Photo of a photography book blacked-out for the Book Fair. Further examples can be found at my Flickr photo journal.

 flickr  View my photo journal

"What is it?", "What do they do?", "Why would somebody want to buy this?", were some of the frequently asked questions as I hovered around the stall of the UK book representative in building 41 during the 19th Tehran Book Fair. During the 3-days that I was present I'd managed to successfully baffle many visitors, who in turn baffled me with such strange questions. Like an underexposed pair of eyes looking at conjoined children with penises for noses, I'm convinced that it wasn't words that were confusing us but rather expectations.

With surprisingly little effort on my part yet considerable help, I'd managed to arrange small corner of space to officially represent a publishing house I work with back in England. The very few surviving copies from the limited stock available were depleted further by the suspicious knives of the Iranian postal service, yet, a not too embarrassing display was formed. What was lost in volume though, was gain in presentation, as I managed to rustle together a various printed-matter from a multitude of sources to create an ad-hoc display within the 2-half-shelves that were nicely exposed. With translators in position and newly created explanations for Iranian ears, I preyed on what turned out to be an abundance of female interest.

Things took a twist however: I was introduced to a dangerously attractive young student. She leant forward, tilted her head with a brazen smile and paused briefly before asking me in a possibly sarcastic tone, "But, why might I buy this?". Giving no time to answer, she turned to my friend in equally close proximity, giving a slight laugh-like, nasal exhale with her growing smile, as if to seek reassurance that she wasn't alone in confusion. As I opened my mouth she dropped her smile, leaned in - close enough for me to smell her - demanded my eyes and seemed to half listened to my attempt of an answer. Like a chat show host, she confidently fired questions at me midway through sentences, often engaging my friend while not caring to pay attention to the content of my reply. The artifacts I presented seemed to make a convenient decoy for all parties to explore one another - things were not as they seemed.

With an almighty crash, possibly around a thousand copies of this one book met the floor in a not so ordered fashion

Later, whilst remarking about the Palestinian badge purchased in the Hamas stall minutes before, a vaguely familiar Arab face enter the conversation. Wearing a Herzbola scarf similar to the one also purchased by me at the same stall (for a friend I should carefully add), he invited his tall bearded figure into our otherwise cherpy group. After edging his way into conversation he steered the conversation on to Islam, often fingering at my chest to emphasise his point. He played somewhere between generous and informative yet pushy and righteous, mostly agitating the friendly circle, leaving just the bigger mouths to rough it out. Between a friend and I, we played roles in providing alternative perspectives to inform the simmering debate. I reflexively presented the good yet confused Muslim while my friend went for quite the opposite. Referring to an earlier moment where a ladies headscarf caught on the shelving thus exposing her hair, our incumbent stated that this is forgivable, yet, if done intentionally she would be perverting society and must ask god for forgiveness. At that time my concerns lay with the well-being of the visitor yet our Islamic student seemed concerned that he would have bad thoughts and possibly have the desire to kiss her, thus corrupting society. We toiled over responsibilities as the volume increased, with repetitive fingering rotating our positions. The logic baffled me, leaving me half listening as my friend felt it worth continuing. I looked between the shoulders of the tall men remaining, watching a nearby stall, one seemingly housing an Iraqi publisher of a certain noteworthy book. A worker stood on the back shelf fixing a light. With miraculous timing the worker managed to kick out the back shelf creating a domino effect across the entire 15m x 5m stall. With an almighty crash, possibly around a thousand copies of this one book met the floor in a not so ordered fashion. Breaking the deadlock in debate, we rushed to investigate with the many others who ran to help. Luckily the stall was empty of visitors leaving only an embarrassed worker holding his head in one hand and a bulb in the other. During the next 24-hours trollies would pass by me at the stall, loaded with spoiled books, packed in cigarette boxes labeled "Made in USA".

"Hello, you must be Mr Yaghoobi?", asked a warm face in English with only the softest of Iranian accents. "I spoke with your colleagues in England, I am the manager of [book company I was linked through]". I had had the pleasure of meeting the first gentleman I spoke to regarding my presence at the fair. Following our meeting I imagined that a day might come when I feel this much at ease, that I feel I have achieved what I wanted in life, that I am living in bonus time only to virtuously attend to others with no agenda - if this day comes then I will be like this gentleman. His attention was exclusive and manner so calming as we raced through the usual topics between dual national Iranians. I enjoyed his life's story as much as he must of and with each coincidence I grew fonder.

We sought shelter in a neighboring stall, empty of the Arabs that had their name written above. As we tucked into the poly-packed Iranian food we were continually interrupted by Arabic questions: "can I pray here?", "which way is Mecca?", were the few we were able to understand. Bodies rose and fell, facing diagonal to the stall as further Arabs arrived to set up a picnic. "[Arabic question]?", "I'm sorry I don't understand you", I replied in Farsi. "[Arabic question]?", "I don't know", I replied again in Farsi. "[Arabic question]?", "I haven't a clue what you're saying" I then replied in English to a frustrated couple who left upset. I was then found by our Islamic student, who had made my food go cold with his kind offers of Islamic books. "I'm reading several Islamic books, 'Islamic Republic' by Imam Khomeini for example", I told him. He paused partly in confusion before continuing, "I will give you some Islamic books".


Post a Comment

<< Home