Archives for posts with tag: 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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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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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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The Impossibility Of Being Christie Hefner

Haresh Shah

christie_v.2c

‘What do these conferences mean to us?’

It’s a legitimate question. I have gotten to the meeting room earlier as usual to make sure things are set before everyone else begins to stumble-in in another half an hour. Only other person fussing around is Mary (Nastos), and then there is Christie Hefner. The two of us standing in the middle of the conference room on the lower floor of The Pontchartrain Hotel, New Orleans’ old European charm. I have been organizing Playboy International Publishing’s conferences now for years and no one has ever asked me the question. It was something that was handed down to me when I was re-hired by Lee Hall ten years earlier in 1978. I hadn’t given any serious thought to the question Christie posed – now the president of Playboy Enterprises.

‘Well, it’s mainly for all our editions to come together with their counterparts from around the world and discuss the year since they met last and establish some understanding of what lay in the future. From these meetings some international projects of common interest have been born and accomplished. The Soccer World Cup pictorial in 1986, which we produced in the host country Mexico and the Miss Playboy International Beauty Pageant, broadcast live in Hong Kong.

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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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The Domestic Arrangements South Of The Border

Haresh Shah

aztecqueen

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

cuernavaca

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

Of Pinot Noir And The Burlaping in Boonville

burlapping

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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Haresh Shah

The Strike Italian Style

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I land in Milan for the very first time in November of 1972. This is my first week on the job. Having survived Munich and Essen, I spend a couple of days in Milan to meet up with Gerrit (Huig), Don Stewart and the people at Rizzoli – the Italian Playboy publishers – before returning to Chicago to wrap up my personal affairs. I have all of ten days to do what needs to be done, including several meetings in Chicago office and be ready for the moving van to pick up my possessions.

We have already landed at Linate. As we are about to deplane, we are told that we are to pick up our own checked-in baggage from the tarmac and carry it to the terminal. The ground crew is on strike, including the bus transfer from the plane to the terminal. I have with me my largest and the heaviest suitcase. They have not yet invented wheeled baggage. I somehow manage to drag it to the terminal, find a cab and check into the Grand Hotel. Dump my suitcase in my room and take another cab to the restaurant where Gerrit is waiting with his wife Barbara and Donald Stewart. Two days later, on Friday, I am at the airport waiting to board Amsterdam bound KLM flight which would connect me with its flight 611 to Chicago.

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Haresh Shah

Usurped By The Occupational Hazard

amoeba2

Pascual at the Hotel Ritz reception in Barcelona hands me my room key, and along with it a few folded telexes and messages from my mail slot. I walk a few steps to the elevator and as the tiny old timer cage rises, I unroll the letter size message. It says HAPPAY BIRTHDAY HARESH. Repeated umpteen times inside a white Playboy rabbit head computer graphic on the grey background. The margins are annotated and signed by everyone in my department. As slow as the elevator is, it’s still a short ride up to the fourth floor. Something about that electronically transmitted birthday card on a flimsy fax paper triggers an enormous emotional and physical outburst into me. My hands are shaking as I slide open the folding metal door of the elevator. I rush to my room, barely manage to open the door. Slam it shut and I have a total breakdown. I throw my weight in the middle of  the bed, and sink into the hollow of the sagging old mattress. First I start sobbing uncontrollably.  Then my whole body begins to shake violently and I feel cold sweat oozing out of every pour of my skin. And then I feel hot, like a pre-heated oven, ready for baking. I pull the blanket over, try to control my convulsions and break out into wailing sobs and a desperate cry.

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Haresh Shah

In The Journey Of Life One Meets Only To Part

strangerplane2

When I first  notice her, she is standing next to me in the check-in line, fidgeting and shifting her weight from one foot to another. Her face looks pretty in profile. With Milan’s Linate International Airport fogged-in, we are bussed to their standby Malpensa, which is in a big mess as ever. Despite the throngs of crowds and the chaos that normally prevails, and amidst the multiple delays, things somehow work out at this remote airport.

I check in, go through the immigration and the security check and on to the other side of the security wing. Pick up some duty free booze, look around for a while and with the first call make it to the gate # 7. And there she is again. All wrapped up in her leopard skin coat and her knee-high black boots. Her pretty face floats in the air propelled by her swan like long and delicate neck. On the second call, we move closer towards the gate to get on the bus.

I notice her staring at me. I stare back. They have called the flight for the third time and the bus still isn’t anywhere in sight. Us just standing there, waiting, our eyes discreetly catching a fleeting gaze of the other.  I want to strike up a conversation, probably so does she. But we maintain our demeanor. The fourth call and the bus still hasn’t arrived. She looks at me and lets a slight smile cross her lips. I smile back.  Neither of us says anything. We continue to steal glances at each other every few moments.

A few more minutes have elapsed and the bus still hasn’t arrived. Everyone is getting antsy,  with the possible exception of us two. We are enjoying our little charade. I watch her fiddle with her pink boarding card. The lady is traveling in first class. She sort of looks rich all over, from her head to her toe. It is sweetly awkward just waiting and stealing glances at a stranger. She has moved sideways, bringing her a couple of steps closer to me. I want to move even closer and talk to her. But don’t know how to break the ice. The way we are taking each other in is discomforting.  And yet, there seems to be an unspoken insinuation between us that its alright.

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Haresh Shah

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

japanlove6

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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