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People lingered after voting. In some cases for hours. They gathered standing in corners of the meeting room, in circles seated on the hallway floor. It seemed for many a reunion of sorts. ("Many of us know each other from holidays and things," said one of the women from NYU.) Everyone had their camera out, taking pictures of their friends, of the line, of the makeshift voting booths inside. It was all rather festive. It had the unmistakable air of an event.
At the end of the hallway, a group of twenty- and thirty-somethings stood in front of a window passing back and forth between them a series of Farsi-printed signs. A stream of cabs floated by behind them outside. There was some brief confusion as to who should be where holding what, but they sorted it out in short enough order, posing with their message for the photographers. Two of the sign-holders translated for the curious: "We voted not for the legitimacy of the government, but rather to show our displeasure toward extremism and for a move toward democracy."
It was, for a similarly young, intermittently idealistic New Yorker, an irresistible scene. There was optimism, there was righteousness, there were pure intentions, there was seriousness of purpose. There was also, however, one reluctantly suspected, a certain unreality to it all. The seeming unanimity with which the crowd had come out for Mousavi made a person wonder just how representative a group it might be. Could it actually be this simple? There is something inescapably fishy about politics performed in a vacuum. Watching the goings-on, a person couldn't help but think of Pauline Kael's infamous Nixon quip, or, to draw on a more recent case of expectations confounded, viewing the Bush-Kerry debates with cheering throngs in an East Village bar.
Across town, the city's other polling place, the Imam Ali Mosque in Woodside, Queens, provided what felt like something of a corrective. At a white, block-long building on Queens Boulevard across the street from the Second Calvary Cemetery, the mood was considerably more subdued (the crowd was considerably older and the color scheme considerably less green, as well). A charcoal drawing posted on the wall reminded visitors that headscarves for women were mandatory ("All Ladies Must Observe Islamic Covering"). Off to the side of the room, a television sat atop a media cart broadcasting election returns. Several people gathered around it watching impassively.
"Up until now Mr. President Ahmadinejad is in first," said a bearded man wearing a white oxford beneath a black suit. "About 10 million of 15 million votes." He was there as an election supervisor, he said. He was a conscientious host, offering reporters first gaz (an Iranian candy of nougat and pistachios) and later pastries — gestures that, curiously enough, had the effect of further exoticizing the scene. (Hospitality, after all, is often most vigorously extended to strangers. There was tea and a box of pastries at the Hyatt meeting room as well, but that was a strictly self-serve affair.)
So far they had seen some 500 people come to vote, the man said — more than double the roughly 200 that had come four years before. He attributed the increased enthusiasm to the televised debates held between the candidates — the first time in Iran for such a forum, he noted.
"All the people in Iran watched this debate, big and small, old and young. The people welcomed it very much."
And who did he think would win?