Bearings and how to find them (part 2)


Where was I? Ah yes, the scents of LA’s streets and disorientation in general and in detail.

To better find my way around, I started using imaginary names for streets so I could better remember them. A fun game once you start it because there is just no end to the many permutations often strange-sounding names could end up with. Let’s take Hilgard Ave., just up from the UCLA in Westwood, leading up to Sunset Blvd. I couldn’t remember that one for the life of myself, so I turned it into Hildegard Ave. (R.I.P. Hildegard Knef, the only Hildegard I know of). Much better. And why not, given the many Germans that have put their mark on California – a story in itself, which is better read here.

From this point, no holds were barred. Unremarkable Mildred Ave. in Culver West turned into Mildew Ave., the Dashew Centre into nutty Cashew Central, Lincoln Ave. to Lockdown Ave. (had to drive around it several times on account of some police crime action), and Woodruff Ave. – where I once ended up by mistake, heavens knows why – became Dandruff Blvd., as a form of cheap revenge.

And then there was the parking ticket. Now, it is quite difficult to get a parking ticket on a motorbike in LA because parking is generally free for motorbikes. But not everywhere as I found out to my detriment. First, I didn’t park my scooter in the prescribed out-of-the-way UCLA multi-level park dungeon but on a car space. BIG mistake, which nearly set me back 50 dollars in fines (I got off after some pleading with the uni’s central parking fine admin office (this does indeed exist, since UCLA functions a bit like a small town).


Next stop: Hollywood, right off the Chinese Theatre. I was so lucky to find a space there, right behind a large SUV in an empty mini-slot, where I could stand the Enfield in a diagonal position. It was all beautiful until I found a little piece of paper fluttering under the tachometer, after some star-hunting on the Boulevard and an excellent showing of Kubrick’s “Shining” in the Chinese. That was a whopping 90 dollars fine (they call it a parking citation), and no way getting out of that one. However, I managed to wriggle out of the extra 15 dollars they wanted from me because the rental service hadn’t bothered with a proper number plate. Seems a lot of Angelitos are driving around without correct number plates.

I had a lot more fun driving around on two wheels in LA. This includes:

  • nearly ending up on the freeway (prohibited for Vespa drivers) after taking a wrong turn – had to push the bike back on the sidewalk (yes, LA has sidewalks, no matter what you’ve read about this car-crazed city)
  • driving around by night after some party or late-night movie, and passing several times some obvious crime scenes, with police cars swarming around
  • repeatedly, having really fun conversations with strangers who would stop next to me (both motorbikes and cars) or cross the road at a red light in front of me (pedestrians – yes, there are pedestrians in LA, no matter what…) and ask me things like: what is the horse-power of your ride; top speed; how fast off the mark; where did you buy it; and: is it really a vintage (in the case of the Enfield).

All in all, it was worth it. Apart from the one time when I tried to turn right a bit too close to the curve and fell into a ditch (a small ditch – the asphalt had crumbled near the sidewalk), I never had any issue exploring LA on two wheels, and really don’t regret having had the idea. In fact, even the ditch experience had a positive side-effect, namely that I found out how friendly Angelitos really are – when I had to get up and stand the Vespa back on its wheels (it didn’t even have a scratch), several people rolled down their windows and asked if I was alright and whether I needed any help. Even though the lights had already turned to green. Quite wonderful.

Perhaps the only regret I have is that it was much too cumbersome to explore the entire city on a bike. The city is so large that every ride took forever and since the freeways were barred for me, it would have taken me nearly two hours just to drive to Downtown. So I didn’t see as much as would have liked to. Oh well, next time.

The first part of this post can be found here.

Bearings and how to find them

Golly! While browsing through my blog posts, I discovered that (a) I haven’t posted anything since mid-2014 (shame on me), and (b) a draft article that I wanted to post as a follow-up to my scary scooter moments in LA.

Should I throw it away? Should I post it anyway, with more than a year’s delay? Blogging is such a time-consuming affair but every PR person tells you that you should keep it up regularly and be always up-to-date. I am such a PR person. Still, I can’t abide by my own rules.

Well, I decided to post it. My draft wasn’t finished so I had to come up with a few memories to conclude the story, like those movie-makers who have to replace an actor deceased in the middle of the shooting with a stuntman or, nowadays, a digital copy. I mark the transition with [2015]. And here goes!

Week 3. In the meantime, I have spent a whole weekend driving a rented motorbike to get some more experience driving around LA, so I am starting to get the hang of it. As long as I don’t stray too far from the areas that I know. Because here’s the catch: my biggest challenge is orientation. I couldn’t find my bearings if you paid me for it. At least not at first. Or at second.

The Royal Enfield I rented in LA for a weekend.

Landmarks are no use to me. In the first week, I found myself turning regularly left where I was supposed to go right, simply acting on the fact that I spotted what I believed was a landmark – a café bar called “The Bean Factory.” Except that it was the wrong landmark. What I had remembered was a parking lot with a big sign on it saying “Angry Bear Corner” or something. How I managed to mix these up, I don’t know.

But this is a thing of the past. By now, I know not to turn left at the Beans but at the Bear. I remember the “dips” in the road (probably earthquake damage) where I need to brake and learned that the [2015] right-turn to the UCLA was coming up when I passed the smell of the dry cleaners of Sepulveda Bd. Because this is the thing when you’re driving around a city on a two-wheeler – there are all these scents in the air. Others on my daily route to uni were:

  • the spicy scents emanating from the Mexican restaurant, day and night, on the corner Washington Bd. to Sepulveda
  • the horrid fumes of burning asphalt below the Santa Monica Freeway crossing with Sepulveda, from the never-ending road works on that spot (which regularly gave me the edge over car drivers as I would weave my work through 2 miles of traffic to the front of the queue), and
  • the delicious scent of coffee wafting in the air when I approached the Bean café, accompanied by the welcome sights of the “Persian Square” (on Westwood Boulevard between Wilshire and Pico), with its saffron-ice cream parlours and advertisements in Farsi for Iranian lawyer services.

And then I would arrive at my destination. Sometimes.

Hang on, there are some more notes from this 2014 post, so I’ll write about these in part 2.

Lone scooter in LA

It must have been the slight onset of madness that made me do this. Most definitely.

Since last Monday, I am riding a 125cc motor scooter of the Vespa type around Venice. I.e. Venice, Los Angeles. And beyond. Aside from the oddly named Freeways (what’s free up there, I ask? OK, no road tax, but other than that?), no place is secure from me. In fact, it’s more my own security that I am worried about. The first week has already given me a taste of the multifarious hazards two-wheelers are exposed to in this very very large city.


For one, nearly everything else is much larger than you. Although there is a notable trend in LA to buy smaller cars, there are still enough metal behemoths around to make you feel claustrophobic at traffic junctions. Even motorcycles, as rare as they are, come more often in the super-sized Harley variety than in “normal” human-sized models. Not to speak of the roads. They come in Starbucks sizes: two lanes (short espresso), three lanes (a mini regular), four lanes (large with cream), and more (premium but still manageable). One lane? Can’t be measured.

Then there are the cracks in the road. I can only assume that it is the thousands of mini-earthquakes the area experiences every week, or perhaps even every day, that tears apart the tarmac to this extent. Every other day, there seems to be another bump or hole in the Avenues I have to master, which the scooter is never too happy about. There is even a dip on Washington Ave. for which you kindly receive advance warning through a sign saying “Dip.” Once you mastered that one and think you are safe, there is nearly immediately another one, without warning.

But there are also upsides. First of all, road behaviour is much more courteous than in Europe,. Drivers generally give you an incredible amount of space to maneuver, on both sides and in front of them. Never heard a nasty word about me weaving through traffic either – rather to the contrary, cars moving to the side so I could pass. People are incredibly forgiving of uncertain driving styles – it’s rare to hear someone honk.

In a generally energy-conscientious US state like California, it is also not rare to get positive remarks about riding a scooter. I received one already on day two, and someone even enquired about the scooter while crossing the six lanes on a junction. From a distance of at least 50 metres, he still shouted at me: “And how many gallons per mile?” I had no idea – gallons?

Then, there are my personal safety precaution. Nearly all other scooter drivers (still a rare sight) that I so far encountered, seem to be content to adopt the Italian fashion of T-shirt with bermudas and slippers of even flip-flops. Not me. Paranoid as I am about safety, I gear up every day with leather jacket, gloves and long trousers. I also always ride with full beam on, day and night, in the hope that no one gets so blinded by the mini-beam that she or he cuts off my way and runs me over. Gulp.

Finally, there is the colour. I’ve seen all kinds of scooters here so far, but none in bright orange. What a statement.


Iran’s TV adds entertainment to propaganda

Elham Gheytanchi, Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Iranian state is engaged in a ferocious war. No, not the nuclear standoff. This one is fought over the airwaves. And in recent months, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s propaganda machine has proven itself smarter than we think.

The state-run TV in Iran has been facing major competition since 2000, when Iranians in America started broadcasting banned entertainment, news analysis and commentary not allowed into their homeland.

Dissidents’ satellite TV broadcasts, mostly from California, home to a large population of Iranian Americans, have prospered. There are more than 20 satellite TV stations, stationed in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto, run by the dissidents broadcasting into Iran 24 hours a day. More than a dozen satellite radio stations are also broadcast into Iran.

With the exception of the U.S.-backed Voice of America, these satellite TV stations have small budgets. As a result, their programs mostly broadcast banned pop singers’ concerts and poignant criticism of the Islamic regime.

The Iranian state has responded by outlawing satellite dishes and jamming the signals at several crucial political periods – but these measures haven’t been nearly as brilliant as the latest strategy: entertaining the viewer.

With huge budgets provided by the state, new stations in Iran have produced extravagant TV series such as “Nargess,” “Zero Degree Orbit” and “The Forbidden Fruit.” The latter, for example, tells the story of a passionate love affair between an aged religious man who is married and a young, beautiful and independent woman – unprecedented since the revolution almost 30 years ago.

Beyond the amusement and entertainment, however, is a prefabricated message. Naturally, my family and I have found ourselves caught up in the latest chapter of this propaganda war.

Every week, for the past couple of months, my immigrant family has gathered on Friday nights in the living room of my parents’ three-bedroom apartment near UCLA to watch “Zero Degree Orbit,” an extraordinary program that some might call a historical soap opera. Trust me, it’s a far cry from the programming previously offered up by a state network better known for its drab entertainment and drab dress codes.

The 30-part series has created a huge buzz among Iranians in California as well as the relatives we left behind in Iran. The program, set in the 1930s and ’40s, focuses on an often overlooked period of Iranian history when the country was under the occupation of Allied forces. The main plot is amusing, cleverly written and multilayered, complete with parallel love stories that stretch across geographical as well as religious, ethnic and class lines. It’s nothing less than luscious.

On the show, a beautiful French actress, without the usual strict dress code, plays the role of a Jewish French girl, Sara, during World War II in Paris and Tehran. She’s in love with a Muslim – yes, a very handsome Muslim, whose name actually means “dear” in Persian. Her love story with this clean-shaven and articulate man reaches its peak when Sara actually takes her lover’s arm in the last episode.

While you may be ho-hum about this, our jaws dropped when we watched him touch her. You just don’t see this on state-run Iranian television. Remember, the guys who run this little network are still in censorship mode. Never before has a director been able to pass Islamic red lines to actually show a man and woman’s intimate relations on the screen.

Despite hard-liners’ objection in the parliament, Hassan Fathi, the screenwriter and director of the series, has the state authorities’ blessings to show scenes of flirting, romantic gestures, loving gazes and even (gasp, gasp) a direct touch between a man and a woman. Wow.

As much as the series is appealing, it also reveals its crafted message wrapped inside the love stories. What the viewers get in exchange for skin and beautiful strands of non-Iranian women’s hair is a skillfully designed plot in which beguiled Jews with a conscience are manipulated and killed by Zionist Jews. Two intellectual Jews, a French and an Iranian, are mysteriously slain by Zionist agents in France and Iran in this fictitious story imbued by historical events.

Their sin is to have voiced their dissent with the Zionist agenda, namely to encourage and fund Jewish immigration to Palestine to help establish the state of Israel.

Both killings are unraveled by a patriotic yet subservient government official who comes to represent the archetype of the eternally oppressed Iranians – those who fight for the independence of Iran and the rule of law in the country.

Many of my fellow Iranian American friends are furious with the TV series. They are angry at the misrepresentation of an actual junior Iranian diplomat, Abdol Hossein Sardari, who did in fact save the lives of many Iranian and French Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris by providing them with Iranian passports.

But Iran’s propaganda machine has an agenda of it own.

In “Zero Degree Orbit,” a decadent Germanophile diplomat tied to the Shah receives money in exchange for blank passports for stranded Iranian Jews under Nazi rule in Paris. But it is the handsome Muslim lover in “Zero Degree Orbit” who helps Sara and her mother escape to Iran by risking his own life.

Corruption in the weak Iranian state and lawlessness are among the main themes of “Zero Degree Orbit.” The title is taken from the subservient official’s short speech while unjustly imprisoned for killing a corrupt politician. The firing squad ordered by the debauched royal family in the TV series is reminiscent of nationalist army officials loyal to Mossadegh’s government in the 1950s – officials who were brutally killed by the U.S.-backed Mohammad Reza Shah’s regime.

Before his death, the subservient official states that as long as Iran is ruled by bribable German, British, or U.S.-supported politicians, no real reform will take place, forcing the Iranian people to always regress, never marching forward. His unjust death brought tears to many viewers’ eyes.

Growing up in Iran in the 1980s, I remember how the state-run TV was filled with anti-Israeli propaganda, strong disdain for any symbols of ancient Persian monuments, and no mention of the Holocaust anywhere in TV or our textbooks.

“Zero Degree Orbit” signals a different era; one in which the state goes as far as allowing foreign actresses to appear unveiled in TV series; showing the Holocaust, the glorious Persian empire and portraying love between a Jew and a Muslim without mandatory conversion to Islam, only to cloak their old messages in a new shroud.

This particular TV series has displayed historically fictitious conspiracy plots that are believable to the average Iranian because Iranian history is filled with conspiracies – including the CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew Mossadegh’s nationalist government.

In the end, though, the state-run TV loses on its own premises – savvy viewers know they will watch only what their political ruling bosses will ultimately allow on their TV screens. Despite Fathi’s supreme directing, coquettish French actress and beautiful cinematography, “Zero Degree Orbit,” with its fascinating conspiracy tales, remains a conspiracy at its best.


Iran has established two satellite TV stations in Persian as well as Press TV (in English) and Al-Alam (in Arabic).

With huge budgets, these stations produce extravagant TV series such as “Nargess,” “Zero Degree Orbit and “The Forbidden Fruit,” which are featured on Iranian satellite TV stations in the United States.

There are more than 20 satellite TV stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto that are run by dissidents broadcasting into Iran 24 hours a day.

In addition, more than a dozen satellite radio stations are also broadcast into Iran to which Iranians listen in their cars via short waves.

In the late 1990s, Iran banned satellite dishes, but the measure has not succeeded: There are an estimated 4 million dish holders in Tehran and 20 million viewers across Iran.

California, particularly Los Angeles, is home to a huge Iranian community – and the
largest number of Iranian satellite TV stations in the United States.
In the Bay Area, the Iranian TV channel is Appadanna (
Access to most Iranian TV series is available at

The popular Iranian TV program “Zero Degree Orbit” (all 30 episodes) can be accessed at

Elham Gheytanchi teaches sociology at Santa Monica College. She writes about Iranian politics and culture.

This article appeared on page G – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Original story: here