On my last night in Tehran, an unusually humid summer evening, my uncle and I were on our way to a friend's house. Driving through the dark and deserted streets where the lights have been dimmed or turned off since the first bombing raid of six years ago, we pulled over to buy cigarettes from a blind peddler. He counted out the change without having to step in front of the headlights of the car to see what he was doing. I had been thinking of a friend of mine who wondered whether we were going to Iran that summer in order to say our goodbys. I was thinking that I should remember to tell her not to fret over having to say goodbye. One does not take leave of things; things take leave of one.
My uncle and I were the only members of our respective immediate families in Iran at the time. Our extended family is not atypical in being scattered around the globe now, in search of asylum and God knows what else. When in Iran, the remaining family members represent all the rest, and one often finds oneself having inherited roles and relationships of the missing members of the family. I had suddenly, and very pleasantly, found myself a friend to the friends of each of my parents. I wondered if the logic behind displacement, misplacement, and replacement will ever be accessible to us.
As we turned into our friend's street we drove by a large stone house that was hit during the raid of the past spring. The rubble was neatly swept from the street back into the courtyard and left alone.
In the study of my father's friend, Mr. H, I leaned against the jajim-covered pillows on the rug, around the brazier of hot coals keeping the tea warm. The ladies sat on the sofa, crossing their stockinged legs, and watched. I talked books and literature and theory with the men as Mr. H dug under the ashes for a red coal and held it against a little chunk of fragrant Mahan opium for me. I was instructed to blow gently on the coal until it glowed underneath its coat of ash and the opium barely sizzled. Then I inhaled slowly and deeply.
"Enough of this hysteria over the Great Satan, Imperialism at large, or even The Empire…" Mr. H was saying.
I held my breath.
"Formalism is a viable choice -- remember the Russians -- when a revolution comes along to awaken us from the nightmare of history," he advised me.
Mr. P, the political economist turned art historian, smiled: "Let us say it momentarily disrupts the nightmare."
The five-year-old daughter of Mr. H, Azadeh, climbed on the couch and snuggled between her mother and her aunt. The women were looking at the photographs that Mrs. H had taken at the tomb of Sheikh Safi in Azarbayjan, discussing the patterns on the mosaic. Mrs. P said that it was wonderful that the Iranian so-called Arabesque with its linear play flourished in spite of the invasion of the Arab florals and the geometric patterns of Central Asia. While Mrs. H stroked her daughter's hair and reevaluated her photographs, the little girl fell asleep in her lap.
As the conversation of the men turned to copyright laws and editors' fees, I walked over to Mr. H's desk. I looked at the group leaning against the pillows with their forearms resting on their knees, engrossed in their talk. I savored for the moment the artificially induced sense of tranquility. I watched as Mr. P overturned his tea on the rug while reaching for the sugar, and when my glance returned to the desk, I flipped through one of the books that were lying there open. It was a history of the final day of the Third Reich with many black and white photographs of Dresden, Berlin, and Frankfurt after the bombardments. On the cover of the book was the picture of a telegraph pole standing in a devastated street with pieces of paper, the whereabouts of neighborhood survivors, tacked onto it.
When Mr. H carried Azadeh upstairs to bed, his two sons were watching an interview with Rafsanjani, the Speaker of the Parliament, on television. Rafsanjani spoke through his usual smirk:
"We have nothing to fear from the U.S. in the Persian Gulf. Their political system is too disembodied and much too stricken with internal opposition to be capable of carrying out any decisive policy in the Gulf."
The boys, both near draft age, watched with anxious attentiveness.
"We are prepared to continue with this war for another twenty years if we need to," Rafsanjani declared.
When dinner was served the boys walked off with their plates to eat by themselves in front of the turned-off television set. >>> Images
The evening ended during the daily power outage with an unlikely thunderstorm. As we all watched from the porch, the great khaki-colored clay pots holding the swaying Yas plants turned dark brown in the rain. And as one of the ladies ran down to collect the fragrant little white flowers strewn about, each one of us, I know, prayed for survival >>> Part 17
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