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  • Our flat in Tehran occupied the entire ground floor of the building, and all four of us enjoyed having a row of windows on the street side of the apartment where we could view the dusty road that passed in front of our building. We could hear the cling-clong-clang of camel bells before a caravan turned the corner, giving us enough time to pull chairs up to the windows for our two toddlers to stand on.

    The camels came often in the spring, loaded with bags of their own dung offered for sale to eager gardeners along the way. Donkey carts clattered by every day, carrying anything and everything that might need to be transported from one place to another. Herders also drove flocks of fat-tailed sheep down the streets so that housewives could choose their meat on the hoof and verify that the slaughter met religious specifications. Although I understood the importance of this practice in Iranian culture, I was glad we didn't ever have to witness the sounds, sights, and smells of a butchering on our doorstep or see blood evidence anywhere in our neighborhood.

    Most weekends (our embassy closed on Fridays and Saturdays to accommodate Muslim religious practice), we four went exploring in our neighborhood. We found a small vegetable stand that had the freshest produce available. After purchasing cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, we followed the fragrance of fresh-baked bread a few doors down to the Barbari store.

    If we were lucky, we'd be in time to see the baker lift a gigantic wooden spatula inside his beehive-shaped brick oven where the oval dough stuck to the ceiling as soon as it touched the hot surface. I admired the baker's nonchalance as he turned his back to the oven, whacked a hunk of raw dough from the mound on the table, and slapped another loaf into shape. How did he know the exact moment to pluck his spatula from the corner and hold it steady to catch the hot Barbari bread as it fell from the oven ceiling, baked to toasty brown perfection? The music of "Swan Lake" would have completed the image of pas de deux, baker and bread. Barehanded, the baker then lifted the bread from his spatula and impaled the long flat loaf on one of the ten-penny nails on the wall behind the counter.

    We lined up like the other customers to receive our loaf wrapped in newspaper, too hot for us to handle, best carried home in a shopping bag. Back in our kitchen, we wasted no time. Fred used a bread knife to open the loaf like a giant pita pocket while I sliced crisp cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, and a mild sweet onion. A smear of Miracle Whip (from the commissary), a dash of salt and pepper, grated cheddar cheese, and voila! The tastiest sandwich ever.
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