An unsophisticated ode to an unanticipated idol
I knew virtually nothing about Anthony Bourdain until 2 days ago. I didn’t have the slightest clue what he was really about. I knew that he was a foodie and he had a reputation for eating literally anything and that he sort of looked or sounded like Elliott Gould or Leonard Cohen. I randomly saw him on some Bravo channel cooking competition show a few years ago and decided then that he was not pompous or full of s***.
But I had no idea how profound he was.
Reading a flood of articles about him over the weekend... it took me almost no time to become obsessed.
I started watching “Parts Unknown” hours after the news broke and I instantly felt indisputable admiration for and awe of this guy. His curiosity and willingness to wander is inspiring to say the least (I use the present tense on purpose here). He immerses himself in what the rest of us are too ignorant or too polite or too afraid to encounter. He is gentle and respectful with everyone he meets, but he also pushes the hard questions and listens to the answers with an open mind. He looks people in the eye. He is trusting of the hospitality shown to him. He is unconcerned or even bored with possible consequences, but also delightfully grouchy and sardonic.
I read some of his remarkable writing - ardent, cutting, biting, hilarious, thorough, passionate, courageous, unrelenting, insightful, beautiful pieces. I read some quotes that really struck me. I’m told the man was handy in the kitchen, but I am astonished at his ability to use the written and spoken word so exactingly. He was a journalist. He was an explorer. He was an adventure junkie with the ability to connect the human dots.
I’m sure he had his faults- a majority of which he seems to openly admit to. How rare for someone to know exactly who and what they are. And how rare for someone to discover a functional role unlike any other coupled with a means of sharing and displaying knowledge and wisdom acquired after stumbling through adulthood disastrously.
As for the very private decision he made and the ongoing conversation about it and decisions other have made or have considered making, I can express nothing but empathy. People live with excruciating pain. Not everyone survives. Depression is a wicked, sinister monster that shows up uninvited and without warning, but it is imminently expected. Somehow it can still get in the door no matter how many times you change the locks. You can lift yourself out of plummeting depths and remain afloat for days, weeks, months or even years, only to slip backward and realize you're drowning all over again within seconds. Not everyone can bring themselves to continue to fight and struggle against it. I cannot speak at length for addiction, having only witnessed it from the sidelines. But I do know that like depression, you never stop battling. You never stop being affected by it. It follows you into every relationship, every job, every happy moment, every sad moment and every choice you make. People who triumph over depression and addiction are in constant conflict with themselves. For life. And it's f***ing hard to live with even when you do get "better."
But that's not what I want to focus on (which is in no way meant to stifle the very serious subject matter that merits further reflection).
Despite his tragic end, which should not entirely define him, I find the fact of this complete stranger’s existence to be incredibly refreshing and positive. This dude lived hard and found truth and stuff. Will I live by his example? I’m not brave enough, no. But I will gush over his effort to shine an honest light on the world and its inhabitants. And I will applaud his thoughtfulness and try my best to copy it. I will absorb as much Anthony Bourdain as I can. And I will encourage others to do so, too. I will go around saying “You guys, Anthony Bourdain was the s*** and here’s why.”