Once upon a time in Tehran

Shahinshah Reza II, Light of the Aryans with Shahbanu Farah Diba

In the 1970s Teheran was one of the most fucked up places on the overland trail. The horror of all travelers! But it could not be avoided as most of them got their Afghanistan visa there. They usually stayed at the Amir Kabir Hotel (even though it cost an outrageous three dollars per night!) or similarly priced joints in the neighbourhood. In the mid-seventies my English friend Alec once caused a stir in the traveler’s stronghold: He arrived there as a backpacker with a few traveling companions. They found shelter in a dump in the red light district. Alec comes from a very good family and has attended the best schools and universities in England and Switzerland. Those days the British Empire still enjoyed quite a reputation in the former colonies and semi-colonies. During his education he got to know many children of rich people from this part of the world. His Persian school friend Ali had made him promise to contact him when he came to Tehran. The phone in the hotel was broken, so he went to a neighboring tailor’s shop. There he asked if he could make a short phone call. The master tailor was surly (‘Fucking hippies, only give you trouble!’). Finally he allowed it for an exorbitant fee.

My Afghanistan visa
Amir Kabir Hotel 1983

Then he dialed the number himself. When the called party answered, the good man turned pale and stood to attention. He had been linked to a prince’s palace! With an uncertain smile, he handed the phone to the Alec. And His Highness, Prince Ali, was amazed when he heard where his old schoolmate was staying. He asked for the sweating tailor again and had him describe the exact location of the shop in order to be able to pick up his buddy. After hanging up the phone, he pleaded with him: “Please, please don’t tell the prince that I’ve been a bit rude at first!” Alec benevolently granted his request. The tailor invited his guest of honour into his private room and entertained him with soft drinks and coffee. An hour later the Prince’s Rolls-Royce drove up and the whole red light district was upside down. As proud as a peacock he got in, drove briefly to his dump, where he said goodbye to his amazed traveling companions and picked up his belongings. When he was about to pay, the hotelier was terrified: “No, no, it was an honor for him to have accommodated the prince’s friend – even if only for a short time!” When Khomeini arrived in 1979 prince Ali had to pack his belongings, too, and flee the country.