The Traveler's First Girlfriend

(As I write this piece this evening with my itchy fingers at their worst longing, I wonder whether my younger son, The Traveler, would object to my telling you about it. If you are reading this, it means that he has given me his permission.)
My children were growing up in Tehran, two of millions of their baby boomer generation, learning to negotiate their way in the Iranian society, dodging and avoiding the tightly enforced laws governing social behavior of all, and particularly of the opposite sex together.
He was 12 and in sixth grade (Avval-e Rahnamaee). I had started noticing that he is chatting with someone on Yahoo. And he had started receiving telephone calls from this girl. He had also started to become self-conscious about his appearance, and would take hours sometimes getting dressed. I asked him casually one time about the girl’s name and what grade she was, and he said she is the same age and same grade. Another time I asked him if she was pretty, and he said he had never met her! I asked him how he had come to know her then, and I was astounded when he said that one time he and his friends were walking by a girls school bus after school, and faced with the excitement of the girls inside paying attention to them, the boys had all thrown their scribbled phone numbers into the school bus, each of them receiving phone calls the next day! To my way of thinking, a girl his age knew more about many things, on a faster track to puberty and adulthood, as young girls invariably are as compared to young boys. Looking at my skinny son with that smooth skin and not a hair in sight on his face, I was worried but never said anything, just keeping an eye on the situation.
One time he said that he had made a date with her in Darband (the outskirts of Damavand, where people went mountain climbing in Tehran). He said that she was going to come with several of her friends, and he was going to join them. The image of a bunch of 12-year-old girls whose potential collective jokes and comments could be lethal to any male “joining” them, with my scrawny son in the middle of them, left me worried for him, but other than some general remarks about this, I kept quiet. Then he said the date had been cancelled. Phew, I was relieved! The instant messaging and telephone calls continued.
One day right after the summer break started, he told me if that girl calls, I was to tell her he was not home. Having always been respectful to their privacies, I said fine, but was dying to know what was up and how I could help him. Finally, he told me that he had had a date with the girl one day at 10 a.m. in Vanak Square. He had overslept and had woken up at 9:45, having no access to the girl and knowing that his “getting ready” would take more than an hour, and there was no way he could make it. So, he had called his friend, Shervin, who lived just by Vanak Square, explaining the situation to him, asking him to go meet the girl and, get this, tell her that my son had been in a car accident and couldn’t make it! Shervin had dutifully gone, met the girl and told her the story. The unfortunate piece of news was that upon return from the rendez vous, Shervin told my son that the girl wasn’t pretty at all. So in their gullibility and requisite silliness of that age, they had decided that this relationship wasn’t going to go anywhere and had to be ended!
So when the poor girl kept calling my son, he wouldn’t answer. When, one time, she did manage to catch him on the phone, he had obviously sounded aloof and disinterested in talking. She had asked him what was going on, and in his infinite wisdom, to let her down easily I guess, he had said that during the car accident, he had been hit in the head and had developed amnesia as a result! So, he couldn’t remember that much about his past, including her!
Summer days were dragging by and my son and his wise friend, Shervin, had started going to Enghelab Sports Complex for day camp. One day when he came home he couldn’t wait to tell me the story of what had happened that day. He said that as he and Shervin were walking on the main entrance road of the sports complex, a taxi had passed them by with two girls in it. He said one of the girls waved at Shervin as they passed, and Shervin told my son: “Shit, that’s the girl!” So, as their unbelieving eyes watched, the taxi stopped and started to turn around towards them. He said all he could think about at that time (this is true, believe me) was how he looked sleepy and disheveled (worthy of a bunch of other sleepy 12-year old guys he was going to see in class) and he was not ready to meet any girl looking like that! So, he told me, he quickly jumped behind a bush, pulled his shirt out of his pants, unbuttoned it, spat into his hands (no gel available, right?) bent over to toss his hair and put the spit in it to make it fluffy and more presentable! By this time the cab returned and let the two girls out, and my son got to meet that girl for the first time.
I asked him if she was ugly like Shervin had said, and he said no, she was really pretty! Go figure! He then started dating this girl, his first girlfriend ever, for a while.

Art Happens In Tuscany

I didn’t want to post anything this weekend, but I couldn’t resist this photograph and wanted you all to see it, too! My unmet blogger friend, Tameshk, is traveling in Italy this summer. Roja is a graduate Art History & Criticism student at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey. This is a picture she has posted in her blog, and I post it here with her permission. It is so clear an artist took this picture! This is an amazing photograph. If you click on it to enlarge it, you will see an incredible depth to the picture. All at once, it shows the cobblestone road behind Tameshk, Tameshk herself, the sidewalk leading to the shop, the shop window, and inside the shop in vivid detail. Additionally, I believe it’s an amazing photograph, because it appears that the picture at once shows history spanning hundreds of years, with Roja, her red headscarf, and her Birkenstocks representing the here and now! I wish Roja the best of luck and happiness this summer. She is another of her generation with very special qualities. She is an artist, a poet, a writer, a self-trained chef, and a beautiful young woman with a heart of gold. She blogs in English.


Praying For The Dancers

I am off for the weekend. It was a fun and busy week, leaving me feeling somewhat accomplished! This week I received phone calls, emails, and visits I didn’t expect, and they all made me so happy. I know I must sound like a broken record to you all, but I was reminded again that the best things in life are free or don’t cost too much! My kids and I had been experiencing turbulences, so I kept quiet about them for a while. As the black clouds shift around us, soon I will write about them as I have wanted to do a lot. I leave you with images of Baluchi men performing the traditional Baluch dance. You know that in most of Iran, and particularly in eastern Iran (in Khorasan and in Sistan & Baluchestan provinces) there is a dance and dance moves called “choobi” or “choopi,” in which men in a group or a circle dancing together perform movements with sticks (choob). After each dancer performs moves in an independent circle, they come together into a larger circle, hitting the sticks against one another, and hitting the sticks of the dancer next to them, creating a fantastic sound which when added to the music and the moving sounds of the dancers, creates an exciting and invigorating visual and audio treat, charged with energy and joy. It is truly awesome. I dedicate this post to those honest and decent people of Sistan & Baluchestan who have been affected by the Gono storm, and who are now homeless, hungry, thirsty, tired, and worried. Please don’t forget them in your prayers. Have a good weekend y’all and be good.

A True Story-Part 5

Her name is Professor Minoo Derayeh, currently of York University of Toronto, and formerly of McGill University. She is an author and a scholar, frequently traveling all over the world, delivering speeches and papers, as scholars do. She is famous and prominent, just as I had expected her to be, and she has gone far and wide, and I would have expected no less of her. After decades, that night in May, I finally found the courage with which to address her, this Professor Derayeh that she had become. She wrote back soon, saying:
“Thank you for the email. You cannot imagine how much you touched me. Hearing a voice from the most beautiful part of my past took me back to mydream land--Iran. I miss her a lot. You also made me laugh. I never knew I had a fan…”
She is married to another scholar, and they have two beautiful grown children. Apart from her obvious credentials and renowned professional achievements, she sounds sweet and kind and warm. You can read and listen to that interview here, and learn about her book here. When you go to look at her book description, you can also see what other scholars have had to say about her research and her book. It is impressive. I am immediately setting out to get to know this remarkable Iranian, now for more reasons than the respect I had for her as a child.
I end my true story with some advice for you. Since life changed for so many of us after the Iranian Revolution, moving us around and about to other parts of the world, creating one of the most educated and decent immigrant communities in the world, we have lost many friends and acquaintances, people who may have somehow been important to our identity, or who may have touched our lives and hearts somehow. Do go looking for them in whatever way you can, using the internet and any possible means you can employ. If and when you find even one of them, as I did, there might be a delightful and valuable find waiting for you. In the newly-found Minoo Derayeh I found an Iranian woman who aside from her meaning to me, she would have made me proud to know about, even if I had never known her as “the girl with the moves.”
P.S. These series were published as a story in Iranian.com on July 2, 2007.


Alkhas for Touka

In one of his latest posts in his blog, Touka Neyestani talks of his love and respect for the famous Iranian Assyrian painter, Hannibal Alkhas, as an artist and as a teacher. The latest post is of Mr. Alkhas' immediate reply email to Touka. Some other day, I will talk about Mr. Alkhas and his special and unique brand of design and painting. I will also talk about his poetry, and about what a nice man everyone says he is. For now and today, I want to dedicate this post to Touka, himself an accomplished architect, cartoonist, illustrator, and design artist, as today he is the proud owner of an Alkhas painting! These are my small Alkhas sketches which the Master did in Berkeley in 2001. They adorn my office wall, bringing me joy and pride on a daily basis. On one he says: "A few spots + a few lines = A sketch." On the other one, he says: "Who said only symmetry is beautiful?"

Rahnavard's Khastegari...

My friend in Tehran, Rahnavard (The Traveler), who blogs in Farsi, is a very sweet and intelligent young woman, an engineer, and a capable writer. Today she has a funny post about "Khastegari," or the introduction ceremony of marriage suitors in Iran. I continue to be mesmerized with how little these customs have changed over time! Take a break from all that bothers you and read it, it's funny! If you can't read Farsi and feel really compelled to know what this is about, leave me a comment and I'll translate it for you. P.S. While you are in her blog, take a look at her 14 Ordibehesht post, a poem called Yaghi (the rebel) which is fabulous, too.

A True Story-Part 4

On a Friday in May, I went to Radio Zamaneh’s website , as I frequently do. There was an interview with a scholar about women in Iranian history, a topic which I would normally devour upon spotting! I couldn’t believe it! There she was in the photograph, being interviewed as an expert on Islamic history and gender equality! My childhood idol, the one who inspired me to love dance to this day, the one I would imitate in my bedroom mirror, trying to walk just like her, was standing behind a podium in the blurred photograph, looking poised and confident still, bespectacled and a little older, but beautiful just the same, and totally recognizable for me.


A True Story-Part 3

I thought about her so many times during the years and decades since. Where was she and what was she doing? Did she fare better in life than I did? Did she find a man who deserved her, loved her, and made her happy? Did she have children? Did she go to college? What did she study? Why did I never have the courage when I was younger to have a conversation with her, asking her questions about her ambitions? I am not the same scrawny timid little kid anymore, and I can and I do walk up to anyone and start up a conversation. Why didn’t I know how to do that when I was a 7th and 8th grader? Then on some days, I would remember her and think to myself what if she got married to a rich man and chose a life as a homemaker and ceased to go on paths and routes which I would have preferred to follow? Wouldn’t that be ironic, I thought, having a life completely opposite to that of my first “role model’s!?” I reflected on how in the blissfully ignorant times of our childhood and youth in Iran, we somehow thought everyone will stay exactly where they were forever, easy to locate and to contact whenever we decided. Little did we know that shifts in our circumstances would be so vast and profound, that some days we wouldn’t know in which continent to start looking for someone we had lost.

Missing My Girlfriends...

I have been missing my girlfriends for a few days now. I wished I could take a walk with them and talk about nothing and everything. I miss talking to those who know so much about me, I don't need to explain anything, to introduce anyone, and to divulge any secrets in order to ask for their advice and support, as it goes with girlfriends. I'm homesick for more than my home today. Photo From Fars News Agency, June 12, 2007, Ashayer women attending a wedding.


A True Story-Part 2

We would ride the same bus from Istgah Hammam on the boarder of Tehran Pars and Tehran No, where our high school was located. She would get off at Istgah Masjed, and I would have to go on for many other stops before I could reach my home. I would watch her beautiful, perfect hair, which looked curled and managed all the time, looking nothing like my limp straight black mop. When she would get up to get off at her bus stop, there was such confidence in her shoulders and the way she carried her head. As she got off the bus, it wasn’t hard to see all the boys of her neighborhood lining up to receive her and follow her to her home if not by walking next to her, by watching her every step.
The last time I saw her on stage was at the year-end school celebration, for what she and her group had been rehearsing for many months. On this day she looked even more mature, as she was wearing make-up, some kind of eyeliner and a pale pink lipstick, and some of her hair was swept away from her face. I don’t remember now other than the dance, what else it was she was doing on that stage—some kind of poetry recitation with a subject such as “night and day,” or some such thing. I do remember knowing at that time that I won’t be seeing her much anymore, as I was being moved to a bigger girls’ school the following year, and I don’t remember now whether she was graduating that year or the next. The very last time I saw her was one day when I was returning home from the new school. She looked really grown-up to me now, waiting on the other side of the street at Istgah Masjed, with a beautiful mini dress, makeup and well-coiffed hair, as was customary for college-aged young women. I remember that though time had gone by, seeing her still made me so happy, validating her prominent position as “role model” in my life. I thought again on that day, “Yes, I’m going to be just like her when I grow up.”


A True Story-Part 1

I found yet another excuse to leave the classroom, quickly and quietly running up the stairs two at a time into the second floor landing, and holding my breath as my heart was pounding with excitement, I slowly pushed open the door to the auditorium, just enough for my small and skinny frame to pass through, and looking to make sure nobody would take notice of my unwarranted presence, I slipped into a corner below the stage, perched on a metal Arj chair, and watched the rehearsal in progress on the stage. Five or six beautiful young women, 10th and 11th graders, were rehearsing a classical Persian dance, breaking for corrections and changes, and resuming again. I loved that loud music coming through the stage loudspeakers. I loved the dark tight leggings and tops they were wearing. I loved the girls on the stage and how they moved to the beat of that music in unison, competently and attentively. Among them was a girl that was the most beautiful of the group, with a perfect complexion, beautiful eyes, and long dark blonde hair. So confident and together, she looked like none of the others; she looked somehow older and more mature than everyone else in that auditorium, in fact. She was sixteen or seventeen and she was gorgeous. She could also dance, and I wanted nothing more in the world than to be just like her.

For The Bride's Older Sister

She looked beautiful, simple and honest in that white dress. Her small bouquet of white roses, which you had lovingly made for her, was a sincere reminder of the love and honesty with which this young union had commenced, amidst the love and support of family and friends. You were the beautiful older sister. Thank you for the gift of hope and optimism about love and marriage. Life is beautiful and full of promises of better things, I was reminded yet again. In the hours I spent in that unpretentious and affectionate celebration, the message of love was prominent and so real. I thought it was perfectly O.K. for you to cry those tears my dear, as I could see them for what they were: tears of joy.
Photo by Bayramali


Dance of Soul

Some days I think I am slowly getting too old for all the ups and downs and the ranges of emotion to which I am subjected in this phase of my life! When all in the same week I see floods and famine, disease and displacement, fear and injustice, happiness and celebration, and nostalgia and longing, I get on an emotional see-saw which has serious physical side-effects for me (that’s it--you can’t get the rest out of me!). This having been no exception, I bring a week of pain and joy to an end. I have written about most of the pains of the week, and the joys were not really big ones, worthy of a report, but there just the same, keeping up the balance in my life. It is Friday and I leave you with a treat this weekend, having to do with, what else, dance! This is Banafsheh Sayyad. She is daughter to Parviz Sayyad[1]. Banafsheh is an accomplished dancer and choreographer, who holds an MFA in Dance from UCLA where she taught Mystical Persian dance. She has studied with some of the great masters in dance and choreography including Antonia Rojos, Victoria Marks, David Rousseve and Donna Uchizono. She has her own dance company, Namah, in Los Angeles. I saw Banafsheh perform when she had just begun her professional career in 1990 or 1991. It was so clear then that she would go far with her art—and she has. Take a look at this and come back, please. I love the way she has combined the spiritual Iranian percussion instrument of Daf with her own interpretation of the spiritual dance, providing an excellent visual effect. Though by now she is an accomplished expert on the new brand of Persian dance she has developed in her repertoire, you can see here that as a choreographer, she can lead her dance company into more complicated Western routines, bordering ballet moves. I love watching her move, with such confidence and pure joy, accompanied by good musicians[2] and good dancers, creating an artistic and provocative total effect. If you want to see more, look here, here, and here. You can also go to her website for more information. I hope that the weekend brings you rest and joy, and that you recreate yourselves successfully. I’m off to another weekend every moment of which is scheduled (yikes—couldn’t help it!). There will be a wedding, a book party, a lecture, two dinners, and two “labor-of-love” projects in my weekend. I’ll tell you all about them if they turn out report-worthy, as I always do. In the meantime, kiss, hug, hold, serenade, and confess your love to those you love! Those of you with less exciting lives, be cool and be kind to those around you! Your turn will come, too! Have a good weekend y’all. [1] Who gave us years of joy in his Samad series on Iranian TV and cinema (actually, there is so much to be said about Parviz Sayyad and his comedy and serious works, and someday I will say them, but this post is not about him.) [2] Pejman Haddadinia’s Zarbang


Midnight Hours With Hafez

I opened my Hafez and made a wish. I was full of hope to hear some of Khajeh's usual wisdom and his prophetic advice for myself. It opened to a poem that had many romantic memories for me, hitting me with a flood of reminiscences of a place and a time and a man, no longer running through my life. Tears fell, hot and furious. Then I read it again. And again. And it all started making new sense, with a new message, one of hope. Such is Hafez to me. His poetry can lift me up and give me new resolve. In that sense, I am not unique. This just goes to show you that I am a very typical Iranian. Here's the poem. (If you can't read Farsi, let me know and I will post the translation.)
مرا عهدیست با جانان که تا جان در بدن دارم
هواداران کویش را چو جان خویشتن دارم
صفای خلوت خاطر از آن شمع چگل جویم
فروغ چشم و نور دل از آن ماه ختن دارم
به کام و آرزوی دل چو دارم خلوتی حاصل
چه باک از خبث بدگویان میان انجمن دارم
الا ای پیر فرزانه مکن عیبم ز میخانه
که من درترک پیمانه دلی پیمان شکن دارم
خدا را ای رقیب امشب زمانی دیده بر هم نه
که من با لعل خاموشش نهانی صد سخن دارم


Roger Waters

Last night I went to see Roger Waters in Oakland's Oracle Arena with three coooool guys, and had an unforgettable time. Pink Floyd and Roger Waters are legends needless of too much description. You either know the man or you don't, and if you do, you either love him or you don't. Very few people are completely indifferent to Pink Floyd and Roger Waters, in my experience. Take a look at some video clips, first the unforgettable Wall, and then this, the video clip of which is very similar to what we saw on stage last night, and last this, which is a mellow and marvelous duet of Wish You Were Here he did with Eric Clapton.
From the song, High Hopes:
The grass was greener
The light was brighter
With friends surrounded
The night of wonder
I consider myself fortunate to have been able to see the man in concert in my lifetime. He is awesome and his concerts with their special effects and the fantastic musicians accompanying him are unequalled treats.

The Darker Side of Berkeley

It is another cold and overcast morning in Berkeley. As I run from parking to work, late as usual, she walks up to me with urgency. She is about sixty years old, is not grungy like some of the others I have seen, but does look very poor. As she starts addressing me, she doesn’t sound illiterate, crazy, or high. She says softly: “Good morning. I am homeless. I am cold and hungry. Can you give me some money to buy breakfast?” I stop and look at her. Something about those soft blue eyes grips me. I so want to talk to her, to find out her story, for she would have one I am sure. I am late and even if I was not, I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask and bear listening. I look in my purse and fish out two dollar bills and ask her: “Will this buy you something at McDonald’s?” She says: “Yes, thank you, God bless you.” As I start walking, I wonder again whether giving money to the homeless is a socially responsible thing to do. I usually begrudge being asked for money by beggars and vagrants, because I think if I started working at 15 and then continued to work all my life to support myself and others, so can and should those who can work. This time, though, I didn’t think those thoughts. Though I seldom admit it, some days being in Berkeley breaks my heart.


Say It Isn't So....

Asieh Amini, a women's and children's rights activist in Tehran, says in her blog that two people will be stoned in Iran on Thursday. My heart weeps. ........... Update: Wednesday, June 20th, 2007 P.S. I am happy to hear that the stoning scheduled for Thursday has been suspended, according to Fars News Agency. Independent of my beliefs against capital punishment, I think this barbaric method of execution must be eliminated from Iranian judicial system. So long as stoning is an allowable punishment in Iranian law books, judges will issue stoning sentences all over Iran, and they will be carried out in public or in private; therefore to end it, it must be eliminated from Iranian laws. Even when eliminated from the law books, the fact that it has happened as many times as it has in Iran over the past three decades will present the least proud moments of our country's history.

Iranian Nomad Woman

I am home and homesick again. Ironically, I remember days when I walked in a park in Tehran, feeling home and homesick. Such is the life that I lead, a constant contradiction in terms and actions, interspersed with realities and longings. I look at this woman, who has probably never gone much farther than her tribe, her Il. I envy her her sense of belonging to that land, the irony being that she is an Iranian nomad. She never left Iran, so she never saw new places and people to love and to belong to and to miss if she ever left again. She grew up, got married, worked side by side of her man, and will grow old watching their children and others' from their tribe. She never leaves anyone or anything important behind. When they move from Yeylagh (cold country) to Gheshlagh (warm country) and vice versa twice a year, they take everything that matters and leave anything that doesn’t behind. I envy that efficiency. Is it painful for them? Do they wish they could stay somewhere permanently? Do they get tired of moving all their lives? To be sure, they know how to do it better than I do. Could it be though, because they never knew other places and lifestyles? I wonder.


A Human Catastrophe In The Making

P.S. Latest on the subject: Siamak Ghassemi, Mehrvarzi baraye hameye Iranian; Shargh Newspaper Report .
A human catastrophe of the most devastating dimensions is taking place in Sistan and Baluchestan provinces of Iran. Earlier this month, Gono, a tropical storm hit Oman and swept through Sistan & Baluchestan, creating floods and havoc, destroying roads, restricting transportation into and out of the area, disrupting daily life, leaving the area vulnerable to diseases. In the wake of Gono, 350,000 people are now threatened with Malaria and Cholera, as well as other diseases and disasters. Drinking water is at best available for only 30% of the population. Management of emergency assistance has always been a problem in Iran, judging from the horrific conditions of earthquake victims of recent time. With the disappearance and obstruction of roads in the area, however, even the slow emergency assistance cannot reach the region to be of use. Dissemination of news about the tragedy has also been scant and weak, as the state-owned Iranian radio and television (IRIB) have mostly kept quiet about the extent and depth of the disaster, and the imminence of more complications, escalating by the minute. In fact many people inside Iran are not aware of the details and proportions of this unfolding tragedy.
Independent journalists have started a spontaneous campaign to raise awareness about the calamity and to ask other Iranian journalists and webloggers all over the world to disseminate news about this, a tragedy that if unmanaged is threatening all of Iran with the spread of Cholera and Malaria. Please read the related material and spread the news. More information about how to help is being researched and will follow soon.
Read: Fars News Agency: Cholera and Malaria threaten the lives of 350,000 people hit with the storm in the region; Karim Arghandehpour’s Weblog: Bani adam azaye yek yekdigarand; Abbas Abdi, Shargh Newspaper, Sokoote khabari, chera? ;Seyed Abolhasan Mokhtabad’s Weblog: Keh ta nagah ze yekdigar namanim;Hanif Mazroee’s Weblog: Sistan o Baluchestan ra daryabim;Taravat Website: Ma va Gono Reza Bavafa Weblog: Seil e jonoob e ostan;Radio Zamaneh: Khatare Shioo e vaba va Malaria dar manateghe toofanzadeh
This article was published in Iranian.com this morning. If you are a blogger, please spread the word, and leave me the link to your post so that it can be shared with the journalists in Iran. Help in any way you can. Thank you.


For My Father

As I was reminding my father’s namesake to be sure and call his father this morning, I told him “I miss my Dad.” He said “I know.” I wonder how he knows, because we don’t talk about my father much. It must be that he himself misses his grandfather and understands the sentiment on a personal level. My father was a truly special man, smart and kind, poetic and political, wise and passionate, he was a man so generous of the heart, he was father to many beyond his offspring; he was the man to see when in trouble! He cried when I told him I wanted to get married when I was 18, telling me not to leave his house, to give him a chance “to do things” for me, he said. When I showed up at his doorstep 20 years later with 2 suitcases and 3 boxes, he let me in, befriended me, and actually said: “You know, God wanted these turns of events in our lives to coincide—I didn’t know how to handle your mother’s passing and her absence from the house, and I’m so glad God sent you to be with me.” Pretty good for an Iranian father of his generation, wouldn’t you say? My father’s business was enlightenment and encouragement, not blame and degredation. A poet himself, he loved poetry. Of course he liked Hafez and Saadi, like all Iranians do, but he loved Eraghi, Obeid Zakani, and Vahshi Bafghi. The man knew so much poetry and so many stories and anecdotes by heart, it was amazing being in a conversation with him—you never left the room the same person as you had come in, for you had learned a thing or two in the time you had spent with him. In a few days, it will be three years since he passed away. On this Father’s Day, I remember him with love and reverence, missing him more than I can say. I go to call the other father figure in my life to wish him a happy Father’s Day.


My Iranian and American Marvels This Week

Heather Rastovac in 2005
This was a good week for me. Life returned to relative normalcy for me and my family, and I visited many wonderful new and old friends. Yesterday I met a fascinating young Iranian mother who is an educated engineer, and also a successful blogger. She and her wonderful baby, Arman, were one of my finds this week. Having lunch and interesting conversation with this articulate and thoughtful young woman on a sidewalk in Berkeley, it felt like I had known her forever. I continue to be in awe of this generation of young Iranians. I also had the good fortune of meeting a remarkable young American woman last weekend. Heather Rastovac is a resident of Seattle, Washington, and is an artist of Middle Eastern dances. She is also a human and women’s rights activist. I saw her as she was getting ready to leave on a long trip to Tajikistan, Tunisia, and Sicily, researching her work. Her blog introduces her this way: “She engages in extensive studies of Middle Eastern culture, languages, music, poetry, religion and women's issues. She is currently pursuing a degree in Cultural Anthropology and Persian language at the University of Washington, and plans to obtain a Master's Degree in Dance Ethnology. Heather has traveled extensively and has visited Morocco, Afghanistan, Turkey, and the Mediterranean for cultural studies.” She traveled to Afghanistan in 2006 with the human rights delegation, “Women Making Change” to focus on Afghan women’s issues. I share with you the image of Heather, performing a traditional Persian Dance. Aside from her charm and talent, I found Heather to be a beautiful human being. Her humanity makes me proud. I wish her a safe and fruitful journey this summer. I hope the weekend is full of joy and rest for you all. Be good to yourselves and to those around you. Empty your minds of bad thoughts and fill them with hope. Trust me, hope is a very good thing, necessary for overcoming the pains and evils of this world. The best thing about hope is that it’s free, much like all the good things in life. All it takes is you!

Ghassem Abad Miravim Ma...(3)

O.K. It is a long story, and for those of you who can access Iranian.com, you can read the whole story here. Those of you who are in Iran and cannot access Iranian.com, please let me know and I will continue posting it in parts next week. I had my two woolen chadorshabs converted into window valances, throws, and pillows. Their colors are so bright and lovely, they continue to be a visual feast for me. Above and beyond their appearance, they serve as mementoes of an unforgettable journey into a corner of my lovely Iran, where I was taken by fate to see something very special again—beautiful, unpretentious Iranian hearts and souls.


Ghassem Abad Miravim Ma...(2)

As we sat there thinking about what to do, he offered that if we waited for a few minutes, he could call his friend in Ghassem Abad Olya to see if he could arrange a “viewing” of chadorshabs for us. We thanked him and waited while he went into his shop to make the phone call. Five minutes later we saw him lock his office door and pull down the shades, walking towards our car! He said O.K. I have talked to my friend and he is waiting for us! Us? I asked him if he was coming with us, and he said yes, that we wouldn’t be able to find the place by ourselves. This felt presumptuous on his part and made me a little uneasy. I got off the passenger side and went to sit in the back, offering my seat to the Chaboksar guy, Jafar Agha. We drove in silence until we reached a fork in the road, the branch on the right leading to Ghassem Abad Sofla and the road on the left leading to Ghassem Abad Olya. We took the left road for a few minutes when the man told us to stop the car. His friend, Akbar Agha, joined us in the car now, giving us directions to his house. It was a typical village road, bumpy and winding, going through an endless series of farms and citrus orchards. I was slowly developing trepidations at this whole business! What would we do if something went wrong? Who were these people in our car? Where were they taking us? Who was waiting for us at the end of this road? Who would know where to look for us if we disappeared? I slowly pulled my cellular phone out of my purse and when I realized there was no reception signal on it, put it back in my purse, feeling even worse. I looked at my companion’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He looked confused and concerned, too. I wanted to protest, but thought that it would be so rude. Then I was mad at myself, for if anything should happen to us, we would have given up our lives not to be impolite! How typically Iranian of us! We kept on driving until we reached what seemed to be the end of the road. Akbar Agha and his friend jumped out of the car and in their sweet Gilak accent said: “Befarmaid!” We reluctantly got out of the car. I was thinking all kinds of bad thoughts, walking with leaden feet towards a typical Gilan village house on wooden stilts, with clay steps leading to the residential portion of the home upstairs.


Ghassem Abad Miravim Ma...(1)*

It all started one day when I walked into Rasht Museum. An old house converted into a modest museum, it took under an hour to view everything in the collection. Through my travels inside Iran, I had visited similar museums in other cities, Tabriz, Hamadan, Zanjan, Isfahan, Kashan, Mashad, Shiraz, etc. They all appear neglected and somehow sad as compared to the richer museums in Tehran, and of course none of them can hold a candle to Western museums, I’m ashamed to say. On this particular visit, on my way out of the museum in Rasht, I noticed a bright red piece of hand-woven fabric on a wall. I asked the museum attendant what that was, as there was no description for it nearby. She said this was a chadorshab. I knew what a chadorshab was. It was a huge square of fabric wherein in Iranian homes extra bedding for guests was lovingly wrapped to stay clean and dust-free. I suppose as the tradition of big houses, surprise visitors, and extended stays of guests have one by one disappeared in Iran, there is no more use for the concept of the article, at least in big cities. I asked her if it was made in Rasht, and she said that it was woven in the village of Ghassem Abad. I left making a note to myself to seek out Ghassem Abad and go visit it someday. Three years later, on a Nowrooz excursion to Gilan and Mazandaran, I pulled out a map, found Ghassem Abad on it, and suggested to my traveling partner that we go there to find a chadorshab. On the map, it looked like Ghassem Abad was right on the border of Gilan and Mazandaran, just past Chaboksar on the road from Ramsar to Rasht. We arrived in Chaboksar, and looking for someone to help us, we found a man standing by a realtor office, observing the traffic. I asked him if he could tell us which direction we should take for Ghassem Abad. He asked which Ghassem Abad? Ghassem Abad Olya (Upper) or Ghassem Abad Sofla (Lower)? We didn’t know. So, I explained to him that I was looking to find a chadorshab, and if he knew which one of the two villages had what we were seeking. He said that would be Ghassem Abad Olya. He further explained that there is no shop to go to in that village to buy the item; rather, he said we should wait for Ramsar’s Seh-Shanbeh-Bazaar (Tuesday Market), where assorted chadorshabs were brought to market for sale. This being a Friday, it seemed rather frivolous to have to wait for Tuesday to tackle this project, I thought! *Another Story in Several Episodes....Sorry!


Carlos Santana

Late last summer the three of us went to see Carlos Santana in a concert in Concord. Concord Pavillion is home to hundreds of concerts every summer, where the audience sits in open air in Diablo Valley Canyon’s balmy and wonderful summer’s nights. We packed a picnic dinner and went. The age range of the audience was remarkable. There were white-haired grandmothers and grandfathers (the original Woodstockers!), and there were 10 and 12-year olds (that first group’s grandchildren, probably), and all the ages in between, walking about. Carlos Santana is an extraordinary artist who has been performing for over 40 years, delivering pure musical joy to his audiences. He is talented, charismatic, and generous, with liberal and peace-minded political views. Artistically, he keeps re-creating himself and his music to appeal to brand new audiences, while keeping the old ones continually mesmerized with itself. It goes without saying how good it felt to be able to go to this concert with my children. As he played Smooth, I wasn’t the only one to stand up on the lawn under the beautiful moonlight and stars of that September night, dancing the primitive and natural dance which Santana music invariably tricks all to do. I watched as the beautiful summer’s breeze tossed everyone’s clothing and hair around, long white hair in the middle of blond, brown, red, and black. Listen and tell me whether it moves you to dance, too. Photo by Ken Friedman from Carlos Santana’s Website: “Carlos shows his appreciation to the band at the concert in Concord for the hard work they have done by giving each a plaque.”

Narcissi (Narges)

For Fariba.


The Traveler Talks....

I swear he grew taller and hairier in two weeks! His older brother asks him: “So, how did you introduce yourself to people from other countries?” I suppose he is referring to his Iranian-American identity…I’m pretending not to be paying attention, but I’m listening intently...The Traveler replies, “Well it all depended on where the girl was from….”...his brother shakes his head understandingly and the two of them laugh in agreement! Something may have just gone right over my head...

Gol-e Sad Tomani...

My friend, Fariba, sent me a picture of a small bouquet of Gol-e-Sad Tomani, or Peonies, sitting on her living room table, directly across from where she was typing a note to me. It is not a very high quality picture, as she took it with her cell phone, but it is enough to remind me of my endless love for the flower, and the joy I used to experience at seeing its appearance in Tehran flower shops in mid-Spring every year. Before their sudden disappearance in the early summer, I would buy many different colors and varieties of the flower, putting them wherever I could look at them every moment of the day, trying to save their image and fragrance in my head for the months that I won’t be able to see them again until next year. I don’t know where that Farsi name came about. Someone said it was to show the preciousness of the flower, by citing a very high price for it (100 Toomans used to be a lot of money). I am full of memories today.


Pulling It Together

Life has been a little out of control of late, and it finally looks like I might be pulling it together again. After a whole month in the shop, my poor little scrunched up car, my Shabdiz*, was fixed and came home to me this week. Phewww! Who would have thought a “thing” could feel so much like a part of our family? Though I had a rental replacement, I missed my little car. My car is a place I spend so much time by myself, thinking, listening to music, and feeling. I’m glad it’s home. And my younger son, the world traveler, is coming home on Sunday night. I am certainly ready to have him home, as it has been hard not having his clunky, quirky, messy, and affable presence around. His room is unbelievably tidy now, and each time I go past it I am reminded that he is not home to mess it up or to yell at me for having touched things in his room! In his absence, my older son and I talk less, so we have fewer conflicts and problems, hating the peace and quiet that has come over us as a result of missing the world traveler! Order and peace—who would have thought they would be so unwelcome in my household?! I can’t wait for Sunday night. As has come to be my little tradition, I leave you with the image of a dancer this weekend. This is Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam. He is a highly acclaimed and talented Iranian dancer and actor, who lives in Paris. The picture is of his performance entitled "Sufi Dance" in Paris. I saw Mr. Moshkin Ghalam in a few television interviews and I saw clips of his play, Mirzadeh Eshghi’s Kafan-e-Siah, last summer. He is artistic, articulate, and intellectually provocative in things he does and says. Here are some interesting write-ups on this artist, this one an honest and complete review of his works in the US, by Mina, finding whose blog has been a treat for me. You can also look at this article on him in Payvand. Mr. Moshkin Ghalam’s website also has interesting pictures and short descriptions of his plays, though it is in French. (This reminds me to sometime tell you the story of what I learned and didn’t learn in four years of French classes in Tehran!) I hope you all have a good weekend, full of rest, joy, and hope. This weekend, only hang out with those you love and go to places you want to go, eat and drink as you please, and listen and watch and read that which makes you happy. If anyone makes you do otherwise, report them to me immediately! Please take yourself seriously and have some serious good fun this weekend. Be good and have a good one. *You know which horse Shabdiz was, right? He was one of a pair (the other one called Golgoon) belonging to Queen of Armanistan, Mahin Banoo, whose niece, Shirin, was destined to be the love of the Iranian King, Khosrow Parviz. Some day I will write about this, the sweetest and most magnificent Iranian love story, as told by a genius of Iranian poetry, Nezami Ganjavi.



"Silence brims with the unsaid!"* In memory of the Forouhars
*From a poem by Ahmad Shamloo
Photo by Ali Khaligh in Iranian.com (photo dated April 11, 2007)


Lahijan: From Tea for All to Tea for None...

I was once invited to go visit someone in Lahijan*. We found the property just by the lake in the city, and drove through what was a deserted tea plantation, heading for the huge main house (actually, a feudal mansion) on top of the hill.
As we drove through the private road on the property, in my mind I could see the many Lahiji women in their assorted colored dresses and scarves, bending over and picking tea leaves and singing those sweet Gilak ballads as they worked. As I got out of the car, I was suddenly gripped with an indescribable misgiving, like something was really wrong, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
We sat to have a lunch of Kabab, olives, and fresh bread with the man, the owner of the estate. I asked him if he had seen the plantation when there had been Chaikars (tea farmers) working on it, and he said yes, that the first day he had arrived, there were about 50 women farmers working on the land, and that he had walked past them to the main house to meet with the original owner, a very famous woman. I asked him some questions about those workers, what had happened to them and such. Then I asked him why the plantation was deserted and empty now. He said because the land is worth so much money, it would be a “sin” to plant tea on it. He then went on to explain to us that the reason he had insisted we go to lunch on that day was that the demolition team were arriving the next day to knock down the buildings and to level the lot for construction, as he pulled out a construction plan which showed the land would be divided into 50 lots.
The two men in the room didn’t know why I ran to the bathroom to throw up and wouldn’t say a word the rest of that afternoon.
*Lahijan is a city in Gilan Province in Northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea. Lahijan’s original agricultural product was tea. With the Iranian Government’s direct involvement in imports of cheap tea from china and other parts of the world, and their refusal to help support this increasingly fragile industry, tea producers suffered extensively and have almost disappeared, taking with them one of the most uniquely delicious teas of the world, and the livelihoods of millions of people in Lahijan and its surrounding villages. Read about it here and here.

Tehran, Last Days of Spring

Source: Mehr News


Serendipity in Berkeley

This article was published this morning in Iranian.com (http://www.iranian.com/Kaviani/2007/June/Berkeley/index.html) I went to see Aleph Null perform in Berkeley’s Anna’s Jazz Island last Sunday. As I was ending a week of melancholy, which in me always results in inconsolable homesickness for Iran, a co-worker’s tip about the event took me and my family there. Other than knowing that there was an Iranian in the band, I have to admit had no idea who Aleph Null were and what type of music they offered. I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced by a long shot. The venue was a tidy restaurant and bar, which has been in operation for about a year in Berkeley, offering live music every night of the week, owned and managed by a warm and wonderful jazz artist named Anna de Leon. I was surprised and impressed to see the size and complexity of this band. Seven members played in it, and among them, they were playing more than twelve instruments. Their music is best described as Middle Eastern fusion, where Eastern and Western instruments create a delightful and soulful audio feast. The beautiful music composed by David Hauer, who himself plays multiple instruments in the band, is interspersed with solo jams of other musical instruments such as saxophone, guitar, violin, clarinet, and the heavenly voice of Hossein Massoudi. Massoudi also plays Tonbak and Daf, singing Farsi and Kurdish songs in a unique presentation of traditional and jazz fusion. In the cozy atmosphere of Anna’s, so far away from the mountains, deserts, and seas of Iran, it felt so comforting to be surrounded by this treat of a performance. They played the songs of their album Five Tales Foretold, as well as others. The song, Bi Hamegan Be Sar Shavad, from their other works, was a memorable delivery of Molana’s (Rumi) timeless poem. No wonder my old friend, Persis Karim, editor and contributing poet to Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writings by Women of the Iranian Diaspora, said about their new album: “This is music that stirs you, takes you places you dream of going. Aleph Null fuses classical and folk Iranian vocal styles with traditional Middle-Eastern instruments and the spirit of jazz to create music that energizes, elevates and makes you understand why music matters.” Aleph Null’s musicians are: Mark Wieder—Contrabass; Hossein Massoudi—Farsi and Kurdish Vocals & Percussion; Gari Hegedus—Oud, Violin, Pennywhistle, Saz; David Hauer—Saz, Guitar; Sheldon Brown—Clarinet; Aharon Wheels Bolsta—Tabla, Tonbak, & other Percussion; and Sarah Michael—Viola de Gamba. I bought their CD Panj Ravayat, or Five Tales Foretold at the venue, but you can order it through CD Baby or Ketab Co. Take a look for yourself. Photograph by: Julie Rehmeyer

Shopping List



My older son turned 21 yesterday. I am not usually overtly inquisitive (read "nosey") to people who live around me. I usually wait until they are ready to talk about what they are thinking, and I have been particularly appreciated by men for this trait! My son’s 21st birthday, however, has been such a happy and exciting time for me, making me want to know what he’s thinking. I want to dive into his head and celebrate all the good thoughts that he is keeping in there. I guess I am looking for the hope and optimism that a 21-year old has about life. I know I should stop asking him what he is thinking, or I’d be a nosey smothering mother. So I stop.


Keep Moving...

I am off for the weekend. It was a rather melancholic week, so I’m glad it’s over. In the requisite quiet of melancholy, I did accomplish many chores and deadlines which I had put off for a long time, relieving me of some constant low-grade stress. I also met a very interesting person this week, providing one of the brighter spots of the week. Two of my friends had surgeries this week and I’m glad they have had good results, and that they’ll be alright. I leave you with the image of Leila Sadeghi, a beautiful young Iranian dancer (half-Iranian), who lives in our area. The picture shows her dancing with Irina Mikhailova at the Boom Festival in Portugal, in 2004. I love that look of concentration on her face, which somehow looks like it then runs all the way through her fingertips. Leila is daughter to an Iranian father and a Swiss mother, with definite emotional and artistic ties to Iran. You can go to her website and see for yourself, reading her biography there. In her website’s “Gallery” section, you can also look at her many photographs. I’m pleased to have found another delightful young Iranian. Enjoy your weekend, everyone! If you have to work, clean, wash, shop and cook, please then intermittently and frequently take time to eat, drink, sleep, hug, kiss, sing and dance! Take care and be good to yourselves and to those around you. Life’s too short. As for me, I want to do as little as possible this weekend, relaxing and getting myself out of this groove! I need to work on organizing some feelings and materials that have been causing havoc inside me, but which for various reasons cannot find their way into my keyboard yet. I might also go listen to Aleph Null's performance in Berkeley on Sunday night. If I do, I'll let you know about it. Be good y’all.

Free Ali Farahbakhsh, Prisoner of Conscience

Ali Farahbakhsh remains imprisoned. This week there were reports of a rapid deterioration of his mental and physical health in his six-month-long solitary confinement (read this and this). Imprisonment and torture of a journalist on unfounded and unsubstantiated charges, and denying him proper medical care is a crime and an outrage to humanity. The least we can do is not to forget about him and others like him. You can read something I wrote about him earlier here.
Photo from Hanif Mazrooee’s blog