Noilly Prattle: Persian Odyssey: Part XIX – the chapter is ended

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Persian Odyssey: Part XIX – the chapter is ended

Gold Culture in Iran

Common sense prevailed and I made up my mind to leave Esfahan as soon as an opportunity of any kind presented itself—even if I had to ride out on a camel. There were rumors of evacuation flights offered by Pan American Airlines coming to take out any people who wanted to leave with the caveat that we would lose any benefits we were entitled to upon completing a full contract. Many people were not willing to lose their benefits or had too much money tied up in their inaccessible bank accounts and chose to stay on, but not a few, including me, decided to chuck it all and signed on to the evacuation flights. I suppose the Embassy had finally decided to face the music.

bazaar after hours
gold shop
We would not be allowed to take any cash out of the country and I had a fair amount of rials in cash. I hit on an idea and got in touch with Sandy (nickname), an Iranian guy who was a friend, and who knew his way around Esfahan. Many shops, including those in the gold bazaar, were closed by now but, according to Sandy, they were doing a back door business and he could get me into one of these jewelry shops. Surreptitiously then, one evening we slipped into the jewelry shop just after dark, literally by the back door, and I bought as many 18 karat gold rings as I could get for my rials. My plan was to thread the rings on a gold chain and hang it around my neck inside my shirt and try to slip it out undetected by the customs officials, should there be any, screening the evacuees.

 Queen Farah Diba in happier times
After many hurdles, the Iranian authorities seemingly cut the red tape and cleared the way for the PanAm flights to land at Esfahan airport in mid-January, 1979. The big day arrived, I said goodbye and fare-thee-well to J., who had decided not to leave, told him there was a pot of chile on the stove, and boarded one of the buses at the base that were to take us to the airport. Then the interminable wait in the terminal for the planes to arrive. Everyone was, understandably, on edge and nervous conversations to the tune of “When are they gonna get here?” abounded. A particularly attractive young woman teacher, M. (looked a little like Farah Diba), a recent arrival in Esfahan, was extremely nervous and frightened and we gravitated to each other and helped  keep up each other's courage—then too, there was an attraction as well. Shelter from the storm!

After several hours of anxiety there was an announcement to the effect that the authorities weren't going to allow the planes to land after all, that they were being held up, if I remember correctly, in Athens. Now, nerves stretched to the breaking point, overwrought, we were told that the Embassy was negotiating and that we would all be bused to a nearby hotel pending further notification. At the hotel people were being assigned rooms and had to double up, so M. and I decided to share a room and help each other get through the night. During the night we vowed that if we ever got out of this we would meet again in some bright future and fair land and live happily ever after. Dreams!

In the morning we were informed that, finally, the PanAm flights would be allowed to land and would be arriving from Athens shortly. This news was greeting with a “Yeah, sure, we'll see!” attitude, but everyone packed up and got ready to board the buses one more time. M. and I stayed close together, unwilling to be separated, so that we could board the same aircraft. I don't think anybody really believed we were going to get out of there until we were actually seated and belted, I with my gold safely tucked into my shirt, and were really taxiing to the runway. The PanAm pilot was pretty chipper as he announced: “We're cleared for takeoff!” The engines roared and I felt the familiar push against the seat back as the great bird accelerated down the tarmac, reached takeoff speed and soared “up the delirious burning blue”. Suddenly, an enormous cheer erupted in the cabin as everyone on board went wild with relief and long suppressed emotions. So ended one of the most remarkable periods in my global wanderings.

up up and away
The Shah was forced to leave Iran and went into exile on January 16, 1979—just a few days after I did, and in the resulting power vacuum two weeks later on February 1, 1979 the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Tehran to the greeting of millions of Iranians. The rest, as they say, is history.

The End.


Anonymous said...

Wow...I see a Hollywood movie in this.

What day, exactly did you leave?

You had mighty good foresight, I must say. And tht move to buy the rings? Brilliant, indeed. Hope you kept one as a memento!

And, such a lover of the female form...what became of M, eh?

ps. bummed that this was your last chapter.

Noilly Prattle said...

Hmm, would I get royalties?

Sorry, don't remember the exact day.

We have a friend who is a jeweler and the gold has been melted and reshaped into earrings and such for road buddy.

Sadly, M. and I were ships tossed about in a storm. I got off the plane in Ireland and went to Zurich on a job lead with the UN. Didn't pan out though.

I'm gonna miss the old Odyssey myself, but I'm working on some new ideas and potential material. Iran was only one stop in my globetrotting. Stay tuned, who knows what may turn up. And, thanks for being a regular commentator.

Anonymous said...