.
So I stand on the bridge on a spring day. The wind tenderly kisses my face and then gently takes off the memory of last winter, of the honking horns, horny men, traffic jams, and the pollution that blackens and clogs up your skin. The mountains that until recently looked like they were covered in dirt-brown snow are now sharply defined with their white, white snowcaps, promising in their silence streams of clear water.
And I, as ever am duped. I forget. I forgive. I say I love you and accept their silence.