By Bruce Livingston
November 12, 1997
"Agha-ye Vin-eh-stone!" The quaver in Ismael's voice hinted his age, and the raspiness spoke of the Homa cigarettes he smoked to smouldering stubs. "Mr. Livingston," he cried. He burst into my room, drew himself up to his full five feet two and with great satisfaction announced: "Boogalamoon umad!" The turkeys have arrived!
I had lived in Iran for only a few months when the thought of giving a Thanksgiving dinner for a mixed group of Iranian and American friends popped into my mind. The old house I had rented needed a housewarming, and Thanksgiving, with its memories of home and family, seemed the perfect occasion.
In my Persian-English dictionary I had looked up the word 'turkey.' 'Booga-la-moon' it read -- a better word for turkey than turkey itself. "Ismael," I requested in my marginal Persian, "I'll need a big boogalamoon in a few weeks." "A boogalamoon?" he asked, a hint of surprise tingeing his voice. "Yes," I replied. "A turkey. Seven or eight kilos."
Ismael came with the house. You rent the house, you hire Ismael. I had no doubt that my foreign habits amazed and confounded him, but he asked no more questions. "Bale, chashm." "Yes," he said, "by my eyes, I will find one for you." Upon the proud announcement of his success I followed him into the garden, in time to see a parade of turkeys strutting in through the gate.
"Where do you come from?" I inquired, making conversation with the turkey's owner. "Gasrodasht," he answered. A village fifteen miles distant. "How long did it take you to get here?" He mused, retracing the journey in his mind. "Well, sir, I hit the road after morning prayers. Four, five hours maybe." Good time, I thought. And the turkeys weren't even breathing hard.
On the appointed day, Ismael killed the chosen bird. We squatted together at the edge of the garden and plucked it. As we pulled the feathers, a knot of concern formed in my stomach. These were road turkeys. Racing turkeys.
"Ismael, how do you cook a turkey?" "Well, to tell the truth, I don't know." "Have you ever eaten turkey?" He paused. "Well, I know that some people eat them. But I never have." Have you heard, perhaps, how they are cooked?" "I'm telling you the truth, sir, I don't correctly know. Boiled, maybe."
I poached the birds in hopes of tenderizing their taut flesh, then stuffed them with dressing and roasted them in the oven, a tin box set above an open fire.
When the guests began to eat, there was silence. Jaws worked. And worked. The flavor was wonderful, everyone agreed. One wag suggested that the first Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth had featured turkey jerky, and today we recreated that festival. The meat was so tough that the bounds of 'ta'rouf,' stylized Persian politeness, were sundered. Warmth and laughter reigned, and although I lived in Iran for five more wonderful years, I never saw another turkey.