Tag Archives: Iran

Springtime in the Desert

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It has been long and ruthless this winter of 2014.  The winds blasting frigid temperatures into the air, hurricanes devastating entire areas of land and the snow relentless and silent, throwing blankets of ice over the world. While underneath hurrying footsteps nature is sleeping, patiently nurturing seeds and the promise of new life.

This much anticipated event called the Vernal Equinox is due March 20, a date announcing the grand celebration about to take place. Spring is here and the world will once again be painted in exuberant colors

01desert-loot-kalot-shahdad-10-88-01In March of 1976 I was living in Shiraz, Iran with my partner Ed. We had been teaching at the University and were anticipating the closing of schools to celebrate the Iranian New Year or Now-Ruz, welcoming the year 2537. We planned to visit several cities, most particularly the village of Mahan and the shrine of Shah Nematollah Vali, the 14th century Iranian mystic and poet.

01death_valleyWe left Shiraz and headed east towards the desert cities of Kerman, Bam, Yazd and Mahan. Kerman was some 800 kilometers and 12 hours away from Shiraz, quite an undertaking for our little car, our Jyane, an Iranian version of the French 2CV Citroen. But lured by the history of these ancient cities we set out on the adventure accompanied by the hum of our mighty vehicle dashing into the enormous stretches of beige ripples of the Dashte-Lut desert. Then as if a magic wand had tapped into the horizon, villages appeared surrounded by mud walls crowned with blossoms and branches sparkling with tender new leaves. After a while I began recognizing almond trees, orange groves, wild pistachios with lavender heart shaped blossoms. I wondered how people survived here the rest of the year when everything is given up to the heat of a brutal sun. But this was springtime in the desert and all of nature was singing.  Here and there villagers appeared and women carrying earthen jars to collect water from a well. They walked about in striking dresses, their tinseled shawls fired by the noonday sun as they sat by some stream washing their aluminum pots and pans with earth then dipping them into the stream to rinse them out.

01springflower3We stopped for lunch next to a pistachio tree in bloom, their lavender hearts circled by white petals. We were overlooking a valley, above us a clear sky, and the stillness filled with echoes of the earth breathing.

 

The following poem was written in remembrance of Now-Ruz, 2537 in the Dashte-Lut desert, Iran.

My mind wanders
Over her photographs
A sequence of stories
Recorded on the road
Of time
In a land where
I gleaned
Mental jewels
And treasures

In a country
Once called Persia
I remember
A breath
Whispering
Spring is here

I remember
Pistachio trees
Dressed
In lavender veils
Flapping their colors
In the air 

I remember
Almonds buds
Transformed
Into bridal embroidery
Tumbling bouquets
Against crumbling walls
Cascades of flowers
Covering the sand
And branches
Beginning to dance 

I remember faces,faces
Silently watching
The transformation
Silent gazes
Watching
Springtime
Painting the desert
In Iran
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Isfahan – My Valentine

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Isfahan 1 Thirty-five years ago seems like the distant past but not when memories linger, not only in the mind but the heart.  At certain times of the year, especially around the celebration of Valentine’s Day I am reminded of a great love I left behind in the legendary city of Isfahan when I lived in Iran.

Isfahan, the very name conjures up the Arabian Nights and the greatness of the ancient Persian Empire.  Rulers and dynasties left their imprint on old stones transforming them into palaces, mosques, minarets, madrasehs (schools), gardens and bazaars with names that evoke the grandeur of the East and Shah Abbas one of its greatest rulers.

Names like the Maidan-i-Shah (the Royal Place), Masjid-i-Jam (the Friday Mosque),  Chihil Sutun (Pavilion of  Forty Columns),  Bagh-i-Bolbol ( The Garden of the Nightingdale),  and Ali Qapu, the glorious gate once the portal of the Shah’s palace, bewilder the imagination.I only stayed a few days to visit a friend. But that changed when I was   introduced to a man I would never forget. The French have an exquisite expression that captures that moment: “le coup de foudre” lightning striking.  I knew that when his green-gray eyes met mine the world shifted its axis.

Isfahan2We talked until the wee hours of the morning that first night and when the dawn began to clear the sky he asked if I would like to take a walk along the Zayandeh Rud, the river that could be seen a short distance from his house. We stopped on the way in a “ash-paz-khâneh”, a soup kitchen that opens up in the early morning hours for men going to work. It was still winter and the fragrance and warmth that emanated from the kitchen felt like some wondrous gift. When we reached the riverbank we took off our shoes and walked barefoot in the snow. I didn’t feel the cold, only the warmth of his being, the magic of the moment.

I left Isfahan not knowing that it would be for the last time. Although we met  some time later, fate had other plans for us.  He would remain the road not taken. Yet that moment in Isfahan seemed written in the stars.

For R…

Isfahan

 …There was The Friday Mosque
The Maidan-i-Shah Square
Twisted lanes leading
Into the old city
Domed structures and façades
Dressed in jeweled mosaics
 
…There was a madrasah
Nearby at the east end of the mosque
And behind the West Iwan
A winter hall

…There also was
The old bazaar filled with
Fragrant spices
The sound of hammers
Against the copper pans
The colors and flashes
Of the Arabian Nights 

…There was
The Maidan-i-Shah
And the palace of Shah Abbas
Where under the arches
Rivulets of golden stalactites
Were always in bloom 

…There were
Curves and arabesques
Bursting into space
Chihil Sutun, Ali Qapu
Wonders of the past
Adorning the present

…And then
There was you
And I
One morning
In Isfahan
Walking along the river
On the icy lace of the mist
Clothing the cracked face
Of the earth 

…And then
There was you
And the touch of your breath
Against mine
That eternal moment
In time
When your arms
Wrapped me into
The warmth of
Your beating heart
Before the rising dawn
In Isfahan

On Nostalgia and Inspiration

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On Nostalgia and Inspiration: The Month of May 2013

road_to_yasouj

Road to Yasouj

Perhaps it’s this time of the year that fills me with an overwhelming longing for the past. I feel the evanescent beauty of spring settling into a memory. Yet this melancholia stirring sadness inside me also inspires an awareness of feelings that transcend time. Everything changes, moves on as we must. There is no destination but the journey we are on and the heart is filled with desires that light the way. The beauty of this month of May, the fragile joy of once barren trees now adorned in emerald, and flowers painting the lawns with color will soon be torched with summer heat. And as I place this scenery into my mind, images of other spring times appear.

I am traveling in Iran where I lived for two years.  We were heading, my partner and I, for Yasouj a city in the Zagros Mountains. I was falling asleep, dulled by the humming of the car engine when the most unusual sight appeared out of nowhere.  Tribal women were squatting in the river that glistened along the fields stretching below the mountains. They were washing their clothes and rugs in the stream dotted with snow that had barely melted. We stopped the car to take in the breathtaking moment that I recorded in the following poem.

desert_in_iran

Desert in Iran

The Road to Yasouj

The cold breath
of the distant mountains
has melted
The tribal women
are washing
their clothes
in the icicle spotted
stream
just formed
around
their squatting shapes
cajoled by the froth
hitting the stones
they are touching

Silently their hands
are parting
the icy sheet
The brocade cloths
they have shed
colors the water
into exploding prisms
splintering
the winter face
of the river
into a smile

And I
passing by
must stay
awhile
to see
the magic garments
drying
in the arms
of trees
transformed
into
a tribal tapestry

© Mariette Bermowitz 2013

tribal_women_yasouj

Tribal women in Yasouj

tribal_women_iran

Tribal women in Iran

And when nostalgia captures my being again, I welcome it for it takes me back to places and moments that have filled my life with meaning. With summer approaching I am inspired to travel once more, to continue the journey, and welcome adventures where I can discover myself all over again.

spring_in_yasouj

Spring in Yasouj

flowers_in_the_desert

Flowers in the desert

celebrate-your-life-heaven'

Flowers in the desert.

Flowers in the desert

Sometimes we don’t have to travel very far to be inspired as with this poem I read while riding on the F train from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

                       Voyager

I have become an orchid
Washed in on the salt white beach.
Memory
What can I make of it now
that might please you —
This life, already wasted
And still strewn with miracles?

—Mary Ruefle (1952), Poetry in Motion

Shiraz, My Inner Awakening

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Shiraz street sceneI lived in Iran with my partner Ed for several years in the mid-seventies.  Pahlavi University where I taught, was within walking distance of our house. I looked forward each day to teaching French in the foreign language department, and Ed was thrilled with his position as lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine. Due to modernizations under Shah Reza Pahlavi, foreign teachers were welcome in Iran in the seventies. Many of my Iranian students were planning to complete their degrees in America, and already spoke English.

I loved my early morning walk down the dirt roads to Pahlavi University on Abivardi Boulevard. The clear air and bright sun, the outline of cypress trees against the sky, the chants calling the faithful to prayer, the smell of fresh baked bread were the impressions that lingered throughout my day. When I passed by our neighbor Farideh’s house, she always said befarmaid. I thought it meant hello, or have a good day, because right after she said it, she closed the door. Ed and I were officially invited in however, when Farideh’s famous cousin the Mullah came to visit. No one spoke English, yet somehow through sign language and much smiling we got to know each other.

I quickly picked up Farsi, learning a prayer from one of the janitors at school, and the baker who taught me a new word each time I bought a flat bread called nan. The vegetable seller added all the words I needed to know for buying vegetables. I was told to be very careful to wash the greens as they were often contaminated by the feces from the packs of dogs who roamed the fields at night.  Moslems considered dogs unclean and shunned them as pets.

When I finished my last class at two in the afternoon I went to Ed’s lab and waved to him from the door. If he didn’t waveNomad Girls back I knew he would not be getting out early and I faced a long evening alone. As soon as I reached the kuche, (street) where we lived, I took off my shoes. The earth felt so good under my feet, warm and tingling and alive. If Farideh happened to be standing by her window she’d warn me about the dirt and garbage. She didn’t approve of me walking barefoot in the street. She also let me know she didn’t think it was a good idea for a woman to stay home alone. “Too much time to think,” she’d say – khub nist – not good. But in the stillness of my surroundings I felt a fullness of being I had never known before. No radio or TV, no newspapers to divert me from my inner world.

Still, I was happier being alone after we adopted Buffy, one of the stray dogs picked up around the city, thus saving him from his fate in Ed’s research lab. Those beautiful brown eyes gleamed with love when I took him home with me. I told Ed I would feel safer having Buffy for company on those evenings he worked late. Buffy, named because of his dusty beige coat, could hardly walk on one of his hind paws. But I nursed him, and before long he was cavorting around the patio as if he owned it.

Nomad_from_GoogleOne evening when Buffy and I were alone there was a loud knock outside our gate and I saw the strangest group of people, the Quasghai nomads, surrounded by goats and sheep. One man was on horseback holding a chicken. The women were dressed in multicolored, multilayered skirts that glimmered in the waning light. They had been traveling up from the south for days on mules and horses with their flock of animals.  Shiraz was the first big city they had reached, and our house was the first one they came to. I let a group of two women and two men come into the patio to fill their jugs with water. As I watched them, I could barely suppress the urge to ask them if I could join their group. Oh, to travel with these proud strong nomads, so connected to the land and the animals, and leave everything behind! But instead of asking them to take me with them, I invited them to sit down and have some chai. When they were leaving I cut two roses for them from the garden. The women placed their hands over their heart in thanks, and with a swoosh of their beautiful skirts they were gone.

That month I put on a chador, the veil Iranian women wore in public places and went to see the Dervish or holy man who lived in the old caravanserai on the outskirts of town. I was certain that I knew enough Farsi to greet him and ask for his blessing. It was a long walk, and by the time I reached the twisted alley where the entrance was, I was covered with dust from the streets. An old woman with a face like weathered parchment led me through a large courtyard and up some stairs to a balcony. In the corner was a little man sitting with a large blanket draped over him so that I could barely see him.Dervish In my excitement walking toward the holy man I realized I had forgotten all the words I had practiced to say to him. I sat down on the first pillow I found and gathered the chador around me, waiting for him to speak to me. I waited and waited but the Dervish didn’t say a word. He didn’t even look at me. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the words I had wanted to say but the only thing that came to me was the overwhelming fragrance of freesia flowers growing in a corner. I don’t know how long I waited for him to look at me before I realized he was blind. How long I waited for him to speak before I realized he was mute. It wouldn’t have done me any good even if I had managed to remember my Farsi as he was probably deaf as well. Yet he had other senses at work, else how did he know I was getting up to leave? His right hand appeared from under the blanket that covered him and motioned to me. Then he placed his hand over his heart. Tears sprang to my eyes at this simple gesture. His face emanated love and kindness. I felt a great warmth spread through my body. I practically floated home. Words from The Little Prince, echoed in my mind “What is important is invisible to the eyes. You can only see well with your heart. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur.

And so it was that I had come half way around the world to meet a Dervish who transcended words, radiating love from his heart, fueling the love in my own.

From Mindele’s Journey – Memoir of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust

 

Pomegranates for Thanksgiving

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With Thanksgiving approaching and guests announcing themselves, I head for the bookcase where my cookbooks tempt me with fabulous titles. I bought several of them while traveling and living in foreign countries. That in itself allows me to reminisce and dream about the journeys that led me to learn about different foods, ingredients and fragrances that linger in the mind.

I choose from among the glossy covers tempting me, the fabulous cookbook by the Iranian born chef, Najmieh Batmanglij, entitled Silk Road Cooking. There, next to a dish of  Pilau (rice) infused with pomegranate seeds I am smitten by the sight of two crimson colored pomegranates. The appellation of the word comes from ancient French pomme grenate or crimson apple or more mysterious still, somber red.

Painting by Patrick Flynn

The first time I ever saw this tempting fruit was in a Flemish still life of the seventeenth century. I will always remember that open pomegranate in the forefront of the painting emptying its scarlet seeds and sensuous color onto a white porcelain dish. But it was in the Iranian city of Yazd that I discovered its origins.

I had traveled three hundred miles through a barren landscape to visit the last center of Zoroastrianism and learned that Marco Polo had visited this city on his journey from Italy to China in the thirteenth century. And it was in one of the quaint restaurants along a dusty main street that I first tasted Yazdi Polow , a rice dish from Yazd, with Khoreshe Anar(Pomegranate sauce).

Yazd, Iran

According to Najmieh Batmanglij, “The red pomegranate is native to Iran and the tastiest ones come from Yazd, where it has been cultivated for at least 4,000 years. It is considered the fruit of heaven; in fact, it was probably the real “apple” in the Garden of Eden. The ancients commended it. Among them were King Solomon, who had a pomegranate orchard. And the prophet Mohammed said, “Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.”

That being said, recalling my journey and exotic discoveries in Iran, fills me with sweet nostalgia. And so I will share that extraordinary gustatory experience with my version of Khoreshe Fesenjan (Pomegranate sauce) which may be added to either chicken or turkey for Thanksgiving.

Chicken or Turkey with Pomegranate Sauce

2 ½-3 lb fryer (cut up);  2 cups walnuts (finely chopped); 5 tbsp. shortening

3 ½ cups water; ½ tsp. poultry seasoning; 1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon; ½ tsp. pepper; 2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 large onion (finely chopped); 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice or

2-3 tbsp. pomegranate molasses; 2 tbsp. tomato sauce; 3tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. sugar; 2 whole pomegranates

Wash and prepare the chicken pieces (or turkey breasts) for frying. Sauté the chicken with seasoning in shortening until light brown on all sides. As an alternative method the chicken may be baked in a 350oF oven for 45 minutes instead. Put aside. Sauté the onions in 3 tablespoons butter until golden brown. Add tomato sauce and sauté for a few minutes. Add walnuts to the sautéed onions and sauté over a medium fire for about 5 minutes. Stir constantly and be careful not to burn the walnuts. Add water, seasoning, lemon juice, and pomegranate juice (or pomegranate molasses). Cover and let cook on a low fire for about 35 minutes. Taste the sauce and if you find it a little sour add sugar.  Arrange the sautéed chicken in this sauce. Cover and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Serve rice.

The trick to serving this beautiful dish is to cut the pomegranates into slices . Add some seeds into cooked rice, then place the rice  into a mold. When you remove the rice from the mold, the red seeds will add a beautiful touch to the rice crown. Arrange the rest of the pomegranate slices around the rice or use to decorate the chicken or turkey dish.

NOOSHEJAN       BON APPETIT