HERE COME THE WARM JETS
An island in the Amazon river delta:
I had fallen asleep feeling like somebody dropped a bowling ball on the base of my spine. I woke up in the middle of the night, awakened by something unidentifiable but decidedly mammalian scrabbling on the roof, unable to even crawl to the bathroom for a percocet. I couldn’t roll over. Moving my legs was impossible. I just lay there, near tears on the spongy bed in the deserted barracks-like eco-lodge, trying to slowly, slowly rock myself over onto my back.
No landline. No cell phone. No way off the island other than the privately chartered puddle jumper not due back for another two days. A satellite phone with spotty service the only communication with the outside world. Four hours by boat to even the nearest store. Finally, after 15 minutes of trying, I managed to heave myself onto my back but even raising myself onto my elbows was a challenge.
Succeeding in increments, it was now time to try getting my legs onto the floor. No go. Try again. Fail. After about half an hour of this, finally managed to creep to the bathroom in the dark, a sad, slower, less spry version of Estelle Getty, and dry-swallow my last two pills. They helped. 4 hours of yen sleep followed—that opiate-style sequence of half hour nods, each unsatisfying period of semi-consciousness haunted by vivid dreams:
Marcel from Top Chef, break dancing with a capivera…Marijoara Indians staring at me dispassionately, green smoke issuing from their nostrils, Klaus Kinski conducting atop an out of control riverboat…my high school sweetheart coming at me with an ice-shaver.
Woke up for the final time to strong coffee and buffalo cheese, the crew rigging the pick-up truck, sneaking looks at me to see if “the talent” was going to make it. When your crew starts referring to you as the talent” by the way, it’s not a good thing. My inability the previous day to assist in hauling in a 125 lb. pirarucu seen, secretly, as a liability—a betrayal of all their efforts. And their efforts had indeed been heroic. Brazil is a magnificent place. And there is nothing so savagely beautiful as the Amazon region. But sometimes, it seems a lot more magnificent in retrospect.
Making television in the Amazon is hard. And my crew payed a price: Zach came down with a virus: high temperatures, sweats, chills. He spent his last day in the heavy, humid heat zipped up to the chin in a hooded down parka. Alan got some sort of awful skin rash—cause unknown—and was shitting like a mink for 24 hours. By the plane home, he was ghost white and dehydrated. I was acutely aware of how difficult this back problem was for a crew trying to make television: a host who was hobbling around like the hunchback of Notre Dame, teeth grinding with every step, making all-too-audible whimpers of pain with every jostle and bump—thereby blowing the audio. We’d flown all the way out in a storm, the “STALL” warning in the tiny plane flashing repeatedly in the middle of zero visibility and turbulence—and for what? That’s what they’re thinking, I was sure.
I’d never had problems with my back before. When I was a chef, I was always dismissive to the point of contempt for those around me who’d complain of “back problems”. I had no idea. NO idea. But thank God for cameramen with back problems (and they all seem to have them), because they all seem to carry impressive supplies of serious prescription pain killers. With my percocets gone, I was able to replace them with a healthy ration of donated Vicodins and codeines. And through the miracle of modern medical science, managed to complete the shoot with near-believable physical grace.
Back in New York, of course, it’s steroid shots and muscle relaxers and then back on the plane—this time to Hokkaido. I will, it appears, be fine for the ski scenes.
It’s cold here and snowing . There are seven foot snow drifts where the plows cut through. They don’t salt the streets so the avenues are white, but the sidewalks, are heated. It may be cold outside, but the food is amazing and the marvelous toilet seats are toasty warm. All of us on the crew, are, I suspect, spending a little more time lingering on the bowl than we might ordinarily. It’s that helpful spray feature, with fingertip adjustable heat and intensity control., makes riding the porcelain bus an experience. They put corn in the ramen here. And slabs of steaming pork loin, hefty crab legs and even heftier scallops. And—wonderfully enough—butter. The lights make a chirping sound at the crosswalks and the same woman’s voice talks to you in elevators as summons you into restaurants and businesses. Everywhere you look there are brightly colored photos of food and plastic replicas of sushi, chirashi, yakitori and fried things….Sleep is a problem as we’re 14 hours ahead, but I’ve got a pile of DVDs and wake up in the middle of the night to watch Obayashi and Oshima on my laptop.
Ghengis Khan meal tomorrow.
Seeing what’s happening in Egypt on the TV, I think back to when we made our show there. The price of flour had just gone up and there had been bread riots recently. The army, someone told me, controlled bread distribution. And bread makes up as much as 70% of the average Egyptian’s daily diet (more by some accounts). We wanted to shoot “ful”, the all-too-typical working man’s breakfast for much of Egypt; a watery plate of chick peas and broth, accompanied by a stack of flatbread—usually sold in the street. But our government handler wouldn’t allow it. So our resourceful producer feigned an emergency need for a bathroom and distracted him while we quickly snapped off a quick ful scene. I get what it was all about, now. This humble, dirt cheap, but filling breakfast was (as the government was all too aware) all that stood between maintaining a hated and corrupt status quo—and the uprising we are seeing now. They were afraid. And what they were afraid of has come to pass. What’s next? It certainly doesn’t bode well for us that we’ve been supporting and arming a particular despicable (but obliging) character. Let’s hope the new guys—whoever they are— don’t hold a grudge.