Luxury and austerity, antithetical as they are, have never existed in the world as intimately as during the pandemic. Inexplicable, but true, like most things during this time. Parris Fotias, Regional Sales Director, Dorchester Collection hotels, was flying back home to Sydney from a work trip to Mumbai in February 2020 when COVID-19 hit, a nightmare that the world is yet to wake up from. His work life entailed checking in and out of airports and the most luxurious hotels in the world, including nine of the Dorchester Collection that have played architectural parts in films and Netflix series, and are stars in themselves. One cannot think of a London without The Dorchester and 45, Park Lane, Los Angeles without The Beverly Hills and the Bel Air, Paris sans the geranium dotted façade of The Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice, Italy without Hotel Eden Rome and Principe Di Savoia, or the beautiful English countryside without Coworth Park in Ascot. A confined Parris didn’t just work from home, he played from home too. He wrote a book – his first – Adventures Through Covid: The Art of Subconscious Travel In A Transcendental State that was published in July 2021. His ability to make people laugh in these times through his words, strung together like a bejeweled necklace of hilarious gems is literary art. Rather outré for a jet-setting luxury hotelier you might think, but not if you know Parris, who’s a contemporary Greek Coeus, with an enviable humour to match.
Rubina A Khan converses, albeit digitally, with the luxury hotelier and first time author, Parris Fotias in Sydney:
While the world was grappling with lockdowns, covid news and stagnation, you wrote a book – Adventures Through Covid: The Art of Subconscious Travel in a Transcendental State! How did the idea to write one in such bleak and dire times come by – whilst you were barbecuing at home in Sydney or in one of the umpteen hand-washing or shower sessions at home?
To be completely honest, I never consciously set out to write a book. The idea to start writing was initially born upon my return to Australia on February 29th, 2020 from Mumbai, India, which as of writing, is still my last international trip. Throughout the month or March, as the severity of COVID-19 became apparent, I felt compelled to reach out to as many of my clients as possible, just to check in on their wellbeing. So, I started sending them a weekly email and by the beginning of April, this had somehow morphed into a Dear Diary episodic series. At first, I tried to keep each entry short and sweet, but then found I myself compelled to share my own frustrations at being grounded and in lockdown. I also began referencing many long forgotten travel journals, regaling my new found audience with anecdotes from past trips. By the time I realised what was happening, it was December and I had been writing for almost nine months.
Adventures Through Covid vacillates from sardonic to dry humour at its best, but your writing is authentic to each chapter. Is the humour an extension of your personality?
I think most who know me well would say that humour does play a big role in my life and that it is an extension of my personality. Not to say that I always try to be amusing, but more often than not, I do try and find the funny side of most things. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence”.
The situations in the book are real to your life in Australia, but the writing commingles beautifully with the fictional reactions to each odd hurdle created by the pandemic at your home and at work…
One of the things I attempted to do was to make each entry relevant. I would pick a topic that had made an impression on me and would begin writing. I also tried to weave in personal experiences into the narrative that held relevance to what I was preaching about. I am just fortunate that I had enough entertaining tales that I could incorporate and keep the reader amused.
For someone who lived in and out of airports, traveling to some of the most glamorous cities in the world on work as the Regional Sales Director of the Dorchester Collection hotels, you have expressed your stifling existence very ably through your book. Was it a release to do so? Did the writing help you cope?
Absolutely! Writing has always been a passion of mine but one that I have neglected for many years. Being able to indulge and write again helped me forget about what was happening in the outside world for a while. Yet, it was far more than just a guilty pleasure, it was definitely cathartic. It became a form of therapy, allowing me to express my frustrations which then led to conversations and discussions. And, it also grounded me. The entire process allowed me to remember how very fortunate I have been to travel for a living and visit so many amazing destinations. It made me realise that travel is indeed a privilege and one that should never be taken for granted.
Travel is indeed a privilege. What did you abhor the most about your forced confinement in the first lockdown?
The lack of spontaneity is what troubled me the most. Not being able to make that last-minute decision to head out to dinner or catch up with friends. We were definitely just existing day to day, and not living our lives during that period.
Who read the first draft of your book? And what did he/ she/ they say?
As I mentioned above, the concept was originally a Dear Diary email episodic series so, I would hasten to say that my clients were the ones who read the first draft of my book. They were the ones who encouraged me to keep on writing and by sharing their own tales and stories with me, inspired me to relive adventures that I had not thought about in years.
How come you decided to self-publish the book? With your stellar grasp on the language and your bereft-of-emotion prose (which is remarkable given you were low-key venting!) persuading the reader to keep turning the pages till the end, you should have got a publisher!
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2021 that I even considered publishing Adventures Through Covid and so my rationale at the time was simple. This pandemic would be done and dusted by the middle of the year. As mine is a topical story relating to the pandemic, I needed to fast track the process and get my book published as quickly as possible before everyone got on with their lives and forgot about COVID-19. So I decided to self-publish. Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten a publisher!
What is your favourite part about the writing process? Did you write a page everyday? Was there a method to the creation of the chapters?
That is a tough question. I would say that what I loved the most was when I was able to incorporate an anecdote or memory from my past, into whatever topic I was waxing lyrical on that particular week, making it relevant to others. It was a weekly diary entry so I would write every week. Sometimes I would get an idea at the start of the week and would work on it a little every day. Other times, I would struggle to come up with a relevant topic and would have to write everything on a Friday morning which is when I tended to send it out to clients.
Has writing the book been the most satisfactory aspect of life in the lockdown?
I won’t lie, writing and publishing a book was a personal milestone that was extremely satisfactory – something that I have always wanted to accomplish. Yet I always abide by the saying that one must make your favourite experience your next one. To this point, I found so much joy in creating new memories with my family during lockdown. This included tuning in, singing & dancing to Hot Dub Time Machine – the world’s first Time Travelling DJ every Saturday night, and preparing Sunday lunch where we would head outside and spend a few hours, forgetting about the world for a while.
Who were you reading whilst writing your book? And who are some of your preferred authors right now?
My favourite authors include Christos Tsiolkas, Anne Rice & Jeffrey Eugenides, although I will say that I normally read whilst travelling. I also enjoy a lot of non-fiction and during the writing process I was reading Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century by American journalist Josh Rogin, which is both fascinating and terrifying.
Have you travelled since the release of the book in July 2021 and where? What feels like the most freeing aspect of life today?
I have only made two trips since the release of the book in mid-2021. One was a work trip to Melbourne at the end of 2021 and the other was a weekend away just a few weeks ago in January 2022 to the Southern Highlands to attend my cousins 50th Birthday party. But since mid February, I am back to travelling regularly for work, new variants withstanding of course. The most freeing aspect of life today is being able to visit friends, family and clients without too many restrictions. And, being able to head out to the amazing restaurants and bars that we have in Sydney.
From writing press releases for the Dorchester Collection Group to publishing your first book in the thick of the lockdown when everyone was at breaking point, you need to write another book this year given the pandemic rages on… what do you think?
One never knows! Now that I have whet my writing appetite, the skies the limit.