The above image depicts the quintessential visit to a wealthy conservative Iranian home in Mashhad.
- The Purpose: the annual obligatory Nowruz (the Persian new year’s day) visit to Saeideh’s eldest aunt on father’s side. Guests are all of Saeideh’s siblings, their spouses, children and her mother.
- The Room: giant, encompassing half the 210 sq mt apartment, and dedicated to nothing but receiving guests. I counted seating for 35 people. Giant chandeliers. Over-sized vintage French style furniture. The silk Tabriz rug is 24 sq mt (258 sq ft).
- The Food: guests are repeatedly offered red tea with sugar cubes, fruits, chocolate, pastry and ajeel (a mixture of salted pistachios, almonds and other nuts). Most take at least one item when the dish is held in front of them, but don’t eat it, saving room for the other visits on today’s agenda. The food remains on the small tables placed in front of the guests.
- The Clothes: everyone in their Sunday best, shoes left at the door. All the women remain under the hejab because there are men in the room.
- The Visit: the guests sit quietly while the widowed elder sits turned toward them. The conversation is polite and peppered with pleasantries. The visit lasts all of 20 minutes.
- The Goodbye: lasts forever! “Why don’t you all come by tomorrow for lunch?” the host asks between many declarations of best wishes. The guests graciously refuse without actually saying no. Both sides know it was only tarof (TAW-rowf) – an offer of hospitality made out of politeness not actual intent.
- Next Visit: same day next year.
- What if I had not accompanied Saeideh? Not good! Would’ve been taken as an insult by the host.
- Why am I writing this? I’m enthralled and entertained.