My fantasy dinner with Reza Pahlavi
By Bruce Bahmani
Not long ago I happened upon a friend, who knew a friend, who knew a friend of the Pahlavi family. I mentioned to my friend the story of the time when I was at our school in Tehran I had the occasion to play against the crown prince's high school soccer team in a mini tournament at the Saad Abad Palace.
I had the privilege or curse of playing defense against the prince at the time, and remembered the excitement the game held for me and my teammates. Of course, we lost the match, not because it was the Shah's son's team but because we weren't very good to begin with.
Here's how the fantasy would go: Several month's after the party, I would receive a call from someone claiming to represent Reza Pahlavi and he would mention that His Royal Highness had heard of the comments I had made and that he wished to remake my acquaintance, and would I be available to go to dinner.
Intrigued and having several questions to ask on behalf of a few million people, I would accept...
...I arrived precisely at 9 at the designated restaurant. It was a well-known establishment in the city. One known for its location, mid to upper clientele and better than decent fare. I walked in and was immediately met by an Iranian-looking gentleman who introduced himself as Hossein, and said that he would take me to His Royal Highness who had already arrived. I had expected to be frisked but wasn't.
As I walked behind Hossein I noticed the other people quietly taking long elegant bites, drinking their wine, talking calmly and quietly. My heart began pounding as I spotted Reza from afar and the beating grew louder and faster as we got nearer the table.
He arose immediately when our eyes made contact and smiled, held out his hand and with a crisp British accent said, "Hello, I am Reza Pahlavi.", I thought to myself, "What, are you crazy! Of course you're Reza Pahlavi!" He continued, "I'm glad we were able to arrange this meeting, I hope this table is all right."
I introduced myself to him, to which he promptly smiled and replied, "Of course you are, that is why you are here after all!", to which I laughed quickly and said that yes, this table was fine.
The ice having been somewhat broken, we sat down. I must admit I sat a bit slower than he did. I don't know why I did it, but it seemed appropriate. It was important that he sit down first. That way he wouldn't think I was beneath him. Shut up, I know, but it made sense at the time! Unfortunately he noticed and rose up out of respect immediately. By that time I had already made contact with the seat and it was too late. It would have appeared obvious. I let it go. Plenty of time, I thought.
He asked if I would like some wine. "Yes, thanks" I replied. The waiter immediately arrived and Reza looked at me and asked, "Red or white?"
The wine ordered, he started. "So, how have you been all these years?", he asked.
"Fine", I said. "Fine?", I thought. "Fine? Your whole world has been completely and utterly changed forever and all you can say is fine?"
"Good, good, it's great to hear," he said before I could correct my first reply.
The wine arrived. The waiter uncorked the bottle, placed it end up in from of him. He sniffed it, nodded, and placed it back down on the table as the waiter began to pour a small sample in his glass. He drew in the aroma with his father's famous nose, took a sip and smiled weakly back at the waiter. "It's fine." he said, half truthfully. The waiter nodded, placed one hand behind his back, and began pouring out generous glasses for each of us.
I grabbed my glass as soon as he finished pouring, took a large gulp of about half the glass, swallowed fast and hard and said,
"So, how have you been?"
He had just taken a smaller more elegant sip of his wine when I said this and almost choked, "How have I been?" he sputtered, "Are you serious? My whole world has been completely and utterly changed forever, that's how I've been."
His emotional reply let down his guard. I spotted the opportunity I had been looking for, waiting all these years for a chance precisely such as this! Here is where I could express the immense frustration we have all felt, here is where I could strike back and say to someone who was directly responsible, here is where I could...
Hey! Wait a minute, I thought. He's not directly responsible, well OK but his dad was and that's enough...no, that wouldn't work, well, he has been lately advocating that he should take the role of...well no, he hasn't really...
A sense of panic suddenly overtook me as I frantically tried to come up with a reason I could blame him for the revolution, the forced move from Iran, my father's forced early retirement from the oil company, my mother's forced early retirement from the university, the loss of our home and properties, the loss of my professional future in Tehran (with the help of my father, of course), anything!
He must have seen the look of panic in my eyes because he suddenly calmed himself, straightened up and smiled a half smile, as if almost embarrassed by his momentary loss of control.
"I must apologize," he said. "These years have been hard on all of us, I'm sure."
Dammit, I thought, he did it again!
"No", I said before I could think clearly, "It's quite all right."
"Shall we order?" he said as I looked down at the table incredulously realizing what I had just said.
"Yes, sure," I again replied automatically.
As his eyes dropped into the menu, I looked at his narrowed gaze as he carefully considered each item. His hand moved to his jaw and his fingers rubbed the tip of his chin back and forth thoughtfully as he pondered the choices. Jesus Christ! Even when he was ordering food he looked royal, I thought.
"So how is your mother doing?" I asked, after which I decided to give up, this just wasn't going to happen.
"She's fine," he said. "She's in New Hampshire now. She lives in a small village and everyone in town knows her as Farah. She loves it. She didn't use to be as free, you know."
"Yeah, that's great," I replied once again stupidly.
"And your parents? How are they doing?" He asked once again graciously.
Aha! I said to myself;"Now I've got you!"
"Well my father died three years ago in an unfortunate car accident, which was hard on me and my brothers, but my mother has been all right and is working, teaching school and is doing quite well considering," I said pitifully.
"It's very hard," he said quietly.
I did it, I thought, I got him. But somehow it wasn't satisfying. Somehow I felt like I had set him up just to knock him down on purpose. Like I was rubbing his nose in it. I felt sick and took another quick sip of wine.
Thankfully the waiter arrived and broke the silence. "Can I take the gentlemen's ' order?" he snapped smartly.
"Yes," I said hoping to snap him out of the trance I had sent him into.
It worked. "Yes--Yes, of course," he said, distractedly.
We ordered and somehow the conversation warmed up after that. It might have been the wine kicking in, or the fact that we had connected through both having lost our fathers in circumstances beyond our control.
We drifted to soccer and the tournament that year at Saad Abad. He didn't remember me and I didn't mind.
We both laughed as I asked him what his sister had thought at the time, of Sattar's "Shazdeh Khanoum" song. He said she hated it. We laughed harder.
By the time dessert arrived we were well on our way and giggling at the slightest wife story, and how when your wife asks you, "Does this dress make me look fat?' you cannot answer, no matter what.
We dispensed the second bottle and started on our third.
It seemed to go with the creme caramel we a had both ordered. We both rembarked how we had tasted better back home.
I found that he hadn't tasted Ray's Pizza in Tehran, which I told him was a big missout. He genuinely looked envious. I felt bad once again, and changed the subject.
We finished dinner, I offered to split the check. We haggled over it almost tearing it, at which point I let go, and we both laughed hard again.
As we walked out of the restaurant commenting on how much we had each enjoyed the evening, I noticed the patrons in the restaurant glance at us approvingly. They seemed to think we were old friends, and I liked the thought of that.
As we came out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk, a black Mercedes pulled up and Hossein jumped out of the driver's side and ran around to open the door. We said goodbye, shook hands and he was gone.
As I walked to catch my train I realized we had never gotten the chance to talk about politics which I was, in a way, glad for.
I mean, what would have been the point?
-- Adventures in old Persia -- A review of "The Physician" by Noah Gordon.
-- Areh joon-e ammat... Reacting to a James Bond flick in a Tehran movie house.
-- Taghziyeh Raygan: Mimas or Danish?... Learing the art of trade in a school in Terhan.
-- Princes of Persia... An interview with Shahin & Sepehr
-- Pesare Darya (Aqua Boy)... An interview with the owner of an adventurous tour operator
||Bruce Bahmani, lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area.|