Friday, March 31, 2006

So here in England last Sunday was Mother’s Day. However some of the shops in town still have all their Mother’s Day stock on the shelves in the hope that some idiot will walk in there and seeing all the stuff suddenly think, ‘Oh no, is it Mother’s day again? I best go and buy another stripy pink bear holding a red heart saying ‘I wuv you mummy’ for my mother or she’ll get really mad.’
It was raining and I had half an hour to kill so I thought I’ll go and see exactly what it is that mums these days are supposed want from their children.
According to WHSmith, what your mother would have really loved to receive this Mother’s Day was one of the following items: a very stunned-looking giraffe with the softest muzzle you have ever stroked on any animal, a not-so-pretty bulldog, a stripy pink bear…(‘yeah yeah we know the rest’ I hear you cry out and don’t worry; I won’t describe that monstrosity again), a CD titled, ‘Number 1 Mum’ (which is basically Celine Dion’s Greatest Hits with a few R. Kelly tunes thrown in as well), a book called, ‘Mothers and Daughters’, another one called simply, ‘Mothers’ (I don’t know if it’s just me or what but I detected a note of sarcasm in this one; ‘Mothers, ey? Can’t live with them and when you suggest they should just move into a nursing home and let you live in their house in peace, they get all funny about it.’) or one called ‘Why can’t every day be Mother’s Day?’ (or ‘Puke’, if they had just let me name it).
As I ran my fingers along the stunned giraffe’s soft muzzle and thought about braving the rain, suddenly something about the last corny book attracted my attention. It was a big round red sticker proudly presenting the message: ‘Buy one get one ½ price’
‘‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello’ I said to the giraffe, ‘What’s going on ‘ere then? A special deal for kids who have been adopted by lesbian couples or for people whose fathers have had a sex-change?’ The giraffe continued to look shocked which I put down to a strict religious upbringing. ‘Yes these are truly modern times we’re living in my friend.’
The giraffe was not much of a conversationist. But then again with a muzzle that soft he didn’t really need to be.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Waking up at half past four in the morning and spending our only day off school rolling down a mountain until we had snow coming out of our every orifice was definitely my cousin Shadi’s idea. She was thirteen and I eleven and somehow she had got it into her head that the only way we could get out of spending our every weekend with our grandparents was to start skiing! So we did.
The first year was terrible. I could not ski to save my life and to make matters worse, I looked like this:


This season I was mostly wearing: outfits that were three sizes too big for me, very old skis with most of the colour chipped off them and a lovely pair of goggles (shudders)

The father of my good friend Roshanak, Amoo Farid once told me this anecdote. He said one day he was passing the beginners' ski slope and he saw an instructor trying to teach an English lady to ski. Now for going slower, the beginners are taught to point the tips of their skis towards each other and open the ends. In Farsi this is called a Hasht; the number eight, which looks like this: ^ But this poor lady did not speak Farsi and so had no idea what the man shouting at her: ‘Hasht kon’ ‘Do the hasht’ wanted her to do. As she got dangerously close to a group of kids and was about to run them over, the instructor suddenly had a bright idea. ‘Madam’ He shouted, ‘Madam do 8’ which incidentally (as illustrated above) is what I looked like I was trying to do for the whole of my first year.

The good thing about looking like that however is that there is only room for improvement and as I’m sure you will agree, here in the second year I’m looking a lot cooler.

This season I was mostly wearing: a big pair of jeans with two tracksuit bottoms underneath, a pink and white hand-me-down jacket from my cousin in Canada, pink sweater with matching earmuffs and a pair of fake Ray Bans from Tajrish bazaar, made with real glass so if you were not the patient type to just wait until the nonexistent UV protection did its thing and made you go blind gradually, you had the option of getting it all over and done with very quickly by either falling flat on your face or simply asking someone to give you a nice punch in the eyes area.

This season I was mostly wearing: my dad’s clothes with a pair of fluorescent pink gloves to add a touch of much needed femininity.

And finally the piesta resistance!
Ok those trousers were far too small for me but they were definitely an improvement from all those really huge ones I had been wearing up until then.

I know what you’re thinking, ‘How can this human embodiment of cool, end up becoming a geeky blogger?!’ Well my friend I’m afraid I can’t help you there as I myself am just as baffled about this as you are ‘,:-\

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Persian New Year is my favourite time of the year. The night before the New Year I can never get any sleep on account of all the butterflies in my stomach and all the times I get out of bed to make sure my new clothes are still straightened out on the chair where I’ve left them.
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.
For lunch we had white fish and herbed rice, chicken with rice and noodles and green omelette. We ate all that with plenty of pickled garlic and we all ate them so we wouldn’t smell it on each other.

The End

In the memory of all those great childhood New Years. Especially those ones during the eighties. Happy Eideh No-rooz.

Friday, March 17, 2006

I’ve updated my website if anyone fancies a butcher’s (look).
I would really appreciate it if you could tall me about any mistakes that you might find in there or anything that is not working properly. Thanks.

Ok this is what I’m talking about; up there by ‘tall me’ I actually meant ‘tell me’.
On second thought, if anyone finds a way to tall me, I will appreciate that too.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I was just in Tesco and saw this group of American girls standing in the chocolate section. They were all lined up in front of this one girl (their chocolate expert I presume) who (like a teacher standing in front of a backboard) was very patiently (and you could tell she was really enjoying this) pointing at each group of chocolates on display and saying a variation of the sentence, ‘This is nice.’ (This is nice. This is really nice. Oh this is very nice. This one also is very nice.) After a while the rest of the group could no longer control themselves and so they too started getting involved in all the pointing and touching.
Oh they looked so happy. ‘Like kids in a sweetshop’ they were, literally. And rightly too. Anyone who has ever tasted American chocolate knows what I’m talking about. Or maybe not, I don’t know; that’s actually what I was going to talk about.
Unfortunately I’m not really an expert on this subject and so unlike for example the padded-bra case (which I had actually done a lot of research on) or the bum wiping issue for Iranians abroad (which I myself had extensive firsthand experience on) in this case I can’t exactly say, yes this is the problem and here’s the solution. Because to be honest I haven’t tasted that many different American chocolates to feel like I can give an opinion on them.
I guess now you could ask, why not go and do your research first and then come and blog about it instead of wasting our time and your own with writing about something you don’t know much about? And I must say your point would be very valid too. However there is a small problem here; this is one subject that I am not actually willing to do any more research on than I already have because 1- I’m not exactly a big chocolate fan and 2- From what I’ve tasted, American chocolate, to put it mildly, (I already said to my taste, right?) tastes kind of pooie. And it’s not like oh yeah I’ve become a bit la-di-dah since I’ve moved to Europe sweetie darling and I only ever eat Lindt or Thorntons chocolates now, no, I remember even as a child growing up in Iran during the revolution and eight years of war where often the only sweet thing you could buy from a shop was a mixture of sugar and rosewater which you had the choice of purchasing either in boiled sweet or ice-lolly form, I was still disappointed when people brought me back chocolates from America or Canada! Oh henry for example! What on earth?
The thing is Americans have become an easy target now and I don’t really want to be another person that picks fault with them or makes fun of them but to be honest I’m just intrigued by this. Because really you can say anything you like about Americans but you really can’t pick fault with the way their food tastes. It might not always be nutritious but it ALWAYS tastes great. Their burgers are lovely. Those half a cow steaks they have are great. Those extremely tall deli sandwiches they have with five hundred slices of pastrami, turkey, ham and any other animal you can think of, shoved in the middle of two slices of bread, are fantastic. Their sweets are great too; their ice creams, their donuts, their cheesecakes, their milkshakes. To make a long story short, every kind of food they have is good apart from their chocolate which is…well disappointing really.
I guess you could say well this indeed is not something to get one’s knickers in a twist about, perhaps with this terrible obesity problem in the US, the fact that their chocolate isn’t exactly morish, is actually a good thing.
But when you think about it chocolates are a lot more important than that. They are kind of like the food ambassadors of a country aren’t they? Think about it this way; when a nation goes to war or tries to “free” another nation, usually during the fighting or freeing process, two things fall down from the sky: 1-Bombs 2-Food parcels. While the first one does a lot of damage and annoys a lot of people, the second one I guess is designed to make people happy and build up trust. And here’s where everything goes a bit pear-shaped for the poor Americans because they’re not dropping down In-N-Out burgers or New York Cheesecakes or pastrami sandwiches on people, they’re dropping bloody Hershey bars on them that even an Afghani goat would turn its back on! No wonder the people of every country that Americans go to free, rise against them. They think if this is how your chocolate tastes which is a luxury and should taste heavenly, then I don’t really want to know what anything else is like in your country ‘Get out’.
Think about it, does anyone ever want to fight the Belgians or the Swiss for example? The answer is, ‘No’. We love the Swiss so much in fact that we’ve said, ‘Our darlings, you don’t need to do anything at all; you just sit here and make your chocolates and just so you won’t feel left out, we’re going to give you all our money to hold as well!’
As I said before though, due to a delicate stomach, I haven’t done enough research on this so it’s possible that I’m completely wrong about all this and for example, I haven’t understood American chocolate properly and the people of the nations freed by
Americans are actually pissed off about something other than the chocolate bars that are dropped on them from the sky. So I would really appreciate it if some of you more experienced chocolate fans could help me out a little on this one.

Friday, March 10, 2006

I’m sure a year was a lot longer than this when I was little. Now one minute it’s Persian New Year, then straightaway it’s Persian New year again! Sometimes I feel like the Mad Hatter who had got on the wrong side of Time. Only my watch is always stuck on Persian New Year instead of tea-time. Maybe I should try smearing butter inside it and dipping it in tea!

I’m not complaining though, I mean thank god my time is stuck on Persian New Year as appose to say, 24 January (the most depressing day of the year allegedly).

So yesterday I suddenly panicked and did a bit of cleaning and then soaked some lentils for my sabzeh (greens). Now I hope it grows well. My Sabzeh usually looks good because I love growing things but this year there was not much love involved in my speedy pouring of lentils in a bowl and shoving them under water and then realising some time later that there was not much to eat around the place, picking a handful of them and throwing them in a bowl of salad! I know; shame on me; this is totally unacceptable behaviour towards the lovely sabzeh.
I can tell the lentils are in a bad mood now. Maybe later this evening I will try getting on their good side by singing a little something for them,
‘Twinkle twinkle little bat!
How I wonder where you’re at!’
You know the song perhaps? ;-)

Monday, March 06, 2006

I feel terrible as I have really been neglecting this poor blog for the past couple of weeks. First my cousin came to stay, then Kamyar and I had to sort out some things in our Website Empire (as my cousin calls our collection of websites and blogs and all that), then I started working very hard on this new project for a picture book, then my dad’s book arrived and all I wanted to do was to read that, then suddenly the picture book project came to a halt and on that same day I got another assignment which kept me super busy for a further three days and left me with absolutely no time to clean around me or groom myself even, let alone write in my blog. It was all worth it though as yesterday evening when I clicked on that send button and for the first time in days had enough time to spend in front of the mirror to actually look at my face instead of running past it while hitting myself on the head in an attempt to flatten my hair, I realised that by working so hard to make my deadline, I had succeeded in producing not one, but two things to be proud of; my art and also a beautiful moustache that was now decorating my upper lip and would without a doubt put even my dad’s moustache to shame.
As I admired my new Clark Gable look in the mirror, I remembered my last conversation with Kamyar that evening before he had left home for his nightshift.
Me: ‘I’m so sorry, I must look very bad.’
He: ‘No not at all.’ Kiss ‘That’s nice; I’d forgotten how soft you were.’
And now I knew he hadn’t just said that to be nice; my new moustache was indeed very soft.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It’s that time of the year again when I fish my headscarf out from the bottom of the laundry basket to wash it ready for our yearly trip to Iran. It is also the time when we start looking to buy our plane tickets. This process usually has four stages: Stage one; ‘Enthusiasm’ as we search for a ticket cheaper than Iran Air, Stage two; 'Excitement' as we find numerous bargain tickets, Stage Three; 'Doubt' as we find each bargain ticket has something wrong with it (such as having a ten hour stopover in Venezuela), Stage Four; 'Surrender' = buying our tickets from Iran air.
At this moment in time we are still in Stage two; Excitement. We have found a few cheap tickets, the cheapest one of which is with Azal (Azerbaijan Airline) who claims it can fly a person from London to Iran and back for only 220 pounds. It really is a great bargain compared to the 405 pounds that Iran Air charges.
Some people are still a bit wary of travelling with Azal. It’s understandable as well. I mean if dog years are seven years to one human year, then country years are more like about one to sixty human years which makes Azarbaijan a very young baby or maybe even a foetus. Now I’m just as uncomfortable with having my plane flown by a baby as the next person, however I find that when it comes to saving nearly 400 pounds (for the both of us) suddenly my reasoning starts going something like this, ‘And exactly who says babies aren’t good at flying passenger planes?’
But seriously I think anyone who has ever flown with Iran Air and lived to tell the tale should really be able to fly with any other airline after that and think nothing of it.
I’m not saying their pilots are bad. No they’re really great actually. Service is good too and so is food (especially when they give baghali-polo). People are also very friendly. Especially if you’re a single girl with a British passport (in which case there is always someone with a son or nephew that wants to get married) or if you have made the mistake of travelling light (in which case some old biddy will make friends with you and then emotionally blackmail you into carrying all her five sacks full of fried aubergine and ghormeh herbs or Primark goodies, depending on whether she is flying in or out of Iran) the inflight entertainments are quite good too (it helps if you’re into watching weepy Iranian movies in different shades of green with dodgy headphones that keeping up with the green theme will replace the voices of all the actors in the film with Kermit the Frog’s).
In fact I only have one problem with Iran Air; I absolutely have no idea how those planes are still able to fly! The only logical explanation is that there is some sort of divine intervention at work there which explains all that collective mandatory praying you have to do as soon as you get on.
Even so, I would still willingly fly with them if only their tickets weren’t so bloody expensive. Because the way I see it, in the current state of affairs (with earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides and bird flu and with buses and tubes and planes and trains being blown up left and right) on board an Iran air plane on its way to Iran, is probably the safest place a person can be.
So once you get over the fact that the plane you are flying in, probably needed to be scrapped over ten years ago, then unlike all other airlines, you can just sit back and relax and never worry about the other passengers and if someone’s hat is going to start ticking or if someone is going to try to light their shoe or hijack the plane and fly it straight into the financial heart of Iran (the Tehran Bazaar I presume). You can just fasten your seatbelt and enjoy five hours of absolute bliss and total peace of mind.
Iran Air, because you’re worth it.

Click here to read an extract from Ilkhanan-eh Iran

PS I have updated the page for Ilkhanan-eh Iran (by Farokh Saramad) so if you are interested, you can now read a few pages from this hilarious book which I received this morning and have not been able to put down since! Baba, you’re a star :-)