Sunday, March 6, 2016

Girl Goes Down the Mountain

Iran, I have found you in the news again, but this time the landscape is promising and dotted with color. Oh, snowy slopes of my youth, what are you doing in the New York Times, brightening my kitchen counter while I light the griddle for pancakes?

I was an awkward twelve-year-old when my mother signed me up for ski lessons. She marched me straight to the only ski shop in Tehran where I was fitted for skis and boots. My outfit was borrowed--a bright tangerine parka with matching pants that were too snug. Doomed is how I felt.

On weekends, just before dawn, our instructor, Mr. Pazooki, picked up his students and drove to Dizin, the ski resort just an hour and a half from Tehran. As we wound our way up the mountain, six of us bounced on benches in the back of his Land Rover. On a good day, I threw up only three times. The five other children learned to recognize the signs and screamed "Agha (mister), pull over! Pull Over! Quickly!" Mr. P would swerve to the gravelly shoulder and leap out to watch me tumble from the back onto the snowdrift. He waited patiently on the edge of the road and listened to my shallow breaths as if he had all the time in the world. I prayed he would just leave without me.

I fell on my first run and my orange pants ripped in half exposing my underwear to the world. The children howled. These days I would have been arrested for indecency, but in 1972, my instructor shrugged off his parka and tied it around my waist, anxious to resume the lesson.

Did I refuse to go back after that first time? Yes. But my mother had paid for a season and by golly, she would carry me up that mountain herself if she had to. So I went. I vomited on the way, and it was hard, and I trailed behind the other kids, always the last link in the chain that made its slow descent towards Mr. Pazooki, who stood at the bottom, gazing up at my flailing arms.

Then it happened. I'm pretty sure it was the fifth or sixth lesson when fear washed away. Suddenly, all I could see was the light on the snow glinting around us and the only sounds were the soft slushy scrape of our skis racing down the hill and Mr. P smacking his gloved hands in applause.

Why this sudden longing in my chest? I have no idea. Standing here now, over a smoky griddle, I can hear the chair lift rattling and my friends shouting You dropped your stick! Snowy mountains are not far but nowhere is the peak so high, the range so immense and beautiful, the powder so soft as in Dizin.