It is the children's last day of school tomorrow and I find myself feeling an ancient excitement about the summer. I remember this feeling from my own school days. As the days got warmer at the school year's end they carried a gradually increasing promise of fun filled days to come. You could feel the slow warming of Tehran like a thin cotton shamad pulling over your skin an inch at a time, heralding the advent of summer.
Summer always signified a time when regular routine was suspended. A time when the long and arduous process of learning came to a halt and play took over, completely, shamelessly, as if it was sanctioned by the heavens. Of course there was the dreaded tajdidi, or having to retake a subject's exam at the summer's end.
A tajdidi was a big curse. A tajdidi, or worse, several of them, meant that the license to have fun in the summer was heavily restrained if not totally suspended. It meant that a good part of the summer had to be spent studying or worrying about not having studied. But if you finished the school year without one, if you had passed all the many subject's final exams then you felt like you were entitled to your summer: that extended recess in the kind of suspended time that only play can create.
The first time I got a tajdidi was in the first grade. Yes, in Iran we had final exams, with actual grades and possibility to fail, in all subjects, from the first grade. I remember vividly having a hard time counting with my fingers and being very nervous about it — so the fear of failure was early on ingrained. It was my failing grade of seven (out of twenty) that gave me a tajdidi in English Spelling in the first grade.
I spent the entire summer with a tutor of English who had hennaed hair and a funny musty smell, like wet sheepskin, which I still remember. He always ate all the petit beurre biscuits that were served with his tea by my naneh, who was, in turn, convinced that if she gave the guy enough of them I would pass my final test even though he had nothing to do with grading or administrating it.
The summers that were free of tajdidi I was happy to claim and run with. Where we lived in Shemiran I had many friends and cousins. We would ride our bicycles in the shady streets and alleys of Daroos. At one point we all had chopper/Easy Rider style bikes, which we showed off by raising on one wheel.
I remember putting wooden planks over the edge of the swimming pool and riding my bike over it, Evil Knievel style, or so I thought, into the water. Mine was a metallic blue, but my cousin's was gold and had a little attachment in the middle that made a motorcycle noise! Those kids who were especially rich or spoiled or both got the prize possession: a Mini Honda motorcycle.
At some point every kid wanted, dreamed and begged for this miniature motorbike. Most our parents, like mine, would never accommodate saying that it was too dangerous. So my cousin's bicycle with a fake motor was the closest we could get to the dream of owning a Mini Honda.
Much of the summer was spent playing soccer in the street. Even though there were big gardens in Daroos that most of us lived in, we preferred to congregate in the dead end alley of one of my cousin's home and play.
The public nature of the street gave us more license and we, all of us spoiled and pampered uptown kids, felt the tougher for hanging out in it. I was usually the only girl. When there was World Cup or some big match, we all went out and picked teams, which we would label with the names of different countries or our favorite clubs, ” maa Brezil hasteem, naa baabaa shomaa haa hamisheh Brezileen — baasheh pass maa Italyayeem” it used to go, or, ” naa maa Perspoliseem shomaa Taaj.”
One of the favorite spots, for us kids on bikes, to hang out in our neighborhood, was Maydane Hedayat. It was a leafy round about in the middle of Daroos with small shops around it and an ice cream store. We would often go to Agha Reza's bicycle shop for repairs. The ice cream store provided much cooling relief in sweaty summer days. In the evenings there was a balali and a gerdooyee and those of us who could stay out later would indulge.
When we reached our early teens we would ride to each other's homes and listen to music on our gramophones and talk. My parents had a big TV, radio, and turntable set, the kind that looked like it could be a chest and part of the furniture when its sliding doors were closed. Later on I had this 45″ record player that was red vinyl and you had to push the single record into it to make it play — they were quite the rage at some point.
My older brother had left me some of his album's to albums which were my introduction to Rock and Roll. It was Neil Young's Gold Rush and Elton John's early album with Your Song as the title (which I knew by heart!), and The Beatles' Abbey Road.
I remember listening to Jimi Hendrix for the first time at some friends, to Led Zeppelin at one cousin's and Uriah Heep at another's. I still remember walking to an older cousin's over-the-garage studio and hearing Pink Floyd for the first time. Several of the guys in our group picked up the instrument of the moment: guitar. I remember enduring, with the patience that only a schoolgirl crush can bestow, the most harrowing renditions of Deep Purples' Smoke on the water, by various schoolboy soccer players turned teenage Carlos Santanas.
Later as we grew up we started having dance parties at each other's home. Some houses, with more lenient parents or adults were better suited for this purpose. I still remember the smell of chlorine from the pool in balmy summer nights that were filled with music, youthful desire and laughter. Those were beautiful nights in which pleasure was sought with innocence as well as a certain confidence that reflected perhaps both our youth and our privileged status.
We, the kids of our group, slowly started going abroad for school or college. We would return for summers from various locations in Europe and the US, but our group was never the same. When we stopped riding our bikes, life became more complicated and before we knew it everyone was spread to a different lonely dorm room in some corner of the world, and those summers abandoned, with such youthful certainty, to play and pleasure became but a pleasant memory never to be recreated.