Zahra Noorbakhsh wants to buy a goldfish for her haft sin, a festive table set-up for Nowruz, or Persian New Year. “You decorate it with seven things that start with the letter sin,” the Los Angeles comedian tells me as we stroll Westwood Boulevard, a.k.a. Tehrangeles, the commercial centre of the world’s largest Iranian diaspora community. Sin is roughly equivalent to the English letter S, and Noorbakhsh has her sib (apple), sir (garlic) and other essentials – though she says it feels incomplete without goldfish: maahi-e ghermez.
“Why?” I ask. “It doesn’t start with sin.”
She shrugs. Like most of the 300 million Kurds, Afghans and others celebrating today, Noorbakhsh doesn’t know much about the whys of Zoroastrian traditions. Only the hows – the most important “how” being that we ring in Nowruz at the precise moment the earth’s equatorial plane aligns with the centre of the sun: 2:58:27 p.m. in L.A. this year. With under an hour until the spring equinox, time is running out for goldfish procurement.
By now, most of the many Iranian-owned businesses in the L.A. area are closed. The only face inside the rug shops and bookstores is a portrait of the valorous-looking, fallen Shah. “Nowruz is the one holiday all Iranians can unite around, because it’s not religiously specific,” says Noorbakhsh. Luckily for us, Westwood’s famous Saffron & Rose Persian Ice Cream and a few other fragrant restaurants in Persian Square are keeping their doors open. But first, the fish.