Sunday, October 2, 2011

Life for us in the Shah’s Iran

Life in the Shah's Iran

Marty poses for her picture, taken on the roof of our home in Northern Tehran, with the snow-covered Alborz mountains in the background.  The Shah’s Niavaran Palace is just to the right of this picture, about 500 yards away.

            We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived one night at Mehrabad airport in Tehran.  We had flown on PanAm Flight 002 from Paris. In those days (1970) PanAm flight 002 went east around the world, and PA001 went west. 
            Here we were, a family of five, with children ages 12, 9 and 6.  Our sponsors, a U.S. Navy couple, met us at the airport and helped us gather our many bags and loaded them into a van, and away we went toward the city. 
            Two things we noticed as we raced along a good highway:  there were numerous men going to the toilet right by the roadside; and there were several scenes where two cars were stopped on the road, and their drivers were out fighting each other.
            Along the roadways we saw many people walking, with women in black tent-like chadors covering themselves and men wearing shabby sport jackets and little hats on their heads like half a tennis ball.

            Life in Tehran was pleasant for us Americans.  The guy with whom I worked most closely, Lieutenant Colonel Barney Rudden, USAF, was a very wise Air Force Navigator who joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. He had a brilliant sense of humor.  You could take the pressures of living in a very foreign environment like Iran two ways: You could gripe and moan about the differences----  or you could take time to enjoy them.
Persians’ view of “organization” and “order” was completely out of kilter to our western eyes;
Persians’ idea of “time” was remarkably flexible.  If someone told you that he would have your toilet repaired by tomorrow (farda), it could mean next month. That was usually followed by "Inshallah", meaning, "If God wills..."

[Recently Iranian Prime Minister Ahmadinejad told NBC co-anchor Ann Curry that the imprisoned American hikers would be released in a couple of days, Inshallah.   Curry and others at NBC seemed amazed that nothing happened after a couple of days.  It turned out that the Persian hierarchy was going through a little kabuki exercise, and in fact the hikers were released over a week later.  In the American world, if our leader said “two days”, everyone would move heaven and earth to make it happen.  In Iran, it just would not be that important.]
We invited Commander Ansary-Fard, my Iranian Navy counterpart at the Iranian Defense Institute, and his girl friend, for dinner at eight one night.
They arrived at midnight.  The roast beef had shrunk. But they didn't mind, and we got over it.
            Some Americans and Brits in Tehran would always gripe about the Persians’ attitudes toward order and time, but it was more enjoyable to just live with it.  

            Barney rented an apartment near us, and soon found out that an Iranian family in an alley nearby had hooked up to his electrical circuit, so he was paying for their electricity as well as his own. 
            We found that most Iranians (or Persians) were not too familiar with electricity.  Many still lived in homes lighted by kerosene lights, and heated by little kerosene burners. When the electrician visited us he had no problem checking for the presence of a live wire in our walls by touch.  That was 220 volts he was playing with. 
            Iranian drivers were fiercely combative, and you’d see many traffic accidents where neither driver would give way, and they would collide right head-on, then get out and fight with each other.  That was what we had seen on the way to the airport our first night, and what we saw many times during our two years there. 
            These fights usually were more shouting and yelling than actually throwing punches, but they tied up traffic tremendously, and Persians didn’t seem to mind. 
Wetting Down Party.  It came time for me to be promoted to Commander, and General Twitchell, the boss of all the American military in Iran, invited my wife Marty and me to his office for the promotion ceremony. 
A few days later, in accord with Navy tradition, we put on a large “Wetting Down” party at our house. I hired a band to play typical Iranian music, but my instructions for them to appear in traditional garb got lost in translation, and they showed up looking like the lowest caste of mards, or plain, peasant men.

Qashqai* man, in traditional felt hat
[Qashqai  قشق  are traditional nomadic sheepherders, living around Shiraz, in central Iran.]

We rustled up some typical costumes for them from our collection of colorful Persian peasant dress, which included half-ball felt hats, and such, and sent them down to the nearby bathhouse to get cleaned up.  When they returned, and started playing on their instruments (Tar, Ney, Daf, Tanbur and Ud, I recall) I asked the bartender to take care of letting them have drinks, to “relax” them. 
That was a big mistake. 
We had about 60 guests—American, British, and Iranian, including some Iranian generals.  Marty had prepared roast Rock Cornish game hen, and our houseboy, Mehrab, was leading a group of people we’d hired for this event, and they had laid out all 60 roasted game hens on the floor of our kitchen, and were putting them on plates, spooning out heaps of rice from a large pot, and at the same time unmolding the molded salads that went on separate little plates.  In typical Persian fashion, they were all on their haunches in the kitchen, with the floor completely covered with food and plates.  You couldn’t even walk in there!
The guests were enjoying cocktails, but the bandmembers were enjoying theirs more, and the wailing Persian music got wilder and louder.  The man pounding on the tambourine-like Daf was trying to drown out the men playing the stringed Tar, Tanbur and Ud, and the man playing the flute-like Ney was wheedling and wailing away.
Dinner was served on our patio, around the swimming pool, and there was more music, but as the waiters were clearing the main course, they got in the spirit of the wild music and started a Persian Napkin Dance. They whisked napkins off the laps of the amazed guests and began to dance around the guests’ tables, waving the long, white starched napkins.
We got the waiters to return to their duties, and to serve a big cake celebrating my promotion .  When it came time to “wet down” the new Commander, the guests had the privilege of throwing me, fully clothed, into our swimming pool.  In Navy tradition, the “wettee” has the privilege of dragging as many others in as he can.
The Persians were delighted.  Seeing all these Americans being pushed into the pool, the music got louder and louder, and they began pushing waiters into the pool.  The senior U.S. naval officer’s wife, in her nice cocktail dress, got thrown in, her wigpiece came loose, and she yelled, “Help, I’m drowning!”
At that, my driver Tadzhik, an Iranian sergeant, nicely dressed in a pin-striped suit, and standing by the pool, jumped in to save her.
Finally we got the band to quit, and the party settled down to a peaceful end. 

The Persian People: Iranians are wonderful people.  Yes, they view organization and time differently than we, but they are friendly, cooperative, and intelligent.  We got to know many Iranians from generals and admirals down to soldiers and sailors, and businessmen, professors, and working men and women. 
They want the same things for themselves and their families as we do, which includes a good education for themselves and their children, and a chance to earn a good living.  I never met one who wanted Iran to return to the “old days” of the seventh century, or who was so wrapped up with Islamic fundamentalism and ideas of Jihad that he was incapable of working with others to build a better Iran.  Those were the people we met when we lived there, and likewise Iranians we have met since then, including many who still live in Iran
 Photo of Marty and me on the road to Esfahan

Here are some newspapers and books from The Personal Navigator:
Bunker Hill
Revolutionary War: History of the Siege of Boston, and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, also an account of the Bunker Hill Monument, Illus. Second Edition by Frothingham, Jr., Richard 1851 Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown. Author produced this book after he completed his History of Charlestown, MA, using many original sources, and it contains a very interesting 40 x 48 cm. fold-out map of the action at Bunker Hill, by Lieut. Page, which was originally published in England in 1776 or 1777. Fascinating account of Revolutionary War battles in and around Boston, the raising of the American army, evacuation of the British, General Howe, Debate in Parliament. There is a 22-page History of the Bunker Hill Monument, and an appendix.420 pp. 14.5 x 23.5 cm.  Cloth on board, blindstamped with gilt medallion front and back; medallion on front is bust of Washington, and on back cover is medallion showing the Recovery of Boston, March 17, 1776. Spine is torn for parts of front and rear hinge and inside front hinge is cracked.  There is a six cm closed tear in large foldout map of Plan of Bunker Hill Battle, and Plan of Boston and Environs is loose.  Plan of Boston facing Title page is missing.  All other maps and illustrations are present. Fair. (5782) $180.00. History/Revolutionary War/Boston.

Massachusetts: History of the Paper House, Pigeon Cove, Massachusetts-- Collection of postcards in folder  ca. 1930 Pigeon Cove, MA:  Ellis F. Stenman began in 1922 to prepare newspapers  for constructing walls of this house (215 thicknesses); also furniture, including a piano; also a fireplace. Grandfather's clock is made of paper from the capital city of each state in the Union. He used about 100,000 copies of newspapers in construction of house and furniture. 9 x 15 cm. Paper folder and three unused black-and-white photograph postcards, very good.  (5847) $19.00. Travel

New Orleans Old City, The    by Morris, Edwin Bateman ca. 1950       Washington, DC: Edwin Bateman Morris 30 pp. 17.6 x 23 cm.           Interesting, very unique book of sketches by Edwin Bateman Morris (1881-1971), an architect, author and sometime playwright.  Sketches and description of sights in Vieux Carre. Cover drawing is Patio Door at 731 Royal St.; also, Court of the Two Lions, Old Absinthe House, Pirates Alley, Napoleon House (actually was Mayor Girod's house at the time of Bonapart's escape from Elba).  Also Antoine's, Iron Balconies at Royal and St. Peter Streets, Architects' Offices at Pere Antoine Place, Daniel Clark Patio where Andrew Jackson was welcomed in 1814. "Perfect Stairway" at 623 Toulouse St., St. Louis Cathedral, also rudumentary map of Vieux Carre, more.     Paper booklet, very good.           (8193) $39.00.  Travel
Sketches of Universal History, Sacred and Profane, From the Creation of the World, to the Year 1818, of the Christian Era: In Three Parts with appendix and Chronological Table of Contents. Third Edition. Butler, Frederick, A.M. 1821 Hartford, CT: Oliver D. Cooke. Frontispiece engraving depicts Nebuchadnezzar's Vision of the Image. Author Butler seeks to tell the story from the Creation onward, including Noah and his Ark, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Passage of the Red Sea, Destruction of Ninevah, Siege of Tyre, Clovis, Kingdom of Almansor, Rise of Popery, Luitprand, Gregory II, Edwy, Elgiva, Dunstan; Canute the Dane; illustration of Pope Alexander II compelling Frederick I to kiss his great toe; King Richard; Queen Philippa; Wat Tyler's Mob; Capture of Constantinople; William and Mary; Congress of Aix-La-Chapelle; Settlement of North America; Congress of 1774; Retreat of Gen. Washington; Capture of Gen. Burgoyne; Admiral Degrasse; Illustration: Washington on the auspicious 4th of March 1789.War with Algiers. Intrigues of Charles XII.Peter I enters Petersburg in Triumph. Louis XVI. Revolution. Jacobins. Castiglione. Fall of Kell.. of Mantua; Berlin Decree; Capture of the Emperor Napoleon. Table shows Sovereigns of Europe, including England from Alfred to Regency of the Prince of Wales; France from Clotair I to Lewis XVIII; Spain from Visigoths to Ferdinand; Russia from Peter I to Alexander; Germany from Charlemagne to Francis II. 407 pp. 11 x 18 cm. Calf on board with gilt  title on spine, cover worn and rubbed, spine worn and flaking, text block heavily foxed, fair. (2763) $36.00. History

Krupskaya, Lenin’s Wife

Social-Democratic Movement in Russia, Materials [Sotsial-Demokraticheskoye Dvizhenniye v Rossii] In Russian; Volume One;  A.N. Potresov and B.I. Nikolaevsky, Editors, Russian Reprint Series. 1967. The Hague, NL: Russian Reprint Series.  1967 Reprint of Original 1928 Volume One of Collection of letters of the early Communist movement in Russia. Foreword by P. Lepeshinsky. Many letters to Potresov from all the old Communist intellectuals, (1896-1904): Vera Zasulich, Rosa Luxemburg, Y.O. Martov, V.I. Ulianov-Lenin, P.P. Maslov, V.A. Ionov, V.L. Shantser, G.V. Plekhanov, A.A. Sanin, M.I.Tugan-Baranovsky, N.I. Tugan-Baranovsky, V.V. Vorovsky, P.B. Akselrod; Letters from Akselrod to the Munich Section of the "Iskra" Staff; Nazezhda Krupskaya to Akselrod  and to Vera Zasulich; Akselrod to Martov; Zasulich to Martov. Also text of many early documents: "Materiali o Raskolye 'Soyuza Russkikh S-D.' Zagranitsei v 1900 g."  Question about the International Conference in the Soviet Party (1904). Also about 70 pages of Primechanii (Notes). 410 pp. 15 x 22 cm. Green cloth on board with gilt lettering, very clean and fresh.  (2990) $66.00. History/Russia

Stanley--His Great Eighteen Hundred Mile Journey Down the Lualaba, with map; Eight pages from The New York Herald of November 14, 1877 by Stanley, Henry M. 1877 New York, NY: New York Herald. Two full pages plus additional column, devoted to story of Stanley's journey through the Congo; Discouraged by timid Arabs at Nangwe; Terrible Tribe of Cannibals dispute the way; Perils in region of the cataracts; Brave Frank Pocock--graphic picture of the young Englishman's untimely death; Lost in the whirlpools. Includes map showing travel of Stanley and Cameron from Zanzibar to Benguela (Cameron) or Yellala Falls and mouth of the Congo (Stanley).  This Quadruple page section of paper contains much more on other subjects. 8 pp. 38 x 56 cm. Eight-page "Quadruple Sheet" still uncut,  3 x 3 cm hole at intersection of folds, does not affect text. Fair. (7075) $29.50. History/Africa   

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1 comment:

  1. I envy you for both the experiences you've described here of your Iranian tour, but probably more for having taken the time sometime after the events to write them down, so you could relive the good parts. My memories are spotty at best, and it appears, at least sometimes, not memories at all, but some wild 'might have happened' events. Thanks for sharing.