I love all our little rituals too; Mum and I doing the spring cleaning, finding suitable dishes for all the sweets and biscuits and setting the table. I look forward to polishing the little wooden statues of Don Quixote and Sancho, painting the hardboiled eggs and shining the two little silver bowls and the teacup holders.
Buying the little goldfish is the best; I always want the smallest and the cutest one. My granddad, Babajoon looks at our table and says, 'So are you not getting a fish this year?'
'We already have Babajoon, it’s on the table.'
'Well I don’t see any fish in that bowl. Maybe it jumped out.'
'Oh no where has it gone?' I look in the bowl and the little red fish is swimming happily.
'Babajoon, why would you want to go and scare me like that; the fish is still in there.'
'Is it? Where?' He bends over the table and squints behind his glasses. 'Huh' he says at last (clearly unimpressed).
Babajoon does not believe in small fish. He buys big fat juicy goldfish for the New Year and looks very pleased with himself standing there feeding the fish with some of his breakfast bread. Mamanjoon says, 'Stop feeding those, they will make their water dirty.' But Babajoon decides not to hear her. He looks like he is really enjoying himself throwing the little pieces of bread in the water and watching his big fat fish snap them up like dolphins (Well maybe not quite like that). Mamanjoon shouts, 'Mr. Saramad' Babajoon turns around with his hand behind his ear looking at Mamanjoon and squinting a little (His way of saying, 'Pardon me? Did you say something?') when we all know he heard her perfectly well the first time. Mamanjoon calls that selective hearing and laughs about it (although sometimes she gets really angry.)
I love Babjoon. It’s great watching him as he so enthusiastically does all his New Year stuff. He is the one who makes sure that we all have the best seven Ss in the whole of Iran. He buys the nicest tasting Samanoo (malt mixed with flour) and fresh Senjed (a kind of fruit) from the Tajrish Bazaar. He goes in search of the reddest and the best looking Seeb (apple) and sits there shining it until it looks like it’s made out of glass. He goes in search of Sonbol (Hyacinth) and won’t give up until he finds some. Serkeh (vinegar), Seer (Garlic) or Sekkeh (Coins) are always easy to find and no trouble at all but his famous Sabzeh (green part of the growing wheat or Lentils) takes a lot of care and planning.
He starts on that a while ahead by soaking the wheat (he only ever grows wheat and never lentils for some reason) and changing its water all the time until they grow little roots. After that he takes a tray and pours his soaked wheat into it around two tall glasses in the middle where he will later place his daffodils and amaze everyone because when the wheat have grown into tall Sabzeh, you can’t see the glasses anymore and it looks like the flowers have grown from the middle of the greens. I see the look of approbation on people’s faces (as he explains this to them on the first day of the New Year) and realise that it was all worth it.
I know that (like me) he is looking forward to the New Year. I know that he is looking forward to dressing up and having whitefish and herbed rice with all his close family the night before the New Year, watching Nader and I trying to get Kelatch the dog to climb the King-berry tree by offering him biscuits, listening to Shadi begging him to make her some florescent pink fingerless gloves like Michael Jackson’s, watching his two sons chatting and eating pistachio nuts and dried chickpeas, trying on his new pyjamas designed by Ammeh Maryam under Mamanjoon’s admiring eyes and having my mum around to give him kisses and cuddles and be generally affectionate to him (because she loves him so much and he knows it too).
I know that he is looking forward to the next day too when he wakes up bright and early waiting for relatives to come and visit. You are supposed to start by visiting the oldest people in the family and go down the line from there. Babajoon is one of the oldest people in our family (He really doesn’t look it though) so he gets a lot of early morning visitors. People come in with cakes, flowers and open arms because everybody loves my granddad. He sits there clean shaven and bathed, in his suit, tie and waistcoat (looking a bit like Marlon Brando in the godfather) and smelling like old spice and a heavy blend of women’s perfumes (from being hugged so many times by so many different women).
I know that he is looking forward to all the laughter he is going to get from all the distant relatives when he tells them his selection of funniest things that happened to him in the past year and them gasping for air as he tells Italian jokes, translating them into Persian line by line.
One of the ladies starts laughing as soon as Babajoon opens his mouth, claiming that she is sure whatever comes out will be hilarious. When someone peels cucumbers and pouring salt over the pieces offers them around and one of the ladies says, 'Not for me thank you, my doctor has forbidden me from having salt', Babajoon turns to uncle Firuz and says, 'Quick, get on the phone, we need to find her a new doctor.'
Then someone asks him something about the family and you can really see the twinkle in his eyes as he clears a piece of the table in front of him. 'This is my mother, ‘Bibikhanoom’' says Babajoon, picking up the sugar bawl and placing it in front of him on the table. Then he picks up the salt shaker and putting it down on the table says, 'and this is my father, ‘Mirza Mohammad Ali khan Saham Nezam’' and goes onto making a complete three dimensional family tree with household items.
Sometimes Mamanjoon asks some of the visitors to stay for lunch but after lunch they too go home for their siesta and everyone can relax for a couple of hours.
The first two days of the New Year are the most hectic ones. That’s when my grandparents might get up to thirty something visitor in their house at once. There will be people showing off their new babies and pictures of their older children who have made it to the US, people talking about the old days and laughing or remembering a sad incident and giving each other deep and meaningful looks.
The visitors are usually very good, they only stay for a little while; just enough to have a cup of tea and a little chat and then they have to be off again to the next place visiting the next older relative down the line. Some younger relatives might bump into each other three or four times in one day as they visit people on their list remembering the older people they visited last year and aren’t with us this year.
The ones, who get on well, arrange to go to the next places together so they can talk to each other if their host is too old and boring. Sometimes Mum and I hitch a ride with some of these relatives and get to do some of our visiting like that because we don’t have a car. My Dad is not so big on the whole visiting thing.
By chatting to each other, people find out where the big New Year parties are. They ask their cousins where the other ones have been and then say, 'Oh no I totally forgot about Aunty Zari.' So the well-mannered people rush to visit aunty Zari and people like us (who can’t be bothered and are a tad on the lazy side) say, 'I’ll just call her and apologize.'
New Year parties are the best. Grownups sing and dance and we kids count all the money we’ve collected all through the day. That’s what you get for the New Year. Older people give money to people who are younger than them. The older ones always give you a tiny amount saying that it’s just for good luck and get seriously angry with the next generation who take out wads of crisp, new one-thousand-tooman-notes and hand them out to the kids who snap them up in the air like hungry lions.
Sometimes our parents come and borrow some money from us because they see a new kid in the party and they’ve run out of money.
'So far I owe you 12000, ok?'
'It’s thirteen thousand five hundred, dad.'
'Seriously?!' and they go away shaking their heads muttering, 'What is the world coming too.'
Most people go away for the new-year. The parents are usually happy to do so remembering how much money they are saving by not seeing the kids in the family and the kids are upset because they know how much money they are losing.
The New Year holidays start on the first of Farvardin, (twenty first of March, the official start of the spring) and go on for thirteen days.
On the thirteenth day, you have to go out of your house to somewhere nice and green and have a family picnic or you might get struck down by the bad luck that can come out of the first thirteenth of the year.
Picnic-day is fun and depressing at the same time because the holidays are over. The schools open on the 14th and all us kids end up walking around with a lump in our throat until the grownups announce that we are not leaving for Tehran that day because of all the traffic. When they say that, we start playing and being happy and grateful for yet another day off school.
The worst thing in the world is if it comes to the thirteenth and you still haven’t done your holiday homework.
Everyone knows what their first composition title is going to be when they get back to school,
How did you spend the New Year?
We spent the whole of this New Year in the north, (by the Caspian) because of all the bombings.
Dad sat on the front passenger seat and pushed his seat back as far as it went because he had broken his little toe and his leg was in plaster up to his knee.
Mr. Farivar had offered to drop us off at my grandparents' place in the north on his way to his own place. He is a big man with a big belly who needs to push his seat back a bit in order to drive properly. He apologized to my mum and she said that she was absolutely fine sharing the back seat with my two cousins and me.
We truly left Tehran in style with bombs dropping all around us. At one point a bomb landed about fifty meters away from our car on a sand dune and although we drove past it quickly, we still got loads of bits of stones and rocks banging on the car. Mr Farivar said we were lucky the bomb landed there and was suffocated by the sand or we would have surely gone up in smoke, driving so close to it an’ all.
After the Candovan tunnel we stopped and had BBQ-ed liver with bread. Mr. Farivar didn’t have any bread with his liver because he doesn’t have his teeth anymore. By the time we reached our destination, Mum was ready to have a nervous breakdown saying it wasn’t easy to share the back seat of a Peikan (Hillman Hunter) for four hours with three kids who can’t sit still for two minutes.
My Aunt had designed new-year outfits for my two cousins and me. I didn’t really like mine much but I was glad that our clothes weren’t matching like when grandma makes or buys them.
Dad said there was no need for a goldfish this year since we were by the Caspian and there is plenty of fish in the sea but at the end granddad went and bought one. So we set the table with seven things beginning with S, plus the goldfish, a mirror and Hafez book of poems.
This year the New Year was at 12:35 and 24 seconds. Therefore we all had time to shower and get ready in our new clothes before the new year started. At 12:32 we all stood around the table (apart from my cousin Shadi who insisted on starting the new year rocking on the rocking chair).
I told one of my grandmother’s friends about the story behind the orange in the bowl of water and she looked at me in amazement.
'So right now our planet is balancing on the horn of a bull!' she said looking interested, 'and at the new-year the bull gets tired from carrying the world and flings it from one horn to the other?'
'And if you look at the orange in the water very closely you might be able to see it move.'
'Fascinating' She said with a smile, 'I love these little stories.'
The soundtrack to our New Year was definitely ‘Weeeee waaaa woooo waaoo’ which is the noise the radio was making at the time as another friend of my grandparents’ tried to get BBC Persian with no luck.
There were a lot of people staying at my grandparents’ place in the north this year on account of all the bombings that were going on in Tehran and people not exactly being in the mood for being blown up since it was the New Year and all that.
In the memory of all those great childhood New Years. Especially those ones during the eighties. Happy Eideh No-rooz.