from Isfahan taught his adepts that life is like a circle. It keeps coming back
over and over again. On and on it expands outwards toward the distance in
concentric rings, like the circles caused by a rock thrown by a small boy on
still waters. It seems to fade away. Then, another boy and another rock, the
mystic said, and the process begins again.
Rome writer, Domenico Renzulli, watched the ripples of the war in Afghanistan
on TV and heard the news of the first inklings of the return of democracy to
Iran, he recalled the words of the Persian mystic. The rock musician of today,
he knew, was perhaps formerly a Mexican freedom fighter. Today’s liberal
politician might have been a revolutionary killer in another life.
Domenico felt that he was still the same “he” of over 20 years ago when he
experienced the revolution in Teheran. History had marched ahead, but he had remained
the same. His life then was another life – but, it has a way of coming back, he
told himself, repeating the mystic’s words.
people were speaking of globalization. Everyone said the world was getting
smaller and smaller. Domenico instead had come to feel that life was in
constant ferment and expansion. There was the ebb of life then, the tide of
life today. Isfahan! he said, and imagined the steady gushing of its old
fountains. He stared at images of destroyed Kabul and saw again Iran like
yesterday – the time when they wanted to turn back the clock. In his memory the
characters lived, now in another circle. Five persons, a revolution, and the
image of sparkling water rising against the background of purple mountains and
falling softly back onto the gardens of Persia.
day,” Domenico read in his now dusty Persian diary, “Hassan walked along Avenue
Shah Reza. Weak lights flickered in the October haze. It was quiet in the early
morning. In another hour traffic chaos would reign here. From the airport in
the west where its name “Eisenhower” resisted, the axis sliced like an arrow
through the endless city until it became in the northeast “Damavand”, the name
of the 6000-meter mountain hovering over the dry plateau of north Iran.”
had imagined then that gentle Hassan would have slowed his gait that morning to
savor the stillness. It felt good to be out of the crowded apartment where his
children were still sleeping. Now that they had carried the mattresses and beds
down from the roof after the summer season, the proximity of his big family was
preferred to be at work, in the dignified drudgery of the hotel that was one of
Teheran’s oldest. Though he might complain of the long hours, after serving in
the restaurant, the room service calls and cleaning the kitchen, he could look
forward to sipping tea with the others in the back of the breakfast room. And
the foreign guests were pleasant, always trying to make a civilized impression.
Though the salary was low, the tips were good, and he took home enough food to
feed to his family. Why, he was nearly middle class.
this avenue had witnessed recently, Hassan thought! Two, three million
inebriated marchers, their lances lifted toward the heavens, screaming for the
heads of the Pahlavis and waving their banners for the Ayatollah and the
Islamic Republic. One time Hassan too was caught up in the frenzy. As if in an
elusive flashback from a phantasmagoric dream, the memory of his own hysteria
surprised him. Those poor army boys up on the trucks, terrified of the maddened
city people, were afraid to come down on the streets. They were afraid to fire
on the people as the Shah’s special troops did the black day at Sepah Square.
mass death on the Teheran pavement the atmosphere had as if mutated. The
circles tightened. The “people” was exhilarated. Domenico wrote: “They learned
the lesson that the poor learn easily - how easy it is to die. And to kill.”
felt vertigo when he saw his neighbors act as if they already controlled the
country - it was too much for his submissive nature.
everyday he turned south into Hafez. He looked down the street to the walls of
the Russian Embassy. The tall crane had been there for a year. People said
radio transmitters were located in its control towers. Above him, the new
Belgian viaduct rose over the intersection with Avenue Shah, the few early cars
accelerating as they raced north or south. Now, everyone said they should have
erected the viaduct east and west instead to relieve the traffic converging on
the bazaar and money exchange areas at Avenue Istanbul.
bribes, he thought. Ah well, who knows which way is better? Maybe if we didn’t
have any oil at all there would be no problem and we wouldn’t need any of the
horrible bridges. Of course, there wouldn’t be any foreigners here either and I
wouldn’t have a job.
still working on the new streets. Workers were sleeping in the tents under the
viaduct. Gray-black feet stuck out of the openings, the canvas flapping in the
morning breeze. The great summer heat was over and they no longer worked at
night under the floodlights with the pounding jackhammers that made the earth
quiver and quake.
under the elevated expressway had changed. The small shops were submerged under
steel and concrete and the rumbling from the overhead traffic was torture for
the inhabitants of this new netherworld. He stepped over the open sewage ditch
that carried black liquids and garbage down the hill from the rich upper city
to the poor quarters below. He clambered over the unfinished traffic dividers
and walked through the entrance gate to the hotel.
Hassan,” said the old Armenian in the gatehouse, his right hand open over his
heart. “The night was quiet but they told me the students at the school across
from the Russians are already gathering. The soldiers are sitting up in the
trucks. Hopefully there will be no shooting today.”
there was violence at the university. Last night a hotel driver said that more
than 20 students were dead. This morning when Hassan passed the campus along
Shah Reza he could smell stale gas and feel the terror in the air. Tensions
were palpitating under the plaster of the avenue. Mystery and suspicion
smoldered under the tall trees up Khiabon Pahlavi to the north. No one knew for
certain what was happening but the whole city stunk of greater battles to come.
stopped inside the gate at the inception of the circular driveway. It was like
arriving home. He breathed in the tranquility of the morning shimmering in the
illumination of the Persian gardens. The trees, the flowers and the well-kept
lawns exuded a perfumed freshness, still moist from the evening watering and
the nocturnal mist. The geyser pushed water straight up, higher than the line
of the rear wall of the south Teheran oasis. The silver hung for a moment
against the pink eastern sky and reflected an incandescent red tinsel before it
collapsed and dropped limply back to the luxuriant grass.
smiled. He was aware of his good fortune. His only problem in these precarious
times was that rat, Mehti, who was beginning to make all their lives difficult.
blond foreigners were piling into a huge Land Rover parked near the entrance to
the south wing of the old hotel. “Salaam, Hassan,” an Englishman called out.
“What kind of hours are you keeping?”
nice young men, always polite, and they tipped him well when he brought beer up
to their rooms or made them sandwiches when the hotel restaurant was closed.
They worked hard. But how much money they all had! How long will it be before
our engineers can earn like they? he asked himself. But no, that’s for foreigners.
We Iranians will never have that….
go the Germans,” he murmured. Fifty kilometers up in the mountains everyday!
Maybe the boys driving the taxis are right. Do we really need all these
foreigners? But Mostafa should be careful. The way he talks to everyone. How he
will hang the Shah and cut off the heads of the SAVAK beasts. He won’t be
around long. Either Mehti will have him arrested, or he’ll disappear and we’ll
hear about him leading terrorist raids, killing … or being killed. All those
wild kids! No one has respect for anything anymore. Not for king, government,
Islam, Allah … for nothing.
third floor window Domenico had watched Mehti park his five-year old Paykan
near the back gate. As each time he slammed the door three times in rapid
succession before it closed well. A few more months like this one, Mehti was
thinking, and I can get the used Chevrolet they promised me.
warm,” he said to himself, more to practice his American English than comment
on the weather, which was perfect.
moment the muezzin from the small mosque behind the wall began calling for the
noon prayers. “You hardly finish your morning prayers before he’s up there
again exhorting the faithful to pray,” Mehti murmured. “And those black
chadors, absurd shadows of a past world, right now flitting around the bazaar
like so many ants. Faithful! Who knows how faithful we Iranians are?”
fucking day at this place, Mehti thought. If I could just move up to the
Intercontinental! Or the Hilton. Less trouble here though and I can’t complain
of the money. But even if I could afford a better car today, it would be
dangerous to be seen driving it what with all these revolutionaries around.
“Communists or Mullahs, it’s all the same stupid shit.” he said to
himself. “We’re doing so well now with our Shah and all the foreigners. Why
can’t they leave things as they are?”
morning, Mehti,” an Italian engineer called out. “Are you opening the bar now?
See you in a few minutes. OK? Eh, Mehti, thanks again for last night. My boss
was impressed that I got him such a nice room.”
nodded. The fifty- dollar tip was still in the service chief’s pocket. His
reserve of rooms saved for late unannounced arrivals was a good source of
income. Divided with the assistant manager and night desk clerk it still
amounted to several times his official salary. The Italians were his favorite
for they never arrived with reservations.
I will order your drink for you. And we have some pistah today, just for you. Va
bene?” A little thing like a bowl of the pistachio nuts in short
supply changed a relationship with a client. Allah knows how much he had earned
since he had laid in a supply of these Persian nuts just for the Italians.
was still over his heart when he turned toward the main entrance, only to stop
short at the long figure of Mostafa sprawled out insolently over the steps.
Mehti’s obsequious smile vanished. He thrust a hand in his jacket pocket.
Mehti!… Salaam aleikum! Khále shomá chetoré?
And how is the big boss today? Good you could make it down to the office. What
hours you keep! Have you already submitted some juicy denunciations this
morning about everything we bad rebels said yesterday?” Mostafa’s sardonic
smile was more menacing than ever. The long slim driver lifted himself slightly
on one arm, pulled at his scraggly beard, and picked his nose obscenely.
Mehti, do you know what you’re doing? Save yourself Mehti! You know where
you’re going to end up? Shot to death in some courtyard with your hands tied
behind your back – if you’re lucky. But then you might find your way to some
nighttime interrogation unit, to answer for your crimes. That would be
stared, mesmerized by the demon’s threats. That bastard. That smile. I’ll get
him yet. Mehti’s frown concealed both his hate and his growing fear of them.
Who were they anyway? That’s what was so terrifying, no one knew. Just the
riff-raff of the country, marching up and down the avenues. We’ll have to teach
them another lesson soon. Send another few thousand to the cemetery! That’s the
only message they understand. But he began to sweat. The fear prickled under
his armpits. Why, I could have him arrested tonight.… Him and his whole band of
bearded revolutionaries. They’d break in one night, up there on the hill at
Evin Prison. They all do.
don’t get any wild ideas. We’re waiting for you. If one person in this hotel is
touched, by the police or anyone else, you’re personally responsible.” There
was not an inflection in his steely voice. “We’ll bury you alive, Mehti.”
up Mehti’s legs. They had never gone so far. Something had changed. What did they really know about him? True, he
had been boastful of his power. Everything began to change after we shot
thousands of them last month, but only a few days ago they were still afraid of
me. This can’t go on. When is our government, the Shah, going to make its move?
What are our American protectors doing? You’d think they wanted the Communists
to take over the country again. We should never have lifted the 9 o’clock
curfew. We should keep the troops out at night. Shoot more of the
revolutionaries and they’d stay at home. After “black Friday” we had them on
the run. But we were soft. All that human rights shit!
through the lounges and the shop-lined corridors. He acknowledged the greetings
from the cleaning personnel with nods. Tall, dark and gaunt, his black mood
drew his Turkoman features into an eastern mask. What do these stupid people
understand? No wonder they are so backward, have been backward for centuries.
The leadership must be firm. We can’t permit them such childish excesses. We
have the power. We must use it.
of the breakfast room were wide open. Outside on the terrace café in front of
the fuming fountains, two American businessmen were drinking beer under the hot
sun. And they think we’re underdeveloped! Mehti thought. May their heads burst!
Inshallah! Ah now, there’s that little coward Hassan.
still drinking tea, eh!” he spat out. “Are you moonstruck, or are you plotting
again with your revolutionary friends out there? Stay away from them, Hassan.
I’m warning you. You’re in trouble. You march and scream in their
demonstrations – I know that – and I heard what you said yesterday about the
royal family, and the police too. You don’t know what you’re bringing down on
your head. The government will soon stamp out the revolutionaries. Everyone who
has been friends with them will pay for it.”
threw himself over the hood of the battered Opel, property of the Hertz Car
Rental Service in the hotel. He laughed, and slammed the metal surface with his
fist. The evening was developing nicely. It was pleasantly cool. It had been a
good day and he was pleased with himself.
me, Mafioso,” he teased Domenico who hung around with him and the other drivers
on some of the long evenings, “do you love my King? Our King of Kings, our
had tried to be diplomatic. He knew what his bosses expected of him, but he
realized what was happening around him, in the hotel, in Teheran, in Iran. He
smelled it. Sometimes he tried to tell the others. But none of the company
directors or the investors felt it; they were intoxicated by the brilliance of
past glories and the apparent permanence of the Pahlavi dynasty. They didn’t
want to know the reality. Their investments in the Shah’s Iran were too great.
There was no turning back.
company was over-extended - they had to make it. And this lousy regime had to
make it too. This will blow over, the foreign investors from Europe assured
each other. The Americans wouldn’t permit great changes along the Russian
border. There was comfort in that thought.
regiment of American Marines will set everything straight,” the director of
Domenico’s company said.
knew that under the surface major events were taking place. He felt the
national malaise. Foreigners seemed oblivious to the seething ferment. The
Americans didn’t want to know either; just in those days another major American
company had opened its activities in Teheran. Domenico had told his bosses it
was all wishful thinking.
how I feel, Mostafa,” he said. “We got rid of our kings long ago. But yours
have been around for 2500 years. Maybe you need them.” Porco Giuda, he thought, you don’t know
who’s who around here. Monarchists and Communists and Mullahs, Islamic
Fundamentalists and Islamic Marxists. I’ve got to live here now, Domenico
thought then, with whatever government. I have an apartment. My furniture is
arriving. I can’t afford to be kicked out by any of them! But I know they’re
going to crucify the Shah. And he deserves it. He was finished the day his
troops fired on the mobs on the square. And no Marines can save him. Who’s for him anyway, among the people of
this sick country? The people smell his fear. It’s infectious.
kings like we need slavery. Domenico, Mafioso, you must have heard what
happened today. We the people routed a detachment of his soldiers down on
Maiden Sepah. There were a half million people on the square. When thousands of
our women in chadors ran toward the troops, those poor boys threw down their
guns and joined us. We’re collecting the soldiers of this country – and the
guns too. The Shah’s army can’t stop us, Domenico. The Americans can’t stop us.
Mostafa. You know I don’t love your Shah. A good man? A bad man? I don’t know.
Maybe he doesn’t know everything. But his police are very mean.”
beasts,” Mostafa shouted, springing off the car. The word police, secret
police, SAVAK, sent him into a frenzy. “The SAVAK… look, look at these,” he
said grabbing Domenico by his shirt. He ripped some papers from his back
pocket. “Look at these photos. Those are the remains of something that was once
a human being before the Shah’s police got its hands on him. While he sits up
there in his Niavaran palace and receives his nice foreign guests and his
octopus family signs contracts with your friends! We found this mess on a field
behind the airport.”
of the tortured flesh photographed under bizarre night torches was transformed
into an energy of hate that made the driver’s left arm pump up and down.
before Mostafa’s eyes was the maddening image of his brother, the nightmare of
the agonizing body wracked by electric charges, one eyeball hanging out of its
socket, and the blood from his unrecognizable face and his sliced legs and
feet. “Take him away,” they had said to Mostafa, “we’ve finished with him.”
after night Mostafa’s teachers hammered into him that this was the natural
outcome of blood-sucking capitalist society. Change the structure of this
corrupt society. Rip the power from the hands of the Shah and his family and
the American capitalists-imperialists. Kill the dictator!
some meek people like Hassan asked. “But Islam? What about Islam?” “Well, yes,”
Mostafa replied, “but we Iranians are different. Islam is a total way of life.
It contains all that Marxism offers. We can be good Moslems and good Marxists
at the same time.”
Egyptian leaned forward on the piano stool. Holding his clarinet between his
legs he tested the ancient instrument. His blue Sicilian eyes bulged from his
round Levantine face before he found the key. Satisfied, he turned back toward
the tables and with a brief glance at Domenico began playing. His version of Les Feuilles Mortes was punctuated by
dramatic pauses after each phrase. The regulars in the room held their breath.
He didn’t like to play his beloved clarinet in front of so many people – it had
become so personal, so private – but his Italian friend had insisted.
Silence fell in the intimate room. A bar, sad
and lonesome, like all the hotel bars in all the African capitals of all the
former colonies they had sent Domenico to. A bar for lonesome lonely men. One
businessman sitting alone held his glass in mid-air as if considering the
evanescence of love and a woman lost somewhere in the past. American
technicians in dirty work clothes turned toward Eugene. A Frenchman in a far
corner stared vacantly and with a forefinger traced circular images in the
moisture of the plastic tabletop. A waiter with a tray loaded with drinks
paused in the doorway. The bartender stood motionless.
song ended Eugene just stopped playing. There was a moment of silence. Each
person seemed touched. Each was moved by the collective emotion. Everyone was
uncertain as to whether to applaud.
Eugene, grazie,” Domenico said sottovoce from the bench next to the piano.
strange times of changing curfews and sudden arrests and expulsions, the
intimate hotel bar was the evening headquarters for residents. Guests came and
went, unaware of the microscopic world where Eugene reigned each evening. He
was the Master of Ceremonies in Farsi, Arabic, English, French and Italian,
pianist and singer, sounding board for personal problems, and diagnostician for
oriental discomforts, which he treated with massive intakes of fresh apples.
golden boy of the big band days at the beginning of Iranian television, Eugene
had maintained dignity in his decline from national popularity. Memories,
Eugene often said, play tricks. Memories of those fat days during the flush of
his triumphant arrival from Alexandria laid the basis for his political
understand how it was then, Domenico. The country has gone to ruin now. It’s
the fear. The sadness. There’s no stopping the revolutionary movement. What are
they going to do with this great country, those guys out there in the courtyard
like your friend Mostafa? Stop time? This was a fantastic place when I first
came out here. I said then I would never leave. But I would today … if I knew
where to go.”
told him of a thin old Englishman who had sat out in the lobby all the spring
before, a vacant look in his eyes and whistling for hours on end, I Give You Bluebirds In The Spring. He was
broke and didn’t know where to go. Finally he skipped, carrying his two bags
through the cellars and out into the back streets. After 22 years, he sneaked
away with a one-way ticket to Manchester.
only because he had no money to eat with.”
“Foreigners and Iranians alike are leaving,” Domenico said. “Rich
Iranians in Los Angeles are buying residence documents just like they buy new
houses and new businesses. I met an
architect uptown in Darrous, rich, some relation of the Pahlavis, who just
opened his American branch in Washington, D.C. Anyway, Eugene, there’s always
music. You’ll always be in demand.”
count on it. Not my kind of music. These Moslem fanatics are unpredictable.”
it’s a special country. It gets in your blood. Not all the foreigners here are
rich. They’re not all here for the money. Like that Englishman. It’s something
else. You know what it is. Maybe
it’s the dry heat in the summer, or the cold winters, or those enormous purple
mountains. I’ve met people who’ve been here forever, like you, and they don’t
want to leave. Iranians are like Italians. They like to travel, even emigrate,
but they’re always drawn back home. They never leave completely.”
“But if the
Mostafas have their way, the ones escaping now with their money are not going
to be welcomed back.”
of Mostafa, he’s driving me up to the Hilton in a few minutes. My boss insisted
I drop in for a drink at 10:30! Revolutions or not, he always has his evening
drink at that hour. He rejects the curfew. I’ll try to get back for your last
song. What’ll it be?”
thought for a moment, then grinned. I think I’ll do I Give You Bluebirds.” He pulled the microphone close and
launched abruptly into Hello Dolly
to raise the spirits of the crowd of men-children. Eugene said that everyone
out here on the edge of civilization was lost and lonely, bound to the little
collective by a common spirit. They felt inadequate before the violence of the
history around them. With his songs and his wit, he could make them gay or sad,
reflective, sentimental, carefree, intoxicated, and sometimes also angry.
over. Hassan was sitting with the others at a table in the corner of the kitchen.
This was his favorite time. He was in no hurry to go home. There was still
time, before the curfew. Or before he didn’t know what. He was repeating a
story that Mostafa had told him that afternoon about a court scandal concerning
the Shah’s sister and a young tank driver who was now mysteriously missing.
“…then Mostafa started yelling he would hang all the Pahlavis upside down if he
at a noise and looked toward the door.
standing in the doorway.
still at it,” Mehti said. They’re all against me, the service chief thought.
That anarchist Mostafa wants to incite the staff against me and ruin my life.
This morning was the limit. Then all day those threatening notes in black
envelopes. And Mostafa’s cynical laughing. Laughing and mocking me in front of
the others. Well, this silly little waiter should know better. A phone call
from me and he will get his lesson.
out of the kitchen without a word to the frightened Hassan who stared at the
hear me?” Hassan whispered. “I wonder if he really is a police spy like they
swears he will get him soon,” a waiter said.
with his back to the crowded room. English, French, Germans, Americans and Italians,
businessmen, engineers and technicians, all mixed in artificial confusion, the
favorite self-protection in the face of danger. It was late for Teheran. Many
were smashed, the raconteurs and the listeners and the laughers alike. Iranian
stories circulated - stories about experiences with the crazy Persians, work
down at Bandar Abbas, the gas line to Russia, a fabulous new contract just
signed by a Greek company with good contacts at Court.
looked curiously at Eugene while he blew unrecognizable Alexandrian or Sicilian
folk phrases into his horn. Why didn’t he go home? they wondered. The curfew
had fallen over the city.
had returned ten minutes earlier. He was surprised to find Eugene still there.
He sat down on the nearby bench.
no longer aware of the room and its people. He had just heard about Hassan’s
arrest. His world, his past and his present were settling in dust around him.
It seemed it was only yesterday that he stood with his glittering clarinet in
front of his orchestra, confident and secure in his silver tuxedo, the oriental
corners of his eyes highlighted by make-up. The fleeting daydream images of
himself as the Middle Eastern Benny Goodman were always calling to him. He had
seen many things in Europe and Asia. He belonged to neither. Neither the
Christianity of his Sicilian father nor the Islam of his Alexandrian mother was
his. Neither Arab, nor European, nor Iranian. What, he wondered, was the
his horn and his soul wandered. A soul of mysticism and hedonistic rituals,
follower of the spice caravans of dreams and destiny.
brutes, the waiters said, had walked into the kitchen, and without a word first
smashed Hassan’s hands to pulp, then his head, and carried him away to
nothingness. Hassan’s time was up. While Eugene played the piano and sang love
songs and Mehti changed his tuxedo and drove his Paykan up to his house in
Abbasabad, the brutes destroyed a man.
desperation escaped through the clarinet. The curfew had fallen. At the same
moment he and Domenico saw Mostafa standing three paces away in the bar
entrance. His fists clenched, his scarf tight around his neck, the driver
grimaced in pre-eruption rage. He moved to the piano and stood over them.
can speak of his own cheap activities supporting this façade of a government?”
he said in a whisper. “Business?” he said to Domenico. “Art?” he said to
Eugene. “Who dares speak of civil rights? Forget your past glory, Eugene. It’s
unimportant. Forget all that shit that surrounded this whole rotten structure.
Forget that genteel society. Forget your genteel entertainment for all these
nice people in their Parisian fashions. Domenico, do you love my King now? My
Shahinshah who just took away that lamb Hassan. In a few hours he will resemble
the remains of my brother.
just want to live our lives. We know what to do now. We’ll find Mehti at home. Safe and secure, he thinks. After
‘their curfew’ this city belongs to us. Like the countryside and the mountains
belong to the people. Even the SAVAK is afraid after midnight. Tomorrow morning
Mehti still won’t be dead. Maybe for days he won’t be dead. I know that
torturing Mehti is not making a revolution. But we are men too. Today we are men.
I’ll do this for my brother, for Hassan, for those in the photograph. No,
Domenico, you don’t have to hate my King. You can simply go back to Europe.
This is our war.”
watched on TV the bombs fall on Kabul and the executions in the stadium, the
image of one half of mankind torturing the other half passed before Domenico’s
eyes, while, it seemed, the torturers tortured themselves for their own
inhumanity. The Italian knew then that Mostafa had been right. He and his
friends had to take care of it themselves. Allah help them.