by Bill Hersey
Wow, two issues in a row featuring two of my favorite countries. Germany was in the last issue, and now this issue focuses on incredible India (it really is) and the annual celebration of Diwali, the Hindu New Year. In my last column I relived some of my great experiences in Germany, and now I’d like to do the same with India.
Looking back, my first trip to India was a gift from an Italian friend who was head of Alitalia Airlines at that time. Luigi had been posted in India, loved the country and wanted to share some of it with me, so he invited me on an Alitalia inaugural flight from Tokyo to New Delhi. I loved the capital city, which I found to be a colorful, exciting, sometimes mind-boggling and often noisy mix of old and new. In addition to visiting the major tourist sights (the legendary Red Fort, huge government buildings, monuments, museums, parks, temples, mosques, etc.), I spent considerable time exploring the shops and bazaars around busy Connaught Place. I still wear a bracelet I bought from a Tibetan street vendor there. I’m a compulsive shopper and was lucky to make a few Indian friends who helped me discover some off-the-beaten-track, trendy little boutiques. I still wear shirts I bought way back then as well.
For nightlife we visited some of India’s first discos and a few clubs, both large and small. One featured something very unusual for India, a Middle Eastern belly dancer with black hair down to her waist. After a few gyrations she bent over backward and when she shimmied to an upright position her hair was still on the floor (her wig came off), and we saw that she really had short, blond hair. We learned later that her name was Amy and she was from Brooklyn. Kinda crazy, but fun, and it didn’t seem to bother Amy at all.
Our side trips out of Delhi included a drive to Agra to see India’s ‘dream in marble,’ the truly awesome Taj Mahal. We spent half a day there and the other half checking out rural life in the surrounding area. Luigi had to get back to Tokyo, but I was able to stay a bit longer, so I made a trip to Khujaraho for a day of walking through the jungle, climbing, and seeing the beautiful stone carvings (some are very erotic) on the remaining 22 temples there. I also went to Jaipur, the pink city, and stayed at the majestic Rambagh Palace Hotel, with its peacocks, monkeys, luxurious rooms, excellent service, and the largest indoor swimming pool I’ve ever seen. While I was there I also took one of my favorite animals, a huge and very gentle elephant, to the Amber Fort. I took time to visit the Ranthambhore Tiger Project (about a two-hour drive away), where I spent a night at a wonderful lodge. Tigers, another of my favorite animals, are amazing to watch in their natural habitat.
Another time I traveled to Delhi with the late and great fashion designer Ichiro Kimijima and a group of international models for a showing of Ichiro’s collection. Being with the group gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of Indian journalists, as well as the country’s fashion leaders. Delhi journalists can be tough, and after seeing Ichiro’s flashy, almost Las Vegasstyle show, one asked at the press conference, “Who do you think you are coming to India and trying to tell our women how to dress?” The Japanese designer was tough as well and handled it very well. This type of thing is really just a game anyway. Indian people I talked to loved the collection.
India, my friends, is one of the world’s most exciting tourist destinations. Its history, culture, festivals, energy, scenery, music, dance, spas, art, Bollywood, and wonderful people all add up to one of the world’s most awesome and exciting places. In closing this part of the column, I’d like to congratulate Ambassador Hemant Krishan Singh, his wife Mrinalini, and members of the Indian community here on the special occasion of Diwali. We also want to thank so many of our Indian friends for their time and help in getting this special issue together.
French National Day Celebration
French Ambassador Philippe Faure and his wife Christine recently redecorated, and their truly beautiful home with its spacious garden was tastefully decorated in red, white and blue for the festive celebration of their country’s national day. Table after table of fantastic French food had been set up throughout the spacious residence, on the veranda, and in the garden. The tall ice carving of the Eiffel Tower, surrounded by fruits and desserts, as well as a long table of French bread and cheeses were especially impressive. After the playing of both the Japanese and French national anthems, there was a welcome speech by the ambassador and congratulatory speeches by several Japanese dignitaries.
I saw the ambassador a few weeks later at the premiere of Coco Avant Chanel. He had just returned from a summer holiday cruise. Christine stayed in France a bit longer to spend some extra time with friends and family. She is chairperson of next year’s ILBS cherry blossom ball. She’s a cool lady, who I’m sure will make it all very special.
Volvo XC60 Prelaunch
I really enjoyed Volvo’s event in Roppongi to introduce its new XC60 models. Swedish design is exceptional, and the look, comfort and safety features of the cars are very special. The new city safety feature, which automatically stops the car to prevent accidents, is standard and really amazing. It was nice meeting and talking with Volvo Japan president and CEO Richard Snijders and his wife Suzanne, who are both Dutch. My thanks to Volvo Japan’s sales and marketing manager Steven Wanchap for introducing me to some nice people and making sure I tried the delicious Swedish buffet. Love those meatballs.
Bravo to Colombian Ambassador Patricia Cardenas (a very special lady in every way) and the Colombian community on the success of their colorful, people-packed Colombian festival in Hibiya Park. Lots of music, dancing, food and nice people made it a happy day in every way.
Coco Avant Chanel Premiere
There was glamour galore at the Warner Brothers red carper premiere for the film Coco Avant Chanel at Roppongi Hills. Guests there that evening included Japanese government officials, French Ambassador Philippe Faure, other embassy officials, fashion designers, sports figures, and many young Japanese showbiz personalities. The star of the film, French actress Audrey Tautou, was super chic in black and kept the media photographers busy. I had the privilege of talking with Audrey in the VIP room. She’s not only beautiful, she’s extremely intelligent and really nice.
Velo Taxis Return
I dropped by the India tourism office in Ginza to say hello to the director, Monmohan Sadana and assistant director P.K. Chaudhary. My timing was right, as they were able to introduce me to a very dynamic and interesting lady, Madhud Dubey, director general of the India tourism ministry. She was in Japan for the big travel fair at Odaiba, and several Indian community events. After tea and talk about India, we all went downstairs, climbed into one of the brightly colored Velo taxis, and were pedaled through Ginza to the Ashoka Indian restaurant for more tea, talk and some delicious Indian food. I’d like to remind everyone about the big Diwali celebration at Yamashita Park in Yokohama on October 17 and 18. This is always a big, colorful and enjoyable event.
Busy at the Movies
Friends in the film business here just never slow down. Over at Sony, top man Dick Sano and his staff had a busy schedule for Denzel Washington, who was here to promote The Taking of Pelham 123. Sony also had director Roland Emmerich and some of the cast here to promote the much anticipated SF film 2012. I saw some trailers and it’s pretty amazing. The film opens here on November 21. Friends Suzuki-san, Nakamura-san, Yuko and the others at Disney are also running on the fast track now. I saw about 30 minutes of A Christmas Carol recently, and the 3D techniques are phenomenal. Frankly I’ve never been much of a Jim Carey fan, but he’s right at the top in his role as Scrooge. You have to see his acting and makeup, and you’ll see what I mean. A Christmas Carol opens on November 14 in Japan. Disney also has the highly acclaimed animation film Up opening on December 5.
Looking ahead, the African Ladies’ Group will hold their always exciting and popular charity bazaar at the Royal Park Hotel from 11am–3pm on October 27. For more information on this, check www.yamaboshi.com/africa.