About 27 years ago I took part in a play. I took these pictures but they were lost until I accidentally found the negatives.
The Ghost lovers of Lalehzar (Tulip Street)
Let us take an exclusive mustard colour taxi
and roam streets of Tehran in an Austin Maxi
Like two crazed convicts on their last day
circle the king on horseback
and pass Rostam piercing a dragon with a whack
squeeze in those narrow brick-walls leading to streets
jump over mid-road ditches
and loose stones in paved stitches
find a house, a carpet, and pillows for our retreat.
Let us shake the gravel off stone baked bread
or have tea with thick cream instead
before we swim across ocean of living dead
before we get lost in windings ahead
before we become heavy and fully fed
explore smell of cheap kebabs, charcoaled liver or lose our thread
in bazaars with scent of turmeric, fatima hands with eyes we dread.
In coffee houses men with big moustaches serve tea.
In shops women with big thighs try skirts against their knee.
Let us find lost time again and again
And indeed there will be time, time like a month of Fridays
time like a seven thousand year afternoon sleep
sleeping with eyes wide open holding hands you and me
there will be time indeed
there will be time before a king abdicates a throne
time before a nation goes mad and has it all blown
and a maniac arrives on a plane and make us disown
time for you and time for me,
time to grow long hair, be young and free
time to pass music shops
buy records and see the needle play those pops
time for you to wear that short skirt and have props
then walk in a tantalising rhythm with those flops.
Should I then sing you an alleyway or Bazaar song?
Frown, twist my greased moustache with a gaze that’s prolonged?
Should I wear a white shirt, black jacket and a velvety hat?
Wipe my neck with a long hanky and press my chin back to make it fat?
Shall we shut our ears to the implicating sound of mosque
and haunt the street of Tehran till it has passed the dusk?
Soon the dusk will come and we’ll be in neon streets
the sun will lose fury, we’ll have cool breeze that greets
we’ll pass large orange tinted posters of cinemas in wide streets
Fardin, Foroozan and Beyk will be singing,
we’ll sink in cosy red velvety back-seats.
Or shall we follow the music across Lalehzar
find a Cabaret the way we pick food in a Bazaar?
Find one with round tables and flickering lights
See a belly dance, drink vodka and have our delights?
Shall we forget that we sleep in graves?
That your round thighs are bones, crushed and concaves?
That I have but a jawbone and not a chin
and that my face is frozen in an eternal grin?
Let us forget, who we are, what we are
Let us live while we can living or dead who cares where we are?
Let us take an exclusive mustard colour taxi
and roam streets of Tehran in an Austin Maxi.
Note: Before the Iranian revolution Lalehzar was the main Tehran attraction as it was the area with many theaters and Cabarets.
Rastak is a very talented folk group from Iran. They are like a living encyclopedia of Iranian folk music. Professionally trained and highly versatile in being able to play many instruments and styles they travel to different regions of Iran and visit old masters and bring their music to the concert halls around the world.
Each region has its influences. This particular piece is a Bandari (port music or southern coast music) has an African/Portuguese influence. There was a lot of trade with Africa, India and the Arab regions in those ports and foreign sailors brought their mix of percussion and wind instruments to those regions.
Rastak also produce music of regions influenced by Baluch, Azari, Kurdish, Khorasani, Lori and central Asian regions.
The lyrics range from well-known folk songs to adaptations of classic poetry of Omar Khayyam.
Their music is available for sale via the following link:
Philip Larkin – Church Going
Once I am sure there's nothing going on I step inside, letting the door thud shut. Another church: matting, seats, and stone, And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff Up at the holy end; the small neat organ; And a tense, musty, unignorable silence, Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off My cycle-clips in awkward reverence. Move forward, run my hand around the font. From where I stand, the roof looks almost new - Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't. Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce 'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant. The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence, Reflect the place was not worth stopping for. Yet stop I did: in fact I often do, And always end much at a loss like this, Wondering what to look for; wondering, too, When churches will fall completely out of use What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep A few cathedrals chronically on show, Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases, And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep. Shall we avoid them as unlucky places? Or, after dark, will dubious women come To make their children touch a particular stone; Pick simples for a cancer; or on some Advised night see walking a dead one? Power of some sort will go on In games, in riddles, seemingly at random; But superstition, like belief, must die, And what remains when disbelief has gone? Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky, A shape less recognisable each week, A purpose more obscure. I wonder who Will be the last, the very last, to seek This place for what it was; one of the crew That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were? Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique, Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh? Or will he be my representative, Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt So long and equably what since is found Only in separation - marriage, and birth, And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built This special shell? For, though I've no idea What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth, It pleases me to stand in silence here; A serious house on serious earth it is, In whose blent air all our compulsions meet, Are recognized, and robed as destinies. And that much never can be obsolete, Since someone will forever be surprising A hunger in himself to be more serious, And gravitating with it to this ground, Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in, If only that so many dead lie round.
Southeast veering southwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later.
Moderate or good, occasionally poor.
Let me fill your glass, and make it level with mine my dear friend. Here we go. Come on drink up. This is a forty-year-old whisky. A waiter gave me a blanket and poured me some. He said it’s to warm the passengers standing outside and it’s a Glen-something. I couldn’t say no and I asked for the bottle.
Right now as we drink there must be other Iranians in some corner of the world having a drink with us.
Some could be in a Californian Hotel drinking to some newlyweds wondering how their kids grew up so fast and so American.
Some would drink in a German village in a refugee camp wondering how to get out of their limbo and how much cash they can get for the golf balls they fish from mosquito infested ponds.
Some would visit their secret jars of moonshine hidden in their cellar in Tehran, or they could be drinking from a confiscated bottle that they bought from the Morality Police; you know the sellers top the bottles up with tea and carefully put the cap back and seal it, and who is going to argue with them?
With every sip our drinking friends would be wondering how long this mad regime that is strangling us would last; how long we have to carry that bat-shaped mark in our passports; the mark that casts us from the rest of humanity as if we carry the mark of Cain; as if our God is a monster that rejoices only with the scent of burnt Middle eastern flesh; as if we killed our brother and we are not worthy of redemption.
Free drinks or not I plan to warm up and see an old flame tonight, and I should stay sober.
So with you my friend as my witness I hereby screw this cap on, and launch this bottle overboard as an important message for future posterity. Let those brats figure out their own meaning when they find a half empty bottle floating their way. Perhaps they will have a sip with us when our bones are white and dry. I’ll give them my glass too. Here you are future. Take it; take it. I don’t want it; you can have it.
That was a big drop though- I reckon it would be a drop of hundred and eighty feet from here to the propeller. I bet that propeller with those good blades would drag and slice a man before he has a chance to drown or even get salt water up his nostrils. If a man overboard doesn’t get chopped, or the fall doesn’t kill him he would die of hypothermia and disappear in the dark water in no time. I suppose the bottle made it. What do you think?
Yes, those propellers would get a man. Blades like them would turn without causing viscous friction and don’t get cavitation scars. I used to fix them you know. I was thirteen when I worked in a British workshop in Abadan. This is before the Iranian oil was nationalized.
It was a fourteen-hour a day shift. Sometimes I had a quick nap on the hot concrete floor and went back to work. One day I saw one of the old men crouched in a corner burning a cigarette, and staring at nothing. I went and talked to him. The old man was becoming retired and after a lifetime of service had nothing to show for it but he still had young daughters. That day I said I wouldn’t end up like him, and from then I joined a weekend adult education class. For each lost year I did three grades. I even did my math homework behind a lathe, cutting machine parts.
Now I am older than that old man, and today I called my solicitor to ask about the progress of my divorce. This is my second divorce. It’s like you complete a marathon but when you reach the finishing line they’ve moved it for a second marathon and you have to run another twenty-five miles.
My friend, the woman has been bleeding my pocket dry and tormenting me for forty-five years. She has left me with nothing; I’m just like that old man.
Would you believe at first she was a domestic goddess? She made this fantastic spicy Fish and Herb stew with dissolved tamarind pulps and served it with saffron Basmati rice. I wouldn’t have married the second time but my sister kept insisting and didn’t take no for an answer. I explained to her my reservations and she sneered then raised her shoulders and dropped her lower lip:
‘Are you still a man? You are not waiting for your ex to leave her lover and come back to you, or are you? Look at this widow. She is a peach…has her own kids too so she could be a good mother for your three. Don’t you want to sleep in a warm bed’, she said.
So I sat with my future second wife in a friend’s house and all we talked about were pomegranates. I took her to the cinema and she was flirty and I thought that was nice. I couldn’t figure her out. That is all I knew of her when we married.
First month or two she quietly cut a bit from our savings and then she would spend it on her family but I thought that was all right and didn’t say anything. After the revolution she turned religious and it was then that she became a master thief. Just like those Ayatollahs she had convinced herself that she had a license from God to steal my money. She would prey on my bank account and then go and pray five times a day. If I were God I would open my pants and piss on that prayer.
I also had a call from my son. This is my boy from the first marriage. I thought he called to make an apology but no – he answers me in his usual deadpan voice:
‘Dad I’m sick and tired of seeing you turning a blind eye and ruining yourself.’
Last time I had a drink with my boy I said the best drink is the one you have with those you love. His eyes turned red and he went quiet and started niggling:
‘Dad, why did you leave me like a cat with food in the house when I was four?’
I told him that wasn’t my fault; that, my friend, was his mother’s wrongdoing. She left me with three kids on my hands. I had to go to work and keep my job. In a city of strangers, and no family there was no one to help. Then he said:
‘Why leave the house? Why leave my sisters and I in care of that evil woman? She groomed my sisters for her dirty father; she called them whores and tore up their diaries.’
I said lucky they were smart enough to protect themselves from your stepmother. I thought we were going to have a pleasant drink and for once forget the past. I kept away from the house because of my job. This was the job that put food on the table, and when I said that he went completely berserk.
Then I said at least he is not alone, his sisters are batty too. He moaned again:
‘I scrubbed floors and built my life on my own. I don’t owe you anything’, he said.
Thanks I said; good for you. Look at you, the big professional. Earning a living was character building. Besides you know damn well your stepmother took control of my finances, and you are forgetting a little thing called a revolution, war followed by poverty?
Ok I admit that I was like a piece of clay in her hand but I can’t change things now can I? So can we drink please?
Both my wives are in my black book of retribution. Mind you, after Fariba my first ex was betrayed by her lover-turned-husband, when she stood in my daughter’s living room one day and right in front of our grandchildren dowsed her dress in kerosene, lit a match and turned aflame, I crossed her name out. She paid with her blood.
Fariba was a beautiful woman, but when I saw her in that hospital I didn’t recognise her. When they called me to go over I still had the picture of her as a young woman that I once loved. I then remembered the breakup, and the way she tore her pearl necklace in front of my elderly uncle shouting: ‘nobody gave me a choice. They forced me to marry you.’
She said that with such scorn. It was as if we never shared a life and three beautiful children; as if I never kissed her tummy when it grew to the size of a melon or smiled at her adoringly when she passed wind or threw up; it was as if we were never two young lovers embracing under a thin summer sheet. When I saw her like that I thought did she not know the sweet scent of charred flesh was not just hers?
She died a day later and I mourned her for two days, but no more.
My boy doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand my childhood. I had to stand outside my mother’s house waiting for a plate of food like a beggar. Her husband would chase me and call me a bastard like I was a stray dog.
This is what happens to orphans.
My grandfather the diplomat was shot by a sniper’s bullet and then they poisoned my poor father. Whoever did this was doing it out of a grudge, but we never found out who could carry such hate.
I would still have been all right if it hadn’t been for my bad relatives. I’m not going to tell you what they did to me. That is locked away and I’ve thrown away the key. All I say is that they left me with this lopped off earlobe.
I put my mother’s husband’s name in my black book too. The bastard used to chase me with a stick and when he was old and had cancer he came to me for help. I couldn’t stand outside his house. He didn’t call his children; he called me in his time of sickness. If I die and there is a God asking me questions I’ll throw him my black book and say: Here you are, you deal with it. Go and do your checks and balances before you judge me, but God I judge you. I judge you God.
I’ve talked a lot – so why are we here on this ship? It isn’t every day that you and I sail on this extraordinary ship. You – my other self, you the man I should had been.
Here I was watching TV in my room. You know there is only so much of watching juvenile bad singers and lunatics locked in a house on TV I could take. The singing was almost as bad as my second wife’s singing. She sang like a housefly trapped in a toilet. I told her that once but she couldn’t take a joke.
I had a Kebab take-away and a walk down Kensington, and I tried to calm the pain in my legs but couldn’t sleep. So one minute I was sleepless, and the next I am here with you on this ship and catching up where we left off.
By the way, do you remember the last time we spoke? On that occasion we had an exchange; as far as I’m concerned that’s all forgiven and in the past. The truth is I enjoy talking to you and I have always admired you. You did well for yourself. You did well with the life you stole from me. No grudges though friend.
On my last Kebab night I watched you in your world with your wife and your great granddaughter. You were standing by the Hafiz Mausoleum eating that wonderful ice cream. The one sprinkled with almonds and frosty clotted cream. I followed you as your son drove you to your state. Lovely mansion you inherited. With those apple, cherry and pomegranate trees all heavy with fruit and the roses in full bloom it looks quite a place; it was very picturesque.
Then your wife -your childhood sweetheart if I remember – yes the two of you walked along a stone path next to the evergreens.
That was a colourful feast you had with all your family present. I kept watching. Just like you I like drinking tea in a slim waist glass cup and slurping sugar cubes from the side of my cheek. You laughed to tease your daughter.
Was it the best-of-five backgammon? She almost had you. I do the same with my daughter when I fly over to Sweden.
Your wife found an old pearl necklace in a box and decided that this is one of the many wedding gifts for your granddaughter, and I think she also found old letters. She had tied them with a red ribbon.
Then your son impressed me. Your son seems like a fine boy. I saw him put large pillows and a Kelim on a wooden bed under the shade in the garden for you.
You always sleep with the SW radio broadcasting the British shipping forecast.
So… given all that…it was a shame my friend.
It was a real pity that in your sleep you had a stroke. Trust me when I say this; nothing would have saddened me more. I’m not sure how you would have taken your locked-in syndrome, so here you are for once immobilized and speechless and listening to me, to me who would not shut up. Here we both are, and once again aboard this ship. Just like when we were young. You and I, the doubles from different worlds once again meeting in the forecasting ship.
I think this is going to be a fair exchange; this will be our last exchange, and the last trip.
What do you get I this exchange? I give you these workingman’s hands, old legs and an old heart, it’s a good ticker. The right eye, not the left because that’s my lazy eye and it is still in good use. You can do as you please with the rest. Everything is as you left it but a lot older. This body can be left in an oven when it is done; who knows perhaps the eyes would finally see the light!
Why do I want this exchange? Why would I want to be motionless and just manage to shake my head for the rest of my life? That’s my business. But I’ll tell you this for free: this is not an exchange for anyone else, and I won’t pretend that it is out of compassion. No my friend, dear as you are this one is for me.
I’m sure you’ll find our world amusing. It was your world once but you were then a mere child. Apart from people riding hornless unicorns, you might laugh when you find that Ronald Reagan the B movie actor was president, or that we had a revolution in Iran and the last people on Earth became our first people, or that unlike your world the Shiraz wine is made everywhere but in Shiraz. We have TVs that show a lot of nothing, and these shiny tablets of all sizes that steal people’s glance from the beauty of the world.
If it gets cold in the apartment turn the dial on the heater anticlockwise and click the igniter twice.
Before we go just answer me this- please blink once for no and twice for yes. Does she – does your Fariba after years of marriage look at you like she still loves you?
Ok – come on; let’s not get too emotional. I don’t want to see your eyes wet. Please let us part well. I know I’ve talked a lot. Let me help you finish your drink. I shake your hand. I’m sure you have the same sentiment if you could move your arm.
The choices are just like the last time that you described it to me when we were very young boys. When this ship has circled the British Isles and it sets anchor I’ll become you, and you’ll be me and the only way to stop that is for one of us to drop the other on that propeller. I didn’t have the guts to jump and hold on to what was mine then, but this time I’ll be damned if I stop our final swap.
Ramin Tork 2nd Sept 2013
copyright (c) Ramin Tork All rights reserved.
A day earlier in Abadan our passports and tickets were ready for collection. Dad spoke to this guy in the ticket office who dropped the word OK in every one of his Persian sentences. He had a poster of palm trees on the wall. Who puts posters of palm trees of some other city in a city full of palm trees? He was what we called Gharb-Zadeh which meant western wannabe. On that last day I was keen to keep my daily ritual and cycled under the heat of the Sun, in our city of Mahshahr. Mahshar meant moon city. I passed Mahnaz’s house and peeked through the mesh wire window. She wasn’t there, shame. Why was it that when things were getting better something always changed? Only a fortnight earlier I wrote her a note, sat next to her in the cinema and dropped it in her lap. When she saw me next she blushed. Her cheeks turned red like inside a cherry pie and I’m guessing they probably tasted the same. I knew then that if I persisted I could get a taste of her. I put my best shirt on. It was a lost cause but it wasn’t just for her I was saying goodbye to the neighbourhood. The heat melted the road and left my tyre track behind. At least the road kept a trace of me. You could fry an omelet on that asphalt but I was used to that heat even though my skin had turned deep brown and peeled like a potato. The swimming pool chlorine had lightened my hair and I thought I looked cool! I passed the market. The vegetable market had fresh coriander and the mechanic’s shop smelled of diesel and grease. My friend Ali was home. Unlike me he was a town boy. At school I hanged out with the town kids just as much as I knew the kids from our part of town. Town kids called us the refinery kids. I didn’t care much for such differences. Ali went puppy faced but kept quiet and just wished me luck. Ali’s Mum offered me lunch, smiled and wished me luck, but I didn’t stay. I passed the fishmongers and the smell of freshly backed bread further up market made me hungry so I headed home. I reached the rose gardens of the English houses of our road and circled the Helipad where the king had once landed for his visit. On his visit I’d peeked inside the Helicopter now I was going round the H three times for good luck. I had my lunch and had a short nap. The summer days were long but that day was going too quickly and I was slightly disappointed. My life was about to change and I expected a bit more fuss from friends and family. Surely someone cared that I wouldn’t be there the next day? Then it happened. Ali hadn’t gone puppy face because he was keeping a secret. He wasn’t good at keeping secrets but that day he did a good job. The kids had organised a surprise visit. They all turned up at once, or at least the best of my friends the seven of them came to say goodbye. Mohsen the eldest of all of us was a poor kid who along his education had started to be a coach driver’s assistant. This had caused a bit of interruption so he’d repeated the year but otherwise that kid was a really bright. His favourite occupation was to make bamboo shoots burn a few holes and turn it to a flute for his buddies. He was a great musician but that day he was a coach driver. He’d borrowed his uncle’s coach, picked each one of them at their homes and beautifully parked the coach in the col-de-sac where we lived. It wasn’t just for me, it was for them too. They wanted to look me in the eyes and see how it felt to be going somewhere and living a dream. I should had kept in touch but didn’t. A lot happened after that point. A war swallowed up a million kids. Rich or poor many people left the country but I hope my magnificent seven, the seven friends, the town boys that I once had as genuine friends had grown to be happy men and I hope wherever they are that they had a good life. Life did turn out to be like a dream. The thirty-six years have gone fast and nothing like what I expected.
You left with tears staring through the window
came back and stole a glance through the bars and smiled
You watched me as I played,
the four-year old boy that I was but no longer yours.
Troubled and wary, you came for a visit
You dared yourself, stole a touch that softly brushed my chin,
the ten-year old boy that I was but no longer yours.
You stayed with us for a week, familiar yet with a distant look
we said very little and moved as strangers through the corridors
but before you left you sang with a broken heart and I listened,
The twelve-year old boy that I was but no longer yours.
Discretely and away from the crowd, I saw you in a Margate restaurant
with a sigh you watched me before you left for London
as the eternal gypsy you’d left Toronto, you left for Tehran.
The fourteen-year old boy that I was but no longer yours.
They said you were lost for days in Hyde park
lost your handbag, lost your mind, lost your taste for this life.
They said you received my letter, the first and last before you died.
They sent me a picture of a stone, some carnations for good cheers but lost amongst other stones.
Now here I am, with half of my life gone,
and I see your lost look in my daughter’s eyes.
Strangely I still feel that brush against my chin.
Still you steal a glance through the lost forest of my thoughts.
Strangely I’m still truly yours.
When her majesty becomes your virtual sweet grandmother. When she enters your surreal world and parachutes out to the crowd. When you grew up with Mr Bean and he makes you laugh the way he did the first time. When you know Brunel was not your Great Grandfather but you admire his spirit and feel like you are one of his sons. When you feel proud to see the march of suffragette and care when someone is wronged or if you see suffering. When your father did not come off the boat from Jamaica or India but like them you gave something back and you worked hard. When you know ceremonies was not there to make the world impressed, it just made everyone remember who we are and why we have a great nation or that we don’t want a thousand choreographed dancers we just put Bowie and Jagger on and have dancing in the streets for every nation, and when the love you get is equal to the love you give and no matter what your colour or creed you always hum Jerusalem as you hear it just like you breathe, and you are not afraid knowing the isle is full of noises or congestion could make the London Olympics full of poses take your place amongst us, watch the telly or watch it for real. Row when they row, dive when they dive and run when they run, and then, only then you have earned your place in old Blighty my son.