Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

I am just beginning listening to an audio book called, “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi. It is the 2nd time I am attempting this book, the first time was when I was corresponding with an Iranian friend who lived in Tehran at the time. She raised objections to the book (I am not sure if she had read it) and I put it away as it caused her some anxiety. Now I feel I can look at it again and listen to it with new ears.

It is not as bad as what my friend was saying; in fact the author says that the book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, is not a symbol for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since I have just started this book I am not sure how the book Lolita fits in with her narrative of Iran or her students whom she is teaching, but time will tell. It is her own personal impressions of Iran, her students which have been turned into a novel.

Since my first attempt at “Reading Lolita in Tehran”, I have met other Iranians and have gotten to know life in Iran from several different perspectives, and I find that listening to this book I am finding out that what the book says and what my friends say are not to dissimilar. I mean, there are similarities even though one is a book’s description and another is someone’s memories. Both have a love of “Iran” and a critique of the system, I find nothing distasteful with this. To look at a country through rose-coloured spectacles is not healthy and it can be quite naive to think a country can be idealized to “others” at the same time being distasteful to ones life, this is not an honest representation.

We shall see the book develops…
As I read further, I can begin to see other aspects of the authors writing. She is writing the book in the USA, she is remembering Iran, and she is remembering her life in the USA with occasional references to her life in the USA today. It is all mixed up, it is not a narrative telling a story of events in any order, and it flits from books to life to memories to countries.

The events in Iran during her time there are obviously bad memories: the invasion into her home from the “police” is thought-provoking, but is it so different from the British police breaking down your door in the early morning on a police raid (guilty until proven innocent?), is she saying that these intrusions into ones home only happen in Iran or in any totalitarian state? She is not including USA or the UK or any other “western democratic country”?

She is obviously bitter to what happened to her father as Mayor of Tehran, but does not corruption exist in all politics? These things are not solely in Iran. The incarceration of the group of women in the north of Iran is harrowing reading, and the virginity tests they are subjected too made me feel “sad and angry” but after a while it becomes a catalogue of disturbing events… and I find myself becoming numb to it all.

Where is the alternative side of Iranian life? She must have experienced some happiness there? I know in totalitarian regimes there are still hope and laughter, friends and ways of finding happiness.

Her bags are searched in the airport as she enters Iran from the USA, well has she never been to Manchester airport and the rough way they handle delicate belongings like musical instruments?

She has been subjected to political activism in the 1960s/70s in the USA, she is radicalized and she is transporting that radicalism to Iran… why is she so sure Iran wants that radicalization? So many Ex-pats think they know better than the people who live there!

It is a book of contradictions, and the subject matter of her novels…it is a layered cake of pessimism, I wonder where she is going with it? Her book is like the regime she is condemning (even though she claims not to) negative and dark, perhaps one-sided and it needs a bit of lighter moments to make it believable.


In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust.

(Or as I remember it, in Carlisle library when I was a teenager, “Remembrance of Things Past).

“Swan’s Way” the first book…

I have been trying this audio book for 1 week, I am struggling with it. It reminds me of Flaubert “Madame Bovary” with its mundane talk, its stillness, lack of movement, detail to detail. My God, how he goes into detail, flowery, in-depth, precise analytical descriptions. And for all that it is brilliant, if you can bare all that then it takes you into another world, a secure world like he is describing of its time. His childhood, his adulthood, his family and servants, friends and environment is all minutely described and this paints pictures in one’s head, you can enter and live it, if you are also in that frame of mind.

And that’s the problem; in this day and age we are not always in that state of mind; as it paints a picture of a static society not a movable one, as is ours today. It is like a painting hanging in a gallery where we stop and look into it, it is not like a video where we stop and it moves and passes us by. You have to enter into it or it is a nothing. So sometimes I struggle with it as I am not in that static state of mind.

I looked into this book when I was a teenager but when I saw the many volumes on the shelves I did not bother with it, I am pleased I never tackled it then as I certainly would not have continued with it, but now I will keep going, it is not a book where I can linger though, but I do appreciate its prose and descriptions.

The L Shaped Room (film and novel)

Last night I watch the film called “The L Shaped Room”, directed by Bryan Forbes from 1960. I had read the novel a while ago, the same title as the film written by Lynne Reid Banks, and wanted to compare the two. The book I had picked up in a market from Eccles many years ago I had not heard of it before but reading the back of the cover I was intrigued.

The film differed from the book, often the film is poorer than the book but I think the film brought to life certain aspects that the book hinted at, and the film became a separate creation. The leading heroine is French in the film and English in the novel, why? Well, I guess it brought up certain aspects of “foreign-ness” the war was mentioned, adding something to past and the now (1960). The negro character had a strange role in the film he is hinted as being gay, but I would say he is more A-sexual, as though a negro cannot be allowed to feel any sex or to listen to it, or have a relationship except for his gift with music.

The men in the film are either drunks, sexual predators, or in the main characters weak and unsuccessful. The writer cannot sell his novels, he backs away from responsibilities, he wants sex but not commitment, although he tries he cannot accept the baby, which is not his… at least this is honesty. In the book the heroine is English, pregnant, does not enjoy sex, independent minded… all complex characters. All living in a house which is odd… the L shaped room indicates all is not “straight” sexuality, jobs, relationships, etc.

There are 2 other books from this novel: “The Backward Shadow”, and “Two is Lonely” I must track them down.



Byocycle City Speed Review (storing, keys and punctures)

During the summer I finally used the bike for what I first intended, which is to cycle from home to the boat, rig the boat, sail, and de-rig the boat and cycle home. I had hoped the electric bike would save my energy to do all this, as I was having trouble on my normal bike.

On a couple of occasions I cycled to the boat and folded it down, carrying it onto the boat and placing it into one of the side berths. The boat is 20ft, she has a cabin and although small it is enough to sleep and cook and store things. I strapped down the wheels and handle bars to the frame so it would not come undone (I wish the design would allow this to happen, there is no fixings to hold her fast once folded down), then strapped her to the boat so the bike would not fall over. There the bike sat until I had finished sailing. When finished I took the bike back to shore and assembled it again and cycled back. This time I used the throttle power more to give my legs a rest.

On one occasion I lost the key to the battery. I could not find it anywhere. All I could do was to cycle home using the gears. It was not so bad, taking it easy I did not notice the added weight too much. But another question arose “where to get another key cut?” When I asked in the shops in Carlisle they asked me what sort of key it is used for. So they were not used to its size or thickness. One shop quoted me more as it was an “electric bike”; finally I found a replacement for 6 pounds for 1 key. The bike came with 2 keys, and another fault (?) with the design is that once you have taken the key out of the battery where do you put it? You have to leave the key in the battery while riding so to have a key ring dangling is not good due to it catching on something. To have it with other keys is not practical as you have to remove it each time from the bunch. It would be better to have it on the bike attached to the seat (?) as you have to remove the seat to get the battery out. I am sure I lost the key in this process as I had to dismantle the seat and battery from the bike, therefore leaving the key loose.

Another question which arose recently was that I got a puncture in my back wheel. I am not sure if it was a puncture from the hedge cutting on the country roads, or if it was a fault in the inner tube as the back wheel was always going flat if I left it a couple of days. Perhaps over the weeks the pressure had made the hole big enough to cause the bike to go down quicker. Half way home I noticed the bike to be sluggish, I used the throttle more than normal and it got me home with 3 lights showing (normally I get home with 4 lights on the battery). The bike also felt unsteady due to the lack of pressure in the tire. I thought I had to take the back wheel off and realized what to do about the motor and its wiring? I mailed the shop where I had ordered it and their response was very helpful, offering to ring me back and offer assistance. In short I had to unplug the wiring on the back wheel and then take the wheel off as normal. In the end I did not take the back wheel off, I disconnected the brakes and slipped the inner tube out, found the hole and repaired it. So there is 2 puncture patches on the back wheel so far.

On many of my trips to the boat I have been taking lots of extra gear and food, the panniers where full and heavy. The bike handled well with the added weight, so no problems there.

The Summer is Over…Long live the Autumn

One could say the “summer is over” all activities seem to have stopped and I find myself being “back at work” which for me is making small-pipes and busking. But I can still write about the various activities I have done over a month or so, some of which were a welcome change: a travel to Orkney (a birthday present to myself); sailing once more after a period of 3 years; going to Piping Live 2015 in Glasgow; and a trip to the Isle of Arran (my last visit was when I was 21, a few moons ago!), and where my small laptop got a wash in seawater and decided not to work again (the laptop I had used on many of my previous blog entries R.I.P.)

There was a new insight into my electric bike which I will add to the review blog. I will be reworking my Dinghy Cruising Association articles for the blog, as I think they could be of some use to those who wish to cruise the Solway Estuary.

Over the next few days/weeks I will be writing several blogs on these topics and others too, such as: folk sessions; a new Small-pipe workshop which will be in October; and unintentionally learning an old instrument, the recorder! An instrument I hated when I was at school, but I find myself starting again.

So the summer might be over but let’s look forward to the autumn!