I'm half Italian and half Iranian, born and raised in Italy. When I was 9 years old, my parents divorced and shortly after, my mother returned to Iran. The last year I decided to take a trip to Tehran to meet my mother and half of my family for the first time after 15 years.
I always felt like I was split in two halves. One was that all the people who are close to me know. The other one had been left behind, still, waiting. In a box I found a picture of the day that we saw each other for the last time. She and I, smiling. Sitting at a table, with some men chatting behind us. I couldn't tell where we were. I could see some low buildings that I didn't recognize. It was hot. I didn't remember, but I could tell from the fact that I had a short-sleeved shirt. She didn't. She was well covered. But she couldn't do otherwise. I was looking straight into the camera, she was too. Since then we had not met and almost never spoken. I flipped the picture. A pen writing. The handwriting was that of my mother: "TEHRAN, June 1998".
One day the phone rang. It had been so long since the last time that number appeared on the display. I was at a service station on the highway and I was heading back to the car. I answered, It was my mother. Quite naturally she asked me "how are you?". I did not know how to reply, what to say. At the end of the conversation I felt confused. It had been over a year since we spoke for the last time. From that moment the phone calls between us started to intensify, which means one every two or three months. I made up my mind. I wanted to see her again, I wanted to talk to her looking straight into her eyes.
I took courage and I told her. She was surprised, confused, but said it was okay.
At first she decided to come to Italy. I was shocked and frightened. She had never come to Italy since she left, about twenty years before. She did not come back for my brother's wedding. She did not come back for the birth of my niece. I never forgave her for this. I pondered for a long time and I realized that I had to be the one to go there. I had to deal with that part of me that had been paralyzed since 1998. I needed to rediscover my roots, my past, the family that I left there. I still had so many people there that I wanted to know and understand before losing them: my grandmother, my uncles and aunts, my cousins, and of course her. We decided the departure date. I went to the consulate to get the visa. When I left, my finger tips were all black with ink. I looked at them for a few minutes. In a month I would be on a plane that would take me back to 1998.
My mother looks at me from the window of her home in Shemrun (north of Tehran, near the Tajrish bazaar). In a few years they will demolish the entire building, in order to enlarge the mausoleum which is 200 meters away. Many local residents will be evicted.
My mother's living room. A while ago she used to live alone in this small apartment. Four years ago my grandmother, 82 years old, moved in as well. My mom sleeps in the traditional Iranian way, on a thin mattress unfolded on the carpet. My grandmother usually sleeps in the bedroom. Now both sleep on the ground. Despite my complaints, they obliged me use the bed.
One morning, after breakfast, my mother took out all the photos she has stored inside envelopes in all these years. We looked at them together. There isn't any recent picture of me among them. I never sent her any.
My mother during her evening prayer. In Iran there is a majority of Shiite Muslims. Unlike the Sunnis, they pray three times a day instead of five. Since she had divorced from my father she re-started to practice Islam.
My mother at the Embassy school where she teaches Italian. She is waiting for the accountant to reach her in order to be paid for the last courses she held. Four of her students got the highest grades.
The house where my grandparents lived. In the past, the courtyard was full of flowers that my grandmother watered every night. To go to their house, I had to climb to the top of Tehran, until I reached a street called "Shirin", which in Farsi means "sweet."
Birds Garden in Isfahan. Shortly after we arrived it started to hail. A meteorological phenomenon rather unusual for the city. We sought refuge under a gazebo. The birds flew frantically searching for shelter.
Here I could take a picture of my aunt. She told me she does not want a copy of it, I have to keep it as a souvenir. She's been living in this hospice for the last six months and before she stayed in a nursing home. She suffers from emotional disorders. My mother takes care of my grandmother. My grandmother was no longer able to take care of my aunt.
My grandfather died nine years ago, it was also on television. He's buried in Beheshte Zahro, the cemetery in the south of Tehran. It's a real necropolis, one can get there taking the highway. To reach the tombs one needs to get a cab or a local bus. He was an orchestra leader and a musician, therefore he was buried in Gateye Honarmandon, the part of the cemetery reserved to major artists. I wanted to tell him goodbye for the last time. I held back tears. My mother thought it was an allergy crisis.
Twelve years ago, my mother and my grandmother bought two houses in a village 100 km from Tehran, just next to the mountains, where there's no pollution. A series of these sculptures run along the main street. They will move here when Tehran will become too expensive.