By Davood Rahni, Somers New York
The blossoming of the white, red, yellow and violet crocuses of the saffron family in their front yard and the deep yellow forsythia hedgers on their property line, herald the arrival of spring in New York. Daria was reminiscing on last Tuesday night’s gathering-the family had attended Chaharshanbe Suri, the Zoroastrian fire ritual in the Cultural Center, which is the prelude to Nowruz. She could not fully recall the Persian lyrics sung as they jumped over fire-pits, but surmised it translated into:
“O’ sacred Fire, take away my yellow sickness and give me in return your healthy red color!”
Lost in her thoughts for a moment, she weighed in imminent options; the ultimate college decision she should soon make, and what life’s prospects might bring her. She was anxiously awaiting to receive her college letters as she had only heard from a few including two amount the top 100 in the nation, yet she yeaned for the only one from the top 50! She snapped out of her concentration as the doorbell chimed. It was the evening of March 20th, and family and friends were arriving in droves as usual later than expected. In the home of professors Faranak and Davood Parsa, silk Persian carpets spread on hardwood oak floors in each room, complemented with hand crafted khatam miniature frames on walls-the paintings of polo games, historic battles, epic Persian characters and poetry readings, and dancing and music performances. The guests, notably the children were drawn toward the sofreh haft-seen set at the foot of the grand staircase. This symbolizes the commemoration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year at the spring vernal equinox and cherishedsince the agricultural epoch as far back as ten thousand years ago.
The sofreh haft-seen mahogany roundtable was covered with an antique hand-woven silk cloth on which laid seven beautifully plant-derived items whose Persian names begin with the letter “S”: sabzeh- wheat and lentil germinations symbolizing rebirth; senjed- the dried fruit of the oleaster tree symbolizing love; seer-garlic symbolizing medicine; seeb-apples symbolizing beauty and earth; somaqh-sumac berries symbolizing sunrise; samanu- cooked germinated wheat for affluence, and serkeh-vinegar symbolizing ripeness, longevity, and perseverance. A round analog clock signifying time, a fishbowl with two gold fish signifying companionship and life, painted eggs for fertility, and a saucer of coins from the five continents to reflect prosperity were also present on the table. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinths were everywhere. A triple green, white, and red flickering candelabra to the right of the table reflect in the mirror, balancing on the left with three illustrious books of poems. Each book had a myriad storytelling miniature illustrations of a thousand years ago. The books were from circa 11th through the 13th century CE: Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the Persian epic book of the Kings, Rumi’s Mathnawi, the compendium of spiritual poems, and Omer Khayyam’s Quatrains-prose in eighteen languages, the Nightingale bemoans to the Persian Rose.
The Nowruz Sofreh Haft-Seen table (www.7seen.com)
"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness,
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"
The aromas from the buffet style Persian cuisines exquisitely arranged over the dining table was simply breathtaking. Saffron over piles of basmati rice spiced with cardamoms, cumin, cinnamon and sour cherries was the main staple. Assorted trays of Sultani kabobs, Joujeh, Barg and Koubideh, i.e., the skewers of chicken breasts, skirt steaks, and ground burgers interspersed with barbecued vegetables, were competing with a slew of stews and gravies, lamb shanks, white fish and meatballs and graded walnuts simmered in dark red pomegranate pastes. The dinner was ordered in part from the Persian restaurant rated 30 out of 30 by the Zagat in New York City; that did not deter Faranak from receiving guests’ compliments with exuberance as if Davood had no input and she herself had painstakingly prepared them all!
The Nowruz celebration by the crowd in their latest fancy fashion night-gowns, that had now grown to over a hundred, was in full blast; a few kept gossiping about some tardy guests still expected to arrive two hours late! The few dozen youngsters, ranged from a newborn girl passed around to be embraced on the main floor, to toddlers, teenagers and college students now hanging out in the basement; they wre eating and conversing next to the fireplace some were listening and dancing to a loud modern Persian music video Boro Boro on the large screen by Arash, the Swedish hip pop Persian singer. Arash’s parents were from Shiraz and Isfahan in central Iran, but he had always made a point of crediting his paternal Iranian Azarbaijani great grandfather Rostam for his vocal talent; as a child, he had met the family’s centenarian patriarch. Daria had also heard of her own great grandfather’s epic songs back at the ancestral land joyously revered by the residents of the sleepy hamlet of Rahan on the slope of the Karkas (vulture) Mountain; at its peak, the fire of Atashkadeh the Zoroastrian Temple is still gloriously flickering and flaring all night long. Rostam had only thrived on abgousht the lamb legume stew, lots of daily vegetables, dairies and fruits, and had never gone to a doctor until he passed away at 107!
As the Shiraz red dry wine was heavily consumed alongside the freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and dinner in the family room overlooking the water estuary on back, adults were discussing the U.S. current and future affairs: children, education, career, healthcare, economy and retirement. Although English was the predominant language in Daria’s household and thus at this and any other gatherings, one could not help but to hear accentuations of English by Persian, Persian Hebrew, Italian, Armenian and Turkish phrases on the air. The debate was soon as usual diverted, by a melancholic expatriate’s nostalgic yearning for the mother country, to the inconclusive lingering dilemma in Iran. The yearning for democracy, freedoms, sovereignty, human rights, equality, transparency, justice and peace that were all overshadowed by western sanctions and the imminent possibility of war, were passionately debated.
Nowruz (aka Norouz or Norooz et al) literally means the first day [of the New Year] in Persian. It falls amongst the solar calendars that were conceived by agricultural people far north of the Tropic of Cancer. The sun, sols invictus, was revered in most ancient worlds, whereas the people south of the Tropic of Cancer developed the lunar calendars as they depended on the moon and stars for night navigation and caravan movements in the hot and arid Sahara. In addition to Iran, Nowruz celebration, tied to mother-nature, transcends religions, ethnicity, race and creed, and is also celebrated in all countries of central and south Asia, western China, the Caucuses, and west Asia.
The Map of central and west Asia with Persian Gulf at its heart,
the Caspian Sea to its north, and IRAN in its center.
Nowruz is also celebrated eclectically in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Georgia, India, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Highly diverse ethnic people in the region observing Nowruz include the Assyrians, Armenians, Turks, Uighors, Uzbeks, and Kurds, with diverse religions such as the agnostics, Bahais, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Moslems, spiritualists and Zoroastrians. The Commoner New Year at spring vernal equinox was also observed by the serfs, peasants, and farmers in the west through the eighteenth century. Is it serendipitous or predestined that Easter observation in Europe now embraced by Christianity, also coincides with early spring and Nowruz? Finally, over ten million immigrants from the above countries currently residing in Europe and North America also celebrate Nowruz. Daria proudly boasted to a few first time friends basement that the U.S. President sends a Nowruz message on March 20 each year and hosts a Nowruz grand gala at the white House with a few hundred invitees.
Daria sitting on a side chair on the main floor was again in monologue with a few first timer teens whose one parent was Persian-American and the other a U.S. native. She shared, “In Mesopotamia and the Persian (Iran) Plateau of west Asia where on the first day of spring the length of the days begins to be longer than nights, is a natural day for celebrating the Nowruz. The day coincides with wild Persian violets and fruit trees blossoming and wheat, barley, vegetables, and legumes geminating. It never snows after Nowruz but rainbows after rains are frequent.”
After enduring the long freezing cold winter in the sleepy hamlet of Somers located in New York City’s northern suburb of Westchester County, Daria’s family was once again looking forward to celebrating Nowruz. Daria, the seventeen year old was a tall slender girl with large deep hazel eyes, a round, fair complexion and black hair, complete with a congenial personality that engaged everyone young and old, in fascinating and frankly entertaining conversations. Born as the third child, Daria restlessly looked forward to this year’s Nowruz in particular, as she planned on moving out to college in the fall.
Daria remembered the word Iran and Ireland both meant the land of the Aryans, as the two were distantly related back in time. “In addition to Nowruz, my family observes other Persian celebrations at the beginning of the other three seasons as well the mainstream Christian and Jewish commemorations and the western New Year.” Her two siblings Cyrus and Darius, are a herpetologist physician and a psychologist professor, respectively. They are twelve and ten years elder than Daria, and have left home a while back, although the family has remained as closely-knit as any other family because of their daily conversations and weekly dinner get-togethers.
As Daria was roaming around to ensure everyone especially the children were stocked with foods, deserts or drinks, and the music was pumping downstairs, she said to her new friends, “I have been most fortunate in life in that my family celebrates two distinct New Years, but we also share the festivities of other New Years, as cherished by our Assyrian, Armenian, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Jewish, Lebanese, and Russian friends.” Daria reminisced nostalgically that she enjoyed the frequent exchanges of gifts, attending special concert dinners, and the many family gatherings when she listened to ancestral stories of the ancient past. One could hear bits and pieces spoken in half a dozen languages at the party. Raised in a multilingual and multi-cultural environment conjured up in her memory times when she followed a family or a young couple in the mall eavesdropping to their secrets who never noticed her grasping their native tongue! In retrospect and although she would still not acknowledge it to her parents, her tedious Sunday Persian and culture schooling had paid off, especially when she felt the advantage over her siblings who could not read or write and had rudimentary conversational skills in Persian.
Conversations suddenly came to a halt as a matriarch began showing off her community to her newly-wed Italian-American son-in-law a hedge fund manager, attending the event for the first time:
“You see, Tony, look around here. It is rare to attend our gatherings and find someone with less than a doctorate, or not an affluent entrepreneur! Our Persian-American community of nearly one million has the highest number of college graduates, doctors, professors, lawyers and Fortune 500 executives of any recently arrived immigrant community of the past few decades.”
Daria wondered if other immigrant communities could not make the same self-boasting claim. Her trance and the heated discourse on politics were fortuitously interrupted by a plutonic virtuoso quartet, playing ancient instruments: a santur (hammered dulcimer), tar (string), tonbak (percussion), and Ney (flute). Two vocalists -the ever popular physicians Shiva and her spouse Moshe- began singing a famous Rumi spiritual poem that like thousands of other classical poetries, everyone knew by heart. The initial silence gradually gave way to hymning along with the duo-vocalists of the ghazal, while the guests enjoyed the Persian pistachios/noodle ice-cream, followed by frequent sipping of the freshly brewed cardamom-Jasmin Darjeeling tea and baklava. The music was certainly intoxicating, conjuring up the simultaneous performance of Yo-Yo Ma’s ensemble representing twenty countries along the 6,500 miles long Silk Road, and the Paul Winter’s winter solstice concert at the St. John’s the Divine Cathedral of the upper Westside in Manhattan; it’s as if the Lucifer’s trumpet had combined them all into one deafening blast!
Daria bored herself as she could not deeply relate to spiritual monotonous and tonal classical Persian music when compared to Arash’s hip hop music, and while feeling the same boredom in her new friends’ faces, dragged them down to the basement again. As they were eating bastani-paloudeh, the Persian ice-cream with fresh pomegranates on it, and while watching passively Arash on the screen, she continued:
“Volunteerism, altruism and philanthropy are strong pillars of our community in the U.S. Daria has known this for quite some time as her community considers these virtues not religious duties but the religion of humanitarianism itself. She has further realized that species are programmed to grow after birth, and replicate and bring their offspring to adulthood before they die. Daria said, “Human consciousness has, in addition, instilled in us she believed, an inextricable sense of purpose, to give back to the society we live in and the global village, before we move on through the journey of the cosmos.” This, in particular, is important - that we yearn to leave a legacy behind far above a job for sustenance, a legacy which goes far beyond our immediate family, and recognized or even revered by many after our passing. In reflecting on her first two decades of life and Nowruz, Daria was clearly appreciating the seminal gratis contributions her parents and their community members provided, and thus was intrigued with the prospect of soon reciprocating to society by following in their footsteps. The famous Persian poem by the 13th century Sa’di conjured up in her mind:
All humans are members of one frame,
Since all, at first, from the same essence, came.
When by hard fortune one limb is oppressed,
The other members lose their desired rest.
If thou feel’st not for others’ misery,
A human is no name for thee .
Thanks to parents’ gifting all children, each had a few more hundred dollars in their pockets for Nowruz, except Daria’s was doubled in recognition of her graduation and rite of passage to college. Daria made all her friends promise to show up early for fun, game, dancing, potluck lunch and pastries at Sizdah Bedar Picnic, on Sunday April 6, 2014 the 13th concluding day of Nowruz, at Bear Mountain State Park south of WestPoint. Back at their party, the music wound down when the guests noticed the triumph of sunlight over the vanishing darkness over the horizon. As they started trickling out to return home, there remained a sense of anticipation to the next Nowruz before the next vernal equinox horizon.
Nowruz stone carvings at Persepolis, the capital palace of King Darius I receives gifts and taxes from the emissaries of the 27 Satrapi Ostan (Provinces) in the Achaemenid Persian Empire (~555 BCE) that spanned from India and China to Eastern Europe and North Africa.
And at last, this year’s Nowruz Banners, sponsored and displayed in Irvine California by the Network Iranian-American Professional Organization of Orange County, are as follows:
Nowruz Pirouz va Khojasteh Bad!
... Payvand News - 03/17/14 ... --