In recent months I came across two Iranian films: A Separation, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, and a film entitled, This Is Not a Film.
A month ago, I briefly mentioned these highly acclaimed works to former colleague and good friend, Edwin, on the phone. Two weeks later a DVD copy of The Iran I Remember, a documentary essay by filmmaker Morteza Rezvani, arrived in my mailbox – a most pleasant surprise. According to Edwin, who is Iranian Armenian, the film nostalgically depicts the Iran that he remembers as well – a world apart from the impression imprinted in many non-Iranians’ memories.
The 50-minute long documentary expends several minutes recounting the history of tea production in Iran. A transcript is likely preferred to prolix paraphrase:
“Tea production is a major industry in the Caspian Sea area and a large part of its economy. Before 1900, there was no tea production in Iran, but in 1895, an Iranian diplomat named Kashef Al Saltaneh decided to change that. At the time the English had a strict monopoly of tea production in India, with rigid rules against non-Europeans engaging in this trade. Kashef Al Saltaneh, who had studied in Paris as a young man and was fluent in French, went to India, posed as a French businessman, learned the trade and smuggled some tea saplings and seeds to Iran. After six years of experimentation, he introduced his first product to the market, and started the industry that revolutionalized the economy of two northern states, Gilan and Mazandaran, and made Iranians avid tea drinkers. He is known today as the father of Iranian Tea, and his mausoleum, in the city of Lahijan, houses the tea museum.”
Further reading reveals that Kashef Al Saltaneh’s other honorable titles include Prince Mohammad Mirza, Iranian ambassador to India, and first mayor of Tehran. Moreover, the stash that commenced the tea plantation might have actually been 3,000 saplings!
Another tea-related event highlighted by the film shows Mr. Rezvani and family members having a traditional tea gathering at Sa’dabad Palace’s restaurant during Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
I paused the DVD player to read the subtitle of airline’s welcome announcement during Mr. Rezvani’s return flight: “In the name of the kind and giving God. With due respect to the martyrs of Islam and dear passengers, Iran Air wishes you a wonderful flight.” Though Islamic influence is known to inculcate every aspect of living in the region, the message moves me as I cogitate on the splicing of religion and culture.
In the documentary’s opening scene, Mr. Rezvani, facing both the camera and a veiled woman, tells the woman how much he loves her. He says it has taken him seventeen years to come back to see her. He wishes she could remove her hijab and lavish her beauty upon the world. The woman, of course, symbolizes Iran. I wish the DVD had closed with the continuation of this opening scene, for we, the curious viewers, have pondered her recondite beauty.