Monday, October 13, 2008

Finding the Disco in Shiraz

My host in Shiraz, Arash, playing an Iranian folk song for me

With discotheques being banned in Iran, young people have to get creative about socializing with one another.

At first, I wasn't sure why Hassan, the cousin of my host in Shiraz, Arash, was driving around in circles in his mother's orange hatchback. I thought that maybe he was simply being indecisive, and kept changing his mind about where to go. It was only after about the fourth U turn that I decided to end the suspense.

“Why are we driving around in circles?!”

Only then did Arash, whose communication method tends toward do, rather than explain, reveal to me that we were not simply driving around recklessly in circles, pumping Iranian rap music (being what we in Australia refer to as “bogans”): we were, in fact, at a disco. But not any ordinary kind of disco, such as those involving nightclubs and overpriced drinks and circles of hungry single men eying self-conscious young women...

This was a Car Disco, Islamic Republic of Iran style!

“This is how young people meet each other in Shiraz,” he told me.

“When something is banned, you have to be creative.”

Arash's massive, elegant, walled-off home
I didn't really get it until we found ourselves driving next to a friend of Hassan. With windows down, they turned to greet each other cordially--somewhat hair raising for me in the back, given the speed and manner in which we were traveling (Iran has the highest death toll rate in the world, backpackers love to quote). They made yet another straight-into-oncoming-traffic U turn then quickly pulled to the side of the road. There, the two disembarked from their cars, chatted for a few minutes, exchanging myriad Iranian pleasantries, before re-entering the fray.

It was just as one might do in a club, only we were on a crowded two-lane street, filled almost exclusively with cars driven by teenage and 20-something revelers, each pumping their own brand of high-volume Farsi pop power into the humid Shirazian air. In a city known for its poets and its wine, pleasant, charming Shiraz now also hosts a far cruder, more contemporary “The Fast and The Furious”-meets-”Lipstick Jihad” scene.

A Car Disco, once you get used to the idea, works much like a regular one. Arash assures me that girls can and do indeed get picked up at such events. The road is the dance floor, the car an extension of your body. Every time a set of cars U turn, some five at a time, they do so at dramatic pace, weaving and accelerating to get in front of each other, the sort of confident entry that the lone Central American guy gets to make at Wednesday salsa night before a floor of half-drunken stiffs. To hit on a girl, one approaches by speeding up beside them, motioning for them to wind down their windows. If the sweet-talker is lucky, he might just get her to agree to pull over for a more “intimate” chat.

At the tomb of Sadi, a revered poet, with Audrey, a French backpacker friend I made through CS

Police presence was minimal. Apparently they pull cars over if they're speeding, but short bouts of manic acceleration seemed permitted. The only real action I saw was when a traffic officer—Iran apparently has three kinds of police, ones for traffic, ones who handle “social' law, and more-serious criminal types—was filling forms following a minor traffic accident.

And is there a cover charge?

Well, not explicitly. But you're not likely to see many “lemon” Paykans on these elite roads. All the cars taking part in the disco, Arash tells me, are new, preferably fast, and largely foreign. So unsurprisingly, just like the discos we have in other countries, Iranian car discos are also self-selecting, popular amongst wealthier, upper-middle class youth, those with cousins in Los Angeles who prefer to lug Benetton, not copies of the Quran.

After several more rounds on the dance-road, we turned off into Arash and his cousins' preferred culinary destination: the American-themed fast food joint. The way Americans turn to Chinese food for something cheap and greasy, so the Iranians head for the American. There, we dined on “kentaki” chicken strips, mushroom cheeseburgers and “fried potato” (french fries), scoping out the heavily made-up, bright blonde girls in their headscarves sitting at the next table.

Before the Gate of All Nations, Persepolis


wei wei said...

good luck and wish you all the best


Francisco Galárraga said...

Wow, now that's something very different. Very interesting. What about your relationships with iranian women? Did you get the chance to pick some gal up? What are the limits of what you can do in that sense? keep on posting!

fari bradley said...

Did you get any mp3 of what they are listening to, or any band names? This sounds so much like Grease the film!