The Long Strange Golden Road by Courtenay Pollock - Chapter 9 - The Persian Affair
The Persian Affair
I was renovating the inside of the G.D. offices at 5th. and Lincoln in San Raphael, California and I had employed my friend Amos Black and an associate of his who we’ll call Soma White. He had procured some airline tickets that were franked and blank so they just needed to be filled out with the flight codes and were good to go. I bought two of them for $100 each. I gave one to my erstwhile housemate Gerry (Cornelius Fitzgerald Buckley IV who was registered in the San Francisco social register and yet became everything that such a status was not).
At the time Frankie Hart / Weir had opened an airline booking agency called ‘Fly by Night Travel’ ostensibly to book the G.D. tour flights and keep the commissions in-house. We went to Frankie’s office and typed in the codes for our flights. I designed a worldwide route for my four-flight ticket that would give me as many air miles as possible the idea being that after the first leg of the flight I would change my destination routes to break the chain of that ticket and have a new ticket with multiple destinations.
Gerry went to England and visited my relatives there and then went on to India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Thailand, Japan and China. I flew to Copenhagen where I changed my ticket to route through London. I spent a week visiting family and old friends then made my travel plans. I threw the I Ching oracle using three five-cent coins and the hexagon that the six throws built read in the first line of the opening paragraph ‘Gateway to the East’. In my mind, I saw ‘Persia’, one of the great early Eastern cultures who have fabulous Mandala carpets and Mandala ceramics.
I Ching Oracle
I phoned Heathrow airport and booked a flight to Tehran that left that same day. The flight was long and bumpy but was peopled with some interesting looking characters, one of them looked a lot like Bob Dylan with the frizzy hair look.
We landed in Tehran at two in the morning. It was like a glorified airplane hanger, such a contrast to the busy Heathrow in London. I made my way into the customs area and was subsequently diverted to the police offices where I was questioned in Farsi. Of course, I didn’t understand a word or what they wanted. I was dressed in my finery of hand made velvet pants and silk shirt. With my long hair and curly mustache and big ‘Acid Eyes’, I must have been quite the alien encounter for the police officials.
The officials were starting to get personal with me and aggressive when there was a knock on the office door. The fellow that looked like Bob Dylan stepped inside and told me I was his guest and we got separated leaving the plane. He said they need money for my visa. ‘Ah! visa’ I exclaimed while I sorted out ten pounds for them. They all smiled and stamped my passport with some coloured designs and saluted. I left with my new friend and saviour Farhad.
We got a ride to his parents' apartment in an upscale area of the city. Farhad was coming directly from his university in London to spend the summer back home in Tehran. His father owned the big pharmacy in the city and was by local standards a wealthy man. Their apartment was beautifully furnished and carpeted with classic handmade Persian carpets depicting complex Mandala designs. The parents were charming and gracious hosts even at three o’clock in the morning.
Farad told me we would have a car to collect us after breakfast to go to a friend of his from his London university. At the appointed hour he announced ‘Our ride is here’.
We stepped onto the street and there was a stretch Mercedes limousine with royal emblems flying from the hood and roof. We drove in elegant comfort through the city and at the major intersections the traffic police would blow their whistles and direct us through ahead of other traffic. The chauffeur drove us up to a mesa close to the palace of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi the Shah of Iran.
We turned into a large courtyard of a modest mansion about a half-mile from the palace and left the chauffeur to take our luggage inside. Farhad led me around to a side marble staircase that curved up to a separate wing of the house. We entered through a vaulted doorway into a massive boudoir where there was a beautiful four-poster bed and canopy where a tiny man was ensconced.
Farad introduced me to Ali Oomayonfah. The petite Persian man Ali was a sight to behold. His face was split diagonally and joined back together not quite matching up. His face was a mask of peeling skin and he was attired in Ivory silk pajamas with gold piping on the seams. Ah! Farhad, you bring me American Guru. He addressed me directly as he appraised me and my clothing style and said, ‘Hello Courtenay, you bring me Acid? (LSD) "Why yes, I have 1000 hits of Clear Light in the rose patch sewn on the seat of my pants."
Indeed, I was a daily practitioner of yoga delving into advanced practices at that time. I had developed a homegrown wisdom from my cosmic journeys on LSD and was deeply tuned to the universe. He apologized for his strange facial condition and explained that he had fallen asleep under a tanning lamp. The diagonal scar across his face was the result of a car crash. He was driving with Hosroe, the husband of the Shah’s daughter, in his new Lambourgine when they lost control and crashed through a wall.
Ali pulled on a silk rope bell pull and a servant eventually arrived to take an order of Turkish coffee and breakfast followed by the Opium brazier. We enjoyed the best coffee I had ever had and ate some traditional homemade yogurt and bread made in an earth oven. The brass tray of hot coals and tongs with a row of spherical inlaid ceramic baffoo pipe heads arrived and Ali introduced me to the fine art of smoking refined opium that he obtained from the palace. This refined opium came in sticks like small pencils and was an ivory colour. The whiter the stick the more pure the opium. I saw sticks ranging in colour from off white to a tan red hue. All of them were of superb quality.
The ceramic spheres were warming around the sides of the tray of hot coals. Ali screwed an ornate wooden stem into a warmed globe to assemble the smoking device. There were two small holes in the upper surface of the sphere, they connected to the pipe stem. Ali chipped a piece off the opium stick about the size of half a dry pea. He placed it between the two holes where it melted onto the surface. He picked up a flat piece of red hot charcoal with the tongs and bridged it across the furthest hole and the piece of opium. He then softly blew through the stem which sent a stream of air to the face of the hot coal which heated the air stream as it reflected across the opium chip. Being careful not to actually touch and burn the opium, he lowered the hot coal closer until the opium started to vaporize, he then inhaled the vapour whilst gradually lowering the hot charcoal to keep the opium melting and vaporizing.
That is the traditional way to smoke the refined opium in Persia.
Persia is an opium culture and so it is not strictly illegal to smoke, but Black Gum Opium dens are not legal. Most people who can afford to smoke (the black tar) do so in the privacy of their homes. I was introduced to the art of smoking at the highest level.
Ali arranged a house party so that I could meet some close friends including one lady in particular whom he thought I would love to meet. Indeed, she and I were to have an instant attraction with one another that led to a deep tempestuous love affair.
Exquisite writing, I was finding myself in some portal placing me there on your journey, but to be clear, you actually had a 1000 hits ‘by the seat of your pants’… classic
Fascinating and top notch memoir writing Courtenay. Indeed you are a renaissance man.
What Nick said !
My gosh, Courtenay, I wish I had half the memory capacity you do. I’m lucky to remember what I did last month!
Wow! Such an incredible memory Courtenay, thank for sharing your adventures. I can hardly wait for the next installment!!!!!