The World of Franyo 26: Cities of 1001 Nights

 

I didn’t tell my parents about Werner till I went home for Christmas that first year. My mother was so delighted she bought me a fur coat. My father, not so much. He pointed out all the things I knew — age and cultural difference, the difficulties of a long-distance romance, especially when one of the pair lived behind the Iron Curtain. I think the inappropriateness of the connection really galled him. Gustavo was only eleven years older than Werner. No doubt he saw some dirty old man issues going on.

 

PS Werner in woods

 

Meanwhile, Celia and I were having a great time in our flat in Kentish Town. We were both in art school nine to five every day. Celia had become involved with a French sculptor named Francis, who more or less moved in with us together with his scruffy elderly Dandie Dinmont Terrier. My college roommate came to stay for a few weeks before finding a flat of her own in Portobello. Herbert’s assistant, tiny doll-like Pat, had a key and would show up at all hours. Sometimes I’d wake in the morning and find her curled up like a sweet little cat in my bed.  And then we had friends with various household disasters who we’d take in for a day or two, which meant laundry hanging the entire length of our flat, the delicious smells of Nigerian cooking, and operatic bursts of song in the case of one guest who liked to sing praises to her vagina every morning.

So things were going well. The next time I was scheduled to see Werner was in Iran in February. We were going to meet in Teheran, where I had never been. This was before the Shah was kicked out, so a very different time with very different politics. I was a goose, a romantic, clueless about anything beyond my personal life. All I packed were skimpy little sundresses and sandals. Maybe some shorts. No long skirts, pants or big blouses to cover essential areas. I might as well have been going on a trip to the Bahamas. The plane did a quick touchdown in Teheran, not its final destination. A handful of people got off. I was the only woman. The others went through customs and passport control very quickly but I was left standing with my suitcase, completely ignored and invisible. It was late at night. I knew Werner was waiting in Arrivals, but the protocol baffled me. I murmured something about needing help. The officials just stared through me. Finally one of them sauntered over, poked at a few things in my suitcase and waved me through. Welcome to Iran.

 

PS Werner

 

Werner was making a book called “Cities of a Thousand and One Nights.” We traveled all over the country, mostly by bus, through vast empty landscapes to seaside towns and interior cities such as Shiraz and Isfahan. The architecture was magnificent. Those blue-tiled mosques in the  melting moonlight … I felt like I was in a movie the whole time. But I never lost the feeling that a glass wall existed between me, a western female, and most people I encountered. One event in particular stayed with me. I was watching a parade from our hotel window in Teheran. It was a gray day and hundreds of grim-faced men marched in the street below, flagellating themselves with knives and small whips. I had a sense of foreboding then that this was a country of religious zealots and counseled myself to be hidden and careful as goosebumps rose on my flesh. I bought scarves to cover myself with. Because I was dark-haired and dark-skinned, Werner began to use me in his photos. Muslim women wouldn’t pose, but of course I would, and sometimes got in trouble for it, harangued in languages I didn’t understand for keeping company with a European man. This struck me as funny, though it wasn’t really and had it been now instead of forty plus years ago my sorry ass could have been in considerable danger. But to me it was a bit of a game. From Iran we flew to Iraq where Werner was going to photograph in and around Baghdad, premier city of a thousand and one nights. Another beautiful but difficult place to be. Swarms of mosquitoes that made it almost impossible to go out after dusk. And swarms of horny men whose pinching fingers doubled the effect. I returned to London exhausted. When I saw Werner next, he had a surprise for me.

 

PS Werner in car

 

To be continued…

 

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