Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Snow, internet…
There was a lot of snow here in Iran. Northern Tehran looked like a Christmas postcard with the evergreens covered in white snow. I associate the snow with my Internet problems, but that is probably not fair. It’s probably the new restrictions on internet sites that are causing all of the problems. The same thing happened last year when the government tried to forbid free internet use. In the end, they relented somewhat (not 100%). I mean, even extremists need to do business over the internet.

They turned off the gas for several days in parts of Tehran. People did not have heat or hot water for several days. Iran does not have enough gas to go around. They ran out. “The government’s first priority is pocketing the money from gas sales,” a fellow taxi passenger complained. “They don’t care about us.”

Who knows if it was the lack of gas that led to the tragic fire in one of Tehran’s oldest mosques? Sixty people were killed when something fell on the oil-burning heater in the women’s section of the mosque. The word in the taxis is that it was not an accident. “There was an explosion. It was a bomb,” a driver explained to us.

“I have a friend who works next door. He heard the explosion. It was a bomb,” my fellow traveler agrees.

I am sure it was an accident.

“After 26 years of hearing their lies, how can we believe a word they say?” Our driver said. (Everyone knows who “they” is, right?)

“I don’t hear them,” I reply.

“You’re lucky that you have not spoken our language for the last 26 years,” our driver laughs.

K’s TV rant
“Take a hot shower now because who knows when our gas will be turned off,” K said. “But you’ll notice that we always have television. That’s because the government doesn’t want us to forget them: it’s all mullah, all the time. This is Iranian tv: flower, flower, waterfall, bird, mountain, flower, river, butterfly, mullah, water, mountain, sky, mullah, flower.”

“Don’t forget crying,” I added.

The Islamic month of Moharram has begun. This is the month that commemorates Hossein’s martyrdom, which means that the crying has begun all over again. The television is filled with men crying. One tells the story. The others cry. Last year, I was mesmerized by the occasion. The singing and stories can be so beautiful. Unfortunately, most of what is shown is so filled with bathos that your gut reaction is that you are watching comedy. That said, our neighborhood has one of the best azans (religious singers) that I have ever heard. I am looking forward to following his group as they march through the neighborhood.

You know all of those months we have: national dairy month? Hispanic heritage month? Kite flying month? Etc… Imagine if the only entertainment you had during those months was from your grade school teachers, earnestly trying to get you interested in these months with filmstrips and activities? Do you have that picture in your mind? Okay, that’s Iranian tv.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Fajr TV
It’s been a week of revolutionary tv punctuated with French spy movies. Two days ago I was channel surfing when I caught sight of chanting masses with their red, blood-covered hands lifted high in the air. My stomach turned as I remembered my friends’ stories of being beaten during the marches. I could not see the red hands without imagining them at the other end of the blood.

Later in the week, the day before the 26th anniversary of Khomeini’s arrival in Tehran, channel 2 showed a documentary about the revolution over and over again. The scenes look like a French film from the 70s. Most of the men are wearing flared pants and sporting big, thick mustaches. There is something touching and heart-wrenching about the documentary. The people in the streets are so excited, so filled with optimism and enthusiasm. The shah looks so sad and filled with regret. It is somewhat painful to watch this documentary. It is different from most of the other clips they show of the revolution. Most of the others are carefully edited to show only the Islamic part of the revolution. The documentary shown on the day before the anniversary is quieter and less contrived.

“Khomeini’s speech on arriving in Iran is now forbidden,” I am told. Many of his writings are also forbidden.

Those serials I wrote about earlier: the ones that portray the time of the shah… Remember those? K has forbidden anyone to watch them in our home. “The way they portray Jews may be ridiculous,” he tells me, “but the way they portray women is just nasty. They turn women into monsters who only care about money and control. The men are weaklings who are manipulated by the women.”

“They want you to think that in the time of the shah, women controlled everything,” his sister comments.

Another serial we don’t watch.
Yes Virginia, there is a snowman
Iranians build snowmen too. There is more than two-feet of snow in our garden right now, and it’s still coming down. Our neighbors have snowmen in their gardens, and their kids are out right now having snowball fights to celebrate a snow day! Hurray!
Men wander the streets with shovels offering to shovel roofs, sidewalks, and driveways. They can earn more shoveling snow in a couple of hours than most Iranians do in a day.

The mountains are white. The sky is white. If you drive 15 minutes down from our house, the snow turns to rain.

The little stores have run out of deli-meat and baguettes: emergency cold-weather food.

It’s great here. I love snow. But it does interfere a bit with out internet connection, which is why this is a few days late. Still, the snow is still coming

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Speaking of Geography

Perhaps the Persian Gulf is not really the Persian Gulf... The other day I saw a poster abvertising a conference located on Kish Island in the Persian golf.
It’s the 26th anniversary…
…of the revolution in Iran. Twenty-six years. The television is filled with revolutionary footage, which is interesting because the footage never shows men and women together, and I know they marched together, or uncovered women, and I know that most of the women marching were uncovered. The revolution-related soap operas portray Shah supporters as greedy, ridiculous, clueless, and, in many cases, Jewish. “I never watch the revolution serial,” a friend told me. “It’s always ridiculous.” Every revolution needs its photo, film, and history editors who assist in re-creating events that did not exactly happen, doesn’t it? Don’t trust history you learn in school or in the movie theaters is the lesson here.

Which reminds me, I read little paperback called The Revolutionists about America’s own revolutionists. It was like reading a manual for the Iraqi insurgents (who should, by now, realize how slim their support is among Iraqis themselves) with its stories of Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty whose main activities seemed to be inciting the British troops to violence and creating martyrs who could gain public sympathy.

It seems that public sympathy for the Iraqi-based insurgents is pretty god-damn slim. Millions turned out to vote despite the fact that their lives were credibly threatened and many were killed. Think of that the next time you consider sitting an election out because it is raining.

The Iraqis in Iran were, by reports, positive. They were excited to vote and photos in the newspapers here showed genuinely happy men and women casting their votes. In interviews with Iraqis here, they said that they wanted American troops to stay in Iraq. The Iranian government says that it wants the American troops to leave and shows nightly images of the dead and dying in Iraq along with text that says something like: “Democracy American Style,” the Iraqis in Iran want the troops to stay, and Iranians want the Americans to invade Iran.

“Look,” an Iranian tells me, “if Iran and America did not have something going on under the table, then why is Karzai in Iran? Why are our relationships with Afghanistan improving?”

The nightly news showed pictures of Karzai and Khatami signing an agreement to build a new highway between the two countries. “Oh, so now it will be even easier to smuggle drugs into Iran,” I commented.

“That’s what everyone is saying,” said K.

There is no sign of improvement in the official communications between America and Iran though. Seymour Hersh’s article about covert pentagon operations aimed at discovering hidden nuclear sites in Iran made the news all over the country. The day after I read his article in the New Yorker, I was at a gathering with some pretty influential Iranian businessmen who told me how happy they were that relations between our two countries were improving. “That’s not what I hear,” I responded. To which one responded: “Don’t read the news and don’t connect to the Internet and don’t listen to any official pronouncements.”

I laughed.