Heard in a taxi in Tehran…
Everyday the same thing: calculator in hand, notebook ready…the white car stops, we try to make them understand where we want to go, negotiate the price. Hop in. Hello to everyone. Answer the questions. The transportation in the Great Tehran is composed of bus, metro (with certain lines that only exist in the station maps) and taxis: the “real” ones and the “informal” ones. The last ones are those that make life spin around. On them you can, maybe, hear together the words “Lolita” and “Tehran”.
Some months before leaving Rio de Janeiro, I did as usual in boring late afternoons, when I knew the boat station would be with endless queues on the way to Niterói. Went down the stairs and got myself into Beringela old bookstore, on Rio Branco avenue. The music in there pleases me and eventually I stumbled upon something I never thought about reading. Then I buy it. On this day I bought a book by the cover. Even better, by the title: “Reading Lolita in Tehran: memories of a literary resistance.”
The fourth cover informed the author Azar Nafisi – photographed here without the veil – writes about the lives of eight women – her included – reunited secretly to explore the occidental literature forbidden after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. I learned in the same text that Nafisi left Iran in 1997 and she was teacher in Tehran University when Ayatollah Khomeini was in front of the first days of the revolution. Next, I started reading about how she invited a group of students to go weekly to her house and understood the topics soon started including literature from Nabokov, Austen and Henry James to the mandatory veils – without which each student gained shape and became unique -, the repression to red nails even under the gloves, the love dramas common to any culture and a certain dilemma that ruled the life of many of them: at the same time decided to leave the country for other opportunities and with the weight to leave the country to others. And so, the dialogues would turn up between fiction and reality – says the author, is faithful in the limits that the memory can be.
In the last days of 2015 debuted in Brazil “Taxi Tehran”, kinda fake documentary from Jafar Panahi. Behind the wheel the acclaimed movie maker collects fake passengers on the streets of the capital. Soon, one of them questions the truth status of the play. Amidst conversations regarding politics, religions, censorship or nothing of that, some prejudice veils slip down about the iranian society. The main part, that only one opinion is formed around. They begin to question the legal criteria of what makes a movie screenable and any possibility of making good cinema – a screenable movie can’t have negative aspects, main characters without islamic names or wearing a tie, for example.
The windows of Panahi cars exhibit the great panels painted in respect for the Iraq war heroes, the waving iranian flags over each bridge. Through it we watch the parade of women with their black veils, colourful tissues, strong lipsticks, bride dresses. The conflict between richness and misery. One the beautiful houses, a path that is pure chaos, an accident. Everything is also our memories of this great city.
And through the cinema who traveled, once more travels.
Panahi was arrested in 2010, accused of preparing a movie against the regime, on the wake of Ahmadinejad’s reelection, followed by a series of street manifestations. Facts from 2009. He always denied the production, but was prohibited to record anything after being bailed out. Even tough, from there on he kept on deviating from the rules, recording acclaimed movies and guaranteeing international prizes – I really wonder how is it possible he wasn’t arrested once more. More than anything, the new movie makes me think how is it possible to like so much a place with such problems. Although, what matters here is one of our many Taxis in Tehran.
First came in a lady that spoke amazing english. Asked some random stuff – some of those questions everyone hears – in that constantly nice tone that iranians know how to do. Next another lady comes in, friend of the first one, and explains who are the foreigners: brazilians, travelers, who knows what she said… they chat in Farsi, but pointing at us. And keep on happy by my side. Then I hear the words “Lolita” and “Tehran”.
During all that path, in the cinema, and even today, I still wonder why I didn’t get in the middle of the chat of those nice ladies. What would be the topic of that conversation? Did I really hear those words? They referred to a book that was lying inside some box back home in Brazil? Travel lessons: ask, (almost) always.
After the fake documentary from Panahi, I came back to Nafisi’s Lolita. I read it again until the end, investigating the story from a particular point of view: feminin, intellectualized, secular and even foreign, because Azar studied in England when she was a little girl. Through these pages – and drinking the referenced from my own memories – I could imagine the details of the Alborz mountains in the north of the city, that reflected in the mirror of the teacher’s house. Each of her students won an almost real face, stolen from the girls in the markets, the squares, the Cinema Museum and the taxis. I wanted to know if she liked pomegranate juice as much as us. And I remembered the ladies and Tehran in each page. I kept on curious to know if they actually read Lolita in this city where so many live double lives. Tehran is where the pirate movie seller doesn’t forget to have delivered the last movie from Woody Allen at Panahi’s house and comments that his work is cultural promoter. Where Nafisi protested against the mandatory rule of wearing a veil like her grandmother had done years before, but because the Sha instituted an opposite rule. Epicenter of the present and of the recent past of that millenary nation, Tehran is where each taxi becomes the chance of a new story.
*Taxi Tehran, Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2015
*Reading Lolita in Tehran. Azar Nafisi.