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The austere atmosphere is periodically interupted by a bizzare electronic melody of someone's cell phone

September 12, 2005

Observations of an Iranian living in America who visited Iran a couple of weeks ago:

I watched on TV the candidate for the ministry of "Etelaa-aat" (Internal Security) address the parliment and thought "this is not someone who will be rejected". The cleric delivered a concise, self-confident oration promising among other things to preserve the sanctity of peoples homes and "space" from arbitrary initiatives by the state. TV is bizzare and interesting. Of course so is just about everything else. During my first trip back last year things appeared so much as I remembered them. This time however, I find myself more of a stranger, more remvoed in contrast to our friends who think that things have now become normal for me.

Friday we had lunch with a single-mom friend and her 18-year-old daughter. The four of us sat on an elevated platform (a wide wooden bed that is more square than rectangular) and ate various tasty kababs. The restaurant is located high up right at the edge of where there are no longer any buildings in what they call "baagh-e aalbaaloo" (sour cherry orchard). A motely collection of trees remain, sorrounding and protecting us unconvincingly of civilization's rapid encroachment. 

The 18-year-old who calls us by the titles of "Auntie B." and "Uncle N." tells us about the decadence of the uptown younger generation. Her mother looks on with maternal anxiety. A large Arab family from the Gulf somewhere occupy the two platforms next to us. My wife keeps an eye on their relations especially how their Malaysian nanny is functioning. I look at the ankles and toes of the ladies sitting next to me and wonder if it is ok that they are visible.

I find myself trying to look at every passing detail. An unconscious attempt perhaps to learn as much as possible and to bridge the gap of what I knew to what there is. A driver of our cab in response to my question of "are those the pictures of your children" tiredly responds that "yes they are triplets and two of them suffered some brain damage at child birth." eventually I find out that in order to make ends meet he sleeps for 8 hours every 48. Of course he is falling behind his debts.

You will not recognize B. giving instructions to cab drivers. Her expertise in deciding and communicating the most optimal path to our destination, choices brought about by the unplanned growth of the city complimented by name changes caused by a revolution. You should see her rattle off the names of streets and the rapid acquiscence of the professional drivers to her knowledge. At times as we arrive at various decision points they unconscously confirm with her the path ahead. I have thought that our kids would be the most surprised at this side of their mom.

Yesterday morning we heard a beautiful melody coming from the street. B. told me its source is a street musician. An alluring voice is added to the sad and familiar accordion melody. Paris and Tehran mixed together. The sound touches me somehow it seems like a good reflection of my state of mind, as if I had the skill to play and sing I would have chosen to perform the exact same mix. I rush to gather some money and go down fearing that the opportunity to thank someone who has touched me might be lost. He is there, thin, dark with his back to me in the dusty street he swings around and with his intense black eyes thanks me proudly and deservedly.

As I approach the door to our building Maryam, a cousin of Zahra, has also come to the door with "house clothes" to give money to the musician. She asks me the favor of walking out to him. She has chosen the same amount I had given. Did that mean that she was touched as much as I or had I been cheap - a thought that crossed my mind.


Friends, soon you will be spared these indulgences. Late Friday we leave for a week in Paris and then back home to you...

Some nights back we hung out with Sara and Kamran mostly in the porch of his rustic workshop. His studio is located in an old "baagh" (a sizable patch of irrigated and undeveloped land in the city). Moonlight and increasing silence surrounded our little candlelit oasis of a porch as the evening floated on. That is how people, at least those we know, live; in distinct islands that materialize at night .

Another friend of theirs was also there with a French couple. The Fenchman is here on business for the first time after an absence of 27 years. They used to live here before the revolution. In fact their daughter was born here in "Pastorino". "Pastorino" I say, jokingly adding "the famous Italian restaurant - your wife gave birth there?". "No no, Pasteur-e-No" -- the New Pasteur Hospital, he corrects me.

After the other 3 had left we cleared up, blew out the candles and walked past the trees to the street carrying our bags and the garbage. People leave their plastic garbage bags right on the street at night around 9. Sara and Kamran's home is accross the street from the studio/workshop. Once inside their house, we called for an 'agence' (cab) to take B. and myself home (home is Jaleh's home). Kayvan, Sara and Kamran's son, was attending to their dog who was nursing her 8 remaining puppies. Three had died previously and the fourth was discovered dead as we entered the house. The bag containing the house's garbage now became a casket.

Another night we were invited for dinner to a cousin who lives in "Atisaaz", a complex of 10 or so concrete high rises, one or two in the shape of a modern pyramid. Adrift in struggling waves of traffic we finally descended into the architected and planned serenity of Atisaaz. We drive past miniparks and tree-lined walkways connecting the concrete buildings in the early evening light observing people chatting and walking along the planned paths. Women all with their head covering, moving in the this Persian Bat City.

Chalous is a city by the Caspian, a place where much of our business revolves around. The local title company which is a government office is new. Clean with light grey-colored walls and ceilings. Aside from a picture of "The Ruler" on the walls of some of the offices, one finds a few handwritten pages and a flowchart depicting how various requests should be initiated and pursued. The traffic in the corridors appear unexpectedly light. The austere atmosphere is periodically interupted by a bizzare electronic melody of someone's cell phone. Each next one distinct. I try unsuccessfully to draw conclusions about the personalties and their choice of cell phone chimes.

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