Happy Autumn!

A man prepares Reshteh and Khoshkar in Rasht Bazaar during Ramadan. Photo by Amin Alipour, Iranian.com, September 2006.
The Iranian calendar month of Mehr, Libra (Septemer 21-October 20), has a special place in my heart. Not particularly because I was born late in this month, but because many people who matter to me are born in it. First day of Mehr also marks the first day of school in Iran, which holds sweet memories for me and my children. Mehr also signifies the beginning of autumn and all that becomes beautiful during this month in nature. Last, but not least, it also signals the start of the new season in performances and events. I have so many things to which I am invited these days. I will try to list some of those events for those of you who live in this area tomorrow, so that you can go if you get a chance.
From the changing colors of leaves to the nip which can be felt in the air, from birthdays to new beginnings and to a calendar full of fun things to do, I love everything that happens in this month and in this season. I wish you all a beautiful Mehr, a wonderful autumn, and a fantastic new beginning. Happy Mehr and Happy Autumn!


An Iranian Wedding

Four-year-old Sarah, my cousin Mehri's granddaughter, was the flower girl.
It was a beautiful wedding. It took place just before sunset in open air, overlooking the Pacific ocean. The wedding spread, sofreh aghd, was gorgeous.
I never used to cry at weddings. Something weird is going on with me, I guess. Now I do.

Things look a little different in the new Iranian-American weddings. The wedding spread, sofreh aghd, is the same and the ceremony is more or less the same. Bits of American wedding customs have started showing up in the Iranian weddings I attend these days. I don't think these additions take anything away from the Iranian customs; I think they add something to them.

When we went to sit down in our chairs, we each found a little rolled up note, tied with a ribbon. In the note, Dr. Mahmoud Kamiyabipour who was officiating the wedding, the aaghed, had written a description of Iranian wedding ceremony for the non-Iranian guests, so that they could understand and follow the ceremony. I was going to write about the ceremony myself, but I think his is a good representation of the ceremony, so I share it with you here. I'll write another post about this wedding a little later.

"The Iranian marriage ceremony goes back to the history and traditions of the country. The ceremony typically consists of two parts: the ceremony (Aghd), and the reception (Arousi). During Aghd, a Sofreye Aghd or the wedding spread is set up in front of the bride and groom. Food and other objects traditionally associated with marriage are arranged on this Sofreh. Every item on the Sofreh has symbolic meaning inherited from many centuries of Iranian history:

A mirror is lit by two candlesticks on either side. These are the main items on the spread. According to tradition, the mirror and candlesticks should be a gift from the groom, symbolyizing purity and love.

Nabaat, a bowl of flowers made of sugar crystals, is placed for sweetness in the loving relationship and home that is about to begin.

A platter of bread, feta cheese, and fresh herbs, which guests share immediately after the ceremony, are thought to bring the couple prosperity.

A basket of eggs, walnuts, almonds, and other nuts symbolize fertility.

Espand, a brazier brewing wild rue, is brought to drive away evil spirits and unpleasantness.

An open flask of rosewater is set to perfume the air with sweetness.

An assortment of sweets and pastries are set to symbolize sweetness as well.

Fresh flowers in abundance are set to express the hope that beauty will adorn the couple's life together.

A bowl of honey to bring the future as sweet and wonderful.

Two large solid sugar cones are ground over the bride and groom to shower them with sweetness.

The Holy Quran is set as a testament that the couple are committing themselves to each other in the sight of God.

As the ceremony begins, family and friends hold a square white silk or cotton cloth over the heads of the bride and groom, over which ladies grind the sugar cones, raining sweet joy and happiness down upon the couple while wishing them to have a very prosperous and good life together."

I wish the beautiful bride and the handsome groom of this wedding every joy and happiness in their new life together.


Hana Bandan

Hana bandan, Orange County, California, September 26, 2008.
"According to Haim, hana bandan (literally, binding in hana) is the feast on the eve of a wedding-day, celebrated by the groom’s side and it is so called because the bridegroom’s side sends hana for the bride.*"
And a good time was had by all.
*From here.


The Road to Leili's Home

Photo by Nader Davoodi from Iranian.com, September 25, 2008. Poem* on the 100 Tooman bill loosely means "Dangers await on the road to a lover's home; you must be a lover yourself to take your first step."
Something bizarre has been happening with my writing! For the past couple of months I have found myself writing some things that look like poetry! Heeh! I have never written poetry! I don't know the first thing about rhyme and poetic flow. Though it is trying, I'm rather enjoying experimenting with the new form my words are taking these days. I am grateful for the help of two of my friends who are reading what I'm writing these days and are being very supportive. I will show them to you when I'm ready.
In a few hours, my sisters and their families will come to pick me and my son up to drive to Southern California. Ha ha, I'm not packed! I'm sitting here blogging and before this I was working on my volunteer stuff. I'm really excited about getting away from my routine and visiting with my family. A wedding is such a wonderful thing to look forward to, don't you think? Everybody is usually on their best behavior around a wedding, trying to look good and pose well in photographs! Of course the celebration mood helps, too. I'm particularly excited because I get to go away with my sons. We haven't travelled together in ages and it would be nice to watch them interact with their many cousins, aunts and uncles this weekend.
When I see my older son this weekend, I will ask him if it's O.K. with him if I write about a girlfriend he had one summer in Tehran. It is an amusing story which if I am able to pull it off and tell it well, will make you smile. I'll be away from a computer most of tomorrow, so I'll check in and write something tomorrow night if I can. I wish all of you a very good weekend, full of joy, laughter, embraces, kisses, and love. Do dance if you get a chance, too! I will, I'm almost certain of it. Be good y'all.
در ره منزل لیلی که خطرهاست درو
شرط اول قدم آن است که مجنون باشی
تاج شاهی طلبی گوهر ذاتی بنمای
ور خود از گوهر جمشید و فریدون باشی
نکته عشق نمودم به تو هان سهو مکن
ورنه تا بنگری از دایره بیرون باشی


Good As New

Mandala painting by Soghra Jazih, a student in Gisella Varga Sinai's workshop in Omid-e-Mehr Foundation in Tehran. Photo from Iranian.com.
After a very long time, I went to see my family tonight. My sister just returned from Iran and my nephew arrived today from Europe. We are going to Southern California to attend a family reunion around a wedding this weekend. Others will join us there. Andak andak jam-e mastan miresand...
Each time I have been away too long, when I get to family I sit quietly in a corner and let their presence and their love sweep my stress and my anxieties away from me. I sit and watch the chatting women move around with plates of food and the laughing men clearing up the empty plates as the distribution of work goes in my family. I catch glimpses of adolescent nieces and nephews talking and joking around with each other. Then I walk up like a ghost from behind each and every one of them hugging them from behind and planting kisses on the sides of their faces, on their heads. Then I hold someone's hand without a word and just stand there for a while, and no one thinks I'm crazy. Then I go sit entirely too closely to someone who is sitting at the table, checking his email, and I just sit there and let our shoulders and hips and elbows touch. Without a word. My wrought nerves start to uncoil and relax. My worries start rolling off my shoulders. Sometimes, like tonight, my tears which have built up for weeks and weeks, start rolling off my heart and my eyes, falling where I won't see them again for a while. Again, no one seems to mind. Then I begin to whisper something to someone, telling another something else, and sharing a laughter with yet another. Then I eat. Then I drink tea with Iranian goodies just arrived from Tehran. Then I smoke a cigarette with my sister on the balcony. Then I kiss everyone again, only this time with words. Then I say goodnight.
This was such a night. I'm good as new.


A House For Two

A Tehran shop's booming zoolbia and bamiyeh sales during Ramadan, September 22, 2008.
My younger son and I trying to figure out an arrangement which is mutually comfortable for the two of us in the house. I used to give a lot of freedom to the two of them to come and go as they pleased without explaining too much, and staying away doing my projects in the house. Of course I made them meals and was available when they wanted to hang out with me, but I never hung on to them, treating them more as my young adult roommates than kids anymore.
My younger son wants to be attentive to me, so he calls me during the day and when he gets home he comes and sits by me for a little while. I want to tell him that he is as free as he ever was to come and go without having to keep an eye on me. But I also worry that if we set up a pattern of too much independence, with his tendency to keep quiet, distance might grow between the two of us. So, we experiment with different things. I took my dinner plate into the family room last night and sat with him watching some TV, something I hadn't done in 2.5 years! I showed him a most amazing thing, a hand-made travelogue by this Iranian Assyrian guy who went to Iran and came back and gave his (limited edition!) book to Jahanshah to publish. (If you can access Iranian.com, you really MUST see this amazing book). We talked about it for a few minutes. I find that just over the past 48 hours, he goes away but comes back more intermittently to check things out and then goes out again. We'll figure it out, I'm sure. It is just strange.
Meanwhile, and in case you are wondering, my older son has not called me and twice when I called him, he was really busy and really excited, going to beginning of the term orientations and parties! Good for him, that party animal!
Do you want to know the truth about how I feel? I think what my older son is doing is the natural and right thing to do for somebody his age and in his situation. I don't want my kids to worry about me or feel obligated to look in on me. I have made choices in my life of which I am proud. One of them was, for whatever reason, to leave a man almost three years ago. I came to live with my children in the US. I made that decision. I have to stand by it by myself and bear the consequences of it. Young men have a natural tendency to be protective of their mothers. If I'm not careful, I can create feelings of guilt and obligation in my children for taking care of me and I don't want that. I have lived and continue to live my life with my choices and they should live theirs unencumbered by responsibilities which don't belong to them. It's good to be a family, it is important to be close, but it is equally important to feel free to pursue one's meaning and mission in life. I want that for my sons. Me and the Traveller will have to figure out a formula which works for both of us.


Revelations in Motion

On our way to Santa Cruz today, we were talking and listening to Namjoo in the car. My older son was driving.
He said: "I love that music. He is such a cool guy. A very nice guy, too."
I said: "Yeah. He appears that way."
He said: "He really is. Did I tell you I hung out with him?"
I said: "Really?!!! When?!!"
He said: "Oh, he came by last week."
I said: "What?!!! He came by where?"
He said: "To our house. We hung out together and chatted for a while. He is really a very nice guy."
I said: "Mohsen Namjoo came to our house?!!! He walked into the mess that my house is with the two of you?!! When was this? How did this come about?!! Why didn't you tell me?!! Oh My God, was the house a mess?"
He said: "Calm down Mom! He came by with Pouria. They were running an errand and stopped by. Yes, I guess the house was a mess...but he didn't care. We just sat around and talked a bit. He is really nice."
Oh My God! I am sooo embarrassed.


I took my older son to Santa Cruz today. He is starting a new chapter in his life. So am I.


Last Friday of Summer

Two of my favorite artists perform something fabulous together and I thought I should share it with you on this last Friday morning of the summer! This song, dast maneh bar dahanam (do not keep me from talking), based on a Rumi (Molana) poem, is one of the songs Hafez Nazeri made for his father in his Passion of Rumi album. I did a review of that album last winter. Here is performing with the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra in Iran 2006. Maestro Loris Tjeknovarian is conducting. Here's my short interview with Loris in which he talked to me about love and women last spring.

Enjoy and have a good Friday you all!


ABC's and Hope

Saman and Neeki Alikhani, Oakland, September 17, 2008.
I have been so stressed and strapped of energy lately. So many different emotions are running through me these days. Some days I feel overwhelmed with feelings which run the gamut from sadness and worry to joy and extreme happiness. The season change from summer to autumn has always had a profound effect on me. I feel this particular season change much more deeply than any other. It could be because I am an autumn child myself and an upcoming birthday is always a reminder of how life goes on for me. This Fall, I am also having a couple of important personal changes in the equation, making it a sad and sweet and at the same special season for me.
When my friend Maryam asked me to join them for dinner after work last night, I couldn't think of a better thing to do with how I am feeling these days. Kayvan and Maryam's is a very young family, with a beautiful little girl, Saman and a cute-as-a-button new baby, Neeki, in the middle of it. The idea of spending time with a young family was so appealing to me. A young family has so much work to do, so many chores to do, so much learning and growth to do, and all that breathless work is laced with the sweet taste of hope. I miss having really young children around me, and the magic and wonder and hope that only babies and toddlers and kids can bring. I went to a home full of love and energy, and sure enough, I returned energized and touched and fixed! Saman went and found Dr. Seuss' book of ABC's, a book I used to read to my children when they were that young. I can't tell who enjoyed reading the ABC's more, me or Saman! I had missed that whimsical book so much! We had delicious, organic khoresh-e karafs and quiche, and I found myself humming something fun to myself in the car, returning from their home. You guys, if you are ever stressed, do try this at your friends' home! Go and observe and absorb and drink the love and hope that runs in a young family.


The Spreads and Vinyards of My Imagination

I went to Fars News Agency's website to find myself some nice photographs, something I used to do everyday but have been unable to do for a while. I found two photographs and I couldn't decide which one to use, so here are both of them! First, a picture of an Eftari spread at the Moslem Journalists' Association. Simple and delicious, the way a real Eftari spread should be. All through my life Ramadan has had special meaning for me and my family. I started fasting during Ramadan when I was eight or nine years old. Everyone fasted in our house, so it was a really happy and wonderful time, waking up to eat and pray and start the fast before sunrise, and to break the fast after sunset. We had so many memorable family gatherings around Ramadan, free with the choice to fast, and choosing it with joy and happiness. The forced ritual of fasting never set well with me in the years I lived in Iran more recently. I could never understand how putting pressure on people to pretend to be fasting or to punish them if they ate or drank in public was of any help to those who were really fasting. When I came to US, where almost nobody was fasting around me, and other people were free to eat and drink and do as they pleased, the pleasure of the choice became more significant. I doubt anybody ever became anything by force, least of all a good Moslem.
In the most recent years when we lived in Iran, I had at least two large Eftari gatherings at my house or at a restaurant where a large group of guests were fed at Sunset. It was such a labor of love to prepare for those gatherings. Serving Eftari to a large crowd is tricky business, because everyone has to be served at the same time! Serving hot tea to 25-50 people at the same time is a little harder than you can imagine! Yadesh be kheir. I miss it. I think I will invite my family to Eftari this week. For those of you who pray and fast during Ramadan, ghabool basheh. This is the other photograph with which my imagination ran today! It shows the grapes harvest in Yassouj in the province of Kohkilouyeh and Bouyer Ahmad of Iran.
Have you ever walked inside a vinyard at harvest time? I have. The grown vine leaves and the ripe grapes exude a special aroma, a smell like nothing else in this world, so sweet, so delicious, so special. I walked such a vinyard in the autumns of my childhood. That wooden crate, with those gorgeous grapes inside, covered with a filmy layer of vinyard dust, is heading off to markets and homes and family spreads. My father loved grapes.
I miss Iran today and my whole body, all of my senses, all of my heart aches in that longing tonight.


Life By Trial And Error

Here's a clip of Mohsen Namjoo's concert, singing Daheh Shast (1980's). My friend Sabereh Kashi made this clip and it's on Vimeo. Beyond Persia's Lale Welsh and Amir Salamat are the Executive Producers. I borrowed this from Iranian.com. Enjoy!

September is such a busy month for me. I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off! I have to help my son prepare for taking off for UC Santa Cruz by September 20th, and our little home is buzzing with activities having to do with his departure. Last minute details and advice are all we do these days. There's so much he needs to know, so much I should tell him. He will be on his own, taking care of himself. He will have to do so many things for himself now. Will he remember all the things I'm telling him? Does it matter, really? I mean how much of life has to be facilitated by loving adults and how much of it has to be learned through trial and error? I don't mind his trials, it's the errors I fear! Heeh! I left my parents' home when I was 18, and it wasn't to go to college in a town 2 hours away--it was to get married and have a life of my own! I remember my father's tears on my wedding night. He asked me why the rush? He asked whether my life with my family and at that house had been so bad I felt compelled to leave it so soon?! He asked me why I wouldn't give him a chance to do the things for me which he had done for his other children? I couldn't understand his and my mother's worries about my upcoming trials and errors! They were the best parents anyone could wish for. Their home was the most loving home ever. Yet, I had to go. I had to leave, because love beckoned me. I did attempt many trials in my life, many of which turned into errors! But I'm forever grateful for the chance to go, to take off, to go see things, to learn things, to suffer, yes, but also to enjoy, to become the person that I became.
I want the same things for my son and his brother, even if I know they will face walls and disappointments and pains along the way, for they will also experience joy and fulfillment they could never feel living in my nest. I want my sons to be happy.


The Namjoo Weekend

I've been so bad with my blogs! I haven't written anything here for a few days and I so miss it! My life has been more complicated than usual, that's my only excuse. I have been on a rollercoaster of feelings and thoughts of late, making it hard to sit down and write. So...let's see... How can I make it up to my few loyal fans here?! I will share some pictures and some links with you, that's how! I hope it works!
First let me tell you about a couple of pieces I have written recently. One is a piece I wrote in my series "Kissing All The Frogs" on Iranian.com. The series, you might remember, are about relationships. I have tried being a little bolder in my writing, continuing to write more for myself than for others, as I need the growth challenge right about this time in my life! This one's called Men 101 which I wrote after Women 101. If you like, share your thoughts there or here, wherever feels more comfortable for you.
Next, I wrote a personal review of Mohsen Namjoo's concert in San Francisco this past Saturday night. Here it is. Speaking of Namjoo, I went to a party at sweet Shadi and Ardalan's house this weekend and met him there. Namjoo is truly a remarkable performer, and a shy and observant man in person. So, here are my photographs. Please forgive the haphazard ways in which they appear. I had a really hard time loading photos tonight.
At the Namjoo Concert, Saturday, September 6, 2008. Left to right, actor extraordinaire Behrouz Vossoughi, Alahazrat Mehran, beautiful VOA personality, Luna Shaad, and Arash Sobhani of Kiosk.
Friends at the Namjoo Concert, from left: Payam, Ehsan, Maryam, Jahanshah, beautiful Persian dance artist, Heather Rastovac, Mehran, and Reza.
At the Namjoo after party, from left Ehsan, Maryam, Jahanshah, and Mehran.
Behrouz Vossoughi posed for me at the Namjoo concert.
At Shadi and Ardalan's house...I know something went wrong with my camera here, but looking at the photos, I rather liked this one! From left: Amir Salamat of Beyond Persia, Arash Sobhani of Kiosk, Luna Shaad of VOA, and Ardalan Payvar of Kiosk.
Oh My God! This extraordinary musician, Shahrokh, played nostalgic tunes on the piano and on my heart! He was jamming with the other musicians at the party. Superb!
Beautiful and artistic couple, our hosts, Shadi Yousefian and Ardalan Payvar. Shadi is a successful photographer and a theater actress. Ardalan is a musician with Kiosk and a web designer. Beautiful young people.
From left: Sweet and talented mezzo-soprano and actress Raeeka Shehabi Yaghmai, Ardalan Payvar, and Arash Sobhani of Kiosk.
From left: Raeeka Shehabi Yaghmai, Arash Sobhani, and Mohsen Namjoo.
Mohsen Namjoo and his guitar.


For Mahrokh

Mahrokh was my schoolmate from the first grade all the way through fifth grade. Born to a European mother and an Iranian father, she was severely retarded and disabled. Her legs were in some type of braces and though she tried to keep up with the rest of us, even to the inexperienced eyes of her young classmates it was obvious that she wasn't like the rest of us. Mahrokh was my friend. I think I was Mahrokh's friend.
I think the reason Mahrokh was in our school was that our school was the only elementary school in our neighborhood for miles around and all the children went to this school. I don't know whether there were special schools for mentally disabled people in Tehran in the 1960's; so I think that may also have been the reason she attended regular school with us.
Of course, we had signs to know that Mahrokh wasn't fully able like the rest of us. In Iranian elementary schools, there is a subject called dikteh, or dictation, where the teacher slowly reads text from the Farsi textbook, and the children are supposed to write down what she is reading. The pace of the dictation is geared to the abilities of most of the students in class. Mahrokh, however, couldn't keep up with our pace.
The first time I noticed she was falling behind the rest of us, looking confused, was in second grade, I think. I could see her repeat the words the teacher was saying aloud, trying to write it down when the teacher would move along and read new words. Watching her struggle, I kept an eye on her notebook and as we were all progressing with the dictation, I would tell her the words she had missed. The teacher saw me do this, which is normally considered cheating. I had no idea I was cheating.
When the teacher walked to me asking me what it was I thoght I was doing, I simply said: "Khanoom Ejazeh. Shoma kheili tond dikteh migeen. Eeen Mahrokh-e beechareh aghab miofteh" (You are reading too fast. Poor Mahrokh keeps falling behind.). The teacher looked at me and at my con-conspirator and said: "Eshkali nadareh" (That's O.K.). From then on and for several years to come, I became Mahrokh's "dictation coach!" The teacher would do the dictation and the students would follow. Once we were done, I was allowed to go to Mahrokh's corner and read the dictation to her at her pace, helping her finish it. Occasionally, I think I really did cheat with Mahrokh, too! I would point out the mistakes she was making as she was writing, helping her erase and correct her dikteh, but I don't think anybody minded.
Mahrokh had to repeat fourth grade, but I was asked to go help her with her dikteh at recess times, something I didn't mind. I never forget Mahrokh's relieved look when I came into her classroom. She had beautiful brown eyes and the most gorgeous dark blonde hair. The rest of her features were deformed, but those eyes could talk volumes to me.
I can't remember now which grade this was, but I remember one winter day when it had snowed heavily in Tehran, when I was called by the principal to her office. People in the US talk about the principal's office with such fear and reverence! They have seen nothing until they have seen an Iranian principal's office! I went with a heart beating fast and with all kinds of trepidations. Though I was academically a good student, I was a tomboy who feared nothing and would get into trouble all the time. I had been called into the principal's office to get beaten on the palm of my hand with a wooden ruler more than once! I walked into the principal's office and a beautiful foreign woman, a khareji, stepped forward and addressed me. "To Kaviani hasti?" (Are you Kaviani?). There was something really familiar in the foreign lady's face. She said: "Man maman-e-Mahrokham" (I am Mahrokh's mother) with a thick European accent. I don't know why but suddenly I was relieved! Mahrokh's mother pulled out a gift-wrapped present and handed it to me, saying: "Noel Mobarak!" (Merry Christmas!). I had no idea what Noel was. I couldn't understand why I would be called into the principal's office and be handed a present! I can't remember now if I asked her any questions or if I thanked her. The present was a beautiful doll.
Some days I wonder whatever happened to Mahrokh. After fifth grade, I studied the sixth grade during the summer and went directly to high school one year ahead of my classmates. I never got to say a proper goodbye to her. Wherever she is, I hope she has fared well in the world, that she has had many friends, and that she is living in comfort now.
I watched a video clip of my favorite comedian, Bill Maher, in which he was joking around the Republican Party's nomination for Vice President, Sarah Palin. I was laughing and enjoying Bill Maher's sharp and intelligent political satire, until towards the end he made fun of Sarah Palin's fifth child who was born with Dawn Syndrome. My stomach churned. How absolutely unnecessary for him to make such a cruel joke at the expense of an infant who will have to face the challenges of the life ahead of her. I think people with disabilities are to be respected for the hardships they face living in a world where everybody else is running through tasks and projects and grades and jobs with ease. Physically challenged people have feelings just like us if not more! I know because my nephew, Reza, was retarded and he was full of joy of life, mischief, and jokes. So was Mahrokh. Bill Maher must apologize for his insensitive and unnecessary remarks. The rest of us should try and love all.