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From Naderi Cafe to Kafka's Soup


With the permission of the anonymous author; translated by an anonymous Tehrani civilian -- It is three decades now that an abandoned sculpture of a white angel is locked in the backyard of the Naderi Café which once upon a time overlooked the great contemporary literary figures of this country sitting next to its now decaying feet. Apparently, however, decay is not the fate of only this angel which has been isolated like the spirit of Iranian contemporary literature for years. The same destructive fate is now looking into the eyes of the whole Café which was the main meeting place of Iranian intellectuals in the fifth and sixth decades of the last century.


The path the Naderi Café is going through is the same path that the closed dictator-oriented society of Iran has determined for our culture; a drowsy society which has been active for years now in destroying its history and culture by its surrender to dictatorship or harried choices made out of excitement.

In this closed society, the result of those choices and appointments drove some into suicide before the revolution, and led the bus on which a whole group of writers were traveling, some having spent their youth in this very café, toward a steep valley after the revolution when killing was pursued from the beginning not only with the intention of physical elimination of the intellectuals, but also the exclusion of their literary presence in an attempt to intensify the deep abyss between them and ordinary people. Prohibiting the reprint and sale of Forough Farokhzad's poetry and Sadeq Hedayat's books, as well as the works of many other thinkers were all solid bases and an important capital for exclusion of the intellectual class from the social classes.

How did the society act in regard to such eliminations and destructions? If after the revolution we wished to take a step toward progressive changes, then why didn't we show any collective reaction to any of these purging? I remember the story of a writer in one of the European countries who was locked in a room under the rooftop of one of the houses overlooking a square of a war-stricken city during the Second World War. He could see only a lone tree through a small hole in that room. The tree turned into a symbol for him to endure the extreme hardship of those days and write his novel.

What did the given society do for those moments of this writer's life? Did it forget that house and let it decay? Did it let the House Town destroy the square next to that house to build the underground station instead? Did it cut that tree just because it was too old and planted a new tree in its place? Did they stand aside watching them to destroy the whole of that history first, and then begin to moan, weep and sigh for it?

No, such things do not happen in democratic societies because people do not see their writers separate from themselves. They chose his name for that square and cherished that tree. They wrote the story of that rooftop and everyday the fans of that writer go to that room to look outside through the same hole which their favorite writer looked through.

There was a café where Kafka had once ordered a dish of soup. The owner knew the famous Kafka and respectfully and honorably served him the soup. After eating the soup, Kafka makes the comment: Such a delicious soup it was! What did the owner do in response? Did he regard Kafka's appreciation like that of others and forgot what he had heard? Did he just talk about the memory of that day to a couple of people? Did he put those dishes among others and forgot on which table Kafka had sat?

No! He knew who had come to his Restaurant and changed the name of the soup Kafka appreciated to Kafka's soup. He preserved those plates like a treasure in a cupboard of his restaurant and marked that table and chair for others to see and remember.

These are long individual steps that each member of a society can take in order to respect and cherish the culture and art of their country. A simple task which implies a motivation to bring about a change, to develop some self-belief in leaving an impression in the society, instead of slumbering and merely get impressed!

Café Naderi has been put on sale. One approach regards the cultural inheritance organization as the main culprit, which is true and there is no doubt about it. However, the function of this organization is well-known. In general what else can be expected of a state which is years now that has deliberately been investing in demolishing our historical inheritance? And it is years now that nothing other than the fetid smell of dampness and ruins can be sensed from that organization. The other approach repeated frequently is that the owners are evidently some materialists interested only in their eight million dollars situated along the Jomhuri (Republic) Street and do not give a damn to the cultural aspects of their family inheritance. But isn't such an approach the same as putting the responsibility on other's shoulders in order to take a sigh of relief out of mere irresponsibility?

In addition, it may induce a better feeling in us in the sense that by blaming and sabotaging another we confiscate a privilege for ourselves which might be called self-healing of the sting of conscience. But shouldn't we ask ourselves what is making an Iranian Armenian family whose grandfather prepared the most significant cultural haunt of the country for the great men of letters decide to sell the place? It is ten years now that the family can not be bothered to even paint that building. Do we ask ourselves how responsible we regard ourselves toward that Café and the whole history of the contemporary literary culture which took deep breaths in its air and led hot debates? What is our share in keeping it alive and how much we have paid for this share?

This is the real story of the Naderi Café these days: The present owners of the Naderi Hotel and Café intend to sell this cultural historical building due to their financial problems. The building is eighty years old and they have done nothing for its preservation. In 2002 when the news of the owners' decision to sell the place was first published, the continuous follow-ups of the media led to its registration by the cultural inheritance organization a year later. This was an effective step because when a building is registered by this organization, legally it can no longer be demolished.

But now seven years after its registration it is quite evident that the given organization is absolutely indifferent toward preservation of this building because it has done what it is supposed to do after registering a building as a cultural inheritance. The Naderi Café is in the same collapsing state and attempts to sell it are naturally continuing. The total area of the hotel and café is around three thousand square meters and its price is estimated to be around eight million dollars.

Let us now have a look at the history of the Russian immigrant who built this café.

The Naderi Café was built in 1927 by a Russian immigrant called Khachik Madikians. It was called Naderi because of its location along the ex-Naderi street now called Jomhuri. He was the first to open a confectionary in Tehran, also introducing cultural foods to Iranians for the first time in the Naderi Restaurant. Later he built a hotel next to the café under the same name. The Naderi Hotel was the second hotel built in Tehran. The fist was the Grand Hotel.

Even though nothing has remained from the original architecture of the Naderi Café, but mere sitting in it still induces a deep feeling of nostalgia. After a fire broke out in the building due to the negligence of one of the clients whose cigarette fell on a bed because he was dozing the original traditional building seen in a very few remaining pictures was totally burnt. The new renovated complex looks more like the rest of buildings constructed during seventies in Iran.

The Naderi Café and Hotel was completed in 1928 as a recreational complex in a western style, particularly Germans at the same time when the rail way and the country's banks were under construction. The complex possessed a confectionary too. As mentioned before there is no trace of the old architecture of the café which can now only be seen in a few pictures decorating the walls of its entrance hall way. None of those tile walls arching on top of the building or the wooden narrow long windows facing the balconies are not there any more.

The Naderi Café turned into a place of political and cultural meetings in fifties and sixties, the haunt of many intellectuals like Sadeq Hedayat, Jalal Al-ahman, Ahmad Fardid, Simin Daneshvar, Nima Yushij and Forough Farokhzad. It owes its fame as the most nostalgic cultural haunt of the country largely to the regular visits of such esteemed figures.

The present owners of this complex are the grandchildren of Khachick Madikians. Despite its present air, looking much plainer than other restaurants and cafes with low standards of hygiene and service mainly due to its owners' negligence, it is always full of people who go there in order to live in history, occupy the chairs on which great Iranian cultural figures sat and breathe its nostalgic air for half an hour or so.

The worn out utensils, glasses with broken edges and busted plates are all a part of the history of this café which is still serving its passionate clients with them. Nothing has changed in it, chairs, cups and even the spoons and forks are the same old ones. The internal decoration has not changed. The covering of the tables are in the same off-white color of fifty or sixty years ago.

These are the main features of the Naderi café. The waiters have been working there for forty years now, thus the café has naturally become an inseparable part of their lives. In fact they too have turned into a part of the history of this cultural environ and each has many memories of its blooming days and its famous clients.

But lots of things have happened in these years. The police constantly has kept bothering the owners, creating a new entanglement for them nearly everyday. First they forbid the use of the backyard where that white angel is still standing petrified. The same angel who once listened to the live music played there by an orchestra. The order was issued lest it becomes the meeting place of young people, stranger to each other. They then said, it can only be used for smoking. Later they said its door should be kept sealed! In short, the owners faced the same old questions of women's covering and all other things which have made this profession - hotel- café- and restaurant- management - extremely cumbersome in Iran.

The café does not have its old clients any more. It is collapsing from all angles. It possesses neither its old esteem, nor any kind of flamboyance; the most is that every now and then a few reporters may visit the place, ask about its history, write a few lines and leave. Not only there is no state support, but the real tendency and goal is to eliminate this living memory of the splendid days of literary intellectualism in Iran from the face of Tehran. The private section has its own problems and prefers to erect skyscrapers rather than to invest in restoration of any historical cultural monument. Well, this is only a small part of the problems and if there is no inclination to preserve this building it is all because what is said above sucks the spirit of restoration and preservation of this building from the body of its owner like a beast.

Now perhaps it would not be a bad idea to talk a little about "dead cafes" of Iran's intellectualism as well here. As the contemporary history shows, the fifties and sixties were the blooming decades of Iranian contemporary art and literature. The Si-Tir Street from the National museum to the Naderi Street housed several cafés where intellectuals of the country met. Firouz Café at the beginning of Nobaha'r Street in the Jomhuri Street was the meeting space of Jalal Al-ahmad and his fans. Today, the building has been turned into a bank. The Riviera Café was at the beginning of Qavam Street and the meeting place of intellectual students; it is now a restaurant. The Laqanteh Café was at the beginning of Ba'b Homa'youn Street, now turned into a grocery. The Kuchini café, one of the latest was the meeting place of musicians like Farhad Mehrdad, Farid Zuland and Ardalan Sarafraz. It is now turned into a wedding hall. The Ferdosi café which was once the haunt of Sadeq Hedayat, Ahmad Shamlu, Forough Farokhzad and many others does not exist anymore; with no trace of it remaining.

Today there is only the Naderi Café and Goleh Reza-ee-yeh Café. Now the fundamental question is whether we are able to behave in the same way as the owner of that restaurant did with Kafka's soup?

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