Some Iranian.com readers have asked me to blog about my book. From the age of 11 in Rome, Italy in a boarding school in 1961 I made my first Persian friend who remains my best friend to this day. I became very fond of Persian culture and history. My parents both loved art, literature, music and history especially antiquity and before spending 13 years in my childhood in Italy I had spent three years in Athens and they passed their passion for these subjects on to me. My father had gone to Iran several times for various US Army Corps of Engineers projects like the construction of Mehrabad Airport. By the age of 16 I went for the first time to Iran in 1966 by myself, met up with my friend and stayed with his family for the whole summer. After college I couldn’t find a good enough paying job as a teacher in the USA so I went to Iran in 1974 to teach English for the Imperial Iranian Airforce and ended up staying for five years and working for Iran Air, Iran Marine Industries Company and Bell Helicopter in various capacities. It was a boom time in Iran and if one had a college degree and ambition and the right connections, there was very little to stop you from doing what you wanted to do with your life…I acted in several films with actors like Golam Hossein Nakhshineh ( of later Daijan Napolon fame) and Shohreh Aghdashlou and TV starlet Atash and at age 27, I was an assistant manager with four hundred subordinates at the ship building company and I even helped lobby successfully to get tariff protection against cheaper ships from Singapore in an attempt to help the nascent Iranian ship building industry. Up until the time that I worked for Bell Helicopter, I was 90% of the time with Persians not Americans or other foreigners and often weeks would go by in which I spoke no English. I tutored the then President of Bank Saderat in English at his house. I became engaged to the Grand daughter of one of the most famous and well loved prime ministers in contemporary Iranian history and got to know her amazing family. I converted to Islam and in anticipation of my marriage I shaved off my moustache because my go between said that her family thought moustaches looked too bazaari. The revolutionaries did not hurt a single member of this man’s family or take a single piece of their property because of his philanthropy. Recently my former fiance’s family donated their palace to the State as a museum. While living there, I studied boxing with the light weight champion of Iran and Kung Fu with an Iranian Air Force lieutenant. I worked out in the Zur Khane, I went to Sufi Khanegahs. All in all, I had a very fulfilling experience in Iran and many kind and generous Iranians helped me realize myself, my own capabilities and my life goals…admittedly the boom economy rather than a stagnating one helped a lot and made me realize how much economics really effects our individual lives.
Basically my experience in Iran was quite different from that of most foreigners who spent all their time in their own enclaves or “golden ghettos” not mixing with Iranians in any meaningful way. I fell in love with a country where the average person valued poetry on a daily basis as much as sports…a society in which it was OK for men to express emotion and cry in public versus the Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper silent approach that defines the American ideal archetype of masculinity. There were other customs which differed significantly from the ones which I had been raised with like buying your friends gifts when you had some significant success in your life to share your joy and dispel possible jealousy. I also came to love taroffing…as a game which everyone recognized was ingenuous but designed to make you feel good. The Italians played the same game bestowing non existant titles on you like Commendatore, Professore, Dottore, Signor Enginiere, etc. So part of my book is devoted to these cultural differences as a road map for either culture to understand the other better. I remember an American once asking me if Iranians had some superstition about going through doors since no one ever wanted to go first…they just didn’t get it. My book is intended to be funny in many of the short stories regarding cultural differences. I wanted to write not only about differences but about our similarities and shared hopes and aspirations and the love hate relationship between our two nations and its history. I also intended to capture the beauty and charm of Iran and Tehran because so many Westerners have the completely wrong impression. No book about Iran can do it justice without photographs of the amazing architectural splendor, the people with all their various ethnicities, the natural beauty, the art treasures, the food, the triumphs and agonies of the revolution, felan…so my book has 161 color photos and 33 black and white for which I spent $9K for the rights. Only the Agha Khan Visual Architectural Archive and Trust Foundation at MIT and Geneva did not charge me for the use of their wonderful photos.
To continue my story, it was only when I started working for Bell that I began to experience the anymosity that existed between foreigners and Iranians. I also began to lose my naivity about the political situation learning from my exceptional American boss who was quite fluent in Persian about the writings of banned and censored and imprisoned writers. I only began to become conscious of the degree of discontent a little prior to the start of the revolution. At first, like those participating in the million person protest marches, I was hopeful for a better future and pro revolution…but as soon as the Iranian Spring was over and the reign of terror and arrests and executions and retribution began, I started to have fears for the future of Iran. Right from the moment that Khomeini and company arrived, little children in the street would tell me that one day they would hang all the clerics from the street lights or tether and drag them from the rear bumpers of cars. I overheard the Jaleh Square massacre about 7 blocks south of my house, I was myself taken hostage and rescued by a friend, a beautiful young woman who had hired two gunmen and liberated me from my captors. Then within days after my eventual departure from Iran, Iraq attacked and the ensuing 8 year “Silent War” took it’s terrible toll.
In my writing I also wanted to document my experience of the revolution, the hopes and the disappointments…I wanted to keep a human face on Iran because so much negative propoganda had permeated the West and especially the USA after the embassy hostage situation. I knew that demonizing a nation was a precursor to war. I knew that letting one leader represent an entire nation was wrong and I wanted to write my book to contribute to a better understanding outside Iran of the Iranian people. In some of the articles and stories I had written starting in 2002 for Iranian.com I received an enormous number of positive, favorable comments and responses from readers and it became apparent to me that many Iranians in the diaspora were homesick and also were victim of prejudice and self image problems. I remember one young lady teller at my local Bank of America Branch, a few years ago, whom I spoke Farsi to when I saw her name tag and then she begged me to tell her supervisor that Iran had hotels, restaurants and night clubs and not just camels….
I never would have left Iran if it weren’t for the new regime deciding not to let foreigners work there any more in 1979. I had so many friends and such a rich cultural life in Iran and having only lived in America 6 years at that time, I did not have anything or anyone to come home to. I shared the alienation and loneliness that many immigrants felt coming here for the first time and as such I could empathize with the plight of the Iranian diaspora and help by bragging about their accomplishments in the USA by writing interviews of authors and film makers and helping to promote their work and also that of American Irandoosts. The positive response I got from Iranian.com readers is actually what inspired me to write my book. One of the best things about writing my book is some of the great people I met and became friends with during the process. People like Jahangir Golestan Parast, Jerry Dekker, Brenden Hamilton, John Limbert, Shahrnush Parsipur, Azadeh Moaveni, Firoozeh Dumas, Dr Nasser Heydarian, Fatimeh Keshavarz, Iason Athanasiadis, Tom Loughlin, Steve Ricks, Rosie Malek Yonan, Shirin Neshat, Katayoon Zandvakili and so many other wonderful, positive and encouraging people…and another amazing result of my published writing was that it helped me to relocate many old friends who had lost touch with me in the chaotic aftermath of the revolution, people like film maker, Aryana Farshad, who had been a childhood friend of mine and lastly my writing led to re uniting three half siblings who had been seperated as babies and never met again til now 30 years later, which I describe in the last chapter of my book which led to my first return visit to Iran since the revolution, two summers ago, in 2008, which was awesome…
For anyone interested in learning more about my book, please visit my website at www.zirzameen.com
Gorban e Shoma,
Brian H. Appleton
Knight of St. John Hospitaller, BA in Anthropology, graduating Phi Beta Kappa George Washington University 1972. Masters in Ancient History, Oxford Network, University of Fundamental Knowledge, St Peterburg, Russian Federation, 2008.