My memories of Paris are not that dismal. Walking around by yourself in Paris is a different kind of experience. Even with no other human being walking next to you, the city itself accompanies you wherever you choose to walk, especially the left banks of Seine and along the cafes of Boulevard Saint Germain, conjuring up the lives of some of my favorite authors. Françoise Sagan, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir. And then Earnest Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and Henry Miller.  Just thinking of them you could while away a snifter or two of excellent French Cognac or the cooling tall glasses of Pastis. They all come alive at every step in Paris. But in Rome and Milan? Nah! The only one I could think of is Alberto Moravia and his The Woman of Rome. Probably also because I have had a pleasure of shaking hands with him after a speech by him in the courthouse gardens of the University of Bombay.

In the backdrop of my non-relational acquaintance with Milan and Rome, the two cities I least looked forward returning to, it was then quite amazing for me to hear the following story almost twenty years after my last trip to Italy.

It was two years ago when Jan (Heemskerk) came on a visit to Chicago, we got together with some Playboy old-timers to reminisce the shared déjà vu.  Among them, Arthur Kretchmer, the recently retired editorial director of the US Playboy. As much as I respected the man the super editor, Arthur and I at the very best had mostly perfunctory professional relationship. But Jan and him got along really well and so we meet Arthur at his favorite restaurant The Indian Garden on Chicago’s Devon Avenue – a stretch of which is also named Gandhi Marg. With Arthur, it’s mostly him talking and you listening. And so it was during the lunch. Just his very presence intimidated me, creating an atmosphere of speak only when spoken to. So it were Jan and Arthur conversing with me pushed in the background. But somewhere along the line, I got to interject and now having acquired distance of time, I confessed, I was always intimidated by you.

‘You should have been.’ He answered and even though I would have liked to know precisely why, I left it at that. But then Arthur decides to smooth things over and asks me: Do you remember Mario in Rome?

Of course I do. In Italy, Playboy’s  trajectory included three different publishers. We started out with Rizzoli in Milano. Some years later, the magazine was moved to another legendary Italian publishing family, Mondadori. Or more precisely, to the independent Georgio Mondadori, who had split from his family to go solo. When that relationship didn’t quite work out, the magazine was licensed to Edizioni Lancio SPA, in Rome. Also family owned – albeit much smaller. Lancio specialized in photo novellas that were and probably still are extremely popular all over the world. Curiously, in India, those novellas were distributed by my uncle Jaisukh’s Wilco Publishing Company, which is where I had first started learning the ropes of the publishing, when a teenager.

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