I kept regular correspondents with Maria and Jo. To Maria, I wrote about my sexual exploits and to Jo, my spiritual quests. One letter read like erotic tales from The Perfumed Garden and the other like passionate epistles of a God seeking soul. I was resolute in both pursuits and was happy to have some one to write to and share my experiences and ideas with. The female perspective was always revealing and challenging in its understanding of the opposite, the unknown, the mysterious. Their letters weren't that much different from mine in essence, only the characters and each character was a vast universe.
'Tell him Fred, tell him to do something with his life, otherwise time will pass him by. He'd listen to you. He likes you. He looks to you like the older brother he never had.' Parvin tells me with her kind Tajrishi accent, rushes of gray showing round her forehead. I don't know why I gave people the impression that I was in control and doing reasonably well myself, even when clearly I was not. I mean why would Parvin ask me to advice her son on his future, when my own prospects were as unpredictable as the spring weather in Germany. Yet I nodded my head, in that usual, polite Iranian way and told her that I'd do my best to talk to him. As far as I was concerned Rocky was very intelligent; and had ingenuity in some areas that I knew nothing about. Why would he take my advice, or anybody else's.
The soft, cool April breeze was playing in Parvin's long hair and I furtively admired her beauty. In her forties, she looked fresh and eloquent as if she's never been touched by a mortal soul. We were sitting and drinking tea together in one of our local cafes, waiting for Rocky to join us. We sometimes met over tea, the three of us, usually fortuitously, and talked and let ourselves be entertained by Rocky's burlesque humor.
The name Rocky stuck with him ever since he impersonated Sylvester Stallone at the college party. He was expelled from all of his exclusive private schools across Europe for not passing his exams. A few years ago he was expelled from his last educational institution, an international private college that promised to motivate the most idle student to strive for academic excellence and utilize his full potential. Rocky was neither stupid or lazy. Whether he was dyslectic with ADHD and God knows what else, it was never clear to me. But nothing could stop Rocky from having fun or obscured his good nature. Rocky spoke four languages, not by reading but only listening. He was also a great detector of moods in social situations. He didn't want to come across clever, he simply wanted to be who he was, a lusty young man fully in his present.
He arrived as usual with a big smile on his face. His black, shiny hair was bouncing rhythmically on his head, his hands casually in his pockets. He said goodbye to a few people who were with him before sitting down at the table. A few waiters waved at him as if they knew him well. I was getting used to this level of attention from the public since my friendship with Rocky began several weeks ago. Well, I had no choice. Underneath I have always been a private man, with a few close friends. Now, hanging out with Rocky more people came into my flat in a few days than through the embassy in an entire week.
Parvin stared at her son affectionately. Rocky kissed her on the forehead and told her that she was the most wonderful human being on earth. That was one of Rocky's attribute. He made people feel special, particularly the female.
'How's Anna?' Parvin asked him. After his brief affair with Christine he's been out with a few other girls, but there was Anna, an Italian girl living and studying in Köln, whom Parvin liked. He religiously caught the U-Bahn to Köln every Sunday, and spent the whole afternoon with her. It was a strange rendezvous that he kept faithfully.
'She's fine. Studying hard. Her final year.'
'Why don't you bring her home for dinner one night?' Parvin asked. Having met her once she had immediately liked her.
'After her exams are finished. For sure.'
'I mean you spend almost the whole Sunday together every week, why don't you bring her over now. Or are you trying to hide her from your parents?' Parvin teasing him.
'I'm helping her with her studies.'
'You're helping her with her studies!'
'Yes, with her English and French.'
'Well, I suppose you're good with languages. I wish you had done something with it.' Parvin tells him, hinting to his failed college career.
'You young people have enough food to eat?' She asked us. Since Rocky was often staying in my flat, Parvin filled my fridge with all sorts of delicious food.
'Could you bring some quorme sabzi. We had a few people over last week and they loved it. Didn't they Fred?'
'Yes they sure did. They cleaned out the fridge.'
'I have secret fans for my cooking in Bad Godesberg, that I didn't know?'
Rocky picks up her hand and kisses it.
'You're the best cook Parvin. The best and I'm your number one fan. If I were dad I'll open a restaurant here rather than trying to get into that risky chicken business.' If the first half of Rocky's statement was purely rhetorical for they both knew Parviz would never allow Parvin to work in a restaurant, even as a owner. He would consider it beneath his family. But the second half wasn't.
'When is dad coming back from London?' Rocky asked.
'He should be back tonight darling. He's working hard to get his business off the ground. And you don't be negative about it. He's doing his best. He knows what he's doing. He is good in making money. Let's not question him on this one. He has a proven track record.' Parvin's head turned toward me.
'I was hoping you could give him a hand too. He needs all the help he can get. People that he could trust. You know how hard it is to get ahead here.' Now speaking to Rocky.
'Sure. I'll help him. Fred can lend us a hand too.'
'Yes I'm sure he can use your expertise Fred. You know this society very well. He's going to need people with your language skills who understands the ins and outs of European culture.'
I was no expert on European culture and had never been involved in any kind of business, except the business of foreign affairs. And as for Rocky he always said yes to whatever Parvin asked of him but never really followed up on anything. But this was a serious request and I hoped that he would consider it. It was hard to imagine Rocky working with or for his dad though for Rocky didn't really like him. One of the reason he didn't like him was that Parvin didn't love him. They were the perfect mismatched of their generation. Arranged marriage to a wealthy man, promise of a luxurious but loveless life.
Rocky was Parvin's real love. She wanted to see him settled down, financially secure and with responsibility, like a regular man. Now it was his last chance as far as she was concerned to capitalize on his dad's new business. Parviz, her husband, believed the key to his wife's heart was through looking after Rocky. Rocky had the best of everything. Now both parents were wondering if there was something fundamentally wrong with him. With every expulsion from school the hope of Rocky becoming a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer had gradually faded away. Rocky's financial salvation was with his dad, they firmly believed.
Parviz was going to sell a new product to chicken farmers in Germany. He wanted Rocky to market it not just in Germany but in other European countries. A task I'm sure he would have done very well if he ever agreed to do. Parvin told me one day that if Parviz suddenly dropped dead, Rocky would spend the small family fortune in matter of few years. I totally agreed with her. Rocky, by the time he went to bed, had spent whatever money was in his pocket as if it was doomed to lose all its value the next day.
I enjoyed having him around. With Rocky, present moments became so real, full of possibilities and the past and the future so irrelevant. There was nothing in his past that seemed to bother him. And he gave no inclination that he thought about or worried about the future. I felt a sense of freedom by simply being around him. I was momentarily removed from my interpretation of the past and worries and expectation of the future. Rocky provided the break I needed to have from myself.
* * *
Rocky got along with everybody. In the pub, when foreigners huddled together in their own little clicks, only occasionally interacting with others, Rocky moved around freely, playing darts with one group, drinking and cracking jokes with another and going out for quick pots with whoever. Beer and cigarette never left his hands, nor the smile on his face. In his vibrant, brave face I saw the hidden motive of our ancestors for conquering the world, not so much to control it but to relate to it, to love it, in their own unique way. And I could see the eyes of people looking at him some times with envy some times with admiration but never with neutrality.
It was couple of U.S. marines that Rocky was spending most of his time with one evening. He asked me if I wanted to join them for a drive to the lake for some nocturnal diving. I agreed to go along but told them that I'd skip the diving bit, I'd never liked water much. The marines were staying at a friend's house for their short holiday in Bad Godesberg.
The lake was inaccessible to cars but they thought they could drive through the woods, over the mounds, the underbrush and the muddy tracks. But they were wrong. The car got stuck in the deep and gooey soil of the terrain. The diving mission was nearly terminated when Rocky asked if he could drive. He tested the gears. Rocky's small posture was almost lost behind the big wheel. I knew he didn't have a driving license but I didn't know how he'd learned to drive. Like a horse who knows his jockey, the 1966 Chevrolet responded totally to Rocky's instructions. It wriggled, shook and whined itself out of the earth. Now we were driving through the forest with a much higher speed than I thought necessary. I told him to slow down. He said it's the only way to get through the rough terrain. Both the marines looked deeply worried. The car bounced up and down so heavily that it felt either its axle or suspension was going to break in half at any second. But Rocky looked confident. When the high beam suddenly revealed the calm surface of the lake the half drunk and stoned marines gave a sigh of relief and praised Rocky's skillful driving.
'I'm not really a driver.' Rocky said, 'I'm a rider.'
Rocky was an ex-trail bike rider he told us, who also drove his dad's Pontiacs every now and then without his permission. That night the diving was forgotten in favor of Rocky's yarns of his trail bike adventures in Iran.
We crashed by the lake and just after dawn we were all woken up by the German police, demanding our IDs.
After inspecting our ID cards one of them asked, 'Are you all together?' Yes I answered. Then with a smirk said, 'Two Iranians and two Americans. The American hostages haven't even been released yet.'
'Iranians and Americans have always had a love and hate relationship,' Rocky answered.
'Who's vehicle is this?' The police asked, ignoring Rocky's reply.
One of the marines raised his hand.
'How did you get the car over hear?' One of them asked but didn't wait for the answer.
'Well get it out the way you drove it in. It's illegal to bring vehicle into this area. You're lucky that you're an American, if you were German I would have fined you and towed your car away.'
* * *
I bumped into Parviz in Bad Godesberg square and he asked me if I'd like to join him for a tea. I had surmised what he was going to talk to me about; Rocky, his only son, his only heir, the one who was going to blow the family fortune in a few years unless he learned from his dad and became like him.
'He's been staying with you a lot.' He said with a strange tone of voice that I was not too sure whether it was approving or disproving.
'Yes, we get a long well. We've become good mates.'
'Yes, I know lot of people like him. Most people like him for all the wrong reasons. Have you noticed him the way he spends his money? My money of course. Do any of his fans ask him why he spends money on them?'
'I agree, he's very generous with money, but I'm sure, that's not the only reason people like him.' I told him.
We live in a materialistic world, Fred. The West loved us, not because we're good-looking Aryans with a great history, but because of our money, oil, gas, gold, copper. They loved us because the way that stupid Shah threw money at them. What for? Don't they have enough wealth? Why should we fatten them up?' He took a sip from his tea and his facial expression looked as if he drank a full glass of Vodka.
'Let me tell you a story. When Pirouz was twelve his mother and I took him to Switzerland to one of the best boarding schools in the world perhaps, his fellow students were sons and daughters of stars, politicians, business tycoons. I was really doing well at the time and I wanted to have the best for him. You know the fucking schools in Iran. When a teacher punished him for not doing his homework, Parvin was very upset about the whole thing. I made sure that the teacher was sacked but I decided to have him studied in Europe. After only a few months I noticed he had withdrawn all the money that I left in his bank account, which was going to last for a year, and spent it on his classmates, buying them lunches, dinners, birthday presents. From that day on I learned that Pirouz couldn't be trusted with money. It wasn't just that incident, there were others like that. When he was fifteen, I wanted him to come home for his summer vacation. At first he was reluctant, I enticed him with his passion for bikes. I bought him two trail bikes and two road bikes, as he instructed me to do. You know what, he wanted to bring a few of his classmates with him. Parvin and I always agreed to what he said. We always agreed. The summer holidays our house was full of people, all his friends, I had to hire a full-time servant to cope with all the domestic choirs. But we're happy because Pirouz was happy. And most of all I was happy because Parvin was happy. I don't care if he studies or not. I think it's too late for that. He's twenty one now. I gave him plenty of opportunities. But what's happening now is important. Parvin might have told you I'm setting up a business here, if it picks up which I'm sure it will, I'm going to need someone who could help me in it. Now you tell me who would be the best person to assist me? If he wants me to trust him with the business in the future he has to prove himself to me now. I'd put him on a salary. The harder he works the more money he'll get.' He looked around to the people sitting around us with some wonder.
'Well, so far he has shown no interest whatsoever. You see Fred. things have changed. We are now in a foreign land. One wrong move and I'll get swollen up by the competition. Then we'll have to go back to that God forsaken country, the one we all ran away from. It's dog eat dog over there, believe me. I was a businessman for many years. I didn't leave because I was involved in politics, I left because the whole business ethics have changed. My only hope for a good comfortable life is something that I can build here. And I need all the help that I can get. But believe me I won't make compromises with him this time. In the past I did. He either is in it with me or he's out. I mean not just out of the business but out of the house.'
I wanted to tell him that Rocky could always stay with me for as long as he wants but he was already stressed out enough.
I didn't know what to think of Parviz. I could see some of my own father in him. I had hardly met a person from my own generation who liked his dad.
I did think, however, that he wanted to mould Rocky into a son that he so far has resisted being.
I told Parviz what I told Parvin that I'd talk to him.
The following Sunday I waited at home for Rocky to arrive from his little trip to see Anna. He usually brought with him an assortment of Italian pastries from Anna's parent' pastry shop. I was determined to use all my diplomatic negotiations skills to get him talk to me about his future. I wanted to know if he was just a carefree drifter with no plans for his life.
'She's fine. She's studying hard. She'd be finishing college by the end of this year.'
'And after that?'
'She doesn't know yet. We have a few ideas.'
'What do you mean we? Are you going to live together?'
'We've talked about it.'
I lit up a cigarette and poured ourselves some tea and placed the delicious Italian sweets on the plate.
'She's a beautiful girl. Maybe you should think about marrying her. You know if you did get involved in your father's business you could be earning a lot of money. Then you could have whatever you want, I mean being married is expensive, kids, schooling, house, it all cost money. With the way you spend, you need lots of it.'
'Or non at all.' He told me.
'Sorry. What did you say?' I though I misheard him.
' I said or non of it. Money is not everything.' He told me.
I never thought Rocky would say anything like that.
'But how are you going to live?'
'There are other ways.'
I didn't ask him what other ways but stuck with the subject.
'But what's wrong with Parviz's business venture.'
'It's crap. It's not going to work.'
'What? He thinks that he's bought the best business ever.'
'He's wrong. The business is not even worth half what he'd paid for.'
'Well, did you tell him that?'
'Yes I did. But he told me that I don't understand the business world and shouldn't comment. That I should stick to the marketing side of it if I ever got involved. And when I told him that he's been conned into buying it he got furious and told me that I had no idea what I was talking about.'
'How do you make these assumptions Rocky. I mean you never had a business?'
'I've lived in Europe most of my life. I have some ideas about business. No chicken farmers would be placing diced recycling paper underneath their chickens for hygienic reasons. Even if they did they realize later that it makes no difference. It's a crazy idea. Specially when caging chickens is becoming an ethical issue.'
'So you're saying your dad with his forty years plus experience in business has made a grave mistake in buying into this business. And if you're right your whole family is going to be financially ruined?'
'Yes and I don't want any part of it. It'll properly become my fault if the business doesn't pick up.'
I picked up a pastry and put it in my mouth. I could hardly taste it this time. Was Rocky right? What if they were forced back home? The eloquent body of Parvin forced under hijab was a blasphemous sight.
'Have you told Parvin this? I know Parviz doesn't listen to you. But what about her?'
'Well. Parvin over the years has become more and more like him. I always wondered why she stuck with him if she didn't love him. I suppose I know the answer, money. And now they want to get me involved. Because of my future, they tell me. They don't want me to end up being poor. They don't know that I have my own plans. Getting involved in dad's business also means marrying the girl that he approves of. Just before we left Iran he wanted me to marry this girl whose father is a wealthy businessman. I told him no thanks. '
'Sorry Rocky but may I ask what are your plans?'
'Anna and I are going to get married. When she finishes her college, which would be in another ten months. I didn't want to break the news now. And after we get married I'm going to work at Frank's pastry shop. Frank and I understand each other. He knows I'm not very good with the money management side, Anna has already told him. Anna and Frank can look after the money side of things. And I'll manage the shop. Frank wants to retire and he wants me to run the business for him. He trusts me, which means a lot to me.'
'I assume you haven't told Parviz that.'
'No, he won't understand. Selling pastry and gelato is not what his son supposed to do. I'm meant to run this empire that is going to be build on chicken shit.' He pauses, grabs a pastry puts it in his mouth and continues again. 'One thing neither of them understands is happiness. Because they never had it. Mom has only some idea of it, but it has gradually faded away. '
Rocky's voice began to echo the enthusiasm of a sport commentator as he talked about Anna's family and the way they treated him. He then picked up a cantucci and gave it to me.
'They 're your favorite right? I baked them.'
'Yes, Frank has been teaching me how to bake some of these pastries. The ingredients in them are not much different from some of the Persian pastries. Frank makes the ice cream too but not all of the pastries are made by him, a lot come from Italy.'
I could easily imagine Caffe Sicillia overcrowded with customers all wanting to be served by Rocky. The regular Italians customers complimenting Rocky on his speedy acquired Italian phrases.
Shah Abbas had a sweet tooth. I told him. When his diplomatic relationship with the Vatican peaked, a visiting Jesuit once made some Italian pastries for him and he was hooked.
'Was Shah Abbas the same king that slid on the slippery-dip into the pool of naked women?' He asked me.
'Yes, that's the man.'
'The bastard knew how to have good time.' He told me. And that's more or less all Rocky knew about the Safavid dynasty.