Travel has always been a source of inspiration. Experiencing new countries and getting to know them through their food- tiles my memory with a mosaic of color, flavor and nostalgia. During the past year of self discovery, Istanbul provided that for me on a level only second to a journey back to Iran 20 years after my family immigrated from my place of birth. Turkish culture has many parallels to Persian culture and that might explain why one sees many Iranians walking the streets of Istanbul. I heard more Farsi spoken there that I have in Great Neck!
Us Iranians, we are nostalgic people. Nostalgia is a common human sensation, but Persian culture is deeply impacted by the elusive dream of the past. Always distorted, always yearned for, and always seen as better days. It keeps us from the truth of the present and the pain of reality. It’s seen as something beautiful, something irrevocable and somewhere that will always be better than where we are now. Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris” portrays this sentiment well. Regardless of the decade, there is a constant notion that the “golden age” existed in the past and the story line follows various characters in the constant quest for better times. However, like the unforeseeable future, the past itself is an idealized version of something we want it to be, not what we know as reality. Memory is fiction. An though at times I struggle with this truth, I still allow myself to relish in the people and places that take me to my idealized history, regardless of it’s distance from what may have actually happened.
Istanbul was that kind of journey. It was a last minute trip which ended up being one of the most profound travels of my adult life. To my surprise the food in Istanbul was not great. Aside from the endless spice bazaars which I bought a zillion colorful powders from, the food was bland. The meals were disappointing everywhere from street-food to high end restaurants. The kebabs were fatty, the lemons had a strange aftertaste and Manti was mushy. Besides the delicious baklava and teas and coffees we did not have any memorable meals.
However, despite this unexpected letdown, I was happy to be there. I felt a strong connection to this city, to it’s people, and to its history. All the sites we visited were beautiful and somewhat ethereal with their echos of the past. I became obsessed the tile work such as the ones in the Blue Mosque and fell utterly in love with Iznik Turkish Tile. I bought bowls and scarves and coasters with these beautiful patterns and even invested in tiles painted by an artists of Iznik tile who is dedicated to continuing this ancient art form, passed down generation to generation.
This was a magical journey amongst history, minerates, domes, culture and faith. Color and beauty collided in the smokey city where East met West, where inspiration bloomed, where ancient empires once stood and where today, the old and new mingle in beautiful harmony. At the end, a trip to this land ended up being a journey to my self. To understanding myself and to appreciating all aspects of my human experience. From the allure of the past, to the tangible miracle of the present and the promise of a bright future and the unique combination of them all, which ultimately make the Mosaic of Me. The Mosaic of Nazanin. For so long I had struggled with my own East meets West identify conflic- what was I supposed to be? Which was I supposed to be? For the first time, I recognized the beauty of the sum of the parts and the harmony that exists in contrasts. Perhaps this is why the tiles mesmerized me so.
As Azadeh Moaveni says poignantly and beautifully in her memoir “Lipstick Jihad”-
“All our lives were formed against the backdrop of this history, fated to be home nowhere- not completely in America not completely in Iran. For us home was not determined by latitudes and longitudes. It was spacial. This was the modern Iranian experience that bound the diaspora to Iran….. But the bridge between Iran and the past, Iran and the future, between exile and homeland, existed at these tables- in kitchens, in bars, in Tehran or Manhattan- where we forgot about the world outside. [Our culture] had been disfigured, and we carried its scraps in our pockets, and when we assembled, we laid them out, and we were home.”
Simin Bari- A popular Persian tune sung by a Turkish artist, heard all over cafes in