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Life Is a Fielding Day for Journalist in Balearics

June 22, 1986|M. L. STEIN | S tein is a Long Beach free-lance writer. and

PUERTO POLLENSA, Majorca — Early one morning in 1960, Joseph Raff awoke in his Rome hotel room in a cold sweat.

A few weeks earlier he had quit his job at Sports Illustrated so he and his bride, Judith, could take their "year of retirement" knocking around Europe.

"But as I lay in bed I knew we didn't have enough money to make it for a year and we couldn't go back to New York and face our friends after blithely taking off," recalled Raff, a courteous man with a casual manner.

So Raff, a North Carolinian who had also worked for the Associated Press, got a $35-a-week job as managing editor of the Rome Daily American, an English-language newspaper. It paid the bills but barely, and soon he was looking for something a little more lucrative.

A friend in Rome's Time-Life bureau told him that an American named Temple Fielding in Majorca needed a writer for five months to assist him with a European travel book. The pay seemed good and so the Raffs headed for the Balearic Islands of Spain in the Mediterranean.

President of Company

They've been here ever since. Raff is the author of the popular "Fielding's Europe" and he and Judith are co-authors of "Fielding's Economy Guide to Europe" and "Fielding's Selective Shopping Guide to Europe," all published by William Morrow & Co. Raff is also president of Temple Fielding Enterprises, having bought the rights to the name after Fielding's death in 1983.

Why did the Raffs continue to live on Majorca?

"Pleasant inertia," Raff replied, grinning. "Besides, we can fly to anywhere from the Palma airport and we don't need a big city to be happy."

But the Raffs visit plenty of big cities. Their job puts them on the road five to six months a year checking out hotels, restaurants, shops and sightseeing facilities. They have no paid correspondents and only one assistant in Pollensa, Jaime Sebastian, a Spaniard with a doctorate in psychology, who assists in research.

Raff noted, however, that they receive helpful information from a group of longstanding friends, both Europeans and Americans, who have lived in Europe for years. "They are people whose judgment we trust," Raff said.

In addition, he said, their Pollensa office gets about 75 letters a day from travelers recommending various restaurants and hotels.

"In many instances we have already investigated their recommendations and rejected them," Raff said. "But we try to answer every letter and now and then we get a really good tip on a place."

Pay Own Expenses

On their working trips, Raff related, they pay all their own expenses and try, not always successfully, to travel incognito.

"We don't book hotels in our own names, but I am known in some of the major hotels, and in certain countries we have to surrender our passports during check-in," he explained.

On one sojourn, Raff was instantly recognized by the manager of a luxury hotel in London, who refused to let him inspect the rooms, saying the hotel did not need guidebook publicity.

Ever resourceful, Raff, who was staying at another hotel, returned the next day and took a lobby elevator to the fourth floor.

"I found a chambermaid and told her I was a guest," he recounted. "I said my room was a bit noisy and asked to look at some rooms farther back. She was happy to oblige, and a few minutes later I went up to two other floors and did the same thing. The hotel was better than I expected."

If the Raffs downgrade a hotel it usually tries to improve its rating in a subsequent Fielding edition. Such as the case of a posh Amsterdam hostelry that Raff had chided for slow service.

Test of Room Service

For a couple of years, Raff recalled, the manager pleaded with him to come back, saying he would find a great improvement. Eventually, the Fielding writer agreed to a return visit.

"The idea was to test room service," Raff related. "It was only 2 in the afternoon so I ordered a bottle of beer and a sandwich to avoid giving them anything too complicated.

"The manager, who had come up to the room with me, asked what I thought the delivery time should be. I told him that 10 minutes would be truly excellent service, 20 minutes would be average and that if it were more than half an hour he could forget about any change in the book.

"Well, 10 minutes passed and nobody came. Twenty minutes went by and still no waiter. Then it was half an hour and longer. The manager was in a rage and called the kitchen for an explanation. When he got off the phone, he said the delay was because the staff had been in a meeting on ways to improve efficiency."

Efficiency was not the main problem when both Raffs were invited to examine rooms in a Duesseldorf, Germany, hotel. As Raff told it, Judith went into a room first, followed by him and the manager.

"Suddenly, Judith began backing up against us," he said. "The manager was pushing us forward, saying, 'It's all right, go in.' But it wasn't all right. On the bed were two hotel staff members making love."

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