June 21, 2013
Roses and Fruit Still Life by Henri Fantin Latour
I know my family now as they are today. I know less about them as they were. Sometimes when we are together stories gently rise to the surface bringing a low tide of longing for a certain place and time.
Photo by Fariba Rassa, All Things Persian
My sisters arrange flowers as if someone read poetry to them when they were children, as if their eyes have seen a different landscape. As each flower is placed, I imagine them as adolescents almost prepared to face the western world. Certain things seem second nature to them, like the bowl of fruit that magically remains plentiful throughout the day; it looks almost painterly. There is rice served with saffron, and brewed Cha-ee that is always waiting for us when we arrive. There is Persian mint, served with walnut and Bulgarian Feta in the morning, and pickled garlic that has been preserved for ten years or more that is served at the table for dinner. And so it continues to be a source of love to be with my partner’s family, and no matter how hard it is for me to slow down, I always do. There are four sisters and three brothers that were born in Iran. First and second cousins range in age from forty to over twelve months. Most of the children were born here and in Europe, but some of the older children were born or had summers in Tehran. My children are the last of the first cousins. They have one remaining grandmother, Mammon Bezourk, a teacher by profession and a poet who refuses to write any longer, but she still sees the world through a specific almost mystical lens.
Persian Miniature, Talking Tree
I didn’t know my family in 1970s Tehran before the revolution. Photos of men dressed in sharkskin suits, and my sisters sit self-assured in sundresses, these photographs ooze with style and ease. There are snapshots of weddings, rural picnics, and just hanging-out when they all lived and visited Baba’s house, my father-in-law who I never met. Baba, I am told was by trade a bio-engineer in today's world, or if I press, there is agreement when I describe him as a botanist. He lived with his family for a time in the lush Gilan province that is bounded by the Caspian Sea on the north side of Iran. At his home In Tehran, his orchard and garden were a sight to behold and a boundless source of his love. He would propagate roses, and teach his children to enjoy the simple pleasures, the cherry tree, the apricot, and the annub. This appreciation still resonates today.
Gilan Province, Iran: Masal
My niece, Baba’s granddaughter tells me of summer nights in Tehran sleeping outdoors on Baba’s balcony. Mattresses were thrown on the floor. Perfectly draped mosquito netting protected the children as they sleep. In the morning she would wake to the smell of tea prepared in the samovar, along with the smell of warm bread flooding the air. Memories of the perfect order of the day stirred as she described how vetiver shades, hot and dusty from the day were hosed down. She still can smell the water hitting the shades and how perfect the smell was. Her eyes closed and she looked like she was still searching for the smell. As she spoke one olfactive memory lead to the next, the certain way the earth smells in springtime, the particular smell of the rain in Tehran. All of this was left behind.
One sister in particular has always been one to smell the chocolate and the wine ever so delicately before indulging, and someone I deem as understanding the subtle power of fragrance. She is what I call a triple threat, a hot mix of intellect, instinct, and grace. Her eyesight has been declining since I have known her, and she confirmed the loss has intensified other senses, especially her sense of smell. The last time I visited, she called me to her room. She was about to apply the perfume that I gave her as a gift. When I arrived I saw her standing in front of the mirror impeccably dressed, wearing red lipstick. Her beautiful face was tilted back, just like in her wedding day photo, revealing her long neck as she pressed the atomizer down; she looked at me and said I knew this would make you happy.
–Valerie Vitale, Contributing Editor