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The Moleskine Notebooks: Edition XLIII
This week I’m very excited to bring you a special guest edition of the Moleskine Notebooks!
I first came across on Substack Notes, where we bonded over our shared love of Rūmī, the great 13th-century Sufi poet. This drew me into her Substack, (can you see what she did there?), where Kimia skewers topics like classism, culture, and what it’s like to be a Persian-American.
Somehow, in forty-two previous editions of the Moleskine Notebooks, we haven’t yet covered an Iranian location, so I thought who better to write one than Substack’s funniest Persian herself. Enjoy!
Named after Bruce Chatwin’s beloved moleskine notebooks, in these posts I share an artwork, a poem, a literature excerpt, an antique map, and some photography - all centred on a particular place.
In my life, I’ve traveled to Iran more than a dozen times. It’s a twenty-four-hour journey, though it was only fifteen hours before 9/11 when we could still fly straight home. Now there is always a connecting flight — sometimes in Frankfurt or Istanbul. But no matter the connecting airport, I always melt at the gate.
It’s filled with people who look like me after a day of wading through a sea of faces. As we line up to board by group, I see the faces of the family I am flying home to see, the arms I’m ready to embrace. There are almond-shaped eyes and olive faces like mine, except most with rhinoplasty noses. They speak like me, in Farsi, but I’m always the one sticking out with the American accent. And they have hair the color of milk chocolate, just like mine, except, of course, the women who decidedly go blonde. But here we are together. We’re all just one more flight away from Iran — finally, after a long day of travel. I brush aside the country’s current infamy and political complications and recall that I’m in the culture of Persia, lending a more profound cultural resonance to Iran.
Iran: I whisper the name aloud, feel her enormous power, and absorb the swirling collective memories of the flight’s passengers and me. Everyone has a story for why they’re on this flight. As the pilot asks us to prepare for landing, the milk chocolate and blonde heads I caught sight of disappear, covered by roosaris, or head scarves. I throw mine on, fidgeting with the ends, hiding loose ends of milk chocolate under the fabric. The hijab is a dress code I am unfamiliar with, one that doesn’t belong to me. I’m unsure if I am doing it right. I look over the aisles for validation, but the more I seek influence from my neighbors, the more confused I become. The Iranian blondes barely cover their hair, wisps of bangs falling from underneath their roosaris, a textbook example of theocratic boundary-blurring.
The flight’s descent into Imam Khomeinei International Airport arrives with an array of emotions: a suspension of breath, a releasing and suppressing, wasting no time to enter and exit my chest. My nerves soften as soon as I look out the window. By the time we land, the sky is black — the periphery on the other side of the airplane window is a vast expanse of lights stretching and glittering beyond my vision.
We land. I inch my way up the airplane rows, exit to customs, and bristle through routine immigration questions, holding my breath that nothing goes wrong. And, of course, everything goes smoothly. Finally, stepping out of the airport, I am greeted by aunts hugging me and pushing warm, thick bread into my arms.
I am in Iran.
I. In Art
Today, the journey continues onto Shiraz. The Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, known as the Pink Mosque, is an architectural gem in the city's heart. Its origins trace back to the days of the Qajar dynasty, featuring vibrant stained glass in its facade. Construction began in 1876, and the dedicated artisans and builders toiled for a remarkable twelve years to bring their vision to life, with every ray of sunshine flooding the light of the Quran into the room. I have no idea what I’ve done consistently for twelve years, but mosque construction isn’t one of them. Hats off to the homies of 1876. But because it’s 2023 and I’m straddling two polar opposite cultures, maybe it’s less Quran in the room and more Love? Yeah, let’s call it Love.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Shiraz, a city steeped in the rich tapestry of Persian history, serves as Iran's cultural and historical epicenter. Known as the city of poets, literature, and flowers, Shiraz has a lineage that dates back over two millennia. It also has a reputation as one of the friendliest cities in Iran, which probably offends my relatives who all live in Tehran, but hey, what can you do?
Shiraz, located in the southwestern region of Iran, served as the capital of the Persian Empire during the Zand dynasty in the 18th century. However, Shiraz's historical significance dates back to the ancient Achaemenid Empire, representing the golden age of Persian civilization. This brings us to Persepolis, or Takht-e Jamshīd, an archaeological marvel northeast of Shiraz. I discuss Shiraz and Persepolis as one area since they are geographically close and hold a historical connection.
Persepolis, founded by Darius I in 518 BCE, served as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire, showcasing the opulence and grandeur of Persian kings. With its majestic palaces and intricate reliefs, the site bears testimony to the grandeur of Persian civilization.
II. In Verse
From the heart of Shiraz stems the poetry of Hafez, one of the world's most prolific and celebrated writers. His work transcends religion, dogma, or politics. His verses are universal, exploring the spectrum of emotions: romance, freedom, nonconformity, and spirituality.
I’ve been thinking about one verse lately as I navigate the heaviness of our global landscape:
“In every religion, you find the same extremists. Those who practice the love of God no longer seek to be consistent. Choose a doctrine that lifts your heart, and then live by it. But do not impose it on others, and do not use it to commit The acts of violence and hatred that can only tear us apart. In the end, love and compassion must reign in the heart.”
— Hafez (1325–1390 AD)
Or this one, which reminds me that despite the world’s collective heartbreak, it’s joy that we maintain:
"Ever since happiness heard your name, It has been running through the streets Trying to find you."
Or this one, which makes me want to invite friends over for a tea party:
"Plant So that your own heart Will grow. Love So God will think, Ahh, I got kin in that body! I should start inviting that soul Over For coffee And rolls."
III. In Cartography
It’s hard to discuss Shiraz without discussing Persepolis and the larger landscape of the Persian Empire’s history. Shiraz opens an aperture into the empire that once reigned over half the world. Persepolis, a forty-minute drive from Shiraz, according to a trusted resource aka my mother, served as the Achaemenid Empire’s capital (c. 518 BCE to 330 BCE). The Persian Empire's history unfolds as a saga of conquest, artistic achievement, and profound influence. The construction of Persepolis set the trend for imperial capitals the world over.
IV. In Literature
Persepolis (2000) is a graphic memoir by Marjane Satrapi, narrating her experiences during childhood and early adulthood in Iran, during and after the Islamic Revolution. The book is a coming-of-age story that offers a distinctive view of the political and social transformations that occurred in Iran during the late 20th century. My parents and I went to the movie theaters to watch the film when it came out, buttered popcorn in one hand, and a mixed bag of pride and apathy in the other. Our excitement that the movie made it to Hollywood had a gloomy residue that the movie needed to exist in the first place. The film stayed true to the book’s essence, citing Marjane Satrapi’s most touching quotes:
On classism and humanity:
“I wanted to be a prophet because our maid did not eat with us. Because my father had a Cadillac. And, above all, because my Grandmother’s knees always ached.”
Echoing the sentiments of Hafez:
“In every religion, you find the same extremists.”
On the shock of morphing from a veil-less society to a veiled society overnight:
"I had no intention of taking it off. When I wear the veil, my whole body protests. I feel like I’m disappearing. But when I remove it, my soul is happy."
V. In Photography
It’s impossible to convince my mom to take me to Persepolis. “Why?” She asks. “It’s just a bunch of ruins. The area is looted.” But mom, I plead. Persepolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. How could we not visit? But then, I understood how I romanticized the idea of ruins, how the native dwellers find the ruins to be as they are: too painful to visit. Ruined. A closed chapter.
In the looting and movement of ruins, bits and pieces of limestone ended up in Paris and New York City, where I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse: at the Louvre in my mid-twenties and then again a few months ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art around the corner from me. That will do for now.
We end the journey back in Shiraz: a panoramic view of the city, wrapped by the Zagros Mountains; an homage to Hāfeziyeh (Tomb of Hafez); the Bagh-e Eram (Shiraz Botanical Garden).
In my mid-twenties, returning home to Austin, TX from a work trip, I noticed that my Uber driver from the airport was Persian. Persians have an innate sixth sense in recognizing each other: our names, noses, and eyes. We get to talking. I discuss my melancholy toward Iran—the most beautiful country in the world, dirtying her hands in civil wars against her people and satellite wars against existential threats, polarizing the naysayers in the name of self-defense. The driver soothed my fears. “Iran will come and go. But Persia will always remain.”
Once inside my apartment, I raised a glass. A full-bodied glass of red, a Syrah, a Shiraz. A part of home.
writes , where she explores classism, culture, and chaos.