Farewell, 1978

Excerpts from Andrea Wright Alemazkoor's memoirs of the 60s and 70s in Iran published in an anthology "Tanzania on Tuesday: Writing by American Women Abroad" (New Rivers Press, Minneapolis, MN, Tel: 1-800-339-2011)

Tehran, Autumn 1965
The Funeral

The old matriarch of our family had been dead seven days; it was time to go to the mosque to properly mourn her passing...

Bibi, as she was affectionately called, was some 100 years of age, insisting vehemently that she was 150 if a day, with hennaed hair the color of a bright autumn maple leaf. And it was autumn when she passed on...

She was no taller than an eight-year-old child, her body bent by time and less than perfect health care, but with spirit undampened by the vast and sometimes wearisome panorama that had passed before her faded eyes. She had seen shahs come and go; in fact, she had seen whole dynasties come and go. She was not, however, concerned with kings or kingdoms so long as they did not disturb her favorite smoke... Bibi had outlived her husband and his three younger wives.

Tehran, November 1978
The Farewell Party

"Saltanatabad to Farmanieh. Left to Police station on left-hand side; one more block to Italian School on right side just past turn. Right on Mehmandust, 3 koochehs on left turn into 3rd Dorigar (at curve). White wall, 3-door garage; 2nd house on left #6, 3rd button from bottom."

The directions were found years later, scribbled in the back of the battered old address book; names and notations a time machine that took me back to that night, our last big party before the expatriates began the exodus.

Directions in Tehran were always interesting. It took a sheaf of papers to get them all down for one's first visit anywhere. Narrow, meandering koochehs and broad avenues 10 kilometers long that changed names at four different junctions, unmarked dead-ends and a numbering system to boggle the mind of any unsuspecting tourist who thought that numbers run in sequence, gave one a sense of embarking on a treasure hunt.

Actually, the numbers were in sequence. It's just that the sequence had been changed so many times, and somehow, the old numbers were not always erased.

Tehran, December 1978
The Bazaar

When only a few days remained to my departure, the two of us (Soghrah, my housekeeper, and I) drove down to the big main bazaar in the south end of Tehran to shop for some last-minute items I wanted to ship or take with me. Often the scene of bloody riots and demonstrations, the bazaar had been quiet recently...

It was a nostalgic trip because I always enjoyed my visits there, and thought how little changed it was from the first time I had see it some 15 years before, and how this would probably be the last.

Row on row of gold glitters along the gold bazaar, western jewelry shops seem meager by comparison. Artisans painstakingly work in intricate designs, weaving fantasies in arabesque on brass and copperware. Peddlers push their carts through the narrow passageways, dimly lit beneath aged domed ceilings; donkeys bray and somewhere a radio plays a yodeling Persian love song, almost always of broken hearts.

San Antonio, 1981
Pahlavi past

Any weekend would find the broad, tree-lined avenue teeming with people eager to escape the smog and smut that covered the inner city, winding their way up to Shemiran, where the air was crisp and mountain-fresh.

Pahlavi Avenue, named for the then-shah's dynasty, led to his summer palace and was the newer road to Shemiran, once a village, lying at the foot of the Elborz Mountain range high above Tehran.

Gradually over the years the wealthy few and slowly emerging middle-class built their own summer villas there, with fruit orchards, ponds and in more recent times, swimming pools. By the 1970s, those villas had grown into palatial mansions and shops had proliferated.

But it remained a favorite gathering spot for city-dwellers who could not afford the luxury of a private club or weekend journey. The succulent smell of kebab roasting on the spit of a street vendor's cart tempted passersby, as did the many tasty edibles being hawked: tart green plums sprinkled with salt in the spring; grapes or melons in the summer; oranges in the fall; and hot red beets in the winter.

The weather never dampened Iranians' enthusiasm for Pahlavi Avenue. It was crowded year-round.


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