Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Delivering mail to the President’s office

Taxi down to Pastor St. The streets around the Government offices are closed off. The main street leading towards the Presidential Palace is broad and empty. It feels a bit like Downing Street – now with plane trees. We pass by a Presidential Guard post. We leave the car on the boulevard midway between to posts and continue on foot with the letter. Bob has the letter. I have the camera (our film crew is in total disarray. Local staff is on strike). As we approach the main entrance post, guards come on to the street behind us. They call out ‘hey! Hello! Mister! Mister!’ But at this point we’ve heard so many ‘hello-misters’ in Iran that we’ve become quit deaf to it.

Accordingly, a moment after the two protagonists are left standing, kicking the dust in the street without props. Guards walk off with camera, passports, letter and disappear inside a booth on the middle strip of the road. Bob curses under his breath while managing to send innocent touristy smiles towards the opaque windows of the booth. I take out the cigarettes. Prisoners of our own overconfidence. Two battered Trabant replicas (Peykans) pull up after a few minutes. The superior along with his superior and assistants. All in brown suits, no tie of course. The style is right out of a SED fashion magazine from the Seventies – the proud mouldy brown colours of the GDR. They look to be related to the police that picked us up in Yazd. Same stubbles, same elusive greeting (non-greeting), same squatness, same slight chubbyness – caused by extensive sitting inside the Trabant.

So, it is not allowed to film the Presidential Guard. The GDR superiors stand behind the booth – reading the letter, assistants pushing all the buttons on the camera, taking out tape and still-photo memory chip. A moment after they all huddle in a circle around the poor chip, discussing.

They question our hapless taxi driver. ‘What are you doing here with these people?’ Going through his papers, they tell us to go back to the car and wait. We spend a joyful hour on the backseat going through various scenarios that all has us ending up in Evin prison. Our eyes are fixed on the tiny figures bustling down at the gate. The whole thing has the feel of Checkpoint Charlie in Friedrichstraße – we’re waiting to get word on our exchange. The little brown men have our fate in their hands.

The wife of the driver calls incessantly on his cell phone. Bob is on the phone with his diva who pleads with him to delete all the footage of her – where she is without Hejjab, where she is drinking alcohol, where she is kissing, cheating on her husband. She has an actress friend whose life was ruined when DVD’s started circulating on the streets with footage of her making love.

I have lesser problems. I’m a white middle-class Scandinavian. How boring is that. My biggest dilemma is to decide before I turn 35 whether I want join the early retirement scheme and start paying instalments. Oh, to live in a totalitarian society. To be a hero!

I spot footballs in a bag outside a nearby kiosk and leave the car to get one. It’s hard plastic, very poor quality, 20 cents, clonking sound when it hits the ground. I play by myself in the deserted boulevard with the plane trees as silent spectators.

After a while the two Peykans come clattering up the boulevard. All smiles, handshakes all around. They like the letter and promise to send it on to the President’s Office.
Relief – we thought we were going to loose everything this close to our exit, in a stupid moment of hubris. We get back the camera, passports. They’ve recorded the flaking GDR wall of their office over the bit with Bob walking down the street with letter in hand. This film is going to sell well at Art Basel. An art film shot by Iranian Secret Police – who can top that?


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