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Shirin Neshat wins directorial award at the Venice Film Festival

It goes without saying that I am a die-hard fan of Shirin Neshat’s work.  But after interviewing her for an article in the Huffington Post, I was even more impressed by her.

After garnering much international acclaim for her photography and her video art, she took herself and her art into new territory by directing a feature film for the first time.

The film, Women without Men, is a visually arresting film with great political undertones.

It is uncanny to see that the demonstration scenes depicted in the 1953 CIA backed coup d’etat bears strong resemblance to the demonstration clips that come out of present day Iran.  In an interview, Shirin, a Mousavi supporter, stated, “People have changed. The dictators have changed in form and shape and ideology. But the struggle continues today.”

On September 12th, Shirin Neshat, wearing her green Mousavi bracelet, held her Silver Lion Award in the closing ceremony of the Venice Film Festival.  We should all be so proud of this great artist and trailblazer. I hope others get to view this movie soon.

Iranian Art Explosion in New York

When I visited New York a few weeks back, I was pleasantly surprised by the city’s great interest and support of Iranian Art.  The Metropolitan Museum’s collection of Persian Art is one of the largest in the western world and just recently it was announced that a new gallery will be dedicated to showcase some of the Iranian masterpieces in the collection.  The Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Fund has made this possible and I can’t wait to see the legendary 15th century Book of Kings (Shahnameh) on view when the gallery opens in 2011.

I also went to the Chelsea Art Museum to view the exhibition—Iran Inside and Out.  This exhibition presented over 50 artists, half of whom live in Iran and half of whom live in a diaspora.  Of course I found this to be a timely exhibition not only because of the new wave of interest in Iran Art but also because it provides the viewer the ability to formulate his or her own views on what makes up the people of Iran.  What is most interesting is that the “diaspora artists” drew more references to their cultural heritage than those who live in Iran.  The work of the artists living in Iran seemed to be less culture-specific and what many people may say “Middle Eastern” in theme.  Indeed this exhibition gave me great insight into the aspirations and hopes of these artists, who used their art as a means of self-expression.

President Ahamadinejad and Opposition demonstrations on Quds Day

On Friday, September 18th, Jews all over the world went to synagogue and gathered to celebrate the eve of the Jewish New Year. Meanwhile, in Iran, thousands upon thousands took to the streets to rally against Israel on Quds (Arabic for Jerusalem) Day.  In his Friday speech, Ahmadinejad once against denounced Israel and claimed that the Holocaust is a fabrication and a lie used by Jews to occupy  Palestinian Land.  Pro-government supporters chanted the usual– “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.

You can only imagine, as an Iranian –American Jew, I feel a deep sense of grief and loss.  Us, Iranian Jews, have no place in this tyrannical and fundamentalist government.  I also feel that all this rhetoric is just a way to rally around a fictitious enemy to distract the populace from the great inequities and human rights violations taking place in Iran.

At least there is a ray of hope in all this.  Ten of Thousands of opposition protestors used Quds Day as an excuse to march the streets of Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan and get their message across. They defied the government ban on demonstrations by chanting, “We are not here for Gaza and Lebanon. We are here to sacrifice ourselves for our country.”  September 18th marked the largest opposition demonstration seen in Iran since mid July.

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY FIVE

Off to sea-side town of Angra-dos-reis for few days.

Different vibe all together—semi-wild beaches, rugged, tropical mountains and literally hundred of islands dotting the crystal clear sea.

Bad news: can’t find my passport.  Left my handbag with money and the passport in taxi.

Stay in hotel room to sulk. David goes horseback riding. Comes back and says best that he has ever been on.  Receptionist tells me taxi driver drove back an hour to return bag!

(yea) Cab drivers no longer arch-enemy but  gave him nice tip.

Go on snorkeling excursion in afternoon.  A blast.  Glad to be with David.

(The guy taking us on the boat—very creepy. Keeps rubbing his hands on the wet-suit, smiling.  Keeps telling me to wear one. Think has a Jacques Cousteau perversion/rubber fetish of some sort.)

Evening–go to nearby charming village.  Lots of kids playing football (soccer) in the streets.  Can’t find our seafood restaurant. All numbers on homes and shops hidden.

Finally find the place…lots of kids sitting in front, blocking the entrance.  I shoo them away like pesky flies (am fast learner).  Feels as if stepped into a ripe banana…walls bright-yellow.  Woman on the side ironing shirt.  Middle-aged man, sitting on the coach, with undershirt, clipping toe nails and watching grainy T.V.  Have feeling not in restaurant (woman’s intuition, I guess).  I bolt out of house.  David is bent-over laughing.

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY FOUR

Go to eye-opening tour of town.  First to the periphery of Shanty towns. Houses assembled by pieces of plywood and plastic tarp as roof.  Some better ones, with bricks and corrugated metal. Guide said many drug gangs and violence here. (thinking if safe to be going through neighborhood)

Then off to wealthy neighborhoods.  Luxurious apartment buildings and mansions with gates and surveillance cameras and guards.

Hoping vacation will not become like Greek tragedy where things go from bad to worse, ending with character dying or poking eyes out with sharp object or scissors.

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY THREE

Drink a lot of fluids.  David rests.  I look at my backside every time I pass the mirror in the room.

Go to indoor mall while David sleeps. Beautiful shoes….no tags since prices change daily because of inflation.

David feels up to going out by nighttime.  (What a good sport!)

Not looking my best tonight.  (look like a train wreck actually—dark circles under my eyes, hair frizzy, so gelled back in ponytail, and wore dress with huge watermark in the back)

Semi-good news: glad that water stain was on the top half of my dress or people would think have bladder problems.

Go to nightclub recommended by Flavio after dinner.  Wow! Décor impeccable. White couches around dance floor. Dance floor lit from underneath (looks like suspended in mid-air).  Better than Paris nightclub scene—young, good-looking crowd with designer clothes. Thumping American music. Some lambada-style  dirty dancing. Hate this! Women look like exotic supermodels. All were like super-glam Amazons.  (Someone should explain to me why these women, who tower at 6 feet, chose to wear 4 inch heals to top things off.  Not fair to those of us who are 5’2 and three-fourths).  Tell David I’m very tired.

Get into taxi with a don’t-mess-with-us-eye-of the-tiger look (when Rocky meets arch- enemy boxer from Russia). Arch-enemy tries to jip us into paying according to rates of their previous currency. (currency had been devalued ten-fold months ago).  We win. (yea!)

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY TWO

Go to Ipanema Beach to recuperate. Very hot (people and weather).  People are almost naked at the beach.  Opposite L.A.  Small breasts are the rage and great, anti-gravity buns in thongs.  David very busy watching women, but pretend I don’t see it. (could have done without my clothes in Brazil after all.)

Rest of the day busy, tour to see Corcovado—100 foot statue of Christ on top of  mountain. Can see it from most parts of the city.  Take short train ride through mountainside and hike up some very steep steps to get to the base of statue.  View of city spectacular. Christ statue, made out of soapstone and mosaic, and hands outstretched as if giving a hug–spectacular.  Reminds me of the famous “Touchdown Jesus” in University of Notre Dame. My friend tells me the Notre Dame Stadium is known for the view of “Touchdown Jesus”.  Says mirrors the raised arms of a referee signifying touchdown.  Says University won’t expand the stadium because it’ll spoil the view then.  (Thinking Moses statues seem to be too introverted—his head always in the books or carrying 10 Commandment Tablets. Maybe need to show his more sociable, sporty side.  Maybe appeal to youth if Moses rides on Sparticus-style chariot or uses cane as baseball bat).

Head back on the train to go to base of mountain.  Ten or15 vendors clamor to get our attention.

“Buy this plate with the picture of Corcovado on it.”

“Buy this Christ from me.”

“Buy samba music tape.”

“If you don’t like Christ, I have a fan.”

“I like you. Buy from me.”

Dizzy from vendors clawing at us.  Know old, Iranian art of negotiation—feign disinterest and vendor will drop price.  Problem.  Not “pretending” disinterest, actually don’t want to buy anything.

Ultra-aggressive vendor with optimistic Tony-Robbins, don’t-give-up-attitude, follows us all the way down to parking lot.

“Okay, you don’t want it for 20 Reals, then 18.”

“Don’t worry, you can have it for 16.”

“7 Reals is my last offer, a bargain.”

Still don’t buy.  An American woman beams with pride. “Guess what I got? A samba tape for 16 Reals,” she tells her husband.  Okay. She just paid for vendor’s lunch, dinner and most likely, his daughter’s clothes and party. (Probably have paid for many taxi driver’s expenses also.)

David tired with headache.  Night sweats and shivering. Get doctor to come to hotel room. Heat Stroke!

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY ONE

Hate starting with bad news…but bad news. Stand at Varig Airline carousel for an hour. No luggage.  How am I going to spend this 2 week vacation with no clothes?

David and I tag down a taxi and head toward our hotel in Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Half hour ride cost $75.

Good news (yeah) Flavio the receptionist says airline found luggage.

Bad News: will take 3 hours to get here and room not ready for check in.

Go to outdoor café next to hotel for late lunch. Place empty except for 2 British, middle-aged, balding men.  Flashback from 70’s—their shirts unbuttoned to their bulging bellies with gold chains.  Hideous sight…getting it on with 2 vavavoom, scantily dressed, under-aged Brazilian girls.

Waiter brings bread basket and menu.  Hard to concentrate on menu when balding men’s eyes glued to under-ageds’ cleavage and lots of leg and chest rubbing.  Three boys between 5-9 years old come and point to our bread basket.  Give them 3 rolls.

Boys giggle and run off.  Come back 5 minutes later with a gang of 10, screaming Portuguese words and pointing to our bread basket.  Waiter runs over and shoos them away as if bunch of noisy pigeons.  Barks at us for giving starving street kids food.

Gasping noise comes from British pot-bellied table. The one with a bad sunburn falls over and foams at the mouth. (very bad news).  I scream.  The under-ageds scream. People scramble.  Unconscious middle-aged is put on gurney and rushed to hospital.  His friend stays behind. Find him to be a bizarre, unethical, back-stabber…stays behind and gets it on with the 2 girls. (Wonder if this will become Brazilian style Fatal Attraction, where the under-ageds will attack him with knife when he rejects them and stops returning their phone calls)  Food arrives, and gang of 10 swarm around us. Too sad. Paid the bill and decided to order room service instead.

Hate being a downer…but more bad news.  Luggage arrive drenching wet. Some clothes had been stolen and someone decided to take a shower with the luggage before giving it back to us. (Now I know how in the film…violated and angry)  But, like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV we make a come-back.  We decide on going out to dinner.

Flavio, the receptionist, recommended a Churrasso (traditional barbeque meat) joint.

Asked Flavio if we could walk.  Eyes-bulging-out-of-the-socket stunned.  “Oh, no…you don’t want to walk around at night in Rio.  Those mountains behind us? People from shanty towns descend and mug people at night. You always take a taxi.”  Feel like city is under marshal law or some kind of lock down.

David still curious about the $75 cab fare from the airport.  Asked Flavio about it.  Flavio has lame smile…. “Sorry our cab drivers take advantage.  The fare should have been $30 dollars at the most.”  (feel like ………..again)  Did not just pay for the cab fare but the taxi driver’s lunch, family dinner, and his daughter’s clothes!

Flavio tells us to look at chart pasted to the back of the passenger side seat of the taxi. Has rates based on where you go printed.

“Eye of the tiger” Rocky-style attitude. Ready for battle with the taxi cartel.  Cab driver wants to charge us triple.  Feeling smug, point to the printed fare.  He nods and gives us our change back. (yeah)  Churrasso dinner excellent.  Brazil’s answer to all-you-can-eat buffet. (the beef to-die-for)

Notice cab driver didn’t give the right change. (very hard to see in dark plus different currency….Damn!)