I need roots. I need to feel the sense of the space and the energy of the people deep in my bones in the place I call home. My mother, even after almost 30 years in Boston, is still waiting to go back to Tehran. That is home for her. But I can’t do the waiting game. I can’t roam in the memory lanes for too long, I need the real streets and real trees and real coffee shops. I need to strike impromptu conversations with taxi drivers and eardrop on strangers in the subway talking about our common miseries and ecstasies; I need to “belong”. I need the commonality, the camaraderie, the familiarity of a home town. Home town is the old sweatshirt you wear when you have the flu, or lost a lover, or a job, or otherwise feeling miserable.
For many years Tehran was home, I can still close my eyes and see the first bunch of wild violets I used to buy for my friend Homa in the dying days of the year just before Norouz, and the multi color carpet of crashing leaves covering the side walks of Kakh Ave every fall, and the white peak of Damavand greeting me every morning from the balcony of our house. I can still feel the heat of asphalts in the dog days of summer, and the energy of people in the bazaars. I can still hear the Azan at sundown walking down Daneshgah-e Teharn towards Shahreza, and the laughter of children playing alek dulak in the back alleys of Shahpour. I can still smell the intoxicating perfume of Jasmines and honeysuckles in the back roads of Shemran. But that city only exists in my memory, and I need flesh and blood. Once in a while I see a trace of old Tehran in surrogate cities: Istanbul, or Cairo, e.g. Then for a moment my heart beats faster, I feel a jolt like you would seeing your first lover after so many years, no matter how old you are or how much you love someone else. But I don’t live in the shadows. I need a living, breathing city, one with real people and real miseries and real happenings and real feelings. That’s why now Boston is Home.
But why Boston? Why not Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or New York? Boston is not the most beautiful city in America, even though the Haussman inspired architecture of the Back Bay and the river does give it a certain European charm. It certainly doesn’t have the best weather, nor is it full of natural resources, save for a deep harbor which doesn’t see much activity these days. What Boston has in abundance is a soul, it has passion. Nowhere is the collective passion more evident than in Fenway Park, where in any given day during the long Baseball season, 39,000 voices in unison cheer the olde town team. I can not imagine two million Angelinos show up to stand for hours on a dreary fall day to celebrate Dodgers or even their beloved Lakers’s victory the way Boston does it every time one of its teams win a championship. The city is gritty and resourceful and hard working, and decidedly unglamorous. Its coldness towards strangers is only a façade: it has been welcoming and integrating the newest wave of immigrants over its entire 400 years history.. The soul of the city is a bit of Irish, a bit Italian, and a whole lot old world thrown in with a high tech heritage.
I fell in love with Boston on a spring morning long before knowing anything about its never ending snowy winters, wet springs, and short and humid summers. But it wasn’t until an October morning some 10 years later that I became part of the city. The word citizen comes from “city”. A city is where your loyalty lies. I pledged allegiance to my new land in a hall where American Revolution began, and in a city I had chosen to call home. On that day, I knew this is where I will grow roots, will have children, build friendships and memories, and master the unspoken language of the streets. Like all Bostonians, I cheered for Larry Bird, and Pedro Martinez and cursed Bill Buckner. Like all Bostonians, I learned to consider snow days a blessing, a moment to enjoy as the life slows down and the city becomes dreamy and beautiful all wrapped in white and before the snow gets muddy and dirty and commuting a nightmare. Like all Bostonians, I cherish the essence of renewal pulsating in the young green of spring leaves, the contented feel of long lazy summer evenings, and the magic of fall colors. I took the fatalism of the city to my heart: the common knowledge that all politicians are corrupt, the potholes will never be fixed, and getting a parking ticket is just part of life.
To me, Boston is not that different from Tehran. On the surface there are little similarities between the two cities. Boston is flat, humid, and green. Tehran is mountainous, dry and sand colored. The winters there is short, snow melts quickly under the mountain sun. Here winters are long and gray. The snow drags on for days. But the two cities share a common soul, a common passion and a common fatalistic view of life. One thing is for certain: Both cities worship their sports heroes. I remember how people in Tehran worshipped Takhti, the man who brought Iran the first ever Olympic gold. Wherever he went, people clamored to touch him the same way they touched the screens surrounding the tomb of Emam Reza in Mashhad. When he died, the procession closed down more than half of Tehran. Here, it is common to see a Cross on the wall surrounded a picture of JFK on one side and one of Bobby Orr, or Larry Bird on the other in the old triple deckers of Somerville or East Cambridge. The most significant construction in the city is named after Ted Williams, another sports hero. We call our heroes by their first name: Tom (as in Brady), Manny (as in Ramirez), Paul (as in Pierce). They make us proud, they bring us joy. And when, invariably, they leave for more money or the glamour of another city, we call our sports talk show (number one in the nation, btw) to pour our hearts out, and mourn our common loss. May be in both cities, sports hero are the only heroes left.
When I travel the world, I see many cities: some exotic and exciting, some dull and soulless, , some magnificent, some mundane, some happy and friendly, others melancholic or hostile. But in the end, I always come back to this town, where I can navigate the streets without a map, and accept the unpredictability of the weather and the seemingly reticent nature of people. It is where my boys were born, where I got married, where lost my sister and buried my father. It is where, coming back from any trip, I feel the comfort of an old pair of jeans: I know am home!