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The Street That Turned One-Way
By Sepideh Yousefzadeh
sepideh@tehranavenue.com
September 2009
به فارسی بخوانيم
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I came back to Tehran for a short visit from my retreat next to the Caspian. The month of RAMEDAN was already underway. Being on the road, I wasn't obliged to observe the fast. This was on the first day that VALIASR Avenue had become one way. Without prior notice, without discussion, without reasoning, lest we may think we were afloat the "city's current" and not mere subjects of its dictates. We shouldn't think that we count. In our part of the world, everything is like a one-way street, even our democracy, which sometimes out of naiveté we think we have.

With this move by the municipality of Tehran, if we don't have a car to find alternative routes, the only way to go from north Tehran to the south is by bus. For a person like me who hasn't used the bus for commuting in a long time, this is a big change. I was in Tehran for the day of "introduction," lost. I had heard the news but not marked it in my calendar. As I approached VANAK Square. I remembered Homa's words Nothing and No One Will Be the Same. There was no announcement regarding a protest, yet groups of riot police were scattered throughout the square and its leading streets. For the riot police too, I thought, nothing will be the same. This square is such a point of intensity within the city that security people will never feel certain whether a sudden protest may break or not. I overheard one group talking amongst themselves, "the sons of bitches forced us to stand here from 3 pm." I entered the square. The police were everywhere. They were laying in wait. One was taking, the other munching on cookies, another was talking to two young women, telling them not to feel apprehensive. And the pedestrians were wondering what was happening. They also hadn't heard of a planned protest.

I got on the bus, moving southbound on Valiasr, reviewing my memories of this historical street.

1977: I was in the third grade of Peyvand-e Elm school on PAHLAVI St (currently known as Valiasr), far away from our house in Tehran-e No neighborhood. For me, Pahlavi St meant my dad's shoe shop (Sepid Shoe Store, next to Amirbahador Bridge), my school (north of Valiasr Juncture) and Bozorgmehr Kebab House (a little south of my school). Every Thursday my dad would come to pick me up from school and we would go to the kebab house, waiting for my sister's school to end. I enjoyed the rice that with butter was even tastier than the kebab. After lunch we would take a stroll towards the City Theater. I would tune my steps with my dad's. I always liked the City Theater, with that cylindrical building and azure tiles.

1978: Fourth grade break, the sound of bullets and slogans could be heard on the streets. We were all frightened in that commotion. One day, when the protest was louder than ever and bullets were flying overhead, the school principal called our houses and asked our parents to come and pick us up. My cousin came after me. He was always reading a book. We went to ENQELAB Street. He bought a book and covered it in his newspaper. We returned home on the bus. I never succeeded reading the title of that book properly. One day I would learn its name, Gadfly, and the meaning behind that newspaper cover.

In those days, we would see tanks and armored vehicles parked alongside our route. People with military attire and helmets were standing next to them. It was frightening. I would watch their faces. Even back then I wanted to know what was behind those persona. My dad would warn me: "Don't look at them." When the bullet sounds increased, our school was shutdown for several months.

February 1979: The Revolutionary forces win over the army. We return to school. The hottest topic was: "How did you spend your holidays?" Now, once we got back to school our first assignment was to tear the pages of our text books deemed inappropriate. These were pages with pictures of the deposed king against a blue background. Before the revolution, a classmate of mine had slapped a rifle sticker next to the king's picture. We all liked the stickers, boys and girls alike. Our books were filled with them. When they bore us we would erase them with an eraser. I don't forget our teachers reaction when he saw the rifle sticker in the hands of the Shah: "Erase it right now," he commanded. Several months later, when we had returned to our classes, and as we were tearing the pages of the book, we laughed about that memory.

That year, school was never to become what it used to be.

Fall 1980: Our school became a boys-only school and we were forced to go across the street, to a building on RASHT Street. I didn't like the new school. It was small and unfamiliar. On some Thursdays I would go to my sister's school. I would see older girls whom I never thought I would reach in age. My dream was to become like them. The school yard was studded with tables that each advocated a particular political creed.

Pahlavi Avenue had changed name to MOSADDEQ, and was witnessed to all the tumultuous events of post-revolutionary Iran, so much so that I decided to enroll in a school closer to our house. After that, my sisters would bring us the news of Mosaddeq Avenue. Their school was in the middle of sit-in. Mosaddeq Avenue in turn changed name and became Valiasr. My grandma said, "Mosaddeq was a great man." "Why then have they changed the name of the street?" I asked. "Difficult days are ahead of us," he replied.

I jump back to the present. I am sitting in the last row of the bus traveling southbound on Valiasr Avenue. I show the policeman sitting on a bench next to SAI Park to the person sitting next to me. The policeman is reading the paper. She laughs, "He is also waiting."

***

Today is 19th of August, the anniversary of the 1953 coup against Mosaddeq. Vanak Square and Valiasr St is filled with military and paramilitary forces. Today is the first day Valiasr St became one-way. I tell myself, if Valiasr was able to speak, what tales would it tell us. From that day in 1953 to this day in 2009, all that has happened over these years.

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