Parviz Pargari, fledgling interior designer, has an ambitious project. For his masters degree thesis at Cal State Northridge, he is designing and building six chairs, crafting into the wood of each a sign of its role.
"Two have political functions, two have religious functions, two have cultural functions," he said.
Pargari dreams of having the president of Iran and the president of the United States sit in his chairs and talk about each sphere of life.
"I will be part of the peace," said Pargari, 34, who came here 10 years ago from Iran. "If by designing the chairs, something would happen, I would be so honored."
It's unlikely his sitters will show (they are invited, of course, to his scheduled exhibit next month). Still, it's more likely than it has been in the past two decades that Iran and the United States will begin to mend the relationship that was shattered by the 1979 hostage crisis.
The optimism began to blossom three months ago when Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in a CNN interview that Iran may begin cultural exchanges to widen a crack in the "wall of distrust" between the two countries.
In Los Angeles, with its substantial population of Iranians and Americans of Iranian descent--they often prefer to call themselves Persian--the prospect of a rapprochement between the two countries has been greeted with a range of reactions from skepticism to relief.
"This is the first piece of good news I've gotten from that country in 20 years," said makeup artist Tony Persia, an American of Iranian descent who concocted his professional name from the land of his birth. "It's usually war, terrorism. It's always something negative from that country."
For most people of Iranian descent here, no matter what their politics are, the historic interview that Khatami gave to CNN three months ago was an event to behold.
"It was like watching the Super Bowl," said Ali Soltani, 32, who with his family owns the David Orgell gift store on Rodeo Drive. "For the first time in 20 years, I am actually for an Iranian government official." He laughed. "I hope I don't get killed next week."
In the Persian community, people watched the president's interview on television, they listened to it on radio, they talked about it over dinner.
Soon after Khatami's friendly overture, the United States posed "no objection" to American wrestlers traveling to Iran. The athletes received an enthusiastic welcome. But no matter how things develop, the interview is being hailed as the official prelude to the dance toward renewed diplomatic relations.
In Persian gathering spots from a sun-drenched courtyard at UCLA to the small, Persian-run businesses nestled together on Westwood Boulevard in Westwood, Persians continue to reflect on the potential for a sea change in the relations between Iran and the United States. They feel varying connections to the country and its president.
Some immigrated here years ago but speak Farsi at home and bestow upon their children Persian names. Others, who were born here, can barely utter a word of Farsi. Still, everyone interviewed had a profound sense of themselves as ethnically Persian and, as a result, connected in some way to Iran.
A few viewed the Iranian president's overtures skeptically.
"I don't think it's going to happen," said Sahm Manouchehri, a 19-year-old UCLA sophomore who was born in Tehran but came here when he was only 4 months old. "I think he's just talking. It's beyond his control."
Some have deeply personal reasons for paying attention to the president.
"I know him from when we were kids," said Mohammad Ali Yazdi, 48, who grew up in the Yazd province of Iran and now works at Ketab Books, a Persian bookstore in Westwood. The president grew up in the village of Ardakan in that province. "My uncle was a farmer in that village. On the weekends, we would go to my uncle's garden. His father was the ayatollah in that village. Everyone knows him. . . . I was 7 or 8 years old. He was older than me. He stopped us from taking walnuts from another neighbor's tree."
For many of Iranian descent, life here has been undamaged by the long-standing impasse between Iran and the United States. American anger at Iranian students for the infamous hostage-taking of 1979 is rarely focused these days on Iranian immigrants and children of immigrants, say Iranians in Los Angeles.
Some are old enough to have stark memories of growing up Iranian in an American climate that was deeply hostile to all Iranians. Tony Persia remembers leaving Tehran for Boise, Idaho, in 1979--his mother had relatives there--and going to school in a sea of white faces during the hostage period.