Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sun, 28 May 2006

GREETINGS again, long time no news, too busy to write!

Now it feels like ancient history, and again retrogressing:

When we returned from Mashhad, now several weeks ago, (flime is CERTAINLY tying ...) and before finally making the break - on my own - for various tourist attractions out in the countryside (more about that later), I fell into a whirlwind of local activities here in Tehran, some about music - as musician, teacher (of dayereh and daff) and student (tombak and Persian language), some about being a tourist (visits to some of the array of amazing museums here in Tehran), some about being a guest in various homes and experiencing quite extraordinary Persian-style hospitality ... and some just about being someone from a different culture - different planet! - and dealing with the full array of challenges that naturally represents ... including a few periods of just being totally exhausted, overwhelmed, broken down, incapacitated, out of order, not moving outside at all - barely even inside.

I went for an excellent tombak lesson and also Persian language lesson, and had the painful realization that with my time over here being so precious, I needed to make some difficult decisions about whether to stick myself inside a room and practice like mad, OR, to throw myself into this country, and try to fill myself up with as many impressions and sights and vibrations from talking with people on the street, the architecture, monuments, stunning geographic variations ... And finally came to the conclusion that as much as I can try to find some sort of balance between all these directions, I just could not put myself - here - at this time - on what I consider an appropriate schedule for being a serious student. (If that were the case, I would never see anything other than my own hands, the instrument before me, and the four walls ...) How could I be over here and NOT go to Esfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis, etc ... !?!?!

... Looking for an internet cafe (here known as "coffee-net") with printer near the guesthouse, asking 20 people and getting 20 different answers ... including quite a few people who walked long distances with me, so graciously showing me the way where they thought would be such a place, (and there wasn't), sometimes getting confused with "coffee shop" and finding myself in a bakery with amazing assortments of sweets and goodies - no internet ... Finally ended up in the business center of the quite glorious Simorgh Hotel (where I FINALLY managed to set up this weblog - which started out as a newsletter for my family and friends, and then after some problems sending multiple mailings through Yahoo, and encouragement from friends about creating a blog and going "public", and hoping that a blog would be easier to send ... lo and behold!). Also in the process stumbled on quite a magnificent park, and had the great pleasure of sitting among some trees and shade and fountains, marvelling at the quantity and splendid quality of soooo many parks, throughout Tehran!

Went for visa extension, quite amazing. When I first arrived I was told that after the first month, I could get two 15-day extensions, making a total of two months that I would be allowed to stay here. Then the day came for the visit to the Aliens Police (I know that concept from Athens, and cannot help but laugh every time I think of that term, and my expectation to see some green characters with antennaes strolling about, wearing wild-western style marshall-like badges on their chests ...) We went together, Nima and "my Ayatollah" and one other gentleman (it turns out that of the two gentlemen I met here when I first arrived, one is in fact an Ayatollah, without the customary clothing to give it away.) I had understood that I would need to return in a few days to pick up my passport with the visa extension.

We walked into the room, full of people with rather exasperated expressions, seeming as if they had been waiting for hours. Most of them apeared to be Afghanis, and I was filled with sadness for these proud and handsome people who have such an incredibly difficult time, sorting out their lives ... Both sad and relieved, when we whisked by the whole lot, into a side room, a conversation with an officer, then up to the front of the line, and in NO TIME not only did I get my passport back again, but I was given 30 days, not 15, AND permission to get yet another 30-day extension, making a total of 3 months here. SOOOO happy, also feeling a bit guilty, passing out through the hordes onto the street again with the green light of the open horizon before me. I felt like a real VIP, getting the red carpet treatment!

Another day we went to some family friends for a HUGE delicious lunch, at their home near the northern edge of Tehran, and a walk up some hills nearby, where Nima and I played music together with neighbours and passers-by stopping shyly near us to listen in. Before we knew it, there on the hilltop among the trees with a magnificent view overlooking Tehran, several hours had gone by. Back down the hill, and to an enlightening concert of Traditional Persian music in the major music theater in Tehran, Talar-e Vahdat, with only the splendid fountains and delicious garden design of the courtyard giving away the location, otherwise the concert hall could have been in any European city.

Many visits, lunches and dinners with friends, friends and families of friends, including a warm visit at the home of the Armenian lady with whom I arrived on the plane from Frankfurt ... Also to the family of my very dear friend Fardin!!! We went for a trout dinner at a grand restaurant sitting by the side of a raging river, under the trees and OXYGEN!!! - and THAT was a welcome respite from the heat of the city (more about that later). Full circles ... busy social life (not my normal pattern!), Persian language expanding, out of necessity - wonderful and exhausting!

Some of my personal reflections, including some of the difficulties here ... I know everything I have written so far has been about all the glories and wonders, as if it is all effortless. Believe me - it is not easy, in any and every case, wherever, trying to fit oneself into a different culture. Being a tourist is one thing, viewing everything from the outside - but trying to assimilate, and to understand the culture from the inside, including some degree of language ability - is QUITE another matter. I am sure many of you know what I mean!!!

The period building up to my arrival here was heavily, dramatically charged with all sorts of - how to put it? - "recommendations" is an understatement - to NOT COME to Iran - including some rather frantic warnings about my being totally crazy to put myself into such a dangerous and volatile climate - that I would certainly be ... - I don't even want to repeat it here - from some of my very dearest, boldest and wisest American and Greek friends, who have travelled to outrageously out-of-the-way places, far, far off the beaten track. When I asked one Iranian lady from Tehran whom I met in Los Angeles if she would come here if she were me, her answer was, flatly, NO.

And then there was the hysterical 6 week period in Athens, intense neverending work on the material plane, fixing all manner of problems with managing 3 rental apartments, one terrace roof about to fly off in the wind, holes/leaks in another roof, every day checking the internet for news of my visa, and listening to my Greek friends' horror about my travel plans. Of course, a few of my friends, even my MOM (thanks Mommy Joon!) have been totally understanding of how much this trip means/has meant to me, after YEARS of wanting to come here ... and although concerned for me, have been totally supportive, and encouraging.

When the visa was FINALLY CONFIRMED, and all things tucked away and dust scraped off the floor and out from my lungs, replacement of rusty hot water heaters with water discovered inside the wires, ready to explode ... exhausted, battle-weary, bouts of paranoia mixed with the certainty of my destiny guiding the way ... never I will forget being in the taxi to the Athens airport, sleepless, wrung out, energy totally spent in the previous weeks, trying to remember to breathe, and delightfully passing signs on the road for the Greek drivers: ENKYRO (good) ... ANAPSTE OLA (turn on all lights, driving through a tunnel) ... and never did those words hold such meaning and power, and indication that my path was opening before me in the RIGHT way ... and the experience, at LAST, of having gone - already - through some sort of rite of passage, as if dematerializing, passing through a cement wall, rematerializing on the other side ... full of anticipation, anxiety, excitement, about the actual arrival here ... and the REAL adventure ...

For some reason I had thought I was not allowed to be outside on the streets by myself here, which I had just accepted without questioning (and fully understanding the reasons for that, me with my US passport.) But finally after the first 10 days of poor Nima and/or other family members constantly shuffling me back and forth, one day Nima announced, OK - it's time for you to go around alone! I called my Ayatollah to make sure I had permission: YES, no problem, and I was both relieved and rather intimidated, and when Nima went with me to the local supermarket - and left me there alone to fend for myself - I had a fine time trying to look like I was NOT a foreigner, my nervousness inside wearing a "calm" expression ... must have worked since as soon as I was alone in there, wandering around the isles, acting the part, a woman approached me and asked if I knew where something was in there. (Reminiscent of my experience coming out of the Haram at Mashhad, and also MANY other times here, women seem to gravitate to me, asking directions!)

Laughing to myself, I simply answered no, so sorry, don't know ... And until then I had always gone with Nima everywhere and still had not much of a clue about the money situation ... at the checkout counter had another laugh ... the very gracious lady at the cash register offered to help with my wad of bills, her chosing carefully which ones amounted to what ... and asking me where I am from ... and my general response over here is, Greece (and more about THAT later). And then, eureka! I even managed to take a taxi, and actually to arrive at Nima's family's home, all by myself! I had asked the lady caretaker at the guesthouse if I had the right amount of money in my hand for the taxi, and was assured that yes, it was correct - and then arrived near Nima's house and handed the money to the driver - and it turned out I was giving him ten times the correct amount, and gratefully he handed over the rather drastic difference in the change ... Again, chuckling at myself, and congratulating myself with my big accomplishment ...

... And then at one dinner gathering one Iranian gentleman had a good chuckle about my preferred Greek identity/affiliation, reminding me of the dastardly deeds of Alexander and his conquests (interesting switch of perspective, right, all my Greek friends!?!?!) ... and how being Greek over here is not much better than being an American ... Ancient history aside, luckily in recent history the Greeks have a most respectable standing in the world at large ... and identifying myself with Greek culture certainly feels right and appropriate - after living there for almost 13 years ... and, frankly, more low-profile!!! (And by the way, some of you might have noticed in the heading of this blog, I have edited my identity as American/Greek ... which also, by the way, makes me realize that writing about my experience of adapting and becoming integrated into Greek culture is another extraordinary chapter of my life-path ... sometime later, inshallah!)

There is a term here, called "taarof" (and later will include some of the terms used here in polite conversation), which means something like "overarching politeness". Nima's sister Shiva gives this as a rough description/translation: politeness out of limits, and not real ... and from a dictionary: compliment, flattery, courtesy, to stand upon ceremony, to make a present of. So far, coming from a Western background of struggling to be direct about communications, this element of society here is rather daunting, and forever has me wondering where I really stand with people here (and for that matter, where anyone has standing ...)

An example, and a very fine lesson in the benefits of knowing about how and when to resort to this kind of behaviour:

One evening Nima and I were invited to the home of some Iranian friends at 9 pm. Knowing that this is a normal dinner hour, and that the cooking expertise in this family is quite superiour, AND thinking that the invitation was certainly for dinner, Nima and I ate nothing all day in anticipation of a delicious and huge meal. We arrived at the home at the appointed time, and the full array of typically pre-dinner goodies began appearing gloriously at the table in the living room: fruit, sweets, nuts, tea. We started playing some music, which was wonderful, all the time looking over to the dinner table with hungry eyes and stomach ... After a few hours I finally realized, alas! ... no dinner! Chuckling to myself about my own mis-read assumptions, we finally made our departure, with our hosts finally enquiring, you DID eat dinner, right!? At the SAME moment, Nima answered yes, and I answered, no ... laughing, woops! ... (and to myself, GROOOAAAAN ... feeling like a bull in a china shop is my normal experience here in this culture, full of finesse and delicacy and subtleties ...) The stark realization that with my cloddish answer all I managed to do was to make the hosts feel so uncomfortable.

The lesson: Nima was so correct with his answer, since even when our hosts were obviously embarrassed about the lack of dinner, and when they insisted on our staying to catch a bite of something, the time was such that we needed to leave, and, A. we did not eat there, and B. with my answer, the result was only that they felt bad!!! If I had just answered along with Nima that yes, we had eaten, our hosts would have felt fine, and we would have left hungry anyway ... Sigh ... my education in the ways of the world, appropriate behaviours according to cultural differences ... hopefully, I am indeed learning something!

Closing for now ... the events, impressions and personal reflections that have unfolded since these times described here will have to wait for the next installment(s) ... including, Qom, Kashan, Esfahan, and another trip to Kurdistan - all extraordinary and vastly different highlights, so stay tuned for the next batch of news!

As always, sending much love to all,


Monday, May 08, 2006

Mon, 1 May 2006

SALAAM everyone and HAPPY MAY!!! I started writing about our trip to Mashhad when we returned more than a week ago, and since then so much has been going on haven't had a chance to catch up with myself for anything, much less get this wrapped up. THANKS to all of you who have written, concerned that you haven't heard any news from me for a while. All is verrrrry very well, and hopefully soon will write about what has been going on since we returned! So, a bit of retrogression ...

MASHHAD is ... dazzling, remarkable, otherworldly, powerful beyond words ...

Three days of exclusively Persian language, with Nima's mother and two longtime family friends, which greatly contributed not only to my deepening command of the language, but also to the experience of "paradox" ... Lots and LOTS of laughter and giggling and hilarity, especially with the three of us ladies, in stark contrast to the solemnity, spiritual power and architectural grandeur of the Holy Precincts of this extraordinary pilgrimage site. An ENORMOUS privilege not only to be in this country at this time, but to go to this pilgrimage site under the wing of my two Iranian lady friends was an honour beyond imagination ...

... A correction from what I wrote earlier: Mashhad is the most important pilgrimage site for Iranian Shiites, although apparently pilgrims come from all over the world, including Iraq. The city seems to completely revolve around activities and services for these pilgrims, approximately 12 million per year!!! (according to my 2004 Lonely Planet - Iran guide book ...)

For those of you who are unfamiliar, here is a quote from Lonely Planet: "Mashhad means 'Place of Martyrdom' and the city is extremely sacred to Shiites as the place where the direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammaed, Imam Reza, died in AD 817."

We flew from Tehran at night, Lady T, Lady S and me, arriving after midnight ... the atmosphere already felt charged as we were off in a taxi to Lady S's apartment, which looks out from the top (11th) floor onto a beautiful, large manicured garden complex with a wonderful, perfectly well-appointed playground for children ... and us, as I would later discover! ... and beyond, to mountains in the background.

Next morning we went to the mountain near the center of the city and climbed to the top, where we could get a good sense of the surrounding legendary land of Khorasan ... flat, and some rolling hills, reddish terrain with mountains in the distance. The city itself is full of patches of green, parks and trees generously complemeting varying shades of cement. The garden complex as well as the approach and pathways up the mountain are all constructed and woven together with such handsome sensitivity ... geometrically intricate stone pathways, flowing riverlets, fountains, GARDENS!!! The Persian aesthetic so gracefully springing into three dimensions, as if rising from the foundation of a Persian carpet ...

At the top, one of the ubiquitous memorials in this country for the martyrs of the Iran/Iraq war ... sadly we passed groupings of their surviving families, and paid our most sincere respects ...

Back down to the garden complex, and the also ubiquitous teahouse where we of course settled in for a refill before wandering off, back towards the apartment for lunch.

We stopped at a wonderful bread shop (I imagined that the method of baking bread there has not changed in mannnny centuries - a wood-burning oven, the bread stuck onto flat places inside ...) I managed to snap a photo (with his permission, of course!) outside next to the street - two trees sporting a thin span of wood, with nails supporting several large flat "loaves"of bread hanging in the air, presumably cooling off ... and standing next them, a gentleman in dapper business attire with a briefcase looking like he just stepped off Madison Avenue (New York City). Although not to the same degree of contradiction, it made me think of the same way in which octopus(es) are hung out to dry, all along the Greek coastline(s) ...

After lunch, we began our preparations for visiting the Haram-e Motahhar (Sacred Precincts). As if in counterbalance to the seriousness of our visit, the laughter started bubbling up, as I began struggling and confusing (ongoing!) the words: Imam, hamaam, haram (short sound on both syllables as in "cat"), haraam (long sound on the "aa" syllable as in "far"). I found my two lady companions doubling up in laughter as I was - somberly - referring to our destination as the bath (hamaam) of Imam Reza, or the forbidden (haraam), rather than the HARAM (HolyPrecinct) ... woops ...

We took off at dusk, Lady S's husband, Mr M driving, chadors in reserve, heading off towards the sites. So much has been written about this AMAZING grouping of architectural wonders; I won't go off rhapsodizing too much here ... (AND strongly recommend reading up on - and poring through photos of - this truly dazzling earthly demonstration of the heavenly ...)

(Thanks, Warren, for sending these links !!!) This site has some great photos and history about Mashhad:

The whole experience there, dressed in full chador, listening deeply and being moved and called, deeply, by the "Azan" (call to prayer; a man's voice singing from the Holy Qor'an) ... how to begin to express this ... !?!? It brought me around full circle, deepening recognition that "religious" differences are ultimately superficial, next to the uniting force of common prayer.

The crowd of kneeling worshippers, arrayed across sprawling, patterned carpets, men on one side of a huge fountain, we women on the other, in this ultra-magnificent courtyard ... To BE a part of this undulating human rhythm in this most glorious of architectural contexts ... it is enough to lead even a nonbeliever into a stark sense of humility and communion with all human souls gathered there, and everywhere ... and the ONE GOD that connects us ALL, ever-present and ever LOVING ...

At the conclusion of the formal prayer, we moved beyond to the Shrine of Imam Reza. I had been told that it is wild in there, with all people, women on one side, men on the other, grieving, wishing to touch the actual site of Iman Reza's burial. Emotions and sensibilites rising to a feverish pitch ... My lady friends told me it is too dangerous to attempt the approach, since at any moment if someone fell down they would certainly be trampled or suffocated or ...

Pressing through, focusing on the goal in front of me, a HUGE splendid gold cage-like structure (for a good photo: with glass surrounding the wood inside, churning movement of women coming out, going in, moving sideways and every way ... Like taking a dive under a huge ocean wave and getting smacked to the sandy floor, not knowing which way is up ... I moved ahead, against my friends' advice but reassuring them that I would be fine. Waves, surges of movement, emotion, temperature ... bodies pressed so close that there was no effort required to remain upright, since all my weight - and of everyone else - was transferred to everyone else. We became one BEING with hundreds of legs, sharing a common goal.

At one point I felt my chador slipping off my head as it was getting stuck between the bodies smashed together. I pulled gently at it to make sure it did not get swept off into oblivion, focusing forward, with LOVE for all around, heart-energy leading the way. Finally I arrived within reaching distance of the Shrine, stuck my arm through the heads and wailing arms of the women around me, another wave rolling me away, back and forth, and yet another wave angling me within reach again ... almost.

A woman in front of me, surely an angel, took my hand and pulled it forward slightly towards the Shrine, enabling me to come into direct tactile contact with ... this extraordinary source of palpable spiritual power. This woman, an unknown soul assisting another unknown soul to experience this connecting force ... her magnanimous, selfless gesture itself an instrinsic part of the confirmation of having completed a pilgrimage.

I was, simply, brought to tears ... the energy and power of the entire experience, a transformative, life-punctuating stamp on my small self, part of the grand scheme ...

We left in silence ... in that moment there were no words, no thoughts in my head, nothing but the sense of having been ushered into the next part of my life, and a deeper understanding of something indescribably vast ... something like the movement back and forth between my "self" and the SELF ...... one drop, and the ocean ...

... And still in full chador, we walked, me feeling dazed, stumbling, gliding through the bazaar a few steps away from the complex. My transformed state of being a true pilgrim must have been visible, since a group of girls approached us and asked ME - not my 2 Iranian lady friends - for directions. Laughter among us all, warmly providing a foothold on the GROUND, again ...

We purchased a few odds and ends in the bazaar, including one chador of my own! (More about that subject later ...) Handling money, focusing on such earthly activities, also helped get me back on the ground ...

We eventually found our way back to the apartment for a simple dinner, at last recognizing my feet under me again. During the next two days, we were changed into more of a tourist mode, visiting the tomb sites of Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyam, Attar. Paying respects to these individuals who have made such huge contributions to the world in the fields of language, science, poetry, transformative philosophy, another great honour.

We arrived at dusk in Neishabur, and at the site of Omar Khayyam's tomb, we had another burst of laughter, and another affirmation for me of our shared, silly, human condition. I have witnessed American people responding to questions about where certain places are, such as Greece, with "Oh yeah, isn't that down near Texas ...?" With our group of four, we were standing in front of the tomb of Khayyam, touching the stone in wonderment and deep appreciation, and an Iranian woman standing next to us with her group said, "Hmmm ... now, what was his name?"

Chortling, we wandered off to visit the other awe-inspiring sites there, through large bounteous, well-attended gardens and fountains, with the intoxicating aroma of jasmine pervading our contemplative mood.

One of the days we went for a fabulous lunch at a very traditional restaurant, although it was built only about 4 years ago. Fountains, arches, gardens, proportion, geometry, small alcoves for groupings of people sitting on raised carpeted floors with vast quantities of delicious food heaping up on platters ... (This kind of architecture is what made me realize quite a few years ago that "Spanish architecture", a style we are quite familiar with in Southern California, is a direct development of THIS architectual style ... one of the innumerable elements of "Eastern culture" that we in the "West", or at least I, certainly had taken for granted ... )

That night, delirious from all the input of such intense magnificence, not to mention the HUGE lunch we had eaten, we 3 ladies went downstairs at the apartment complex to walk off some of our overindulgence. Singing, walking, stopping to rub our sore stomachs ... around and around, giggling and singing and walking in large circles, weaving through the elegant garden complex until we finally settled into some equipment in the playground - a small 4-seater whirligig, do-it-yourself, pulling on the inner circle, pulling ourselves around and around, laughing hysterically, and here it was midnight, until we really begain to fear waking up the whole apartment complex ...

Another trip altogether too short to leave without feeling sad, although it was certainly a very, very nourishing and transformative time, on so many levels ... Back to Tehran, early morning flight ... and back to something of a routine, here in my new city!

Will wait til next time to write about all the things that have been unfolding during this past week ... but the summary of it all is,

W O N D E R F U L !!!!!!!!!!

lots of love to all, Rowan/Rohan/Rowhan/Sotiria (have to add my Greek name just to fill out the multiple-personality situation!)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tue, 18 Apr 2006

Greetings again, dear ones, after a totally amazing, mind-boggling time in Kurdistan ... It was altogether too short a visit, to be able to absorb the extraordinary natural beauty in those mountains, the throwback to one of the oldest settlements on the planet, the timelessness ...

We took off at night, navigating, insisting ourselves through the twists of Tehran traffic ... and finally made our way out onto the open road. Three of us in the car, our Kurdish friend driving, and we alternated cassette tapes, from old favourite classical Persian tasnifs (songs) which Nima and I were singing along with, and then some Kurdish music, also singing along ... sandwiches, fruit and the inevitable thermos of tea ... moonlight! And I kept asking them, are we in Kurdistan yet ...? Laughingly, the answer continued to be no, and then finally after I had dozed off for a while, we stopped for a fluid-exchange at THE MOST wonderful gas station I have ever experienced anywhere ... and finally my question was met with ... YES !!! (How about that, Binoushgouleh!!??) ... and the scene suddenly acquired a different depth of focus ...

It was early morning by the time we arrived there, and we staggered out of the car to greet the day and the mountains rising on the road before us ... A rather elegant bathroom facility, with marble tiles and very high level, precise workmanship ... one of the most astounding demonstrations of "paradox" ... together with the squat toilets and the perfectly aligned aluminum doors and obviously great attention to detailing, there was no roof!!! I imagined
what it must be like in the winter, with snow and/or rain gracing the whole intimate experience ...

Wonderful colourful mural-like paintings on a wall, depicting cartoon-like characters in various phases of filling up their cars with gas and having it leak all over the ground ... TOO BAD I did not have my camera handy ... (and too bad the one I have with me is definitely of the low-tech variety anyway ... hopefully can acquire a digital with computer-posting abilities along the way sooooon!!!)

There were some workers, building some sort of brick wall ... all with the most extraordinary care, I do not recall seeing anywhere else ... and the workers wearing of course the elegant traditional shalvar, baggy pants that is the norm for Kurdish men's dress ...

Trundling up the mountain, winding up and down and around, and finally we reached Sanandaj for a quick buzz around town and a breakfast ... The timelessness of this part of the world has such a strange effect ... transformative and time-stopping ... stepping off into another mind-frame and reckoning of what constitutes "reality" ...

I wanted to hang around longer, but off we zipped, rising and winding and finally stopping for another tea at an outdoor, glorious oasis-like roadside spot with Ibrahim Tatlises wailing out over loudspeakers, singing along with him (one of - if not THE most celebrated singer of Turkish popular music, who is Kurdish ...). I felt instantly reconstituted ... the common denominator factor of: here we are in Iran, and listening to what is normally associated with Turkish culture ... and having it be so natural ...

Off again, till finally arriving in our friend's village ... (sigh ... I really could write for weeks about the whole experience there - only 2 days! - and will keep on doing that, but gotta keep it short for now...)

Screaching up the last stretch before the village, we came up to a traffic cop in the middle of the road, dressed in rather starchy, elegant, formal police attire (another odd contradiction, out here in the countryside, with village life emanating from every direction ...). Our friend driving slowed down a bit, but apparently not enough, since the police officer looked straight at him, with a kind of parental expression, head pitched slightly, and shook his finger vigorously, scoldingly. We all burst into laughter (I think also the officer!) ... and as soon as we passed him, velocity increasing again, we were offffffffffffff ....

There is a magnificent lake by the village, and we went out for a boat-peddling ride in a large plastic yellow swan-boat, while the restaurant folks went to fetch our requested fresh fish ... Delicious, coal-roasted ... dazzled by the whole scenery, and the lack of sleep certainly had its hallucinatory effects!

Back to catch a nap finally, then out for another walk in the dusk by the lake ... where we were totally enchanted by an enormous chorus of FROGS!!! Couldn't pull myself away from the layers of sounds, melodic and rhythmic harmonies, the changes in dynamics, subtleties ... We walked along the lake shore for hours in the rising moonlight, mesmerized by this truly astounding musicial experience.

I can see I am rattling on here and can't stop to edit ... as usual writing on the fly ... so I will try to summarize ...

... Found some good goodies at a local musical instrument store ... wanted to wander around those streets, but toooooooooo bad no time ...

... Music with friends of friends, a great Kurdish singer and his wife from Esfahan playing santour (hammered dulcimer) so sooo beautifully ...

... Visit to a village on the other side of the lake, to get some meat at the preferred butcher ... who has rather ingeniously devised his chopping-block out of a huge old mortar shell, stood on end reaching our waists, with a big hunk of wood cut to fit into the top ... ploughshares from swords ... (the owner was delighted - and posed accordingly - when I asked permission to take a photo, and hopefully it will turn out ... gotta find a film developing situation here ...)

... A trip to Howraman, one of the oldest continually inhabited spots ... and only 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border, on the other side of rather wall-like mountains, where the Kurds from this village and others nearby retreat for the summer. How to express what that village is like ... vertically configured, verrrrry steep slope, houses stacked, stepped up on top of each other ... the roof of one house is the courtyard/"balcony" for the house above. Faces and bodies so strong and proud and handsome ... We walked the length of the village, past the playground for the school kids, kind of a rounded indentation in the mountain, with earth and houses and huge boulders hanging rather precariously over the whole scene ... the elegance of the men's dress, shalvar, jacket, cumberbund ... the colours of the women's dress ...

Speechlessly, we headed back up the mountain, winding up and down around again for a picnic. Hugely expansive, vast space defined by green rolling waves of hills, mountains with snow in the background ... At one point an extra jolt of energy came through as a pickup truck went swooshing by with about 6 men in the back, singing and playing daff!!! I wanted to just jump up and join them ...

Ripping ourselves away ... back down to earth, and back to Tehran by overnight bus from Sanandaj ... Arriving 6 am, sleepless, but so full of energy and high spirits ...

And tonight we are off to Mashhad, most important pilgrimage destination for Shiite Muslims ... with friends of Nima's family.

... The adventures, goodwill and humanity just keep on arising from this extraordinary ground ... enchanting!!!

For now, signing off, with much love to all!
Rowan/Rohan ... hmmm how about Rowhan ...

P.S. If you have not received earlier mailings and would like to (this
is news #4) ... and/or if you do NOT want to receive any of these
rattling, rushed, sloppy and unpolished renderings, PLEASE let me
Wed, 12 Apr 2006

Dear Everyone

First of all - just to complete the last part about Sizdah Bedar, I forgot to mention another point that makes that day so significant. The sizdah (13) that is being thrown away is being done on the 13th day of the first month called Farvardin, and therefore the 13th day of the New Year ... (It seems to me so much more appropriate that the New Year coincides with the first day of Spring - rather than in the darkness ofWinter ... ?!?!?)

Second of all, just a bit - rather quickly since we are leaving soon - of a recapitulation of the last week: We (Nima and I) met with representatives of the government, my official hosts here, at the guesthouse where I am staying, which is owned by the government. These two gentlemen could NOT have been more gracious and hospitable, checking to see what I might need here, enquiring about my comfort and satisfaction with my housing situation, which I AM, TOTALLY- it is sooo comfortable, with great views over the rooftops of Tehran, with GREAT HOT WATER!!! - a truly wonderful luxury ...

I tried to explain in my rather broken (but developing, YEAH!!!) Persian language, what this culture has meant to me, since I was a teenager and happened to find myself at a concert of Classical Persian music, Santur and Tombak (hammered dulcimer and hand drum, respectively), in Hollywood, of all places. Searching for meaning and substance in that time of my life, and in that environment, was not easy, to put it mildly!!!

And then at that concert, I was brought to tears, profoundly ... and for the first time in my life, through all the plastic trappings of the tv/film industry, FINALLY, here was something REAL. The effect of that experience was stunning ... and opened up something SOOO deep inside myself ... and continues to this day ... countless "coincidences", drawing me into MUSIC ...

I tried to explain to these gentlemen that Iranian Culture, including music, poetry, philosophy, the warm hospitable-ness of Iranian people, etc, has truly given me my life, and I am so deeply, deeply grateful for that.

What I have since realized is that this music, architecture, carpets, and on and on ... aesthetic sensibility, is not only BEAUTIFUL ... but the SCIENCE at its foundation opens a window into the nature of ... reality ..... OK I can hear some of you grumbling about my words being hokey or something like that ... but TRULY, as I have studied a bit about Islamic Art, and the concepts of proportion, geometry and the interrelatedness of everything, the depth and power of these manifestations provide a key for understanding - and EXPERIENCING - the dynamics of the laws of nature (Fibonacci series, Golden Section, etc...) ... and oneself as a part of the harmonious Grand Totality ...

And HERE I AM in PERSIA !!! I still am pinching myself, to make sure I am not just dreaming this all up ...

Also last week Nima and I went to visit Ostad (Master) Mohammad Reza Lotfi, who by another stroke of extraordinary kismet, happens to also be here in Tehran now. He is the World Class performing Artist and authority about the old tradition of Persian Classical music, and I have had the unspeakably great honour of studying with him and performing with him in several concert tours.

Next day Nima took me to his music school, where I met quite a few wonderful students and friends of his. I relayed some of my feelings (above), and also about fusion music - since I come from lots of experience with mixtures of various (first and foremost, with the FIRST fusion of Middle Eastern music and jazz, Sudan Baronian's group, Taksim, based in New York City). It has ALLLL been great, and yet I have been hungering for sooo long to understand the roots, and meaning, and source - and for sure, for me, Persian Classical (Radif) music holds the key ...

At Nima's school I had the chance to play a HUGE ceramic tombak used for Zurhaneh (ancient men's gymnastics) - which was so heavy I could barely lift it! ... The great pleasure of visiting with some longtime cherished Iranian friends, who also just happen to be here now, including two that I have known for at least 15 years, from my earlier involvements with Middle Eastern and particularly Persian music in New York.

... A visit and yoga class with another dear friend really helped get me inside my body again, after all the uproar leading up to my arrival ...

... A sumptuous dinner party at the very lovely home of a dear friend (who has just returned to Tehran and is running a company here, after 33 years in America), and Nima and I played a bit for the guests ... Thanks to Nima's astounding musicianship, and the beautiful setting ... delicious food, company, candelight ... wonderful poetry reciting from Nima and a few of the gathered souls ... we were all transported ... friends from the past and new friends ...

... Visit to the Jom'e Bazaar (Friday market) ... allll kinds ofwonderful old and some new goodies - odd trinkets, wonderful textiles, anything you could imagine (somehow reminiscent of my favourite NewYork City Canal Street), with some musicians playing soulfully from a corner. Found quite a few wonderful treasures which I was lucky enough to come away with, with the help of Nima's parents!

... A birthday party for one of Nima's sisters ... a great celebration! Some of my own friends came too, one Iranian friend from California, and also a new Greek friend ... And THAT story is rather great:

There is a wonderful and by far my favourite restaurant in Greece, right downstairs in my neighbourhood in Athens. It is known far and wide as a very traditional place, super traditional Greek food, and quite an important gathering place for all sorts of Greeks who come there from all over the city. And, the owners are ... of course, Iranians!!! My last night in Athens before coming here I stopped by to say goodbye (and to grab some supper), and the owner (who of course is an old friend of old friends of mine there) told me that his wife just happens, also (!!!) to be here in Tehran now, visiting with his brother... I had not met her before ... So I gave her a call and she came to the party with two companions ... FULL CIRCLE! It was so wonderful to get back into the Greek spirit and language rhythm with my new friend. Also some of Nima's musician friends came, and we had a great time, soaring off into poetry and music and all in all, a most amazing and completion-making party and gathering and celebration!!! Happy Birthday, Shiva!!!

Also here at Nima's house are two love-birds, who really do hang around in their cage, constantly pruning each other and kissing and carrying on ... they are adorable! ... and, music lovers! Whenever Nima and I are playing, they sit in rapt attention, watching every move of our hands, and dancing! ... swaying back and forth in perfect rhythm!!!

Next, a visit to a great instrument maker here ... came away with all sorts of wonderful treasures. Visits with friends of friends, and new friends ... and on and on it goes!!!

... Visit to the home of musician friends of another friend ... great jam session ... great connections!

... Visit with a professional Iranian tour guide whose English is impeccable, an expert in ancient Mesopotamian and Persian history ... for sure, a tour with such an expert would be greatly beneficial ...!!!

And third of all ... Two days ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table here at Nima's house, talking with his mother (who along with his whole family, has been ushering me into Persian language so smoothly and graciously!!!), with my Iran guidebook open on the table to the section about Kurdistan ... and his mother told me that an old family friend would be coming for dinner, who is Kurdish, and from the SAME village whose name was staring up at me from the page of the book, open before me ...

What to say, other than: the Muses are BUSY!!! ... In a little while, after lunch (which I smell coming from the kitchen ... YUMYUM ... ), we are going with this family friend to his village in KURDISTAN!!!!! And I am in search of the women dervishes who play daff (one of the instruments I play - a huge frame drum with chains inside, causing a swooshing sound while being played), so I can catch up with their spirit ... and to just BE in the mountains of Kurdistan ... another very longtime dream ... (good grief, another language hurdle ...!!!)

Soooo, unedited, quickly written, thanks for your patience and as always sending MMMMMMMMMMMMUCH LOVE to all, and next news, after this remarkably-timed voyage!!! (and/or when I can find another internet situation ...!)

- Rowan (Rohan, comparable Persian and I think Kurdish name ...)
Mon, 10 Apr 2006

Dear All

WELLLLLLLLLLLLLL the nine days since I arrived have been whizzing by sooooo quickly ... zabane farsi (Persian language) is coming along!!! And also finally I feel like my feet are on the ground ... after all the topsy-turviness of getting everything in order in Athens, the stress, the RACE!!! Finally I have discovered that when everything is floating around in a fog, blurriness of everything - visa-anticipation, travel back and forth and here and there, exhaustion, being on the other side of the world, etc - GRAVITY is the great organizing principle ... AT LEAST things - and me - can be located on... the ground!

It's old news by now, since the end of the celebrations for the Persian New year are just about winding down by now ... But from last Sunday, April 2, here goes ...

Sizdah Bedar is a wonderful celebration, representing the final achieveable stage of catharsis, launching the New Year with clean house, clean consciousness, the release of anything that could interfere with the unfoldment of GOOD. It is a picnic, an outdoor fest in the fresh spring air (a universal human event to be sure, only with a different twist, depending on cultural orientation ...)

Families gathering together, eating and talking and drinking tea, playing backgammon and throwing balls, parading around, leisurely, jubilantly! We walked with Nima's family to a park ... a visual feast. Tents set up on the lawn, children running and skipping for joy, vendors selling ice cream, coca cola (I love seeing that written in Persian script!) and all sorts of amusements for this ancient traditional time of celebration.

At the beginning of Nowruz (New Year) every home is decked out sumptuously with special representations of nature and renewal, including a clump of earth with new grass. The close of the two-week holiday is Sizdah Bedar - which means "throwing out the 13" - considered a number of less-than-the-best fortune. The final gesture is the throwing of the clump of grassy earth into a river, where it can be swept off into oblivion. Of course in the middle of Tehran or any other big city, it is not always so easy to find a river - so as we strolled through the day, these tossed off, fuzzy green remnants could be found all over the neighbourhood ... in water channels that weave through the streets, on top of newspaper stands, car hoods, park benches, a truly lovely sight, and a wonderful reaffirmation of the ultimate ground of Nature.

Moving along through this wonderful sense of unfoldment, we walked around the old American Embassy, a sharp contrast to the gentle joy of the day. The compound is walled off and full of trees, rare in the area, and HUGE - seems like one entire city block.

Next attention-grabber, very nearby on our New Year stroll, we came by the Greek Embassy and Orthodox church next door. It made me feel very happy to know where the Greeks are, here in Persia. Having just arrived from Athens, center of the world, I felt uplifted and anchored at the same time.

We returned to Nima's house and had a delicious dinner with the family and a guest who is an expert in the history of Iranian art and architecture. Fascinating converstaion, which eventually turned into singing and music ... New Year off to certainly a very, very wonderful start!

OK think I better close here for now ... I smell another delicious dinner on its way. Of course so many wonderful things have been happening since last Sunday ... well, more news soon!

Much love to all, and HAPPPPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mon, 3 Apr 2006
Dearest Friends!

Can't stay online long right now - writing from a friend's computer ... It was an amazing amazing trip, just arriving here ... will write more later at some point with more details ... the hassle, the stress, the waiting, the jumping through hoops - the trip to Athens and alllllllllllllllllll the work there, nonstop, then backtracking to Berlin to pick up visa, then to Frankfurt ... it has been a mission impossible scenario, relay race, with full adrenalin ... and lots of help and support from some extraordinary people, guiding through every imaginable detail of putting all this together ... a billlllion little puzzle pieces ... WOWOWOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The flight over was superb. Sat next to the perfect person - an elderly, soulful Armenian lady who has been living in Frankfurt for 15 years - originally from Tehran. She is so lovely, and we sat together and were speaking in Persian language (including lots of sign language!) all the way over - except when she was singing some beautiful old Armenian songs, and then we sang a few together. It was a priceless, heart-ful voyage. (how bout that, Uncle Sudie!!!)

Arrived, only a few glitches about my visa ... then I was met by charming Nima, my guide here, an extraordinarily talented musician and poet. We went to Darband today, a wonderful mountain in the north of Tehran, and walked and climbed and huffed and puffed and had tea and then delicious food and more tea. Then to the museum, old home of Reza Shah. Now I am at his family's computer ... we just had a delicious meal of ghormeh sabzi, my favorite food!

OK dear everybody gotta close now, without even editing ... but truly I feel so at home here ... the people are lovely, warm and so caring and looking after me so thoughtfully. We even just had a wonderful jam session.

LLLLLLLLLLLLLOTS OF LOVE to you all, til soon