Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Sponge Bob

I have a confession to make, I love the cartoon Sponge Bob Square Pants. I especially love Sandy the squirrel. She is such an amazing character, with her little aqua suit and her treadmill. So it is with no disrespect meant when I say that many of the mosques in Iran remind me of characters from the cartoon. Imagine the central dome like the head of an octopus with two skinny arms raised to the sky for the hazzans. I can't help but think that the mosques are alive.

Khomeini's tomb, on the other hand, feels like it was designed by Disney for the live action version of Aladdin. It is huge and gold.

Compared to the dusty, drab architecture of most of Iran, the mosques are a welcome diversion. They have such vivid colors and dramatic shapes and style. If it were not for the mosques, Iran would be an architectural wasteland of yellow brick and marble façade boxes. Architects! Iran needs you.

3 days to Freedom

There is this guy in America with his own television show who claims that he is bringing 50 planes to Iran on Friday in order to bestow freedom on this fine land.

How are Iranians responding? For them it is like the opening 5 minutes of Saturday Night Live. They think it's funny. Everyone I speak to is amused by the whole idea. Today I heard people joking about it. One claimed that it was a plot by the mullahs.

First of all, it is a logistical nightmare. Anyone who has ever landed in Iran's international airport would understand that. I guess he could land in Iraq and then bus the passengers of the 50 planes in, but that seems a bit silly as well.

They could parachute into the country.

They could all get visas and wait their turn on one of the airlines that flies into the country.

I guess we'll all know the outcome 3 days from now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Normal Life

What does normal life feel like?

K and I recently took a trip to Europe where there seem to be many more devout Muslims than in Iran. The Islamic women wore a range of clothing from complete veil to simple scarf. Islamic dress seems to be more a matter of culture than religion. For instance, Moroccan women use tight black scarves to tie their hair back behind their head. The scarves are form-fitted to their own hair and have interesting knots in them. Turkish women wear their scarves pinned in some complex way on their heads. Their scarves are mainly drab with the occasional drab flower printed onto the scarf. Many of these devout women wear clothes that could get them arrested in Iran. (No wonder devout Iranian women chafe at the restrictions on dress.) Despite this, none of the devout women we saw in Europe showed even a strand of hair.

This is not the case here. I have seen women in chadors with fringe showing. The newest fashion is to wear a scarf that covers neither the front nor the back of the hair. This means that women with long hair let it hang down out of the back of the scarf.

When K and his family and I went out to eat the other night, I was wearing one of the longest manteaus to be seen that evening. Mine reaches my knees. It's last year's model. The newest fashions just cover the ass. I don't really feel like keeping up with manteau fashion myself. I'll just wear mine until it falls apart.

Why do I write this? Because I want to tell you what normal feels like. Normal is that religious and devout women have friends who are secular. Normal is having observant cousins and atheist cousins. Normal is a Republican woman married to a Democratic man.

My great aunt kept kosher, my grandmother (her sister) loved bacon (the other kosher meat), my grandfather's sister shaved her head and wore a wig. K's mother never took off her headscarf. He has a photo of me in a swimming suit sitting next to his mother in her scarf and long shirt. We are both happy. That's normal.

We recently had dinner with some friends in a hidden restaurant with actual atmosphere and professional service. There were all sorts of people there: families with all of the women in chadors and families with women barely wearing headscarves. Our host managed to procure whiskey for us, which meant that we were actually eating and drinking in a nice restaurant. It all felt so frigging normal.

Normal is such a simple thing.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Elections & Locusts

I wrote a long boring review of the events of the summer and decided not to post it. Suffice to say that the Olympics are way cool. That's all I have to say. I am no longer an Olympics cynic. I can't, however, help hating the opening and closing ceremonies (not the parade of nations, mind you.). Speaking of the parade of nations, didn't it seem like half the countries represented were wearing the KLM flight attendant uniform?

Okay, jump to the present. Two things: elections and locusts.

While the rest of the world might be worrying about whether or not Iran is about to become a nuclear power, (Iranians actually think that the earthquake in Bam was the result of an underground nuclear test.) Iran is worried about locusts. Every night on the news we see footage of the locusts in Africa. There is a very real danger that they might make their way to Iran. These locusts are truly a plague of Biblical proportions.

To all my Iranian conspiracy theorist friends: underground nuclear tests can be detected. An article on the Lawrence Livermore Labs website (http://www.llnl.gov/str/Carrigan.html) tells how the radiation finds its way to the surface through fissures and, yes, faults.

Iranians are all asking me about the US elections. "Kerry was up in the polls," an Iranian friend says.

"That was yesterday," I told him. "Today it's Bush."

"My God," another friend said, "Can't Americans make up their minds?"

There was a discussion of which candidate to support. Half of the table was pro-Kerry and the other half was pro-Bush. "Bush is much better for Iran," the initiator of the conversation said.

"Who will win?" They ask me. (I have noticed that Iranians never ask me who I think will win. They always ask me: "Who will win?" Maybe it's an artifact of the language itself. Maybe it is representative of the conspiratorial mindset of Iranians.)

"Bush," I answer.

"No, Kerry will win," says another.

"If the world votes, Kerry will win." (Which is precisely Kerry's problem, I think. Americans really rankle at being subjected to world opinion. Perhaps it's an irrational response.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting, and a truck stop in Qom

We were on our way to Khorram Abad when we stopped to have tea and eggs at a truck stop in Qom. I like this particular truck stop, which is also a motel, because the restrooms are so frigging clean. There is a courtyard leading to a small mosque and the restrooms for men and women. Painted on the wall is a mural clearly inspired by Bob Ross via his television show: "The Joy of Painting."

Who knows when we first discovered Bob Ross and his happy trees, big brushes, and palette knives? It must have been channel surfing one day and hearing his soothing voice say "There…" My sister watched it with her husband to be all through college. "It was the perfect program for Sunday morning when you'd been out too late." (She probably meant: Sunday afternoon.)

The fact is Bob Ross is everywhere and appears just when you need him. He's like the Virgin Mary. I used to believe that the next great religion would have Elvis as its prophet, but now I am convinced that Bob Ross is a more likely candidate. He has to be much more popular worldwide than Elvis. Take Iran, for example, his show appears on television here and his kits and books are translated and prominently displayed in bookstore windows. Elvis, however, is nowhere to be found. (Although Metallica, The Eagles, and Eminem are all popular.)

I am not sure what makes him so compelling. Posters at the Jump the Shark website talk about his afro and his soothing voice and his anti-cool confidence. Maybe that's it. There is also something so cool about watching someone create a painting or drawing right before your eyes. To me it does not matter how much I may or may not like the style. It is a kind of magic. (I am still mesmerized by Mr. Drawing Board from Captain Kangaroo) And what is amazing is that people actually can learn the Bob Ross style. I saw a whole show of Bob Ross paintings created by a 7th grade art class. I was pretty amazed. Learning the style gave these kids so much confidence.

It's soothing too, to be in a strange country, close to its theological heart, and see a mural clearly inspired by Bob Ross. It's as though his ultra-mellow voice is speaking to you from the painting itself. For those of you traveling to Iran, you can check out the mural on the road leading from Tehran to Qom (unfortunately, you cannot get there from the reverse direction.). There is a motel on the right side of the road that has good pizza, good eggs, good coffee, and clean restrooms. This is not the only Bob Ross inspired painting in Iran. I will pay more attention in the future and list more of them.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I might actually start writing again. Until then, check out this article:

Bad Jens - Iranian Feminist Journal: "Performance in Everyday Life and the Rediscovery of the 'Self' in Iranian Weblogs"