Train of thought -Pancakes, boobs and normalcy

Photo by Martini Captures

The pancake boobs story

In the building where I lived with my parents in Panama, the community of neighbors knew everybody's business. The children especially (of which I was one) knew absolutely everything that took place behind supposedly closed doors. Most of our information came from what we overheard as we played our games on the common-ground landings of every floor level. These areas could be accessed via the building's main stairway and from them, we had the ability to look in on most apartments as well as listen to ongoing conversations so long as we were quiet enough to not give our clandestine presence away. This is how we were privy to the goings-on at apartment 2A.

Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez had been on the outs in their relationship for quite a while. Both were highly volatile people and they fought true to soap opera style scripts. Hers were the accusations of late nights spent drinking and carousing with other women. His were the disgruntlements of a macho husband who thought himself improperly attended to by his wife. In the unraveling of their marriage, what passion they still had for each other was reserved exclusively for the purpose of lacerating name-calling and painful dissections of their personal habits and behaviors. Mrs. Gonzalez for example, could fly into the most awful fury when Mr. Gonzalez was found to have used her eyebrow tweezers for pulling out his nose hairs. By the same token, Mr. Gonzalez would wax foul on Mrs. Gonzalez's breath and accused her of being an affected cigarette smoker who, to his view, appeared harlot-fake rather than the lady-sophisticated whenever she lit up.

The constantly riveting marital fireworks ended the day Mr. Gonzalez walked out on Mrs. Gonzalez for good. According to our kid sources (and I'll admit that I was so sorry to have missed the final episode of their saga) Mr. Gonzalez slammed their apartment door in her face with this bloodying parting shot: "the reason I'm leaving you is that your tetas (boobs) are like pancakes. They are flat, as flat as a pancakes and I'm tired of looking at your pancake tetas pretending they are boobs..."

He really must have been, tired of looking at them that is, because he never returned to live in our building and they divorced just a few months later. Forever after, the abandoned Mrs. Gonzalez was known to us all, children and adults alike, as Mrs. Tetas de Pancake.

The three rivers story

Speaking of tetas, when my sister and I were quite young, my parents used to drive to my godmother's beach house almost every weekend. On the road to the beach there were three bridges we had to cross. Usually, as we approached the first one, my mother would start throwing warning glances at us sitting in the back seat of the car. Once the giggles began, she would try to intimidate us into silence with her evil-mother-look but even that was not enough to stave off our paroxysms of giggling. You see, the first bridge crossed a medium-sized river called Tetas, and though we thought that was funny enough already, that the second bridge was named Tetitas which in essence means 'little boobs' was just too hilarious for words but, the clincher was always the last bridge, the one that went over a wider, fuller tributary than the other two. Someone with a sense of humor had named this one Tetotas which translates into 'enormous boobs.' Tell me that had you been our age, this would not have seemed like the funniest thing in the world to you...

How I eat my pancakes story

Speaking of pancakes, I'm very particular about how I choose to eat mine, which is one of the reasons why I prefer the pancakes I make myself (it's not for nothing that my sister crowned me the Queen of pancakes early on in life). Firstly, I drizzle honey in Pollock-ian patterns along its surface. The quicker the better mind you since pancakes cool off rapidly and I must have that first honeyed bite when it is still hot enough to burn. Once the honey has been added, I start on the crispy edges. Crispy pancake edges dripping in honey are about the best part of the pancake and as far as I'm concerned, I could stop there with just the edges but, to leave a circular center of uneaten pancake smacks of craziness and I wouldn't want anybody to think that I don't eat my pancakes the way normal people do.

The 'are you normal?' story

Speaking of normal, my husband tells a story about an expat he was once introduced to when he lived in Baku. According to him, she explained to all and sundry in a most vampish-sounding accent, how she was of noble Polish blood and then went on to regale everyone with stories of her colorful past. Her most defining trait however, was that for no apparent reason she had a disconcerting habit of stopping people mid-way through a conversation to ask them this rhetorical question: You are not normal? Yeeees?

On my un-normal days, M teases me gently by mimicking the Polish lady's question back at me and, if I ever answered it the way I should, I'd have to go with no, clearly, I'm not normal. Witness this post, I call it exhibit A.


The art of getting mami to sleep and how my toddler has perfected it

So my husband and I are taking turns putting our son to sleep now that we've mentally swung again on this pendulum issue of which bed he should be sleeping in. For the last couple of months we'd been followers of this philosophy but ever since we came back from Iran, something shifted yet again after we put him in his bed alone one night and noticed that he didn't wake up mentally damaged from the experience. This realization is what has fueled our solo sleep efforts from the kid these past three weeks. I'll be truthful and tell you that all three of us have encountered varied measures of success with the new experiment. For his part, R seems resigned to the new state of affairs even as he constantly devises ways of circumventing the final outcome. Personally, I think we are all trying hard to make it work this time around and that is how things should be. A certain level of challenge in life is sometimes good for the soul but I digress...

I've found that M is much better at this process than I am though. He gets the kiddie bathed, dressed, teeth washed and promptly shuffled over to the scene of the crime after dutifully saying buenas noches to his mami, in NO-TIME-FLAT. Like a pro he also manages to negotiate the amount of books to be read and the exact number of lingering kisses he's willing to give before R turns them into a staying ploy. Me? I wish I could tell you I had his level of expertise.

In all this R, being the smart kid that he is, has swiftly caught on to the subtext of what both his parents mean when bed time nears. For example, he's discovered that when his Babi says it is time to sleep, it REALLY is time to sleep but that when his mami says it's time to sleep, there's probably an extended half hour of built-in goofing around before he's forced to get down to business. Another thing he knows is that when he asks mami to read him books as opposed to his father, the stack of books sitting on the nightstand next to the bed may continue to grow because, I find it simply impossible to say no to his Italian sounding por favor. You can imagine that he milks his mashed up accent of his for all it's worth.

What it all boils down to is that I remain stuck in the process of getting him to sleep until I myself start snoring alongside him and if you haven't figured by now that this is his ultimate objective, then you haven't been paying much attention to what I've been telling you.

How lowering to confess that I've been done in by a three-year-old's craftiness. But it's the truth. This is how he managed it last night:

Mami, cantar! Mami sing!

Fine R, what do you want me to sing for you?

Sheh-mwa deh may

You mean Ce mois de mai?

followed by lots of enthusiastic head nodding.

And so I sing my rendition of a simple little 16th-century madrigal by Clément Janequin which I know from my days in the chorale. R loves it and he knows most of the words by heart.

Sheh mwa deh may
sheh mwa deh maaayyy
She mwa deh may
ma vayr de coat-e

I guide...

Ce mois de mai
ce mois de mai
ce mois de mai
ma vers de cote...

and off we go. Repeating the choir over and over because we both love it so much. Me, because my three-year-old is singing a French madrigal and R, because he can sense that his mami is smugly pleased with him for something, even if he's not clear precisely what.

By the time I've become hoarse repeating the lyrics and he looks just a tad drowsy I try to segway into just humming the melody but the kid catches instantly onto the lack of words in the music and imperiously commands me to start singing again.

Mami cantaaaarrrrr!

A few more minutes of this and WHO do you think falls asleep first?

You got it.

The Sun Tzu of sleep, that's who my kid is.


Answers to yesterday's citizenship questions

1. The head of a state government is called a Governor.
2. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
3. There are nine chief justices of the supreme court.
4. The three branches of government are the Executive, Legislative and Judicial.


Below, Ce mois de mai and how it sounds when sung by a chorale.

Ce Moys de May - FuenteClara


Oh say can you see...

Almost on the eve of a holiday that celebrates the heart of what it means to be an American, I get to tell you a piece of good news. Are you ready? I applied for US citizenship a couple of months ago and my application was approved this past Friday. That's when I went in for my Citizenship exam and well... I passed.

After 23 full years lived in this country and in many ways calling it my own as much as my country of birth, I am finally, a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.

If I'm to be truthful, I do not really feel changed except perhaps that I am no longer stressed out about the exam I had to pass as part of my approval process. Here's a sampling of questions for you and I'm wondering how well you'll do...

1. What is the head of a state government called?
2. What is the Constitution?
3. How many Chief Justices are there?
4. What are the three branches of government?

You'll find the answers here tomorrow but try and answer them without looking them up. They're easy if you just think a bit.

Anyway, the best part about my change in status is that as soon as I get through the swearing-in ceremony which will take place July 2nd, I will be allowed to register for voting purposes. And, if there is one benefit that truly thrills me about calling myself a citizen of this country, that would have to be my right to say who I think should be its next President.

"The value of government to the people it serves is in direct relationship to the interest citizens themselves display in the affairs of state"

William Scranton

Come November, this citizen will most definitely display her interest.


Just in case you're interested

Battle of Milkaloo

Where the BBC's Technology Correspondent suffered a near milky defeat.

Sorry if you get an ad first. No way around it.


Wii Fit girl

Below, my condensed version of the article I found on the UK Telegraph

A video clip showing a fit-looking woman exercising in her underwear while she plays the Wii Fit Hoola Hoop game, was recently uploaded to Youtube by her considerate and tactful boyfriend. Apparently when the young lady in question found out what the idiot had done she went ballistic. Here's a direct quote from the offender: "She was furious when she found out," he said, "she called me on the phone screaming her head off and then hung up on me."

Truly buddy, I can't imagine why she'd yell at you and now that she's enjoying her 15 minutes of William Hung fame, she must be thinking the same. Don't know about you people but I smell a Today show booking....

Alas, her video has now spawned a male exercising in his underwear parody.

Personally, I think this guy's got the moves. Something about his yellow-clad bum is so very sizzling.


Star Wars like you've never seen it before

Improvisational brilliance. The force is definitely with him. You know you want to watch...


If Science is your thing

The Royal Society of London offers a £10,000 top prize for popular science writing every year. A book by Mark Lynas titled Six Degrees, has been named the 2008 winner. Apparently, it explains in scientifically plausible, if nightmare inducing detail, how our planet will change for every degree rise in temperature. Enjoy. I'm sure I will since I love all the special effects in doomsday movies so how could I not want to read this?

Here are the other four books that were shortlisted. I know I want them on my nightstand.

Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise by Steve Jones

Gut Feelings by Gerd Gigerenzer

The Sun Kings by Stuart Clark

Why Beauty is Truth by Ian Stewart


From across the pond

I was reading a British blog today when I came upon this term: "clearly pants."
Say what?
I thought. What does that mean?
And because I'm one of those people who is too curious for her own good, I moseyed on over to this fascinating bit of compilatory enlightenment, where I discovered I was definitely onto something groundbreaking. I'm talking brand new, spanking hot from the English streets, parlance.

Direct from the Effingpot site:

Pants: This is quite a new expression - I have no idea where it came from (us neither mister and we were kinda hoping you'd clarify the matter). Anyway, it is now quite trendy to say that something which is total crap is "pants." For instance, you could say the last episode of a TV show was "total pants."

Love it. And now you too can be the first to sound like you know what the pants you're talking about. I know I'm incorporating this slangy gem into my daily speak.

As in: pardon me, but today's post is clearly all pants. What was Milena thinking?

Truly folks, I don't know but I'll quit while I'm behind.

See you tomorrow.


Letting it out

You had no way of knowing but for the last few days I've been in a horrible, drag me down by the heels and drown me with the bed sheets kind of funk. The husband knew it was coming, I could tell. I'd been giving the signs clear as a bell that I was handing my normal sunny self over into the care of the blues and yesterday, he even took the unexpected action of coming home at noontime, leaving his office and all the work that piles for him by the second, just to come and spend some time with me because his usually happy wife was unusually depressed. My eyes watered at the singular kindness of his action, thankful as always that he knows me so well.

Don't be concerned, nothing terrible has happened to me. There really is no one special reason for this malaise. Rather, it has been a host of smaller worries that have ganged up on me, coalescing into this heaviness of the heart. They've lowered the wattage of my daily cheerfulness and somehow, because I've done nothing to limit their encroachment, they are loose and running their course through me. Hopefully spending themselves into tameness once more and leaving me free to ignore their dimmed selves.

For the now, I've opted for some mild shock therapy. I made a mojito this afternoon, from scratch, and in the drinking of my excellent concoction, I remembered a dear friend who once lovingly told me that whenever he drank a mojito he was especially reminded of me, all minty and sweet. The pleasure memory of his fond words did something good for my ego and that further prompted the impulse to turn on the music because music always lifts up my spirits so. From la vieja trova I chose an old Cuban song called la tarde se ha puesto triste (the afternoon has become sad). One could think about the counter-productivity of such a choice in song especially as Pedro Luis Ferrer sings this version and the man can make a rock weep talking about the lost things in life but, when it was done, I played it again twice while I observed my child swimming out by the pool, the sun and happiness painting soft slashes of pink on my boy's lovely cheeks, my wonderful husband careful and watchful of his safety and joy. And it was then that my own afternoon became less sad, that something eased and breathed freer inside me and that an old truth came upon me. Only I can invite what comes into my heart. Only I, can make it go.

There's a blatant reminder in the deliberateness of my actions, in the unbidden memory and in the unscripted fun playing itself out just yards from where I stand observing that help to decide me on a much needed change in course. I pay attention to the signs because sometimes, I do listen to myself when the me inside says that enough is enough.

I'm helped by knowing that my current concerns will soon realign themselves into something not even resembling a blip in my ever changing horizon; by taking stock of all the many things I DON'T ever have to worry about, and by recognizing the unique fortune of all that is mine to enjoy. Mojito in hand, music in my ear, I step outside to join the two people I love and the heart of my heart whispers everything I need to know -this will pass, if I only let it go.


Debunking Perceptions (Iran Part 5)

The other day, conversing with a lawyer colleague of my husband, I was once again forcibly reminded of the trickle down effect of information, the puzzle-like nature of abridged and edited data. In truth, this is not a realization that ever escapes the periphery of my mind's eye, the knowing that what I'm reading, seeing, hearing and processing is at best a subjective and singularly limited view of any topic I choose to engage in or with.

There are two things that are true to the nature of a story, one is that there is always another side and two, that for every side we don't know about, there are another ten that are not even getting told. Keep that in mind as you read about my Iran because there is an inherent understanding I hope you are aware of every time I make that statement: it is not really my Iran. It isn't even the Iran of those who live there on a daily basis. Their in situ realities are nucleic sized bits of a complete panorama none of us, even those who get to live some experiences denied to others, ever get to see. Reality is as one can only tell it and even then, not that at all.

Feeling somewhat lighter of spirit for having re-stated what I believe to be apparent already, I'll tell you what lies at the heart of this next Iran post - misinformed perceptions.

Neither one of these two photos is mine though I wish they were. I also wish I knew to whom I could credit them to. Both came bundled in a bunch of Iran photos I received a long time ago via mail. I saved them to my files because the images were beautiful. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you either what parts of Iran they show.

Dizin mountain resort, one hour or so outside Tehran. Unknown photographer.

Before I left for Iran I got asked this question three times within the span of two weeks. One of the people doing the asking was my local librarian! Will you be bothered by the sand? I could tell my questioners all had similar visions of rolling sand dunes and the incongruity of a jumbo 747 landing in the midst of nomadic desert dwellings.

The CIA factbook says that Iran is roughly the size of Alaska geographically speaking and that its terrain shows rugged, mountainous rims; high, central basin with deserts, mountains and small, discontinuous plains along both coasts. See for yourself (above) what Iran can look like depending on the seasons and the location. I know there is sand, but so far, I haven't clapped eyes on it.

Two young women wearing mantos and hejabs walk in the city center near the baazar, Tehran. Notice the open-toed sandals of the girl on the left.

Feminine unmentionables openly displayed at the baazar in Tehran. More expensive offerings can be found in high-end malls. Obviously, there's always a need for these no matter the outerwear one is swathed in.

An older lady sporting a more conservative but light-colored manto and hejab shops at a manto shop. Manto stores can be found by the dozens in every shopping mall. There's fierce competition amongst them to keep stocked up on the newest fashions.

Photo found on the Internet. It was probably taken in Tehran where the girls are more bold in their street fashions. These three are almost borderline in what is allowed. Technically, the sleeves of the manto should cover up to the wrist and flow down to mid-thigh closer to the knee. Also the hejab or head covering should cover all but the crown of the head but, as you can see, only the lady with the red hejab is correct in how she wears hers. Having said that, most of the younger generation tend to wear their hejabs like the two girls to the left. Everyone wants to show off their highlights and hint at the length of their hair.

I think that when westerners envision how women have to dress in Iran, what the mind more commonly supplies for them is images of the burka or the chadri both of which are more common to Afghanistan or to Saudi Arabia or Yemen for example. In my two trips to Iran, I've never seen any female wearing either one. Not in Tehran or in Isfahan nor in more conservative-minded Tabriz. What is required by the government is that women who are outside their homes (as once inside the house none of these clothing restrictions apply), wear either a full length chador or an overcoat called a manto used in conjunction with a hejab or head covering.

The older generation tends to be conservative on this front. Let's say that about 80% of women above the age of 50 or 60 (that I observed), wear darker mantos and longer sleeves with darker-hued hejabs. Now the younger female generation (especially in Tehran) push the envelope on this. At malls, where young men and women go to hang out, to see and be seen, the girls could rival the rainbow in their choices of manto and hejab coloring. Not only that, but they wear fishermen length jeans (mid-calf or hemmed at the ankle) as well as open-toed sandals to show off their pedicured feet.

Here's an interesting statistic: The census of 2006 puts the total population of Iran at around 70 (though many state it could really be closer to 75) million. Of that amount, one quarter or 25 percent of the population is under the age of 15! and 70% or thereabouts is under the age of 30! What those number imply, amongst so many other (interesting) things, is that the majority of Iran's population was born after Shah Reza Pahlavi's reign and the subsequent Revolution that overthrew him; also, that they were born after the US hostage crisis and that an immense majority of the current population now in their early to mid-thirties, was literally in diapers or not yet born either when the Iran-Iraq War took place.

Little children playing out on the street, Tehran.

For my final debunked perception, I'd like to address that which ascribes a palpable not to mention visible Iranian hatred of the United States and its citizens. I suppose there is fair reason for those who have never been to Iran to imagine why a US citizen might be persona non grata there. Even I, who was a relatively small child, when the US Embassy was stormed and taken in Tehran, can recall images of the terrified-looking US hostages, blindfolded

Boof Burgers is a popular hamburger chain in Tehran. In decor they look like classic American diners. All their signs are dual language in nature.

and manacled, iconic identifiers to the start of the Iranian revolution. There's also of course all the current bad blood that flows freely between the government of the United States and the government of Iran, a matter which does nothing to help further the understanding of its peoples. Nevertheless, I can tell you the following: The West (to not say solely the US) influences Iran greatly. For example: English is openly taught at schools and universities and a western way of life (to not say an American way of life) is openly pursued and viewed as a fashionable, sometimes even preferable, way of living. Western music, western books, western foods, western cars, western styles of clothing and certain western ideals, those tangible and intangible trappings of a world outside of Iran, speak like you cannot believe to the heart of modern-day Iranians. That is not really because they idealize the United States but more because its young population has a sincere desire to catch up with the rest of the world. They don't want to be left behind and with that in mind, they do their best to circumvent the degree to which imposed restrictions deny them the right of advancement.

At almost every shop I visited in Tehran, I could ask my questions regarding wares and prices in English. Nearly always I was answered in the same language. And, rather than evidence dislike or hatred towards me because I clearly looked foreign and spoke a fair enough English that I could initially be taken for an American citizen, all I got in return for that incorrect assumption was kind curiosity and politely worded questions about my stay and reasons for travel to Iran.

To them I represented, tourism, US dollars (still a preferable monetary tender to Iranian Tomans) and the enigma and aura of the US. In one toy store in particular, the Persian owner even came out to say hello to me. He told me that five years earlier, he had quit living in Houston (couldn't make this stuff up even if I wanted to) and returned to set up a business in Tehran. A child of his still remained stateside and he told me that he had just arrived from Houston a few weeks prior after a visit to his college-aged daughter here.

All this to say, that I've never felt any fear for my person as an apparent foreigner or a probable US citizen (which I'm still not) while in Iran. Rather the contrary really, a bit like enjoying the superstar life one might say.

Lamb burgers and lamb sausage pizzas? Boof Burger
menu in Farsi.

As I have no desire to overload you, I'll stop here. I'd be great if you would ask me about perceptions you've long held about Iran which you would like to explore further. Should you have one (or more), I promise to address them to the best of my ability. Before I go, I'll leave you with this photo of a small grocery store I visited. If you enlarge the image, you will notice a ton of western products on sale. Much, much more than I'd seen sold on my first trip to Iran three years prior (or maybe I wasn't paying as much attention as I was this time). Not only did the owner speak fantastic English, but he recognized me on further visits, always bringing out the bottled orange juice I preferred for my son as well as the Halls breath mints he knew I favored. How nice is that?

You have a great day and I'll see you on the Leaping Thought Chahar Shambe (as I know your are all veritable pros on you Farsi days of the week by now, I won't clarify what day you should look to for my next post. :-)


For more and different perspectives on Iran, I point you to the following links I've gathered over time. They are blogs, news articles and just anything found on the subject of Iran. Happy reading.

- Fox News article on Iran. Part I and Part II

- The blog for Brown Book Magazine - a self-titled urban magazine and blog guide to the Middle East.

- Jadi Blog - Blogging and updating regularly from inside Iran, Jadi keeps "an eye on freedom of expression, censorship, internet filtering and..." she leaves it hanging there.

- 3 years ago, Sean Penn the actor spent a much publicized 5 days in Iran acting as a reporter for the San Francisco. Here are his own impressions of the country. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5.

- Arash Dejkam's Iran Pages. Many great photographs categorized by regions.

- More interesting photos sponsored by the website of the Iranian Cultural & Information Center.


Just because it interests me

I'm taking a short break from my next Iran post to bring you the following interruptions...

Some great stories from around the newsy web:

1. The sweetest ending you could possibly read about and yet, the story continues to unfold.

2. I wish I could deposit money into everyone of these kid's accounts.

3. An overgrown child with 5 or 6 brains. Not what you think.

4. Should you have 80 million in pocket change, this just might be for you.

Some fantastic interactivity to spice up your day:

1. Hidden Treasures. What a find!

2. Turning the page is sheer magic.

3. If you are truly a newshound, it's all here, in living color.



Leaping Thought Wednesday (Iran Part 4)

Conservatively dressed women admire the ceiling of a mosque in Isfahan.

This is what held their attention so raptly.

Before going to new places, sometimes even when I visit old ones, I always consult travel books as well as the internet to learn more about my destination. What I often discover runs along practical lines, where to sleep, where to eat, how to get around and what to see. Sometimes however, I discover a little more beyond the obvious, things like: when not to visit, what not to eat, what locales to avoid and why something touted as a worthwhile expenditure of my time might not be so worthwhile after all. Rarely though, do I encounter the kind of tidbit that doesn't necessarily conform to these expected categorizations. Those little illuminative nuggets gleaned only via on-site living and traveling, collected through experience or learned from mistakes.

To give you an example of what I mean, let me tell you about the time I visited a place called Carlsbad (modern day Karlovy Vary) in the Czech Republic. In its 19th century heyday, Carlsbad replaced places like Bath in England as a spa playground to which the rich and the aristocratic would travel to for curative rests. It was and still remains famous for its thermal spring waters and because people like Antonín Dvořák once lived there. Lovely to see I was told and I found that statement to be true until drinking the famous healing waters glued me to my unlovely hotel toilet seat for the next two days. No guidebook had thought to mention that it had purgative effects.

If I put my mind to it, I suppose that I could really could go on and on with these kinds of trial-by-fire travel anecdotes. Lord knows I've accumulated some memorable, if embarrassing tales in my years of going places but, there is no need to gross you out unduly and I must move on to today's Leaping Thought Wednesday. I do so hope the powers that be take note of this invaluable and spy-worthy information that is surely unusual to us but not to native Iranians.

A spice and nut merchant at the baazar in Tehran.

1. In Iran, Saturday is Monday and Sunday is Tuesday. People work over the span of our weekend and continue to do so until our Thursday afternoon when they wrap up school and jobs early enough to enjoy their full Friday rest. Yep, only a one day weekend for them after a six day work and school week. The Saturday is called Shambe and every day following Saturday until Thursday is termed as follows - Day one after Saturday, day two after Saturday, day three after Saturday and so on until the Friday which is the only day of the week called differently, Jomeh. So, basically if you know how to count up to five in Farsi, you already know how to say the days of the week.

Shambe - Saturday
Yek (1) Shambe - Sunday
Do (2) Shambe - Monday
Se (3) Shambe - Tuesday
Chahar (4) Shambe - Wednesday
Panj (5) Shambe - Thursday
Jomeh - Friday

Consider this your first lesson in Farsi.

Pretty in pink. Young girl dressed in her school uniform, Isfahan.

Detail of an outside wall mural in the kindergarten next to Aunt Maryam's house.

2. In Iran, the oriental style toilet of a hole in the ground is still prevalent in most households. Modern constructions include western style toilets but they exist in addition to rather than as a substitute for the traditional toilet. For the record, they are not simply holes. The are porcelain-made rectangular openings which are embedded in the ground and sport a water flushing mechanism that one activates with a lever or button in the same way we do with our own toilets. I can tell you that going to the bathroom takes some getting used to because you have to crouch and no matter how much it was touted to me by 'certain' people, I was never completely sold on the ergonomic or colonic benefits of going to the potty this way but, I'm a hardy soul and when in Iran, I do what I gotta do (I hold it in).

3. Cucumbers get eaten like fruit in Iran. Everywhere you go, come mid-morning or mid-afternoon, lovely bowls full of succulent fruit get placed within handy reach. Amongst the peaches, apricots, bananas and cherries there is always the green presence of smallish, rather thin cucumbers which you just bite into skin and all. Some people sprinkle a little salt on theirs but more often than not they're eaten alone.

4. Tea (chai) is constantly and eternally brewing in Persian households. There is always a samovar somewhere in every kitchen, full of hot water and topped by a porcelain teapot where tea leaves get placed or replaced as the need arises. One drinks tea the WHOLE DAY LONG. If you visit someone, the first thing they trot out is the offer for some tea and a tray of sweets. By the way, one does not put sugar in chai. Rather, sugar cubes or rock sugar are offered in small bowls as you get served. Here's what you do: You dip the sugar cube into the piping hot tea long enough to soften it somewhat thanks to the heat and before it melts too much, you pop it into your mouth where every subsequent sip of hot tea wears away at the sweet you hold in the center of your tongue until, it's all gone. I guarantee that if you perform this little trick in front of a Persian, you will impress the socks off of them since foreigners are forever wishing to drop spoonfuls of sugar into tea which they proceed to immediately stir away into nothingness. I know I never waste an opportunity to show off this little bit of insider knowledge. Also, chai gets served only in little see through glasses. There is no such thing as a western style teacup when serving tea properly.

Boxed Persian sweets at a Bakery/Confectionary shop. You can't imagine the variety!

5. Carpets are a big deal in Iran. Really big deal. Surely you've heard of Persian carpets? Well, there's a reason for that. The most beautiful carpets in the world (someone will most likely find it in themselves to dispute this assertion, but I'll stand by my statement) get made in Iran. They are art, family heirlooms, house dress-up pieces. They get handed down from generation to generation and purchased first, sometimes even before the thought of furniture comes into consideration. In a home, the best carpets are placed in the formal areas of the house and in the public dining room (this is for impressing impact), the remainder are exhibited as copiously as space and purchasing power allows. The floor underneath could be dirt really because in terms of flooring, what matters for a Persian is the carpet you are stepping on.

A carpet we purchased gets properly folded for packing and travel.

A decorative detail in our new carpet.

6. This shouldn't surprise you if you ever decide to take a taxi in Iran: You arrive to your destination and you ask your driver how much you owe, he or she (yes, there are female taxi drivers in Iran) will tell you the equivalent of not to worry about it or tell you that it is nothing. Right there you've just been treated to the fine art of taarof. Of course they want to be paid for their time spent in getting you somewhere but, before we can arrive to the point where actual money gets exchanged, there is the compelling need to deny (by the driver) that any monies need to be paid at all. This is not a precursor to haggling mind you, it's just an endemic type of Persian politeness.

A view of the Damavand mountains encircling Tehran. Notice how drivers do not observe lane demarcations. They drive atrociously in Iran. Going out is an exercise in mental fortitude and suppressing the desire to squeak in fright at every near-death driving experience.

Taarof-ing (I've turned it into a verb as you can see) is present daily in many other areas too. For instance:

Would you like to have some more of this delicious cake?

-Nah merci (no, thank you) you reply. But you really do you see. You are dying for another slice and yet, for the sake of politeness and not wanting to seem like a glutton, you are forced to taarof.

-Thank you but no, I'm sure I've had quite enough.

Please, have some. It was newly baked today.

- I'm sure I shouldn't. I've already eaten so much! Now you are only one taarof away from the sweet prize. 3 is the magic number in taarofing practices by the way.

Come on, just a little more, you know it's your favorite. Are you sure you really don't want any?

- Well, maybe yes, I will have a little more, thank you.

And there you have it! A fine example of Taarof if I ever explained one.

For my final informative bit, I will tell you the following:

7. If you travel to Iran, be prepared to deal on a cash basis. Credit cards are not used there. Recently, they've started accepting pre-paid credit cards at certain commercial establishments situated in more western style malls. This implies that you hold a bank account locally and that you pre-pay a credit card from your existing funds. Barring that, everything gets paid with cash. From the stick of bubblegum to the expensive (and real estate is not cheap) apartment homes on the foothills of the Damavand mountains encircling Tehran, it is cash all. the. way. Take it from someone who finds it so much easier to whip out her little bit of plastic, that having to carry around lots of cash ruins the look of my expensive wallet and constantly forces one to worry about the whereabouts of the moolah secreted on their person. If it gets lost or stolen, it's khoda hafez (goodbye) baby, khoda hafez.

Well that concludes this further lesson on Iran. From this Leaping Thought Wednesday to the next, may all your days be full of hot chai, delicious fruits, gorgeous carpets and lots and lots of money. Shab bekheir (goodnight).

I took this photo of a vat full of Zereshk at a fruit merchant's stall. Zereshk is a type of barberry commonly found in Iran and used widely for cooking. It tastes both sweet and tart. Click here for a link that gives you the recipe for Zereshk Polow (Rice with Zereshk). It is a staple of Iranian cuisine and one of my favorite Persian dishes.


The many faces of Persia (Iran Part 3)

Shah Isfahan Mosque. There used to be a long expanse of turf where this fountain now is. The Shahs of the Safavid dynasty played polo for amusement on its green grass.

So we made it back, in one piece, but just barely. From this latest flying experience I have extracted the following worth its weight-in-gold insight: NEVER AGAIN will we fly Lufthansa to Iran or to Europe or to anywhere else the bloody airline says that it will take you. Apart from one steward, who really was so much more than Lufthansa deserved as an example of a good employee, they did their utmost best to worry us at every leg of this trip. We lived through a nearly lost flight in spite of the fact that we were at the airport more than three hours in advance of our scheduled departure AND with boarding passes on hand mind you; we also survived having to deal with the sheer incompetence of their on-the-ground personnel (except perhaps for the nice pregnant lady at the departure counter in Frankfurt) and we succumbed to more headaches than I will ever care to feel in the span of one day. What that spells is auf wiedersehen Lufthansa and ein Glück, das wir das (good riddance) to you.

Anyway, it has been 2 days of waking up at around 1:00 am. I try to stay in bed and sleep. I do. But I've got a serious case of the sleep snatchers. I know that it is going to take a while to reverse this whole my day is backwards phenomenon but looking on the bright side, you can not imagine how much I'm getting done in the wee hours of the morning. Productivity extraordinaire. Never mind that I'm falling asleep as I'm trying to type this post. The pitch black cup of coffee I just had is bound to kick in any moment now and in my midday exhaustion, I'm finding it quite liberating to just type without mentally editing what I'm putting down. Perhaps sleeplessness is the key to unblocking my inner cascade of verbosity. Then again, this all just might read as mad ramblings tomorrow. We'll just have to see.

So yesterday I spent the better part of two hours downloading and editing through several hundreds of photographs (about 400 to be precise), in order to select the most passable of my photo-journalistic efforts. It was a disappointing exercise. There wasn't much there that you could call truly "good." I'm not being harsh with myself, just honest. Were I still in one of my photo critique classes, I'm sure my fellow students would shred me without mercy. I'm hoping you'll be more kind.

Without further ado, the little I know of Iran...

Ceiling detail of the Masjid-i Shah Mosque, Isfahan.

Most of us who live in the Americas suffer from historical nearsightedness. Faced with the advantages of our modern lifestyles and the relative youth of our colonizing past on this continent, it is perhaps easy to forget, or put into context the ancestry of our European forbears. Much more difficult even to wrap our heads around the antiquity of Oriental and Middle Eastern cultures. I can tell you that while flying over the sprawling vastness of modern-day Tehran with its crowded construction and segmenting highways, that even perceiving how contemporary it looked from above, that by contrast, the very air I breathed felt ancient, that the underlying architecture of the land looked time-worn, immemorial, old. On this, my second trip to the country of my husband's childhood, I felt even more the mental displacement of period and place. The proximity of the past something that seemed like I could peel my way into, if only I were capable of shedding the plastic-sheeted illusion of this, our present time.

There is something about Iran that forever and pervasively reminds you of your blip-like insignificance, that hints of knowledge long sacrificed to the rhythms of the seasons and the memories of those who are no longer alive to tell their secrets and their truths. I suppose that were I a native, accustomed to wending my daily way through this living torrent of history, that I would feel less overwhelmed, more capable of blinding myself to the images my spotty knowledge of Iran insists on supplying for me, like 3-D glasses I do not have the benefit of removing. A double vision of made up instances that are solely the product of what I've read and my overly active imagination.

Early morning inside the cobbled interior of the Baazar, Tehran

That is why I can step into the cavernous murkiness of the baazar in Tehran and substitute the all black-clad women, smothered in their mantos and hejabs for bejeweled, doe-eyed beauties, swathed in embroidered silks, adorning their tresses of silky curls with jewels and pearls. To me, it makes no difference if it ever happened or not, I just see it all, tantalizingly diffused, but for all that, beckoning with baroque richness, dazzling in all-hued color.

Burberry hejabs and Louis Vuitton bags. The affluent young in Tehran.

For the moment, I'll stop here but I'll surely continue blogging on Iran for a couple more posts. Before I go, I leave you with some of the photos I took and I would like you to know that I'd simply love it if you'd ask me questions about anything you might want to know that I'm not addressing. My memory always works better when it has something to trigger it. Until next time then. I'm happy to be back. Milena

Another mosque in Isfahan.

Women in Tehran are very fashionable. Here is the latest in designer mantos. All the girls want this new kind of draped and clingy body covering.

Easy rider Persian style.

The fruit section of the Baazar in Tabriz. You cannot imagine how wonderfully sweet it all tastes. I devoured kilos of apricots and cherries during my stay.

Amu Javad (M's uncle Javad) helps me to haggle for a qilim that I wanted to purchase. We probably paid more than it was actually worth. The seller looked ridiculously happy when we walked out of his shop.

The standard look of young Tehrani men of fashion: Dark sunglasses, jeans and black t-shirts. Iranian men are kheily -pronounced hailey- (very) good-looking. I should know, I caught myself one...

Cherries from the garden of my husband's grandmother's house. They will get picked and made into breakfast compotes that later get slathered onto bread with butter or paired with a soft, feta style cheese (panir).

Signs everywhere are in both English and Farsi.

Chesca: Since you asked for it specifically, here you have it, a photo of me with my hejab on. I'm melting from the heat behind my shades.