I walked in the sunshine into the garden. The day was warm and sunny, a rare kind of spring day in upstate New York. Even in the sunshine, my spirits were low, a usual state after listening to the day’s news filled with trouble and turmoil in this crazy world of ours. My spirits lifted immediately upon hearing the birdsong conversations and watching butterflies waft in and out of the butterfly bush. While swatting away tiny bugs in the air I stepped carefully to avoid crushing ants on the walkway. I breathed deeply while sniffing the strong scent of the periwinkle colored Rhododendrons blooming after the long winter months.
Is it folklore or reality that achieving purple and blue toned blossoms on Rhododendron plants is a matter of loving attention and care, along with fertilizing the soil with coffee grounds and lots of water. A former neighbor used to perform these rites, but she moved away several years ago and I doubt anyone else has followed suit (adding coffee grounds to the soil). Perhaps it is some quirk of nature that the current blossoms still retain this color. I will not complain, they are beautiful.
Periwinkle is an illusive shade. It crosses from blue-tones to purple tones and may be deemed an indecisive or nondescript color by some critics I suppose. I first remember learning the name periwinkle as a child. My beloved Grandmother Rose Caplan loved to sew. How delighted she was to have her granddaughter wear her creations. How delighted my mother was to have a mother who would sew beautiful garments.
The jumper she made for me was of periwinkle dyed cotton. It was a cotton verging on linen, both coarse and with a bit of softness at the same time. The top, being a jumper, had no sleeves and tapered to a fitted waist and a flared skirt. The front near the neckline was laced together with a shoelace of the same color and ended in two small spools of thread, one sunny yellow and the other Japanese red. I still remember how sad I was when I outgrew the jumper and it became a “hand me down” to Mary Jane, a younger friend, always the next in line for my outgrown clothing.
I sat down on the wooden bench in the center of the garden, somehow transported back to reality from my reverie into my childhood. I breathed deeply, saddened by the news reports from Iran and more specifically the absurd January arrest of Roxana Saberi, the 32 year old journalist jailed on charges of espionage. My thoughts were with her wondering how one can survive in such a harsh land, the homeland of her father.
There is a beautiful photo of Roxana, her head wrapped in a Muslim woman’s headscarf or hijab, the color so close to the periwinkle jumper of my childhood and to the flowers in the garden. Paralleling my freedom to walk into my garden, this vignette popped into my head of Roxana’s “walk” to her cell with an 8 year sentence weighing on her shoulders;
Hardly aware of the perpetrator(s) I was pushed harshly into a cell, the door clanged shut behind me. I lay stunned where I fell on the bare, gruff, cold and broken cement floor trying to gather the strength to look up or even to stand up and assess my surroundings. The scent of filth, urine, vomit, the dankness and slightly damp warmth of electric heat from the bare bulb of despair surrounded me. I finally found the strength to pull myself up to sit on the edge of the iron cot. I finally found the strength to open my eyes and assess my surroundings. I found the strength to take a deep breath. I will fight this, I will have faith, I will begin a hunger strike, I will take action and believe that people out there care.
In my cell, I heard no birdsong, I felt no sun, no butterflies wafted about, no tiny bugs teased my head, no ants crawled on the ground, only a few beetles and other crawling things hid among the dust and dirt. I believe I sat in a reverie for hours, for days. I must have had some sustenance, some contact with my jailers, but I could not relate any stories of this to anyone who may have asked. I long to walk in the sunshine.
I awoke from this reverie in the garden, feeling the pleasant warmth of the sun and smelling the sweet floral fragrances. I returned to my townhouse , free and with the glow of the sunshine warming my hair.
I continued to dwell on Roxana’s fate hoping that the international effort to help her, her parents presence in Iran and the grace of all of the gods prayed to would help her become free. We did, after all, have a bond in the beautiful periwinkle color that sways indecisively between blues and purples, the pleasant shades of hope.
As we were soon to learn, diligence paid off. Roxana’s sentence was commuted to 2 years and then to freedom. She has returned to the US after living in Iran for 6 years. She is speaking to groups and has defied the will of the superpowers of Iran; a woman, a professional, and one who was such a powerful threat to the will of the demigods of that nation.
After some months, I would soon learn on NPR that Roxana would be free. My spirits soared.
Postscript; Roxana Saberi has written of her experiences in a book entitled Between Two Worlds, My Life and Captivity in Iran.
Ann Carol Goldberg