You said you are going to …..
If I asked for directions to an imaginary nudist club in Porta Palazzo, I would have undoubtedly received less confused glances. The thing is: I was not looking for exhibitionists. I was looking for a market stall that would sell me a hijab. End of the story.
Finally, I managed to convince one of those veiled women. She looked at me for a moment, and asked me:
“Why do you need one?”
“Because I am going to Iran.”
“Where are you going?!”
“To Iran, I am going to Iran.”
“I know someone that might help you. Follow me”.
That’s what Porta Palazzo can be: a kind gesture. However, it may be very difficult to describe this district of my city. Some will tell you that it’s like the Bronx. They have no idea where the Bronx is, though. Others, who are usually filled with utopian dreams, will tell you: “Porta Palazzo is an opportunity”. It’s something halfway, for me: it’s possible to find everything in Porta Palazzo, from khakis to suitcases, from ginger to pins. Nevertheless, speaking of integration in these Nigerian and Parisian post-apocalyptic days makes me feel inadequate. There’s nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. It is expected that everybody is dead, that there is only a weird silence, and nobody needs anything anymore. Here’s what is left behind a massacre. Nothing. Non-life.
“Help her – she wants to go to Iran. She is looking for a hijab”. In the blink of an eye, an almost infinite series of “veils” materialised in front of me: many colours, different materials, cotton, silk, something that seems plastic and made me sweat just looking at it, with lace, no lace, veils that cover the neck, veils that leave it a little more open, long, short, medium, short, everything. Confused, I looked at the Seller and she understood me straight away: I needed something that was quick and easy to wear. Possibly in light material. “I have something for you. Try this. It looks good if you wear jeans”. I wore it, feeling a bit relieved. I wore it backwards, though. My face was covered, and I could feel the hot air on my neck. In the meanwhile from the back of the stall, here came a huge man, possible the Seller’s husband. He looked at me. He looked at her. At me again. And then he burst into hysterical laughter.
“Why do you need a veil?”
“Because I am going to Iran”.
“Where are you going?!?”
“To Iran. I am going to Iran”
“You’re crazy”, said the Huge Man of evident North-African origin.
The Seller came over with another piece of cloth.
“This is idiot-proof,” she must have thought. And she was right. Only if I had been lobotomized, I would not have been able to wear a hijab that was already pre-arranged. All I do to do was to put it on my head. A monkey could have worn that thing without any help.
I didn’t know it when I purchased it, but that veil was going to be essential in my Iranian days. It would have earned me the trust of many. I would also sweat and scratch my neck underneath it. In many parts of Iran, people would tell us that it was not necessary to wear something like this (like what? Silly? Monkey-proof?). In other Iranian cities, however, thanks to it, I would have been described as a “good student of theology.” Me? An almost-convinced atheist, or a unsatisfied agonist? Ha ha.
We travelled to Iran flying over my beloved Europe. From my window seat, I watched then the Balkans pass by, and I thought of my travels in Bosnia, in 2011, when Sarajevo shattered my heart. Constantinople, then, and other indecipherable borders down below.
While landing at the “Imam Khomeini” airport in Tehran, I wore the veil as part of an unplanned synchronism with my other wonderful travel companions.
From under that veil, then, in my Iranian days Iranians I often thought about how I felt: I was still the same, but I was different also? Wearing it became some sort of metaphor for travelling: when you follow a new route in the world, you are always the same, but also something else.
Once I was back in Italy almost everyone would ask me about that piece of cloth: “Did you have to wear it all the time? And what about Iranians? What about burqa?”.
The only thing I was able to say was that women had to wear it. Full stop. I’m nobody to say whether a veil is right or wrong. In Iran, it is necessary to wear it for women, at least when you are outdoors. Things might change when they are at home. In some places, I have seen more hair than in others. From beneath it, I looked at people looking at us who looked at them. We were caught in a endless game of mirrors. Some would also look at us as if they had never met anyone who was not Iranian. Maybe it was so. What do we look like in the eyes of others? Funny? Clumsy? Fascinating? And I wonder: is there really that amount of differences separating us? When you travel, you constantly doubt yourself. The foundations that were given to you by the society in which you happen to be born tremble. To travel is to be reborn, to re-evaluate, to play it all again and again, to rebuild, and to find new energy. From under that veil, I sweat like a fried eel and I sometimes cursed it, but I cherish one special memory of this experience: the smiles of the Iranians. I could sense them by looking into their amazing eyes or by stopping to talk to them as much as possible. “Why are you here?”, “What do they think about us Iranians, out of here?”, “Tell everyone that we are not as they describe us”. That’s when you realize that, sooner or later, all nationalities have pronounced those blessed questions: not all of us are Mafiosi, fanatics, corrupt, murderers, terrorists, and drug addicts. In fact – most of the people walking on this earth only seek one thing: to be at peace. To be loved. To leave a mark of their passage. Even at the end of the World, I am certain that people believe in loving divinities, love their children, fall asleep hoping for light dream, and rejoice in the sun or rain depending on the latitude or the seasons. They just want to be left in peace. And in this, the Iranians are no different from the others. Quite the contrary.