Thursday, October 29, 2009

Iran in America

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there” quoted Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, theologian, and mystic.

I was shocked by such a peaceful quote coming from such an troubled land. It seems that the only information I hear about Iran via our American news stations, is about all the horrible fighting and injustices going on over there. I was curious to see where this Persian poet, Rumi, found his inspiration and if there is such a field.

But, considering the fact that Iran is about 7,000 miles away and probably not the best place for me to visit right now, I decided to go to Tehrangeles (A portmanteau, combining the words Tehran, the capital of Iran, and Los Angeles). This large neighborhood holds up to 900,000 Iranian immigrants and encompasses the majority of Westwood and Beverly Hills.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an extremely old country in Western Asia and has a population of over 70 million people. Although the majority of Iranians are Muslim, Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. For many centuries, the Iranian Jews have been exiled out of Iran after Islam came into power. The largest Diaspora was after the 1979 revolution, where many Iranians found their way to Israel and America. Immigration to the Los Angeles area increased and Little Persia made its place on Westwood Boulevard, soon to be filled with the Persian expatriate community and their cultural shops, restaurants, bookstores and all forms of media including magazines, newspapers, radio and television stations.

Simply crossing the street into Tehrangeles, I felt like I had crossed the border into Iran.

Upon starting my voyage of discovering Iran in America, I needed to first get some history. Walking in the Ketab Bookshop, I was greeted with a “Salam” (the traditional Iranian greeting of peace) and an array of beautiful flowing ink writings that resembled Arabic. Farsi, the native language of Iran, uses the same letters as Arabic but to form a completely different language. Much like how Spanish, French and English all use most of the same letters for their unique languages.

Farzad, the store-owner, took me on a tour of all the books in his shop. “Many of these books have been banned in Iran” he said, as he pointed to a wall filled with collections such as, “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World” and “Lolita”. But on Westwood Blvd, all of the banned books in Iran, are available to read for anyone.

I noticed that on these sun filled streets of Tehrangeles, there was where a dark cloud looming over every Iranian head. For even those who have been in America for decades, there is a slight sense of the judgmental eye of a distant regime, miles across the globe.

But this is America, and freedom of speech is one of its highlights. No one seems shy to criticize the politics in Iran and people can easily poke fun at the so-called “monkey” President Ahmadinejad and other controversies. For here, Muslims and Jews walk along the same street, eat at the same restaurants and bring their children to the same schools.

In the back of the bookstore was an enormous selection of Iranian music, movies and musical instruments, like the oud ( a pear-shaped, stringed instrument that resembles the lute) and the Tonbak (the national drum of Persia). In Iran, their musicians are very popular but also are confronted with strict rules and regulations, which cause some of the biggest Iranian pop stars to record and live in Southern California.

Farzad and I had such a great time talking politics, religion, playing music and learning Farsi, that he personally escorted me to dinner across the street to Shahrzad, the oldest Iranian restaurant in LA. The room was filled with large families eating and celebrating as if it was the last supper and the tables were topped with lavash, complimentary Persian flatbread made fresh in an in-house brick oven. Since most of the Iranians in LA are Jewish, they can drink alcohol, for if they were practicing Muslims, alcohol is prohibited. Haram ( an Arabic word meaning prohibited.)

The lavash is accompanied with a large basket of herbs, butter and onions. This is to warm up the palate for the upcoming meal. The items on the menu were absolutely incomprehensible; barg, koobideh, joojeh, shishleek, soltani, chenjeh, khoresht, and Kashkeh Bademjan. So I ordered one appetizer and one entrée I could not pronounce: Kashkeh Bademjan, a Persian Eggplant Dip and Chenjeh, spiced lamb kabob. One word to describe these two dishes: delicious!

After the heavy meal, we were served warm Iranian tea; a blend of 2 parts Darjeeling, 1 part Earl Grey and a pinch of Orange Pekoe.

I was curious what Iranians do after dinner on a weekday night, so Farzad took me next door to Saffron and Rose, an ice cream shop that was filled with people sitting inside and outside talking, eating and smoking. But this was not just any normal ice cream, this was Iranian Ice Cream; which is now my favorite in the world! In addition to saffron, pistachios, orange blossom and cardamom, its key ingredient is rose water. The most exotic spices, flowers and fruits filled the creamy scoop with a memorable and refreshing taste that was unlike anything I have ever had before. It’s so popular, people from all over the city come to buy it by the carton in Tehrangeles. If you find yourself in Hollywood, stop by Mashti Malones to taste some more delicious Iranian Ice Cream.

It was an eventful day that revolved around a lot of talking and eating. But in the end, I discovered that the quote was more relevant than not and what I have seen in the news about Iran was nothing like what I experienced in Tehrangeles.

“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” Maybe that field is America? A land where all cultures can co-habitate together, still keeping their customs, their language and their religions, but leaving behind their judgments. For in America, one never knows what race or religion their next boss, friend or lover could be. And in Tehrangeles, with the California sun setting in the distance, everyone seemed to be eating their Iranian ice cream in peace.
Salam a ti! (Meaning, ‘peace to you’ in Farsi)

1 comment:

Wahid Boctor said...

Exellent article fluid, sincere and clear.From the heart. Ana You are exelling in writting.