HAFEZ: Et si tu n’existais pas

HAFEZ: Et si tu n’existais pas

This song always transports me to my chlldhood Tehran of the mid-1970s, where at age 9 or 10, it would  regularly play on the radio. And the images it conjures up for me are for some reason, always that of Tehran’s winter – with the snow covered trees of Pahlavi Ave., or the school bus driving through slush in the tiny side alley ways off  Pahlavi Ave. (Vali Asr Ave. today)

Joe Dassin: “Et si tu n’existais pas”:

This song is all about “What if you didn’t exist” / “Then why should I exist?” – Although Dassin grew up in French speaking parts of Europe, he was American born and his parents, Jewish intellectuals, left the US in the early1950s having been blacklisted in the red scare of the McCarthy era.  I must say, if we look at different peoples of their contribution to the world’s Arts, the Jewish populous have done an inspired job with “music.”)


I’ve posted two photos here: one of Hafez himself, and one of me in Darband around the same mid-1970s period of this song. Climbing rocks in Darband was, and still remains, a popular past time, where you stop for a nice meal, or freshly squeezed pomegranate juice,  against the spectacular backdrop of the Alborz mountains. Never an “athlete”, I would always fall behind as the children, mostly boys in the family, would rush ahead of me. (You see their feet up above me, here.) Clinging to the rocks, reminds me of how to this day, I end up in the same pose when it comes to something like rock-climbing. I freeze, but I also always smile for the camera – and you’re looking at the same combination here!

But even at that young age, I was very aware of how much I loved Iran – maybe even clinging to it like I am in this photo.. And what if this song could be listened to as: “What if Iran didn’t exist” – would I stop clinging to its rocks? Would I also think, like the song does, that existing itself is no longer a worthwhile endeavor? Would losing Iran, which as a child I did, want me to simply not go on? And what would Hafez say?

H A F E Z:

One of my favorite Beyts/Couplets of Hafez on existence/“hasti” is the below. Hafez speaks of the ruination of our existence being a key experience in life. That once we love so much that it feels like our very existence is threatened, that is the state of being which makes for the strongest of foundations in life.

اگر چه مستی عشقم خراب کرد ولی

اساس هستی من زان خراب آبادست

Agar cheh masti-eh eshgham kharab kard vali

Assass-eh hasti-eh man zan kharab abad ast 

Even though I’ve been ruined  through love’s intoxication

The foundation of my existence flows from that very ruination 

So… for Hafez, loving something this much is not something to be too concerned about. If anything, that intensity will take you to a place of your inner truth where you gain the strength to sustain the light in your life. For me, losing Iran as a child was unspeakably hard. Yes. What I’ve come to discover is that the pain of the loss, like Hafez says, has created the foundations of my passions – Hafez jan himself ranking right up there among them! And this song, and the memories it evokes, its lovely melodies and tender French tongue, do too! Merci Beaucoup Joe Dassin!

Enjoy this clip of the song below!

Afsaneh Mirfendereski 

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