Archives for category: Travel

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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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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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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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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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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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

All I Want To Do Is To Take A Beak

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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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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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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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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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