Lee (Hall) is smooth as silk when he tells me how great a job I had been doing, so much so that like any good manager, I had succeeded in eliminating my own position. It’s the night of Monday, March 24, 1975. Lee is doing his regular European stint. Bob (Gutwillig) has left the company and Lee is traveling with Richard Kopf, the new divisional VP. His note at the reception leads me to his suite 375 at Principe de Savoia, which is where we are staying.

‘How about some Scotch now?’ The offer I had declined earlier. Seems he have had a few already. I guessed he probably needed them before he could execute  a swift coup d’état. Shocked? Yes. Devastated?  No. All of a sudden, I see the word FREEDOM begin to flash in front of my eyes like on a digital billboard. This meant I could now write the book I have been wanting to for so long and go to California – the vacation I had planned to take the very week I took over the job at Playboy . Okay, I do end up spending a sleepless night. But am thinking about the ways this will change my life as I toss and turn.

Two days later, I return back to Munich with Lee and Richard. They are travelling in the first, of course. While standing in line at Milan’s Linate Airport, I run into Rainer, who is returning to Munich from his Italian country home. I don’t yet tell him about me having been fired, because Lee needs to inform the top Bauer management first. That evening. Rainer  and I end up having dinner at Le Cave.

The night after, I am deep in sleep when the door bell rings. Its around two in the morning. I hear Rainer’s slurred voice on the intercom.

‘I was out late and as I was driving home, it suddenly dawned on me that poor Haresh is jobless. What would he do now?’ I am touched. I assure him that I was doing fine and that how this break opens up so many exciting avenues for me. But Rainer seems to need to talk and so do I. We sit around until four in the morning, drinking Sambuca and listening to music.

I am not even sure if Rainer went home that night or just caught a wink at my place before we headed for the airport to catch the Milan bound morning flight and from there on drive to  Pontremoli.

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The place is not finished yet, but its very livable with open fireplace and little nooks and crannies that make for ideal dining, cooking and sleeping spaces. The only snag that weekend is: it’s wet and it’s cold. We place the only available electric heater in the middle of us as we try to keep warm through the nights. I slide into my sleeping bag with all my clothes on. Including sweater and socks.

During the day, we meet up with Udo Wüst, an editor at the  German edition, and his wife, they too own a similar property in the area. The weekend is spent living the idyllic Italian country life. Leisurely and languid. Strolling and stopping  for coffee and cake at cozy little cafés and I remember eating one of the most delicious Italian meals at a local family restaurant. I fall in love with their signature dish Testaroli, a version of home made flat pasta which I had never tasted up until then and have not since then. It tasted and looked so much like Khata Dhokla, as whipped up by Mama Shah back home in Bombay.  As cold and wet as it is, most of the weekend we just sit around and play Backgammon and drink Calvados – the golden glow of which rushing through our veins help us keep warm. Entspannend, I wrote in my journal. Couldn’t have thought of a more relaxing way to spend my first weekend of  freedom.   

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