Paris, site of the great-grandfather of revolutions, has a kind of cachet for revolutionaries - Leon Trotsky, for one, and Ho Chin Minh lived there for a time. The Cafe du Metro on the Place Maubert in the Left Bank's Quarter became known as "Little Algiers" in the '60s because it teemed with North African immigrants. In the '70s, the same cafe became "Little Saigon." Exiles come from all parts of the globe to this "land of asylum."
But one leaves the teeming Latin Quarter and drives a route partly lined with sycamores to see the Ayatollah Ruhollah, the exile whose hour may at last be coming round. And Portchartrian, this bucolic village outside Paris, is an odd lauching point for a revolution.
In a chocolate-shuttered, white stucco house, this man, who is leading the Islamic opposition that has laid siege to the rule of the shah of Iran and who is threatening to signal his followers to take up arms against the shah's regime, smiles slightly as he enters the dining-room-turned-greeting-room, bare save for several spare persian rugs.
He is the man of the hour, a holy man in waiting, but at this moment he looks uncomfortable. He has finally agreed to a private meeting away from his followers' prostrations. But he is uneasy talking about himself. He arches a bushy brow and a look of annoyance sweeps across his face; his white beard sinks an inch further down on his layers of robes.
There've been so disappointement, no, no, not in political matters. Now I'm more optimistic for the success of the movement than before. Being the symbol for the Iranian people has put a great responsibility and burden on me."
He has cultivated self-denial to an art. Even in this moment of optimism, after 15 years of exile, he will not or cannot relate in the personal parlance of the West.
He doesn't have to. His followers have transported the Middle East to this region of green chestnuts and flowers. They sop thick soups with French baguettes, shun espresso for tea and order Western women journalists to cover their heads and shoulders.
His days are spent seeing followers and leaders of the opposition, issuing papers to his followers in Iran and seeing the faithful who come from as far away as California, and Washington, D.C.
He rises at 2 a.m. to pray for four fours, naps again, grants audiences, eats a light lunch of bread and gravy.
He leaves his bungalow twice daily, walking past armed French security guards to cross the narrow road to his small command headquarters and, facing Mecca, leads prayers in a voice as soft as cotton.
At sunset, he talks to his followers, sometimes beneath an apple tree. "He is a saint," said Bahram Nahidian, a Georgetown rug merchant who lives in McLean, Va., and has spent the past two weeks making tea, cleaning up and joining in the prayers.
After a dinner of two slices of toast, yogurt, raisins and fruits, Khomeini retires at 11:30 p.m.
But for all those who believe the holy man a saint, here are others who believe the ayatollah, in his religious conservatism, is "200 years behind the times," as one western observer put it, particularly in attitudes about women. He reportedly dismissed a question from one Iranian woman journalist who came from London with a brusque "None of your business." But Khomeini insists, "In Islamic society women will be free to choose their own detiny and own activity. God created us equally."
So the ayatollah's wife is permitted her first interview ever. A young Persian woman is enlisted to interpret. Khomeini departs; she enters. Mrs. Khomeini sits shyly. She seems younger than her husband; black horn-rimmed glasses frame a plump face. A burst of white-streaked black hair rests gently on her forehead. A skirt that falls midway over her calf can be glimpsed behind the traditional chador.
She was from one of Tehran's leading families of Moslem scholars when they married and the couple had three daughters and two sons.
Her oldest son, Mustapha, was found dead last year after two mysterious strangers visited him. "It was God's will," she says, her eyes deep and dark. Martyrdom and death in the face of political oppression are at the heart of their religion, so she says of the bloodshed, "This suffering is worth the cause."
Khomeini's own father was a religious man who opposed the present shah's father. Reza Khan Pahlavi, and was killed by him. "It's a family feud," one observer said of Khomeini's long battle against the Pahlavi dynasty.
Brought up in the strict Shiite traditions, Khomeini moved to the religious city of Qom at age 19, taught theology and became a religious man whose piety was talked about by the local peasants. He awakened at 2 a.m. and prayed until 5:30, settled disputes between peasants and merchants, lived in a small house with practically no furniture and poor carpets and gave away most of his money.
BY the time he was about 45, he had become one of Qom's outstanding professors, a specialist in Islamic philosophy.
Iran's powerful Moslem clergy and long opposed the shah, and Khomeini became one of the fiercest mullahs (learned men). In 1963, when the shah was solidifying absolute power after a challenge by followers of former prime minister Mossedegh, Khomeini argued that the shah's proposed land return was against the best interests of the people.
Then, just after Muharram (the Shiite's holiest period), Khomeini was arrested in Qom. Riots broke out throughout the country's major cities for three days, the worst riots of the century. The Shah's response a law-and-order operation that ended with at least 1,000 dead.
Released from prison after 10 months, Khomeini again protested against the shah and was sent into exile. Only his oldest son was permitted to accompany him and his wife. They lived in Turkey for a year and a half before moving to the Shiite holy city of Najaf in Iraq, where Khomeini spent the next 14 years.
In the heat of Najaf, Khomeini refused air conditioning and lived in a poor house, explaining, "The poor in Iran don't have air conditioning, why should I?" Iranians started to feel that he was a man with an instinctive feeling for how his people think and feel, that he was of them - educated in small local religious schools while the shah was educated in fancy private schools in Switzerland. He also bombarded the border with fiery cassettes and Moslem edicts.
When the current unrest began, the Iraqi government began pressuring Khomeini to restrict his political activity. "I will go somewhere that is not submissive to the shah," Khomeini said. Kuwait turned him away at the border. He entered France on a tourist visa. How long he will remain at Pontchartrain is unknown; he may move to another site such as Versailles. After his three-month visa expires, he will seek another willing host.
"When they took me to prison, I saw the prison was much better than my house," he says. "When I sent to Turkey, it was good, nice place. In Iraq, it wasn't too bad (France) was more beautiful than anything. Don't make so much comfort for me."
And so he waits in embarrassed grandeur. CAPTION: Picture 1, Ayatollah Khomeini Leading prayers near Paris, Copyright (c) Cincaco Fernandes M. DuBresil; Picture 2, Ayatollah Khomeini, and followers, Copyright (c) Fernandes M. DuBresil