‘You love Saddam Hussein?’ asked the Greek barman eagerly. I had been mistaken for many things in my life but Saddam Hussein’s lover was definitely the most interesting one.
‘No’ I replied in a bit of a squeaky voice that had resulted from me being so shocked at this question. Socrates, the barman, frowned in disappointment. ‘You like Iraq better now?’ he inquired, leaning over the bar. He was quite big and now towering over me.
I instinctively stepped back, taking care not to step on the chubby black puppy sleeping just behind me with his fat, pink belly pressed against the cool stone floor of the restaurant.
‘No’ I said, ‘the current situation in Iraq is terrible but Saddam Hussein wasn’t such a great person either.’
The barman stepped back, giving me knowing nods. ‘Yes it’s terrible’ he said, his face showing disgust but also happiness at having found exactly the right English word to describe his feelings in relation to the Iraq situation: Terrible. This he now repeated several time whilst shaking his head from side to side. I kind of wished I’d picked a better word.
‘Do you go back there?’ he finally asked, after sufficient number of ‘terrible’s were expressed.
‘Ah’ I said smiling, realising the misunderstanding, ‘I’m not from Iraq, I’m from Iran. With an N.’
Socrates gasped, widening his eyes. ‘Iran?’ he asked excitedly. I nodded, dreading his next question which I assumed was going to be about me being in love with our president. But luckily it wasn’t. He just nodded at me approvingly. ‘Very good’ he said, looking me up and down.
I looked over to the bottle of coke and the can of iced tea that I had taken from the fridge about ten minutes earlier. They hadn’t been that cold to begin with and now they were even warmer. For the fifth time since I had met the barman, I stretched my hand towards him, holding a five Euro note.
‘Hey’ he shouted at a chunky middle aged guy sitting at the end of the bar, waving my money away. This was followed by a series of words in Greek with the only recognizable word to a non Greek speaking person being: Iran.
‘Oh’ the other man replied, raising his eyebrows in surprise. Then he got up and headed in my direction.
Standing in front of me, one hand on chest, he began, ‘Hello’
‘Hello’ I replied, losing all hope of ever getting away.
‘I am Socrates’ he said, bringing his right hand to shake mine. Hearing this exact same sentence about ten minutes earlier from the barman had amused me a little but now I was just hot and bothered and wanted to drink my coke sitting on the beach with my feet in the water.
‘Shirin’ I said, shaking the man’s hand, ‘nice to meet you.’ Then I waited but neither of them said anything. They just stood there looking at me as one would at endangered species shown on television; with a look of sorrowful respect accompanied with the faintest of smiles. The puppy yawned and dragged his belly across the floor a little to reach a cooler area.
‘Iran’ said Socrates #2 with great determination that was mirrored in his tight fist held near his face, ‘very good country.’
Who would have thought that as a result of the Lebanon tragedy, being Iranian would suddenly become something cool and trendy! All the time we were in Corfu, whenever we told anyone we were from Iran, they would look at us admiringly.
The most interesting example of this was definitely the antiwar demonstration that we accidentally attended in Corfu town. We were walking around in the evening, going from shop to shop; waiting to feel hungry so we could go and have dinner, when we saw a group of people walking down the road carrying Lebanese and Palestinian flags and shouting slogans which were all Greek to me ;-)
Naturally the photoblogger and his flaneur missis followed the crowd. He, enticed by the prospect of great photo opportunities, and her, drawn in by the cuteness of the group of nine local dogs following the demonstrators.
As we marched through the narrow streets, more people and dogs joined. After a while, a little out of breath, Kamyar caught up with me and my twelve furry friends at the end of the procession. ‘Excuse me’ he said to the guy walking in front of us, holding a Lebanese flag, and asked him what it was exactly that they were shouting about, fitting into his question, very artfully, the three magic words that we had come to understand would instantly turn people into our friends: I am Iranian.
It worked. The man looked very pleased and so did the woman next to him. After he was done explaining to us what was being said by the demonstrators, he whispered something to the person next to him. This started a little Mexican wave of whispers, with every now and then, someone turning around to give us a respectful nod.
At Liston, everybody stopped and continued shouting, standing in a circle. Kamyar and I and a collection of dogs, stood a little further away, watching. After a while a young man with dreadlocks ran towards us. ‘Come quick’ he said excitedly. They were about to burn flags and he had rushed to call in the experts, as it were!
I don’t really like the whole flag burning thing myself and despite being Iranian, with flag burning in recent years having become a national pastime of ours, I’m afraid I had never seen it being done before. Even so, obviously carrying the Iranian-flag-burning genes, I took one look at the Israeli and the American flags that they were holding and knew they were heading for a disaster. The flags they were about to burn were different to the other ones they were carrying. These were made out of plastic for some reason. And as if that wasn’t enough, the guy in charge of burning them, first covered them both in what smelt like lighter fuel.
The flags went from flags to charred nothings in 1.2 seconds.
The crowd screamed and jumped back as the flags went up in flames.
The dogs dispersed.
The Iranians went off in search of a nice restaurant.