Persian threading.

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Photo: channels of natural spring water in the ancient poolhouse at Bagh-e Fin, Kashan, Iran.

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Babak has a friend, Somayeh Hasalou, who’s a journalist for the Iranian Student News Agency. She contacted us to arrange an interview and, given that I also wanted to get my eyebrows threaded (it was Way Past Time), she first took me first to a salon with her friend Azadeh. We went to a nondescript white building on a side alley, took an elevator to the fourth floor, and opened a door.

Immediately there was a ten-degree difference in temperature. It was so warm. Everyone’s headscarves were pulled down or nowhere to be seen. A woman behind the desk smiled at me like she was trying not to laugh. A little girl, one of the beauticians’ daughters, ran from room to room and asking very-adult-sounding questions. Already I was laughing with them, with Somayeh and Azadeh, teasing, being teased, feeling giddy, as if I were drunk. I forget what it’s like to be with women until I’m with them again. And then I realize that I’ve been holding my breath, somehow.

The rules governing public appearance are more stringent in Iran than they are in much of the U. S. The most obvious manifestation of that is mandatory head covering for women. (I’m told that public policing of hejab is way down in recent years, and especially since the last election—as I write this at House of the Artists in Tehran, a woman lifts her thin magenta scarf to adjust it, showing her whole head of hair.) However, men are generally expected to cover up, too.

I remembered what my conductor friend Dave once said: that all music is about tension and release. Maybe even all art. And part of me can understand the appeal of a dress code. It forces you to be creative. It makes you wait. It creates desire. In the salon, it felt so good to see other women’s hair, I wanted to cry.

I told Azadeh about how my Muslim friends at Wellesley had educated me about how it was their choice to wear hejab. Azadeh was quick to point out to me that it wasn’t a choice in Iran; it was mandatory. So as always: the rhythm of tension-and-release loses its joy when controlled by men.

But because women are human, they may be stripped of rights, but never of agency. They find ingenious ways to survive the system. Like creating spaces like the salon. It was so warm, bright, loud, and intimate. I reclined in the barber’s chair and studied the pattern of red poppies on the wall while she worked on me. I loved just the feel of her stomach pressing against my shoulder and the smell of her breath in my face. She threaded me till I bled.

Once out of the salon, Somayeh took me by the hand, which gave me a lump in my throat, because it’s such an intimate gesture in the States but so matter-of-fact here, and she led me up, up, up the street and then down, down, down into an underground café where we ordered cold saffron tea. Then she opened her notebook and leaned toward me.

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Follow my travels in Iran on Instagram.


3 Comments on “Persian threading.”

  1. Paul Deblinger says:

    This is a very powerful post. It made me think how culture is transmitted in repressed cultures. Te barber shop served that purpose on African-American communities. It was the place stories were passed from one generation to the other for men. Now it’s the nail salon for women. Every culture and the sub-cultures within seem to have their place of power. You portrayed this one so well.

  2. Thank you for an “inside look!” And: “Nice recovery Azadeh!”

  3. taherpanahi says:

    I didn’t even know that “threading” is done also in the US!


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