Thu 12 Jul 2012
The French savant and satirist Charles-Louis de Secondat, better known as Baron Montesquieu penned his Lettres Persanes in 1721, almost three centuries ago. This was long before the age of computers or the idea that eventually germinated in the head of Steve Jobs and blossomed into the Mac (and I do not mean the big kind you eat). I suspect that Montesquieu wrote by candle light with a quill for a pen, but he would have been delighted to type away on a Macbook, especially since it comes prepackaged with both a French keyboard and a Persian font. But, alas, poor Usbek and Rica would not be able to board an Air France flight to New York, connect to Atlanta and then walk into an Apple Store and buy a much smaller Air than the one they flew from Charles de Gaulle.
Shocking, is it not. But as Jamal Abdi writes in today’s New York Times, how to be a Persian has taken on new meaning in our globally-fixated-on-terrorism age:
Last month, Sahar Sabet, a 19-year-old Iranian-American woman, was improperly prevented from buying an iPad at an Apple store in Alpharetta, Ga. After she had gone over the various options with two Apple sales clerks, a third clerk, who had overheard Ms. Sabet speaking Persian to her uncle, intervened. He asked what language they were speaking and, when he found out it was the language of Iran, he said she could not buy anything because “our countries do not have good relations” — never mind that she intended to give it to her sister in North Carolina.
Of course, Montesquieu himself could walk into Le Apple Store in Paris and come out high on his own Airs. So I can only wonder what he might have added in the new updated version of Le emails persane. Perhaps it would go like this:
Rica to Roxana in Paris
Forgive the very long time that has expired since you, my sweet red rose, have in fact expired as well. My dear French friend Baron Montesquieu now regrets that he placed you on your deathbed in Letter 161, so in this new edition using a digital format you are not going to die. I am sure you find that a relief, even though at an age of about 320 you no doubt have a few wrinkles on that lovely Garden of Rustam face which I remember so fondly. But in Paris I was able to find some superb revitalizing face cream that the ladies all use, so you will blossom in youthful exuberance as soon as this herbal blessing reaches you. As I am now in Georgia of a place called the United States, I will send it to you via Priority Mail. I hear that this postal service is much faster than the old system that took weeks. Besides there seem to be no camels here except those kept in a kind of prison. They are so enslaved by Iblis here that they actually roll the dried flesh of camels into small sticks, light them up and let them dangle from their mouths.
France was very exciting, as I wrote in my letters, but as they now have a socialist President and our religion condemns socialisme as against the spirit of our shariah, I decided to fly (yes fly, can you imagine that!) to a place far beyond the land of the Franks, a really new world you have never heard of, with the pretentious name of the United States. United indeed, but against us poor Persians!
This country must be inhabited by the jinn as they have marvels you cannot begin to imagine. The flying machine was quite a marvel, taking Usbek and me above the clouds and as close to heaven as any mortal dare attempt. The most amazing thing to me is a small box that houses a legion of afarit, more than Solomon had in his service when he visited the Queen of Sheba. It is called a “cumpooter” or some such strange word, and there are two main rivals. One is the house of “Peecee,” which is cheap, but the best is the “Mac” which they call an Apple, although it is completely inedible. Indeed, the fruits of Ispahan far outsweet any of the tasteless scraps they call fruit here in this new world.
Imagine, my dear Roxana, a machine that writes for you. You just let your fingers come into contact with letters, even our superior Persian letters and words magically appear on a screen. I wanted more than anything to own one of these and bring it back to Persia. I have plenty of money, thanks to the royalties on my friend Montesquieu’s edition of my old letters, so price is no object. But the strangest thing happened when I tried to buy one. Here is exactly what happened after I entered the store.
“Hi and welcome to the Apple Store. How can I help you?”
“May God preserve your soul, young man. I want to buy one of these wondrous magical machines that have harnessed the spirits.”
“Well, the nearest bar is outside the mall. They have quite a selection of international beers. Or are you looking for a wine bar?”
“Mon Dieu, the unbelievers have even invaded this far-off paradise. I am not looking for those kinds of evil spirits, but the good kind that work miracles, like in your Air.”
“Well, I see that you are French, Sir, so rest assured that the Apple warranty is good for all of Europe.”
“Sacré bleu, I am not French, but Persian, and very proud of my country.”
“Persian? You mean as in the Axis of Evil Iran?”
“Well, Iran is the old name, but when I left my country three centuries ago, it was Persia. And its share of evil was no more than any country of you Occidentals.”
“Oh, well, unfortunately we cannot sell you a computer if you are Persian?”
“What difference does it make that I am Persian? I was told that this is a land with no discrimination. I can assure you I have plenty of cash and I will pay whatever I need to.”
“Trying to bribe me, are you? I will have to contact Homeland Security!”
Can you imagine, my dear Roxana, such a tragic turn of events? Before I could do anything, I was taken to the nearest airport and sent back to France. And to think I found it difficult to be Persian three centuries ago. May Allah preserve me; Comment peut-on être Persan today?
[This has been posted on HNN as well.]
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.