Monday, March 14, 2005
Ancient fire temple,Isfahan
Shortened Repost from last year + an update
With the Persian New Year approaching fast, there are quite a few firecrackers going off all around everyday. Everyone is in frenzy. Chahar-Shanbe-Souri is a ritual rooted in our Zoroastrian past—with festivities normally held in the evening preceding the last Wednesday of the year. A day we congregate to jump over fire, (now that there are not too many functioning fire temples left) mingle, mutter nonsense and consume loads of food, dried nuts and fruits.
In anticipation, we have had to endure almost a month of loud, indiscriminate explosions—luckily only fire crackers. Sometimes, men on motorcycles use quite a large bundle as they pass crowded streets which they then time (or rather throw) to go off as some women pass by. On one occasion, a young girl simply passed out close by. Quite infuriating and also a raucous.
Can’t be quite certain as to why so many--the much vaunted “burnt generation,” so “Westernized,” “freedom loving,” and forever lamenting the ruling clergy's reign of terror --can’t quite bring themselves to comprehend the banality of frightening unsuspecting pedestrians.
You see it happening everyday as kids walk back from schools. Some nice girl passes by, a few boys and then a loud boom. Think about it, here you are walking home. Of all the things you could be doing—smiling, winking, flirting, passing around phone numbers or emails, seeking a date, complementing a nice eye, having an ice cream—what do you do? You throw a fire cracker to scare the living daylight out of some unfortunate soul…go figure!
So yesterday, having endured 3 hours of loud explosions every 10 to 15 minutes, I simply marched to a neighbor’s yard, cigarette in hand, to have a chat with some 8 year olds. They of course denied responsibility. (But it stopped) And on my way back in the street I ran into a couple of middle aged men --businessmen, pious, conservative, with military background and connections.
They immediately went on the offensive, as we Persians are wont to do, to scold me asserting that while they agreed I had every right to be annoyed, I should simply also stop smoking while I am at it. Then they proceeded to lecture me for about 10 minutes, boasting of how they had turned down a lucrative contract with a foreign firm because a representative had smoked in their office.
I calmly listened, expressed my appreciation for their concern, and respectfully pointed out the difference between controlling the consequences of habits that adversely affect other individuals or their private spaces, and controlling the habits themselves which quite literally might be none of their concern. And that if my explanation weren’t good enough, there are a few towns abroad I knew of which might be more suitable for them and that they should simply just emigrate.
Turning away, I immediately noticed my face stiffening to form a smirk. You know the type when you realize you have done something mischievous and fundamentally improper, yet utterly soothing.
I muttered to myself “how American of us.”
Both what they said --stop smoking if the sound of fire crackers annoys you--and what I said (take a hike) sounded familiar. No wonder Iranians are the only people besides the Israelis in the Middle East who are so enamored of the U.S.
This Year's Update: There were quite a large number of casualties last year, mostly accidents with firecrackers. So this year, there has been a sustained campaign of sorts to warn every one about the dangers just like every other year I suppose. But apparently, it might have had an impact. I don't quite know exactly why, but things have been a lot more subdued and orderly in the weeks leading up to this event.
Relative calm and some peace of mind always a joy, I suppose. If you don't hear from me again, assume I could have accidentally set myself on fire jumping around later this evening.