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Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Mission Accomplished

This entry should have been posted three days ago at the latest, but for the last two weeks I had to work flat out going over the copyeditor’s comments across the whole book. When I received the files over two weeks ago, I didn’t think it would take as long as it did. I have responded to every query, carried out corrections, added quite a few paragraphs and deleted a few others, re-arranged the endnotes and re-styled the references.

While going through the copyeditor’s comments I couldn’t help thinking how easy it is for a writer to take things she knows for granted and assume (without really thinking about it) that the reader will understand exactly what she means. For example, in Chapter 4, which is about religious beliefs and practices, in the section on the obligatory prayers that Muslims have to offer every day, the copyeditor asked whether men and women pray in the same way. It had not crossed my mind that a non-Muslim reader might wonder about this, but then I remembered how I wondered myself before I embraced Islam.

Well, the book is off for pagination. The next time I see it, it will be page-designed, ready to be indexed. As I was attaching the files, I felt as if I were packing the suitcase of a dear child, who is not a child any more, and is now leaving home, ready to face the world. God knows what lies ahead.

Friday, 9 October 2009


Last Saturday I received the copy-edited files of Among the Iranians. Every single correction and amendment has to be checked, queries raised by the copy-editor addressed, bits and pieces added or moved around. And all this has to be returned to the project editor by Tuesday 20 October.

One day last week I was walking home from the metro station. I had been shopping at the Central Bazaar of Tehran and was fairly exhausted. On the way home I passed a lovely small square with grass, trees and blue-and-orange benches, just like the one to the north of our block of flats. There are four such squares in our neighbourhood, where mothers and children, youngsters or elderly people often spend some time in. That day the square was unusually quiet; maybe it was still too early. A middle-aged man brought an elderly man in his wheelchair and helped him settle on a bench nearby. He asked him if he would be all right on his own for a bit, until he went to run some errands. The old man nodded.

He sat quietly and looked around the park, at the trees, at the little sparrow that came to perch on his bench. He smiled to himself and whispered, “Khoda-ra shokr” (Thank you, God.). I thought of my father in Athens. His dementia is progressing in such a way that every time I return to Athens, he remembers less and speaks less, but he still smiles the lovely smile I have always known. Since the previous winter he has given up his usual afternoon walk round the block, because he can only shuffle his feet along and Athenian pavements don’t cater for such needs. So in the afternoons he takes the lift up to the roof and goes round a couple of times.
While I was there in the summer, we often went up to the roof together. The view is interesting from here: beyond the television aerials and the satellite dishes one can see the Lycabettus hill with the white church of Saint George perched on its top, the Sina Observatory, and the other hills around Athens against the famous clear blue Attic sky. On the evening before I left, we went up again.
Dad kept commenting on how lovely the sky was, and admired the buildings. He exclaimed how tall they were, and wondered how people managed to build them so tall and how come they don’t fall. I envied him then, for a moment, for being able to admire the beauty of nature and human ingenuity as if for the first time, just like a little child. He may have lost a part of himself –his memories- but has got back something perhaps as valuable: the pure, childish pleasure at looking at an animal or a baby or a beautiful flower. And he can’t miss me anymore now, because as soon as I leave, he’s forgotten me until I speak to him on the phone or go back to Athens. That spares one a lot of pain.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Traditional Iranian Singing

Just up the road from our house, Park-e Neshat, now renamed Mothers’ Paradise is a women-only park in which biking and other sport activities take place. Near the main entrance, the local cultural centre organises classes on handicrafts, traditional music, cookery and office skills, as well as classes for mother and children, and teenagers.

This park was designated as women-only about a year ago, but I had not visited it until last Tuesday. With the beginning of the school year I felt like trying something new from among the ‘regrets’ I carry in my mind about things I would like to do but haven’t had the time or the chance yet. Not that I have much time now, but as I’m getting old(er), I gradually realise how little time there is left in one’s life to do all the things one would like to do. I will never forget what my good friend Alex in London told me once: “When trying to decide whether you should do something, visualise the moment when you are about to leave this world. What will your regrets be?” This question always points towards true north.

Anyway, the cultural centre offers classes in traditional Iranian singing (avaz-e sonnati). I was told that I needed to get to the class and be tested before I enrol, so last Tuesday I went along. There were only another three students who started three months ago. The teacher asked me to sing something traditional. Not knowing any Persian traditional song, I sang a Greek one. She asked me a few questions about my previous experience (three years Greek church music, one year classical singing) and also whether I like Persian traditional music. I said I liked it, but haven’t tried singing it yet. Anyway, she said that I could join the class and see how it goes.
Apparently a set sequence of tunes is meant to be followed, so the other students have learned between eight and twelve tunes already, one a week. The teacher assigns a tune to every student individually, sings it for the student to record it and then gets her to write down the lyrics. Practising the tune at home is the weekly homework.
Iranian traditional music is mainly vocal, but the teacher accompanies the practice with a setar, a long-stemmed, three-stringed instrument similar to a lute, but with a longer stem and a smaller body. The sound of the setar is nostalgic, tinged with sadness, complemented by the lyrics that are usually taken from the body of classical Persian poetry: Hafez, Sa’adi, Attar, Rumi, and others.
Here follows my clumsy translation of my next week’s homework:

I have tried very hard to hide the secret of my love
But how could I be sitting on fire and not burn?
I was careful not to give my heart away to anyone
But when I saw your Face, all care and logic left me.
You sold me for nothing, but I am determined
Never to exchange one single hair of yours for the whole world.

Next Tuesday morning I will try a class on Rumi’s Mathnawi.