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Monday, 28 January 2013

Bridal Bed

The daughter of my sister-in-law is getting married. Last Thursday, the men of the family (her father, brother, the groom, her uncle and cousins) helped move her household effects to the new house. Last Friday, her closest female relatives were invited to set up the house and arrange everything in its place for next Thursday, when the main ceremony will take place and more guests will visit the house. Electrical appliances were ranged on the kitchen worktop and covered with embroidered doilies; three large cutlery canteens, their drawers open, were displayed on a side table; a large display cabinet contained her formal dinner service, and crystal and porcelain set. In the bedroom, the bride’s and groom’s bathrobes hung from the bathroom door and all her perfumes and cosmetics were laid out on the dresser. On the day of her send-off, the guests will come to admire the bride’s trousseau and wish her and the groom “to grow old together.” In the older times and in smaller towns and villages, just like in other parts of the world and my native island Kassos, Greece, the bridal trousseau and the groom’s gifts were displayed publicly. In Iran this is called tabaqkeshoon, where the items were carried on large trays, whereas, from what I’ve heard from my father, in Kassos the trousseau items were loaded onto donkeys and shown around the village. Yesterday’s ceremony is similar to a custom that is still observed in Kassos and the rest of Greece (I suppose) called krevati or laying the bridal bed. This is an occasion for close female relatives and friends to see and admire the bridal home. A little child, usually a boy, is also thrown on the bed to bring the couple good luck. Once again I return to the familiar theme of how similar people and cultures are.

Monday, 21 January 2013

"But I Studied so Hard!"

Another week’s gone, this time taken up with marking and grading exam papers, which always takes me an inordinate amount of time because I try to be fair. But what really annoys me is when students ask me to look at their script again: they are really disappointed with their grade; they know that they didn’t do as well as they should, but they studied a lot; or they really need a high average. These are obviously the ones who didn’t work well during the term, when they were too busy socializing with their friends. They only realize what they have done (or rather haven’t) when the grades come in. As the Iranians say, “baby chicks are counted at the end of autumn,” or “as you sow, so you shall reap.”

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Shahrerey, South of Tehran

Apart from Shahid Beheshti University, since last September I also teach at the Quran and Holy Traditions University, in Shahrerey, south of Tehran. And so it happens that at the beginning of the week I go up to the snow-covered foot of the Alborz Mountains, and on the last day of the week I go down almost to the beginning of the desert, within the precinct of the tombs of three holy persons, Abd ol-Azim, Hamzah and Taher. And when I say “precinct”, I mean a large complex including prayer halls, mosques, wide forecourts, refectory, a health centre, a museum and a traditional bazaar, all centrered around the three tombs. Shahrerey is quite far from my house, but one metro line goes straight down there. However, at the beginning of the semester, I discovered another, easier way to get there: every morning, my brother-in-law drives down to his factory, which is 70 km south of Shahrerey, so he gives me a lift. The catch is, of course, that he leaves home at 6.00, so I get to the mausoleum by 6.30, at the latest 6.45, while lessons start at 8.00. At these early, magical times I sit at the southern courtyard of the mausoleum, enjoy the calm and observing the days drawing in from one week to the other, until at the very end of term I arrived there even before sunrise. Only a few worshippers are around then, leaving the mausoleum after the morning prayers. A couple of weeks ago, a woman who works there crossed the courtyard carrying two barbari breads, still steaming in the morning cold. She came up to me and said, “Come inside for breakfast; you’ll freeze here!” I thanked her, and she insisted, as Iranians always do, and then I told her that I would be going into the university building soon. But if I had accepted her invitation, she would have shared her bread, cheese and tea with a total stranger, a pilgrim of the saints. As we parted, I thought of Kassos, our traditional hospitality and the open doors everywhere, and the Greek coffee with melted butter and kouloures, homemade savoury bagels. How similar people are all over the world.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The other day I was in the waiting room of a traditional doctor whose nutritional programme helps weight loss according to one’s body constitution. I sat there reading, as I always do in order not to feel I am wasting my time, when the woman sitting next to me, turned round and, out of the blue, said, “God must give us another Paradise!” I looked at her with my mouth half open, wondering whether she might actually need another type of doctor. Realising my confusion, she continued, “Since I remember myself, I have been overweight, just like you. That’s not fair! That’s why God has to make it up to us, for what we’ve suffered throughout life.” To be honest, I had never thought of it like that: I always assumed that being overweight had to do with eating too much.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Day 2013

After two years (almost to the day) of absence, I take up the weekly blog again. I never had many readers, so I don’t suppose that my absence made a lot of difference. It’s just that I came to miss it, that chatter with myself. On days like these I remember past New Year days, when my mother divided the Vassilopita, the New Year cake, assigning a piece to Christ, to the poor, to my father, who was often away as a sea-captain in the merchant navy, and to every member of the family. The Vassilopita contained a coin, so the person in whose piece the coin fell would be lucky throughout the year. Ayios Vassilis (the Greek version of Santa Klaus) visited every house after midnight and left presents for my sister and me. We used to get lots of presents, bought really by my mother’s relatives who lived in our neighbourhood. Funnily enough, I can’t remember specific New Year days when my father was actually in Athens, except one, when I was 13. We saw the new year in together, but then he had to catch a flight to his next commission. I had got an oil painting set and two canvases with the outline of ships drawn on them, and I sat on my bed colouring one of them. I couldn’t bear to stay in the living room. When his taxi came before lunch, he came to my room to say goodbye. I stayed there after he left, tears falling on the canvas I was still colouring. A long life full of farewells, and the last one my father and all of us are now in, the most painful of all.