"Brevity is the soul of wit" - Hamlet
"Technology is a trickster and it has been so since the first culture hero taught the human tribe how to spin wool before he pulled over our eyes..."
- Erik Davis, TechGnosis
Full Circle: Lost & Found in an Iranic Maze
With two of his friends, my father and I spent a week in the laid back city of Shiraz, in southern Iran. In search of the famous Shirazi wine, I was left completely intoxicated with a warm belly, dry teeth and a total lack of the right combination of words.
One afternoon, we escaped from the heavy sun by chewing on thick and yellow ice cream at an open-air teahouse, when one of them asked about the book I was reading. I looked up from its pages at the fountain ahead and I told him it was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and was surprised that he had never heard of it.
We went to see if the little bookstore opposite from us had it and the girl behind the counter quickly handed me a Farsi version with the binding on the right. I offered it to him as a gift, and even with the help of the beautiful, hazel-eyed salesgirl, I was left disappointed when he declined.“I don’t read these types of books. I have no use for them!” he said dismissively as he indicated to the tapes of Rumi verses in his bag “…I read poetry”. ‘Unbelievable’ I thought as I shook my head at the girl. I started to dislike him after that. I mean, what kind of close-minded old man turns down a book?
During dinner as he peeled the burnt skin of his barbecued tomatoes, I watched the way his droopy eyes slowly blinked, while his quaint mouth argued with his pea-brain about whether to breathe air or complain. ‘Everything has to be just so, yes? You eat the tomato meat, but leave the skin? And FOR WHO?’ I thought to myself, ‘if it were my restaurant I’d give you a damn plate of potato peels!’ Luckily, I was distracted by one of my father’s stories about how he got a haircut from a prostitute in Cuba last spring break. After the credits rolled and father smiled from the satisfaction of his audience, I calmly asked him if he had ever left Iran. Without looking up from his neat plate and through his narrow teeth he replied, “Only Dubai”. I took a long sip from my non-alcoholic beer and said, “You’re afraid of new things! Foreign things scare you. And we both know this is not good!” The three Iranian men smiled at my youthful clairvoyance: Yes…’ I thought. Achievement. Eat that you Unranian Islamic Republican!
You see one of the main differences I noticed between westerners and their demographic equivalents in Iran, is that the former are much more vocal with their opinions regardless of the seniority of those within earshot.
For me, horizontal hierarchy allows for a more efficient exchange of ideas. Only through open communication, can we hear a newer version of a story we thought we already knew well. Asking directions to your own street from a stranger, can introduce you to a shortcut or a scenic route you never knew! Different versions of the same story-this is what the true traveler reads. You met a beautiful girl. Don’t stare, pretend you’re blind and she will hold your hand in hers to your door!
For better or worse, I found my Iranian youth to be much more obedient than I would be in their shoes. I guess the Canadian Board of Education programmed it into my head that my point of view actually counts for something. Or maybe my constitutional rights forced them to bite their tongues when I used mine. Though, if you continue to choose to read my words, you’ll see that it was I who spoke a bit too soon this time.
Days after my dinner table triumph, my momentary self-love turned into a soggy cup of melted cream as I read the last pages of my book. In The Alchemist, a young shepherd from Southern Spain follows a vivid dream he had all the way to the pyramids of Egypt, only to find that his treasure was under the very same church steeple in his Andalusian hometown. The principal elements of this novel were taken from a Rumi poem written hundreds of years ago, in which a man from Baghdad follows a reoccurring dream of finding a hidden treasure in Cairo. He gives everything up, and after being mistaken for a thief while begging on the streets for food in Cairo, he tells of his story to the cop, who had the same dream; only his treasure was buried under a street in Baghdad.
Sometimes a journey may lead you through a go-cart maze, only to find that the finish line starts where the starting line ends. The message that shouldn’t be lost here is that if the highs make you feel like you’ll never come back down, and the lows leave you with a feeling of utter desperation, then the voyage could never be in vain. Whether it’s written in one of the 25,000 verses of Rumi’s Mathanawi, or in the English folklore story, The Pedlar of Swaffham the message is same: we all need to escape from our cozy comfort zone to truly see what we had, and hopefully still have.
‘How ironic…’ I thought. I was trying to sell this man on a book that was a mere novelized version of something he already had growing in his backyard; like Botox to a Brazilian, or contraband to the Taliban. I literally went from one end of the intellectual spectrum to the other, which was a great lesson in the importance of opposites. At one corner, stood a 120-pound, instant denouncement of a classic case of cultural fascism with a mouth full of inventive insight instead of a mouth-guard. And in the other corner stood, the ugly, heavyweight of truth, knocking me to the floor, by the legacy of Iran’s oceanic, philosophical gravity. Each side like two beautifully feathered wings hoisted me over temporal, arbitrary fences, which held nothing in and kept nothing out.
To the true listener, a remix, or adaptation never takes anything away from the original. How could it? If Rumi found a traditionalist and a modernist caught up in a primitive fashion show, he would strip both naked, lock them in a room and put a loud speaker up against the door and watch their blood turn into a flowing Shirazi wine!
The novel, the poem it was adapted from and the countless derived works in between are all about The Search. Searching so long only to realize that your search ends where your fingertips begin.
Wisdom comes with age and not always in the pages of a mainstream bestseller. As in the words of Richard Pyror, ‘you don’t get old being a fool, see…lotta young wise men that’s dead than a motherfucker ain’t it?’
Within a day or two I went from being a clever mouth to an infant, recoiled into a modest fetal ball, to a bewildered watcher. The true tragedy is the actor under the spotlight, merely waiting for applause, forgetting that his stage ends where another one begins. :)
Now that I have poured out my water onto our garden, my old friend, Rumi, will shatter the glass that I thought was my private property:
If I had known the real way it was,
I would have stopped all the looking around.
But that knowing depends
on the time spent looking!
You fear losing a certain eminent position.
You hope to gain something from that, but it comes
from elsewhere. Existence does this switching trick,
giving you hope from one source, then satisfaction
It keeps you bewildered
and wondering, and lets your trust in the Unseen grow.
I wait and fidget and flop about
as a decapitated chicken does, knowing that
the vital spirit has to escape this body
This desire will find an opening.
There was once a man
who inherited a lot of money and land.
But he squandered it all too quickly. Those who inherit
wealth don't know what work it took to get it.
In the same way, we don't know the value of our souls,
which were given to us for nothing!
When a Madman Smiles at You (Carloismo Revisited)
It was around 9:30am in Belo Horizonte, a countryside city in southeastern Brazil. I was on the bus going to Savassi, the yuppie district of town to give an English class. At a perfect point, where the thick tropical trees on both sides of the street meet to make a natural sunshade, the bus stops at a red light: a quick haven for the commuters with no AC.
I closed my eyes and inhaled. But wait. There seems to be some noise competing with the loud putt-putting of the bus engine and the earbuds of the Ipodestrians. The first thing you see is the glare from his sweaty sun-soaked skin. He stumbles next to the side of the bus as if he were a Lincoln. His crude accent yells to the bus cobrador (the guy who handles the money):‘…what up, broham! Hahaha! You workin’? I be too! Yea! Any pussycats in there? I know you know! Hahah!’ This is a fairly accurate translation, but believe, it’s a lot funnier in his jacú (hick) Brazilian-Portuguese. This is the beginning of one of Carlos’ early morning rants, and trust me he would want us to be on a first name with him by now.
Allow me to give you a snapshot silhouette of guys like him. They’re the kind of cats I love and hate to see near me in public. They walk slow, talk loud, drink like fish on the hot pavement, and couldn’t even tell you what a poverty line is. They could be white or black or both. Maybe lanky with pointy knees or small, round and curled up lips leaving a half-open face as they walk to the bus stop. The latter is the one that I saw on this sunny morning, and which gave me a story to write. He knows nothing of it. And if I told him he wouldn’t believe me.
He stumbles along the sidewalk with flip-flops. Havaianas type, but not those. They’re so dirty they're black and so are his feet. Like he walked in gunpowder. He’s not violent though. Not at all. No reason for all that, and he wouldn’t even remember what the fight was about anyways. One thing’s for sure: he’s there. That’s what I love about him. No matter where he’s suppose to be or how late he is, he’ll always listen to you, or at least watch your mouth as you speak to him. Don’t expect any words of wisdom in the love department or with directions, just keep a safe distance and watch out for saliva projectiles.
He drinks heavily, no doubt about it. And it’s hot today, I agree. But my man here feels he must roll up his already tight, stained shirt to expose his beer belly; I mean fully. Of all the places that Carlos, feels he must share with the community, while relieving himself from the heat, it has to be that torso. About this torso; it’s not that he’s fat. In fact, his limbs are puny, and quite thin actually. It’s more that type of belly that has resulted from a lifetime of Pinga (sugarcane StrongDrink) abuse. It wouldn’t be soft to the touch, but rather hard and noisy. Like a vessel carrying ghosts of tumors, dried fat pockets, exploded kidney remains, and a train wreck of intestines. It’s like a pregnancy of beer, and hard bar which resulted in an abortion that crawled back into the womb. Carlos stands there, holding the small of his back with his left arm and drinking his Pinga from a miniature glass cup with his right. His right pinky finger daintily held in the air.
Carlos goes on ranting to the bus employees as we wait for the light to change. All of us who take that particular bus are used to his sudden arrivals. He’s famous. Everyone loves him. Everyone on the bus and in the cars that is, for we know that soon he will be inaudible because that light will turn green at any moment and we are safe behind glass and metal. The people at the adjacent bus stop aren’t so charmed by him though. They pretend not to hear him. Some are scared. Carlos is unpredictable. Plus, if he makes eye contact with you he will jump into a conversation that a normal citizen would want nothing to do with.
But Carlos’ visit on this particular morning was a bit different. While he was mumbling to the ticket operator he turned and smiled at me, but not in the way that he did with the others. It was as if he saw something very familiar in me, something he knew well. It couldn’t have lasted more than 20 or 30 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. Then the light turned and my bus pulled away.
I forgot about it for the rest of the day, until I put myself under my cold showerhead after a soft day’s night. The way in which he looked at me that morning was hot-knifed into my mind. I felt caught by him, and by that something that he saw in me.
This event was exactly like a theme from poem by Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, that I remembered weeks later:
When a Madman Smiles at You
Galen, the great physician, asked one of his assistants
to give him a certain medicine.
"Master, that medicine
is for crazy people! You're far from needing that!"
Galen: "Yesterday a madman turned and smiled at me,
did his eyebrows up and down and touched my sleeve.
He wouldn’t have done that if he hadn't recognised
in me someone congenial."
Anyone that feels drawn,
for however short a time, to anyone else,
those two share a common consciousness.
There's a reason why the beetle
leaves the rose garden. He can't stand
all that loveliness.
He wants to live in rotten dung,
not with nightingales and flowers.
Watch who avoids you.
That, too, reveals your inner qualities.
The mark of eternity in Adam was not only
that the angels bowed to him,
but that Satan wouldn't.
Only a truly mad person can see madness in others. I lay awake that night, feeling caught and deeply distributed. So, I wrote and painted all that weekend. By Monday, I felt drained and light. I finally exhaled. I thought that maybe only the ones with the right kind of eyes could truly discover that we are all somewhat mad, and with the kind of heart would be ok with it. Some like Carlos, dull and drown it with weaponized firewater and others like myself, push it out with prose, poetry and paint.
After that I spent about 2 or 3 months longer in that city and now Carlito lives in these words, and in the madman in me, I suppose. As for you my dear reader, there’s not much more you need to know about Carlos. There are some vague tangible assumptions here and there, yes, but one thing’s for sure, Carlos is here, and when his bus arrives, Carlos is gone. But where will he go, you ask? Well, I just hope it’s not the same buildings as me, for the sake of the buildings of course.
Adventure: Dynamic Flights & Public Lighters
So I'm going to tell you a story about one of my last nights in Brazil, in the nasty ball of heat that is Sao Paulo. I love it. This story involves 2 out of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area. Clearly, Sampa is pretty crowded and most people live with their parents well into their late 20s, making privacy a bit of a luxury. Yet like everywhere in Brazil, luxury can be purchased, even by the hour.
I was leaving for Mexico City on Friday morning and for my last night me lady wanted to do something special so she pulled up to a high-end jungle-themed hotel called Adventure. I was a virgin, not to the body of a woman, but to the famous Brazilian hotel experience because I always had my own place and had no need for such commotions. I was excited, so I shut up and took the ride.
We pulled up a driveway with a blob of a Scottish-looking woman behind a glass on the drivers' side and a TV screen on the right showing the suites’ features. We were told that there was a discount rate if we check-in after midnight, which was 40 minutes away. So, we went to a gas station, drank beer, smoked cigarettes and stared at the starless sky from her moon-roof. We were both sad because we knew that the big goodbye would be tomorrow, so we took our minds off that noise by making fun of each other. Worked like a charm.
We returned to the fantasy hotel, confirmed the price, gave the visa, got the palm-tree key and drove into slot #16 half way up the all rock-surface underground parking lot. I noticed how comfortable she was, as if she had been here before. I took a mental note of this and would use it against her if she tried to pick a fight with me later on that night. Which is not uncommon if there was alcohol involved. Ah, dear readers these are Brazilian girls and bye byes! Stay sharp!
The suite had 2 colour options for the lit-up strip on the marble floor that led to the oval bed. There was a built-in stereo on the headboard with some R. Kelly 'hits' and other classic stripping songs already running. Shame made me pretend I didn’t know most of the songs. The main feature of the suite was the all-rock Jacuzzi with an automated waterfall, which I deeply loved.
What fascinated me the most was the privacy of it all. We went from the car to the suite without hearing a peep, or seeing a soul and when we ordered a drink or whatever from the front desk it appeared on a cart in an empty corridor after a buzzing of the doorbell. No judging eyes. No nothing. It would have been great for a coked-out orgy with porn stars and a Samoan midget handing out peppermint hard candy from a black velvet pillow. Ah, it’s fine I suppose for I was never too into peppermint anyways.
Then we did what it do and I of course mixed beer, vodka and bubbley to leave me way too tipsy to be in a body of moving hot water with the waterfall crashing down on me. I was asking for trouble.
You see my flight to Mexico City left that morning at 8:30am and we were maybe 45 minutes from the airport, let alone check-in, and Federal Police blah blahs about my expired visa. I didn't hear my cell phone alarm and I passed out on my back with my head tilted back on the upper curve of the oval bed. At 8:00am I awoke, still drunk I saw the time and freaked the fuck out. In Portuguese I probably said something like, ''...I just missed by flight! That shit was $1200 dollars! This shit happens to other people not to me! Ahh! Wake up!'' I was banging on the wall and screaming at the drunken residue of me baby. She told me to calm down and call the airliner. I did and was told that they were closed until 9:00am in my time zone. Just enough time for self-torture and sulking.
My mind raced with ideas of fate and god. Maybe the Candomblé Voodoo priests left me with too much luck these past few years and came for their payment? Maybe I’ve eaten just too much pork upon Allah’s brown earth? The result was the same: me never being allowed to leave the country. The anger came. Of course the girl was somehow involved. Pretending to be asleep no doubt. At least I was still drunk; at least they didn’t take that away. No, not yet.
The suite was a mess. A retarded shot at making a bubble bath with shampoo in the Jacuzzi left a weird film on the tub walls. Beer cans, peanuts, moderately priced bubbley and Doritos layered the floor. No doubt, a prestige affair went down by some of Sao Paulo's finest. And why the fuck not I thought? It was a goddamn adventurous celebration bitches! The speed of my cynical humor impressed even I. I remember that I had this spinning headache that only leaning or lying could make the 9:00am phone call manageable.
I must have left my heart in Latin America because my airliner let me changed my flight for the next day free of charge! I mean, I listened to my amiga brasileira and just asked to change the flight. Would Air fucking Canada do that for your boy? No baby. I smiled and kiss the wall-to-wall carpeting. Take that Voodoo cunt!
I wasn't at all hungry, but the Iranian in me ordered our complementary breakfast anyways, which was forgettable, so I just stared at it. Then I sighed a kind of sigh that was better than sex. Don't tell the girl that. We coma'd until checkout time and 34 hours later I was in downtown Mexico city with a friend of a friend, eating tacos al pastor and drinking dark Corona blended with spicy Clamatto juice from a street-cart.
That's probably the thing that I miss the most about Latin America. How systems, cities and just the whole culture are children of the people. Allow me to explain: let's say that there's a guy selling hot dogs on the corner. Within an afternoon, maybe 3 guys an hour come and ask the guy for a lighter. He's says, ''...Look, I don't smoke, nor do I sell cigarettes here'' and this would be a totally common North American reply, as in ''...cunt off buddy!'' Not so in paradise. Due to the persistence of the pedestrians the hog-dog vendor simply buys a lighter, welds it to a chain that’s attached to his cart. That's my amigo! Not point in fighting the culture currents here, just follow the flow and shut the fuck up cabroncito!
It’s like everyone has a hint of a pimp in them and I mean that in the sweetest way possible. A little bit of a charismatic tongue and cheek combination, a lot of resilience and suddenly there’s a warm cookie on your lap. Or if the mood strikes you and if are a heterosexual man or a homosexual female it could even be a beautiful morena in between your sweaty pink palms. But if you were considering traveling to Latin America and feeling that maybe it’s not your style, don’t worry we have some blondes for the picking too.