The Quirky Brilliance Of The Head Guru

Haresh Shah

mrspeak_02

I have just swiped my card and entered the sixteenth floor through the glass door. I see Arthur sitting by himself through the glass wall of his office across the atrium – the bank of offices we have come to call the fish tank, overlooking the square. I hurry to my office, remove my outer garments and pick up the phone and dial Arthur’s three digit inter-office number. Might as well get it out of the way before I chicken out. Having to call Arthur is something of an ordeal, because you never know what kind of mood you might catch him in. But there is nothing I can do about it. I am the one who needs him. Most of our telephone conversations would go something like this:

‘Good morning Arthur!’

‘What’s so good about the morning?’

Or

‘Hi Arthur. How are you?’

‘Why do you want to know?’

Or

‘Hi Arthur. This is Haresh.’

‘I know who you are!’

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And Forget Paris – Think Lyon

Haresh Shah

minitel

It’s five minutes before six, the closing time for Lyon’s Place Bellecour tourist office. I am standing across the counter from the friendly blonde – petite and pretty. And sweet. This is the third time since three that afternoon that I have returned to her in the remote hope that maybe, just maybe something would have opened up in the meanwhile and I still would be able to find one of the charming French B & B’s in or near the center of the old town. Based on my one and only overnight stay in Lyon years earlier, I stayed at one of its most charming boutique hotels, Hotel Cour des Loges.  I have a reason to believe that the city had to have similar but smaller and reasonably priced jewels tucked away in one of their obscure alleys.

I have arrived in Lyon by train from Avignon, with a back pack and a small carry on bag on wheels. I am doing south of France by train without any fixed timetable or an itinerary. Other than bit of a difficulty in Toulouse, I am lucky to have found nice places to crash at. Not cheap, neither expensive. My budget is between fifty and a hundred Euros a night. Seems like tonight I may have to settle for a four hundred Euro room at Sheraton. I am not looking forward to it. But what were my options? The closest the tourist office could offer me a room is 20 kilometers (about 13 miles) from the center. Certainly not what I want.

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Lifting Of The Fig Leaf

Haresh Shah

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Zahir takes me by the hand.

‘Let me introduce you to some of the people here.’ I am one of the hundred some invited guests at Zahir and Bernadette Kazmi’s annual pre-Ramadan shenanigan at their spacious home in Chicago suburb of Oakbrook. Outside it’s raining cats and dogs and yet it has not deterred any of their friends and the families from showing up in droves. Only damper it has put on the event is that all of his beautiful oriental rugs are covered with large bed sheets and installed outside the house is a tent sized awning, shrouding the open sky.

The first person he introduces me is a tall and lanky Pakistani friend, whose name I promptly forget as soon as it is said.

‘Haresh used to be an editor at Playboy.’ Zahir can’t help but throw in. I think he gets a kick out of watching the reaction on the people’s faces. If not exactly ignoring, I try to slough it off with a hollow laugh.

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The Pirates of The Intellectual Properties

Haresh Shah

haresh_bunnyworld

Soon, Playboy was no longer just a magazine. There was Playboy Mansion and were Playboy Clubs and Playboy Bunnies and even Playboy theater and Playboy movies and television show Playboy After Dark, hosted by Mr. Playboy Hugh M. Hefner himself. And then there were Playboy products. The first noticeable were air fresheners dangling from the rear view mirrors, mostly of the cabs, auto decals donning black and white image of the by now ubiquitous rabbit head, key chains. Mostly cheap products. Most of them unauthorized and unlicensed. When you have a fertile swath of land, and the year is good and it rains and rains and rains, what happens? Suddenly, you have shrubbery and uncontrollable weeds. Nothing you can do. This was not in the plan. Literally, you see your rabbits multiplying at the pace you never in your wildest dream imagined. No way to stop them fornicating and swelling in population unless a natural disaster the scale of Malthusian theory of population were to strike. You can’t keep your act together to keep it all under control, let alone begin to reign them from growing greater.

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The Dream That Never Died

Haresh Shah


It stands there in the middle of Mexico City, looking wrecked and devastated like the crudely chiseled and ravaged structures in the bombed damaged cities of Europe in the aftermath of the second world war. The walls half built and then left unfinished with their uneven rough edges sticking up, floors smeared with the dried out cement. The bare stairs next to the elevators are exposed with no doors concealing them. The haltingly moving lethargic lifts are pulled up and down by the sinister looking cables behind the barely lit entrance to the building. You need to strain your eyes to see the lone figure of the security guard sitting at his battered desk sprouting a dim desk lamp. The open wires devoid of the fixtures dangle down from the high ceilings like in the Snake Alley of Taipei.

When coming in from the street, you walk the rough dusty grounds of what was probably  intended to be a Plaza to surround the tall structure planned to be the tallest building in the all of the Latin America. You climb the few unplastered scratchy cement steps to the lobby and make your way towards the elevators. You hurry past the guard and barely return his greetings. You wait for the elevator descend ever so slowly and watch the cables that control it in that semi-dark dusk like filtered vision.

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Terrorized By The Righteous Rage

Haresh Shah

pointingfingers
I am impressed by the opulent looks of the agency. They show me around beaming with  pride at the facilities they offered. I, as a senior executive would have my own office, they tell me. Each office is named after the wonders and the major landmarks of  the world. Whenever possible, I would be assigned the Taj Mahal, they promise. I would have my own direct phone line and my personal voice mail.  I would have access to the support staff.

Hanging on almost every wall are expensively framed inspirational quotations by Dale Carnegie, Orison Swett Marden, James Allan, Malcolm Forbes, Lee Iacocca,  Albert Einstein  and such. The tone of the quotations assumes that you are down and out and are in dire need of pick me ups. Unlike clients in other businesses, we are the fired lame duck executives.

I still am not clear about what exactly I am supposed to be doing sitting in one of those little larger than cubicle offices, and more importantly, what it is that they would do for me. So I sit down with the president of Benson and Associates, Bob Benson and his partner Herb Lester, face to face for an initial interview. The interview itself lasts for more than an hour, during which they ask me whether my “separation” from Playboy was voluntary, as if there were such a thing!

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Flying Free Like A Hawk

Haresh Shah

ballance
“You’re doing a good job if you manage to piss us off fifty percent of the time, and piss our partners off another fifty.” Our boss Bill Stokkan would often tell his managers, usually during one of his pontification sessions. More true of his international divisional heads who had not only to deal with the products but also with the cultural nuances of the people from several countries. In my case, it also worked to my advantage that I was not an American born American. Especially the people I worked with from the non-European and Asian countries felt that I understood them better just because I was born and grew up in India. That I brought a different sensitivity to our working together. Equally so with my American management, because by then I had spent as many years in the West. As difficult as it could be sometimes, I had developed a close rapport with the people on both ends and had earned their confidence and the respect.

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My Pied À Terre In Mexico City

Haresh Shah

 

 

tunneloflove3
You would think, who in his right mind would get tired of living in Mexico City’s most luxurious and yet most making you feel at home hotel, Camino Real? Especially when the company is paying for it? During the first few months of my back-to-back trips and long sojourns in the city, Camino Real, or as my friends began to call it tu casa amarilla, because of its predominantly yellow façade, has become my permanent home. What’s more, I have fallen in love with the place. As big as it is, it has that warm homey feeling. By now, I know every nook and corner of this huge labyrinth of 720 rooms hotel, have been to each one of the restaurants and bars. The rooms are spacious and I am always welcomed by being placed in a poolside room with balcony. In a few short months, I have spent more romantic days and evenings at Camino Real than all other hotels of the world put together. I am regular at their French restaurant Le Fouquet and their private Le Club. Have splurged into frequent poolside buffets outside Los Azulejos, sat at La Cantina drinking beer and watching the traffic of the beautiful people of the city walking to and from the most-in Lobby Bar – the place where the locals and the hotel guests come together to see and be seen. And have danced the nights away at Cero Cero and then stumbled in for late breakfast at Las Huertas and nursed my hangovers with freshly squeezed tropical juices and very strong Mexican café con leche. Practically every service personnel knows and makes fuss over me. The place I feel at home in the true Mexican spirit of mi casa es su casa. What else can one ask for?

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Reflections On Japan’s Preoccupation With Death

Haresh Shah

gionatnight2
Ray Falk
and Kayo Hayashi are scratching their heads to come up with something to do with Shah-san that evening. But I put their dilemma to rest. It’s my second night being back in Tokyo and we all have had an exhausting day – especially me, being grilled by the Japanese editors about them not getting the rights to Norman Mailer’s Gary Gilmore piece. Kayo drops me off at the hotel around half past five. I spend some time browsing the Imperial Hotel’s little bookstore  and buy a copy of the 1968 Nobel Prize winner in literature, Yasunari Kawabata’s novel, Beauty and Sadness. My intention is to read a bit of it after I have had a light dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants or just take it easy and order a sandwich and a beer from the room service. I don’t get around to doing either. Soon as I enter the room, I stretch out and close my eyes to relax for a while. The next thing I know, it’s past one in the morning.

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It’s Not Enough To Dream

Haresh Shah

warsaw
There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. Oscar Wilde

It’s not unusual for small but ambitious publishers to be bitten by the idea of adding Playboy to their stable of publications. Bitten even harder are the ones who have had no familiarity with the publishing business. But they have dreams and the desire and some money to spare that drive them to near obsession, do everything in their power to buy the Playboy license. Because in their dreams and the desires what they are thinking is: If only I can get to publish Playboy! At this point they are not thinking what it really takes to undertake such a project. Their psychological business plans have no provision for what if it doesn’t quite work out?

The letter came forwarded from Andreas Odenwald – our editor-in-chief in Germany. Guess, this is for you amigo, said his scribble. It’s an inquiry letter from Poland from the company called Elgaz. Attached to it is a recommendation letter from their German partners, a PVC window manufacturers, vouching for the serious intent and the solid financial standing of this Polish company involved in various businesses, among them the international video distribution.

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I Went Home And Cried

Haresh Shah

bea
Sitting across from me in a small windowless meeting room of the Holiday Inn in Warsaw is stunningly beautiful Beata Milewska. She is dressed in a conservative grey dress with the sharp U shaped neckline, trimmed with black satin ribbon. Underneath the geometric U are black brass buttons that run down to and below her breasts. Blonde, she wears fashionably shorter hair, reaching down just a little above her neck. Her eyes are sparking blue and smiles are amused but slight and measured. I guess her to be in her late twenties or the very early thirties.

Sitting next to her is Tomasz Raczek – supposedly to translate from English, but Beata herself is quite proficient in the language, so other than some whispered consulting, Tomasz is there more as an observer who would eventually be the editor-in-chief of the Polish edition. On my left is our Hungarian Publisher Deszo Futasz and on my right is Rolf Dolina, the man who has gotten us together in hopes that I would be positively impressed by Beata and her ability to gather a qualified team of professionals to create the Polish edition of Playboy.

After landing in still the old and the dilapidated Warsaw-Okecie Airport, as we drive into the city, I witness the remnants still of the city heavily bombed first by the German Luftwaffe in 1939, and then by the Russians in 1944 to quell the Warsaw Uprising. Both sides of the road are lined with the communist era’s drab and dark harsh apartment blocks. Making them further sinister is the shroud of the cold and the cloudy month of January. I cringe at the thought of the lives lived and of deaths and destruction and the dismay that still must permeate the day-to-day lives of its citizens. After all, it’s just little over a year since the fall of the Berlin wall.

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Or How The Airlines Got To Make Us Do Their Work?

Haresh Shah

airlinerage
During my early days at Time, my boss Bob Anderson would emerge out of his office, scratching his head, stop at my desk and go: I think you ought to hop a plane to New York and talk to our friend Arnold (Drapkin). Do some hand holding and get him off our collective backs? And then without waiting for an answer, he would wander back into his office and disappear behind the closed door.

Sitting diagonally opposite from my desk is Pat Murphy – the departmental everything.  She has already pulled out her drawer and is yanking out the round trip flight coupon booklet, she writes in the destinations and stamps them. Takes some money out of the petty cash, puts everything together in an envelope and hands it to me.

‘Have a good trip. I will get onto your hotel reservation.’

And soon I am pulling out of the Time parking lot in my phallic Oldsmobile Cutlass and am on my way to my South Shore Drive apartment. Having thrown together an overnight bag I am already cruising I 90/94 and am on my way to the O’Hare. I park right across the path from the airport and am standing in front of the flipping departure board, checking out the first flight out of there to New York’s LaGuardia. There is almost one every twenty minutes to half an hour. Irrespective of which airline it is, I walk straight to the gate of the first departing flight and within minutes I am on my way to the Big Apple.

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The Reverse Migration To El Sur

Haresh Shah
fiercelatina

Had she submitted today, a polaroid wearing only a tan and mascara, just to see if I could make the cut, she certainly would have been considered seriously and most probably made it as Playmate of the Month in the U.S. Playboy. In the year 2015, with the dramatically altered demographics and with the both political parties wooing the ever growing Latino population, what could be better than to have a born in Glendale, California of Mexican parents, a natural beauty, raven haired, five feet tall with voluptuous hourglass figure, the dark brown eyes, seductively and invitingly looking back at you? At 24, she is in her prime and has already been a part of a study program at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and has earned her B.A. in Theatre Arts from Whittier College. A perfect fusion of beauty and the brain – an ideal girl next door.

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A Lesson In The Linguistic Sexism

Haresh Shah

ova2

My first encounter with ová came in early 1991, when we were putting together the first issue of the Czech edition of Playboy. I noticed on the proposed cover, Pamela Anderson having become Pamela Andersonová. First I thought it was a typo, so I brought it up to the attention of then editor-in-chief Jaroslav Matejka. No, apparently it wasn’t an error. That’s how the Czechs called their women and Anderson in its Czech version had to be Andersonová. Even after Jaroslav gave me an elaborate explanation on the Czech language and its grammar, it didn’t quite fit my logic. At that time I didn’t know any Czech at all, even so, I was not swayed. I did not want them to Czechify a person’s name. It would be like calling Paul Pavel and Michelle Michaela. I am particularly sensitive about this – perhaps all my life living in the West, I have had often to fend off people’s attempts at turning Haresh into Harry. The first issue came out with hers and dozens of other featured foreign females with their original names.

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Crushed Under The Brutal Boots Of The Fascist

Haresh Shah

pinochet2
Having launched in Germany, Italy and France, the next natural Western European country for us to explore should have been Spain. But as long as Generalissimo Francisco Franco was alive and ruled the land, there was no way in the hell anyone could even dream of publishing the local edition of Playboy. But almighty Franco had to die sooner or later. After all, he was already eighty years old when we launched in Germany. All we could do was to wait it out. Soon as Franco died in 1975, the wheels began to turn and we were approached by several interested Spanish publishers. Among them Editorial Zeta and Editorial Planeta. We launched the Spanish edition of Playboy with Planeta in November of 1978. Me ending up spending fair amount of time in the most charming city of Barcelona, which almost immediately usurped Munich and Amsterdam as being my two most loved cities on the European continent.

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Too Good For His Own Good

Haresh Shah

travelagent
I am sitting in the Lufthansa city office in the center of Barcelona across from the petite German blonde staring at her computer screen while leafing through my four-booklets-thick-stapled- together ticket. She is tap taping her keyboard accessing my original itinerary and then checking it against my neatly handwritten used and the remaining ticket coupons. She looks confused and she looks amazed. One thing she doesn’t look is sure of herself. I have been on the road now for almost three weeks and have practically been around the world with my original itinerary that reads: March 25, 1979, Chicago-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara-Los Angeles-Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney-Bombay-Rome-Zürich-Barcelona-Munich-Düsseldorf-Frankfurt-London-Chicago. April 12, 1979.

I am on the final lag of my journey and am there to re-route my flight back to Chicago via Munich and Frankfurt instead of via Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London. Normally a simple switchover. But that’s not the problem. It’s no restrictions ticket valid for twelve months.

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As Long As There Is Hope

Haresh Shah

plantlife2

Up until then it was the coldest winter I had ever experienced. In January 1984, the temperatures in Chicago area dipped as low as -40 to -50 degrees and chilling wind went through your bones like a sharp spear of an arrow. Nasim (Yar Khan) had come to visit from Germany. I had brought for him some extra warm clothes to the airport, because even from the arrival hall to the garage would have him frozen if not wrapped up in some additional layers over his heavy winter clothes from Europe. Even though the furnace was running twenty four hours a day, the heat generated just wasn’t enough to keep our rickety old house comfortably warm.  The windows were all frozen and from the inside looking out, what you saw was your mirror image.  Carolyn and I took turns waking up every few hours through the night and brave the elements – heavily bundled up and ran across the 50 feet (15.2 meters) backyard to the garage and start both of our cars and run them for fifteen to twenty minutes to make sure none of the mechanism cracked and that they would run the next morning.  Even so, there was always a danger of one of them breaking down in the middle of nowhere, in which case, it would have been absolutely devastating trying to escape anywhere.

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From Irish Eyes To The Razzle Dazzle

Haresh Shah
haremgirl_2

The year before, Helga and Fred Baumgärtel (Mr. Playboy of the German edition – retired by then), Gudrun (Thiel) and myself  had gone to the Oyster Festival on a private trip. On the second day or so, Gudrun suggested PLAYBOY-Germany organize an Anzeigen-Meeting for next year’s festival. The participants, so she predicted, would sure be thrilled. I can still see her sitting by the portside, a glass of Guinness in her hand,  warming to the subject, as it were, while developing this wonderful idea. And so it happened.

Reminisces Andreas Odenwald – the editor-in-chief of Playboy Germany at the time. And I happened to be one of the dozen or so to join Germany’s top advertising executives who were invited with their partners to spend a long weekend in Ireland and experience the annual Oyster Festival. I don’t remember having eaten many oysters there, but drinking lot of Guinness to be sure.

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A Fleeting Glimpse At The Land Of The Rising Sun

Haresh Shah

gingerpagoda
I have landed in Tokyo during the day on the Christmas Eve of 1977. I am enroute to Bombay with a non-business related stopover in Japan. Even so, Playboy has arranged for me  to be met at the airport by one of our Tokyo rep’s people. This is my very first trip to the land of the Rising Sun, and I am excited to be here, even for a short stay of 48 hours.

Arriving and negotiating through Haneda International Airport feels like a free fall into a total disaster area. Even considering that the Japanese like and thrive on things small, neat and functional, their international airport is ridiculously small, overcrowded and chaotic. And yet they somehow manage to maintain order within what would seem daunting to anyone else. As I claim my baggage from the carousel and look around, I see a huge easel, wrapped across it is a wide band of paper sign saying: Mr. Shah – next to which it is repeated in katakana using the Japanese characters for my name. When I present myself by the sign, a uniformed hostess walks up to me with Welcome to Japan and pins to my lapel a name tag and informs me that someone is waiting for me outside at the MEETING PLACE.  Keiko Shirokawa is there to pick me up and take me to the hotel Dai Ichi in the famous Ginza district – that bustles with restaurants, bars, night clubs, department stores and boutiques.

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Always Ready For A New Business

Haresh Shah

 

chickenbiz2

Must have been early 1990 when landed on my desk is an impressive corporate brochure of Autraco Holdings based in Vienna, Austria. In the cover letter signed by its CEO Rolf Dolina, he expresses his desire to want to publish Playboy magazine in Czechoslovakia. But we are already in negotiations with Vladimír Tichý of the Gennex Corporation, the publishers of magazines, books, films and video that included the Czech language edition of ComputerWorld. That in itself wouldn’t have stopped me from entertaining another option, especially because the Autraco Holdings boasts of its wide reach in the former eastern European countries that include Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The countries where they are sole distributors of Memorex USA, Honda automobiles and Fuji films. Enclosed with the letter are some issues of the Czech language version of Germany’s Burda Moden, widely distributed and hugely popular women’s magazine – similar to the Simplicity patterns in the United States. The magazine he was publishing with Hana Wagenhofer – his Prague based business partner in several joint ventures. And it is mainly for Hanna that he is so keen on doing Playboy. It would give her a stronger presence on the Czech publishing scene.

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There Is An Endless Story

Haresh Shah

nudievan2
One of the first times I met with Patrick Magaud is him walking into the offices of the French editor-in-chief Patrick Eynaud at Euredif headquarters located in a highrise in the thick of Paris’ Quartier Chinois. Accompanying him is not only a stunningly beautiful photo model but also a baby tiger on a leash being lead in by Patrick as if this adorable little cub were his pet dog. Not an unusual sight in the French editorial offices to find a dog snoozing under one of the editor’s desks or cats curled up at their feet. But a tiger? Well, because it’s Patrick.

Patrick is an idea man. The man who is perpetually excited about life. A daring one at that. He is known for pulling off stunts – the kind no one else would even dream of. Like the one he would tell me about over a dinner once we got to know each other better. He tells me about how once he rented a mini van, packed it with his photographic gear, an assistant by his side and a couple of gorgeous females, already unrobed, styled and made up and ready to jump in and out of action and proudly and provocatively pose in the front of the Paris streets and the landmark monuments.  Such as walking in the middle of  ChampsÉlysées with Arc de Triumphe in the background, biking topless around Café de Flores with a couple of baguettes sticking out of the career, prancing at the foot of the mighty Eiffel Tower, two of hem flaunting their wares from a Ferris wheel rotating in the Tuileries, jet skiing in the river Seine, frolicking at the curve of the iconic restaurant Fouquet’s.

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Haresh Shah

Daring To Be Different

geishabrau
When our Japanese partners were reported what Shah-san was up to all through the week, flabbergasted, the executives and the editorial team are in awe of the fact that an executive of Playboy Enterprises was in their country expressly for meeting with them and yet they would not see him for an entire week. They were equally astonished when heard from Ray Falk’s office that Mr. Shah, nay Shah-san, accompanied by Sasaki-san, was crisscrossing  their country and visiting places in an attempt to glean first hand some understanding of the land  and its culture, its people in general and the young existing and potential readers of the Japanese edition of Playboy in particular.

Even though they didn’t know what to make of this Shah-san, they were positively impressed and intrigued, not to mention amazed. And then approved of my itinerary as was set up by Ray’s office. The places I would visit and the people I would be exposed to should give me a fair idea of some of what they had hoped to communicate to me when Lee (Hall)  had originally conveyed to them what my mission would be working with the new team.  That my role would go beyond giving them pep-talk,, turn around and then catch a plane back home. That I would roll up my sleeves and work hand-in-hand with them, not only in making and re-defining the magazine itself, but also talk about and make possible ancillary publishing activities as an extension to the regular issues.

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Haresh Shah

My Not So Intimate Encounters With Italy And France

bestfoodwinewomen

The first time I landed in the land of Ciao Bella and O sole mio, they dumped our baggage on the tarmac next to the aircraft, barely said sorry and told us we would have to carry it to the terminal ourselves – that the ground personnel had just decided to go on a strike. A bit different story when I first arrived at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. I am met at the airport by Gerrit Huig and the editorial assistant Ann Scharffenberger. They talk me into and I unwittingly agree to drive us through the city in our rented little Citroën. Though I had taken lessons in driving a car with manual transmission, this is my first time trying it out without an instructor sitting next to me. I haven’t yet gotten the knack of synchronizing the gears with the accelerator and the breaks. The car would shudder, stall and come to an abrupt stop in the middle of swirling rush hour traffic. Happens several times on the Arc de Triumph round-about. I get furious faces, obscene yelling  that I don’t understand, French version of the finger and then silly mocking giggles from my two passengers. But I somehow manage to survive both welcomes. Not exactly j’taime.  

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Haresh Shah

All I Want To Do Is To Take A Beak

train_3

As I roll off the QE II in my Buick from the port of  New York city, my plan is to drive cross-country with the destination of Santa Barbara, California. Or more precisely, Mark and Ann’s (Stevens) farm house in Goleta, some twelve miles north of downtown Santa Barbara and a stone’s throw away from the carefree Isla Vista off UCSB campus. Awaiting me is the culture and the people so unlike the America I have known so far. Three years earlier, just before Playboy offered me the job, I had planned a long vacation to explore the California Coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Instead, on the very day I was to fly west, I end up making a sharp hairpin turn to fly east over the Atlantic. I owe it to California to make up for my sudden turn.  But I am not in a hurry. And I am open to any other possibilities that may exist or arise.

Chicago awaits for me with its arms wide open. Lee (Hall) throws a staff lunch for me and am treated like a homecoming war hero. He has even arranged for me to meet with the Photography Director Gary Cole. Lee thinks very highly of me and feels I would make a good photo editor for Gary. Gary is congenial, but not so sure. He has probably agreed to speak with me more out of courtesy than to consider me for a position he didn’t have in the first place. As devastated as Lee is at having to let me go, this is his way of demonstrating that it wasn’t his decision or within his power to keep me.

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My First Taste Of The Feral Passion Of Soccer

Haresh Shah

brazuka2.2

We are in Rio de Janeiro for Playboy International Publishing’s conference, being hosted by our Brazilian publishers, Editora Abril. Other then sweating all day long in the windowless conference room of Rio Sheraton, which is also where we are staying, this is also an opportunity for the local hosts to showcase their country and the culture. Introduce us to the best of everything Brazil and Rio have to offer. Combined with organized and free social outings, we get to eat in various restaurants about town. Among them, Chalet, Churrascaria Carreta, Hippopotamus. But time and time again we end up at the Sheraton’s in-house churrascaria for their cornucopia of grilled meat and fish.

You can’t be in a city like Rio and not hit some night spots. The one we are most impressed by is their world famous Samba House, Oba Oba.  Doused in the blinding flash and sparkle, the show mainly features the most beautiful, built-solid-like-a-brick-shit-house bronze skinned mulatas. An exotic mixture of the African and the Portuguese stocks. Young and pretty with their quivering tight bundas, doing Samba costumed in narrow strips of bling to the Afro drum rhythms is the sight to be in awe of and behold. The speed and the motion glaze their shiny skins with oily slipperiness. To watch the sweat dripping like the rain drops running down the smooth surface of ebony illuminated by swirling spots is spellbinding. And they certainly can dance and move their booties in a way that leave you breathless.

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The (Interim) End Of The Longest Cocktail Party

Haresh Shah

 

stork3

The night before the sailing, I have checked  into Hotel du Louvre in Cherbourg, France, right across the street from Gare Maritime – the port from where I would sail away on board the celebrated Queen Elizabeth II. Am I excited? Nah! It’s been hard, having to leave Europe. I would have liked to stick around a little longer, but my residence permit is to expire tomorrow and just the idea of having to deal with the German bureaucracy is painful enough to dissuade me even to attempt an extension. Might as well, because I have accomplished writing an entire book containing of 455 A4 size typewritten pages. It still needs to be edited and revised, something best done after a certain time lapse. Geographical distance wouldn’t hurt either. As for my charmed life at Playboy, to be honest, I am not sure how much longer I would have been able to take it. As abruptly as it has ended, it did on the right note and at the right time before I burned myself out.

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The Beginning Of The Longest Cocktail Party

Haresh Shah

bottlecity3

Dieter (Stark) is tickled pink. He s standing behind the kitchen island, swinging the stainless steel cocktail shaker back and forth in his hands. Equally as handsome, he looks like Tom Cruise would behind the bar years later in his movie Cocktail. Surveying the scene and the mood of the night. He is feeling absolutely no pain. His face wears a glow of amazement at the mission accomplished as he looks down at all those bottles of booze lined up in front of him like miniature Chicago skyline. Most of them are half gallon bottles of just arrived Kentucky Bourbon, Scotch Whiskeys, Bombay Gin, Bacardi Rum, Absolut Vodka. There are smaller ones of the mixers containing of red and white Martinis, Crème de Menthe, Grenadine, Tonic water. Open cartons of orange juice, some Coke and 7-up bottles stand ready to be poured in whatever cocktail he would end up concocting. He must feel like a kid let loose in the liquid candy store. Innumerable possibilities, the night not long enough!

●●●

Dieter and I worked together as repro photographers for Burda Verlag in Offenburg, Germany. My early days living and working in the town of Offenburg in southern Germany were some of the loneliest. It didn’t help that I spoke no German yet and the little bit that I did, I misunderstood more than did I understand. I must give credit to the people I worked with in doing their best to communicate with me. But by and large, I was lost like a babe in the woods in that provincial south western German town that boasts of being the gateway to the picturesque Black Forest.

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Falling Like Dominos

Haresh Shah

threehearts

The plan is for just the two of us to go out for dinner. Leave the business behind and talk men talk without women tugging at our arms. For me, whenever I am in Munich, it would be Susi as my forever companion. Normally Günter would have brought along his wife Hilda. Our usual double date every visit. For tonight, I am thinking of maybe us two having dinner at my early favorite neighborhood kneipe, Georgen Stuben on Prinz Regentenstrasse and afterwards maybe hit a couple of Schwabing locals like Tangente, Giesela’s and Domicil. Go down the memory lane, re-live the nostalgic days of my not so distant life in Munich.

But first, we’ve got to talk some business. Günter is one of the senior editors at the German Playboy. He has spent time in America as well, so we have got that too in common. We have spent lot of time together and have shared hundreds of silly laughs.

The first McDonald’s in Germany opened in Munich scant ten months before my arrival there in October of 1972. Just in time for Munich’s 1972 Summer Olympics. It must have taken a while for the national Life like illustrated Stern magazine to notice this American invasion, prompting them to run a cover story with the blurb screamingly calling Big Mac der Schmackloss Hackfleish – the tasteless minced meat. Günter and I couldn’t agree more, especially considering the humble German fricadel, a tasty meat ball the shape of a hamburger patty, made of the minced meat, eaten lukewarm with a hard shell brötchen – a bread roll and blob of yellow mustard on side. Lekker.

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Beautiful..Ye High..Ye Wide..

Haresh Shah

weedlove2

Bonnie and David are a cool couple. They are naturally mellow, but often made mellower by the pot induced blissfulness beaming on their faces. I run into them about a year after I arrived in Goleta at one of those shrouded-in-the-cloud-of-smoke filled parties which seemed to be a norm than an exception.

This is southern California in the mid-1970s. A typical tabloid would be, when you entered the hosts’ home, you would be greeted not only with their warm and welcoming smiles and exuberance, but also a large table overflowing with salad bowl full of fresh marijuana, surrounded by the rolling paper, matches and other pot related paraphernalia. Just like Mark and Ann, Bonnie and David too have adopted me and I often hang out with them. Bonnie is a seamstress and makes most of her own clothes. She also designs funky outfits for other people and is quite in demand with young and pretty surfer chicks. David works in incense filled book shop downtown Santa Barbara, that specializes in the counter-culture, psychedelic, transcendental and alternative pseudo spiritual literature by the East and the Western authors such as Krishnamurthy, Carlos Castaneda, J.J.R. Tolkien, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Herman Hess. Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda are standard fares. The store also sells Indian necklaces and bracelets, silk scarves, patuli and other fragrant oils, beads and a variety of knickknacks that give the subculture its identity.

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A Postcard From London Carrot

Haresh Shah

ginza

Keiko (Shirokawa) of Ray Falk’s office takes me out for what I thought to be the most expensive Chinese dinner. Apparently, what is French cuisine is to us in the West, in Japan, Chinese cuisine is considered a notch above any other kind – exquisite and exclusive.

After dinner, we stop at a cozy little whiskey bar. It reminds me of the Booze & Bits in Chicago, located right in the heart of the hubbub of Rush Street, invisibly tucked away behind an inverted L-shaped narrow passage north of Oak Street. Must have been a storage room turned into a nice little watering hole for the people in the know. A bunch of us at Time Inc. used to hang out there frequently and collectively we all had incredible crush on Sherry – the blonde bombshell of the bartender. No one could ever touch her, but she did well with her smiles, excellent service and bit of a coquetry thrown in.

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The Impossibility Of Being Christie Hefner

Haresh Shah

christie_v.2c

‘What do these conferences mean to us?’

It’s a legitimate question. I have gotten to the meeting room earlier as usual to make sure things are set before everyone else begins to stumble-in in another half an hour. Only other person fussing around is Mary (Nastos), and then there is Christie Hefner. The two of us standing in the middle of the conference room on the lower floor of The Pontchartrain Hotel, New Orleans’ old European charm. I have been organizing Playboy International Publishing’s conferences now for years and no one has ever asked me the question. It was something that was handed down to me when I was re-hired by Lee Hall ten years earlier in 1978. I hadn’t given any serious thought to the question Christie posed – now the president of Playboy Enterprises.

‘Well, it’s mainly for all our editions to come together with their counterparts from around the world and discuss the year since they met last and establish some understanding of what lay in the future. From these meetings some international projects of common interest have been born and accomplished. The Soccer World Cup pictorial in 1986, which we produced in the host country Mexico and the Miss Playboy International Beauty Pageant, broadcast live in Hong Kong.

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HUGH GRANT IN MY SHOES

Prowling The Streets Of Beverly Hills

Haresh Shah

moneyrose3

The media had field days following Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill star, Hugh Grant’s tryst with Divine Brown, on the night of June 27, 1995. And it wasn’t only the tabloid press but also mainstream media and the network talk shows like Late Night With Jay Leno and Larry King Live couldn’t well ignore their LAPD mug shots splattered all over the printed pages and on the television screens. On his Late Night Show, Jay Leno came right out and asked: what the hell were you thinking?Grant’s answer: I think, you know, in life what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing, and I did a bad thing…and there you have it. His whole body twisting and turning this way and that, the boyish Grant squirmed in his hot seat as if run over by an eighteen wheeler. But he kept his sense of humor and got the roaring applause of approval from Leno’s enthusiastic audience.

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Scattered Gems Of Practical Wisdom

Haresh Shah

news_stand

The train pulls up at some unknown station. The peacefulness of the night turns into a little puppet show for those few minutes. The flickering dim gaslights illuminate the platforms, the guard blowing his whistle, the signal man running in front of the locomotive with his red and green flags, the tea and food vendors reciting their sales pitches, “chai garam babuji, chai garam, garam garam bhajia, khalo saab, aisi puri bhaji aage nahin milengi, pani, thanda pani. (hot tea, hot hot fried dumplings, have some, you won’t find them as delicious at the next stop, cooled water)The people getting off the train and running to the water fountains to fill up their water flasks with fresh drinking water, some sipping the piping hot delicious local chai in clay cups, some savoring the spicy puri bhaji. Sudden burst of activity, the train will pull away in a few minutes, the station would doze off once again. If there is another train arriving in an hour or so, they would just sit around puffing on their chillums, and the next puppet show would begin at the sight of another approaching express. It’s amazing to watch all those people moving around in such synchronized harmony, like in a well choreographed musical. Everyone has his own place, his own kind of product to sell, his own price, his own lyrical voice to recite and get his product to his consumer’s ears and eyes who only have seconds to make up their minds. Make a quick sale. And then once again, they disappear, they fall asleep. The train moves on.

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Or How To Raise Quick Cash

Haresh Shah

diningstars

I am between the bookends. My first year of living in Santa Barbara, California. Or more precisely in Goleta, twelve miles (17.2 km) north along the Pacific Coast off the UCSB campus. I am jobless and slumming, actually writing my novel The Lost Identity, and yet surviving with a certain style with four hundred some dollars a month I collect form the unemployment benefits. I kick in an extra hundred from my savings in order not having to struggle too much, almost half of the total goes towards the rent. I have rented a decent apartment because I like the feeling of space. It’s a spacious two bedroom apartment with an ample terrace outside the large glass sliding doors overlooking San Ynez mountain range. I am only a walking distance from the Pacific shore and the ocean front Enchanted Forest.

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Lost In The Labyrinth

Haresh Shah

bride2

I am at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, temporarily delayed because of the cancellation of Alitalia to Frankfurt, which is where I was to connect with Lufthansa’s overnight Frankfurt-Johannesburg flight. They have re-routed me on British Airways to London and then connecting there to onward journey to South Africa. Suddenly I have a couple of hours to kill. I avail myself of the first class lounge, leave my belongings there and venture outside to check out the renovated expanse of the airport. As I am walking down the glass walled passage bridging two wings of the terminal, I hear a timid female voice trailing me.

‘Uncle, uncle. Please! Please!’

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Still A Damn Indian? Call Me At The Bank

Haresh Shah

pequot

Even though there is an alternative theory about how and why the native Americans came to be called Indians – which is: Christopher Columbus  having observed how ritualistic and religious the natives were of the new land he had stumbled upon, he defined them as the people of In Dios – In God, smoothly transitioned into Indians. But I still like the popular theory of Columbus believing that they had landed in India and therefore… Whatever! Can’t help but feel a certain amount of affinity, precisely because both of us being called Indians.

The night Jan (Heemskerk) and I spent at Fetzer Valley Oaks Food and Wine Guesthouse, we walk across the street to check out  Pomo Indian owned and operated  – Shodakai Coyote Valley Casino. It looked like an old shack. It wasn’t all that big and it mainly offered slot machines and some black jack tables. The hall was dimly lit and the trolleys serving free  soft drinks passed by the customers every so often.  No alcohol served on the premises.  The on site guard-PR-spokesperson Philip told us that alcoholism was  rampant among the Indians on the reservations. Philip talked to us about their Pomo tribe and the future plans for the  expansion.  The glow and the wonderment on his face was undeniable, probably at the thought of what good fortune their lot had been bestowed upon. Jan immediately assigns me to do a story for the Dutch edition of Playboy of what was then the recent phenomena of popping up of the casinos large and small across the American continent on what used to be the Indian reservations.

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The Spanish Civil War Looped Into A Gaze

Haresh Shah

cognac_revise_2

Sebastian Martinez is my first encounter with Spain. We have never met before, but he seems to have recognized me instantly as I emerge from the customs’ sliding doors of Barcelona’s yet old but functional airport. It’s the summer of 1978, scant two some years after Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s death. The air is still thick with the repressive regime of Franco that lasted for almost forty years. Trampled and suppressed during his ruthless decades, supported full heartedly and under the stringent conservative principals of the Catholic Church, it would have been impossible to even dream of the existence of an edition of the “derelict” Playboy in Spain. But the times they do a change!

By now I speak good Spanish. Sebastian welcomes me with bien venido a España, as much to welcome me as to test my Spanish. I answer with plain gracias. He has been told by Lee (Hall)  that I speak the language fluently. But Sebastian is not the one to take anyone’s word for it. It takes him a couple of days and me speaking in Spanish with the people he introduces me to, does he admit that I indeed do. If with a bit of a soft lilt in the way the Mexicans speak it. I myself have a hard time getting used to Spanish Spanish or the way it’s spoken by the Catalans. I find Mexican Spanish sweeter. Well! Sebastian might question my taste as he does everything. In this case, it would be the way British dismay at the way they demolish their language across the pond in America. He is the most skeptical person I have known. He would never accept anything on its face value.

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Sweet, Silky And Slippery

Haresh Shah

silkscarf

I flash my room registration card at the receptionist who is busy talking to a young man and a sort of pretty, short dark haired young woman in white, both of whom stood on the other side of the counter. ‘Room 416’, I tell him. He hands me my key. I throw a quick glance at the girl, making perfunctory eye contact and walk to the elevator. As I press the floor button, I notice the girl waving at me as if to wish me bon voyage. But the sliding doors have already closed and I am on my way up. I see her smiling face through the transparent glass door and wave back at her.

I am staying at the hip Hotel Americain in Amsterdam. I am not too impressed with the place, but built in 1900, it’s listed as one of Amsterdam’s landmarks with its turn of the century art deco and the roaring twenties atmosphere and because of its proximity to the theatre DeLaMar, it has an illustrious history – something I am often attracted to. And it’s frequented by the actors, directors and other art types of the city.

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Butting Heads With Experts

Haresh Shah

whattime_revised

My ex-girlfriend Susan (Serpe) was a successful management consultant. And yet, I never quite understood what it was exactly that she did. Once in a self-deprecating mood, she told me a story of three consultants, which has probably been told and re-told or perhaps not.

A large international corporation in need of a consultant invites proposals from some of the top professionals in the industry. From the huge pile of applicants, they have boiled down the list to the TOP three that seem most likely to fulfill their needs. They are to be interviewed by the CEO himself. He seats them down around the conference table in his office.

‘Good morning to you all. And congratulations for making it to the top three. That’s quite an achievement, considering that we had received more than a hundred offers. You guys are the crème de la crème and it would be an honor for our company to work with any one of you. Unfortunately, all we have is only one position open, so here goes it – the final round. I do not wish to take up much of your valuable time, so without much a do, I’ll come right to to the point. Before we decide, I only have one simple question to ask of you, which is: Can you please tell me, what time is it?  Confused only momentarily, the three realize it’s one of those trick questions. Everyone could see clearly on the wall clock in the CEO’s office that its 2:30 in the afternoon. The first of them clears his throat.

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The Domestic Arrangements South Of The Border

Haresh Shah

aztecqueen

I met Pepe Morales during a Playmate promotional jaunt in Acapulco. Our publishers have hired Pepe to cover the event – a young Mexican photographer and socialite of some renown . He seems to know everyone we run into and is greeted with the warmest abrazoz and pats on the back, while he bumbles around following the Playmates and documenting the weekend, with me taking additional photos whenever I am able to sneak some shots without neglecting my duties that of the Playboy executive on site.

Pepe and I hit it off right away. When back in Mexico City, we meet one evening for dinner. We have fat juicy steak dinners at Barbas Negras during which we drown three bottles of Los Reyes. Feeling absolutely no pain, Pepe asks:

‘What would you like to do now?’

‘I don’t know. This is your town. Maybe go cunt chasing?’

‘Why not? Let’s just get out of here and together we’ll paint the town red,’ he proclaims.

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Paparazzi In His Own Backyard

Haresh Shah

peepers

It’s only once in a life time that you meet someone like FHG. The initials stand for Franz Hermann Gomfers from the little BIG town of Wachtendonk, tucked away near the Dutch border of Venlo in Germany’s lower Rhine region. He spoke only German in the Niederrhein with frequently punctuating with nicht wahr? And yet his house on Feldstrasse 29 would be bursting with smatterings of languages and the people from all around the globe. His curiosity knew no bounds, which was always topped with his patience with a common friend going back and forth between him and his new acquaintances, translating and interpreting. Something about him was fraulich,  in which he would dig out all the gory and juicy details from the person and would bring him or her to a confessional mode, with the seriousness on his face that would betray earnestness even that of Herr Doktor Freud. Because he is genuinely interested in their lives and what they have to say. And yet, he was a little boy like mischievous prankster to the core. The plotter, the match maker, the eternal flirt, frequently crossing his boundary to the utter dismay of his dear Lizbeth. And then getting away with a coy and guilty but a hearty laugh, just like not so innocent Tom Sawyer.

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 And The Power Of The Power Before And After The Communism

Haresh Shah

hotelrubble

‘So what are some of the Czech specialties?’

‘We only have three.’

‘And they are?’

‘Pork, dumplings and cabbage. Dumplings, pork and cabbage and cabbage, dumplings and pork.’ Answers Ivan (Chocholouš) and breaks out in a big laugh.

‘And of course there is Svíčková…’ he continues. Which is not as common to come by.

Every time I return to Prague, my dilemma remains the same. What to eat? There are other things on the menu – klobasa? Breaded and fried chicken breasts?  Fried cheese? Fruit dumplings? But time and time again, Ivan will make me take the U turn and order Vepřo, Knedlo, Zelo. By now he knows my taste. More like my sensitivity to the fat contents and the toughness of the meat normally served by most of the local restaurants. Pork, dumplings and cabbage being the national dish, the chances are that in a good restaurant the cut they serve would be tender compared to the neighborhood hospodas.

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Haresh Shah 

How Can You Not Fall In Love With Them?

parachute

‘And now ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching the home of one of the most colorful characters of our country: Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, the adventurer and the author of the Republic of Venice and the autobiography, Histoire de ma vie (Story of  My Life), which is regarded as one of the most authentic sources of the customs and norms of European social life during the 18th century. But as many of you certainly know, he is mostly known as the great lover of women. Yes, the great lover and the great liar.’ We are on a gondola site seeing tour navigating through the narrow canals of Venice. On our right is a long curving three story flaming rust colored brick building with elaborate balconies protruding out of the walls and huge windows overlooking the the canals down below.

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Body And Soul Union

Haresh Shah

cuernavaca

Actually our destination this Sunday is Las Mañanitas, more in line with an all day weekend outing for Playboy executives to spend a leisurely afternoon in the lush gardens of one of the most beautiful hotels and restaurants in the world. Enjoy sumptuous Mexican delicacies washed down with Tequila Sunrises and Daiquiris. Only a short half an hour drive from Mexico City, the town of Cuernavaca is heralded the City of Eternal Spring by the geographer, naturalist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt, is a perfect escape from the dense clouds of pollution, swarms of crowds and the constant dint of noise of Mexico City. It is the pride and joy not only of the town of Cuernavaca, but of the entire country. We sit under the open sky and under the cooling shades of the trees and sip on our psychedelic tropical drinks. We are surrounded by  the tall royal birds among them the proud peacocks gracefully prancing up and down with their iridescent tails spread out into magnificent round throne like fans. Prancing along are other long necked beautiful birds swaying and strolling while jumping monkeys frolic up and down the tree branches. It feels like being in paradise, the garden of Eden as one would picture it. The only other time I would come upon such an exotic place would be several years later on my first visit to Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.

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The Patch Of Recognition

Haresh Shah

sauna3

As I hurriedly cross the Maximilianstrasse at the intersection of Residenzstrasse, to go back to the office, I walk past a couple of young and pretty fräuleins. I can’t help but stop in the middle of the street and take a double take to look back. I think I recognize the brunette with the tanned skin, but can’t quite place her. Could be attractive, but she looks a bit disheveled and distracted. The other, your all German blonde with milky skin and rosy cheeks, and I presume blue eyes looks quite attractive, despite a couple of popped up pimples on her face. A possible Playmate even. Quite a turn on. From the other side of the street, I stop briefly to look back again. I see them cross Max Josephplatz and entering the restaurant Zur Kanne. One of my most favorites  in Munich. At the time I am in the phase of hunting Playmates for the German edition. But I am late for a meeting and  control the urge of turning around and following them.

Soon, I promptly forget all about them, until the last week, when I am having a lunch at Zur Kanne, with Heinz (Nellissen). He has come in from Essen with the first proofs of the next issue for us to work on. We are sitting at the corner table at the farthest end of the room when I see the door open and the same two girls entering the restaurant – this time accompanied by a young man. They are seated diagonally opposite from us. I have a clear view of the two women. This time, my impression of them is quite the contrary. Though the blonde is attractive, not attractive enough to be a Playmate. Up front, she looks puffy and a bit plump even. Other than the zits, her  skin looks sort of sandpapery. While her brunette companion is slender and her face looks more streamlined. She possesses silky smooth skin with the well rounded figure distributed proportionately over her skinny frame. She certainly is a possible Playmate material. The more I look at her, the more I am convinced of her prospectus.

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Taking My Turn At Collecting Unemployment Or How To Drive Bureaucrats Batty

Haresh Shah

 

officeman2

I am sitting in the front of the IDES (Illinois Department of Employment Security) officer Mr. David M. at their downtown Evanston branch. I have him  absolutely and positively flustered. He is almost on the verge of pulling his hair off his head – that is what is left of it. The few locks of  curls hanging around his neck from his otherwise bald as a water melon crown. He is a gaunt looking skinny man in his middle age. His eyes squinting behind his dense Coke bottle glasses. The shriveled frown on his face fits perfectly that of an accountant – overworked, underpaid and underappreciated, all of which he probably is. The more I answer his questions to clarify, the more confused and frustrated he looks. At some point he just smacks my paperwork down on his desk, kicks his chair back, jumps up like a Jack in the Box from a suddenly unlatched top and begins to walk to the back.

‘You’re driving me crazy!’

Nothing is amiss with my application. My paperwork is well organized and is in order. I am entitled to receive the unemployment benefits that I am applying for. Though I read a question mark on his face as to why it took me more than a whole year to get around to it. But that doesn’t disqualify me. No particular reason. I guess I wasn’t exactly hurting for the money and also because I had landed a week a month assignment in Florida. Procrastination? A bit of a discomfort and the false pride? I don’t think so. This after all is my second bout at collecting unemployment. But finally  my girlfriend Susan (Serpe) nudges me into it. You have paid into the system all your life. You’re entitled to it. Would you not claim what’s due you from an insurance company? Right! So a couple of days later I pick up the application forms, gather all the back-up paperwork and present myself in front of David M.

He looks at my application and studies it meticulously and checks off an item after another. Gives closer look to my work and the salary history. I can see him raising his eyebrows as he checks off my six figure salary, and lets out an exclamatory soft grunt followed by an intermittent comment.

‘Whenever possible, we try to help people find jobs in addition to what we post on the bulletin board. But in your case, I’m afraid, you’re on your own.’

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Haresh Shah

The People, The Pride, The Passion And The Philosophy Of Making California Wines

winelabels2

His desk is huge and cluttered and we’re face-to-face with an unkempt and eccentric looking vintner wearing the wine stained sweatshirt bearing the logo of one of his creations, Le Sophiste.  With shoulder length long black hair, he looks like a cross between Tom Jones and Abbe HoffmanBonny Doon‘s President for Life and the founder, Randall Graham is known in the industry as the Rhône Ranger as in the Lone Ranger, a.k.a Crazy Randall, because of his refusing to succumb to what he calls the terror of Cabernets and Chardonnays. Instead, he devotes his energy and resources to growing  exclusively the Rhône varietals such as Grenache, Mourvedre, Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, Cinsault and Syrah. His response to the industry’s perception of himself: when your foes believe that you are insane, you have a great technical advantage.

Life is too short to keep drinking the same wines, Graham philosophizes, I have a soft spot for ugly duckling grape verities, he adds with a wry smile. Randall studied philosophy at the University of California in Davis, prior to getting into the making of wines in 1983.  Realizing hat he wasn’t a good philosopher, he decided to blend his love of philosophy with that of wines he would make.

He believes wines need certain raison d’etre, and he has made Bonny Doon’s mission to make wines that complement California’s emerging fusion cuisine, which is closer to the Mediterranean and south of the border than it is to the American meat and potatoes.

His is a loft office in what once must have been a barn. I see a cat scurrying in the background and also a couple of young women busily hurrying back and forth across the hall carrying stack of papers. The cackle of the wood burning fire place makes you fell warm and cozy on this cold, gray and rainy day

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Haresh Shah

My Close Encounter With An Angry Nobel Laureate

The Original Unabridged Version Of FACE TO FACE WITH GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ MARQUEZ

It’s October 29, 1982.  The master of magical realism – Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez has just won the Nobel Prize.  Playboy magazine has in its inventory a recently concluded interview with him, conducted by the veteran journalist Claudia Dreifus.  The interview has been transcribed from hours and hours of time Ms. Dreifus spent talking with García Márquez in his Paris apartment.  It has been edited and ready to go – almostPlayboy has promised García Márquez that it would show him the edited version, mainly to check facts and to point out inaccuracies.. As a matter of policy and editorial integrity, the magazine does not give the interview subjects right of approval.  Normally, Playboy closes most of its issues three to four months in advance.  García Márquez would make the trip to Stockholm in December to accept the Prize.  The interview must appear as close to the Nobel ceremony as possible.  This means, the scheduled February interview had to be pulled and be replaced by García Márquez interview.  The problem is; the elusive Nobel laureate is nowhere to be found.   On the day following  the announcement and during the following day, he is met by the press at his home in Mexico City.  Several frenetic phone calls from Playboy editors to his house are answered again and again by his Mexican maid.  He has gone away on a month long vacation, leaving behind strict instructions that he didn’t wish to be reached.

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Haresh Shah

How Does One Get A Job At Playboy?

resume

The question I’ve been asked time and again is: How does one get a job at Playboy?  Or more precisely: How did you get to work for them?

My answer always is: Like any other job. You apply for it. You have an interview and then you get hired. If that sounds too simplistic, how about this? You happen to be at the right place at the right time with right set of skills and qualifications. And the pure dumb luck doesn’t hurt either!

Not good enough still? Okay. Here’s how it happened. But me telling this story requires me to take you back in time. Back to the London College of Printing. Shashi (Patravali), my roommate and also the fellow alumni of LCP, are sitting in the college canteen. We’re at the end of our two year long diploma curriculum and would soon have to face the reality called life. Shashi is clear about his future. Soon as we’re done, he wants to spend a couple of months traveling the European Continent. Return back to India and manage a printing plant somewhere in the South.

‘How about you?’ He asks.

‘I want to go to America. Spend a year getting practical training at the GATF (Graphic Arts Technical Foundation) in Pittsburgh. And then work for Time & Life and for Playboy.

Shashi doesn’t say anything to that, but in his characteristic manner smirks at me, probably  thinking, “yeah right!”

●●●

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Haresh Shah

Of Pinot Noir And The Burlaping in Boonville

burlapping

The year is 1995 and talking of California wines to the Europeans is somewhat of a joke like the early transistor radios made in Japan were to everyone. Never mind that almost twenty years earlier on the day of America’s Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, the world’s wine experts were asked in a blind tasting to compare six California Cabernets and Chardonnays along with as many of Bordeaux and Burgundies and to everyone’s horror and American wine makers’  delight, California’s best stood shoulder to shoulder with the French on everyone’s scorecards, putting them instantly on the world map.

While the wine professionals of  Europe took a note of it, the wine consumers of the Continent remained oblivious to even their existence. Frustrated, California’s vintners decided, the time had come to make the world aware of the lush Napa Valley and its wines that were growing by leaps and bounds off the northern California Coast.

As a part of the broader push, California Wine Institute has invited the Dutch edition of Playboy to experience California’s wine country in all its glory, including its rapidly emerging cuisine and enjoy their steadily growing warm hospitality industry, in hopes that Playboy would take the message to its upscale demographics in Holland.

The editor-in-chief Jan Heemskerk himself takes upon the project and picks me to accompany him and assigns me to write a major piece for his edition. Not because by any dint of imagination I am a connoisseur or even an expert of wines, but because he thinks of me as someone who knows his wines, especially the ones from California.

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