Michael Paterniti is one of the best writers Esquire has to offer. He's been nominated for a National Magazine Award each of the past four years, and he won one, at Harper's, for the story of his encounter with the keeper of Einstein's brain, which he later turned into a highly successful book.
He has proven repeatedly that he can bend words to his will, that he can summon and present them in magical ways. So when an experience leaves him struggling for expression, well, that says something.
And that's what happened last summer when Paterniti traveled to Roses, a Spanish town on the French border, to profile Ferran Adria, a chef said to be the first coming in a new order of cooking. After his first meal, he recounts in the July issue, he returned to his wife, Sara:
"What I meant to tell my wife, but couldn't, was that when I ate the substance of liver and foam with some grapefruit and then scooped the [tomato] heart, naked and dripping, into my mouth, I'd felt, in all my happiness and weird heady lightness, something else, too: an undercurrent of impermanence, some creeping feeling of danger and fear."
Liver and foam? Danger and fear? What a meaty discourse, all from an activity that used to be just for sustenance.
But then, that is the extent to which Adria's way is different. There is no menu at his restaurant; beginning with a drink, items just start appearing at the table, along with advice on how many bites it should take to eat them. There are a couple dozen dishes altogether, served in time to Adria's rhythm: " `The plate is a song,' he says. `If the harmony is too slow, the person who receives the plate isn't receiving what the chef intended.' "
It all seems pretty weird, but just as with Einstein's brain, Paterniti matches oddity with artistry, and you shouldn't miss the result.
Nine other men are profiled in Esquire's cover package, with uneven results. The most notable of the rest is A.J. Jacobs's portrait of Jon Stewart, whose "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central is much admired for its sendups of both politics and pundits. The article is presented as having been heavily annotated by Stewart himself. It's hard to know just what happened, if they collaborated on it, or if Stewart really was handed the final story; but regardless, it's fairly enlightening and moderately entertaining.
More guy talk
The tales of men leap out from several other magazine covers this month as well.
In Time for June 18, that man is Erik Weihenmayer, the Boston College grad who in May became the first blind man to climb Everest. Time focuses as much on Weihenmayer's life as on his climb, but as you can imagine, it is a life that offers plenty.
He has been blind since age 13, and began climbing in his early 20s. He is intent on making his own way in the world, a trait he carried with him up the mountain: At one point, team members suggested they take over some of the intermediate work of the climb, but he objected: "I wasn't going to be carried to the top and spiked like a football," he told Karl Taro Greenfeld.
Greenfeld tries to find perspective for Weihenmayer's accomplishment, but finds it impossible: "It is a unique achievement, one that in the truest sense pushes the limits of what man is capable of."
The July Men's Journal brings us the tale of Jeffrey Schilling, an Oaklander who went to the Philippines with dreams of utopia but was instead kidnapped by rebels and chained to trees for 228 days and told repeatedly that they would chop his head off. After hearing the threat enough times, Schilling said, his response was, "Yeah, sure, whatever."
"It was like `Groundhog Day,' " he told writer George Foy, "except you don't have some real cool chick waiting" at day's end.
During his capture, Schilling lost 120 pounds, and once required treatment - involving hot water and a sterilized bottle cap - to remove the maggots that had invaded his ingrown toenail. But his captors were never extremely well organized, and not always committed to their cause. On one hot afternoon, he says, he just slipped away.
Schilling's version of events varies somewhat from the official tale put out by local authorities, but in ways that seem credible. Although he doesn't expect to, he says he would gladly return to the Philippines, which makes one wonder if such an ordeal has any lesson to offer at all.
Finally, there is Jesse Jackson's interview in the June/July Savoy, which trumpets the encounter as Jackson's "first extensive interview since the revelation" that he fathered a daughter out-of- wedlock.
Editor-in-chief Roy S. Johnson gets off to a rough start - his second question probes whether the reverend will return to his on-air gig at CNN - but he eventually gets to some very good questions. Predictably, on the salient points, Jackson is less than willing:
Johnson: "Couldn't you see [the scandal] coming? You thought your daughter would get to college without anyone knowing you were her dad?
Jackson: "Well, on this matter, I assumed my responsibility . . . and I won't discuss it further."
And later, another fair question from Johnson: "How can you prevent your young daughter from experiencing some of the wounds that you may have suffered as a child raised in a one-parent home?
Jackson's response: "Private."
It would be unfair to say that nothing of interest is revealed in the piece, but it removes a measure of triumph when the subject of an exclusive doesn't have much to say.