SHE CONFORMED to what is called "hejab."
She was dressed in the modest manner, mostly in black, hiding her body under loose-fitting clothes and her hair under a turban-like head-dress. She walked ahead, leading her way through the basement of the residence of the ambassador of Iran.
At a door she paused and a dark-haired man, short and strong and wearing an Adidas T-shirt, opened the door with a key. It flew open and inside, in two rooms of white brick and empty white shelves, was the former wine cellar of the former ambassador of the former shah of Iran - once king of kings but now perfecting his backhand in exile on lovely Paradise Island.
The cool air from the cellar came spilling out and the woman stepped in. The man with the keys deferred to her and then I went in. The woman pointed to the shelves and then went into an adjoining room, guarded once by a stoud steel gate, now open. Here the man with the keys showed individual wine racks. He estimated cases.
"Maybe three, four cases here and five, six over there and . . ." His arm swept the room and the cases kept adding up. "Maybe some more over here," the man said. He pointed to the floor. In the other room, liquor was stored and in yet a third room booze was kept in boxes.
"The bulk of it was kept here," the lady said, pointing to the shelves. She led the way into the garden and pointed to a small fountain.
"It went there," she said - 4,000 or so bottles, give or take a Chateau Rothchild or two, down the drain.
Oh God, Washington shuddered at the waste. This was the wine for the party, the wine for Henry and lesser diplomats, the wine for Barbar and lesser journalists, the wine for hostesses who never asked about due process and freedom of the press - wine for the Zbig but not the little. This was hush wine and Washington drank it down. Hang a lamb chop in the window, Perle Mesta once said, and the whole town will come running. The shah did better than that. He put caviar in the window and stocked the cellars and turned Iran into a society item. A toast to the former ambassador, Ardeshir Zahedi - he was a wonderful host.
Somewhere, I know Zahedi is smiling. Somewhere, when they bring him the papers, Zahedi smiles. He smiles at stories about execution in Iran and laughs at ones about lack of freedom of the press and probably goes hysterical when they talk about lack of due process. He is somewhere in hiding and wherever he is, he must be reading the papers and laughing. Send them some caviar, Ardeshir must be saying - sent them some caviar.
There is, after all, something of a double standard being applied to events in Iran nowadays. Whatever you may think of the Ayatollah Khomeini - and my view of him is affected by his view of people like me - it is doubtful that he is more awful than the man he replaced. He is no friend of ours, no friend of Israel's and no master at Western-style public relations - and amateur compared to the shah who as able to make most Americans believe that his monarchy was 2,500 years old. In fact, it had been constructed out of whole cloth by his father, the CIA and the public relations firm of Ruder and Finn.
For the average Iranian, things probably are better now.The present regime's 229 executions, loathsome as they are, are nothing compared to the 365,000 deaths attributed to the shah by his foes - a figure that includes everything from political executions to killings in the course of anti-government riots. Even if you discount the figures, there is no doubt that the shah's regime was nothing more than a police state. It has been replaced by another, a different one with different enemies and a different set of beliefs - beliefs considered just plain weird by most Americans. There is little here with which the average man can identify.
The tour proceeds - room after room and then outside into the sun and then the pool at a short walk to the embassy itself. There, in the mirrored Persian room, the eye is stunned - Ali Baba in Washington. Rugs hand from walls made of fine-cut mirrors and a nation's handicrafts, all of them beautiful, are on display in cases. Things would look better, but the new regime is not sure where the main light switch is. From room to room, the lesson is repeated - how the riches and the luxury, the booze and the women, the clinking of crystal glasses and the soft sound of lips of cheeks, is not the way of Islam. From every wall, the brooding face of the Ayatollah frowns on what he sees. Life, for the Ayatollah, is a no-no.
Doors open and doors close and suddenly, without warning, we are in the reception area. The tour is over. On the table, is a list duplicated a dozen times at least entitled "Murder of the Shah" and under the table-top glass is a picture of bodies - 5,000 of them, it says in the caption, all killed one fine September day in Tehran. Here is one bloody finger pointing accusingly at another.
It's not necessary, I tell my guide. Stock the cellars. Throw a party. No one will ask awkward questions. In Washington, once they've taken your food, their hearts and minds will follow.