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


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



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


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!!


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

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


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’ĂȘtre, 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.