Saturday, June 24, 2006


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1. “Some people think Iran is a hell because young people can’t go to discos or drink beer in bars. They have no imagination of what it means to have fun.”

M: “I grew up in the country, so Iran is a great place for me to have fun. You can never be disappointed by the nature here.”

ET: “It’s true that Iranians have a kind of fun that is really special and enjoyable, but I do believe that being young in Iran is a bit of a problem.”

1: “What do you mean?”

ET: “Well, you are always watched. There is so much pressure from family and from society.”

1: “Who says that?”

ET: “I see that myself. I see how young people have to put so much control on themselves because there is so much control on them.”

2: “That’s the first way to learn to lie. For instance, we get some money. Our parents ask us how we plan to spend it. We tell them a lie. We lie even when there is no reason to lie. We do not tell our parents where we are going or who we are going with. We do not tell them anything true. We are a lying people.”

ET: “All Iranians say that about themselves.”

Y: “What I like about working in Iran is that when I get angry in a meeting, the Iranians do not hold it against me. When the meeting is over, they slap my back and we are friends again. They know it is business. When I do business in Saudi Arabia, they do not accept the difference between business anger and personal anger.”

3: “Iranians show their emotions.”

ET: “No, Iranians are very controlled.”

3: “Do you think so?”

ET: “Particularly the women.”

4: “The women are really manipulative.”

1: “Because we have to be. That’s the only way for us to survive.”

K: “That’s what I always say. I’m with you.”

ET: “If the law were more fair, women would be less manipulative.”

1: “That’s true.”

Y: “The men are ruled by women.”

3: “No, it’s just natural here.”

ET: “Married men are like children. They cannot even feed themselves.”

2: “Our generation is better.”

ET: “Your generation is a lot better. I see a lot more 50-50 in younger couples.”

1: “Every generation has its lazy men and domineering women.”

2: “If you talk to ten young people in their 20s, only 2 will tell you that they want to get married. The others do not want to get married.”

1: “We have learned to lie so well that we don’t want to enter into a relationship of trust.”

2: “We had to learn to lie.”

3: “Do you wish the revolution never happened?”

2: “Of course I wish it never happened. We have fallen so far behind the rest of the world.”

1: “Me… I think the revolution has been a good thing. It has made us much more careful. We don’t believe things so easily. We think things through more carefully. Our decisions are more deliberate.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Closing Time

All over Iran, businesses are closing early again today for a chance to say farewell to the world cup team. Keivan predicts a 3-0 loss for Iran. “Don’t say that,” Mohamad protests. “Everything you’ve said has come true.”

“It’s all Keivan’s fault,” I respond.


Was in a meeting with some Iranian businessmen. One was telling us that he went to Dubai to buy some hardware for his business. “They didn’t sell it to me. They won’t sell to Iranians.”


“No, it’s not sanctions. They just won’t sell to Iran. The Arabs do not want to sell to Iran.”

“You’re sure it wasn’t sanctions?”

“I’m sure. They said to me: we won’t sell to Jews. I said, hey, I’m a muslim. My name is Mohamad, how can I be Jewish? They kept telling me they don’t sell to Jews.”

All of the men laughed. That was the end of that.

I was left thinking of the Brooklyn Mullah. He appears on Iranian tv every once in awhile and lectures on scripture. He has a really thick Brooklyn accent that shifts into what sounds to me like perfect Arabic when he needs to quote something. Last time I saw him he was speaking of the sheitan (devil) and identifying his works. It’s all so disorienting for me: the accent, the sermon, the black turban: I keep thinking he is a rabbi, but then what’s all this about hadith?

I think it was Lenny Bruce who said that all New Yorkers are Jewish. I guess the Brooklyn Mullah is no exception.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Weekly Hike

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I spent more time as a passenger than actually hiking this past Friday because traffic was so bad. First we got behind a long line of diesel spewing trucks going through winding mountain roads. Then there was a series of minor fender benders. Then there were the small towns where people were driving in and out of stores and kebabis and turning our 3 lane “highway” into a 6-lane highway: 5 lanes in the direction of Tehran, 1 lane in the direction north.

At one point we were stopped at a military checkpoint: on the lookout for bad hijab, alcohol, and unmarried men and women traveling together. Our driver gave the military guys some lip: just enough to let them know how unhappy she was being stopped. She refused to fix her hijab which wasn’t so bad anyway. They eventually waved us through without checking our trunk.

It probably helped that I am so foreign looking.

“Do you think I was too mouthy?”

“No, just mouthy enough,” I answered.

There were a lot of patrols at the mountain, but for the most part they seemed in good spirits. One sergeant (I recognized the stripes from the Beetle Bailey cartoon sergeant) was even joking with passing hikers about using his baton on them. It may sound like a macabre joke, but it was sweet.

Just after we saw this sergeant we did see soldiers leading three men and one woman down the mountain. One had his gun half-raised towards the back of the woman. In Iran it’s hard to tell when people are being arrested because they are actually breaking a real law or when they are being arrested arbitrarily. Who knows in this case?

I have seen the Iranian police control violent men with a degree of gentleness unimaginable in America. For instance, a man who went into a violent tantrum after learning that his seat on the bus had been sold to someone else was gently led away by the police when they showed up. This man had broken several windows, attacked bystanders and employees of the bus service, and was still squirming and twisting when the police led him away: without hand cuffs, without shooting him, without beating him.

There are a lot of different kinds of police in Iran.

Speaking of which, since last week’s game with Iran, we had heard about Iran’s new motorcycle cops: a band of tough-looking, clean shaven guys riding serious motorcycles. Powerful motorcycles are forbidden in Iran, so the site of 20 guys on brand new motorcycles is surprising. We saw them on our way home from the mountains. One group was riding south from the north of Iran, one riding north from Tehran. These guys were wearing form-fitting motorcycle gear that may be bullet proof for all I know. One even had a leather Red Bull jacket on. Do you think this was official dress? They have black helmets that hide their faces and look like they walked out of some Hollywood Commando movie. They look very, very unIranian.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rumor of the week

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Under Construction has a description of post-game “celebrations” on Vali Asr Street.

Keivan’s doctor elaborated on the rumor I heard from the taxi driver that the mullahocracy specifically prohibited victory in Iran’s game with Mexico “Ali Daei works for intelligence,” the doctor told him while checking his blood pressure. “Did you see the way he was just running up and down the field? He wasn’t really part of the game. He was just moving.”

Many others have repeated the rumor which is at once funny and pathetic. This rumor is traveling through the over 40 age group. Young people are not passing this one on and laugh when they hear it. What it presumes is that Iran is such a great team that a couple of people can make a decision to win or lose. This rumor feeds right into Iranians combined sense of superiority and inferiority.

The World Cup is a great way to take your mind off nukes, sanctions, and despair. Hurray world cup!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I wrote an article

It's based on the notes I took for this blog. It's for the Prospect.

The Prospect has a good article that I only discovered yesterday: "Misreading Iran (again)."

BTW, didn't the Americans look tiny and boyish compared to the giant warriors on the Czech team? I was happy the score did not go to 4-0. Keivan''s brother was rooting for a 6-0 win for the Czechs.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Sourakh, sourakhesh mikonand…

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Well, not exactly. “The mullahs did not want us to win. They told the players: ‘make sure you lose.’”

“No way.”

“You didn’t grow up here. You don’t know the lengths they would go to to keep us off the streets and to keep us from celebrating. We are a rich country with a great culture, but they have ruined us.”

When I got to my destination, I asked the people there what they think of the driver’s comments. “He’s crazy. The Iranian team played well; they just did not win.”

I have never been more invested in a game. You might think this is strange, but I really wanted Iran to win. Friends of ours took us to a football party in a young couple’s apartment in Tehran. The Iranian flag was draped over the door. We were welcomed into the couple’s home with sincere warmth.

The apartment was draped with flags. Faces were painted green and white; young women wore team t-shirts; horns were blaring; the music was loud. Within minutes a tray filled with vodka was passed around the room. The stereo was blaring Arash’s “Iran… Iran…” It was repeated so often that night, that I learned the words. It goes something like We are Iranian until we die; we speak in one voice: Iran, Iran…

It rhymes in Persian.

The room was crowded. The game started. Iran attacked and attacked and attacked. Each attack was met with wild cheers, “Imagine what the stadium must be like,” Keivan said. “This place is so loud.” They looked good, but it was Mexico that scored the first goal.

The Iranians first booed then cheered the Mexican goal. “This is good for Iran, now they will play better.”

They did play better and scored a goal to tie the game 1-1. The room went wild! There were fireworks in the streets.

Halftime arrived. I went outside for a bit of fresh air. “I was just in Europe,” a young man told me. “Every time I said I was Iranian, they said Ahmadinejad. I said we did not elect him. They don’t understand how we Iranians can love our country and hate our government.”

“My Iran is here,” the face-painted man said to me as he pointing to the apartment. “It is not there.” He pointed outside. “I love my Iran. My people are happy inside and sad outside.” He was practicing his English with me. I think most Iranians would be surprised to hear themselves called “my people” by a young medical student, but I might be wrong.

“Pray for my team,” a young woman said to me. “It moves me that you care about us.”

“God willing, we will win,” another added.

“They might even win,” Keivan said.

“Tying would be a victory.”

There was so much good humor and hope that when at 9:10 Iranian time, the Mexicans scored their second goal, no one despaired. When they scored their third goal within minutes, the room went quiet. All of Tehran went quiet.

A young man with green and white face paint, wrapped in an Iranian flag went into the bathroom to sulk. He sat on the ground with his head in his hands.

I wanted to cry.

A few minutes after the game, we were dancing to Arash songs. The sulking young man told me, “We are good losers. That is our problem. When we win we say it is from God; when we lose we say it is from God. That is why we are always losers. We are victims.” Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 11, 2006

World Cup

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While the west may be worrying about AN’s nasty appeal to neo-Nazis worldwide and how that will be played out in Iran’s first game tonight: Iranians are just eager to celebrate a victory and have some public fun. (See Michael Slackman’s article: World Cup Tests Iranians' Ability to Have Fun in Public)

You would be hard-pressed to meet an Iranian in Iran who even knows what a nazi is (unless it’s a girl’s name, and then it is pronounced with a buzzing z rather than a ts z), let alone a neo-nazi.

For a great insight into Iran AND Iran’s sympathy with Germany, read: My Uncle Napoleon. The story takes place in a family compound in Tehran during world war 2. Nothing else provides more insight into Iran than this book. There is no analysis of Iran that even comes close to Iraj Pizishkzad’s rendition of Iranian society and culture.

Predictions: This morning’s taxi driver predicts a tie; Keivan predicts a 3-1 loss; Mohamad a 2-1 win; Niloofar thinks that it will be a 2-1 loss or a tie. "She's become Mexican," Mohamad complains. "She's not Iranian anymore." Everyone here believes that Mexico is a strong team. Iranians, however, need at least one victory in the World Cup. There is an eagerness to return to the streets for a bit of celebration.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Lost World

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Another Spring day in Iran...

A co-hiker described the place we went to as "The Lost World." Every time we turned the corner there was an unexpected landscape. We went from arid rock to meadow to swamp all in the course of an afternoon's hike. I am such a flatlander: every time we hike, 3 years olds pass me, Iranians laugh at me, and I never fail to fall on my ass at least once. It's great to live in the mountains for a change.

We went through a gourge to arrive at the first meadow where Iranian families and friends were picnicking and singing. A group of women had taken off their scarves and were drumming and singing in lovely high voices. Two young men walked arm in arm smoking a waterpipe. A young man prayed while his friends drank tea. Families made kebabs while fathers sang for their children. This was all capped off by the sounds of crickets and the smell of wild mint. I thought I was in a kind of paradise, and I was not alone: my companions felt that way too.

If you want to know what Iran could be: go for a hike. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


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Iranians and Americans share one quality that is unimaginable to my European, particularly northern and western European, friends: the ability to act in unexpected ways. (I had originally written “illogical” but settled for unexpected…) What about when Reagan sold Iran arms through Israeli intermediaries? That was unexpected, wasn’t it? From both sides, wouldn’t you agree?

Then AN has, in my mind, the normal reaction to learning of the atrocities of the holocaust: shock and disbelief. Wouldn’t it be odd if that upon learning of the holocaust he was anything but shocked? We in the west respond as though he is denying the holocaust like a westerner who grew up with the knowledge of the holocaust might. Wow, then he gets a rise out of us and just goes on and on and on…Against logic and reason. But perhaps expected…

But then, I see, that there are Americans who are selling fashion gear that says “Nuke Iran.” While Bush may plan to nuke Iran, these guys think of it as a fashion statement. What the f*** is wrong with them? (I refuse to link to their site.)

So, despite the fact that negotiations are offered and negotiations are rebuked, despite the fact that most people I know think there is a 50-50 chance of Iran getting attacked…

I believe in the power of the unexpected. I believe in the success of negotiations.


What are the chances of the Iranian team winning the world cup?

Well, we hear that the regime is inviting football celebrations this year instead of discouraging them.


Went up Tehran’s hill to Tajrish where we shopped for framing supplies, fruits and vegetables, manteaus, and slippers. I love going there and being in the crowd of shoppers.

The bazaar at Tajrish is dank and rundown. When you arrive to the bazaar, you are greeted with shrimp, fish, sheep’s heads and tongues and feet, turkeys, chickens, and gorgeous fruits and vegetables. You walk down a narrow passageway that takes you by some premium produce stands selling fresh ginger packed in cotton, cherry tomatoes, and avocados. Then you smell pickled vegetables, pickled garlic, and barbecued liver. The light comes down in neat shafts from windows in the high ceiling. The place is packed with every kind of person Tehran has to offer. A lot of commerce passes in and out of the dank bazaar.
When we came out of the bazaar on the other side, we drank fresh melon ice drinks and watched men selling contraband. A well-dressed man approached this guy with an envelope filled with money. Drugs? Payola?

The young guy accepted the envelope, looked around and saw that the crowd did not care one whit about him and then walked over to a bush where he pulled out a white plastic bag filled with not the expected drugs, but dvds filled with western films.

The well-dressed man made his selections and walked away. The plastic bag returned to the bushes.

I finished my melon drink.