Posts Tagged ‘iran’

Photo: Mohammad M. Rashed
Of the roughly 200 houses in Makhunik, Iran, 70 or 80 stand only 5.0 feet to 6.5 feet tall. Even this boy would have to stoop to get in the door.

Long before the Hobbit, stories abounded around the world about miniature races of people. In Iran, there is actually a kind of proof.

As Shervin Abdolhamidi writes at the BBC, “In the first part of Jonathan Swift’s book Gulliver’s Travels, Lemuel Gulliver washes ashore on the island country of Lilliput, where he encounters the Lilliputians, who stand barely taller than [6 inches].

“While Swift’s Lilliput is merely a fantasy, a comparable village exists in the eastern extremities of Iran. Up until around a century ago, some of the residents of Makhunik, a 1,500-year-old village roughly [47 miles] west of the Afghan border, measured a [little over a yard] in height. …

“In 2005, a mummified body measuring [10 inches] in length was found in the region. The discovery fuelled the belief that this remote corner of Iran, which consists of 13 villages, including Makhunik, was once home to an ancient ‘City of Dwarfs’. Although experts have determined that the mummy was actually a premature baby who died roughly 400 years ago, they contend that previous generations of Makhunik residents were indeed shorter than usual.

“Malnutrition significantly contributed to Makhunik residents’ height deficiency. Raising animals was difficult in this dry, desolate region, and turnips, grain, barley and a date-like fruit called jujube constituted the only farming. Makhunik residents subsisted on simple vegetarian dishes such as kashk-beneh (made from whey and a type of pistachio that is grown in the mountains), and pokhteek (a mixture of dried whey and turnip).

“Arguably the most astonishing dietary anomaly was a disdain for tea – one of the hallmarks of Iranian cuisine and hospitality.

“ ‘When I was a kid no-one drank tea. If someone drank tea, they’d joke and say he was an addict,’ recalled Ahmad Rahnama, referring the stereotype that opium addicts drink a lot of tea. The 61-year-old Makhunik resident runs a museum dedicated to Makhunik’s historic architecture and traditional lifestyle. …

“Although most of Makhunik’s 700 residents are now of average height, reminders of their ancestors’ shorter statures still persist. Of the roughly 200 stone and clay houses that make up the ancient village, 70 or 80 are exceptionally low. …

“Constructing these tiny homes was no easy feat, Rahnama said, and residents’ short stature wasn’t the only reason to build smaller houses. Domestic animals large enough to pull wagons were scarce and proper roads were limited, meaning locals had to carry building supplies by hand for kilometres at a time. Smaller homes required fewer materials, and thus less effort. Additionally, although cramped, smaller houses were easier to heat and cool than larger ones.”

Ah-ha! The wisdom of the Tiny House was tested centuries ago in a remote Iranian village! “The sun also riseth and goeth to his downsetting, and there is no new thing under the sun.”

More here.

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Photo: David Llada
Dorsa Derakhshani could read before the age of 2 and grew up to be a chess champion. She was banned from Iran’s chess association for not wearing a headscarf.

After you read this article on an Iranian chess prodigy, you are sure to be surprised by her current career goal. Not that there’s anything wrong with it; it’s just surprising.

Mika Klein interviewed Dorsa Derakhshani at WBUR radio’s Only a Game, first watching an old video of Dorsa to get some background.

“The year was 2000. Dorsa was 2, and appearing on a children’s television show. Dorsa wears a red velvet dress with puffy sleeves and dark tights. She’s tightly clutching a stuffed puppy, so the interviewer holds the microphone for her. Dorsa breaks into song, with the poise of seasoned performer, and the studio audience applauds.

“The camera cuts to the audience. Most of the girls are sitting in the back, many are wearing headscarves. Dorsa’s head is uncovered.

“Dorsa was born in Tehran in 1998. And this is just one of many times she appeared on Iranian TV. This time, she reads a story from a children’s book. …

” ‘Are you saying you could read at the age of 2?’

“ ‘No,’ Dorsa says. ‘I could read when I was 1 1/2. But I finished first grade when I was 2.’

“Dorsa’s television career as a child prodigy was never going to last forever, but it ended abruptly when she was 6.

“ ‘They made me wear a scarf against my will,’ says Dorsa … ‘I never went back for the TV.

“ ‘I finished fourth grade when I was 4 1/2. Math, science, everything. … My parents tried to fill my time with other things like music, swimming, ballet, gymnastics, painting.”

“Right next door to her painting class was a chess class. Dorsa decided to join. …

” ‘Chess was really different, because you are actually playing with a live human being,” Dorsa says. … ‘You can’t be 100 percent ready and sure that you play good when you go to a tournament.’

“Dorsa’s first big success came in the Iranian national youth under-8 tournament.

“ ‘It was a big surprise for everyone, because there were players who already had private coaches and they came to win,’ Dorsa says. ‘I came out of nowhere, and I won the tournament. I remember that everybody else was wearing a scarf, even under 8. But I wore a princess dress and a tiara. And it was really cute. …

“Dorsa went on to win three straight gold medals at the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Asian Junior Championships. In the numerical chess ratings lists, Dorsa was at the top for all girls in Asia. …

“I first met Dorsa at the Chess Olympiad in September 2016. She was attending as a journalist, not a player. The tournament was in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, a country that is 98 percent Muslim. She did not wear a headscarf at the tournament or on the street. I’ve never seen her wear one.”

Klein continues with a story of the time when Dorsa was traveling and saw that her Instagram account was going crazy. She went to bed and forgot about it. In the morning friends explained that ” ‘they saw on newspaper that my federation banned me — my brother and I, actually, both of us. It was just very out of the blue.’ ”

Dorsa’s brother, Borna, was banned for competing against someone from Israel, Dorsa for not wearing a headscarf.

“She believes the action against her and her brother was a tactic to divert from other news. The announcement came in the middle of the Women’s World Chess Championship, which was being held in Tehran. Several notable players, including the reigning U.S. women’s champion, boycotted the event because players were required to wear a headscarf. All three Iranian women competing had just been eliminated in the opening round. …

“This July, she moved to the U.S. after being accepted to the chess team at St. Louis University. She said there were no problems when she landed in New York and cleared immigration.

” ‘I’m hoping to become a dentist,’ Dorsa says. ‘I’m looking forward to finally having a stable trainer and a team, and I really wish to become grandmaster.’ ”

More at WBUR, here.

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There are so many interesting cultures in the world! For example, when I was editor of a magazine about lower-income issues in New England, I heard for the first time about the Karen from Burma (Myanmar). Who? Soon after, I managed to acquire an article on Karen refugees in Waterbury, Connecticut, so I was able to learn something along with my readers.

Recently, I heard of another new-to-me minority, members of which are being resettled in Massachusetts. They are called Mandeans, and their pacifist religious beliefs had subjected them to persecution in Iraq and Iran for millennia.

Here is what Brian MacQuarrie writes about them at the Boston Globe.

“The Mandaeans have found safety and acceptance since they began arriving [in Worcester] in 2008, freely practicing a monotheistic religion that predates Christianity and Islam. But they still do not have a temple — a ‘mandi’ for baptisms, marriages, and birth and death rituals — and whether one is built could determine if they continue to call Worcester home.

” ‘Work is not the anchor, living in an apartment is not an anchor, the mandi is the anchor,’ said Wisam Breegi, a leader of the Mandaean community. …

” ‘It really is a culture that is in danger of disappearing,’ said Marianne Sarkis, an anthropology professor at Clark University. ‘If you don’t have a way of preserving the culture and traditions and even the language’ of Aramaic — what a temple helps provide — ‘it is not going to survive very long.’ …

“ ‘We really don’t have the expertise, the know-how, the connections,’ said Breegi, who also has founded a scientific firm that is developing a low-cost, disposable, neonatal incubator for use in developing countries.

“To help forge the religious connections, Breegi and Sarkis are preparing an application for a nonprofit organization to help raise money for the temple. Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty said in an interview he is willing to help the project where he can.

“ ‘They’re all doing what everyone else is trying to do — working hard and getting their kids a good education.’ …

” ‘It’ll just help make Worcester stronger in the long run,’ Petty said of his city’s embrace of Mandaeans and other immigrants. ‘You can’t build walls between people.’ ”

Worcester held a ceremony of welcome in April that “represented the first time — anywhere, at any time — that Mandaeans had been recognized as a valued, important minority group, Sarkis said.” Wow.

More here.

Photo: Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
The Kalmashy family (left to right) Lilo, and her husband Mahdi and their daughters and Sura and Sahar, shared lunch at their home in Worcester.

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What would it be like to live in an earth dome? The California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth) can help you check out the concept for a day or a weekend or the 12-15 weeks it will take to teach you to build a dome home. Maybe you’d rather settle for building just a “rocket stove mass heater.” Cal-Earth can teach you to do that, too. Hesperia, California, is the place. (Although Cal-Earth’s mailing address is Claremont, near Suzanne’s alma mater.)

From the website: “Superadobe technology was designed and developed by architect Nader Khalili and Cal-Earth Institute, and engineered by P.J. Vittore. Superadobe is a patented system (U.S. patent #5,934,027) freely put at the service of humanity and the environment.”

The television station KCET has more. Reporter Kim Stringfellow says, “As a humanitarian, architect and teacher, Khalili developed the Superadobe building technique incorporating a tubular sandbagging system filled with locally sourced earth that are reinforced with a barbed wire technology and stabilized lime, cement, or asphalt that is locally produced. Dwellings can be used temporarily or may be stabilized, waterproofed, and finished with plaster to create a permanent building. Originally from Iran, Khalili’s structures and building techniques are inspired and informed by centuries of earth building found throughout the Middle East and North Africa. He also is known for his Geltaftan Earth-and-Fire construction system which as also known as Ceramic Houses. ”

Tell me this is not a hobbit house.

Photo: Geoff Lawton 

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One thinks of Iran as repressive, and having watched the doomed 2009 revolution unfold on twitter, I believe it is. But Iranian theater people seem to be managing to squeeze in some fun.

I blogged before about the Tehran production in a taxi, here. Now Studio 360 has a story on what might be called extreme improvisation. I take that back. There’s a script. But the actor doesn’t get to see it in advance.

“Actors face stage fright all the time,” says Studio 360, a radio show. “But consider this scenario: you show up to perform a one-person show, and you’ve never seen the script. You don’t know what it’s about because you promised not to do any research. It’s your first performance, and the only one you’ll ever have. The theater’s artistic director hands you a fat manila envelope with a script. And go.

“Also, the audience will decide whether you drink a glass of water that appears to have been poisoned.

“This is the premise of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. ‘I did not know what was in front of me inside that envelope,’ says actor Gwydion Suilebhan. ‘What if this script is going to require that I disrobe? Or insult my mother? Or be rude or self-debasing?’ …

“Soleimanpour pulls his strings from afar, because — although the play has been performed in Toronto, Berlin, San Francisco, Brisbane, Edinburgh, London, and now Washington, DC — he really is in a cage. He doesn’t have a passport and can’t leave Iran, so he has never seen his play performed. ‘Nassim has given up the kind of control that is customary for playwrights,’ says Suilebhan, of working with actors and directors to realize the play. ‘At the same time, because he has put all of these restrictions on how it is to be performed, he has seized certain kinds of control that playwrights normally do not have. So he is literally embodying the ideas of control and submission and manipulation that he’s baked into his script.’ ” More.

Photo of Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour found at the HuffingtonPost

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I started really paying attention to Iran (and to Twitter, tops for breaking news) on June 20, 2009, when the tragic, short-lived Green Revolution erupted, fueling unrealized hopes for a more democratic country.

Then I read Jason Elliot’s Mirrors of the Unseen (and blogged about it here) about his travels in Iran, and especially about the people he met and the architecture he admired. He came up with a theory about the architecture that related to the builders’ Islamic beliefs, a love of nature, and a concept of sacred proportions. (If you should see the Nova special on how Medieval architects used the Bible to decide on ideal Gothic cathedral measurements, you will get the idea.)

Elliot loved the people he met in Iran and bemoans the way the Western media depict them. In full agreement with Elliot is the British translator of ancient Persian poetry, Dick Davis, who was on PBS NewsHour last night.

But though the Iranian people may be like people anywhere, the government is not. Residents are frequently obliged to be cautious. Which is how theatrical productions in the privacy of a taxi have come about.

Haleh Anvari of the Guardian‘s Tehran Bureau has that story.

Unpermitted Whispers is a 35-minute play that takes place in one of Tehran’s ‘Rahi’ taxis, which traverse the city along fixed, often straight-line, routes. Rahis pick up passengers at major intersections and drop them off anywhere along their set route, making for a convenient method of getting around town and one cheaper than the minicabs available in every neighbourhood of the capital.

“In contrast to the minicabs, which provide door-to-door service, the Rahi system affords passengers much more anonymity, allowing for candid and uninhibited conversation. Tehranis frequently share stories that they have overheard in these communal cabs; for many, they serve as an extension of the private sphere in which Iranians feel safe to talk about issues of the day.

Unpermitted Whispers takes advantage of this unlikely superimposition of public and private to tell the story of three passengers, all women, who are picked up by a male driver at different points along his route. …

“The play’s first scene was performed entirely on the telephone, as we eavesdropped on a conversation of a kind with which many Iranian women are familiar: a young bride wants to go to the theatre with her university friends but needs an alibi as her traditional family and jealous husband will not approve.”

More here.

Update 2/5/14: Turns out NY City has a play in a cab. It’s called “Take Me Home” and is reviewed by Neil Genzlinger, here.

Photograph: Hanna Havarinasab
Unpermitted Whispers is a play by Azadeh Ganjeh performed in a taxi.

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I like reading about street art and what motivates the creative outbursts. I have blogged on this before (Slinkachu, Banksy).

The Art Newspaper recently did quite a long feature on street art inspired by (and inspiring) the Arab Spring.

Anny Shaw and Gareth Harris interview “Hans Ulrich Obrist of London’s Serpentine Gallery, who is chairing a discussion on art patronage in the Middle East as part of a summit at the British Museum and the Royal College of Art (12-13 January).”

” ‘What is interesting to see in Egypt, and in all these countries, is that artists are not only going out into the city, they also become agents of change in society. … If you think about it in terms of the Russian Revolution and Mayakovsky saying “the streets are our brushes, the squares our palettes,” it’s about art going beyond the museum and blurring the boundaries between art and life.’

“Obrist also notes that there is a long-standing tradition, particularly in Egypt, of contemporary artists using the street to mount performances or install works. Indeed, several contemporary Egyptian artists, including Susan Hefuna and Hassan Khan, have used the city as a site for their work, both before and in response to the uprising. …

“As Anthony Downey, the director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, editor of ibraaz.org and a speaker at the summit says, the region has ‘antecedents in graffiti-based pro­tests,’ citing those against the Shah of Iran before his flight from Tehran in 1979 and the graffiti and posters used in Beirut during the civil war in Lebanon.”

What a hoot that this art has been taken up by auction houses like Sotheby’s! But on the whole it’s good for the artists. I know what a great moment it was when the favela artists from Brazil were able to sell their work in the movie Waste Land.

Read more here.


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