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Friday, 31 December 2010

Last Post of the Year

In the previous post I mentioned Shab-e Yalda, the Iranian winter festival that was celebrated last week. This is a pre-Islamic festival, dating back to the worship of the ancient god Mithra, or Mehr, whose birth was celebrated at the beginning of winter. The worship of Mithra travelled west and became firmly established throughout the Roman Empire, reaching as far as the British Isles. In fact, the foundations of a small temple to Mithra are still visible a small distance from the Bank underground station in the city of London.

As Christianity supplanted older religions, the celebration of the birth of Mithra, which bore the promise of summer and light at the darkest time of the year was replaced by the celebration of Christ’s birth, at roughly the same time, and the promise of victory of good (light) over evil (darkness).

At the threshold of the New Year, I end this year of posts with a reminder of how people and their feasts are much closer that we think at first sight, and with the wish that the New Year will bring us all much closer.

All the best in the New Year, but above all, health, prosperity and peace.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Shortest Night of the Year

With the sincere hope that this will be the last of the long story of my incapacity, I add this short vignette I witnessed, or rather listened in, It took place on the eve of the 22 December, or Shab-e Yalda, the longest night of the year. On this night Iranians gather in their elders’ houses, munching nuts, eating carefully preserved watermelon (the promise of summer) and reading poems by Hafez, the 13th century mystic poet.

Earlier that evening I had a physiotherapy session. I was shown to a free cubicle, but a little boy of about six was lying on the bed. He had face-painting on and wore a colourful party hat. He said that they had had a Yalda celebration at his nursery, hence the make-up, and rushed off to his mother, one of the therapists working there.

A young man was having treatment in the cubicle next to mine. During my session, I heard the little boy talking with him. As they were talking, the little boy casually said, “My father’s passed away,” but he didn’t sound upset about it; he probably hasn’t understood the concept of death yet. The patient told him that we say “he’s passed away” because we can’t see him, but he can see us, and he can see the little boy and pray for him.

The man asked the boy whether he remembers seeing his father. The boy said, yes, he remembers him from photographs. His father is gone to Paradise to be with Imam Hossein, whose martyrdom was commemorated only a week ago. Then the boy asked the patient about the electrodes on his face. The young man explained that one side of his face had become paralysed (“What is paralysed?” “It means that it has stopped working”) and that the doctor had said that he would get better after physiotherapy.

And I thought I had troubles enough.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


Following the long trawl around doctors and medical practitioners, I came across two philellenes. One was the young assistant of the top Tehran neurosurgeon who examined me before his professor. As soon as he realised I was Greek, he asked me about the correct pronunciation of names and places and mentioned stories from Greek mythology and Ancient History. Theseus and the Minotaur, how Ariadne was abandoned in Naxos, and how Aegeus killing himself falling off the cape of Sounion, Darius’ and Cyrus’ expeditions against Greece, the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae, the sea-battle of Salamis, Plataea, and then the Peloponnesean War. He said that even though he has never been to Greece, he has all these places in his mind.
And how come a neurosurgeon is so immersed in Greek history? His father is the chief editor of the academic journal Andishmand (The Intellectual) and the young doctor has always been interested in ancient civilisations.
The second philellene was the doctor who took an electromyogram of my legs, to assess nerve function. He had spent the Iranian New Year holiday in Greece, visiting Athens and the neighbouring islands of Hydra and Poros. He was very impressed by the friendliness of Greeks and saw many similarities between their character and that of Iranians. Then he mentioned something I had forgotten myself: about twelve years ago an Iranian television program called Iranian Bride had featured my family and myself. He remembered that in that program I had talked about my Greek background and Greek cooking.

Even so far from home, I often feel surrounded by friends

Saturday, 4 December 2010


Another long absence: again, after just over two weeks of almost normal life, the pain was back as bad as at the very beginning and suspended normal life again for another eight days. By last Saturday I had become quite fed up with being confined to bed (no, I didn’t tackle War and Peace, as every day I hoped I would be up again).

When I rang the neurosurgeon I had seen about a month ago, he made this extremely wise and encouraging comment: “Until you lose all the excess weight you carry, there is nothing else to do except bed rest”! Easiest thing in the world, to lose about forty kilos lying in bed. I gave up on him.
Then two friends of mine gave me the addresses of another two neurosurgeons. The first one painted a very serious picture of my condition and opined that the only option open to me now is surgery. He only operates in a modern private hospital; my operation would necessitate possibly two nights’ stay, it would be done microscopically leaving only a 3 cm scar and the whole thing would cost about 50 million rials (about £2,800). Piece of cake.
The second doctor absolutely ruled out the possibility of operation: considering my physical condition it would be too risky. He prescribed different medicines and physiotherapy. I have now had three sessions, with seven more to go, and I must say that thankfully I now feel much better.

Deep down I always mistrust doctors, especially where money is involved; the visit to the first one confirmed my suspicions.