In today’s Guardian newspaper I was reading an article in the Books section in which writers, inspired by Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Before You Were Mine, reflect on photographs of their mothers before they were born. This is connected to the theme of Mother’s Day which happens to fall tomorrow, Sunday March 6. March 6 is also the date my father died, 12 years ago in 2004. Last week I was re-watching Paolo Sorrentino’s stunning film La Grande Bellezza / The Great Beauty in which a saintly old nun is asked and explains why she only eats roots. “Perché le radici sono importanti” she delivers with years of wizened wisdom; “because roots are important”. I made a mental note: examine and share more of my ancestry and heritage. This has been an ongoing project and I have several blog entries that use photographs from my archives, most recently with regards Persian Jews and their relationship to Christmas in 1950s London.
My father was born in 1926 in Palestine, to parents from Mashhad, Iran, from a tightly knit crypto-Jewish community who lived as Muslims and secretly adhered to Jewish customs. Shortly after the family settled in London where my father was brought up. Here are some photos of my late father that I have scanned.
I am pretty sure this wasn’t his first journey as he told me he was a baby when he first arrived in the UK, being born “on the way” to the UK in Jerusalem. I also have several photographs of him taken on holidays in Margate where he looks younger. So this must have been another Jerusalem trip. I really like this image … the little boy in shorts with the big lifebuoy! I’m a sucker for the Italian language too, so the words Gerusalemme and Trieste have a lyrical beauty to me.
This studio photograph intrigues me as it jars with the image I have of my father in later life, who tended to be dressed comfortably in smart/casual generic menswear from high street shops such Marks & Spencer and Burton. The white gloves and bow ties are particularly foppish and it seems his parents were aspirational – aspiring to a certain type of Britishness.
I love this photograph taken on a chilly summer’s day in Brighton beach. They’ve obviously brought their own lunch box with sandwiches. The woman in the centre covered in a blanket was also a relative. (Dodo Hanem’Agha??) I remember she was quite glamorous. Here are some other photos of my father as part of a trio of friends and relatives. In our community it was and still is common for our best friends to be our cousins. In the image below the top photo has my dad on the left, his cousin the late film maker Amin Amini who I knew as Amin Agha, and then Haji-Ben on the right.
The photograph below was taken in Milan and also features in the centre the late Haji-Ben who lived in Milan but visited the UK regularly. Members of my family were given the title Haji if they’ve visited Hajj, and made the Islamic pilgrimage.
My father had a US passport until he died. He’d enlisted in the US army during the Korean War which took place from 1950-1953. When I was a child he used to say he’d fought buffalo and bison and I believed him. I think his involvement was administrative, as the picture with the typewriter suggests. I don’t know the real reason for his retention of his US passport, rather than obtaining a British passport. Nostalgia? Laziness? Was it connected to his itinerancy and to not being quite British? Whatever the reason, conscious or unconscious, it seemed important to his identity,
Finally a couple of scanned images of my father that I took myself. The first is of his weekly ritual – washing the car:
And one from 1990 with his grandson, my firstborn:
Also published on Medium.