I don’t know where my mother got her adventurous side from. She always felt that her surroundings in Iran were too confined to pursue what she called her “soul thefts”. She got her driver’s license at a time when only a handful of people in the country owned cars, and women didn’t drive, let alone travel across borders alone. It’s still rare.
It was 1975 and my mother had moved from her hometown to Tehran to teach English at the Kharazmi Institute, a language school also affiliated with a hotel in London. After finding out she could make a hotel reservation, she booked a flight to London. There she became unstoppable. As Kharazmi’s instructor, she received VIP treatment. Informing the hotel manager of her intention to travel to France to buy a Peugeot, she learned that his wife had recently ordered one – and that my mother could buy it from them. “Just like that, the Peugeot became mine! she tells me.
She planned to drive her light green Peugeot to Iran. She would be joined by new friends she had made in London: the owner of a construction company in Tehran and two newlyweds from Mashhad. Two weeks later, they board a ferry for France. “It was my first sea voyage! Having a new car, being on a ferry and being surrounded by endless water all at once,” she recalls, “was surreal.” After visiting Paris, they drove south, until they reached a point near Lyon where roads were under construction. Although she spoke no French, she managed to get the Peugeot onto a train carriage until the roads were clear and driving was possible again.
When the cliffs surrounding Lake Como appeared, my mother led the way for exploration. They stopped in cafes where the Italians were singing and laughing. My mother socialized in English with the locals. “Where words failed,” she recalls, “I resorted to smiles and gestures.”
The adventure continued through what was then Yugoslavia, then to Bulgaria and Turkey. On the road from Istanbul to Ankara, it became apparent that a group of hoodlums were following the Peugeot. They suddenly swerved ahead, got out of their vehicle and approached with threatening gestures. But my mother didn’t flinch. “I pressed the gas and charged towards them. When they realized I could throw them, they rushed aside.
After driving through Sivas with its mosques, madrasas and minarets, they headed towards the Turkish border, where a patrolman delayed them, citing customs regulations for the car. “I gave him whiskey and pistachios,” my mother recalls. “I also slipped some money between the pages of my passport as I handed it to him. On the condition that we clear customs in Iran, he allowed us to cross.
The exposure my mother gained on her journey broadened her worldview and prompted her to immigrate to California, where I was born. We would eventually return to his native country, but periodic visits with relatives in Europe have strengthened my cross-cultural outlook.
In 2006, during a visit to Germany during the FIFA World Cup, Italy’s victory in the championships piqued my curiosity. On a whim, I leave alone for Venice. Back home, I completed the language immersion program at the Scuola Italiana. Perhaps I was destined to revive the legacy of my mother, who initiated a dialogue with the Italians of Lake Como all those years ago.
But it’s not about Italy or any particular country. It’s about going beyond borders and taking the initiative to experiment with other ways of being, sometimes at the cost of going against the grain of one’s community.
Still, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom to travel. Travel has shaped who I am. I owe this freedom to my mother, who paved the way before me. To her, whose life has been filled with adventures along a road less travelled.
Tara Jamali is a review specialist at Boston Globe Media. Send your comments to [email protected] Tell your story. Email your 650-word relationship essay to [email protected] Please note: we do not respond to submissions that we will not pursue.