This article is a true account of the author’s experience in Iran, where he spent 16 days of open-heart surgery, levitating from the Tehran of lush gardens and Dec.17’/Jan.18’ demonstrations to the dream drenched and rose-guarded tombs of some of the greatest among men in Shiraz, listened to the forgotten tongue of the dancing fire in Yazd, to discover in Bam an example of human tragedy unconquered.
This is Chapter 1 and it deals with the tumultuous time of troubles in Tehran and the reverberations of human drama that cast a silence as thick as a life of lies in Bam. Chapter 2 will attempt to lift our existential veil through – and by thinking alongside a woman whose indomitable longing for recognition left her no choice but to escape the country.
‘And though the whole world sink to ruin, I will emulate you, Hafiz, you alone! Let us, who are twin spirits, share pleasure and sorrow! To love like you, and drink like you, shall be my pride and my life-long…’ – Goethe
The taste of fear is the taste of another reality announcing itself
A staccato of explosions, as if from overly confident new years crackers. Red flashes in the incumbent evening. The engine mumbles its machine speak. I feel the air chase around my neck. Sudden action on the left, silence to the right. I just lean my head to the right for the blink of an eye – Teheran in silence, as if the vacuum of the explosions… my head zooms to the left, our three-way intercity highway suddenly gets swarmed with throngs of motorbikes fleeing the direction in which I and the stoic scooter taxi were heading. While they were pushing their way hastily alongside our scooter, he showed off his snakelike skills while I was walking fifty cm above the road against alien legs, knee dancing with knees, ankle kicking with ankles. The change in the air pressure and the sounds made those faces slow down before my eyes and I closed in on these faces as if I was observing with a wondrous surplus of time facial sceneries, many of them stricken with fear, some of them crying. Agony in their faces. Explosions again, heat swelled in my head, sweet flames form a punch in my stomach – it rushed to my head in an instant, it must have been a terror attack and we were still heading towards the blast scene, making our way in a panoply of shouts, gas, chaos. What was going on? Why did this Teheranosaurus not at least stop fighting against the continuous influx of rabid drivers and follow a higher mass-logic? The bursts of red light became ever more threatening and I slowly started tearing up as well, I understood in minutes what I should have grasped in seconds, these were flashbangs and my eyes were rioting because of teargas. I tapped on his shoulder and shouted ‘stoooop’ and added an angry ‘WTF’. The first gesture of order succeeded. While dismounting the bike for what felt like 15 seconds and oddly enough thinking about the breakfast I might miss, a world of sound and movement half-seen through movies, but never really felt, left me for a second willfully ignorant to the totality of this chain of events.
Adrenaline casts a shit in your pants or chisels a mad grin on your face. My brain went into masochist mode, joyfully swimming in this chaos, a chaos that forces the loss of control like our all invasive planetary gravity. But to let yourself fall into it did not make you hit the ground, it lifted you up. Little time to enjoy though. I refocused. I focused on three shades of grey and blue and black and just two reds, that of the flares and the seducing red light of a hip cafe… a stream of people like battalions were rushing on the sidewalks, half-covering my objectified being-safe-desire, while chanting anti-government slogans. I made a vigorous half-step, though I meant to have invested the energy for two steps. Half of the energy did not reach my leg. The energy of the missing action was redirected. What an urge. In a seamless meta-sequence of events, I started filming instead. Fear lending its hand to interest and lending itself again to hold my phone. Flickers of madness tried to save me from this stupid idea. I stumbled internally over myself. I shook. A cascade of human faces shouting and fleeing. The red light. I ran.
A dome of silence, a dome of music
An abandoned opera hall, a dome of music, an unfinished concrete monument to corruption and silence, stranded like a top-down clam on the edges of Bam, a city of former splendour, reduced to rubble in 2004 by an earthquake that sent shockwaves through the hearts of mankind. A terror that can still be sensed after in the dry pain, in the long-forgotten echoes of the lament of the thousands, that were heard and unheard and that are hovering hauntingly through the chambers of the wounded hearts of the people of Bam.
Memories, visual echoes, contained in tear-drenched photo albums. He saw my face and he asked me in – to see.
This old artist in his makeshift shed turned gallery next to the ruins of the once beautiful medina was doting his fingers to an image with Western rescue teams and dogs. ‘Haram… dogs’, he said with a spacious voice full of lament, stopping, swallowing, stopping, adding hesitatingly: ‘but if we would have had dogs in time, just a few days earlier… the Westerners came too late…, we requested them too late to come… so many could have survived, my daughter, my wife’, all buried for days, gasping for air, waiting for hope become fulfilled, yet all died in the silence between hope and its fulfillment… ‘they (the dogs) could have saved these people. This was Bam (pointing at the ruins of a destroyed city while going carefully with his elephantesque fingers over picture after picture)… and here my daughter and wife…(the dogs again, he immediately stops) they are helping us, why do we disgrace them, why do we think of these animals as impure?… Why?… what happened to us at Bam?’ His eyes kept asking me long after. ‘The words you speak become the house you live in’. – Lesan ol gheib.
The lament of the old man left me struck with a confused grin and a slow and bowing goodbye. Bam, after all these years, is still kept under a dome of Persian silence. The city seems to have become a dome of silence protruding from the inverted gasping speechlessness, whose speech nevertheless robs your very breath. Silence – unbearably thick. Unbearable. Sick. A people, bereft, denied, silenced. This ancient Persian art of casting forth through beautiful voices, in dancing flames, from the Zagros mountains to the deserts of Balochistan the unarticulated lament of the millions of materially and spiritually downtrodden came upon me as the incomprehensible tragedy of our thinking.
It is in this shared fate where we shall meet Hafiz & Goethe again, these two poets, their anti-tragic thinking, meet in the amalgam of human existence, they create onto the human condition of the dome of silence an external surface, one onto which we can climb and sail the sail of freedom.
‘A shattering voice,
Broken by impeding stones,
A dark veil of shadow in the forgotten home (…)’
…this poem is the beginning of the second part of the story that will feature in the next issue of the magazine, it is to collect the traces and may create a way of understanding about what it means to love in Iran. And it will be this brave Iranian woman atop the dome in Bam, as seen in the previous image, who, at this point of time is living as a refugee in Antalya, Turkey, who will be the protagonist of the second part of this story. A woman torn between family and love, between tradition and hope, she is prohibitively lifting her violet veil as a sail, in order to follow the wind of the Pharmakon of Love.
Cover Photo: Persian dreams | Photo courtesy of Hendrik Steinort