Iranians love curtains.
They love to talk about them, admire them, shop for them, change them every few months, discuss various types of hangings, analyse the match between the lacy “undercurtain” with the thick over-curtain, contrast the kitchen curtain with the living-room curtain with the bedroom curtain, compare Turkish imported fabrics to Chinese to homemade, pre-sewn to made-to-order… There are huge malls and shopping complexes in Tehran devoted to selling nothing but curtains and curtain fabric and curtain accessories. And they are always full of women and men shopping for curtains.
The obsession with curtains comes from our paranoia with hiding our private life, I believe. I remember, when we moved from Britain to a new apartment in a suburb west of Tehran, one of the high points of my parents’ life was acquiring fancy beige blinds… they were so excited ! So happy that once they were drawn, it was virtually impossible for any prying eyes to see inside our apartment! They had a point: the huge blocks of apartments were laid out such that if the windows were left naked, all the residents of the opposing blocks living in the higher floors could easily see into the lower ones. And the world would obviously come to an end if that ever happened.
My father had bought the curtains for the room I occupied before my marriage, and sewed them himself, so that no pigoens or flies happening to fly past the room on the 18th floor of a high rise tower should happen to look in and glance at his daughter… they were beautiful, rose-pink with a gold floral design. He also bought the fabric and sewed the curtains for our first apartment after I married: also thick goldy fabric. My mother-in-law, not to be out-done, ordered the curtains for the larger apartment we moved into a few years later: absolutely horrible (no, they really were) thick lace curtains with a heavy gold embroidery. And different styles for the bedroom and the kitchen. I think she spent a month in the main Tehran fabric bazaar choosing and ordering those curtains, giving heart attacks to several worthy bazaaris in the process. Was it usual, you may ask, for the elders of a the family to choose and buy curtains for the youngsters? Well, no, and most of my peers delighted in what was for me the unbearable chore of buying curtains. (I didn’t mind furniture- most of the furniture in our house had been selected by myself.) And since it was unthinkable to live in an apartment without curtains, my parents and in-laws gladly undertook to curtain my place.
Well, I have lived without curtains for eighteen months now. My windows first looked out over the harbour and ocean, now over fields and playing grounds. Sun streams in from three o’clock in the afternoon, in the summer until eight in the evening. The lack of curtains gives a feeling of space and openness which can easily evade cramped student flats.
My mother wrote to me, describing my father busy selecting and sewing curtains for a new place in the country, where he is hoping to see his grandchildren play one day… I miss home, and my children will play there, some day soon. But I still won’t have curtains in my place.