I wasn’t alive on July 2nd, 1961. I’m sure if I were, I would have had the same reaction as I did on June 9th, 2018. I don’t often feel a sense of sadness the way I did that morning. Like Hemingway before him, Anthony Bourdain was one of the most inspiring and understandable storytellers of my and many generations to come. Regretfully the end of their lives also tells a common story.
Their words conjured up images of places and cultures in a way that aspired readers (and in Bourdain’s case, viewers as well) to get to know the world and its many cultures and people. It was their lust for life that made them and their stories special to many.
These two men were the impetus to all the journeys I have experienced in my life. Early on, akin to a “Camino” (pilgrimage) I did my best to follow the storied footsteps of Hemingway through travel, drink, and unabashed experiences. However, not unlike a saint, my relationship with him is on the folklore level. Saint Ernest, is unearthly.
Tony on the flip side, was of this earth. He had the power of media and technology on his side, which made him more approachable if you will. Every week, with his breadth of parlance, he came into our living room and implored us to try new things. And every week, I would take note and make sure to do so. This virtual contact through the television screen mirrored a conversation over drinks with a friend.
With his culinary background, lovers of food, such as myself gravitated to his stories. Many people in the food industry promote food movements; Tony went beyond this and made food moving. Emotional rather than simply informative. His approach to food made one realize as to why certain dishes mean so much to certain cultures, or how certain cuts of meat tell a story of a generation. Nobody, including Hemingway, did it as romantically as he.
Tony educated me on many things I did not know about the world. He was smart enough to tease me into tuning in with images of beautiful landscapes and meats on a stick, replete with fat dripping and culinary jargon. Meanwhile, as I salivate, what he was really imparting to me was historical, geographical, and social issues that needed to be heard.
Like a good friend, he wasn’t afraid to share his frailties. He was able to reproach himself and find humor in it with equal facility. This was one of his strengths. I wanted to know more about him, and hear what he had to say. This led me to tune into his show weekly, and when the season had finished, read one of his many publications.
Many years ago, my girlfriend at the time, and now wife, viewed a show on the Food Channel called, “ A Cook’s Tour”. There was a specific episode on San Sebastian that led us to put the destination on the top of our travel list. More importantly to try dishes and restaurants he had shared with us. Even in those nascent stages, when he was still a bit awkward, Anthony Bourdain was already inspirational. Wearing an oversized leather jacket, and a Marlboro Red in his mouth. He was refreshing. We followed him since.
He sharpened his skills which were made evident in his subsequent award-winning docu-series, “No Reservations“ and CNN”s “Parts Unknown”, respectively. The latter breaking the mold of traditional journalism. However, he still maintained that rogue disposition that initially drew us to him. He was never too good for us.
I, along with my wife; and more recently, our daughter continued to be inspired by him to see and taste the world. If I can narrow inspiration down to one person as to why my wife and I decided to pursue the creation of our food and travel blog, it would be Anthony Bourdain.
We searched out food stalls and businesses he put on the map. We approached sites through a lens that was influenced by him. He continued to play part in navigating my restless spirit closer to being satisfied and sated.
Which brings me to the second emotion I felt that morning – confusion. “How does a person who lived such a life, decide to bring it to an end?”, I kept asking myself. I know that I can’t begin to answer that question. This affliction was beyond my comprehension.
The third emotion was that of anger. Angry that I had to speak about him in the past-tense. Then I came to terms with it, which led to my final emotion of acceptance. Accepting that the food and travel narrative will need to continue without its most authentic voice.
I don’t pretend that I knew him personally, though I did meet him formally at my place of work years ago. He was nothing short of humble. This quick transaction made me like him even more. That adage of being disappointed by your idols did not apply to him
My family and I viewed an episode of “Parts Unknown” last night. It may very well be the final episode CNN will broadcast. It was, appropriately on Berlin. A complicated city with a complicated history. A city that finds life within its margins. A city that defines, “noir”, yet sheds light on many creative people.
“I can’t believe it, he was so alive”, expressed my daughter. The episode ends with a Samuel Beckett quote, “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on”. Go on then my friend, and join the likes of the saints. Thanks for everything.
To get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.