Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The Wedding

Yes yes, the PURPOSE of the trip to Iran was to attend a wedding – how on earth did I lose sight of that?

It is a big affair. The invitations were printed without an address just in case the printer told the police even though the venue is a government building and the organiser works for the government...

Maryam and her Mum were in charge of bringing the Mullah to the ceremony. Maryam’s Mum, with the feigned naivety of someone who has lived well, spends the car ride demurely soap-boxing with the Mullah demanding that he explain why the Islamic Republic allows men to have four wives. I think it was probably the best journey of this poor Haji’s life…

We are in a garden with roses, it is dark, the air is thick and the night is happy. My hair is coifed complete with five finger discounted rose and I have borrowed some Max Factor colour stay red lippy from Shadi’s Aunt to match my nail polish. I wear a short black cotton dress with scenes of flowers and birds. There are ball gowns, skimpy strapless numbers, false eyelashes, loose hair, head scarves and long coats – depending on your religious preference.

The ceremony itself is a mini-version of the religious ceremony that happened a few months ago, with added symbolism. A cloth is held over the head of the couple to catch falling sugar as married women rub two blocks of sugar together to sweeten the marriage. There are announced gifts of gold coins, dancing for money, licking of honeyed fingers, feeding of sweets and obligatory kisses.

The ceremony is only attended by close friends and family, so we wait on the persian carpeted benches in the garden for the other guests to arrive whilst Shadi's dad's friends promise to rustle up some fire water to warm our spirits...

A jacket opens and there is a white plastic bag inside and a smile is looking down on me...

Doogh is an Iranian sour milk drink (a bit like a stale breathed lassie).

I don’t like milk.

Since a night of too much Spanish speaking fun - I don’t like tequila.

Nevertheless as I take a sip from the jacket I cant help but smile as he gently says - ‘Doogh-elia’…

After dinner the only place to be is on the dance floor moving with the best of them to a strange blend of traditional music and orientalist euro-pop. MashaAllah I cannot understand the lyrics otherwise I am sure the sentimentality of the words mixed with the doogh-elia would have made me loose my kebab...


I am now back in the UK where I hear from my housemate that our new neighbour who lives above the coffee shop might be a rival for bicep man and the kebab shops seem a little afraid of their customers.

I hope you have enjoyed these stories (I have enjoyed sharing them).

I promised Maryam and Babak that I would have a drink for them – for Babak I choose whisky and I think for Maryam I will choose a cocktail that includes a word like ‘muddled’.

So a toast: ‘To adventures and to friends’.

Monday, 4 June 2007

“Perhaps the British sailors just took a wrong turn at Kashan…” - 27 May 2007

Maryam, Babak and I made plans to travel into the desert and visit a salt lake a few hours outside of Tehran. We were a little slow to get started on our travel plans but after collecting sleeping bags, some food for the journey and returning home for a forgotten wallet we set out in our trusty white Peugeot hatchback (complete with a giant orange and black centipede dashboard toy).

Just outside Tehran Maryam realizes that she has forgotten the tent…but we decide to push on as there is an inn the desert and if there is any problem with us staying there (as we are a man, a woman and a foreigner) we can always head back to Tehran as it is not so far away.

I love driving and I love the space and silence of the desert. For those who have been, the landscape here is not dissimilar to the desert in the north west of the state of Queensland in Australia (near Normanton). The soil is not red but beige with a ‘five-o’clock-shadow’ of light green scrub.

We drive to Kashan without a hitch but on arrival in Kashan there are posters, flags, free drink stands…yes, you guessed it the President was paying the town a visit. So we drive around looking for a way through the road blocks so we can get to the desert. Finally, after stopping friendly strangers we manage to find a way through.

As the road it getting lonelier we feel ourselves getting closer to the desert, but still there is irrigation and some pistachio trees. We have been told that when you get close to the desert and salt lake all the dirt roads will eventually lead onto the same main road that is alongside the southern edge of the salt lake. So we are not so concerned which road to take, but just to be doubly sure when we see a little brick farm house we drive up to ask for directions.

As we drive into the courtyard scattering the serenity we see an old man sitting on a chair under the shade of a tree, soaking his feet in the cool water of a diverted irrigation channel. Through his missing teeth and gentle lilting accent and with his worn brown trousers held together with a piece of string, he explains that we should follow the power lines as this is the best route.

Spurred on by the freedom of the space we race along the dirt roads, at each fork randomly choosing the next track to follow – with Babak (allegedly) keeping his eye on the way. For me, I was in charge of the music and map holding.

And then we see it. The salt lake. It is white as far as you can see – and the mirage makes the white look like waves of a great inland sea suspended at an eternal breaking point of swell and foam.

Unexpectedly there is a road that goes part way into the lake and then stops. We travel this for 500m, get out of the car and then wander on this space where the salt crystals are the size of bling.

To walk on a lake that has seen so much with two beautiful souls strip so much clutter of life away, down to the bare essentials of potential. Everything just seems so simple – so extraordinarily and awesomely simple.

We pile back into the care with the added passenger of joy and head towards the inn. It is midday. And hot, with a breeze, but even so we need some shelter so we can stop for lunch. As we drive along the road that hugs the lake I can see something strange in the distance it looks like little black stumps of trees. I can’t make it out so I initially think it is a burnt out dwelling. BUT as we drive closer, it is a herd of camels resting in the sun!

How exciting! So we stop the car for this photo opportunity and then continue on our way to the inn.

As we drive up a little embankment we almost drive straight into a rope that is stretched across the road. Two young soldiers (on compulsory military service) emerge from a small tent…

A conversation ensues that ends with us turning our little chariot around. Babak explains that the soldiers were wondering how we managed to get into this area as the whole desert area is closed for a military exercise. Maryam said that Babak was also making fun of the soldiers asking how good soldiers they must be since we managed to get this far into the desert (apparently there is a checkpoint closer to the entrance to the desert that we managed to easily avoid…). Maryam had told Babak to be quiet but he just kept making smart comments - no surprise then to learn that Babak still hasn't done compulsory military service which unfortunately means that he cannot have a passport. Well, until he finds someone to bribe.

Feeling a little sheepish our little Peugeot hatchback with the dashboard toy, shakes off its pride and turns back. Since we don’t really know how we got into the desert we decide to return via the main road (which we somehow managed to miss on the way in)…and of course we end up on the wrong side of a road block.

“Beep beep” chirps our little hatchback to rouse the soldiers from their midday sleep. Two soldiers emerge from the tent. Before we can speak a military issue truck is in front of us on the other side of the rope and we have to do a quick reverse, before returning to the soldiers. Babak exchanges a few words with them and they start pissing themselves laughing. A third solider emerges – obviously startled from his sleep as he is wearing his military uniform but with hot-pink slippers – and starts joining in on the fun.

But naturally we have to wait for a more senior officer to speak to us. I don’t really understand this, but Iran has two armies – the regular army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which has a great deal of autonomy and whose allegiance is to the Revolution. The IRG is identifiable by the chequered scarf they were with their military uniform and the fact that their uniform has no identification markings such as name or rank.

As soon as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard emerges from the tent everyone stops joking – even though the situation is amusing and a mistake, it is still not something to joke about. Babak again explains what happened and it seems that everything is okay since there was also a third checkpoint that we did not pass and so we weren’t actually near anything sensitive. The soldiers didn’t even ask for ID. But just as Babak started to turn the car and the rope blocking the road was dropped the IRG said something that appeared a little aggressive and include the word ‘horagi’ – foreigner.

As we drive away I am filled in on the details of what happened. But Babak doesn’t mention anything about a ‘foreigner’. So I ask him what they guy said as we were about to drive away because I heard the word ‘horagi’. Babak looks a little pissed (I sense that he and authority are not the best of friends) and says that he had been explaining to the IRG that we were visiting the desert because we wanted to see nature. The IRG said: “what are you doing bringing a foreigner HERE? There is nothing to do here! Take her to someplace beautiful like the north!”

So we head back to the main road to Kashan and decide that since the desert is a no-go zone we’ll visit a freshwater spring where there is a waterfall and where they distil rosewater – can you believe such a place exists!?

Maryam is asleep in the back and I am in charge of the map. It is written in Farsi. So Babak is driving to my directions of ‘there is a place that begins with the letter A and ends in N and there are three dots in the second letter…’ Not very helpful.

But we make it.

And it is beautiful.

A small shaded hilltop village with winding roads and people sitting outside in the streets enjoying the late afternoon. The whole place smelling intensely of roses. A cool breeze against skin that has just spent the day in the desert. The spray from the waterfall blesses out weary bodies as we walk the hilltop to drink some tea.

After a little rest we head right to the top, to the source of the spring where there is also an ancient Zoroastrian fireplace. We eat an ice-cream in the light of dusk at the top of the world and then return to our chariot for the journey home.

Despite such a long day, Maryam and Babak have a book club to go to in the evening. So at 1030 after a quick wash we head out again to a family home in a well-to-do neighbourhood. Mum and Dad answer the door and we are shuffled into a small bedroom. One thing that is unusual for me is that people here live with their parents for quite a long time, so there is this strange feeling of the parental home being a gateway to some kind of free area – rather than something that tries to shelters you from the threats to innocence of a publicly free life.

It really is something special. In a small bedroom there are eight of us. One man begins to read in Farsi from a computer print out while everyone listens occasionally laughing or interjecting.

I am told that this is the forth book the club has read – the first being on politics, the second on evolutionary theory, the third I cant remember and this one (“The Satanic Verses”) is the first novel. There is such warmth in the room and the friendship is so visible, possibly even more visible because I can’t understand what is being said. I can’t hear, so all I understand is laughter.

I have such a desire to stay, to be a part of this group, to speak Farsi. At the same time I also want to hold my old friends closer as –to plagiarise a kindred – there IS something sad about being disconnected in space from people you care about.

With this mixture of connection and longing as I return home I try to find the words to explain how this day felt – a narrative doesn’t seem to do it justice. How can you capture such feelings in words?

The only thing that comes to mind is that this day and the feeling of such precious shared moments is a new reference point in my experience.

It’s a day against which precious others will be compared.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

“I cooked a Lamb Roast” - 23 May 2007

In an effort to return the hospitality of Shadi's family I decided to cook dinner. And what better a meal than a lamb roast and pavlova?

I know, I know, SUCH a stereotype…but please do not crucify for this parochialism, I just never know how to answer the question of ‘what is a typical Australian meal?’. Laksa? Kebab? Sushi? Pasta? Curry? I have no idea. BUT last summer I cooked a lamb roast with my Ma and thought that I’d give it a bash so that I had something to write home about…

As an aside, speaking of stereotypes (or should I write ‘shame’), I was in the beauty parlor in Tehran the other day when Shadi’s cousin asked me about government in Australia and particularly about the Australian royal family. I explained that there isn't an Australian royal family. Tapping her golden freshly applied fake talons on the counter top, she paused and said:

‘But then why do you have an ‘Australian Princess’?’

[I almost drop my glass of tea. No, please lord, say it isn’t so…]

‘I saw a show on satellite TV all about how you choose your Princess. Ohhhh I just luhve it. Really. What does she do in Australia?’

[Oh lord.]

‘Ah no, no, no that is a reality TV show – you know like the Bachelor or Big Brother. It’s not real. She’s not a real princess.’

[The look of disappointment is palpable.]

‘Oh…so it’s like a Miss Universe title?’

‘Yes, yes – exactly! Just as Miss Universe doesn’t actually have any power in the universe, Australian Princess doesn’t actually have any power in Australia…. And isn’t actually a princess.’

[And at this point in time I wished that I wasn't actually Australian.]

‘Oh, okay so it is not about the government of Australia…but I think it is a great show. Do you like it?’

‘No, not really – it’s not really my favourite show..’.

‘But you like All Saints, yes?’

So friends, cooking a lamb roast and pavlova is the least of our worries.


Back to the roast. First the meat.

As the glass door clicks behind me at the butcher’s, tumble weed blows across the floor and the piano man in his sleeve protectors and braces stops playing. I stand a little dumbstruck while my trusty side kick (Shadi’s mum) shuffles over to the fish counter. I eyeball the butcher, so he cannot see my fear.

My trusty side kick has arranged for some fish for lunch and is waiting for it to be cleaned. Now it is my turn with the lamb. I look to the butcher, wink at my side-kick and with the total confidence of the ill informed, I point to my shoulder and say ‘lamb’. My side kick backs me up on this and says something to the butcher in Persian. We all smile, and I am proud for another successful effort in cross-cultural communication…

The butcher with a spring in his step walks to the glass counter and returns with the loyalty of a cat leaving its kill on the verandah. I look at him, smile and then look at his hands.

Nope, he is not holding anything that looks like a lamb shoulder in Australia.

Rather he holds up what can only be described as a thin sheet of meat.

Where did it all go wrong?! Everyone is confused. ‘Yes, yes. This is shoulder.’ They have given me exactly what I asked for, the communication was clear – and somehow it was not what I wanted.

How the hell can this be a shoulder? I look a little closer. Yup there is definitely a socket joint there. And yes, this piece of flesh would sit nicely on a shoulder like a sort of macabre piece of body amour or ornamental lapel.

No misunderstanding, that is definitely a shoulder, but not as I know it.

I stumble a ‘different in Australia.’ Feeling like a tool I quickly look around for plan B. I see a back leg hanging in the window. Phew, I can work with this.


Next: the rosemary.

Rosemary is not really used in cooking here. Instead it is used to grow hedges.


So on the way home from the butcher with the windows down, my side-kick and I roam the streets of Tehran for some rosemary to snatch. There was nothing on the way home, so we set out again in the afternoon as we walked to the shopping centre where Shadi’s mum had to buy a new pair of gold shoes for her Mother-of-the-Bride dress.

As we leave the shopping centre I see something out of the corner of my eye. It is covered in mud and hiding next to a foot path. But yes, it is rosemary. Holding my no-body-in-here-tunic close, and tying my hijab into the ‘let’s get down to business fold’ I jump across the ditch and start tearing at the rosemary like a madwoman.

Mission accomplished – it has been a good day. Now the only thing left is to cook.

After making the pavlova with a hand rotary beater, I run my little red hands under cold water while Shadi’s dad is cursing me for not showing him how to make the pavlova and save my hands from this red tenderness. He then declares that he will watch me cook so he can help. I smile, thank him and then start to wash the rosemary.

Shadi’s dad asks me where I got the rosemary from, since it’s not sold in the shops.


What do I say?! I feel like a thief. I AM a thief! I return Iranian hospitality by stealing their resources, adding a little bit of processing to it and then return it to them as a benevolent gift or fair deal…

All I can do is confess. I hold it in front of me: ‘I stole it.’

[Okay, that was painless enough].

‘Ruby, please tell me. What is the meaning of stole?’

[Oh please. That’s a tough one. Really how do you explain it with a limited vocabulary. I thought I could try a Biblical/Koranic reference, but then – Eureka!]

I hold up one finger: ‘finger’. [Mansour nods, ‘Yes, finger. I understand.’]

Holding my palm in front of him and count from one to five in Persian, pointing at each finger in turn: ‘Yek, do, seh, chahar, panj’

I pick up the rosemary in my fist: ‘Five-finger-discount.’

Mansour looks at me, looks at my hand, looks at my smile and then laughs and slaps me on the back so hard I’m winded.

‘I understand. Five finger discount! Very good. Very good.’

As the bones of the roast lay bare and the soft, flat pavlova that looks like a gift from the invisible pavlova cow has been worshipped and renamed ‘Iranian Pavlova’ and 'five-finger-discount' has been translated into Persian, I stumble off to bed a very happy soul. Mission accomplished.

“Try and Try but you Just Can’t Hide it” - 21 May 2007

This one's for the sisters -

Sisters, I have emerged from Plato’s cave where the shadows of crooked teethed and plumy accented men with no chins, apathetic body hair and soft indecisive hands (and indifferent politics) had lead me to think that homo-britainnicus is ’man’.

Oh my lord. I have come to paradise.


Actually probably not.

Almost certainly not.

Perhaps I just feel that way because seduction is simply a lost art in the world of the ‘inconsequential sexual encounter’. Anyhow I will tell the story – don’t get too excited though, there was no pressing of flesh and gnashing of teeth (… have I mixed metaphors?).

So I am travelling to Tehran Market by train with Shadi’s mum. It was the first time I had caught a subway in Tehran. My thought on entering the subway was naturally one of caution as I was concerned that ‘Happy Clapper’ Christians might target the Iranian way of life. So I boarded the crowded subway and kept my eyes open for Mormons with backpacks.

Thankfully there were none – although the idea of a Mormon suicide bomber somehow comforting, particularly since they travel in pairs...

Anyway I digress.

It was rush hour and it was very crowded. Now here, people do tend to look at me and whisper ‘horagi’ (foreigner), it’s not bad or intimidating it more like the kind of stare that you do the first time you see a mullet – that sort of ‘what the hell is that hair cut, it’s sort of wrong, but somehow it might grow on me’ kind of look. I just tend to ignore it, look away and remember that one man’s mullet is another man’s fashion.

Anyway, so I am on the train taking my place in the carriage and finding a handrail to hold. I look around: ‘yes, everyone is looking at the mullet foreigner so the world is normal’. It was not a look of fear so I was confident that my choice of wearing an emerald coloured tunic and a dark red head-scarf with gold trim was the correct one - as Iranians all know that the Mormon ‘freedom haters’ are easy to spot as they wear black and travel in pairs…

As I survey the scene and am happy that my presence has been tolerated, I look up and catch the eye of a man whom I am standing next to in the carriage. Actually I lie: Rather, as I place my hand on the hand rail I catch sight of a very nice bicep in a tight polo shirt. I follow this to a shoulder…

Shadi’s mum was sitting on the seat next to where I was standing and was asking me whether I wanted to squeeze in between her and an older woman holding part of her chador between her teeth. Since the space was so small it probably couldn’t even accommodate the ‘bicep of my affection’ I decline with a little ‘Na Merci’ – in my best Persian accent.

Now Sisters, you know me well enough to know that I am pretty comfortable talking to strangers. On buses and trains I usually strike up conversations or flirt outrageously with some poor soul (only to vehemently deny this afterwards, and fret about how TERRIBLE it is that you cant have a conversation with some bloke without someone saying that you are flirting…). Now, beyond a few phrases in Persian including: ‘No, I did not eat your dog’, my Persian is very limited. AND in Iran – well let’s remember that sex outside of marriage is punishable by death. And travelling alone with a man that you are not related to is also not allowed, though I think the punishment for this might technically be lashing (mmm, for some that could be quite a two-for-one deal…).

As I stand on the train, everything felt so normal. So, so – Sydney. Guys with trendy jeans and crazy spruced up hair, leather bracelets, cheap suits. A mash of cologne, perfume and sweat mixed with the sleepiness of the morning rush hour. Yesterday I travelled outside of Tehran and happen to pass near Iran’s nuclear sites, and in this ordinary daily commute I was just thinking how bombing Iran because of their nuclear activities would be like bombing Australia for the government's treatment of asylum seekers. Both governments are condemned by the international community and both act with such arrogance and disregard for international law. And yet, the people – the everyday wake up, forgot to clean my teeth, breakfast spilt on my tie, would rather not go to work people – are so removed from the structured apathy of power…

As I am thinking of this I see the ‘bicep of my affection’ and my mind begins to wander elsewhere. I look up and we make eye-contact, but I am like a bunny in the head lights: ‘can’t speak, can’t smile, Islamic Republic of Iran.’

So I look away in panic. Honestly, I was not trying to be coy. I just didn’t know how to respond, in Australia it would be smile and some comment about body odour. In London I would stare blankly at the person as human communication is impossible on the Tube, it’s a human-free-zone where we all put on our regulation-state-issued invisible suits. Here with the whole train watching me including some people sporting the latest Islamic fashion I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself.

But Ladies, this man was beautiful – even in slightly 80s fashion washed out jeans a little too high on the waist – this man was beautiful. And he was looking at me…but not as a mullet.

I had to look at him again... Just had to.

After contenting myself with his arms, chest and washed out jeans I turn my head to look up. And ran full steam ahead into his gaze. Oh no! ‘Can’t speak, can’t smile, Islamic Republic of Iran’. I look away but only get as far as his lips.

I can hear Shadi’s mum saying ‘Australia-i’ I look at her and smile. But now the game is on. Bicep man and I play the game of silent seduction. Now this is nothing new, I’m sure we’ve all played it before – of course followed by a (self-) denial and a reinstatement of the Cartesian order. But imagine it when it is not simply fun, but it is all you can possibly have given the constraints on human interaction. We couldn’t exchange details, touch or even talk. And imagine it when you are wearing clothing that is designed to hide your body, the very thing that has just started singing.

In the reflection of the dark glass window I can see that his head is bowed. And he is looking at the outline of my body in the big tent of a tunic I am wearing. I am sure he can see my breath becoming a little heavier. But part of me is wondering what on earth can there be to see – I am totally covered up, no cleavage, no shoulder. And then I look in the glass again and the world falls away, as I realized that so much can be seen because no matter how much you wear you cannot hide the woman.

Startled by this I look up and search for women to look at. I see a woman in black from head to toe with the chador pulled tightly around her face – and I see her lips painted pink. I see a woman with a scarf and long coat but - her hands look so soft and warm. I see and ugly old woman with leathery skin with part of her chador held in her teeth and I see her feisty eyes…

I look back in the dark glass window and I can see that the part of my body in regulation Islamic dress that has the most defined shape is my breast. And that perhaps under my scarf you can see the outline of my neck. I look away from the glass and raise my head to look at bicep man. And this time I hold his gaze until the subway jerks and I turn look down to secure my footing. Bicep man understands. I understand bicep man.

At the next train stop it is total chaos with people pushing on and Shadi’s mum and leather-skinned chador woman tell me to move closer to them. Little do they know that the casual public transport press is nothing compared to how bicep man has reminded me of my body.

And who’d have thought this would take place. Here. On a crowded train.

Thank you bicep man.

“When a Foot is not a Foot” - 19 May 2007

Today I went to a little village out side of Tehran called Abyane. On the way there were stopped to have ‘kale poche’ for breakfast (literally head and foot of a lamb). I had had this dish before on the very first day I came to Iran two years ago as a vegetarian waiting for an excuse to liberate myself. So I thought I was prepared…but unfortunately they had almost sold out and so all they had left was the poche – the feet.

But, mustering all the strength I had, I thought 'I have eaten the eye, the jaw, and the brain before: this cant be too bad, a little bbqed lamb shank, nice and crispy'

...Not quite.

The foot is from the knee down, so includes the shin area. The shin bone is removed and then the floppy leg is cooked very slowly in a broth. So no crispiness, no bone to munch on - just this tube of skin and squishy sinew with a little cleft foot at the end and a few ankle bones.

I just looked at it and searched and searched for a word to describe what I saw. But no matter how hard I thought only one word came to mind: ‘flaccid’.

So I took out the ankle bones, wrapped the little flaccid foot into a sheath of hot bread, poured on some lemon juice and tried to empty my mind and enter the realm of zen as I munched away on this squishy little sanger.

But unfortunately all I could think about was these little lambs running around on their little cleft penis feet! They looked so cute and fluffy. They kept falling over at first as they tried to stand on their unresponsive limbs, but the more they tried to run on their four flaccids, the stiffer their little footsies got...

Did I mention we were eating in Qom, possibly the most religious city in Iran.

I am going straight to hell.

RT x

“Children of the Revolution” - 17 May 2007

Yesterday I went out with Maryam and Babak. Two friends of Shadi who live in the same apartment block. They all grew up together and laugh over how after calling Shadi and her brother Shahrouz upstairs with simply shouting their names from an open window, their father would come downstairs to the rest of the children and say in a very stern (yet funny voice) ‘Ladies and gentlemen it is now time to return to your houses’. Everyday same routine.

Maryam is an industrial designer who is looking to study art therapy abroad and explains that ‘industrial designers all become interior designers in Iran because – after all – there is no industry’ (…but thankfully there are interiors). So Babak, Maryam and I went to a sculpture gallery where the students of a particular famous teacher were showing off their work. It was good. It was metal work and abstract and some I really liked. Others I pretended to like because I wanted to look smart.

Within the gallery there was a cafĂ© where the chairs and tables were made from oil drums from the south of Iran. So we sat for a while, ate the free pastries and then Babak suggested that we move on to ‘Darband’ – under the time of the shah it was a hotel and casino. I was assured it had a ‘cool Mexican feel’.

After we arrived Maryam and I decided that it was the Babapapa house – we both loved this as children but she said that at some stage when she was growing up it was banned. Or the theme song was banned. Mmm, reminded me of how they tried to ban ‘Humphry’ in Australia because he didn’t wear pants (not because he is a giant terrifying big stupid bear.) Not to mention Noddy and Big Ears. And yet they never banned the Faraway Tree and to this day I cant imagine what questionable obsession would lead parents to call their children ‘Dick’ and ‘Fanny’…

Anyway, I digress.

If Darband is Mexican, I am sure all Mexicans are porn stars.

This place had smooth white walls and dark rooms. But no soft couches only tables and chairs. But still, I was looking for David Hasselhoff to appear in a white leisure suit and show me his manly chest. And then, I shit you not, this guy walked in who looked just like this Mexican guy I know only he was dressed like a porn star...

We had tea and smoked a water pipe. And then we spoke about psychoanalysis – Babak and Maryam both go to psychoanalysis sessions, Babak explained: ‘Can you imagine someone our age growing up in the Islamic Republic of Iran who doesn’t need a little therapy?’. So we laughed and played the game of who does your country hate the most? So according to Babak it is Arabs ands then the Chinese, the first for historic reasons the second for economic (the US didn’t even feature). For me, I explained that Iran was probably pretty high on the list for where I’m from – but of course subsumed within the general category of ‘Muslims’ or ‘Middle Easterners’…as it would be asking a bit much for the racism to be more specific than that.

On the way home Maryam explained that Babak and his brother we named after leftist revolutionaries. Babak was an Azeri leader who was killed by the Shah – not even in an honourable way as he was tricked. His brother was named after a left writer. Like many people I have spoken to he sees the revolution as being a leftist revolution that was stolen by the Mullahs. Maryam then explained that all her friends’ parents were left, except of course hers. The conversation then turned to dinner plans at Shahrouz and Nazanin’s place – Nazanin was cooking Gorma Sabzi ( a traditional dish with green herbs, lamb and bitter lime), but the issue wasn't the food but whether there would be some alcohol there – Babak had a nice bottle of Absolut Ruby Red that he had bought from a dealer sometime ago and so we were planning to take that along – much nicer than the Arak I had had the day before at Shadi’s parent’s house which made ASDA Whisky taste like heaven! After much debating we decided that bringing the bottle was enough – we didn’t need flowers as well.

I stayed with Maryam before we went out to dinner. Although her place is in the same apartment block it is so different to Maryam’s. It is so modern with walls painted bright colours and beautiful artwork. It was messy, the kitchen had fake fruit hanging from the ceiling and I imagined many good parties there, complete with martini glasses and stretch belts.

Maryam got changed for the party and was wearing a vibrant red wrap around, crepe jacket, big earring, red shoes and black pants. She showed me home movies of how her friends all went to a house outside of Tehran one summer. Before they got there they were stopped by police for a couple of hours. Laughing as she showed me the video she said that after they arrived at the holiday house they kept saying that nothing could stop them because they were ‘Children of the Revolution’. The video was just like hanging out in Australia the morning after a big party. Hot, everyone lounging around, a couple chatting in a bed room, someone rolling a joint on the verandah, a man washing up while his girlfriend looks on drinking a coffee, someone playing guitar. She also showed me pictures of a party I went to the last time I was in Iran. We just laughed because I was (only) a little drunk and there are some very funny shots – one in particular of me not noticing that I was very close to a hot sweaty hairy fat man as I tried to change the music on the computer.

Maryam then went to paint her nails bright red to go with her shirt. She complained that whenever she paints her nails she gets Parkinson’s disease. I was laughing so hard.

Babak arrived and we wrapped the Absolut Ruby Red in yellow crepe paper with brown string. Listened to some music by an Iranian band 'Kiosk'. Maryam and I then stuffed our sweet smelling bodies into our ‘Islamic regulation coats’, covered our hair and piled into the car after Babak’s brother had finally emerged from the shower. Yes, he looked good washed – perhaps even very good - but his pseudo-Hawaiian not the sexiest shirt I had ever seen.

Off we went to dinner. We ate gorma sabzi and lasagna with a chaser of absolut with pomegranate juice.

From the Islamic Republic,

Ruby Tea