I spent an hour this morning googling and analysing modern Iranian street fashion and soon realised that the interpretation of ‘modest’ is subject to wide fluctuations.
First I found photos of austere, stern-looking women cloaked nearly head to toe in black shrouds. Everything from their hairy chins to their wrinkly black socks makes me feel guilty. Already.
Will these be the so called ‘Guardians of the Revolution’ who will rap my knees with their walking sticks if my headscarf falls a little too backward or I unknowingly reveal too much ankle?
If so, they are no match for me. I was reared on a diet of East European discipline and Jesuit priests. However a charm offensive could be necessary….
I will aim to distract them by pointing to their shopping bags overflowing with kilos of vegetables and ask what they are making for dinner.
Perhaps they will take me home with them and let me watch.
Perhaps we will bond as I take my place beside them in their kitchens and they boil up their cauldrons of braised chicken with plums and quince and fish stew with tamarind and fenugreek.
Perhaps they will smile and gather me to their bosoms and share the secrets of Iran’s great cuisine with me.
“Yes”, I am thinking, “it shall be so.”
But I know the drill.
Previous trips to the Middle East have prepared me for the onslaught of questions that await me if I am to consort with housewives. I am ready to let them cluck with astonishment at my unmarried, childless state. I will smile good-naturedly and swallow up all the pity, shock, and thinly-veiled horror that would greet my answers of ‘no husband, no kids’.
A small price to pay to learn how to make a killer Fesenjun.
I also found photos of girls in the North of Tehran with their hair and arms scarcely covered, wearing skin-tight manteaus. The ‘contours of their backsides’ were most certainly not modestly concealed. They were giggling, arms locked in sisterhood and looking carefree.
I want to be like them too.
I want to walk alongside them to the coffeehouse and join them indiscussing literature, art and politics. I will teach them English slang like ‘posse’, ‘snatch’, ‘chav’ and ‘dipshit’. I will delight them by leaving them my smuggled copies of Vogue and Elle as parting gifts.
I can almost hear the clucking disapproval of my chador contingent as I cross the street with my new scantily-clad (by local standards) Tehrani girlfriends.
Sometimes you need to fly the flag for both sides. Call it the Gemini in me.