November 29, 2018
I didn’t appreciate how much of an effect Anthony Bourdain had on me until he died. Not fully appreciating someone or something until it’s gone is a universal human trait. We get used to it, we take it for granted or we don’t examine the full extent of its effect on us. That is, until it’s gone.
It wasn’t until I was sitting in my dark basement watching the ending of the Seattle episode of “Parts Unknown,” while Mark Lanegan’s “Strange Religion” plays, that this realization came crashing down on me.
The first episode I watched of Anthony’s was when he went to Vietnam. It came out a long time ago. It was this foreign, culturally diametric, seemingly mystical country. It had food that was colorful, vibrant, complex, but incredibly affordable. I couldn’t get it out of my head.
At this point I should pause to say that I am not a big celebrity guy. In fact, as a general rule of thumb I am horrible at pop culture. I fail at it every time. For example, one time I was with friends and tried to reference the movie “Hitch” with Will Smith, but came up with “Patch Adams.” Everyone stared at me blankly when I likened a friend’s dating situation to a movie where the subject of love is murdered. Nailed it. So for a guy like that, it’s atypical to feel a bond with a celebrity.
At the time I knew Bourdain was the spark that led to the trip, but it was weird to reflect on the fact that I traveled to the other side of the world because of this TV personality. Sure, it wasn’t the only reason, but Vietnam wouldn’t have appeared on the map without him. When my wife and I went to Vietnam, we stayed in the north, in Hanoi. It was gorgeous, the people were friendly, the food exploded with flavor and I felt at peace.
I remember seeing an episode where he was in Thailand and he ate a raw pig’s blood soup that had been cleaned by the anti-bacterial properties of lemongrass. He liked it. That blew my mind and helped me realize that what we think is normal food is only normal because that’s what we’re used to. That’s what’s customary to our location on earth. If other people on the planet eat it and enjoy it there’s gotta be something to it. That’s why I try everything when I travel, even if it terrifies me.
One of the things I took for granted until after his death was how he brought people together. I always thought of him as a snarky asshole, but a lovable and funny snarky asshole. I was blind to the huge positive impact he had on people until I read someone else’s much more eloquent reflections. He removed the “foreignness” from people in other countries. He dimensionalized people. He humanized them. He avoided the cheap and easy categorization and showed universal themes of humanity that crosses borders while still celebrating their differences. He did that all through conversation. He didn’t shy away from hard questions, but he asked them in an honest, non-confrontational way, then he listened.
That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned from Anthony.
Rest in peace, my friend.
December 5, 2018