Rosewater and Julep, Movies and Reality, USA and Aryan Iran…

Imagine a place out on the steppes of Asia, the stepping stones to Europe, maybe the Caucasus, or somewhere farther east, out on the outskirts of the civvies and the cities, say maybe 5-6000 years ago, with the climes warming up and paths leading north, where a group of people probably only a few thousand strong, not so urban, but not so stupid, playing around with wheels and ales and axles and weapons, found a will and a way in this world, spreading outward until they gradually lost contact with each other and their languages became harder to understand, eventually to become the Celts of Europe and the Persians of Asia and the Greeks of the Mediterranean, and the Hittites who never really left, now North Europeans, South Europeans, Indians, Iranians, and… Armenians, who never really left…

…speaking related Indo-Aryan-European languages, Aryan the same word as Iran, long before it meant ‘Nordic’, swastika a Hindu symbol, Persian sharing words with English and Spanish, “Swas Ti Ka” meaning “hello” in Thai via Sanskrit, long before Hitler crapped on us all, long before Muslims felt like they had to fight for their lives to survive Western colonization, long before Jews decided they weren’t really Middle Easterners at all, more like Europeans in fact, with all that represents…

Chaos theory: but for a few butterflies fluttering by at random times places and faces altering time-lines and wait times, we might still be one tribe today, speaking mutually intelligible dialects of the same language and fighting over politics, not—wait a minute—threatening the future of the world. After all, are we really that much different? Indians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, French, English and others all have proud histories, major snafus, and a common background. Is their death wish really that much different from our death wish? Are we really any more reliable with a Bomb than they are?

We’re the ones who created the Bomb, after all; doesn’t that say something? But wait a minute, you say, ‘them I-rain-ians don’t look like Americans to me’—point taken. That’s what happens when you sit at the crossroads of the world as Iran does. I think barely more than fifty percent of Iranians even identify as Persian, the predominant ethnicity; and that doesn’t even speak to the genome…

But take a close look at some light-skinned Indians from northern India, and you’ll see Joe Blow from Peoria, for sure. That genome hasn’t changed much in the last 3000 years, one advantage to the high-caste system. Or go check out the fun-loving first-cousin Tajiks, who speak a mutually intelligible Persian dialect to this day, in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and… Afghanistan. It’ll blow your mind. They’re still more Communist than Muslim…

But somewhere along the way Iranian culture took a somber turn, long before Islam, long before the Ayatollahs, long before official government paranoia. I think Jon Stewart got it right in ‘Rosewater’, his movie about the detention of journalist Maziar Bahari. The plot is fairly predictable and well-known, but the gloominess may have deterred some viewers who expected a Hollywood-style shoot-em-up. Stewart nailed it. And if the ethnically-incorrect selection of Latino Gael Garcia Bernal as the hero is questionable, his vulnerable charm carries the show.

If gloom and doom is the theme and paranoia is the plot, brutality the modus operandi and sexuality the open secret, then rationale is the epiphany. There are reasons for everything those guys do, just like there are reasons for (almost) everything ISIL does, very Muslim. They aren’t driven by passion, something very Christian, or detached wisdom, very Buddhist.

I doubt that the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the Iranian Constitution, something very American, though I could be wrong. But they’re not all rabid religious fundamentalists. Just like elsewhere the universal questions of liberal (freedom) vs. conservative (tradition) tug at people’s heart sleeves in an increasingly uncertain world, pardon the cliché.

And then there’s julep, ‘golab’, rosewater, something once similar to that which we Southerners ply with bourbon and mint and crushed ice and sugar and proceed to wax philosophical from the vantage point of our verandas while Spanish moss scratches its beard in the distance. Ever wonder where the word came from? As Citizen Kane would say, in his best imitation of the future Marlon Brando, “Rosebud;” or rather, rosewater.

Too bad, Stewart’s movie didn’t sell as well. He’ll survive. It probably helped him more than it did Gael Garcia Bernal, who has yet to surpass ‘Amores Perros’ or ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ in his American filmic adventures. Anyway, try your next mint julep with the real thing, the liquid heaven available at Mideast grocery stores or online. And try to understand their world-view while you’re there. Hate is a bad thing…

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