Tuesday, July 13, 2010


That is the question. I’m really getting into my Iran book, trying desperately to get chapters done. I’ve left my blog sitting since June because I don’t want to take the time out from writing. I’m up to 17 chapters now. The weather is in the 100s and too hot to stick my head out of the house so that saves me some time for writing.

However, I joined a writer’s Read/Review website: “The Next Big Writer” which has helped immensely. As a member, you must “read and review” other author’s writing to gain points to post your own writing. It’s a pretty slick deal. The people who have given me numerous reviews are incredible! That’s doesn’t mean that everyone gave me great reviews; it just means that they were well-versed in HOW to review. Most caught glitches that I did not pick up in my reading, reading and re-reading. Some caught glitches that others missed, however, the ones that missed them found glitches that the first ones missed. Some have offered ways to change a phrase, delete a passage, change POV, get active instead of passive, show don’t tell, all the things a writer knows, but fails to pick up on their own work.

I would recommend any writer who is working on a manuscript or poem to join this group. It’s like attending a Read and Critique class, but you get to stay home in your jammies or undies while hundreds of eyes are reviewing your work.

The website is: www.thenextbigwriter.com
For all you writers, give it a try.

Here’s an excerpt from a chapter I’m working on now in: A Broad Abroad in Iran: One Strappy-Sandaled Foot Ahead of the Mullahs.

JULY, 1977
Noise, Odors and Treasures

“Don’t go to the bazaar without me.”
My husband was hyped up about taking us to this incredible place. “I think you might get a bit overwhelmed, and I want to see your reaction.” I wondered, did he expect me to scream, cry, jump up and down? I admit I am a very excitable person, so maybe all three. He’d told us about the bazaar in some of the letters he’d sent home, but I had no idea what awaited me.

The following Friday we set off on our big adventure. As we approached the square, I could hear an unearthly clamor wafting out from the entrance and was a little apprehensive about entering. I saw that some merchants had their wares lined up around the outside walls of the great edifice, and thought quite clever—no overhead, and they could make a sale before the merchants inside had a chance to corral the tourists.

Hand-blown glass vases, bowls and platters, copper and brass pots gleamed in the bright sun. Exotic-smelling spices and scents called to me. I was eager to buy it all. “Hold off, Earl said, “wait until we get inside and see everything they’ve got.” He herded us toward the entrance.

Then we stepped inside.

Oh, what a glorious, exciting place! But filthy!
Eardrum-piercing Persian and American music blared forth from every nook and cranny, as it mixed radios, tape decks, and the worst offenders of all, the loud speakers which were affixed to the earthen walls. All came together in one huge reverberation. If I concentrated hard enough, I could make out some Neil Diamond, The Beatles and even some Rod Stewart, while Googoosh, Iran’s most famous female singer in the 70s, wailed her disco sounds in the background. All this music was mingled with a multitude of babbling voices as women in chadors, hell bent to get the freshest produce, pushed and shoved against each other, while merchants or “bazaaris” yelled out their prices. It was a cacophony of music, braying donkeys, baaing goats, clucking chickens, ugly sheep and snot-nosed, howling kids, who I might add were all underfoot and running wild. And I was enthralled!

The air was at once fetid and pungent, sour, sweet, and then disgusting. At times the odors were overpowering: meat that should have been tossed a week earlier, along with rotting fruit and rancid oils. Added to this assault on the newcomer’s nose was the rank smell of urine that played in the mix as men chose to relieve themselves against any wall close enough. The worst assault was the occasional smell of animal excrement, dropped at will, and seemingly always underfoot.

The body odor that inundated the bazaar was insufferable, facilitated by the extreme dry heat outside, the humid air inside, and the mass of humanity. I had the distinct feeling that some of that odor might have attached itself to my clothes, so every now and then I’d do a clandestine sniff.

Denny, my ten-year-old son, was intrigued by the animals that roamed freely, while Lauri, my twelve-year-old daughter, hung next to her father, terrified of the leering men. The merchants, men of all shapes, sizes, and colors, wore dark suit coats over sweaters, dark dusty pants and worn down shoes or sandals. Even I was a little wigged out by them. Her father laghed at her fears, “Honey, these men will only keep you prisoner until you’re 20. Don’t be so afraid.”

She didn’t think it was funny. “Mom, it stinks in here.”
I had to agree with her. It was hard to carry on a conversation while breathing through my mouth. I knew better than to use my finicky olfactory glands in this place. “Well of course it does,” Earl said. Haven’t you seen all the animals running around?”

“No, I mean, B.O.”

Denny piped in: “It’s not just B.O., Dad, it’s donkey poop. I just saw a man step in some and he just kept walking.”

Earl was weary of their complaints. He’d been excited to show them the bazaar and all they’d done was worry about everything. “Hey, this is a cultural lesson for you two. There are people here from all over the world. Forget about smells. Try to learn something from it. This is how they traded long before there were any stores. They’d carry all this stuff you see in here with their caravans and head out to trade with other countries.”

“No way, Dad,” Denny said. “You mean on camels across the desert?”

“Yep. The same way Marco Polo got around.”

“Marco Polo? I thought that the name of a pool game.”

I made a mental note: Get son a history book.

As we pushed and shoved our way along, I kept a firm grip on Lauri’s hand, while Denny, begrudgingly, let Earl hold his. It was rather spooky. It seemed that most of the men looked at me with disapproval in their eyes. Did I imagine it? I don’t think so and it ticked me off. I’d made a point of dressing modestly; a long blouse over jeans. Yet, I could feel them undress me with their eyes. They made no secret of it. I was pissed and asked Earl to get in their faces.

“Really, Dodie. This is their country, and I’m not going to start an International incident because some old geezer finds you nice to look at.”

“It’s more than just looking at me,” I said. “They’re gawking, and looking right at my chest.”

“Can’t blame ‘em.”

“The next time we come, I’m wearing a Levi jacket. Let’s see them check out any body parts then.”

“Not me,” Lauri said, “I’m never coming back to this scary place.” And she didn’t. She much preferred going uptown to the gold stores and carpet shops.

I found it intriguing. Everywhere I looked was something I knew I couldn’t live without. Beautiful hand-woven carpets were everywhere; some hung from wobbly wooden racks on the earthen walls, some piled on the dirty floors, while peddlers cajoled you to buy the carpet of your dreams: “Special made for you, Ma-dam.” Picture frames made of camel bone with intricately carved stories of Persia’s history, then filled in with India ink from a cat-whisker brush.

After I’d recovered from the shock of the noise, crowds and odors—wet Sherpas came to mind—I loved it. How could you not love a place that called out to sell you something wonderful? I’d find a way to get around the ogling men, smells and noise. It’s amazing what a person can do when they’re besotted.

And return I did, either with Earl (the kids begged off) or with Trudy, or anyone I could drag along with me. Exploring was what I loved to do, and this place begged for it. The bazaar seemed to be shaped like a huge honeycomb with a vast labyrinth of paths leading in all directions. Dark, unending lanes wound off to even darker places, with dimly lit cubbyholes scooped out of rock and dirt walls, sometimes roofed, sometimes gaps in the top that let in a soft-filtered light. Dirty, fly-encrusted light bulbs hung from ceilings which gave the place a dank, gloomy presence. Dirt paths wound through the maze where you might find someone who sold everything from expensive art to spices to vegetables, locally grown or imported. You could walk forever and never quite see it all in the famous Isfahan Bazaar.

Dozens of peddlers hawking their wares, called to me from stalls no bigger than a small closet. Fine silks to mysterious smelling incense.

At one of the stalls a small boy, maybe four years old, hammered away with a chisel on a copper platter. His little legs hung over the edge of the stool, three feet from the floor, but he knew exactly what he was doing as he pounded away, and then showed his work to the merchant. He obviously was doing a good job as the man would smile, pat him on the top of the head and then offer it to me. Of course I had to buy it from him. Was this “Child endangerment” I was witnessing? Nah! It had to be his son.

One of my greatest finds was a frail, ancient man who looked like he might blow away in a heavy wind. Squatting on a dirt floor, he etched out wondrous engravings on copper and brass pots, plates and vases. I was in awe of the beautiful artistic work coming from such an old man, who looked as though his sight had left him in his 90s. His cataract-filled eyes stared off into space, as he did his handiwork. Could he possibly be blind? I saw him trace his work with his bony fingers, over and over, always ending with a finger on the spot he’d just finished.

I tried to get his attention. I coughed several times, said, “Salam, Agah,” but he never looked up. I squatted down beside him and touched his emaciated arm. “Agah? These are beautiful. Che ghadr?—how much.

He reached out and plucked a pot from the earthen wall. He held up five fingers as he stared straight ahead. “Huh?” What did that mean? I looked around for Trudy who’d left me to check out some carpets. I found her and dragged her back, along with a carpet merchant who wasn’t about to let a good buy get away.

“Would you please ask him how much for this copper pot,” I asked the rug merchant.

“No problem, Ma-dam” he said. He rattled off something in Farsi and the old man again raised five fingers. “He says you buy five pots and he give you good price.”

Oh yes! I’d heard about this game. Only a rube takes the first price I’d been told. In fact, I’d heard that if you argue with the merchant about the price he’ll have more respect for you. Did they not know who they were dealing with? Dodie, the master haggler!

“I don’t need five pots. Please tell him that I want only this one.” I pointed to a small copper pot on the floor. “And I need to know how much. If it’s a good price, maybe I’ll return and buy more.” I was extremely excited by the beauty of his work. I could envision my house glowing with copper and brass pots and platters on every wall.

Again the chattering from the rug merchant, but only a quick nod from the old man. “He say you take five or he not sell.”

“How can you say that when he didn’t even move his mouth?”

Trudy nudged me. “They all work together to fleece foreigners. Just say you’ll return another day and maybe he’ll change his mind.”
“Okay, Merci.”

I turned to leave. “Farda.”—tomorrow.

I took another step. Nothing! I looked back. No movement from the old man. The rug merchant was pulling Trudy by the arm towards his stall. Well, damn! I thought I had this haggling thing down. I must return with a seasoned haggler.

And, return I did. Over and over, so much so that the old man knew me by my cough, and would begin to pull down his treasures for me to admire. The old fool got what he asked for originally, but I was happy to oblige. Of course I told anyone who’d ask about the lovely pots and platters that I’d haggled for and won. I think it’s okay to tell a white lie now and then, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, right? When admirers would ask where his stall was located, I conveniently forgot. Couldn’t have my bartering fame undone.

I loved going to the bazaar. Every walk of life seemed to be represented there. It was definitely a diverse group. Women in smart suits, very high heels, swimming in gold bracelets and huge diamond rings, all haggling with dusty peddlers over meat, fruit and rugs. Old women in filthy chadors, picking over everything, taking bites to see if the fruit was ripe, while the peddler screamed at them. Europeans, Japanese, Russians; it seemed that the whole world was at that bazaar.

The noise was frightful. The grinding and pounding of the copper, the haggling sounds as if they were about to slit each other’s throats, the shouting in Arabic, Greek, German, Spanish, and other unfamiliar languages filled the air. As you walked along, peddlers would yell at you to come look at their stalls: “Buy from me, Ma-Dam, not him, he haf bad rugs.”

Cubbyholes made from dug-outs in the dirt walls were common, where you could find old emaciated men, clothes ragged and threadbare, shoeless and ancient. They’d sit in the dirt etching amazing pictures on their pots and trays.

In one such stall I found an old man who looked as though he’d died a week earlier. He was in a squat position, but very still. His skin was grayish-yellow, mouth agape, with no visible teeth, no chest movement. I stopped in front of him. Terrified! Is he dead? I crept a little closer to see if I could detect breath sounds. I thought about putting my fingers on his carotid artery, but just as I was about to do that, with eyes still closed, he reached up,stuck a long, bony finger deep into a nostril, wiped it on his baggy pants and continued his death-like sleep.

I made a mental note: Keep distance from merchants.

If you'd like to comment on this chapter, feel free!