Email exchanges with Margaret: 


A review of James Cameron’s “Avatar,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus.” 


Once again it’s that time of the year when the studios are sending me DVD screeners of movies in which they are hopeful that as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences that I will nominate for an Academy award.  Yesterday I received a Blu-ray copy of director James Cameron’s 2 hour 40 minute, 3-D feature film entitled “Avatar.”  The dilemma is that I have no Blu-ray disc player.  Fortunately, a neighbor does.  C.J. and his wife not only have a 1080p Blu-ray player, but a 42 inch Panasonic 1080p HD TV, as well.  We made a date to screen “Avatar” and Clint Eastwood’s "Invictus" on the same night.  After an hour and a-half, C.J.s wife had seen enough of “Avatar” to last her a life-time, so she cooked while C.J. and I hung in until the end, after which we had a wonderful Italian veal dinner before viewing “Invictus,” starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. 


James Cameron’s “Avatar.” 


The major problem with "Avatar" is that Cameron tells a story that hates people.  In the story, a group of nature-worshipping aliens triumph over the greedy, evil human corporations that want to destroy their planet.  The aliens eventually send the humans back to a dying earth to die.  How marvelous!  


If you think this sounds as if Al Gore wrote the script for "Avatar," not James Cameron, you may be right.  This theme of kill all the humans, especially the pro-American, capitalist humans, has long been an underlying message of the left-wing, environmentalist movement, beginning with Rachel Carson's hysterical plea to ban DDT, even though, to this day, there is no evidence that DDT is harmful to humans or the environment, and even though the use of DDT can save millions of human lives from the deadly disease of malaria.  


Many millions of malaria deaths later, along comes "Avatar" to, once again, cast human beings, especially militaristic capitalists, as the super-villain and to create heroes out of a bunch of pagan primitives who have achieved an idyllic, but impossible, relationship with nature.  


For hundreds of years, the pagan, communist ideas expressed in this movie circulated among a threadbare group of outcasts with dirty fingernails and greasy hair, who shared their obtuse, occult ideas amongst themselves with manic, alienated glee.  Now, James Cameron has made these insane views the major bulwark of a very spectacular movie, but the spectacle does not make these Neo-Marxist views any more coherent, rational or uplifting.  


The plot is forgotten as Cameron shows off scene after scene of his special effects.  If only someone had edited this movie, it may have been more interesting.  Those who want to be blown away by special effects, or who are on drugs, may disagree.


Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus. 


"How do we inspire ourselves to greatness, when nothing else will do?"  


So asks South African President Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) in the film, "Invictus," a movie that takes on the daunting task of portraying one of the most epic events in sports history, combined with a momentous time in world politics and the human drama … and actually does the story justice.  


For a film named after the short poem by British poet William Ernest Henley, "Invictus" doesn't dwell much on "Invictus," which means undefeated. 


Set against the first years of Mandela's administration as the new president of post-apartheid South Africa, "Invictus" is more than just a story of defeating racism and more than just a movie version of the 1995 World Cup of Rugby, in which the host nation of South Africa shocked the world by overcoming an international ban to win the event in stunning fashion.  


"Invictus" is a demonstration of the unconquerable power of forgiveness, a road map for overcoming racial division and a significant contribution to the movie lexicon that merits consideration when the Academy starts handing out golden statuettes.  


And yet, "Invictus" offers something even more:  It teaches a living object lesson on how to inspire others, how to build a team, how to achieve the dream – in short, how to be a great leader.  


The film is filled with moments and quotes on leadership, any of which could be a training session at your next corporate meeting or ministry seminar, and several of which ought to be projected onto the walls of our nation's Capitol over and over until our government leaders' thick skulls melt enough to let the message permeate in.  


For example, at one of the film's most crucial moments, Mandela is faced with convincing a whole council of black leaders thirsting for revenge after years of racist policies to choose forgiveness over victory, forbearance over conquest.   


He actually has the gall to think he can convince the council to overturn its unanimous vote against the white Afrikaner's rugby team.  It's a hopeless, uphill battle against decades of cultural pressure.  It's political stupidity, a battle that can't be won – kind of like, oh, I don't know, illegalizing abortion or actually – gasp! – cutting government spending.  


"You're risking your political capital," protests Mandela's top adviser, "your future as a leader."  


To which Mandela replies, "The day I'm afraid to do that is the day I'm no longer fit to lead."  


Hello?  Washington?  Chew on that one for a while.  


The heart of the film's message on leadership, however, is the way Mandela brings out the best in everyone around him.  He inspires them, first and foremost, by example.  


Early in the film, we get a glimpse of this philosophy when he gathers his staff on his first day as president.  Mandela senses the tension between white and black staffers who are uncertain how to work together.  


"The past is the past," he tells them, "but if we can do our best with a good heart, we will be a shining example to the world."  


Having personally spent considerable time in South Africa during apartheid (1979-’80 and 1985-’86), no one was more surprised than I by Mandela’s leadership qualities upon assuming the presidency of the Republic of South Africa.  Admittedly, I was one of those who predicted doom.  My prediction was mostly based on what I knew of his wife, Winnie, at the time Nelson was imprisoned on Robben Island.  Putting it nicely, Winnie was not a good person.  


In the rest of the film, Mandela serves as a shining example of how to turn others into shining examples. 


Nowhere is this more evident than in the mentoring role he takes with South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon, and not nearly as masterfully as Freeman plays Mandela).  You can take this to the bank, Morgan Freeman will take home the Oscar.   


When Mandela asks Pienaar his "philosophy on leadership," the team captain responds, "by example." 


That's the answer Mandela wanted to hear.  


By the end of the film, the audience sees Pienaar take from Mandela the baton of leadership by example, particularly in a key moment, when his rugby team faces a brutal opponent, the 6-foot-5-inch, 254-pound Jonah Lomu, a hall-of-fame player who in previous matches had broke records by bowling over any obstacle, human or otherwise, in his way.  


With his teammates despairing on how to tackle Lomu, Pienaar inspires his crew by boldly proclaiming, "I will break my arm, my leg, my freaking neck … but I will not let that guy go."  


I've never played rugby in my life, but at that moment in the film, I was itching for a shot at tackling Lomu myself.  Inspiration by example – it's that powerful.  


Making the business film Cecil Rhodes & the De Beers Diamonds   


Margaret:   You may have read the article in the Las Angeles Times about our shoot in South Africa in 1986. 


We filmed “Cecil Rhodes and the De Beers Diamonds” at an Anglo American gold mine on the Transvaal, just outside of Johannesburg.  This was a far more frightening experience than filming at the CDM mine in what is now Namibia; both business films of which were made for Oppenheimer and Anglo9 American. 


As with filming in the diamond mine, still photography was not allowed at the gold mine and an Anglo American official was constantly with us to make sure we filmed only that part of the facilities that had been sanitized and approved by senior staffers.  I later learned that an Anglo American senior staffer was present when the dailies were shown at the SABC screening room in Johannesburg.  I never saw dailies, and neither did Duke Goldstone or Gunnar Hellstrom. 


Once again the entire crew consisted of me, Duke, Gunnar and five gaffers who carried the lighting equipment.  Gunnar did sound, carrying his own equipment; Duke was the assistant cameraman and carried the tripod, slate, and camera power pack.  I lit the scenes and operated the camera; packing the heavy Arriflex 35 BL-3 myself. 


The eight of us, filming equipment in hand, met our Anglo American staffer at 5:30 a.m. and were provided with proper gear for descent into the mine. 


We climbed into a pair of grey overalls, and were issued black rubber gumboots and silver helmets with head lanterns.  Then, with the Staffer, we were shunted into the double decked elevator that took us two miles beneath the surface. 


Our lighting equipment consisted of sealed lamps with battery packs that held a 45 minute to one-hour charge each.  We carried enough power packs to light and keep scenes fully lit underground for approximately three and-a-half hours. 


Once aboard the cage, the doors closed, the telegraph shrilled four long rings, the signal to descend, and suddenly the floor dropped under our feet.  The two mile descent was so swift that my body seemed to come free and my feet lay only lightly on the steel floor plates. 


In darkness the skip rocketed downwards, drumming and rattling and racing like an express train in a tunnel, minute after minute, eternity after eternity, my ears popping and crackling at the pressure.  The calmness of the Staffer beside me was the only thing that kept me from crying out.    


The skip stopped so abruptly that my knees buckled.  The gates crashed open and we stepped out into a cavern walled with glistening wet rock, filled with hundreds of men streaming away into the endless tunnels that honeycombed the bowels of the world. 


Everywhere there was water, glistening and shining in the flat glare of the electric light, running back in channels on each side of the haulage.  The air was heavy with water, humid and hot and claustrophobic so that it had a gelatinous texture, seeming to fill my eardrums and deafen me. 


We spent the next six hours filming the extraction of gold from the Witwatersrand mine; most of that time devoted to the drilling and blasting process. 


The shot holes to be drilled were marked with splashes of white paint.  The blast was a precise and calculated firing of gelignite charges.  The outer holes would be charged with ‘shapers’ to form the hanging wall and foot wall of the stope, which they would fire first, while the pattern of inner shots fired a second later.  These were the ‘cutters’ that would kick the ore back and clear it from the face. 


The drills were an ungainly tool in the shape of a heavy machine-gun, with long pneumatic hoses attached and running back down the slope to the compressed air system in the main haulage.  Swiftly the drillers and their assistants fitted the twenty-foot-long steel jumper bits into the lug of the drill and then the drillers, his assistants, and the line-boys dragged the tool to the rock face.  It took all their strength to lift the tool and position the point of the drill on the white paint mark for the cut. 


Even with ear plugs firmly in place, the din was stunning, a stuttering implosion of sound that drove against the eardrums.  Compressed air at a pressure of 500 pounds a square inch roared into the drill and slammed the long steel bit into the rock. 


The driller’s entire body shuddered and shook to the drive of the tool against his shoulder, as he leaned his full weight against it.  The long steel drill sank slowly into the rock until it reached the depth marker painted on it.  Then the assistant closed the valve and the crew prepared to drill the next hole. 


The above sequences provided less than ten minutes of screen time in the final edited television series; which series plot-point dealt with South Africa abandoning the Gold Standard on 28 December 1932, during the great depression. 


General James Barry Munnik Hertzog and Jan Christian Smuts had served together on the national convention that led to the Union of South Africa, and they had both been in the first cabinet of Louis Botha’s government.  Since then their ways had diverged, Hertzog taking the narrow view with his ‘South Africa first’ doctrine while Jan Smuts was the international statesman who had masterminded the formation of the British Commonwealth and had taken a leading part in the birth of the League of Nations.  Hertzog was militantly Afrikaner, and had secured for Afrikaans equal rights with English as an official language. 


It was Smuts who urged Hertzog to abandon the gold standard and we recreated this historical meeting between the two in “Cecil Rhodes and the DeBeer Diamonds.”  In the scene, set in December of 1932, in addition to Hertzog and Smuts are Smuts’ aide, Deneys Reitz, and Nicolaas Havenga, the Nationalist minister of finance.  Havenga asks General Smuts for his views on sticking with the gold standard. 


“You know my views,” Smuts told them.  “You will recall that I urged you to follow Great Britain’s example when she went off the gold standard in September of ’31.  I haven’t altered my views since then.”   


Hertzog speaks up, “Please go over your reasons again, Ou Baas.” 


Smuts continues, “At the time I predicted that there would be a flight from the South African gold pound into sterling.  Bad money always drives out good money, and I was right.  That happened and the resulting loss of capital has crippled our industry and sent tens of thousands of our workers to swell the ranks of the unemployed.” 


“There are millions of unemployed in Britain herself,” Havenga points out. 


“Our refusal to go off gold aggravated unemployment.  It has endangered our gold-mining industry.  It has sent prices for our diamonds crashing.  It has deepened the depression to this tragic level where we now find ourselves.” 


Hertzog interjects, “If we go off the gold standard at this late stage, what will be the benefits to the country?” 


“First and by far the most important, it will rejuvenate our gold-mining industry.  If the South African pound falls to parity with sterling, and that is what should happen, it will mean that the mines will receive seven pounds for an ounce of gold instead of the present four.  Almost double.  The mines that have closed down will reopen.  Others will expand.  New mines will open providing work for tens of thousands, whites and blacks, and capital will flow back into this country.  It will be the turning point.  We will be back on the road to prosperity.” 


And, of course, this is exactly what happened. 


Another sequence of the Mini TV series dealt with the shantytowns that sprang up around the gold mines.  These were a hotbed for rebellion.  We filmed one sequence in a shantytown (Khayelitsha) located between Stellenbosch and Cape Town, which doubled for a shantytown (Alexandra) just outside Johannesburg, in the 1930s.  By 1985, Alexandra had transformed itself into a reasonably well to do township while Khayelitsha was a relatively new but reasonably safe shantytown in which we were allowed to film without restriction. 


The script for “Cecil Rhodes and the De Beer Diamonds” contained a sequence depicting how these shantytowns were clandestine meeting places for the newly formed African National Congress; which group shared a political philosophy with The Popular Front Government, a coalition of Trotskyites, Socialists, and Communists.   Such meetings were held in Alexandra largely because the police seldom entered what today (next to Soweto, actually a group of townships) is presently the largest township in South Africa. 


The scene takes place inside one of the bigger and better shantytown houses, where both whites and blacks gather around a long, yellow table; blacks on one side and whites on the other.  The scene opens as introductions are made by the narrator and the Chyron character generator.  Among those so introduced are:  The Reverend John Dube, better known as Mafukuzela, the political leader of the Zulu nation and editor and founder of the Ilanga Lase Natal newspaper, The Sun of Natal.  More importantly for this meeting, however, is the fact that he is the president of the African National Congress. 


Among the newcomers introduced is a young twenty year-old, soon to be lawyer, by the name of Nelson Mandela, son of Chief Henry Mandela from the Transkei. 


The dialogue has John Dube addressing the gathered group, “Of course, the formation of a trade union among the black mine workers is in itself sufficient to assure the eventual triumph of the revolution – ”  But Dube’s inflection posed a question, and he was watching young Mandela slyly. 


“I do not agree,” Mandela growled, and everyone at the table waited expectantly.  “The history of the struggle bears witness that the workers unassisted will rise only as far as the idea of trade unionism, to combine their resources to fight the employers and the capitalist government.  But it needs professional revolutionaries bound by complete loyalty to their ideals and by military-type discipline to carry the struggle to its ultimate victorious conclusion.” 


The dialogue that the actor portraying young Mandela had just recited was an almost verbatim quotation from Lenin’s What is to be Done?  As the scene continued, every-one looked at the soon to be lawyer in awe.  That night, Nelson Mandela was sworn in as a full member of both the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress. 


While I knew it was the right thing to do, I admit that as one who had thoroughly studied South African politics while covering the Zimbabwe War of Independence, I was more than just apprehensive when I head that South African president F.W. (Frederik Willem) DeKlerk was releasing Nelson Mandela from his imprisonment on Robben Island and working towards giving the blacks of South Africa the vote.  What a brave move by a man with a sense of justice and a view towards the future. 


The final scene in “Cecil Rhodes and the De Beers Diamonds” takes place at the Motopos National Park, just south of Buluwayo, Zimbabwe – the grave site of Cecil Rhodes.  The iron cover over the sarcophagus merely reads:  “Here lie the remains of Cecil John Rhodes.” 


Although the business film saw wide distribution, sadly, the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) categorized “Cecil Rhodes and the De Beers Diamonds” as a non-theatrical, thus cheating Duke Goldstone, Gunnar Hellstrom and John Stodel from well deserved screen credits in the popular movie database.  





To bring you up to speed on this memorable, holiday weekend, I’m herewith enclosing a copy of an email I sent my cousin Dixie (Lee) Murphy.   Dixie, who lives in Idaho Falls but spends her winters in Scottsdale, AZ, recently wrote a gripping true crime story entitled “When Greed Turns Deadly,” which is available on Amazon.   I tried to get my agent, Jon Brown, to represent the book for all motion picture and ancillary rights but Brown (who represents such iconic authors as Wilbur Smith) turned down the opportunity; for which I will never forgive him.  


I then sent a copy of Dixie’s vanity published tome to my Simon & Schuster editor, Priscilla Painton; which publisher is releasing a book I wrote about final months of the Zimbabwe War of Independence.  Scheduled release date is November.   


Over the said Labor Day weekend, I did have a chance to meet with Ms. Painton in New York during which visit the subject of Dixie’s “When Greed Turns Deadly” came up.  To wit:  




Some good news and some bad news with respect to “When Greed Turns Deadly.”  I was in New York City over the Memorial Day weekend for an editing session with Priscilla Painton, the chief editor of Simon & Schuster’s non fictional division  and thus by default the titular head of the iconic publishing company, which was co-founded by singer Carly Simon’s father, Richard L. Simon.  Unfortunately, Richard no longer has any control over the company he co-founded.  


I spent the holiday weekend with Priscilla and her assistant, Nicole Kelley, editing my as yet untitled book, scheduled to be published in November.  I left Rexburg late Friday via a shuttle flight out of Idaho Falls to Salt Lake City and a Delta flight to JFK where I was met Saturday morning by Nicole.  I returned home Tuesday evening.  


We accomplished a lot of work, all of which in hindsight could have been done via email; but then what fun would that be.  We did manage to edit my 500 plus pages down to approximately 400; and I fully agree with the cuts.  To understand why these edits were done in person rather than by email, you have to understand Priscilla Painton. 


First of all, she is a gourmet food and wine connoisseur extraordinaire.   Having had dinner with her a couple of years ago at the Beverly Hills estate of Wolf Walther and his wife, Baroness Elke Sommer, and later aat Piero Selvaggio’s restaurant in the Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas, Priscilla knows that I am her equal when it comes to food and wine.  After all, I had an extraordinary teacher in the late critic extraordinaire, Robert Lawrence Balzer.  


It has been my experience that food and wine gourmets extraordinaire usually only enjoy sharing meals and adult beverages (the latter mostly wine) with those whom can appreciate the finer nuances of the food and/or adult beverages in which they are being served.   The novelist Ian Fleming understood this and in his writings often had his villains invite the hero, James Bond, to join them in such a gourmet meal (with appropriate wines, of course) before attempting to dispatching Bond to his maker. 


Priscilla loves playing the villain to my James Bond; hoping to trip me up.  


I fell into this trap once myself.  I had invited an old friend, together with six other wine lovers to dinner at my home on Woking Way, near Griffith Park.  Robert Lawrence was among the guests.   The meal was catered but the wine came from my cellar, all served blind.  After going through about eight different bottles (wrapped in brown paper bags to hide the labels) of what I thought was some damn fine wines, I just couldn’t seem to get a nod of approval from my longtime friend, Evan L. Melby, who truly does have an excellent pallet.  Finally, after pouring a Grand vin de Château Latour (Pauillac) claret and having Evan ask (in front of the other guests) if that was the best I could come up with, I lost it.  (Why Robert Lawrence Balzer didn’t come to my defense, I would only learn later).     


In a fit I stormed down to the basement cellar and grabbed the one bottle of wine that I had been saving for a very, very special occasion … a prohibitively expensive wine from Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which I threw into a paper bag and served.  


After sniffing, swirling and tasting the wine, Evan broke into a smile and announced:  “I knew I could goad you into sharing that bottle of Romanée Conti with us.”  Even without checking the label, Evan knew what he was drinking.  Everyone had a good laugh at my expense … and I do mean expense.  The smile on Balzer’s face told me that he was in on it with Melby; Evan knowing that he could not have pulled it off without Balzer’s cooperation since Robert Lawrence would have challenged him on the quality of the previous wines poured.  


During my Memorial Day weekend visit to New York, I stayed with an old girlfriend, Nicole Kelley, in her three-bedroom, two and-a-half bath 1,900 square foot Riverside Park townhouse; located on the upper Westside area of NYC, which was the setting for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s film “You’ve Got Mail.”  Nicole’s master bedroom is laid out as an office, where we did most of our work.  Her bedroom and the guestroom, where I slept, are equal in size.  Each townhouse has a two car parking slot in the basement.  Since Nicole only has one car, a five year old Lexus, she rents one of her parking slots to a neighbor from across the street, for $350 per month.  


While it’s always nice to own a flashy sports or luxury car, in the City such ownership is an insurance nightmare where theft and comprehensive damage (such as keying and removal of parts whenever parked on the street) is a real threat; although not so much where Nicole lives.  But in New York, those living in low crime areas normally pay the same rate as those loving in high crime areas.  This, of course, is due largely to the Democrats insistence that so-called red-lining be abolished.    


In the City, unless you have free, secure parking at home and the same where you work, you’re better off not owning an automobile but rather using public transportation; which in the long run is far cheaper than owning an automobile.   In any event, whenever going out as Priscilla, Nicole and I did over the Memorial Day Weekend, unless your destination is outside the city, you’re much better off putting up with public transportation.   And the taxi cab situation isn’t all that bad and relatively inexpensive, considering.  


With her Simon & Schuster salary, Nicole could easily afford a new luxury automobile annually, but chooses one that is at least five years old.  This goes back to why Howard Hughes always drove three year old Chevrolets.  He didn’t want to draw attention to himself.   In Nicole’s case, she doesn’t want to draw attention to her automobile albeit it is, in all sense of the word, still a state-of-the-art luxury automobile.  


Priscilla charged Nicole with taking good care of me; which included taking me to dinner the first night, the expenses of which were, of course, to be charged to Simon & Schuster.  I’m not sure to this day that Priscilla was aware that Nicole and I had known each other since 1972 and, although she was basically a lesbian, dated often. 


I have no idea if it’s true or not, but Nicole once told me that I was the only male she regularly went to bed with. 


Priscilla would periodically join us at Nicole’s townhouse when she could, wherein we would work feverously throughout the holiday weekend editing the manuscript.  


Nicole’s favorite New York restaurant is the four-star Le Bernardin at 155 W. 51st Street.   The food and service at Le Bernardin is among the best in the Big Apple.   Known for its delicious seafood and ornate French cuisine, it is considered the perfect place to bring a date or host a dinner party – if you’ve got the money.  Le Bernardin’s Prix Fixe is $115 a person, and the chef’s tasting menu is $140 ($227 with wine pairings).   Reservations are accepted for the following month beginning on the first business day of every month; although Nicole can usually get a table any night she wishes.  


However, I had already eaten at Chef Michael Laiskonis’ Le Berardin on a previous trip to NYC so, in an attempt to try something new instead, on Saturday night, we dined at Restaurant Daniel, 60 E. 65th Street.  Located on the Upper East Side, Daniel is known for its incomparable contemporary French cuisine.  Chef Daniel Boulud serves up creatively rich and seasonal dishes, like Florida Frog Leg and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup and Tai Snapper Ceviche with Cucumber Vinaigrette; all of which we sampled as appetizers.    We put ourselves in the hands of the chef at $165 per person plus the cost of adult beverages and wine, which added another $500 plus to the total cost. 


The selection included rack of lamb; duck filet and goose Paté de foie gras (Faux Gras, or “Fat Liver”); the latter eaten on a garlic, crouton-type toast.  Since Faux Gras is being outlawed in NYC and elsewhere within the U.S., it is probably the last I will ever taste of it unless my screenplay of “The Bordeaux Caper” (to tentatively star Josh Duhamel, Audrey Tautou and Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson)   gets made and during production I’m able to travel to Alsace and certain parts of France, where the delicacy is still enjoyed.   


After dinner we stopped by the GILT at the New York Palace Hotel for drinks.   Located at 455 Madison Avenue, this Midtown gem serves New American cuisine and is one of the priciest restaurants in NYC.  The dining room only seats 52 but there is always room at the chic, mod-like bar in the lounge where, if you’re a wine connoisseur, then you’re in luck.   GILT houses over 2,100 bottles of wine, with one of the best vintage wine lists in the city.   We shared a 750 mil bottle of Louis Jadot 2007 Le Montrachet costing $500.00, after which we had several snifters of Hennessy Paradis Imperial Cognac; one of the few restaurants in Manhattan to serve it.  By that time I had lost track of the adult beverage tab. 


The bar caters to the older, wealthy crowd who might have been around when the terms “mod” and “chic” were still “in.”  I loved it, since I fit right in … that is except for the wealthy bit.  Dinners at GILT average $150 per person exclusive of adult beverages.  Although only 41 years of age and far more “hip” than the average attendee, Nicole liked the lounge, as well.    


Working through the holiday weekend, the three of us broke for Sunday lunch, choosing the champagne brunch at Jean Georges, housed in the Trump International Hotel and Tower.   This is not your typical help yourself, all you can eat brunch but rather one that includes tableside service, bringing the excitement of the kitchen onto the dining room floor with many of the fabulous French cuisine selections prepared by Jean-George Vongerichten and his staff right at your individual table.  It’s magical. 


The chefs bring a compact propane unit to your table where they cook everything right in front of you with much flare, Benihana style.  But whereas with Benihana you are being served as a group, at Jean Georges you and your date are getting individual service. 


With the brunch you get portions of beef, fowl and fish; although you never know which beef, fowl or fish until it’s actually served to you.  It changes weekly.  For “beef” we got prime rib, served not unlike that of Lowry’s Prime Rib, only about half the portion but twice as tender; for “fowl” we were served a brilliantly seasoned pheasant breast; and for the fish we were served steamed Rocky mountain Rainbow trout … needless to say I felt right at home.  All of this served with made-to-order omelets should you really have a big appetite.  As for me, although I made a valiant effort, in the end I was stuffed and left untouched at least half my meal; including the mushroom – cheese – spinach, Denver style omelet cooked in front of me.  


And the price was only $87.50 per person and included a generous glass (more than 8 ounces) of an inexpensive but exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon (served with the beef) and all you can drink of French champagne; which champagne offered with the brunch supposedly rotates from week-to-week; and which rotation includes: Möet et Chandon Brute Imperial; Veuve Clicquot Brute; Bollinger Special Cuvee; Krug Grande Cuvee Champagne Brute; or Taittinger Champagne Brute Reserve.  We were served the Veuve Clicquot Brute; which was fabulous, as always.  


Sunday evening the three of us dined at Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se (10 Columbus Circle, 4th Floor), where expertly designed menus change daily and reflect the freshest seasonal ingredients.   We selected the $150 per person (sans adult beverages) chef’s tasting menu.  Priscilla barely managed to finish her meal but Nicole and I concentrated on finishing the wine Priscilla had ordered and took most of the meal back to Nicole’s townhouse in the preverbal doggie-bag. 


The champagne brunch at Jean Georges coupled with the fabulous food at Per Se seven hours later was just too much food in too short of a period.   But, heated up Monday morning it made a fabulous breakfast, after which the three of us rushed to complete the edit job on the book. 


We skipped lunch on Memorial Day in favor of returning to 10 Columbus Circle (at Broadway) for dinner, but this time at Masa, the Japanese restaurant known for its authentic Kobe beef.   Masa was awarded four out of four stars by the New York Times and is a Michelin three-star restaurant.  


There are just 26 seats in Masa.  There is no menu and all diners spend about three hours having an unparalleled omakase experience.  


Thanks to Chef Masa’s expertise and use of exotic ingredients, dinner is so tasty that he easily gets away with pricing a typical dinner at $400 - $600 per person (not including tax, or tip – but some modestly priced wines).  Some wines on the wine list run well over a thousand dollars or $1,500 per bottle. 


With dinner the three of us drank the equivalent of two and a-half bottles of a Junmai sake known as Yamahai or Kimoto, served at approximately 100 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and costing approximately $45 per ceramic carafe; which carafe is called a Takkuri and the equivalent one-half of a 750ML bottle.  We sipped our sake from ceramic cups called achoko or guinomi that traditionally hold about 3 ounces.   The Takkluri was reheated when necessary to ensure that the rice wine was consistently served at its ideal temperature.  Caution:  once a bottle of sake is opened, it oxidizes at a much faster rate than traditional wines so drink it right away.  


With the exception of the salad, we all ordered the same meal which consisted of a variety of steamed vegetables, scallop ceviche, and strips of Kobe beef.   Most restaurants who advertise Kobe beef actually serve Japanese Wagyu (“Wagyu” being the proper name for the beer-sodden, fat-marbled cattle originally popularized in Japan) that is almost too rich to eat. 


Due to its scarcity, Masa is probably the only restaurant outside of Japan that actually serves Wagyu beef which is actually raised in Kobe, Japan.  It’s really a taste to die for.  Our meals probably consisted of 4 - 5 ounces of authentic Kobe beef.  It was so rich, however, that I doubt I could have eaten more.  And, of course, on top of that, each of us had our individual appetizers, salads and deserts.  As I recall, Priscilla had the Edamame shrimp salad, Nicole the Kabocna (squash) bacon salad, and I had the Asian Cole Slaw. 


As I was enjoying these fabulous and expensive meals, I could not help but think of the GSA’s extravagant Las Vegas trek that recently made the news.   The way this works is that by charging these so-called tax deductible working meals to Simon & Schuster, all three of us receive an immediate benefit, although the charges are debited from any profits eventually received from the exploitation of my book.  


So, in the end, whereas the taxpayers got stuck with the GSA charges, it is I who will end up paying for the charges so generously picked up by Simon & Schuster.   Actually, it’s not a bad deal.  What if the book produces no profits?  Then I’ve received some benefits for which the publisher cannot recover; at least not from me.   In any event, the taxpayers (as with the GSA expenses) get stuck to an extent, since the food and wine is eventually deducted from Simon & Schuster’s taxable profits.  


Back when I worked for Duke Goldstone at RFG Associates and Swift-Chaplin, we always had a client’s project, such as Westinghouse or the DoD, in which to charge these extravagant meals; God how I miss those days.  I recall many a consulting meal at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Spago’s, Valentino’s, and the Palm Restaurant, where we enjoyed food and wine on a regular basis that otherwise neither of us could have possibly afforded on a regular basis.  Of course, when we had to pay for our own meals, it was Musso & Franks on a good day and Pinks Hot Dogs on an average day.  Don’t get me wrong, Pinks (on La Brea, in Hollywood) is the greatest.  Go there after 10 p.m. and you will see limousines lined up with celebrities ordering their hot dogs to go, or eating them in the anything but luxurious dining area.   


Upon pressing Priscilla on where things stood with respect to “When Greed Turns Deadly,” she told me that Simon & Schuster had passed on republishing it under the Simon & Schuster label, but that I could submit the book to its Paperback division, without prejudice.   This I will do.  


Priscilla commented that the book was well written but that it could use some editing, at least 100 pages worth.  She cited the duplication of describing events in the story leading up to the trial and the trial itself.  She felt that much of the details that came out in the trial had already been covered in the set up to the trial and could possibly have been skimmed over in either the setup or trial section of the book.  


I didn’t know until that moment that Priscilla had actually read the book herself.   This is highly unusual since, as the tetchier head of the non fiction division, her time is extremely valuable.  


She also said that as a new, unpublished author, no matter how exciting the material, it’s an uphill battle to find a publisher.  You need a hook in which to promote the book.  In the case of my book, the promotional hook is Robert Mugabe, a Matabele princess, and the mercenaries known as the Selous Scouts.   The sub story is one of communism and apartheid, where the Matabele princess graduates as a physician from a famous Cape Town university during apartheid and becomes a sergeant with the mostly white, South African mercenary army fighting on the side of Ian Smith and against Robert Mugabe.   She had interned at the famed Groote Schuur Hospital (where the world’s first heart transplant took place), an extremely rare feat for a nonwhite.   Her murder is the book’s final chapter.  


She was a direct descendent of the Matabele (Ndebele) king, Lobengula, who ruled Matabeleland, the area from the Matopos hills to Victoria Falls, in the time of Cecil John Rhodes.  Despite his Maxim machine guns, Rhodes never did defeat this amazing ruler, whose headquarters were just outside modern day Bulawayo. 


Dr. Mary Kumalo died on 13 May, 2009, of gunshots fired at her clinic just outside Harare where the surgeon was treating cases of cholera.  The cholera infection rate in Zimbabwe, at the time Africa’s worst outbreak in 15 years, had resulted in approximately 4,300 deaths. 


It appears a malnourished infant died at the clinic of the disease and the distraught Shona father, blaming the doctors, retrieved a firearm and fired on the three volunteer physicians, one of which was Dr. Kumalo.  She was killed instantly.  A second, white, doctor died an hour later and the third, from India, survived.  Patients waiting for treatment subdued the shooter and he was arrested by police.   


It took me a while to catch on that Simon & Shuster had no intention of releasing my book (other than the minimum 500 copies).  It was all a means to write off these tremendous dining expenses.  Frankly, when I caught on to the game, I wasn’t all that disappointed.  After all, I benefited in wine and food I never would have been able to afford on my own.  


Warmest regards,