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      Volume 11 |Issue 31| August 03, 2012 |


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Masouleh Blacksmiths.
Masouleh Bakery.

The Fixing Shop

Andrew Eagle

Masouleh Village from across the valley.

They'll be thinking I've forgotten the buying of the meat from the village butcher, an old man in a thick dark coat and beanie, sporting grey stubble about his chin. The meat in long cuts was hanging on hooks in a stall street side, and in the winter of the hills of Gilan there could be little concern it wasn't cold enough for the meat to be preserved. They'll be thinking I don't remember how they carried the beef back to the village house of tan adobe and flat roof, how they took to the meat with a large knife borrowed from the neighbours' in preparation for the evening's meal of kebab. It may be true that one can't remember everything but there's no forgetting Hamed and his friends, no overlooking Cyrus from the fixing shop. Those days hold memories of the lasting variety.

It was a random walk through the main bazaar in Rasht that started the events. It was at least afternoon and possibly evening by then. Rasht is a city of a million people not far from the Iranian shoreline of the Caspian Sea and while the city has a noble history of which its denizens are no doubt proud, for the tourist there didn't seem to be many outstanding sites and it was a situation that made a walk among the clutter of businesses in the bazaar a particularly worthy expedition.

There was a shoe shop owned by identical twins, mid thirties I would say. Were their names Hasan and Hussein? They took the time to give us tea as we admired the footwear and it was tea in the Iranian tradition, of a deep brown transparency, free of milk and straight from the samovar. In Iran tea is sucked through a sugar cube, 'ghand' as they call it, held in position by the front teeth. Not far from the shoe store was the business Cyrus called his fixing shop.

Cyrus was busy when first we saw him, engrossed in his usual habitat of screwdrivers and wires. From across Rasht people could bring whatever devices they had, cassette recorders, radios and TV sets, maybe even a fridge, for Cyrus to set about fixing. These days he probably operates on many a mobile phone too, surgically attaching a wire, snapping open plastic casing.

Masouleh Village, where the roof is also the street.

To say 'salaam' in Iran is for the most part akin to embarking upon a friendship, especially if you're a stranger. 'Guest is God,' the Iranians say. It was therefore usual that the salaam we offered randomly to Cyrus became a conversation, that the conversation became tea and that the tea became a plan to travel into the mountains on the following day. The residents of Rasht would have to make do with their broken TV sets and malfunctioning cassette recorders for a day or two, thanks to us, but they'd understand: Cyrus had guests so it was to be expected that he'd down tools.

He wanted to take us to the village of Masouleh, and we said his plan sounded very good but only if he really had the time. What would happen with the fixing shop? It was a silly, foreign question of course but in Sydney it's barely thinkable to take time out for newly met strangers. We like Masouleh too, Cyrus said. Then there was that other Iranian inclination, which would be the same in a Bangladeshi context, the hurried enlistment of friends in any adventure, to assist in any venture. That's how Hamed came into the picture, with Hamid and Akbar besides.

I think the car was Akbar's and it was a small white Peikan, that famous and infamous Iranian version of vehicle for which there was a lengthy waiting list of local purchasers and, if what the Iranians said was true, an equally long queue of Peikan owners waiting for repair work to be completed. Even Cyrus couldn't fix a Peikan.

With the four of them and the two of us, four squeezed into the small back seat, we set out on the following day with music blaring and a flat road ahead that saw at first the ever diminishing suburbs of Rasht before proceeding into open country. It wasn't very far to Masouleh, it wasn't far until the road started on its inclines and curves up into the mostly leafless winter forests. It might seem odd to be driving off with four strangers into the remote hills of Gilan but across Iran such a circumstance is not to be considered. They even share taxis, long distance, there. And how else could we have learnt that in Rasht people didn't speak Farsi but their own language, Gilaki, and that in Masouleh they had yet another language? It's a Talysh speaking village, Masouleh. We asked how they would talk to the villagers and they said it wasn't easy but they could understand something of Talysh too.

Masouleh Street with a small bridge from roof to roof, or street to street.
Hamid, Cyrus, Lachlan, Hamed and Akbar with the Peikan that took us to Masouleh.

Of all Iranian villages Masouleh is one which stands out, for its beauty and uniqueness. It's built on a relatively steep hillside and features adobe houses, the flat roofs of which have a penchant to serve as pathway, roadway or yard to the house higher on the hill. To walk on the street and to walk on the roof are synonyms in Masouleh, though the village itself is car-free. They parked the Peikan, I remember, in a kind of turning circle just before the final u-bend into the village, at a place where the narrow hill road had been widened a little, and together we made our way into Masouleh on foot.

They'll think I don't remember how while we were busy exploring the village and taking photographs they got to work finding a house to rent for the night. And with accommodation found, negotiated and paid for, Hamid and Akbar left us with the promise of returning the next morning to pick us up again. That evening there was kebab and naan bread, to be certain, and tea heated in a small kettle that fit nicely atop the tubular gas heater, of the slightly battered and rusty type that is common in Iran, which is sometimes used to cook upon as well. It is prone to minor explosions of puffs of gas, not entirely dangerous but enough to singe the eyebrows if one happens to be looking into it wondering why it won't light. I write this from experience.

There was a long conference that ran that evening, about Shi'a Islam and the West, about Australia, about Iran and Gilan and the finer points of the fixing business. We slept on the floor on Persian rugs that night, shivering a little but otherwise content in the village of Masouleh in the hills of Gilan in the nation of Iran. It was of course a Talysh sleep we encountered.

And despite efforts we were not allowed to pay a single riyal, not a solitary touman, for the Masouleh trip. As was not uncommon in Iran we felt guilty about the local hospitality, that we were a burden. We later learnt the value of arriving with gifts, boxes of Armenian biscuits by the kilo, especially keshmeshis, and flowers, but there wasn't always the possibility to do that and in Masouleh for comfort we had to suffice with their words. 'We like Masouleh too.'

They'll think I've forgotten because with all the languages and people it's not really possible to stay in touch with everybody all the time. But we don't forget so easily, our memories of the kindness of strangers. Do we? Talysh and Gilaki memories are of the type that linger.


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