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Decoding Ferran Adria DVDHosted by Anthony Bourdain
By Anthony Bourdain
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Anthony Bourdain
All right reserved.
Set and Setting
This story begins -- as do so many others of our generation -- in 1968. Specifically, on January 31, 1968: the Tet Offensive and, coincidentally, the pagan feast of Oimelc, one of the four cross-quarter days observed by the Celts of ancient Europe, and sacred as well to members of a new occult movement known as Wicca. Saigon would fall on April 30, 1975: Walpurgisnacht, another pagan holiday, another cross-quarter day.
As Walter Cronkite was giving the latest news reports from Vietnam and telling a shocked nation that he thought "we were winning this thing," a young man sat watching television in his living room in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx in New York City and made a decision that he was not, under any circumstances, going to war. He could avoid it in any number of ways. He could go to college and thus take advantage of a stipulation that as long as he maintained a C average he could avoid being drafted. He could admit to the draft board that he was gay. He could feign illness, flat feet, or bad eyesight. He could flee to Canada or Sweden.
But there was another option.
Other than college students, homosexuals, and the physicallydisabled, there was another category of deferment: 4-D. Ministerial. The clergy deferment. Priests are not drafted. And William Andrew Prazsky had a closet full of vestments: chasubles, surplices, Roman collars, cassocks. Not to mention chalices, ciboria, and relics of the saints. An ersatz mitre and homemade crozier. Some evenings, the odor of a curious sanctity -- the result of burning Gloria incense in a gleaming brass censer, swung on chains in great arcs -- would waft out of his bedroom and into the plain wooden house that he shared with his father and his elderly grandmother, both Czechs. His grandmother, Antonia, was a Czech immigrant. His parents were separated; his mother, Petronella, a Slovak and a Roman Catholic, lived alone in a Manhattan apartment on the Lower East Side. His father -- William Anthony Prazsky -- was a Presbyterian. Andrew grew up speaking both Czech, English, and Slovak. Tall, thin, dark, and with the fussiness of an old maid already at seventeen -- oddly coupled with the coarseness of his background and upbringing, his father a mechanic for the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority -- he was a strange and easily identifiable sight at Christopher Columbus High School: a student with poor grades who dressed in a suit and carried a briefcase, and who constantly was seen hanging out at department offices, kissing up to teachers in the hopes of improving his grades through social networking. He knew that college was probably out of the question; he would never be able to maintain a C average on his own. He could not admit to the draft board that he was gay; it would have killed his father if he ever found out. He had no money for a trip abroad and would not have managed the life of a political expatriate very well in any event. He didn't know if he could fake an illness that would earn him the 4-F deferment, but he could fake something else. He could fake being a priest.
Already he had developed a snuff habit, and grew a mustache that he waxed faithfully like Salvador Dali: a walking social and cultural anachronism that went largely unnoticed in the turbulent Sixties, when so many other strange and nefarious deeds were being committed or at least contemplated. He would eventually forego snuff for cigarettes and his mustache for a full beard, but not until he had met another young man at Columbus High and thereby hatched a plan that would not only keep them both out of the Army, but uncover one of the strangest and most controversial books ever published.
Peter Levenda was born in the Bronx, like Prazsky, and in the same year: 1950. His father was an actor who studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but who had an earlier reputation as a segregationist during the Gary, Indiana, School Strike of 1945. His mother had studied dance and choreography. At the time of their marriage, his father was twenty-one and his mother only seventeen. Peter, their first child, arrived ten months later.
Peter had an uncommon intelligence, as noted by educators after a statewide intelligence test on which he scored extremely high. This was the 1950s, when various government and quasigovernment organizations were developing "special schools" for gifted children. Longtime collaborator and husband of fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley -- Walter Breen -- was one of these, selected by a group in New York City at the same time that Peter was being considered in Chicago. So was theoretical physicist Jack Sarfatti. What stopped any further progress, though, was the fact that Peter's father had been investigated by the FBI during the Gary School Strike and was considered a security risk.
Instead, in 1963, the family moved to Charlestown, New Hampshire: to a former prison farm on the top of Hubbard Hill. The place had been owned by one Percy Whitmore, who was widely regarded as crazy by the local population. It seemed he was raising Morgan horses on his property when they were all taken in a TB test; added to that was the indignity of having power lines cut across his property. Like something out of the movie The Ring, this loss of his horses and the desecration of his land by the government led to a kind of nervous breakdown. Percy had a wife and daughter, and one day they simply disappeared and were never seen again. It would take a youthful Peter Levenda -- many years later -- to solve that particular mystery by accident, when he came across their unidentified graves during one of his long, solitary walks in the woods they owned: two graves, side by side, with simple slabs of granite to mark the spot and nothing else.
Excerpted from Decoding Ferran Adria DVD by Anthony Bourdain Copyright ©2006 by Anthony Bourdain. Excerpted by permission.
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