It’s a rare film about haute cuisine that manages to come down to Earth and stir deep emotions, too; Big Night is an easy exception, but there are many more misses than hits in the ouevre. And great documentaries about food are rarer still. So I was pleased to see the excellent documentary LE CIRQUE: A TABLE IN HEAVEN on the schedule for HBO on Monday, December 29th. This is a great one to watch at home over Christmas break, and you’ll want a good bottle of red wine to go with it.
Completed in 2006, the film, which debuted at IFC’s Stranger Than Fiction series in April of 2007, documents the rise-and-fall-and-rise-again of restaurateur Sirio Maccioni and his famed eatery, Le Cirque, once the most celebrated restaurant in New York. Catering to celebrities, Presidents, and, famously—thanks to Sirio’s legendary hospitality—seemingly anyone who walked in the door, Le Cirque became a symbol of the good life, dreams achieved, abbondanza.
The film opens with scenes of Le Cirque 2000’s heyday at the Palace, when Henry Kissinger was a regular, and jumps to its closing in 2004, beset by the cold financial realities of Post 9/11 New York. Much of the rest of the film depicts the fraught lead up to its glittery reopening 2006, on East 58th street, and the internecine conflicts among Maccioni and his three sons that tear at the very fabric of the family. And then there’s the bruising two-star review from Frank Bruni after the party’s over, since upgraded.
On newsstands and online tomorrow, November 20th, I have a new cover story for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE: the Best of Adventure Annual (December/January double issue). It tells the tale of the unsung hero of August’s disaster on K2, the worst climbing accident in over a decade and one that generated front page and primetime news around the world for days on end. But this is the first time Pemba Gyalje Sherpa himself has gotten his due for his extraordinary selflessness. Below, a teaser.
In the same issue I also profile Olympic Silver Medal-winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler as well as French Crazypants “Speed Flyer” Francois Bon, who parachutes off of Death Zone summits wearing skis—on purpose. The 12 pp package also features the tales of teenage Brit explorers who trekked from magnetic pole to magnetic pole; daring Amazon river scientists tracking pollution; a journalist tracking the human slave trade; and a profile of Emma Stokes, a field biologist who discovered 125,000 previously unknown lowland gorillas in the Congo, among others. Please pick up a copy!
PEMBA GYALJE SHERPA On August 1, 2008, at just about 8 p.m., a massive serac cleaved from a glacier near the summit of K2, the world’s second highest mountain, and barreled down a section of the Cesen climbing route called the Bottleneck. In an instant, one climber was dead, key safety lines were swept away, and 17 climbers were trapped above 27,000 feet with little chance of escape…
This week’s New Yorker features an unexpected treat by staff writer Burkhard Bilger. Call it the Barack Obama of beer articles: a ten-page analysis of the craft beer industry—and one of its provocateurs, Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head—that sucker punches conventional wisdom. There’s much to savor here, with passages such as the following:
“Calagione strapped on a pair of safety glasses and peered into the oak and hickory embers. “If there are no second-degree burns, I’ll call this a success,” he said. Then he heaved in a rock, sending up a shower of sparks. “Let me know if they start to explode,” he told one of the cooks.”
Bilger’s descriptions of Calagione’s unorthodox brewing methods, including the use of Palo Santo (a rare, aromatic Uruguayan wood three times harder than oak) to ferment a burly stout are riveting—and brings back a lot of fond journalistic memories. My oft-beer-writing-partner-in-crime Seth Fletcher and I wrote about Calagione’s use of Palo Santo back in the October issue of Men’s Journal in which we named the resulting beer one of the best in America, only after tasting it with Calagione while huddled at the tiny copper-topped bar of Dieu De Ciel, a brewpub in Montreal’s Plateau district. We’d ventured up for the Mondiale Du La Biere Festival, and arranged to meet Calagione, well armed with samples—including the Palo Santo-aged beer. Another interesting passage for me was Bilger’s on-site interview with Brasserie D’Orval brewmaster Jean Marie Rock, who I met, too, in 1997 while on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship doing research that would become the basis of my first published article, from the (now defunct) Brewing Techniques magazine (and an award-winner). A toast to Burkhard, Sam, and beer drinkers everywhere who’ve been calling for full respect of the good stuff for a long time. I’ve got to sign off now, or I’ll be late for a tasting at Gramercy Tavern. On the menu? Beer, of course.
The sky may be falling on Wall Street, but we’ll always have beer. It makes us happy; it’s inexpensive; it’s readily available. What’s not to like? And fall is an especially good time to drink it. The Great American Beer Festival is in just a few weeks; the traditional Oktoberfest in Munich started just two days ago—and will go for another 13—but there are plenty of reasons raise a glass of beer right now, and close to home instead.
For the last five years I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to join my friend Seth Fletcher in rating the best beers in the land (or sometimes the world) for MEN’S JOURNAL, a somber task we approach with monkish restraint (OK, we enjoy it mightily, but if we actually finished the hundreds of bottles we sample each summer the story would never happen. Much returns to Earth from whence it came. And we have notebooks, piles of them. We swear.)
This year’s list is on newsstands now, and this time, the premise was deceptively simple: if you like ‘X’ mass beer, try ‘Y’ craft variation. Are you a Guinness drinker? Then try Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter, available in 19 states and counting. With an eye toward America’s smallest, most artisanal craft brewers—some with only a handful of employees—we dedicated ourselves to coming up with a list of exceptional American (and in one case, Quebecois) craft beers that are a bit harder to find, but so worth the effort. Many of these beers are available in NYC, on tap or in bottles at bars likeThe Blind Tiger, Bar Great Harry, DBA, Against The Grain, Spuyten Duyvil, The Diamond, the Brazen Head, and more. There’s also a mini-profile of beer provocateur Vinnie Cilurzo (of California’s Russian River Brewing Company). Enjoy!
Yesterday the New York-based Himalayan community — including many of the Sherpas I have written about in Outside Magazine and The New York Times — hosted His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for a 2-hour teaching at Radio City Music Hall. For me, as the organizers’ volunteer media liaison, it was a thrilling day that started with greeting the Dalai Lama’s entourage at a secret airport location for a blaze into midtown via high-speed armored motorcade; for the Sherpas and their friends, it was the fulfillment of a long-nourished dream, a visit from their spiritual leader audaciously and ingeniously pulled off from a cab driver’s apartment in Queens. Here, a few outtakes from the day, shot behind the scenes.
From the first page of the recent and much-lauded Jonny Miles debut novel “Dear American Airlines” (Houghton Mifflin) any weary traveler worth his industrial-strength earplugs will surely nod in baleful agreement with Miles’ assessment of the scabrous conditions considered normal in American commercial aviation. Apparently, some recent AA passengers didn’t get the memo (read: everybody loses) and decided to fight back. Which, in keeping with the way things go these days, backfired. But at least they tried. I was Miles’ researcher/fact-checker at Men’s Journal for a couple of years, which was a pleasure, especially working on one non-fiction ode to New Orleans bars in all their decadent glory. Catch him reading from his new book this Monday night the 14th at the Half King. I’ll be there. RELATED: Vicarious air rage was never so therapeutic nor generously rewarding. Buy the book.
On this flickr set, a photographer named Ken Ohyama captures some incredible images of what might at first seem incredibly boring — highway interchanges. Shot mostly by night, these eerie, desolate asphalt and concrete spans take on mesmerizing, fantastical and sometimes even organic forms. [Thanks, Tommy]
I’m humbled, honored, and more than a little surprised that Outside Magazine has included my storyabout Sherpas relocating to New York City from the Himalayas on a list of its best ever stories relating to Mount Everest. On the roster are several articles by writers I admire, including the massive feat of reporting that became Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer, and eleven other alternately harrowing and hilarious high-altitude yarns by Mark Bryant, Nick Heil, Eric Hagerman, Brad Wetzler, and Kevin Fedarko, among others. Be sure to check out the photo galleries, too, with film and video work by the likes of Martin Schoeller, Jimmy Chin, and writer/producer Jenny Dubin.
Good reason to stay home tomorrow: “Storm Over Everest”on PBS’s FrontLine, airing Tuesday night from 9-11PM on PBS. Here’s why: the film, created by veteran mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears, and producer David Fanning, is riveting and timely. May marks Everest’s annual climbing period, and though it’s been 12 years since the deadly 1996 season (which claimed 15 lives, 8 on a single day), interest in the peak and its yearly life-and-death dramas never seems to wane, despite the increasing triviality and hype surrounding some expeditions and the fabled debauchery of Base Camp. On the contrary: last year, 500 people attained the 29,035′ summit, an astonishing total given that only around 2,000 had previously managed the feat since 1953.
This season has been drastically different. The Chinese government recently closed the Tibet side of the mountain to climbers for an Olympic Torch-touchdown mission to the summit,broadcasting the successful climb on TV. With ongoing protests worldwide over the Olympics, three significant new books on the ill-fated 2006 season (including HIGH CRIMES, by Michael Kodas, and DARK SUMMIT, by Nick Heil), and now the Breashears film (which not only departs from Jon Krakauer’s take in crucial ways but also recreates scenes from the disaster with certain survivors portraying themselves, and presents moving interviews with physician Beck Weathers, twice left for dead on the peak ), it’s a ripe moment to look at the peak’s enduring grip on the Western imagination–and in the media.