Archives for category: Culture

Reflections On Japan’s Preoccupation With Death

Haresh Shah

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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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A Fleeting Glimpse At The Land Of The Rising Sun

Haresh Shah

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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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Haresh Shah

Daring To Be Different

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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

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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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Lost In The Labyrinth

Haresh Shah

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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

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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 Domestic Arrangements South Of The Border

Haresh Shah

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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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Haresh Shah 

How Can You Not Fall In Love With Them?

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‘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

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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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Haresh Shah

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

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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

Lessons In Interactive “’Bout The Birds And The Bees”

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My brain is still busy processing what I had just seen, when I see flailing hands of the several young men in the front row. Yastaka Sasaki explains to me that they are playing rock, paper, scissors. The winner would then get to climb up the stage and get to fuck the girl who has just concluded the “second act” of her striptease routine and is now waiting in front of the sparse post-lunch time crowd of young “salarymen”. Completely naked, she is squatted there on the stage floor on her knees, legs spread wide apart, the spotlight still focused on the exposed glistening inner layers of her vulva peeking through her dense and dark, artfully manicured patch of pubic hair. Her face wears a contemptuous frown with a forced smile on her lips. Staring intensely at the faces of the men in front of her, as if daring the one who would take her as a prize right there on the stage with everyone in the audience watching.  Having eliminated the rest, about six of them, the winner eagerly climbs up the stage, and honest to God, there they are, just a few feet away from our eyes – her lying down on her back, opening her legs wider, her knees pointing upward like a dead duck on a kitchen table waiting to be stuffed. Her hands resting on sides, as if preparing to lift her slight frame into a bridge position for a gym routine.

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