25 Jan 2007, 3:31am

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Virtual Iran

My father was in town a few days ago, helping me move to a new place. I hadn’t seen him in over a year and it was good just to sit and talk again. Over a few games of backgammon, he caught me up with what family and friends were up to. My hometown of Kermanshah is changing considerably, with old houses being torn down to make way for new ones. The old chicken farm that once was a good 45-minute drive from town is now slowly being engulfed by these new houses. The town that I grew up in exists only in my memory.

Thinking about the old places we had lived, I asked my dad for the proper spelling of the small university town we had lived in, Molasani. Some of the earliest memories of my life are from that town; it was located near the Karun River in the south of Iran, a short distance from the border with Iraq and not that far from the Persian Gulf. I still remember the blue skies criss-crossed with traces of jet fighters early in the Iran-Iraq War, and the refugees that lived in our driveway for a few months before we moved to Tehran.

I had searched for Molasani multiple times with no luck, and thought maybe I had remembered the name wrong. It turns out that no one called the town by that name except the people who lived there, as it was, after all, really just a handful of houses for agriculture professors, about an hour away from Ahvaz. But I had always wanted to see the town again and I visited right then with my dad beside me, albeit virtually.

You might have used Google Maps for driving directions, but you can view most of the Earth using its satellite option (or see it in 3D via Google Earth). We found Molasani and then Kermanshah, and my mom’s old house in Tehran, and the summer house we’d stayed in at the Caspian Sea… Before I knew it, two hours had passed and we had traveled all over Iran.

While Google Maps is good at finding big cities like Tehran, they don’t have everything, and this is where Wikipedia comes in. Search for any major Iranian town and look for the link to the coordinate page (sometimes it’s in the upper right hand corner, sometimes at the start of the article). There are even interactive maps, on which people have labeled their local hangouts, like the one made by Sharif University students (unfortunately, I lost that link). Clicking on the coordinates in Wikipedia takes you to a page of map sources (here’s one for Tehran), which connects you to dozens of other sites to create your virtual journey.

One more tip: Just make sure you are on a broadband connection, as waiting on a modem line to download each square can be more painful than the customs questions in Iran.

[Editor’s note: We’re very happy to have Asad as our first contributing writer ever. Do you want to write for Pars Arts? Send us an email with your story idea: editor-AT-parsarts.com.]

12 Jan 2007, 4:06am


Forough Farrokhzad

Had she not died in a car accident 40 years ago, Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad would have turned 72 years old last week. Farrokhzad was the Sylvia Plath of Iran: beautiful, depressed, unconventional, feminist, and she died very young, though not of suicide. Married in her late teens, she had a baby and got divorced by nineteen, and her first book of poems, Asir, which means “Captive,” was published when she was twenty. She also had a nervous breakdown that year, and was briefly institutionalized. Farrokhzad wrote several other books, though unfortunately it’s really hard to find them, not to mention finding translations. But I think a collection of her poems in Persian, with their straightforward language, would be worth struggling through with middling Persian-reading skills.

Farrokhzad’s poetry marked a paradigm-shift in Iranian verse. In her essay, Unveiling the Other, Farzaneh Milani writes that it’s part of “a [new mid-20th century] tradition of women intensely involved in self-reflection and self-revelation, not sheltered or restrained by the anonymity or opacity of a veil; a tradition of women who not only revealed themselves but also unveiled men in their writings.” It sounds a little like blogging, sans Internet. Forough (which is also spelled Forugh Farrokhzad, Forugh Farokhzad, Furugh Farrukhzad, and etc., in case anyone wants to do more research on her) also wrote and directed a documentary about leprosy entitled “Khaneh Siah Ast,” or “The House is Black.” And this doesn’t really have anything to do with her art, but her look is so prototypically Iranian, especially in this photo – gorgeous dark hair and eyes, and pretty, expressive eyebrows.

Like so many figures that die young, Farrokhzad became a cultural icon. There are some English translations and audio clips, among many fan sites. I think it definitely adds to her popularity that she also lived a very sexually uninhibited life that included affairs with Iranian literati, including Ebrahim Golestan. Her Myspace page has a pretty racy photo on it, too, though I don’t know for sure if that’s her.

And on that note, here’s the poem “Gonah” (“The Sin”), which I found on the Iran Chamber website. Not sure who translated this, but I think it’s a beautiful poem:

The Sin [ Gonah ]

I sinned a sin full of pleasure,
In an embrace which was warm and fiery.
I sinned surrounded by arms
that were hot and avenging and iron.

In that dark and silent seclusion
I looked into his secret-full eyes.
my heart impatiently shook in my breast
In response to the request of his needful eyes.

In that dark and silent seclusion,
I sat dishevelled at his side.
his lips poured passion on my lips,
I escaped from the sorrow of my crazed heart.

I whispered in his ear the tale of love:
I want you, O life of mine,
I want you, O life-giving embrace,
O crazed lover of mine, you.

desire sparked a flame in his eyes;
the red wine danced in the cup.
In the soft bed, my body
drunkenly quivered on his chest.

I sinned a sin full of pleasure,
next to a shaking, stupefied form.
O God, who knows what I did
In that dark and quiet seclusion.

Iran Articles in the LA Weekly

My old hometown weekly has four excellent feature stories about Iran, Iranians, and Tehrangeles this week. The photo above belongs to a photo essay by Teun Voeten called This is Iran, Too, which shows how un-Ahmadinejad Iran and Iranians really are. I’m also very excited about Mehammed Mack’s story, In Search of Home, in which he profiles three very different Iranian families in LA and their pre- and post-revolution lives. Mack is a great writer and I always read his LA Weekly stuff, though I wish he had talked to some recent immigrants, too: It would be nice to have some more socioeconomic diversity in Iranian diaspora coverage in the press, as most profiles focus on those who came here shortly after the revolution and are thriving financially, and that’s a very incomplete picture. For every BMW-driving Iranian living in Beverly Hills, there’s one working at a grocery store and living in a low-rent apartment a bad neighborhood in the Valley, and people don’t know this about Iranians. Maybe they should, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Regardless, I see the pre- and post-revolution contrast as a pretty important thread tying the three profiles together, and it’s a good piece that I wish I’d written.

Nazanin Arandi wrote a piece called The Pencil Revolution about graphic artist Reza Abedini, using his work to illustrate the search for Iranian identity. His poster for a Sepideh Farsi film is pictured here. I’m so proud of all the amazing graphic design coming from Iran and Iranians these days. We have a history steeped in calligraphy and art so it’s a natural extension, I think – calligraphy is really just an expression of typography, after all, and typography is the cornerstone of text design (pardon my inner type and design nerd). The point is that this article is really timely and I’m so glad it’s a feature.

And finally, saving the best for last, Nayer Khazeni’s personal essay Misadventures in the Motherland is evocative, finely crafted, and incredibly, heartbreakingly nostalgic. I’m so blown away by all this stuff on the Weekly this week. It truly makes me proud of both the paper and the Iranian community in Los Angeles – and truly makes me miss them. It might be a good idea to send the Weekly feedback on their site, thanking them for their coverage. As someone whose job it used to be to read all the reader letters sent to a magazine, trust me when I say that large groups of people writing about the same thing get noticed by editors, and they’re remembered, too.

And on a related side note, Pars Arts is looking for young Iranian diaspora – like you – to write for the site. If you’re interested in contributing, please email me at editor AT parsarts.com with your interest, ideas, and a writing sample. We have some excellent writers joining in the near future and look forward to bringing on many more.

14 Dec 2006, 10:58pm
Music Nostalgia

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Persian Rock-Out… on YouTube

I’m on a big Vigen kick lately (it’s also spelled “Viguen,” in case you want to search for his clips on iTunes). He was called the “Sultan of Jazz” and was sort of the Elvis of Iran, and I was pretty stoked to meet him twice in LA (once after he performed and once in church, of all places) before he died in 2003.

Anyway, I’ve been poking around on YouTube and have found a TON of Vigen videos among those of other 60s and 70s Iranian pop stars. This old-skool gem should not be missed: