The Quirky Brilliance Of The Head Guru
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?’
‘Hi Arthur. How are you?’
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Hi Arthur. This is Haresh.’
‘I know who you are!’
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My Not So Intimate Encounters With Italy And France
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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Sweet, Silky And Slippery
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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Of Pinot Noir And The Burlaping in Boonville
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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Eat Your Heart Out!
Imagine this! Puerto Vallarta. Chicago is in deep of the winter of 1986. It’s bone chilling cold as the city has a reputation of being every February. And here we are, the sun is shining bright, the sky is blue as can be and the waves of Bahia de Banderas off the Pacific Ocean are rushing towards the shore breaking and splashing. Wandering around in our shorts and t-shirts and the girls frolicking au naturell most of the day, Pompeo (Posar), Jan (Heemskerk) and I are conferring by the poolside, deciding on the next dramatic but a fun shot, with eight of the world’s most beautiful women lined up in the water by the edge of the pool, holding on to the railing and ready to lift their bare butts in action, their faces turned sideways to their left, bursting with laughters and their legs and feet elevated, kicking the surface of the water in a choreographed harmony of synchronized swimming.
Right now we are on the lunch break. We have just availed ourselves of the sumptuous buffet and are sipping on our chilled to perfection Pacifico beers while the girls have retracted under the shade of the arch separating the private pool and the villa made available to us by Hotel Krystal for our exclusive use. A little earlier, the girls have emerged out of the pool and while waiting for the next shot, have not bothered to dry themselves nor cover up. Instead they are sitting and standing around a low table swarming with exotic drinks. They are an animated bunch, gossiping and in general making a ruckus despite language barriers.
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Glamour And Glitter,Trials,Turbulence,Tears And Joy
If anyone, it had to be Albert Cheng – our dynamic publisher in Hong Kong – to pull it off as swiftly and smoothly, the Herculean task of the first and the only Miss Playboy International Beauty Pageant within a little over a year of launching Playboy’s first Chinese language edition on this city state of the fragrant harbor.
It all began over an elaborate lunch with Hong Kong’s TVB executives, Bernard Cheung and Sophia Chan. The thing I remember the most about that lunch now twenty six years later is the table-side preparation of the tiger shrimps tossed live in the hot frying pan and them shooting up above our heads, some even higher, before landing back into the sizzling hot pan to meet with their instant demise and immediately turning into the most delicious dish sautéed in the restaurant’s exquisite sauce. I must confess that as tasty as they turned out, I found it hard to swallow them. It certainly gave a new meaning to the culinary tradition of from farm to the table. Thanks to the excellent Chablis pairing that helped washing them down while hiding my apparent discomfort from showing on my face in front of my most gracious hosts. Albert and I had met them to discuss the possibility and the logistics of staging the beauty contest in which the contestants would come from then existing fourteen international editions of Playboy.
Albert has done his part of conceiving and selling the idea. TVB executives had done their numbers, and now it was upon me to agree and get excited about and have all the editions enthusiastic and then have my superiors back in Chicago buy into it. TVB would bankroll the project and will do their part in producing and broadcasting it live as one of their prime time pre-Christmas offerings. Albert and his staff would take care of the logistics and the organizations in Hong Kong. And I would have to be the one to deliver the fourteen most beautiful women hand picked by the editorial teams of each one of our editions.
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Yes, It Happens
Don’t lie. I know you’ve been dying to ask me – no matter in what form and the words – but have been afraid to or are just being too smug or polite to ask. And I have been knowingly ignoring or just stringing you along, instead of just come out and get it over with. But the time has come for me to face up and come clear. The answer is: YES, in bold CAPITAL letters.
It is the New Year’s day in the year 2000. The first day of the new millennium. Jan (Heemskerk) and I are taking a walk in the woods of the Dutch countryside. Not too far from his home in Alkmaar. It’s wet and it’s muddy and it’s bone chilling cold. But we are bundled up and the crisp cold fresh air does us good. I don’t remember what lead him to ask, but out of a clear blue sky, I hear his words amble in the air.
‘Shah, have you ever regretted having slept with someone?’Almost in the exact words that I remember an author asking another in an article in The New Yorker – I think the question was directed at John Updike, but I am not sure.
‘Nope! But I certainly have regretted not having done so when I could have.’ I repeat pretty much what Updike or whoever it was had answered. My response puts us in reflective mode. We continue walking in silence. I don’t remember much being said about it. We probably drifted away talking about something else – or more likely picked up the thread of whatever conversation we were having.
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