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Interview with Homa Abdoh

The interview took place on September 9, 1998 in Reza Abdoh’s former apartment, then used by his brother, Salar. Unfortunately, between background noise, Homa’s accent and her soft voice, much of the interview was inaudible. Because of this, and because Homa was speaking in a language she doesn’t practice often, I have edited this interview more aggressively than I edited the others.

MUFSON Could you tell me a little bit about your own background, where you were born and raised?

HOMA I hate to talk about identification. [Inaudible]. I was born in Italy, very close to Switzerland, the border. My father used to live in Geneva, the whole family. After I was born, my family moved to Geneva and I had my education in Switzerland. That’s why my first language is French. But I am Iranian.

MUFSON Your parents were Iranian?

HOMA Yes. I was just born in Italy, and we stayed in Switzerland until I was about 15, and then we moved to Iran. I have a brother who’s a surgeon, actually, in Geneva. He stayed there when we came back to Iran. He stayed there, and I got married to Reza’s father.

MUFSON You were 15?

HOMA Yes.

MUFSON How did you meet Reza’s father?

HOMA He was a very close friend of the king of Iran, very close. And he had the first bowling alley in Iran. He was the one who constructed it. And then I came in the summer to see my parents in Iran (they came first to Iran, I was in boarding school in Lusanne when my parents came to Iran), I usually went with my father to go bowling. He saw me over there, and he fell in love. There was a big difference in our ages. He was about 23 or 24 years older, maybe 38? So we got married.
It was the father who decided at that time, it was my father who decided that I should get married. In certain good families in Iran at that time, it was the family that decided for the young children, even boys. And of course he was a nice man, but he wasn’t built to be a husband. Maybe he was too popular, and he was out all the time. He was a very close friend of the king of Iran, of the Shah, and of course when you live in that kind of society, it’s not always quiet. And I was a child. I was not good enough for him. He was a man, and I was a child. And then I had my first baby, Reza. Nine months, ten months after we married, quickly. And then after 2 years, Salar and Sadar and my daughter, Negar. It’s an Iranian name, you can find it in a poem of Hafez. [Inaudible.] My father chose this name for my daughter.

MUFSON What does it mean?

HOMA Negar is the name of the woman who always gives wine to the Sufis… I really grew up with Reza. That’s why it is so difficult for me to talk about Reza, always. Because he is my childhood, he’s my young age, he’s my teacher, I was his teacher. My love, everything, I gave it to him. Everything that I wanted to be, I led him to be, I taught him to be. His father was a very tough man. A very tough man. He did a lot of sports, he was first in sports and everything. He didn’t like art. He was the opposite of me. So, Reza was taking after me.He was not a child, never. He was adult, always, I have to tell you Reza was adult, always.

MUFSON Precocious from the beginning?

HOMA Really. I remember even when he was two years old, the way he was acting was surprising. Everybody. I was very young myself, you know, and he was adult, really.

MUFSON In what way?

HOMA The way he was acting, the way he was talking. He started talking very soon, he started walking very soon. He was four or five years old, he was beginning to read, but not the books which belonged to the little kids. He grew up quickly. And then I remember we were in London. For a child of nine years old, something like that, it is hard a little bit, in my opinion, to understand someone like [Akiro] Kurosawa or [Ingmar] Bergman. But sometime he would oblige me to go with him to go see the same movie twice. For a child of nine years—

MUFSON And the movies were by Kurosawa and Bergman?

HOMA Yes.

MUFSON How old was he?

HOMA Nine. Yes, it was amazing in my opinion. You just felt he was different. What else do you want to know?

MUFSON Was the family Shi’ite or Sunni?

HOMA Shi’ite. […] Yes, we were Shi’ite, especially the grandfather of Reza.

MUFSON His father’s father?

HOMA Yes. He was a very… how can I explain in English… in the high level of court in Iran.

MUFSON You mean an imam?

HOMA No, in court. Not religious. In government. In Ministry of the Defense. At a very high level. He was a very good man, but of course the grandmother, she wore a chador. A very big family, a very good family.

MUFSON A chador?

HOMA Yes, a veil. But not the same chador that the Taliban wear. Just to hide a little. A long chador. [Inaudible] In this family, they are all very intelligent. Reza’s uncle… and they were all Shi’ite. Nothing against the Sunnis. I love so much the Sunnis. Iran also. You can see that they don’t have anything against the Sunnis. What is really under the curtain, I don’t know, but what you see, the people, the Shi’ites and Sunnis are very good together.

MUFSON And you were very religious? Did the men pray five times a day?

HOMA His grandfather and grandmother were like that.

MUFSON But Reza’s father—

HOMA —No.

MUFSON Reza himself?

HOMA No. He was a good believer, but he didn’t pray.

MUFSON Did he go to the Friday noon mosque?

HOMA No, I never saw him go. We usually went to mosque together to see the beauty of a mosque when we went traveling.

MUFSON But not weekly for prayer.

HOMA No, no. I am a good believer, I have to tell you. I don’t wear chador, of course.

MUFSON Why not?

HOMA Because I don’t believe in chador. I believe in what I do. I believe in God, and that’s the most important for me. It makes me relaxed. Because if I wasn’t a good believer, I couldn’t survive after Reza[‘s death], believe me.  It was too much, too hard for me to survive after Reza.  [Inaudible]

MUFSON How long did Reza actually live in Iran? You traveled abroad a lot, didn’t you, as a family?

HOMA We traveled a lot.

MUFSON How long did he have in Iran before you sent him off to school in England?

HOMA Let’s say about eight years. But in these eight years we were going to London always. To Paris, to London, to United States. We were quite often out of Iran. It was only after the revolution that I and my [second] husband stayed 20 years in Iran.

MUFSON Reza’s father died in the United States, didn’t he?

HOMA Yes.

MUFSON How come you hadn’t followed him to the U.S.?

HOMA Because we were divorced by then. Not even one year. And he came here with the kids. And after the revolution, he couldn’t come anymore to Iran. It was very dangerous for him. For all the people we knew.

MUFSON So why did you send Reza abroad for school?

HOMA In my opinion, it was not fast enough. The education was not good enough for Reza in Iran. He wanted to know more and more and more, and he couldn’t take it in Iran.

MUFSON He couldn’t take the classes.

HOMA He couldn’t take the classes and the books and the movies and the theater. Everything that he loved. So we sent him to London.

MUFSON Was that difficult?

HOMA For me, that was very difficult. [inaudible] Of course, after two months I went to see him. Every two or three months we went to see him. And after, we moved also to England. Because of the work of his father, we couldn’t stay permanently over there, but a few months, and then back to Iran.

MUFSON So he wasn’t so isolated.

HOMA No. And then Salar went, and then Sadar.

MUFSON I get the impression that his relationship with his father was a bit difficult or tempestuous. But if he was away from home from age 9—

HOMA —maybe because they didn’t understand each other very much.

MUFSON Was that always the case?

HOMA From the beginning, when he started to love the arts, because [Reza’s father] wanted him to be a sports man. And [Reza] didn’t want to be a sports man. [Inaudible.]

MUFSON Have you ever actually seen any of Reza’s shows?

HOMA Yes. I was with him in Bordeaux. Could you believe that I couldn’t come out of Iran for 13, maybe 14 years. They didn’t allow me, like many other people. After so many years, I missed Reza… He was a man. I met him in Bordeaux. He came over there for the festival of theatre, and I couldn’t believe that my eyes were seeing Reza. I knew that he was ill, tired. But we spent a fabulous day together, and I saw the show, Hip-Hop. I loved it very much. I was so impressed. And after one year, for the Festival d’Automne, he came again, to Paris. And that was again with Hip-Hop and Tight Right White. I wanted to go—you don’t believe it maybe—eight times I tried to go to the United States and for eight times they put “Rejection” in my passport. The last time I went to see Reza, you know he was a great director of theater, everywhere in Paris was his name and picture and his show, and the consulate said “Yes, I know who you are very well, I was at your show last night. But I’m sorry, I can’t give a visa to your mother.” He was shocked, he didn’t believe it. The last time it was three years ago, three years ago when he passed away. I came to Australia. My sister-in-law lives there, she’s a lawyer over there. Again, they didn’t give me a visa. And Reza was really sick, he was in his last days. And I called Salar. I said, “What happened? They rejected me again.” They did something, I think Diane White did a lot for my visa. She talked with a few people, and the day after they called me from the embassy and said, “Your visa is ready, you can come and get it.” And then I came here. You know what? He stopped dying until he could see me. He really stopped dying, and then when he saw me, the next night, he went. I never thought that… [weeps]… I could come again to New York. This time when we came, we came for the wedding of my third son. But it was so hard for me to come to New York. I couldn’t believe it, really, that I could come again to New York and this house, with all these memories.

MUFSON When did you and Reza’s family find out that Reza was gay?

HOMA Reza’s father, just before he died. Maybe one year before he died. I really don’t know because I was not here, but that’s what they said.

MUFSON I guess that was also a sore point between Reza and his father?

HOMA Probably, yes. I knew from when his father died—after one year, he called me and said, “Mom, I’m gay.” And I said, “It’s up to you. It’s your life. It’s nature, I can’t do anything about nature.” He was happy like that. I was not against it, but his father, I don’t think he had the same opinion that I had. [Inaudible.]

MUFSON Who would you say exercised significant influence on Reza’s development, as far as the family goes? Was it mainly you?

HOMA I think so.

MUFSON It was you who would go to the Bergman movies with him?

HOMA Yes.

MUFSON His Dad didn’t go?

HOMA No, not at all. He was totally against it all.

MUFSON Did you all speak Farsi with one another?

HOMA Yes. Even when he was here and came to Bordeaux, our language was Farsi. Sometimes he would say something in English, it there was a word he didn’t know. I tried to speak with him French, but he never really knew French.

MUFSON I’m curious about what it was like for you to go from Switzerland to Iran. Was that a difficult transition for you?

HOMA Not at that time. At that time, Iran was totally different. Totally different. Not at that time. But for example if somebody now living here were to go back to Iran at this particular time, it’s a lot different, now, after the revolution.

MUFSON Did you talk about politics with Reza?

HOMA Not very much, no.

MUFSON It seems as if it must have been difficult for him—his politics, I think, were liberal, probably not too approving of the Shah’s regime but at the same time would not have been happy with the revolution.

HOMA I think he was like that, yes. He didn’t approve of the Shah’s time or the revolution, yes, it was like that.

MUFSON Was politics another division point between him and his father?

HOMA His father didn’t survive through the revolution.

MUFSON But his father must have been less critical of the Shah.

HOMA Yes. I think maybe, yes. The way of life, he was always out, Reza’s father. He was a very good friend, but he was not a good husband or a good father. To be a father or husband, you have to spend time with your family. He didn’t have time. He traveled so much. He was a businessman. One day here, one day somewhere else.

MUFSON Who do you think influenced Reza outside the immediate family?

HOMA Y.Z. Kami, my nephew. He is a painter. He lives in New York.

MUFSON Was he in London when Reza was there?

HOMA No, then he was in Paris. And then he came to the United States, to Berkeley. He was a big influence, and they were very close. And, not really my aunt, but I think of her as an aunt, she’s married married to Jean-Claude Carrière. But Reza really didn’t need somebody to push him, to influence him. He was behind everything. He started so, so young. He didn’t need someone to tell him what to do. He did what he wanted to do. He never asked advice. He really was like that.

MUFSON You mentioned Kurosawa and Bergman. Did he have other particular favorites?

HOMA He loved Bergman, yes. I don’t remember so well. I know that he loved Shakespeare very much.

MUFSON He mentioned in a couple of interviews seeing Peter Brooks.

HOMA Peter Brooks, exactly.

MUFSON Did you see that with him?

HOMA No. But Peter Brooks is a very close friend of Jean-Claude Carriere. Yes, he loved Peter Brooks very much, also. Buñuel, he loved very much, also.

MUFSON How often did you speak with Reza after the Revolution?

HOMA Very often. Three times a week, four times, sometimes. When he was ill, for hours and hours. I started to tell him that this is maybe not our real life; we have other lives, and don’t think that you are going to end. I prepared him to go. That was his order to me, “Mama, you prepare me to go.” He needed me to talk with him about those things. He wasn’t afraid anymore when he went. He was totally prepared.

MUFSON So despite the fact that you didn’t see him for thirteen years or so, you were still definitely a big part of his life.

HOMA I think so. I mean, I’m sure. Sometimes when I wrote a poem, I would call him and read it for him. And before a show would start, he would call me one hour before a show would start and say, “Oh I miss you, I wish that you were here.” And I would call him after the show and ask him how it went, and he would say, “Oh, great.” And when I saw the show, I understood it was great. I knew a few of his friends here; most of them in L.A. Marta Holen—oh, I love her so much. I really think she’s a part of our family, not just a friend. She was such a mother of Reza. This is my opinion. I love her very much. I saw her when I was in L.A., we had lunch together. And Reza loved her very much. I’m happy that we’ve stayed very good friends, me and Marta, more than friends, like family.

MUFSON Salar mentioned to me that Reza published a book of poems?

HOMA Yes, when he was 14.

MUFSON And no one has a copy of it?

HOMA I tell you why. When the revolution started, we had a big library in our house, but they came from the government to our house. They took almost every single thing. You don’t believe it. A piece of soap inside the bathroom. Even that. All our pictures. They took everything. That’s why nobody has it. Because it was in the library. It’s very hard to try to find it. It’s hard for me also to try to go to the government and ask them for it; I don’t know what they did with the books. If I could, I would send it to you, but I can’t promise anything. It was ages and ages ago that they came and took everything.

MUFSON Salar was describing to me how the financial situation did a one hundred eighty degree turn after the revolution.

HOMA They took everything. All the revolutions are the same. The aristocracy get put down. It was like that. Sometimes, we didn’t know how to surivive. The kids were here in the United States, I had Negar with me, and really we didn’t know how to survive. Even now it’s very hard. Coming here costs a fortune for us. It’s very hard. Our financial life totally changed, beyond imagination.

MUFSON Was Reza’s father having as difficult a time financially, after the revolution?

HOMA He was here, and he left everything in Iran, and he didn’t go back to Iran. The government took everything.

MUFSON And Reza’s father was not able to support the kids?

HOMA You know, he died very quickly, very soon after. I think he couldn’t survive after what happened in Iran and after he had everything taken from him.

MUFSON Reza must’ve been very young when the Wilson show was there.

HOMA He was a child.

MUFSON Did he enjoy it?

HOMA Yes.

MUFSON Wilson’s not very easy.

HOMA Exactly, even now he’s not very easy. But he enjoyed it so much. From that time I understood that he can’t stay anymore in Iran, he had to go outside to find himself.

MUFSON And was it just understood that Reza’s father didn’t want him to perform in the piece or was there a discussion and Reza’s father actually said no?

HOMA I understood that it was not something to talk about. I was the one who always understood before the discussion that it was not a good idea to say something.

MUFSON Did Reza direct anything as a young student before going to England?

HOMA I think it was after he went to England, because he was very young when he left for England. But I’ll tell you something: When he was home, even at the age of eight or seven—unfortunately I don’t have the pictures anymore, they took them all—he made his smaller brother and the maid who worked for us, he always made them be an audience or would make a show of them, tell them what to do or what to say, directing them for theater. I remember that. And he was just a child.

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