Bourdain: Man Unknown

People die all the time. Celebrities too. And when we hear that we tweet a RIP. A quick Facebook post, maybe. We change the DPs, maybe. But, we move on. The world doesn’t stop for anyone. Still, some deaths, more than others, makes us want to ask of ourselves the questions of legacy: our own legacy.

Anthony Bourdain, Chef turned Travel/Food writer and TV host, a firey opinionated free-spirit, who afforded many of us a vicarious trip into many corners of the world, died today. By all accounts, death by suicide. A man I knew only from his biographical books, opinion pieces, and TV shows. And yet a man who seemed like a spirit friend. And I know I’m not alone who’s lost a part.

A part unkown.

A free spirit finally tamed by the inner demons.

I rarely cry for celebrities. But as I read the outpouring of love and despair on social media over this man whose life was unlike possibly anyone’s who’s mourning him right now, it’s hard to see clearly the letters that I’m typing. It’s hard to keep the strands together in my head, and to put them into words.

My love affair with his words started with his book “A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal”. It was love at first sight. Bourdain’s capacity to present slices of different cultures got me hooked. This was before I knew anything about him. Even that he had written the best selling Kitchen Confidential. Or nothing about his TV shows. I was fascinated. I had to read Kitchen Confidential, which charmed me too. And onto other books, and finally his Parts Unknown show with CNN. I do not watch too much TV. In that, I do not watch much of travel/food shows, and the likes. But Bourdain had me at the first look, and I kept vicariously traveling with him, to different parts. From Scotland to Marseille to Hanoi to Greek islands, to Beijing and Moscow, and so on. What set him apart from many other hosts was how he got people really talking, and the unusual cast of visitors on his shows, his empathetic listening, and not to forget his absolute reverence to local food traditions. Food for him was a communion of sorts, one would be forgiven to believe — a communion in spirit for a hardened atheist.

There are tons of memorable moments in Parts Unknown. Two come to my mind.

One, from what seems like a completely different era, when Obama, then still the president, made an appearance on the show, filmed in Hanoi, Vietnam, in a non-descript restaurant, learning from each other (Obama learning the noodle slurp, Bourdain the ketchup law for kids growing up). It was such a surreal exchange, and yet so natural.

The other was the Rome episode where both my wife and I sensed an undeniable chemistry between Bourdain and Asia Argento (we didn’t know they were dating, or who she was). I googled after the episode, and learned they were indeed dating.

This still from the show probably speaks a lot more than we’ll ever know. Filmed at Palazzo dei Congressi, he and Asia Argento discuss the facist past of the country, and an optimism about human beings. There is a poignancy to it that will always haunt me now.


Talking to a friend on Twitter, these lines tumbled out of me:

Some people, although you don’t know them, seem like they were a you in another possible world. You’re of course wrong. But grief doesn’t work with that knowledge.

Anthony Bourdain was really a total stranger, but his death doesn’t feel like that. I will miss him. I so wish his fight with his inner demons were better known to people around him, and they could have helped him in it. The fight that he lost today, never to fight another fight — someone who wasn’t afraid of taking on fights (as he very recently did for Asia). I just hope there are more worlds after, because, if anyone should be visiting them, it’s his restless soul.

5 thoughts on “Bourdain: Man Unknown

  1. healingpilgrim says:

    What a beautiful and bittersweet tribute. Thank you for pouring out your heart and sharing the photos and video clip too; that was a classic moment for sure. I only wish you (as in the general you of society too) would use the term “death by suicide” rather than “killing himself”; it removes the quasi-criminal element and clarifies that it was, yes, a death, but by this manner – as much as it could have been by cancer, heart attack or stroke. I feel that people who have reached their edge (and most especially their survivors) need all the compassion we can find in our hearts..

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