Friday, November 19, 2010

At Home in the World

Today crime fiction writer Heidi Noroozy joins us with a guest post about her travels. Heidi and some other adventurous crime fiction writers we know have a very cool new blog, Novel Adventurers, based around the theme of foreign locations. (Psst: Another Novel Adventurers member will be joining us next Friday as well.)

Heidi Noroozy writes crime fiction set in Persian culture and regularly travels to Iran for research and inspiration. In the Islamic Republic, she has pondered the ancient past amid the ruins of Persepolis, baked translucent flat bread with Kurdish women in the Zagros Mountains, d
ipped her toes in the azure waters of the Caspian Sea, and observed the dichotomy of a publicly religious yet privately modern society. She’s at work on a series featuring an Iranian-American detective who struggles to reconcile her independent spirit with the traditional values of her Muslim family while solving perplexing crimes. A native of New England, Heidi currently resides with her Iranian-born husband in Northern California.

I've been traveling overseas since I was two. Those early trips were to visit family in Germany, but since then, I’ve touched down on five of the seven continents. Like most people with the travel bug, I’ve seen many of the world’s cultural wonders, from the Prado museum in Madrid to the ruins of Persepolis in Iran. A country’s cultural treasures are well worth the trip, but it’s the glimpses of local life that resonate more deeply with me over the years.

Sometimes such encounters are very brief, just a window into a small part of the daily routine. Like the time I was traveling in Morocco with friends, and the student we met on the train took us on a tour of his native Fez. We wandered through the residential part of town, where the sand-colored houses nearly touched over narrow streets and the air bore the scent of freshly baked bread. Men sat in tiny teahouses chatting over glasses of mint tea, while women carried trays piled with round lumps of bread dough to a communal bakery down the street.

More often, though, I get to know a place and its local flavor pretty well, for I’m the sort of traveler who likes to unpack her bags and stay for a while. In a village near Neuch√Ętel, Switzerland, my neighbor was renovating her 17th-century home, so I pitched in with spackling knife and paintbrush. At the end of the day, she’d serve red wine made from grapes she grew on terraces in her sloping front yard, along with the local gossip. Like the time someone poured a truckload of absinthe into the municipal well and got the entire village roaring drunk. I don’t know if that tale was true, but it sounded perfectly plausible after a bottle of her homemade wine.

In recent years, my travels often take me to my husband’s native Iran, where his parents’ Tehran home serves as our base for explorations farther afield. And while I’ve visited many cultural sites there, from mosques and art galleries to archaeological sites, the part of Iran I know best is a world that tourists rarely see: family life.

I’ve attended countless dinner parties, where elaborate feasts of rice and fragrant herbal stews are served at ten p.m. and we don’t fall into bed until well past two. Where the female guests arrive in somber, loose-fitting cloaks as required by Islamic law, only to peel them off and reveal three-inch stilettos, slinky dresses showing plenty of skin, and lips glistening with two-toned gloss. For in a society that enforces uniformity in public, personal style becomes an all-consuming passion in private.

I’ve rarely seen the inside of an Iranian hotel, except to sip tea in the lobby or dine on kebabs in the restaurant. With my husband’s extended family scattered in different cities, there is always a spare bed or a mattress on the floor in someone’s living room.

On a trip with my sister-in-law to the Zagros Mountains in Western Iran, we spent a week with Kurdish relatives while exploring the area. In the home of one elderly aunt, I experienced another rare sight: women Sufis chanting prayers to welcome the old lady back from a trip to Mecca. Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam, and female Sufis are never seen in public, for their ceremonies are for women’s eyes only. They sat cross-legged on the floor, enveloped in white chadors and swaying rhythmically to the beat of a shallow round drum. Although I understood not a word of the prayers, the rhythmic motion, drumbeat, and voices were thoroughly mesmerizing, and I can still feel their chants in my bones.

By putting down roots, even temporary ones, in different parts of the world, I’ve made some lifelong friendships. Not only does that give me a good excuse to revisit a place I’ve come to know well, but there is always a spare bed or mattress on the floor for me to rest my head. It’s like coming home.


Find Heidi online at noveladventurers.blogspot.com and www.heidinoroozy.com.

8 comments:

Lisa Hughey said...

Heidi--welcome to the Pens! Loved hearing about your travels, what a fascinating glimpse of Iranian culture. Thanks for sharing. :)

Rachael Herron said...

I'm like that when I travel, too. I've always thought it might have something to do with being a Cancer -- even while away, I love to pretend I'm home. Great post!

Heidi Noroozy said...

Thanks, Lisa! I'm delighted to be here today.

Rachael, You must be right about being a Cancer. I'm one, too. :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

What a great post -- thank you for stopping by the Pens today! Sounds like an incredible journey -- I would love to see Iran that way, never setting foot in a hotel ;-)

Heidi Noroozy said...

Thanks, Juliet! It the best way to see Iran. At least you get the best food that way. :)

Supriya Savkoor said...

Great post, Heidi! I love these peaks into everyday life in Iran. Makes me homesick for a place I haven't visited yet. And P.S. I'm a Cancer too!

Heidi Noroozy said...

Thanks, Supriya! I hope you can see Iran for real someday, but until then, I'm happy to take you on a virtual tour.

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