Saturday, August 16, 2008

15th August.
The day begins in the eye hospital. Last year an optician noticed a pimple on my retina which apparently needed to be checked. So my eyes were squirted with a substance to dilate the pupils to enable a specialist to peer inside. She told me my pimples were very dull.
The good lord preserve us from interesting pimples, I was thinking rather vaguely at the bus stop, feeling a little dizzy and strange, when a young Spanish couple who happened to be passing stopped me and asked me if I was Jo Clifford.
This is the second time I have been recognised by Spaniards who saw me on the travel programme item I did a while ago, and had forgotten about. Again they remembered my name, which i think miraculous, and ask me how my plays are doing.
What did I do? From the expression on the faces on the film crew afterwards, i had been as dull as my pimples.
An odd morning for being seen.
And then I go home and try to write.
The blankest wall in living memory.
I am even miles away from being able to read what I wrote before.
I make a hot dhal. For comfort, I suppose.
I have a ticket for something called “Tazieh” at six. I cannot remember what it is.
Someone gives me a programme while I’m waiting to enter the hall. It is a documentary made by Abbas Kiorostami. “Tazieh” means mourning; it is a kind of passion play performed in Iran since the 10th century as a collective act of mourning for the Imam Hussein who was martyred at the battle of Kerbala in 680.
In the hallway, I meet an Iranian companion, and we enter together.
At the top of the stairs you have to choose: left or right.
We decide left. The audience at these performances is segregated, men from women, and there is a large screen devoted to each section of the audience.
The women are on the left. These are huge images, in black and white, of the women in their veils. To the right are the men.
There is a stark contrast between the two worlds. I am glad to be with the women.
In the centre is a small screen with a colour image of the performance.
For now the stage is empty. Expectation builds.
A voice explains that in the performance the martyrs, which include the imam and his children, wear green. Green signifies innocence. His enemies wear red. Red is for wickedness and vice.
At first the villains dominate the action. They look corrupt: their mocking voices reverberate evilly through the loudspeakers.
The Imam, by contrast, has a noble presence and a harmonious voice.
He rides a white horse.
At some point he puts on a white garment: and the garment is spattered with stage blood.
He is carrying a baby. He carries the baby and he rides his horse. He carries a baby and he sings a lament.
The baby is being tied up in a shroud.
A boy in the audience is beating his breast. Beating his breast with his fist.
And everyone, men and women alike, beating their breasts with their fists.
There’s a boy running to comfort his daddy. Slumped on the ground in his bloodstained garment. The boy runs to comfort him, and they sing a lament.
Their enemies snatch the boy away. But he runs back, he runs back to his dear, noble, dying father. And then the evil men have snatched him and smeared his garment with blood.
Everyone is crying. Women are covering themselves with their veils and are shaking convulsively. Or great fat tears are coursing down their cheeks. Down the cheeks of the men, too. Everyone in that arena is transfixed with grief.
Even here, sitting on the floor watching the screens, the impulse to weep is irresistible. The power of the spectacle all encompassing.
And afterwards my companion too is weeping.
It is her country she has seen, her land, her people. She cannot bear it.
“This is so hard” she is saying. “This is so hard.” And: “They are weeping for their country”.
And, heart-brokenly, “I do not know that place”.
But I suppose I would say and we are there too. Because we are weeping for the state of the world.
And so we know this place.
This is the place where the good are defeated and where evil wins.
This is the place where hope dies.
And so we know it. We know it only too well.


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