Monday, May 14, 2007

Iranian Experience (4)

Tehran's 20th International Book Fair

To be able to go to Tehran's International book fair, after 15 years, was not a dream I could let get spoiled by controversies about relocation from Tehran Expo to Tehran Mosalla, or about important publishers boycotting the event. After all, I wasn't going to buy any books; I was going to pay homage to a nostalgia; and perhaps to seek traces of when I was younger in the crowds. But I discovered new things!

I discovered Tehran's Grand Mosalla! Once finished, it will become a major monument! It is still under construction. Serious construction. So much so that the unusually wet end of April, left many books soaking, and further embarrassed the organizers--who were already criticized by the publishers community that threatened to boycott the exhibition.

Mosalla was a discovery because like may other new constructions of the IRI, it is under heavy surveillance and photography is forbidden. (I have taken a few timid snapshots.) The other reason why it is not iconized (like Milad tower--or Iran's CN tower, if you like--or like Rasalat Tunnel--made in style of Pantheon) is that it is perhaps an executive embarrassment! The Mosalla project has been in making for at least 15 years. It is a formidable structure; and I cannot blame a government hampered by economic volatility to have left it unfinished. But there may be other politics involved. Once finished, the Friday prayers will have to move from Tehran University (the symbolic heart of nations intellect) to this new ground. And Mosalla, at its present state lacks that distinct identity that distinguished Tehran University. I am personally excited to see the Mosalla construction come to an end. It architecturally appeals to me.

I also discovered Tehran's subway. I am going to credit its cleanliness to its newness. But I am going to credit the stylized interiors to Iranian's flair for architectural ornamentation. I haven't seen such superfluous usage of marble and granite in public places as I saw in Iran. I was in rush so I saw only two stations, positioned on each side of Mosalla. Again, I was forbidden to take photos.

But did I recover my nostalgia? I would say no. I visited the exhibition on Thursday (right after the opening) and on Friday (which is a holiday). The first day let me take a good look at all different (Iranian) publishers. The number of titles published (52200 titles in the past year) was impressive. I was rather bored with the number of "how to live/cook/fix-a-computer/make-baby" titles. I was also bored with the number of Saa'di, Hafiz and Korans on display. By and large, the titles gave me the impression they were prepared for a non-reader crowd. Those who buy pretty books to decorate their houses with.

But there were publishers with translations of every major and minor work of philosophy in the West.

To my pleasure, I found Margaret Atwood's work translated to Persian. That was one of the things I always wanted to do; now one less duty on my to do list!

There were plenty of new novelists and new poets, that I wished to discover.

There was a fair bit of political history on display.

To find entire Sadegh Hedayat's work republished was something I never dreamed to see in the Islamic Republic of Iran!

To find Abbas Maarofi (whose literary magazine, Gardoon, was shut down many years ago) had become a prolific author made me happy. I also found new works by Mahmood Dolat Abadi. Ali-Ashraf Darvishian too had undertaken a few compilation projects, as well as publishing his new novels.

I brought home newly published the love letters of Jalal Al-Ahmad and Simin Daneshvar.

To find the books of Ramin Jahanbegloo (the Iranian/Canadian philosopher who was last year arrested in Iran on some bizarre charge of spying or being anti-regime) openly displayed made me scratch my head about the nature of "censorship" that the Islamic Republic is accused of!

Long time ago, I drooled over a copy of Shamlou , if it existed in a basement bookstore in front of Tehran University. This time around, with the exception of "The Book of Week" (ketabe hafte), I could almost find anything I wished by Shamloo.

This book expo, with all its short comings, exceeded my expectations in comparison to my past experience.

15 years ago, a book fair was not a place filled with young and old, rich and poor, literate and illiterate! This one, looked like an amusement park of some sort. It surely annoys some high brow intellectuals. But to be surrounded by books, regardless of the depth of their content, cannot be a bad thing. The mischievous kids who cluttered the corridors of the book fair, will grow to read.


Anonymous said...

Moscow's underground alos uses marble and crystal rather lavishly; it was a show case for the Stalinist state.

I like the tehran subway mostly for its murals; they are pretty aren't they. In an otherwise artistically dreary city - specially because the hyper religious people are against women's beautification too.

pen Name

Naj said...

"show case for the Stalinist state"

I often think the same about huge and rapid constrction projects in Iran these days ;)

I haven't been to Moscow.

Tehran, Ugly??? Nooooo!

How could Tehran be ugly! How can any city with running water in every street of it be ugly? I even feel more alive in Tehran's pollution than in my placid and environmentally controlled North American home!

Theran's expressive! That's all! And it is expressive of its population's individual tastes. Discordant at times, yes! But that is the beauty of any juvenile city! Give it 200 more years and it will mature like Ispahan and Shiraz!

And yes, the murals are beautiful! (So are Tehran's women, even in the "national outfit") I think super-religious people's opposition to women beauty comes from their lack of self control! Beauty must threaten their faith! ;)

Or it may be the case of "gorbeh dastesh be goosht nemirese migeh pif pif boo mideh" :)

(translation: the cat who can't reach the meat complains that it stinks!)

Next time I am in Iran, I will discover ALL of the stations. People found me silly to be getting so giddy riding the bus and running after public Taxis instead of hiring private ones!

I think this time around, I wasn't a guest in my home, and so I had the liberty of doing things like going to raah-ahan ... and my optimism is really fed well!

Anonymous said...

Hello Naj,

Great post, thanks.

I've heard and read a lot about Teheran's beautiful subway/metro network (the only city in the entire middle-east with underground transportation system).

They have an extensive web site with nice photos in both English and Persian:

Naj said...

Thank you Anonymous withut a pen name! :)

I linked to it!

Wasn't aware of the web site!

Anonymous said...

I think what you mean is that Tehran is alive with raw energy.

Years ago I used to go to Vahdat Hall when it was Rudaki Hall for concerts. I very much enjoyed its urbane & sophisticated atmosphere, the elegant gowns & dresses of the Iranian and Foreign women, their perfume, and their make-up.

Alas! It is all gone and replaced by a ra'ayat's view of how women & men should behave. Je deteste les paysans!

There is a Hadith, no doubt a fake one from Abu Hurrairah, that God gave 8 parts of Desire, out of total of 9 parts, to Eve and only one part to Adam. Thus the need to keep those insatiable women in check!

As I said, I cannot credit that Hadith since there is another Hadith in which Prophet says: "O People, there are 3 things that I love among you: perfume, your women, and the Light of my eyes is prayers!".

Prophet would certainly have enjoyed being with us in Rudaki Hall.

pen Name

Naj said...

You hate peasants? Why?

I hate peasant's forcing their style of life on urbanism. I also hate urbane people transmogrifying peasants into proxi-urbans!

I don't know how things are changing for worse in Iran. Unfortunately, I left Iran in the darkest of times; and so anything I see now seems like improvement to me.

I have a habit of dressing myself somewhat "unusually" when I go to Iran. I try to apply some style to the way I wear my scarf or the way I coordinate colors. Frankly, I want to try the limits on women dress. (I do not wear makeup though!)

In the book fair, I was curious to see who will object to my outfit! Only one person did! Even he passed by me rapidly and said "wear your scarf properly!" To me it wasn't even an "ideological utterance"; more like a "matalak!" maybe. I had prepared to challenge anyone who objected to my outfit. Luckily for this person, he passed by me too fast. I made a point of going to all "religious" booths! No one treated me with disrespect or contempt! I also made a point of standing close to clergymen and sneaking a look over books tehy were browsing ;) And I didn't wear my scarf properly! ... they didn't even notice me!

I keep hearing from people that things are changing for worse. And I keep thinking that it is perhaps the "reformist's" election campaign already starting!

Anyways, the stories of me and my scarf are quite humorous! I must tell you that my large silk scarf managed to fall off of my head at least 4 times on a windy day that I was strolling around Tehran U! As you see, I am not in Evin!

Maybe the peasants are given an illusion of things changing in their favor?

After all the "Year of National Unity" cannot be only serving the old- and the new-rich of Northern Tehran, right?

Aardvark EF-111B said...

I always wanted some one to describe Sheraz, Asfahan or Tabriz to me, have you ever visited them, can you recommend a link?

Anonymous said...

I agree with your points.

I try to see progress here and there but then I get confronted by the foolishness & stupdity of these types of policies that interferes with the domestic and internal life of Muslims. That's why no Muslim wants to live in Iran except Afghans and Iraqis.

The Iranian government with its misguided peasant-inspired policies has taken away the shine & the popularity from being a Muslim.

Their envy knows no bounds - they want to humiliate people from backgrounds such as myself.

Of course, most thinking religious people also are against all of this Nikba; but are powerless to make changes. Look at how Ahmadinejad tried to get women into sports stadia and was thwarted by the obscurantist ayatullahs.

We have to wait for this group of people to die for things to change.

pen Name

Naj said...


I have seen those cities but a looooong time ago! They are just pretty, clean, poetic, historic, mythical cities that swell my heart with their memories. One day, when I live in Iran for good, I will tour them again.

Others, please feel free to tell aardvark about Esfahan, shiraz and Tabiz, Kerman and Yazd, Mashhad and Hamadan ... aardvark, you can also dig in my archives. I have a link to all of them actually!

Pen name,

The obscurantists are dying of old age! And they are the minorities! aaand: key shavad darya ze pooze sag najes?! Of course they cannot appropriate our country!

No matter what they have done to me and my family, they CANNOT humiliate us! It's logically impossible!

David said...

Naj, I am scratching my head too! From what I have been hearing, there is a new push by the IRI thought and behavior police to get people to tow the party line, so to speak. Well, I hope that the various "dissident" publications that you found at the book fair were there with the full approval of government officials, and not merely present because of ignorance on the part of the censors. Maybe this is a small sign of increased freedom in Iran.

I just read through the comments so far. I am interested to hear more about your scarf story. It sounds like you were going out of your way to get your improper scarf noticed, but almost no one cared. That is also a good thing, it sounds like. Maybe some Iranian psychology students should expand on your experiment and report on the responses they get. It might be funny to do some Candid Camera videos of women's scarves blowing off their heads, but attached with strings to make kites, for example. ;)

Naj said...


The government of Iran doesn't have the resources to be cracking down on an urban population of at least 50 million people.

A lot of these "crack-down" stories are blown out of proportion by the government itself, to create a sense that the big brother's watching!

Also, most Iranians know that when then start getting tough on Immigrants, or women, or teachers, for example; it is to satisfy the fundamentalist supporters of the IRI, while dining with the Rice pudding!

Iranians inside Iran are far more clever in negotiating terms of power with the government, than we are abroad! Trust me ;)

Naj said...

Oh and regarding books ... who cares if they were there with official stamp of approval or not! What was important was that there were Ganji books and Mokhtari books on display!

Keep in mind again, controversy is the best marketer! Consider Tahmineh Milani's record breaking box office sales, after she was detained for a couple of hours, days or seconds! If there was a woman filmmaker to be ARRESTED for endangering national security, it would have been Rakhshan Bani Etemaad; who still lags in sales behing the jolly architect, Miss Milani ;)

The IRI has learned the science of communication very well and I won't be surprised if they have psychologist field workers on streets already!

Daniel said...

I have visited Iran. Long ago. It has obviously changed. That they have embellished the stations like Russia is interesting though a little bizarre.

A book fair? That it happens there when, in the West, freedom of speech is shrinking is also bizarre.

Take care!

Naj said...

Hi Daniel,

You visited Iran when? Just curious.

I didn't suggest that the metro stations are embellished like Russia. I just said that they are marble walled, marble floored and glass ceilinged.

On the concept of freedom, I have always been of the opinion that freedom is not an absolute value. And Iranians are masters of dissent, thus they "obtain" freedom in many creative ways that are more often than not in opposition to legislated norms. And this is not necessarily considered anarchic, rather heroic :)

betmo said...

hi naj- everytime i visit your blog- i take away something that i have learned. perhaps not what you intended i learn- but that's ok :) folks here in the states- as i am sure that you are aware- view your land as rigid and backwards- and the only thing that they focus on is the religion and the fact that your government doesn't like ours. although if you live in north america- it isn't your government- but you get the drift.

i find it ironic that the forces here who condemn iran for the way it treats its citizens- especially women- and it's hard line approach to handling things- do the same thing. they don't see it- but i do. it is a wonderful thing that you do here- bringing these human snapshots of iran to the world's public. it helps to remind us that underneath the burqas or the bibles- we are all the same.

Naj said...

Hi Betmo, thanks for encouraging words.

I think the real irony is that Iranian people think Americans are very informed about Iran!

It is sad that the real voices of Iranian women is NOT heard by Americans. Iranians do not wear Burka, and burka is NOT the most critical aspect of Iranian's life!

For every Iranian woman who hates covering their hair, their is 1.5 women who cannot fathom the idea of going out without a head cover! Some Iranian pseudo-modernists just tend to ignore that fact and become the voices of VICTIMHOOD or Iranian women!

Iran is a country under as much traditionalist's influence; as under religious influence exerted by the government. I just wish the world let Iranians to their own (de)vices and accepted them as they were: by and large peace loving and stoic people with a greater flair for spirituality than biblical divinity!

David said...

"Iranians inside Iran are far more clever in negotiating terms of power with the government, than we are abroad! Trust me ;)"

Naj, I do not doubt this at all! From what I have learned about Iran's history, todays Iranians are the decendents of ancestors who have survived dozens of invasions and changes of government across thousands of years. Of the Iranians that I have gotten to know, they are all very clever people.

Anonymous said...

looking to last photo, looks that stare in the roof like some thing similar to Israeli flag stare?

Naj said...

Well I think the "David's Star" is something Iranian Muslims respect as well!

But geometric ornamentation is very common in Islamic architecture.

Anonymous said...

But geometric ornamentation is very common in Islamic architecture.

If you talking about Islamic architecture and geometric ornamentation David Start never been of Islamic architecture!

Anonymous said...

“The six-pointed star sometimes occurred in pre-Islamic floor mosaics but mainly as an isolated motif. In some mosaics, the star was used as a frame for large compositions, or as a dominant subject, while in others it is just an isolated detail among a great variety of other geometric motifs.”

Lets not forgot that Israelis keep trying links and some times related some Arabic/Islamic things to them (Israelis history” there are many things Israelis tried to markets in the west as an Israeli heritage, like Palistinias food also Israeli Airline “El Al“ early 70’s (correct me if wrong) used the Palestinians head cover cloth tattoo to use to tattoo the El Al
Crews dress.

Naj said...

"Isreali Herritage"!

I am not sure if Israel is old-enough to have an "entity" yet; but if you are refering to "Jewish Entity" I am of the opinion that Islam OWES plenty to Judaism!

(That is not to say that is a good/bad thing though)

Anonymous said...

"Iranian Experience (4)"??

اعتراض بيش از 550 تن از فعالان جنبش هاي اجتماعي و شخصيت هاي فرهنگي-اجتماعي به بازداشت زينب پيغمبرزاده

Naj said...

man dar jahaye digar, mokhalefatam ro ba campaign yek million emza ebraz kardam.

Aardvark EF-111B said...

HA! Ha!


Naj said...

LOL ... good one aardvark good one