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Archive for December, 2005

New Year Rumi Fortunes

I seem to be at a little turning point in my maturity. I am as
insecure superficialy as ever, but inside I find myself crawling closer
to the “me” I’ve been searching for for a long time. So, in real terms
I am getting somewhere with regards to myself. I am now alone again and
this is the way it’s meant to be. I must become comfortable with myself
before I can share that space with another and now is a time when I
want to focus on my intellect and explore my spiritual space (whatever
that means). I am becoming more comfortable with where I stand with
Sufism and know in my heart that I am on the right path, and am getting
over the whole ‘I hate the way I am so unthoughtful/stupid sometimes’
thing. It’s bullshit. It is true that I must be aware of what I am
saying or doing, but what has happened up until now has happened and
what is important is the momet. What am I going to do now.

Anyways,
happy new year Sholeh jan, I hope this year is even more fruitful than
the last, take every lesson as it comes and listen to your heart; you
know it knows best.

Here is the Rumi fortune in full that I got tonight:

Past
If you know how to be patient, He’ll offer you the seat of honour; He’ll show you a hidden way that no one will know.

Present
A swan beats its wings with joy; “Rain pour on! God has lifted my soul from the water.”

Future
Your soul was a snake, but is now a fish; It leaps in the spring of immortal life.

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year All! Wishing you good health and success in the year to come…I hope all your wishes come true.

We
have been reading Rumi fortunes at our gathering so I have snuck away
from the celebrations to record mine before I forget it:

A swan beats its wings with joy; “Rain pour on! God has lifted my soul from the water”

I feel positive inside about what this year will bring. All I have to do is spread my wings and start flapping…

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Sequence poem part V

Follow-up to Sequence poem part IV from Into the Flame

Hello all!

I’m back from the East and ready for a new term
at Warwick…it’s going to be hectic with The Lover, One World Week and
Orpheus coming up, not to mention my degree! But I’m rearing to go…

Here’s
another part to my poem, it’s rough (as always I’m a terribly lazy
editor for my own work) and if I manage to write another part to the
poem this will become part VI, the final part. Enjoy.

V

From an Iran Air Bowing 711

Tehran irritates the landscpae like a white rash, dry scales on
smooth coffee skin of the Alborz Mountains
which lie like sleeping bodies, tanned beneath the Eastern sun.

they’ve been lying, slumped over each other in a drunken stupour
for eons, and empires, kings and dynasties have passed them by like
flowing water, constantly renewing but essentially the same.

distant snow-capped ridges are women folk,
veiled in satin so that their peaks and curves are highlighted;
skiiers long to run their ski fingers

over the bellies of these gargantuous brides. we rise and the sun casts
shadows that shade the shrinking mountains like a frozen sea mid-
storm, waves tossing in a wind that blows against the determined sun;

the blade of our wing slices the clouds like soft cheese
as we score our route from East
to West.

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Birds Without Wings

Book front cover

Title:
Birds Without Wings
Author:
Louis De Bernieres
ISBN:
0099478986
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

A historic novel which considers the fall of the Ottoman empire from
various persepctives. It begins in the village of Iskibance and
captures the rustic life of the rural peoples, their beliefs and
traditions, and particularly the inter-religious relationship of the
Christans and Muslims that lived along side each other before the
forced mass rehabilitation that came at the beginning of the 20th
century. The picturesque village life is pieced together by De
Bernieres’ 3rd person narrative and the first person voices of various
characters looking back on the time that De Berniers writes about,
recounting the events in a past tense, relying on their memory and
emotional anecdotes to give life to the story. At the centre of the
village’s narrative it the story of Pilothei, the village beauty who,
as hinted from the start, is in some way doomed.
De Bernieres then provides the military and political perspective of
the Ottoman wars through the character of Mustafa Kemal, a determined
revolutionary general who works his way into a position of crucial
importance in the wars. De Bernieres uses Kemal’s life story as a
springboard for the statistics of horrendous genocides that occured and
are forgotten today. Genocides that were as devistating to the muslims
as the holocaust was to the jews, carried out on the basis of religious
belief, but are barely acknowledged today.
The result is a novel which invites the reader to develop an emotional
relationship with the inhabitants of Iskibance, accepting their
religious harmony, a relationship which is then heartbroken by the
devistation of war and the destruction of Iskibance as a result.
The novel gives a fairly comprehensive introduction to the later stages
of the Ottoman Empire and how life changed with the wars and the
reformation of the Middle East after the Empire’s destruction. It is a
great read, a bit slow to work through, but a beautiful work that would
especially appeal to historic novel lovers, or anyone with an interest
in the history of the Middle East.

This
isn’t a comprehensive review because what I really intended to do was
post my favourite quotes from the book. De Bernieres writes with such
eloquence and some of his politically charged paragraphs are
wonderfully poetic. Here are some of my favourite bits which I
remembered to make note of:

…history is finally nothing but a sorry edifice contructed from flesh in the name of great ideas

This
next quote is in reference to the Russian Christian massacres of
hunderds of thousands of Muslims in Eastern Europe. Could be the start
of an interesting debate…feel free to comment:

Christians
throughout history, took no notice of the key parable of Jesus Christ
himself which taught that you should love your neighbour as
yourself…This has never made any difference to Christians since the
primary epiphenomena of any religious foundation are the production and
flourishment of hypocrisy, megalomania and psycholpathy, and the first
casulaty of a religious establishment are the intentions of its founder…

…they played abstractly at backgammon, that game which mirrors life by being composed half of calculation and half of luck…

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Sequence poem part IV

Follow-up to Sequence poem part III from Into the Flame

Here’s another rough draft for you, comments very welcome.

IV

Jom’e Bazaar
(Friday Market)

cirlcing like beweildered magpie, unsure
in which direction to begin looking: shoppers are surrounded by
gold, silver, jade, emerald, royal red, quileted together

in the corridors of the jom’e bazaar; there are
reels of the finest fabric, fit for a sultan’s bride,
and the glint of jewelery relfects in the pupils of many

stall owners and shoppers alike. everyone
has one eye on their hand-bag and the other on the next
potential bargain, each person weighing their neighbour

against the demand and haggle for every treasure:
piles of sequinned slippers, heaps of silver pendants, sprawling
veils that waver in the breeze and beckon,

they are impossible to ignore. the tired expressions
of merchants sat upon their laden sheets, go unnoticed as we
shove cheap notes into their chapped hands and move on.

__

Yesterday
in Tehran there was a bus strike. The bus drivers here are tired of
their long hours and extremely low wages so they resorted to protest.
The interesting part for me was that they did not stop work; instead,
they drove through the streets of Tehran refusing pick up the queues of
people waiting for a ride in the pouring rain. The strike had not been
sufficiently publicised and there were thousands who had no idea there
were no bus services available. The buses would stop on busy street
corners, displaying their empty seats through rain-blurred windows, and
waiting bus users stood in the middle of main roads to block traffic
and delay the rush hour. The bus drivers deliberately paraded their
empty carriages in order to anger people so that they would create
enough fuss for the people who need to be listening to hear. The people
in chare don’t care if there are no buses, they have their private cars
and like the extra budget pocket money, but hopefully they’ll start to
care if/when people start smashing bus windows in frustration and block
traffic to agrivate the horrendous traffic situation here…what will it
take for them to listen?

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Merry Christmas and more!

First of all…MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Hope everyone has a wonderful christmas full of merriment and good food!

Christmas
is only celebrated by the Armenians (and any other Christians) in Iran
and therefore it is not a national festival. However, there is another
celebration here which has its similarities to Christmas: wednesday
night (dec 21st) was shab-e yalda, the winter solstice, the longest
night of the year, an occasion for family to gather around each other
and celebrate. Shab means night and yalda means birth: this night is
recognised as the birth of the sun god Mitra, a god of Zoroastrianism
(an ancient religion of sun worshipers which still exists today), and
is thus symbolic of the triumph of light over darkness as the days
become longer and the nights become shorter. Here is a carving of Mitra
(figure on the right) from a Persian temple:

And here is a very popular western relief of Mitra sacrificing a bull:

Similar
celebrations to shab-e yalda exist in Egypt and Russia, amongst other
countries, who all celebrate this triumph of light at the begining of
the new solar year. On shab-e yalda, families gather together and light
a candle as a representation of light, prepare a feast of good food,
nuts and fruit, with watermelon and pomegranet being particularly
significant because the red colour of these fruits symbolises the
crimson hues of dawn and glow of life, invoking the splendour of Mitra.
Another tradition is to read poems especially by the poet Hafiz. With
Hafiz’s poetry it is possible to read fortunes: you close your eyes,
ask a question and open Hafiz’s divan at a random page. The poem that
you open to will give the answer to your question (and more often than
not it answers correctly). Shab-e yalda, being the longest and darkest
night of the year, has become a symbol in Persian poetry, a
representation of prologued separation from a loved one, loneliness,
anticipation and here are some examples from the poet Sa’adi:

‘The sight of you each morning is a New Year
Any night of your departure is the eve of Yalda’

‘With all my pains, there is still the hope of recovery
Like the eve of Yalda, there will finally be an end’

The
similarities to Christmas so far are the gathering around each other.
However, historically on shab-e yalda, which was a pre-Christian
festival, families would put presents beneath a tree and then
distribute them amongst the poor the next morning. Sound slightly
familiar? Shab-e yalda is also the reason that Christ’s birthday is
celebated on the 25th dec instead of its original date of 6th jan:

Over
the centuries Mithraism [Zorastrianism] spread to Greece and Ancient
Rome via Asia Minor, gaining popularity within the ranks of the Roman
army. In the 4th century AD as a result of errors made in calculating
leap years and dates, the birthday of Mithra was transferred to 25
December. Until then Christ’s birthday had been celebrated on 6 January
by all branches of the Christian Church. But with the cult of Mithra
still popular in Roman Europe, the Christian Church adopted many of the
Mithraic rituals and proclaimed 25 December as the official birthday of
Christ.

Interesting stuff. What did I do on shab-e
yalda? Gathered around some friends, ate a lot, lit candles, read love
fortunes, sang songs…I then then joined my cousins at a party, arriving
just in time for a recital of Hafiz accompanied by a deep, juicy bowl
of pomegranet seeds πŸ™‚ mmmmmm.

One of the highlights of this
past week has been visiting the Museum of National Jewels (previously
Royal Jewels). The museum is in a vault beneath the Melli (national)
Bank of Iran. It houses some of the most exquisite rareties of the
world including the ‘Dariaye Nour’ (The Sea of Light) which is the
worlds largest pink diamond, the sister of which is the world’s largest
white diamond that lives in the Tower of London amongst the Crown
Jewels. I have never been to a museum of royal treasures and thus this
was the first time I had ever been exposed to so much shiny, expensive,
beautiful things. I wandered around like a sedated magpie, staggering
from one work of art to the other. We latched onto a tour group and got
the lo-down on all of the monarchs which owned the jewels too. One of
my favourite items in the museum was Nader Shah’s throne:

This is a
bad picture but I am sure you get the idea. It’s a wonderfuly intricate
piece of art with something like over 1000 (correct me if I’m wrong)
precious jewels embedded in it, and the entire surface is decorated
with mina-kari, a special style of Persian painting. The best thing
about this throne was that, with all its majesty, it was not even a
palace throne – it was Nader Shah’s picnic chair!

My other
favourite item was an ostritch egg which had been engraved with
carvings of birds and flowers. I was blown away by the delecacy of the
carvings and the fact that someone was skilled enough to be able to
creat such a carving by hand without cracking the egg. Sadly there
aren’t any pictures of it to show you. I can’t descibe it all, but
other things that made me smile were the ornately expensive domestic
items such as ghelioon (shisha), bowl covers, dishes and foot
exfoliators which were adorned with gold, silver, mina-kari and some of
the worlds most precious collections of emerals, diamons, rubies and
turqouise stones.

Whist I was browsing the cases of
rareties, I got talking to one of the guards and as soon as he found
out I was from England the questions issued forth…the first being ‘So,
is it better here or back in England?’ It is amazin how many people
have asked me that. Everyone wants to know what you think of Iran as a
Westerner, and why. Why is it good? or bad? Would I live here or there
if I could choose? It is always hard to answer this question because
the two environments are completely different. There is a phrase here
that I use which is that Iran and England are as different as the sky
is to the ground. I love being here in my holidays, having fun with my
cousins and going out to nice places every day, but to live here is
another thing altogether: to work, to study, to learn the language to a
professional level, to earl a salary in rials but have to spend money
at the rate of dollars, to learn my way around, to accept living under
an Islamic Republic…etc etc. It is something that I would like to
experience in my lifetime. Something that is important for me to
understand, but I’d have to adjust to a completely new way of life.

People
here often ask about how different things are in England from a
cultural point of view, and I realised this trip that I have to answer
from two persectives, from that of the student community that I belong
to and that of England in general. This is because our student
environment is a highly sociable one. When we started at Warwick, no
one knew anyone and everyone was keen to make friends. Living together
in halls and close by each other on campus created a wide network of
people there to support each other, cook for each other, comfort each
other, effectively act as each other’s family. This is a social system
that is not generally characteristic of English society because England
is, generally speaking, an individualistic society, every person acts
for him/herself, not as part of a network/community of people. This
university community we have is more like the collectivist family and
residential communities of Eastern cultures. University, especially
Warwick, is a bubble of support, opportunity and culture that is not
realistic of the ‘real world’ so I always have to think twice when
answering the above question from the point of view of my current way
of life.

But, in general, things are very different here.
For me, spending money here is very cheap because of the rates, but for
someone earning a salary of toumans/rials it is very expensive. Knowing
this, it is hard for me to accept the tradition of ‘tarof’ here. What
is tarof? I’m not sure that it has an equal term in English so I will
try and explain. It is a term that encompasses many etiquets here and
the best way to illustrate it is to give examples. Say my cousin takes
me out for coffee, we will not pay for ourselves, one of us will pay
the bill and treat the other person. The tarof is that we fight over
who will pay and both refuse to let the other person pay. The etiquet
is that if your a visitor, the person taking you out will never let you
pay the bill, so I have paid for hardly anything here! Another tarof is
if someone offers you something and you refuse politely, they will
persist in offering until you take some of whatever they’re offering,
or refuse quite profusely. There are just two examples, there are many
other instances of tarof but I hope you get the idea…tarof is an
extremely important etiquet in Iranian culture, and other cultures too,
but especially with the Iranians πŸ™‚

One treat I accepted was
that yesterday I went skiing at the Tochal ski slope with my cousin and
her husband. Tochal is in the Alborz mountains just above Tehran. To
reach the slope and the beautiful hotel there, you must take a 25
minute tele cabin ride up the mountains. It’s by no means a hindrance
because you see Tehran spread before you like an immense sea of lego
that spreads past the eye’s horizon, and then the buildings give way to
the shoreline of mountains and the view of peaks rising and falling
stretches for miles around. We got to enjoy the view of Tehran and some
of the mountains, but our telecabin soon entered a light blizard and
the fog grew so thick that at one point we couldn’t even see the
telecabin cable above our heads. It was as though the world had been
erased from around us and it felt like we were somehow weightless and
floating in an expase of nothingness.

We skiied for a while
before the slope had to be closed due to the thick fog and heavy snow,
but it was worth going for the experience.

One thing I have
felt here is that people really have a passion of life. They are
energetic and enthusiastic and brimming with kindness. I know this is a
biased point of view because I am a visitor and for the two weeks that
I am here people make an effort to show me a good time, but I also
think that this enthusiasm for life is inherant in the spirit of the
Iranian people. Maybe it is a result of being restricted under such an
opressive political regime that the Iranian people make the most of
what they do have to bring joy to their lives: the beautiful landscape,
mountains, rivers, passion for a subject or band or place, good food,
good music, good literature, and most of all good company…or maybe it
is just in their blood. Whatever it is, as I’ve said before, with all
of the downfalls and difficulties and inevitability of “bad” people
existing in this country, there is still a strength of spirit and
hospitality that I have not experienced anywhere else.

There
is so much still to write stored away between my ears, but I think I’ll
save it for another time, a poem, a story or a later conversation, or
maybe it’ll remain locked in the chest of my mind forever. Who knows.
For now, MERRY CHRISTMAS, enjoy your presents and I’ll see you soon!

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Out and about

The radio this morning issued the following warnings:
Due to the horrendous air pollution that Tehran has been subject to in
the past few weeks children, the elderly and those with heart problems
should remain indoors. People with high stress levels should refrain
from driving at rush hour. And finally, if the pollution continues (and
this is the poetic part) the city’s birds will give up the city and fly
away.

Given that life here has many difficulties, there is a poetic element to almost everything.

Today
we went to a fruit bazaar to do the weeks shopping. It struck me that
one remarkable thing about this city is that the chain supermarket has
not yet established itself here to push small businesses into
bankrupcy. Shoppers here still go to a bakery for their bread, a grocer
for vegetables and a butcher for meat etc. It’s such a novelty for me
especially as I can’t remember the last time I popped into the local
bakery to buy bread straight from the oven. The city is still divided
into sectors, to a certain extent. Depending on what you want to buy,
there is a sector for jewelery, baby’s clothes, shoes, antiques,
leather goods etc etc. So, if you want to buy a watch you know exactly
what part of town you’re guaranteed to find an abundance of watches
instead of trailing the high streets looking for jewelers. I suppose
many cities work on this sceme but it is rare that it is still working
in the same way in this day and age. Maybe I’m just easily pleased πŸ˜‰

Yesterday
I went book shopping and bought myself a few books of traditional and
contemporary Persian poetry with english translations. Made me very
excited. Book shopping in general is a joy and this was no exception. I
did however, get frustrated after a while because the book covers were
decorated so beautifully with traditional persian art and calligraphy,
but it took me minutes (rather than seconds) to read the covers let
alone what was contained within. So, aim is to improve reading and
vocab in Persian in order to really appreciate the literature. It’s a shame to let it slip between my fingers.

Whilst
browsing I also came across the work of one of the most famous and
talented Persian Minature artists, Mahmoud Farshchian. Here are some
pictures of his that I particularly like:

Bestow

Despair

To
be honest its hard for me to say that these are favourites because I
fell in love with almost every one of his paintings that I set eyes on.
Do bear in mind that to see these pictures as weblinks is one thing,
and to see them on the page, see each brushstroke, is another. There
was one particular one that blew me away but I couldn’t find it on the
internet to shows you. It was done in the style of Despair but with white figures on a black background. I won’t describe it because it’s hard to do it justice.

Bestow
is a classic Perisna Miniature painting. A friend told me today that
the way Persian classical dance was created was by placing many
Minature paintings of women next to each other and imitating the
figures’ positions in a sequence. A wonderful way to bring art to life.

I was struck by Despair because it made me think of
a writer with some extreme writers block πŸ™‚ made me smile – I think
many of you will relate to that kind of ‘despair’… but on the whole
the picture moved me to a great extent, I was quite overwhelmed by the
artist’s skill, and the stark black-on-white made the despair of the
figure almost contagious.

Anyways, my mind is coming alive
here in a different sort of way to home; I am using the Persian parts
of my brain more and it’s doing me a lot of good πŸ™‚ I have been reading
from the Persian poet Forough Farokhzad and one stanza really stood out
for me:

Those days are gone
Those days when from the slits of my eyes
My songs boiled out like air bubbles
Whatever my eye settled on
It drank up like fresh milk

Well,
I hope those days have not passed for me…however bad my ‘songs’ are
they’re still bubbling out πŸ™‚ and there is still so much for me to see
and lap up, bring it on!

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