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Something in the air
Should the future children of Persia not know how to celebrate Norooz, nature will be there to help them

March 9, 2004

The magic in the air reminds me that one more year has come to its end. "Norooz," a new day, the beginning of another year will soon be here. My mind travels back to an indescribable feast - I gave up the attempt to describe it long ago when I realized how much of its essence is lost in translation. I feel the familiar ecstasy inside me. Once again I am the little girl counting days, indeed hours, till the arrival of the biggest day of the year.

I still remember how the pencil tickled as the shoe-maker traced the shape of my foot on a piece of paper. He then wrapped a tape measure around my toes and wrote down numbers. "I'll make it a little bigger," he said to my father, "To make sure she won't outgrow them too fast."

The dressmaker always asked for an extra fitting. I worried as she went around me with pins held between her teeth. The sharp pins attached the sleeve to the shoulder while I shivered in her cold shop and feared a possible slip of her hands.

My red patent leather shoes and the new dress waited patiently in my closet for the "New Day" to arrive..................... Norooz event? Annouce it!

Nanjoon-my grandmother-was busy baking for days. She started a few weeks back, spreading jasmines over blanched almonds for Baklava. Each day one more item was baked: chick pea cookies, honey roasted almonds and sohan. When finished, I would help to put them in large cans. In return, she would let me enjoy the broken pieces. The house retained the aroma of fresh baked goods for weeks to come.

This was a time for traditional house cleaning: The silver and brass were polished, rugs were beaten to rid them of a year's dust, and shelves gained their new liners. Like magic, the cleaning rituals helped our old house to resume a younger look. 

The end of winter gives that old memory a new life, enabling me to relive a moment which was presumed lost. All I need is a light rain and the pale green that follows and I'm back in all the Noroozes of long ago. The passage of time becomes irrelevant and my surroundings immaterial. I'm home again and it is all there, just as I left it decades ago. Pots of geraniums come out of the faded greenhouse of memory to adorn a verandah that no longer exists. Pansies are planted in the garden of my dreams and the fragrance of narcissus adds intensity to the aromas coming from an abandoned kitchen.

Nanjoon made sure we felt the arrival of Norooz long before anyone announced it. She explained the meaning of the rituals with conviction. "Whatever you do at the moment of 'tahvil', you'll be stuck with for the rest of the year," she said. "A clean house, new clothes, a sweet taste, and money in your pocket are all important. But above all, you must begin the year with hope and a loving heart."

She set a good example with her jolly personality. When she died -- at the age of ninety-two -- I thought Norooz would never be the same again.

The following spring, it surprised me to find out Norooz had not lost its radiance. As the spring rain brought wild poppies, a new grass, and cherry blossoms, it also brought the hope of a better year ahead. I missed Nanjoon, but I guess Norooz was too strong to let the loss of an old beloved lady mar its splendor.

Once more it is time for my spring cleaning before the beginning of another year. "Beginning of what year?" I ask as I glance at the February page on my calendar. "When are you going to accept the fact that the world around you is already a couple of months into the New Year?"

But something in the air awakens my senses and brings me back to who I am. I roll-up my sleeves. "I'll be damned if I let geography rob me -- or my children -- of a rich heritage!"

Many years later -- and thousands of miles away from what used to be home -- I try to pay homage to an old tradition. No longer able to go through the authentic rituals, I dust the shelves and discard unwanted objects. My make-shift baklava neither looks nor tastes anything close to Nanjoon's, but it fills the house with a familiar aroma. There are no relatives to visit and there's no one left whose presence could make a huge difference in our family celebration. As for clothes, I'll buy at least one new item to wear for good luck.

Every Norooz is the same. The sabzeh I grow is the only item that comes close to being authentic. My haftseen is missing a few items. I put my flag on the table. Its lion on the red white and green background looks lost and lonely. I realize how nonreligious I have become as I mimic Nanjoon's act of placing brand new money between the pages of Qoran. My family will gather around the table in their crisp new clothes. We will smile for yet another photograph to send to relatives.

I will visit my daughter's apartment. Following the latest book she has read, she has done a thorough "Feng Shui" cleaning. A small termeh on her table is covered with sweets from the Persian market and her tiny "haft seen" is near perfect. Though she has never read a line from Qoran, I notice her small copy on the table with brand new money between the pages. Her shy smile anticipates my criticism, but my heart is filled with more pride than words can express.

No longer do I worry about passing on my heritage. Should the future children of Persia not know how to celebrate Norooz, nature will be there to help them. Like true love, as nature renews, hope blooms inside and comes out naturally. Like a bond to connect all mankind, Vernal Equinox is a moment shared simultaneously across the globe.

Norooz -- by any other name -- will remain the single most optimistic moment in man's life.


Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.

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