Author Archives: Bonnie Pakravan

Ghost Story – Miami, Florida

“My uncle in Miami used to manage one of the restaurants at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.  He told me once that Al Capone lived the ladder portion of his life in the penthouse, which was the thirteenth room on the thirteenth floor.  No one disturbed him and no one spoke to him.  Many people claimed to have seen him jump off his balcony, maybe it was an illusion but it really kind of foreshadowed his upcoming death.  That room was the last place Al Capone ever lived in.  It was a deluxe, luxurious room, but after his death, no one ever went in that room.  Decades later, the room is believed to be haunted.  When guests come into the room uninvited, supposedly the spirit of Al Capone starts to haunt them.  He turns the lights on and off, turns on the faucet and shower.  There is a spooky aura that surrounds this luxurious hotel.  Any slight event, like doors opening unexpectedly, makes people think it’s Al Capone’s ghost.  And so one summer, we were at the hotel for dinner one night and I went to use the bathroom.  All of a sudden, the doors blew open.  I know now that it was because of the wind, but at the time I was ten so I believed it was the spirit of Al Capone.”

Farbod, my brother, learned this ghost story from my uncle in Miami.  There have been many cases where guests at the hotel believe they have seen ghosts and spirits or just unusual happenings in the elevators and hotel rooms.

After doing some research I found that Al Capone, the Italian American gangster, actually died in 1947 of a cardiac arrest lead on by pneumonia. Since Al Capone lived in the time during the Prohibition, they set up a speakeasy on the thirteenth floor, which he did frequent numerous times throughout his life.  However, the actual story is that Capone’s friend, Fats Walsh, was murdered there.

The ghost story my brother was told clearly shows how a piece changes over time.  However, this ghost story is still widely believed in Miami and Coral Gables.  My uncle and cousins have stayed at Capone’s room, officially known as the “Al Capone Suite,” and they have all attested to strange occurrences, such as the shower turning on and off and strange noises at night.  It is hard to say what accounts for these strange actions, but for now, the ghost story of Al Capone is enough to explain them.

Joke – Iran

“There are three people and they are going to go to the desert.  They are each allowed one item to bring with them.  One man says he wants to bring eggs with him, so if he gets hungry, he has something to eat.  The other guy says he wants to bring wine, so when he gets thirsty, he can drink something.  The last guy says he wants to bring a car door.  The other two men, confused, ask why he would want to bring a car door.  The man answers, “So that if it gets too hot, I can roll down my window.””

My mom told me this joke, which she says she learned about three years ago at lunch one day with her friends.  Her friend heard this joke in Iran.  Here is an example of how this version of a joke originated in Iran, but is quickly spread in different countries.  It also shows a little bit of the Persian culture.  The fact that they go to the desert and one brings eggs while another brings wine illustrates some Persian characteristics and customs.  The eastern part of the country is mostly consisted of desert terrain and the desert is generally associated with Middle Eastern and northern African countries.  Eggs and wine are also very common and popular food and drink items in Iran.  For example, if the joke originated in America or if someone wanted to make an oicotype of the joke and adapt it to the American culture, that person might say that one man chose to bring bread and the other man chose to bring water or soda.

When my mom told this joke, she told it to me while I was with my aunts.  After the punch lines of other jokes, the audience would burst out laughing; but with this joke, both of my aunts and I were just annoyed at how ignorant and dumb the third guy was.  I really enjoyed the joke and laughed afterwards- I even shared the joke with some friends- but my immediate reaction was that I was annoyed.

Game – Tehran, Iran

“Top Topeh Khameer”

khameer topeh top

dough pat pat

Pat the dough

paneer poreh sheesheh

cheese full of jar

A jar full of cheese

? ballah kee dasteh

? up who hand of

Whose hand is raised?

Bonnie dasteh

Bonnie hand of

(Reply) Bonnie’s hand

This game is played by having someone turn his or her back to everybody else so that he or she cannot see them.  The other people begin patting that person’s back with one hand while saying the rhyme.  When they get to the part, “Whose hand is raised?” one player raises his or her hand up and the person with the back turned must guess whose hand it is.  They continue to do this until one person is left and he or she is the winner.

My mother taught me this game when I was younger and she said she learned it from her own childhood.  She says that all of the kids at school in Iran would play this game during their breaks for fun.  There is no real significance as to why there is “dough” or a “jar of cheese”; they just make the game more interesting by adding in a rhyme.

Recipe – Tehran, Iran

Recipe for “Sholeh Zard”

1 cup rice

2 ½ cups water

1 ½ cups sugar

2 tablespoons rosewater

4-5 tablespoons oil

Pinch of saffron

Cook rice very well in water.  Add the sugar and mix.  Boil oil separately.  Add in rice.  Add the saffron (for color) and rosewater.

Recipe for “Halvah”

1 cup flour

5 tablespoons oil

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons rosewater

Pinch of saffron

In a pan, mix the flour until it cooks.  Add the oil and mix so it changes to a dark brown color.  In another pan, add the water and sugar and boil.  In the same pan, add the saffron and rosewater and keep it boiling.  Next, add in the flour slowly and keep stirring off the fire.

Both “sholeh zard” and “halvah” are traditional dessert dishes of Iran.  They both originated from Iran and the recipes are passed down generations.  My mom says she learned the recipes from her friend’s mother in Iran when she was young.  My mother cooks a lot of Persian meals, almost every night, and she sometimes makes “sholeh zard” and “halvah” for us.

“Sholeh zard” is a typical Persian dessert and it can be made any time.  However, on special occasions, such as the Persian New Year, Christmas, or just any celebratory event, it is seen a lot more at parties and other people’s homes.  My mom makes “sholeh zard” only about once every couple of months because it has a lot of sugar and too much of it is fattening.  Since she does not make it that often, when she does make it, there has to be a special reason why she is making it, but in general “sholeh zard” can be made anytime.  “Sholeh zard,” when it is done cooking, looks like yellow rice pudding and it can be eaten hot right after it is made, or cold if it is put in the refrigerator.

“Halvah” is another traditional dessert from Iran.  However, this dish is most often made when somebody dies or to celebrate the memory or anniversary of someone’s death.  “Halvah,” like “sholeh zard,” is very popular in Iran and everybody knows how to make it, or has eaten it at least.  In different countries, the recipe for “halvah” varies; in some countries it is more seen with nuts and chocolate, whereas other countries it is creamier.  The “halvah” my mom makes is about half an inch thick and a dark brown color.  It is very sweet so it is hard to eat a lot at once.  It is most often eaten with tea since it is a dessert dish.  It is hard to describe what the “halvah” my mom makes tastes like, but it is a soft, creamy texture like peanut butter but it is hard and thick at the same time.

Both “halvah” and “sholeh zard” are traditional dishes prepared in Iran, and now with the growing population of Persians in America, there are Persian supermarkets that offer those dishes.  My mom does not have the recipes for the desserts written down; after making them so many times, she has the recipes memorized.

Tale – Tehran, Iran

“Bareh va Gorgh” (“The Sheep and the Wolf”)

“There once was a sheep (bareh) and she had three kids: Shangool, Mangool, and Habehyeh Angoor.  The mom would always tell her kids to never talk to strangers and to always lock the doors because the bad wolf (gorgh) would do bad things.  One day, she left to do some shopping and told the kids, as usual, to not open any doors for anybody and that she’ll be back soon.  She left and the kids were playing, not paying attention to anything she said.  However, the wolf was behind the door the whole time and heard that the mother sheep was leaving.  So the wolf knocks on the door and the kids open the door immediately.  The wolf eats Shangool and Mangool.  Habehyeh Angoor runs to hide and starts crying.  When the mom comes back, she sees that the door is opened and she knows something has happened.  She sees Habehyeh Angoor crying and asks what happened.  He explains the whole story for his mom.  The mom then runs after the wolf and finds him.  She demands for her kids back but the wolf won’t give her them.  And so they start to fight and the mother sheep throws the wolf to the ground and cuts his stomach to get her kids out.  When the kids see the mom, they are so happy but are also crying.  They apologize for not listening to her and promise to never do it again.”

My mom says she learned this story when she was a little girl.  In Iran, it is a popular story that almost everybody knows.  She says she learned it from her mom when she wanted to go to sleep.  But also, at the elementary schools in Iran, the students would perform “Bareh va Gorgh” as a play.

My mother would tell my brother and me this tale whenever she wanted us to go to bed.  The Grimm brothers also wrote a different version of this tale called “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids.”  Both “Bareh va Gorgh” and “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids” are tales, or märchens.  They vary such that in my mother’s version, the characters are one mother sheep with three children, whereas in the Grimm’s version, the characters are a mother goat and six children.

My mother told me this story so many times that I had it memorized at age six.  In the Grimm’s version of the tale, the mother goat gets her kids back and they dance around in celebration.  When my mother would tell the story, she would end it by saying that the mother sheep would get her kids back and the kids would apologize for not listening to their mother.  I think my mom changed the last part of the tale so that my brother and I would learn a lesson and the consequences if we talk to strangers.

This story is a tale, or märchen, because it follows the guidelines, or laws, of märchens.  “Bareh va Gorgh” is not set in the real world and it is not to be believed since the characters, the sheep and the wolf can talk.  Märchens also serve to get a lesson and moral across to the audience.  The tale has the number three repeat throughout the text; there are three children and the wolf tries to get into the house three times (his last being successful), which also follows the law that repetition is almost always threefold.  In this performance that my mom gave of the tale, she forgot to add that the wolf tries but fails to get into the house two times before he actually did.  In the tale, there are always only two characters to a scene, the children as a group as one character; for example the mother with her children, or the children with the wolf, or the mother with the wolf.  The tale is also single stranded, meaning that there is only one plot and does not go back and forth between scenes.