Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Diary of a Snaika in Serbia

Over the past year I have written, as many do, of my accounts (of stereotypes) from the Middle East, more specifically Iran. Now that I've spent a substantial amount of time in Serbia, I feel I should summarize a few of the generalizations I've come up with about this area. As most of my writings, this is also about me - Neenee - and my perspective, standing on a point among a whirlwind of complicated issues and cross-hatching facets of life’s space and time. Ultimately, I think we should all come to our own perspectives (however confusing and multitudinous they may be), try to be comfortable with them, while acknowledging that that is all they are, hairy little things.

The first time I came to Serbia, a few years ago, someone asked me if it looks more like Europe or the Middle East. I said Middle East. I had just spent an excruciating train journey from Western Europe, across to Eastern Europe, getting slower and slower as we trickled down into Serbia. I had also been living in the Middle East for a time before this, and somehow a similar feeling struck me. My father often refers to Iran as "the old country." This was also an "old country."

Serbia, and probably the Balkan region in general, lies on a point between north, south, east and west - physically, historically and culturally. Maybe that's why no one here uses those directing points. You never hear someone say "it's north of so and so", or "the south-west corner of..." They are just way too confused direction-wise, being right in the thick of it, in the eye of the storm.

bananas 4 Serbia

From the north-west, a European facade, still in the making, glosses over the rampant corruption and bureaucracy. From the south-east (the 'Near-East' or 'Middle-East' as some like to call it), deeper cultural traits and habits have merged into local culture and identity. From the east Russia, who most people see as Serbia’s only 'friend', fights against those who desire swift transition into Europe. And straight from the blood of the soil, building further into the identity-under-construction, a rural, tradition-infused Serb dances the Kolo. Depending on which part of the country or in which room you find yourself in, these influences factor in more or less.

In the 'heart' of Serbia

on the way to EU!

Other apparent contradictions contribute to this stormy feeling.

A gypsy shanty town reflects off the polished glass walls of a developing high rise. The biggest Roma camp lies just across the river, minutes from the heart of Belgrade. Supermarket Vero's giant red white and blue banner beams just across the road from the sprawling trash heaps of the black market beneath the decrepit train station which has no time-tables, just a grumpy old woman who tells you from behind the sharp hairs in her protruding mole that the train comes once every hour, and it's your lucky guess to find out which part of the hour that might be. Okay, I think it's safe to just ignore the trains.


As for the tramway, I won't even go there, it would take pages of frustration. But I will say I was pleasantly surprised when I found a used ticket for the tram sitting quietly in the ticket-punching slot, for the next lucky passenger to reuse.

Belgrade Trolley

The smells of Turkish cuisine billow up the commanding corridors of Socialist building blocks. Turkish coffee (or Serbian coffee as some like to call it), stuffed cabbage leaves, baked pies stuffed with meat and cheese, and 'Vegeta' (THE all-purpose seasoning of vegetable stock powder used in every recipe). Other olfactory delicacies include the burning rubbery fume of the city's central heating plant - which is turned on to automatic in the winters – blasting from early morning to late night. Residents like their heating extra hot and there is one round of complaining to the city to turn up the heat - some people's homes feel like a sauna. The burning rubbery mixes with the smell of burning red bell-peppers, which are being roasted in bulk for winter supply. The air is cooling and the leaves are yellowing. And giant buckets of souring cabbage marinate on utilitarian balconies.

Old men with weathered faces sit on park benches in soft hats, fondling their fists behind their backs or a tall beer. Young girls with chiseled faces pace around the city's catwalks with towering legs tucked into short outfits. Men wear purses under their arms, a remnant from the chaotic 90s, and its rampant inflation, when everyone carried around wads of cash.

The sky is grim as winter nears, but beautiful, above the crossing of two of the world’s epic rivers, Sava and Danube.


Women color their hair white-blond, jet-black or red - they could be German, Greek, Iranian, or Russian.

Hospitality is reminiscent of the tradition infused eastern neighbors, combined with a frankness more similar to the west, and a brutally sarcastic sense of humor like the Russians.

Superstitions - of the east, along with the more local ones - amount to more than I have ever witnessed.

They eat their soup tepid.

Kebabs are made with pork. Yogurt is consumed by the liter.

Old fountain

Belgrade is famous for its vibrant party scene, although I always went home too early and the party always got good soon after I left. Rakia, the national, often home-made spirit, helps get you dancing all night. Days spent snoozing in cafes or browsing one of the various winter film festivals...

At various glances the city looks very European with flourishes and even entire neighborhoods of Central European architecture especially toward the north (where Serbians escaped Turkish rule, towards Austria-Hungary), a variety of Ottoman relics (the region was under Turkish rule for nearly 500 years) present an Oriental flavor, elephantine Serbian Orthodox churches link to the Christian east, while the modernist Socialist monuments and blocks of a ‘better’ time dominate the urban cityscapes. They all remind you of the mixed history of this place.

Fighting the Ottomans

Hungarian tower in Zemun, Belgrade

What did the Turks do for us!? They built bridges.

St. Sava Temple, Serbian Orthodox

Monument

In the language you will also find a mixed heritage of words - I find particularly interesting those from the Turkish, which often trace back to Persian or Arabic, and I am always chuffed when we (my partner is Serbian) find shared words in Serbian and Persian. A favorite is “maymoon” which means monkey in Serbian, Turkish and Persian. It's a common insult in Serbia and it always makes me giggle.

The issue of Kosovo is quite mixed up, with divided opinions across and between generations and styles of people. A few young people adamantly defend the right of Kosovo's independence, recognizing the unfairness of the declaration but emphasizing the brutality of treatment by Serbians towards Albanian-Kosovars in the 90s. These people also generally desire a speedy transition into the EU, and see the independence of Kosovo as practical and inevitable. Others are more skeptical about Kosovars, and emphasize the present unfairness in the deal, and backwardness of Albanians in Kosovo. At different levels of fervency, these people regard Kosovo as the heartland of Serbia, the site of the most historical moments in the narrative of Serbian identity, and physically - many important monasteries. The more liberal youth tend to, sometimes rather harshly, write off this religious nationalism, resulting in a widening gap between the ideologies, and a lack of constructive negotiation - a phenomenon I found in Iran also, something which probably happens, to some extent, everywhere.

Northern 'Serbian' Kosovo

Moms are truly "moms" here. They are care-takers, they worry and fuss about. They cry when their kids leave, and wonder if they should have protected them from the education that sent them off abroad exploring the opportunities that their education made them realize. That way they would be ignorant, but still here with them. Most of them just fuss about this, but know deep inside that they made the right decision. There is always something to complain or worry about, perhaps to bring some meaning to their life. This reminds me of a middle-eastern trait. They cook wonderful meals and, no matter what time of day, always ask you if you're hungry. Families often live together, or in the same building. I am known as a “snaika” – name for the wife of a fellow Serb, and they actually call you that. When my mom came to visit, she was called “priya” which is the mother of the snaika.

Mama with snaika-Neenee-in-training

Priya in Belgrade

Serbians adore nicknames, and everyone has at least 3. The first time I visited I was actually confused at what to call my partner, whose name was already weird to me. His name is Slobodan and his nicknames – all of them actively in use – include the following: Slobo, Sloba, Slobs, Bslo (Slob backwards), Boko, Boban, Chicha (which means grandpa). I also gained my present nickname here in Serbia – Neenee, which is how you say my name in one of the grammatical declinations (different endings for or formations of nouns, in different parts of speech).

My last weekend in Belgrade was that of the famous Slava ('Saint Day') of Saint Nikolas. In Orthodox tradition, which is on the rise since the 90s, each family has a Slava. This particular Slava is the biggest because, for some reason, half of Serbian families have St. Nik as their family saint. The Slava families host their friends and relatives for a feast with various traditions taking place. Everyone likes to tell you that on this weekend half of Serbia has Slava and the other half is visiting a Slava. It has therefore become a sort of unofficial holiday.

On this evening I was sitting in the dingy tram with my bottle of wine in its tall gift bag. Everyone on the train, like me, was headed for a Slava feast prepared bearing gifts of wine or flowers, and silently bearing the ride. The windshield wipers were tick-tocking back and forth, even though the rain had slowed down and was barely noticeable, making a sound as irritable as scratching on a chalk board, over and over.

I started going over all the petty little things, adding up that day, that annoyed me, trying to convince myself that my irritated mood was not vain: My toes immediately get wet in the rain in my brand new boots; The zipper of my coat never works the first time and the cloth always gets stuck in it; My umbrella, if I remember to bring it, catches on to my sleeve when I'm opening it; It's too cold outside and too hot inside, and I'm sweating half the time; I ran for the tram, looking like an idiot, once again; My cheeks are starting to sag and I have one tiny wrinkle growing along the right side of my lips; I banged my head on the low ceiling in the kitchen again; I bleed from the uterus every 3 weeks...

Sitting in the bus now, feeling sick to my stomach because I decided to sit facing the back of the feverish bus and too lazy to move, we are headed for the outskirts of Belgrade, but I’m going backwards as if rewinding reality. The windows steamed up and X-mas lights twinkled outside under the rain, swept about like strings of chewed up gum. Turns out it really was raining, and I was just being unfairly grumpy earlier after all. The doors squeaked, the windshield wipers squeaked, brakes squeaked, and bus jerked, over and over.

And the rain outside accelerated in the exhaust in front of a car's headlights, which looked like shining eyes of a frog finding its way through wet blankets of fog... and I was reminded of beauty once again, whatever it is, existing even in this dark dreary rain, and I snapped out of my false misery.

And I remember more blissful moments.

At the rakia factory - in my element

"Slatko" - "sweet" plum preserves

Surrounded by pork

In a quiet place in the country, with my Serb


Friday, November 14, 2008

The 6th Player

Euroleague Basketball: Partizan Belgrade versus AJ Milano
Pionir Arena. Belgrade, Serbia. November 5, 2008.

On the way to the game, I really had no idea what was in store. Just a basketball game, right? I did think it was strange that the Italian team was called “Armani Jeans”, but that was the least of the curiosities waiting in the night ahead. The first deviant sign I noticed was the special force of riot police, planted menacingly outside in front of Belgrade’s Pionir arena. Upon entering the stadium we were patted down. A woman searched my bag and told me I must part with my lip balm. I wasn’t too happy about this and very surprised actually. On the ground next to the search team were piles of small objects – lighters, matches, pens. Why does she want my lipstick, I wondered aloud. “Because sometimes people throw things at the players,” my friend filled me in. Somehow however, perhaps in the same manner that I snuck away with my lip balm after all, people managed to light their cigarettes with something. The large arena was packed and hazy, with swathes of itinerant smoke, which made it all look more surreal, almost 1-dimensional, like a projected screen backdrop of a movie set.

As the players were warming up, the chanting and singing in the stands began. I was already quite impressed by the dedication of these fans, and their knowledge of so many songs. But my friends kept telling me that this was only the beginning, “Just wait!” they urged, eager to see my reaction. When the first play began, a high shriek shuddered the stands, in what sounded like thousands of whistles squealing at once. It was the defense taunt, that horrific screech reeling across a deep “Boooooo”, and at times so loud we had to hold our ears. Then began the songs, one after another, always in perfect unison- and you hardly heard the same one twice.

Compared to an NBI final that I went to in Dallas a couple years ago, there was definitely more glitz in that game. The arena is much bigger, sound system is amazing, etc. And the size of Shaquille O’Neil’s feet is entertaining in and of itself. When the lights went down, all the fans shook their lit up pom-poms –each seat was equipped with one, along with a plastic clapper- creating a dramatic effect. During every time out, a brief but elaborate show was staged down on the court -- jugglers, acrobats, circus freaks, fire shows, comedy acts, souvenir give-aways, cheerleaders and various dance troupes -- true to the culture of big American entertainment. But Dallas's fans and their cheers, although quite energetic, were nothing compared to those in Pionir Arena. In the NBA game there were a few basic cheers like “DE-FENSE” “Let’s go Mavericks Let’s go” and “We Will, We Will Rock You.”

Here is just one example of the endless songs and chants (this one I couldn't get out of my head for days, especially as I was editing the clip below), keep in mind it works much better in Serbian :)

Da volim crno-bele
Ponosno kazem svima,
Volim to slavno ime,
I divim se samo njima

Yes, I love black & white
I proudly say to all
I love that glorious name
And it is the only one I admire

Na svetu nista lepse
Ne moze da postoji,
Nego sto je nasa ljubav
Prema Crno-beloj boji

There is nothing more beautiful
That exists in this world
Than our love
For black & white

Ljubav prema klubu,
Ne moze da prestane,
Dok zivim klicacu njemu:
"Volim te Partizane!"

The love towards the club
Cannot be stoped
'till I'm alive I'll cheer:
"I love you Partizan"

Ja volim Partizana,
I svakog novog dana,
Kucace srce moje,
Za Crno-bele boje

I love Partizan
And every new day
My heart will beat only
For black & white

And, here is one very popular chant:

Gde god ti da igraš tu su tvoji Grobari
Samo tebi verni samo tebi odani
OOOO Partizane, volimo te
Srcem svim!

Where ever you play, your Grobari ("gravediggers") are with you
Only to you loyal, only to you faithful
OOOO Partizan, we do love you
With all our hearts!

The lingering cigarette smoke rose up to the ceiling like holy incense, ascending to the sports gods, in prayer. At times the crowd would wave their extended arms up and down and side to side, acting, at once, as ritual pawns and as a human fan. The cheering only got more enthusiastic as Paritzan fell behind by 23 points. At half time any normal, or naïve, observer would say they have definitely lost it. But the crowd only rallied on, beating their drums, ripping off their shirts in a sweaty, masculine, euphoric rage.

I learned that these are some of Europe’s most famous fans, and that many teams love to come and play here because of the unique atmosphere, even though they usually tend to lose, thanks to the ‘6th player’- the fans. There are various Partizan fan groupings – for example there is the “South Guard” which gathers at the south end of the arena, (where they are located during the derbies, with arch-rival Red Star Belgrade fans at the north end); and there is “Alcatraz”, which are the core fans, the leaders of which initiate all the songs and chants throughout the games. The fans are generally known as “Grobari” or gravediggers, a name that was initially bestowed upon them by their rivals, and later reappropriated by the vibrant enthusiasts. The typical fan is dressed in black and white, team colors, with a scarf tied around their neck and perhaps a cross necklace, as they are often connected to nationalism and thus Serbian Orthodox Christianity. The men hug each other while singing and jumping, sometimes throughout the entire match, usually smiling, sometimes on the verge of crying – but not for long.

The most amazing thing, however, is that no matter if they were winning or losing, the fans never lost faith. In what looked like a cross between drunken-hooligans and religious-cult, it almost felt as though a miracle took place. When, in the 3rd quarter, Partizan started sneaking back into the battle, and then all of a sudden into the lead, after such a great disadvantage. When I said this, I was told, No. The miracle was that Armani Jeans Milano had such a lead to begin with. Most teams who come to Pionir arena don’t usually get so lucky, first time players are always shocked and awed. By the second half, the 6th player definitely got under the skin of the opponents, and into the hearts of their beloved players. Partizan won 81-76.

And here are some clips from the game! For basketball fans only ;)


video

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lettuce Vote!

Arugula, also knowns as Rocket or Rucola, is a leafy vegetable which was widely used in Mediterranean regions since ancient times, when it was also considered an aphrodisiac. It has a "rich, peppery taste" and contains many essential vitamins and minerals, a great source for anti-oxidant, cancer fighting and detoxification.

I discovered the wonder of arugula a few years ago in Europe, where it is quite common. Today, you can find it in many American supermarkets as well (not only "Whole Foods"), usually hiding amongst the sprightly "wild leaf" mix, but more and more coming into its own. It is more expensive than lettuce, but there is much more nutrition inside those leaves than iceberg or even romaine lettuce.

The Arugula Jugular

About a year ago Barack Obama made some comments about arugula to some farmers in Iowa, which started this whole wave of ridicule about his disconnection with 'real' people, who have no idea what arugula is, something only fancy urban people eat. He was talking about the difficulties facing farmers, and how high consumer prices were not being reflected in the farmers' earnings, when he asked, "Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and seen what they charge for arugula?" Then everyone freaked out, because there is no Whole Foods (a health oriented supermarket) in Iowa, and Obama was 'out of touch' with the 'average American'. But that was not the point. Obama was suggesting a diversification in crops - as opposed to the reliance on a mono-crop of corn or cotton, which actually makes a lot of sense. Planting niche products, such as Arugula or Wasabi for example, has proven to be very successful, at least in some cases I have heard about. But of course this didn't stop the rampage and insinuations of elitism and moralizing on Obama's part, vis-a-vis arugula.

"Arugula Gap"

"The only thing worse than arugula is socialist arugula"

"Obama's 'wine-track' affinity"

Whole Foods?

Why Arugula?

Salad Spinning - "John McCain drinks Cappuccinos!"

Fighting the Arugula Fator

Obama's 'Bubba Gap'



It seems that if a politician doesn't shoot for the lowest common denominator of the American citizens' supposed understanding of things, they are lambasted as arrogant and 'European'. If you don't eat meat and potatoes you are not a 'real' American - or a 'Bubba' as some put it.

Arugula has become a symbol of the elitism and otherness that desperate Republicans are gripping on to, in order to paint the picture they want the 'masses' to see in Obama, and the fact that it has a funny European name makes this even easier for them to manipulate. I am glad to see that for the most part, Obama is not dumbing down to these standards. (As one commentator interestingly stated, it's usually the elite that have been labeling Obama as an elitist.) He even came back to the subject a few months later, during another speech, talking again about the diversification of crops away from heavily subsidized staple crops, in an attempt to clarify the media's trivial pandering: "People in Iowa know what arugula is. They may not eat it but they know what it is." Obama calmly and courageously faces his critics.

Lets stop underestimating American audiences, as passive 'masses'. I believe people tend to act in the way you treat them - if you treat someone like a baby they behave as one. Obama's thoughtfulness towards the American public/s feels like a breath of fresh air in US politics. Of course he still has to play the dirty game to some extent, for which some people call him a sellout, but these things can only move slowly, and he is playing to win. And I think it's a fine start...

Anyway, Obama got one hairy Texan vote from me!

This recipe is dedicated to the future American president. My favorite dressing for arugula, give it a try. It's very easy and much healthier than iceberg lettuce with ranch - which by the way is not healthy at all, just because it's called 'salad'.

1/2 fresh squeezed lemon
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
couple pinches of sea salt
fresh black pepper

Pour all the ingredients over a big bowl of washed arugula. This works best in some tupperware - put the lid on it, and shake it up. The tangy lemon and mustard tones down the bitterness of the arugula.

Green food is not snobby, it's just healthy! Add a little spice to your life, and don't forget to vote!!!!!!!!! And if you have any arugula recipes or experiences, please do share them with us - you can comment below.


Obama thinks, and reads


Obama enjoys hotsauce


Healthy young Obama plays baseball



Do you eat Arugula? Now you do :)

He eats Hotdogs, mmm

And beer???

Bitter Beer Face

Bitter arugula face

Reading, again!?

Just call me Barack ;)

Obama!

The Lion King

Monday, October 27, 2008

Driving Miss Hairy


I recently spent 8 months in Iran. When I went (when I started this page) I think I was going to try to discover, or figure something out about, my being Iranian. I’m still not sure I can describe my feelings about those experiences adequately with words. I didn’t really reach any huge epiphany about my identity. But I guess I decided that it’s nice, that I am Iranian, but really not such a big deal. I decided that from one perspective, it is all just chance. Identity is more about the decisions I make.

Iran was beautiful, and full of wonderful things, and more a part of me now. I experienced things there that I never felt anywhere else, discovered how things there were interwoven in my life and my past. The personal factor I felt there never really figured in anywhere else. The same exact thing might offend me in Tehran, and make me smile in Belgrade. At the same time, this is way too simplified- it was personal, but foreign at the same time. At times very awkward indeed. I also saw a lot of things I didn’t like. And, although I am eager to go back to Iran, and it holds a special place in my heart, I am also eager to visit other places and people.

So I choose to keep some things about 'Iran' in my identity (of course some parts of that I couldn’t escape anyway), but only as one of the many facets that equally define who I am, and that confusingly grow everyday.

The world is full of wonderful things, and ugly things, the ugly things can be wonderful also, and many other kinds of things. I think it’s a good sign, however bewildering, when we come to a conclusion like this in life, where we sort of start from scratch, but knowing so much more. Like one little boring climactic moment in a long boring novel.

That is about where my journey on this page left off. I’m still here, miraculously, figuring things out about myself and the world(s) which I find myself inside…

Moving on…I left Tehran in late spring, back to Slobs, and our then headquarters in London. It was a divine feeling to dance and jump outdoors, with exposed arms and legs, alcoholic beverage dangling from my tanned wrist (the 'Tehran-Tan'), care-free. But I also missed the adventure, the layers of neglected, crusted over history and amusing nostalgia-riddled coincidences I came across every day in Iran...and had even become accustomed to, like the Jello, and the dusty chandeliers. I even got used to the dress code (but did not really miss it), and used to the other various codes and details you have to live by there – especially as a woman- not just concerning the government and the law, but also the society and family. Pitching a scarf over my head before leaving the house became a routine tic, like when you twist the tips of your hair, or check your teeth before you leave the bathroom. I admit it felt weird riding around on the back of our scooter with short shorts on, my yellowing arms and legs bare to all…

A few weeks in London, draped in the beloved schizophrenic weather, alternating sunny and rainy, consisted of two camping trips - one for court-side seats at Wimbledon, where we stylishly supped on strawberries and sipped Pimm’s ; and another for a much raunchier episode at Brighton Beach (It’s a beach, yes, but don’t think it has anything to do with bikinis - think 1960s Rockers and Mods meet 1990s trash carnival, hipster music scene, giant killer seagulls, and a haunted looking beach), where we feasted on frisky fried fish with friendly chips and unenthusiastic English Ale, and in the shade of one giant gray cloud, we mused through the exhausted elegance of Brighton's streets.

A couple days after I left in July, an easy breezy summer finally settled in London, and meanwhile I was greeted by a scorching heat which was comfortably sunk into a sweaty leather couch waiting impatiently to be peeled off , and a feisty air-conditioning gusting in my face…whistling vigorously, “Welcoooome Home!” I already felt bacterial assault on my sinuses (One tip for Texas visitors – pack winter clothes for summer and summer clothes for the winter, and your cowboy hat of course).

At the JFK airport in New York, where I laid over for one day, we patiently waited for baggage claim number 4’s carousel to start moving. After a few minutes, rotating island number 6, a few meters down, twitched into motion. Shortly after, we were kindly instructed to move to 6, as the location of our baggage arrival had changed… “Morons!” the lady next to me knowingly and nonchalantly sneered, as if she expected this incompetency. Welcome to New York, I thought, as a mischievous smile tickled my lip hairs. My Texas welcome would be much different.

I had been thinking about Texas, where I grew up, for a while now. During my last few months in Iran, I began to notice some similarities between the country I was living in – which my family was from - and the country, especially the state and city, which I grew up in. I believed that most people would be quick to nervously chuckle (or worse) at my idea that Texas and Iran are similar, believing only the contrary, that they have absolutely nothing in common. But once it popped in my head the more I thought about it, and the more similarities I came up with.

Many people in these two places - Dallas and Tehran - thousands of miles away from each other, might focus on their differences. You could even say that the two are rarely allowed any articulation other than as enemies. So why not, for a change, let’s look at some similarities, if only for some fun, if only to make the differences funny as well. This is the list I came up with back when in Tehran:

Wild Wild West v. Wild Wild East

Shopping - the ‘Mall’ or ‘Passage’ (Arcade) and newer Iranian ‘Malls’ aspiring to the American model - and people who spend their days in them

Cosmetic surgery hubs – Tehran is one of the biggest and Texas is second only to California in the USA – and probably girls (and guys in Iran) in both places ask for “J-Lo nose”


Big hair

Tehran

Excessive make-up

Friendly people, who may or may not be faking it - ‘Southern Hospitality’ in Texas and ‘Ta’arof’* in Iran

(*Ta’arof is difficult to translate to English. It is an everyday practice of some sort of friendly ritualistic hesitation/encouragement binary. For example there is a practice of refusing at least a couple of times when someone offers you something, and vice versa to insist on the offering at least a few times. Or, the taxi drivers always insist that you don’t pay but they never mean it. But there are thousands of other illustrations of ta’arof. Southern Hospitality could be described similarly, I think it is usually more sincere, but perhaps more often an unconscious habitual reaction. This is probably why they both seem artificial to me, as I am socialized into neither of the ritual codes.)

Beautiful girls

Rampant nationalism - Iranians dream about back when there was a Greater Iran and Texans of when it was its own nation

Belt Buckles

Tehran Bazaar

Isolationist inclinations

Los Angeles obsession - they both look to LA for inspiration in various fashions

Big Highways

Dallas

Tehran

Big Cars

Texas- Ford

Tehran- Prado

Big Polluters - Texas would be 7th in the world if it were a country and in Tehran thousands die every year due to air pollution

Over-consumption

Religious extremism

Oversized religious buildings, and highway side Churches/Mosques


Vibrant counter/underground-cultures - Goth/Metal/etc.

Fast food – lots of it!

Fried food – lots of it!!

Iran


Eating in the car – Iranians do it because there aren’t many places where teenagers can hang out together without being bothered, Texans perhaps because they are too high or too lazy

Traffic
Tehran Traffic

Dallas Traffic

Everyone thinks they are both only desert

Oil economy

Immigrants do most of the hard labor and are still resented: Mexicans in Texas, Afghanis in Tehran

Big gay population (with a state in denial)

Lubbock, Texas

Ghazvin, Iran

Crazy Presidents (Bush might as well be president of Texas)

Crawford, Texas

But some of us disagree...

Men who eat too much

Women who talk too much

BBQ

Hickory Pit - Lubbock, Texas

Liver Kabab Pit - Tehran, Iran

Giant food servings– only 2 places I’ve seen with portions this big, in Iran the kabab hangs of your plate, in Texas the steak hangs off (sometimes they give it to you for free, if you manage to
finish it, in Iran you have to finish it and then they make you eat more)

'The Big Texan'

"The Big Iranian"

There is a 'Friday’s' restaurant in Tehran, 'Friday’s' is from Dallas

Pantera, the band from my home town Arlington, Texas, is popular in Iran - even though they spell it wrong

Pathetic state of pedestrian infrastructure, and a cowboy-like eagerness to run over bicyclists

Bored house wives who spend their days in a spa, or shopping

Rich people with bad taste, and over-sized homes

Great Mexican food

...


Texas Ruminations and Hallucinations

Back in Texas, I was of course reminded of the various profound differences, not only between Texas and Iran, but between Texas and other parts of the nation. For example,
in Texas, Ranch salad dressing is classic white, in Iran ‘Ranch’ is a glowing florescent-pink. Or, If you say you're from Iran – people curiously light up “Oh cool…” and if you say you are from Texas they say, with simpering smile “OH, sorry about that"... Well, the bastards I hang out with anyway.

In general I was reminded of how I had become a stranger, once again. In my first few days there, I almost felt like I was in another dimension, on a planet with incomprehensible aliens. And in a wildly mundane twist, I was the alien.

When people spoke to me all I seemed to hear was “Wawawawawa.” Lining up for a buffet (‘buffet’ is one essential element of the food pyramid here), one man made direct eye contact and smiled at me. Baffled, I thought to myself: What did I do? Do I know him? Is he hitting on me!? Did he want something? As if we spoke different languages. And just at that moment, another person did the exact same thing. OK, I thought, seriously. What’s going on?

Driving around Walgreens (a pharmacy chain, and the closest thing to ‘corner store’ where you could just buy a couple of something and not family-sized everything) with my dainty shopping cart, people kept cheerfully mouthing the words “Excuse me”… “Excuse Me.” One after another. But the crazy thing was, they weren’t even near me.

Incidents like this, however tiny, the threads of daily life, are what made it all feel so bizarre.

When I go to Texas, I always make a point to watch all the TV I have missed over the past year. Television programming seems to reach a strange new low each time I arrive – before I get used to it again. Aside from a few creative gems –it now consists of a badgering attempt at entertainment, pathetically and manically competing for our ever fading attention and withering gaze. And it never ceases to amaze me. The campaign commercials, for example, were just incredible. In one, McCain matter-of-factly stated about Obama that “He made time to go to the gym, but not to visit wounded troops.” And he eats arugula, he’s just like Britney Spears, etc. The retorts were almost, unfortunately but necessarily, just as bad. For the record, I adore arugula.

Yee Haw!!

Outside my island of house with 2 car garage and 2.5 children, at the grocery store, one of several within 5 minutes drive, I was on a shopping safari. Some giant customers slowly rolled out heavy carts across the silent sun-stroked parking lot. In the distance, the gas station glistened under the sunshine and the donut shop sign twinkled unyielding, cheerfully beckoning. Inside, I was bombarded with aggressive sale tactics bathed in bad lighting and laborious labels. Almost every single product was tagged with some encouragement – “2 for $5!” “5 for $10!!” “Buy one of these get a free toothbrush!” and etc. Run! Duck! I realized that the only way to save money is to buy a lot. I resisted, was never sure which loaf of bread to buy, dodging dodgy promotions left and right, and in the end spent what seemed like way to much for not that much stuff. But I survived, I think.

from Flickr user lyzadanger

On the mean streets of Suburbia, a ghost town yawned, midday, only a few stray cars and planes zipping here and there (DFW airport is a few miles away). Rows of houses quietly queued up, the only sound a bubbling of backyard pools or an occasional tongue-tied squirrel rustling, still neatly at work, or up to no good.

Besides amusing myself with the TV, I also spend a lot of time sunbathing on our flaking backyard deck, scrutinizing the surrounds. On the house tops, the chimneys look lonely and wonder why they are here, on this hot Texas planet – existential chimneys. From our yard I stared at a few. I notice, with a primeval sigh of joy, that nature is still putting up a pretty good battle. Every summer we redo our pool’s tiling, and every year the earth moves beneath it, cracking the shiny blue veneer once again. Weeds dance in their Suburban theatre, parading each victory, one scrawny stem at a time; ravenous grapevines strangle the fence. The only noises I hear are the birds, who have saved the chimney’s raison d’être, and then an airplane, which for a few moments breaks their supremacy in the Suburban soundscape, draws a line through the picture of nature I have created with my field of vision, of trees, animals tinkering, a square of blue sky, and clouds of floating hippos, imagining out all the artificial surroundings.


I also drive a lot when I am in Texas, enough to make up for the entire past year of not driving. Coasting along wide endless highways, in the vast Texas sky corpulent clouds reminisce about the good old days of Texan independence, and the horizon steams like a hippy trance. My only companions are big menacing trucks. The trance is rendered all the more odd when a giant space shuttle church shoots up alongside the highway, or a massive billboard reads ‘call 1 800 WHY ISLAM’?

Texas - Highway 183

Sometimes I miss my exit (especially as you often turn off consciousness switching on auto-pilot) only to take the next monotonous exit one mile down and turn around.

“Love’s Theme,” that epic disco anthem, was playing on the radio, and for a moment I amused myself with the idea that this could be hell – stuck inside the highway, where I keep missing my exit and loop around, with that song playing, and ambiguous flecks of discarded memories haunting the back of my mind.


Then I snap back into consciousness, startled, once again, by how I made it to where I was but didn’t know how I got there.