Tuesday was a quiet day for the Owen family. Hanging out at the Bloomsbury flat, catching up on Game of Thrones, even watching some preseason college football shows on the SEC Network. The internet is a wonderful thing.
In the afternoon, Grainne’s friend Gabrielle drops by and we ease up to the rooftop garden of the apartment complex, to enjoy a mild summer afternoon and views of the elegant St. Pancras Hotel to the north and the ultra-modern skyline of the City of London to the southeast.
All this rest is useful because we need to best our best for tonight. That's because we are meeting Ghazal’s parents for the first time. It is a big deal.
If you’re wondering about Ghazal’s name, it’s Persian. Her family left Iran seven years ago to seek a better life in a country where Ghazal’s mom could study English literature and Ghazal could study particle physics without the Iranian regime recruiting her into the nuclear program. They settled in Huddersfield in Yorkshire, in the north of England.
Today, Ghazal’s parents – Daryoush and Afsaneh (known better as Suny) along with their son Shahryar have driven down to London so that we could all spend a couple of days together and get to know each other. Again, we’re not exactly strangers thanks to regular FaceTime and WhatsApp conversations.
They booked a table at Iran Restaurant in the always trendy Shepherd Market district of Mayfair. They left little to chance. Daryoush called the restaurant, arranged the table and talked through the menu. Pierce and Ghazal went by a few days ago to ensure the restaurant was up to standards.
Let me assure you, it was fantastic.
First, Ghazal’s parents are lovely people. Suny has a bubbly personality and a smile that could win over anyone. Her brown eyes light up when talking with you. Daryoush is quieter but exudes warmth. He is clearly crazy about his little girl and treats Ghazal with tenderness and affection.
Secondly, the restaurant is crazy good and the food looks like it is never going to stop. After starting the meal with a champagne toast, the food starts arriving. First, Panir Sabzi – a traditional salad with feta cheese, walnuts, radishes, mint, basil and tarragon. It is served with a delicately flavored soup with chicken, barley, potato, carrots and vermicelli.
Then comes the meat course - lamb, minced lamb, chicken. Plates and plates of rice, mixed with sour cherries. Aubergine (eggplant) side dishes, with the flavors of the Middle East and Mediterranean deeply infused.
Just when you thought it was over, a massive platter of baklava arrives along with cups of Persian tea, flavored with rose water.
Thanks to a circle of Persian friends from Atlanta, these dishes and flavors were familiar and welcoming.
Much like Ghazal’s parents – familiar and welcoming. I’m always impressed with people who will pull up stakes and leave the land of their birth to seek freedom in a new, democratic country. It takes courage to leave the familiar and to start over in a new place with a new language and new customs.
Tonight as I look over at this family, I see people who believe in each other and who risked everything to build a better life for their children.
I look at Ghazal, and see a beautiful, intelligent young woman – studying for a Masters in theoretical physics at University College London. I see Pierce, who was born in England, raised in the USA, educated in America, England and France now working in England.
The two quietly hold hands and exchange loving glances. Their two families talk, laugh and engage with each other like life-long friends. The meal ends and we bid goodnight and make plans to get together tomorrow.
I can hardly wait…