Our home in space

Guy Ottewell

The shutters of Qazvin

At a party in Tehran I met Dr. Ali Hannibal, founder and director of several museums. He was a paragon of courtesy of both the Iranian and the European kinds, an Islamic scholar, but a White Russian. He invited me to his house, where his daughter prepared our supper, and he told me the story. “When Peter the Great visited the Ottoman court, the sultan presented him with a Nubian slave who was a hostage there, and whose name was Ibrahim ibn Hanbal. The Nubian went back with Peter to Russia, turned his Arabic name into Hannibal, married, and one of his descendants was the poet Pushkin, whose rather dark skin caused him to be nicknamed 'Negro'. I also am descended from the Nubian. After the Russian revolution I settled here; I am an Iranian and a Muslim.” I didn't learn what his Russian name had been. His cultural accomplishments in Iran were many, and one of them was that he had discovered a school of folk art: in Qazvin, an old city to the west of Tehran, it had been the custom to make paintings on the insides of window shutters. Dr. Hannibal had made a collection of them in one of his museums. I wonder what happened to this refined friend of the Shah and his daughter in the Khomeini revolution.