It’s a small coffee shop, a Shingle-style shack with blue trim, listed by Yelp as one of Laguna Beach’s best. Cookies and biscotti lie in a basket in front of the order window. The barista, an upbeat blonde woman in her late fifties, early sixties, comes over to me. As I’m trying to choose what flavor to put in my coffee, we start talking. She finds out I’m from Phoenix and…
There’s a yoga to everything. Here’s my take on the yoga of Brazilian waxing. Cheers everyone.
Pratyhara (Sensory Withdrawal) – Prior to Appointment
In utter fear you read about the procedure, research the salon, and try to find information about how to decrease if not eliminate the pain. Then wonder if you can combine all the pain relieving mechanisms together. In essence, you plan to achieve complete sensory withdrawal by eating pineapples (for their natural anti-inflammatory qualities) three days in advance, rubbing numbing cream on the site an hour before, and taking Motrin twenty minutes prior.
Pranayama (Breath Control) – The First Time
You arrive early having forgotten all the pre-appointment pain relievers, probably out of fear — and wax wouldn’t adhere to cream anyway, would it? You approach the desk and whisper to the receptionist why you’re there. While waiting, the epiphany of what was I thinking hits. Unfortunately, as soon as you get up to leave they call your name. Shit! You enter with the notion of maintaining ujjayi breathing…
“Come sit with me BB,” she says. We tried many names, “bonus mom,” “b-mom,” “other mom,” but only “BB” (short for Bahar) made me, a member of the auntie-squad, feel comfortable. So it stuck.
I sit with her.
She is restless.
Because of my own lack of confidence in this new role, I typically take his children’s other-than-perfect behavior personally. We sit on the first step of the carpeted staircase and start doing math homework together. When her younger sister asks me a question, she loses her cool. “Car-e-leigh!” she complains. The added “e” after the “r” indicates frustration.
We move to a….http://mothersalwayswrite.com/stay-with-me/
Many thanks to Ms. Julianne Palumbo for publishing my work in Mothers Always Write.
Originally published in Marco Polo Arts Mag
I remember mom wanting everything perfect on that day. Tradition says: whatever state you are in at the moment of vernal equinox, you’ll stay in for a full year. I hoped the Iraqis wouldn’t bomb us at that moment.
I remember spring-cleaning.
I remember mother’s enthusiasm as she’d start growing grassy green wheat or coiling vert lentil sprouts ten days before Noruz (new day), the Persian New Year, that first day of spring.
I remember asking mom to call me when she was ready to bake her chickpea cookies, delicate florets with a little barrette of pistachio in their center. They’d quietly crumble in your mouth. You could eat four or five at a time.
I remember cutting the pistachios into slivers, promising mom not to hurt myself.
I remember the aroma of butter, cardamom, rosewater and honey rising in an embrace with mother’s love to fill the kitchen like Rumi’s poetry. When you walked out of the kitchen, the waft of sweets gave way to the perfume of hyacinths.
I remember the Haft-Seen, a spread of seven items that start with “s,” signifying Zoroastrian divinities.Seeb (apple) symbolized beauty; sir (garlic), health; sabzee (sprouts), birth; sumac, sunrise; serkeh(vinegar), age or patience; samanoo (wheat germ pudding), affluence; senjed (oleaster tree fruit), love. Coins, gold fish, colored eggs, a mirror, the Quran plus Hafez poems adorned the table too.
I remember our yard a mélange of scented colors: the showering amethyst of wisterias, the heaven-pointing lilacs, roses bursting pink and red, pansies playful in orange, yellow, or maroon, the pool sparkling blue.
I remember wearing at least one new article of clothing. Something I still do on Noruz here in the States.
I remember the house so clean it felt more spacious.
I remember my brothers and I watching television while waiting for the celebrations. They always played Robin Hood, a censured version after the revolution of course, but still it was Disney.
I remember the commotion minutes before the equinox.
At last, I remember we’d gather around the Haft-Seen as the New Year Prayer commenced. Oh Lord, transformer of hearts and eyes, alterer of day and night, bestow upon us a most formidable fate. Tic, tac, tic, tac, boom. Voice of music, music of voices burst amidst hugs and kisses.
I remember dad taking out envelopes from inside the Quran with our names on them. He always gave us brand new, crisp bills for eidee (present). To me, his eldest, he gave the most.
I remember looking forward to family visits. They meant more sweets, more eidee.
I remember grandfather greeting us in his pinstriped suit, kissing our foreheads before handing out money from his prayer book. It always smelled of jasmines because he kept jasmines in his book.
I remember the festivities ending on day thirteen. We’d leave the house to throw the sabzee, ill from gathering our bad faith, into running water while making a wish. We made a picnic of it and wished the war away.
*An homage to Joe Brainard
I didn’t know her, only of her. Only that she was thirty-five, mother of three small children, going through divorce, and now in the hospital with some old TIA’s: transient ischemic attacks or mini-strokes. Old strokes need no treatment, but the doctors found obstruction in the artery leading to her brain, the left carotid. They inserted three stents and warned the family about risk of re-stroke. I knew, from residency, they must have put her on anticoagulants…blood thinners. She deteriorated the next day, had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, the worst kind of stroke. She bled into her brain, in the area where the speech center lies, where motor control of the right side rests.
I didn’t know her. Just that she had been through enough already with his affairs and the divorce. Why this?
Grandma used to say, “When Muslims fast, all their prayers are answered.” So I stopped eating, even recited Joshan Kabeer–the prayer that says God’s name 100 different ways–in two languages, taking care to pronounce the glottal H’s perfectly. I read it despite practicing Buddhism now. Though I chanted too.
I didn’t know her, yet dedicated all my activities to her, let her borrow my senses, feel her muscles through my exercise, fill her lungs through my breaths, see art at the museum through my eyes, taste wonderful food at an Italian Christmas through my taste buds.
When she went back to the operating room for a decompression procedure, I imagined her brain on the CT scan, the left hemisphere spongy white from bleeding. She would have been just a case in residency, the subarachnoid hemorrhage case, the exciting craniotomy case, a cool brain to operate on. Now, she was Anna, the woman I wanted to protect against death from thousands of miles away. Had they shaved that beautiful chestnut brown hair? Did they staple or suture the incision?
The ventilator huffed in my ear, as it pushed oxygen into her lungs, clicking at the end of each breath cycle. A monitor, with tentacles stretched onto her limp torso and fingertip, would display her vital signs in different colors, beeping to her…
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For most chocoholics, the love of chocolate is intertwined with a twinge of guilt, if not a full dose of anxiety about sugar, fat, calories, plus other added substances. Austin yogis, Jyl Kutsche and Amy Pancake, may have found a solution to this problem.
These two friends dreamt of a chocolate not currently found in stores, without the additives people react to, either physically or emotionally. Thus was born Chocolate Pharmacy, where pure raw organic chocolate meets spices leading to truffles rich in health benefits and packed with taste. Their Paleo-Certified chocolates have no sugar, gluten, dairy, nuts, or soy. They use Peruvian heirloom Criollo cacao, one of the best in the world.
When I received the email about the product, I was both curious and a little skeptical. Spices in chocolate? Sure, I had tried chili chocolate, but these had everything except chili. Having attended Kutsche’s Yoga of Chocolate class, I knew her love extended beyond just quality dark chocolate to socially responsible practices. So, I decided to give it a try.
To continue, please visit Austin Chronicle Website by clicking the link below.
Five days of self-discovery in the Arizona desert, plus some help from a career coach, and I had decided to make a drastic life change. I actually left twenty-four years of loan-accumulating education and a lucrative career to become a writer.
Incidentally, with English as my second language and immigrant parents, who expected nothing less than a medical degree from their first born, writing had never entered my mind.
Now all of a sudden the craft had put its voodoo curse on me where for two years I simply couldn’t stop writing. To prove serious intentions, shortly after leaving oral surgery an obsessed scribe, I submitted my first essay.
At about this time my brother, a devout Buddhist, tried once again to recruit me into his “life changing practice. Whatever you want just chant for it.” Why not, I figured. What better time than when one is embarking on a new career, which has nothing to do with her old one, and doesn’t even use the same brain hemisphere: oral surgery: left, writing: right.
Abiding by the aphorism, “write what you know,” I wrote about tea, an integral part of any Persian’s upbringing. Then asked for second, third and fourth opinions from writer friends, their friends, and an editor. By the time I implemented all their suggestions, the story changed from teacups and saucers to hierarchy and oppression.
As the essay sailed the digital pathways to its potential home, I unleashed the power of positive thinking on it. You see, Buddhists don’t accept defeat, only victory. Hence, I visualized, set intentions, and chanted like the dickens, so my work would get accepted, despite warnings that first works usually don’t.
Months later, I was just stepping out of the shower when the phone rang. Without having enough time to grab a towel I rushed to answer it. It was Ms. Dexter, Tea A Magazine’s editor. I had been staring at her picture as part of my visualization exercise. She was concerned about the story’s political ramifications. We are dealing with Iran after all. “Oh, no, no. There is nothing political about it.” I assured her in a panic. “It merely describes the social role of tea within families. Really.” God, why didn’t I stick to freaking cups and saucers?
“Ok,” she said. “Let me review it again, compare it to another essay we received, also about Iran, with beautiful pictures of porcelain cups and desserts, and get back to you.”
You mean she actually wanted teacups all along?
I hung up and stood there frozen. Was that a definite no, a partial no? Any chance it could be a possible yes?
You see, when it comes to editors, instead of a badass surgeon I become a respectful subordinate student. So, the idea that an editor had called me, a first time writer, released more adrenaline into my nervous system than it could handle. To prevent a heart attack, still naked, I started chanting at the top of my lungs (living alone had its perks). I just wanted to drown the overdose of “what if” thoughts. Except that, chanting alone was not doing the trick. Such high stimulation called for physical activity. So, without breaking the cycle, still nude and still chanting, I took to cleaning the tile floors. Not the Swiffer mop, either. I am talking down on hands and knees for some vigorous scrubbing, body parts bouncing around. It took two hours before I could collect myself off the shiny floor, put some clothes on, and resume daily activities.
Two weeks passed when another call came in. “Bahar? This is Joanna.”
Here comes the no.
“Ms. Dexter has decided to accept your essay for the Fall issue.”
I thanked her in that no-big-deal-I-get-this-all-the-time voice, hung up, then:
Holy Shit. I’m gonna be a published author.
Scream, jump, “Yes! Yes!” check the phone to make sure I hung up, scream, jump on the bed.
And to think all those years as a Muslim I covered myself from head to toe before praying.
ABROAD, ABYANEH, ANCIENT, ARCHITECTURE, CHADOR, COVERING UP, DRIVING IN IRAN, FARMS, FARSI, FEMALE TRAVEL, GETTING SET UP, IRANIAN MEN, IRANIAN WOMEN'S DRESS, ISLAM, LOVE TO TRAVEL, MODESTY, mosque, MUSLIM, PARTHIAN PAHLAVI, Persian, PINK PANGEA, QOM, RAMADAN, RELIGIOUS, SHRINE, Taarof, travel, TRAVEL MAGAZINE, TRAVEL PICTURE, TRAVEL PICTURES, TRAVEL WRITING, VILLAGER, WALNUT, WALNUT TREE, WANDERLUST, WOMEN, ZOROASTRIAN
Originally Featured in Pink Pangea
The day before Ramadan, my father arranged for his work driver, Mr. Zand, to take us to Abyaneh, an historic village in central Iran. He planned this to stop me from going there with a man, a childhood friend, who had recently expressed deeper-than-friendship feelings for me. As far as dad is concerned, no one is good enough for his daughter.
By 6:10 AM, Mr. Zand, who has an unruly passion for speeding, picked us up. Sans coffee, my best attempt at politeness was a quick hello and a little smile. My mother, Ms. Manners though, still did her pleasantries we call taarof.
“We’ll be bothering you the whole day today, Mr. Zand,” she said.
“Oh please, ma’am. It’s no trouble at all.“
For Iranians, language is a dance of little formalities that roll off the tongue and color the culture.
As soon as we reached the highway, Mr. Zand started speeding to make up for our 10-minute delay.
It was the time of year when by noon, even air molecules melt and bend with heat. During the two months of my stay there, I learned to predict the weather by how the morning air felt. That morning’s breeze left me with some hope for our trip.
We drove to Qom, the most religious city in Iran. It is so religious that women are required to wear a chador (a cloak that covers one from head to toe) any time they step onto the street. Mr. Zand dropped my mom and me off at a diner just outside the city since neither of us was wearing a chador. He would return after taking my dad to work. Before getting out of the car, my dad warned me to fix my scarf and cover all of my hair. We ate breakfast and then left for Abyaneh.
Abyaneh is a mountainous village in the desert. An hour into our drive, the scenery started to change into hills dotted by desert vegetation. In Abyaneh, the earth has folded on itself to create knolls reminiscent of nude figures. We passed the salt lake, which has become a white ribbon due to receding water. Warm air gusted in through the driver’s open window. The heat brought abundant peace, a welcome respite from Tehran’s high decibel noise pollution.
To conserve gas, Mr. Zand kept the air conditioner off. At 9 AM, it must have been 80 degrees. With certainty, in his baritone voice, he informed us: “Today is a good day. It’s still cool. Typically from noon until about 5 PM, people don’t drive.” I felt oddly responsible for putting him through the hardship of this arduous drive and worried that his car might liquefy, but I only had limited time in Iran.
As we made the turn to head east, we passed a few farms–including pomegranate and melon farms. Mom said that melons taste sweeter in more arid environments, where there’s less water. Once the road signs for Abyaneh appeared, Mr. Zand told us: “Get ready. We are heading into the belly of the mountain now.” I perked up as the ascent began.
The scenery changed to one that boasted trees, which helped cool the singeing air a little. As soon as Mom commented in her always-look-on-the-bright-side, “It’s much cooler here,” Mr. Zand draped his arm out of the car languorously. Then he started pointing out the different types of trees. Passing walnut trees, studded with green fruit, he stopped the car and got out to pick some. I, unwilling to forgo any new experience, followed. Seeing me struggle to reach the fruits, he pulled down one of the branches and held it so that I could grab onto the fruits.
A few minutes later, we got back on the road. Mr. Zand gave me his share of walnuts. “Oh thank you, Mr. Zand. But you should take some home for the kids. Please. I insist.” He took two, opened the glove compartment, and instead of putting them in, removed a pocketknife. Then, in the Iranian multitask-while-you-drive style, he cut the walnuts and handed them to us. I had to silence my thoughts about the cleanliness of his knife so we could all enjoy the fresh, soft, white walnuts, inside their green cocoons.
Authoritatively, he claimed: “You know you are not supposed to sleep under a walnut tree. It gives off carbon monoxide and can kill you.” In all of my research, I still have yet to find that fact.
We arrived at the crimson village, Abyaneh, called Vionah (land of willows) by the locals, at noon. It was due to its color that I knew we had reached our destination. Clay houses, born of earth, pleated the mountain skirt red, which were interrupted by curtains of willows. The rooftop of one acted as the courtyard of another.
I was excited to see the women’s costumes I’d read about.
Mr. Zand told us to meet him at the entrance of the village. Mom and I stepped into the feverish air and started walking through the rippled narrow roads. The ground heaved heat. I ran my hand on one of the walls just to feel the rough texture. I saw that the terrain twists, turns, dives and rises. In a distance, we finally spotted three women.
Since arriving in Iran, some of my opinions had changed. Instead of nude photography, now women’s chadors, worn around their waist, attracted me. Mr. Zand was right. Women here were robust. He called them short and plump. They all wore the same floral scarf: white with hot pink flowers, which reach their waist. They all weartanban, pleated calf-length pants that resemble skirts.
Shops, like colorful ornaments were scattered throughout the red background. One woman invited me into her little store to show me that she carried everything, “even English books about Abyaneh.” When I asked permission to take her photograph, she said, “Why not? If I can’t live in America at least let my picture go there.”
The history of this village may date to 6,000 years ago. People speak an ancient Persian language: Parthian Pahlavi, but then switch to Farsi with tourists. Those loamy houses were built to become stronger over time with the elements, like rain.
My mother and I have different interests. She came alive when we walked in the garden lanes that probably remind her of her own childhood. My interests lie in architecture. I lit up when I saw mosques, shrines, and lattice windows. Or when I learned that the delicate woodcarvings on the Great Mosque’s door made it so desirable an object that it was stolen. After its recovery, a fence was built in front of it and caged it like a rare bird. I also felt proud when we walked under what used to be a Zoroastrian fire temple. The village had relics from multiple Persian dynasties.
Mr. Zand kept the promise he made to my dad to look after us, because everywhere we go, in that maze of alleys, we somehow “ran into him.” I wished he would nap in his car instead, so he wouldn’t doze off on the way back as he did on the way in. I had to spend most of the drive watching him and making up questions as soon as his lids started drooping. Occasionally I elbowed my mom for help. She kept offering him fruit and juice.
To find our way to the car, mom and I stopped to ask directions from a group of women. One of them looked at me, “You cover that neck of yours from all the men’s eyes if you want me to even talk to you.”
“Not from me.” She protested. “Who is this husband of yours who lets you expose your neck like that?”
“I don’t have a husband.”
“No husband? Well. Then we should find you one.”
Not knowing what to say, I answered jokingly: “Only if he’s willing to leave the country with me.”
One old man sitting close by chimed in about this eligible bachelor, “Ah no. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t go.”
Still she pointed to him. He was her candidate?
As I thought of the right way to turn down the offer, he spoke up again, “Nah. I have no use for her.”
Did a villager in Abyaneh just reject me? I wanted to start presenting my accolades. I have a doctorate, a house, a car, plus I exercise daily, I almost said. But, in reality, he had no use for those, either.
Where was my father then to see that this time his daughter was not good enough?
Here’s a reading of my essay “A Day At A Chain Spa,” for your listening pleasure. Provided you can sit still for five minutes 😉
Below please find an excerpt of the essay, published in Garbanzo Literary Journal vol. 2.
A Day At A Chain Spa
First-timers get a special: fifty-percent off any service. This means your budget will cover a massage plus a facial. You ask for their best therapist and esthetician, accepting the glitch that one leaves two hours before the other comes in.
Following MapQuest directions you arrive at a shopping center only to discover that your relaxing spa, the sanctuary-to-be, is located right next to the DMV.
A rather plump receptionist is speaking to a client who can’t decide whether to book her next visit in six weeks or eight weeks and keeps asking plump to repeat the dates. After an eternity your turn comes. She hands you the paper work as she turns her face towards the side room where another staff member is working. “Yeah let’s order Pizza. I’m starving. About to pass out.” Your past life experience with patient care makes her poor manners (raising her voice instead of going to the back for her lunch conversation) conjure a whole slew of thoughts that leave you feeling ashamed. Bad Buddhist.