Mehrdad tuned the tar; the two hearts of the instrument – the male and the female – shivered to life and shed a tear or two as a libation to the muse. Shahriar followed with his kamancheh, seconded by the introductory heartbeat of the percussion. And then, melodies fluttered at the basement of the Music Museum of Isfahan (*), ebbing and expanding in invisible murmurations, tucking with delicate fingers the petals of my opening heart, and dislodging reminiscences from dark corners, nudging them gently towards the light.
The voices rose to a song, opening their wings in the air and observing us from above. They tiptoed on our sensitivity, plummeted on the inherited pain, somersaulted on the congenital joy. The lyrics remained unknown to me, their meaning secluded within the pleats of a language I do not understand and, yet, their essence was pellucid. It could be a poem by Hafez, it could be Rumi, it could be Omar Khayyam or just a series of simple folk songs. It did not matter. I understood. I felt.
(I remembered, the crescent moon had been sprucing up in pearly light a few nights ago, above the tomb of Hafez in Shiraz. Knees had kissed the ground in prayer, lips had trembled in reciting holy poems, eyes had blurred, pulses had quickened – just for a second. A cyan-colored small parrot had picked a verse for me from the hands of an old man sitting at the entrance – a prayer calligraphed with permanent ink in my book of memories. I had been blessed.)
The fiddle kept dancing on the strings. The arms hugged a bit tighter the body of the percussion; soles tapped the rhythm, melodies winnowed through our hair. The song turned into a murmur, and the eyes closed for they could not register the ethereal scene.
(Outside, the Armenian neighborhood basked under the sun of the aging summer, and the grand bridges of Isfahan dusted their nooks and put oil in their lamps to receive friends and couples during the cloaked hours. Soon, their walls would be caressed by impromptu songs, and their cobbled grounds would welcome tablecloths, piles of Sangak bread, mellow tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, cauldrons of hot home-cooked food, and pots of sweetened tea.)
The tune tore off shamelessly the formal clothes of my soul and enfolded my nakedness in diaphanous veils of innocence. For a moment, I did not stand anymore on Earth, and in this transcendent reality, I felt I could tell all that could be told. I could talk of unborn children and mischievous susurrations; wise crones and prehistoric familiars; stories I did not know and, yet, I could recount as if I had lived them myself. Unfelt feelings asked permission to premiere and were finally beckoned to life by the quivering lines of the pentagram. An untimely sexual desire arose from within and twirled upwards, bursting through the corners of my eyes in liquid form. And I dived deeper inwards. And I flew higher upwards.
(I had tried hard last night to eliminate my reflection on the glass in front of the eternal fire of the Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Yazd so that I could take a proper photo of the shrine. I waltzed from right to left, backward and forward, looking for the right angle that would make me disappear. I failed. I was constantly there: in the middle of the frame, a head-covered figure looking through a camera lens. It took me several attempts, but I finally got it: I was not supposed to disappear. I was meant to be there, a permanent reflection caressed to purification by the 1500-years-old shimmying blaze.)
Tears kept running down my cheeks, dampening the edges of my headscarf.
“What for?” I asked.
“For Beauty,” they replied. “For Love.”
“Should there be pain or nostalgia in beauty and love then?”
“This is neither pain nor nostalgia. There are no broken hearts in true love to cause pain, and there is no past to feel nostalgic about: there is only a limitless now.”
“You confuse me. What are you, then?”
“We are the moisture human bodies emanate during lovemaking; we are the aromatic perspiration of the soul, the nurturing water of creation. It was you who summoned us here today. We are always called at the birth of life – we are the libation to the muse.”
(It was just two days ago that I had observed Persepolis revealing herself, rising above the barren landscape with the elegant coquetry fitting only to a highborn lady. Despite the unforgiving passage of time, she was sitting proudly on her artificially elevated stage, perpetually celebrating Nowruz – the Iranian New Year – and the momentousness of new beginnings. On the other side, the cross-shaped carved tombs of Necropolis stood erect, guarding the memory of a heroic past and serenading Death with the murmur of great epics. I touched the stones of the palaces: the parts bleached under the sun and those that still maintained their original black and shiny texture. I fingered the delicate details on the reliefs: delegations and offerings; lotus flowers, cypresses, and animals; inscriptions. It felt like caressing the aged body of a lover: there was familiarity mixed with erotic
excitement. I found myself breathless not just because of the relics’ grandeur and beauty, or their undeniable importance. There was more hidden among the ancient rocks; there was magic. These stones were not simply standing in their passive archaeological-exhibit posture: they were talking to me. They had called for me, like white-sorcery Horcruxes, infused at some point in time with vital parts of my soul, now demanding to reconnect. The still-indecipherable engravings on the walls translated into the guidelines of my next assignment, my new purpose, the so-far elusive “why” that had troubled me while hiking in Peru a few months ago. I finally understood: rediscovering the authentic origin of myself could never be enough. It was just the first stage of a bigger process. I was now to trod along unknown latitudes and longitudes to retrieve the pieces of my identity which I had hidden over lifetimes of existence, preserving them in symbolic objects or mystical places till the opportune time. This time had come. The journey had never been merely towards back home. It was always towards creation: the creation of myself. And its most exciting part was now about to begin.)
The final trills of the melody pirouetted in the air before settling down. Unfinished thoughts receded with staccato steps, a last wail from the tar risked going off-key in a vain effort to surpass the sentimentality of the moment, and joy attempted – with great virtuosity – a jubilant pizzicato for the grand finale. Tones, emotions, tears, and smiles, all blended harmoniously in the end. The music landed, and so did the journey of our hearts. It had taken only a few minutes. It was a lifetime.
(*) The above was inspired by my visit to the Isfahan Music Museum, where Mehrdad Jeihooni and Shahriar Shokrani, a lawyer and an architect, house their vast private collection of traditional Iranian instruments, breathing life into their life’s passion, and inviting locals and tourist to a journey in time and beauty.
Photos : © Konstantina Sakellariou