There is nothing I can write about Anthony Bourdain that won’t be written far more eloquently by those far better at writing things. I never had the chance to meet him, though I would have loved to. His unique style of travel writing and documentary filmmaking was a huge inspiration in creating my blog, and in my life in general. The closest I came to meeting him was in 2014 when my husband and I attended a UFC fight in Baltimore. Anthony and his then-wife, Ottavia, walked right past us as they made their way to their seats octagon-side. “Holy shit!,” I remember saying, “That was Anthony Bourdain!” There was no fuss, no fanfare. Just a man and his wifeon a night out watching the fights.
That’s part of what made him so great. He was unpretentious, honorable and endlessly curious. He treated the Michelin-starred chef the same way he treated the Vietnamese street food cook or the Portugese grandmother – as a valuable human being, someone to learn from, to share time, space and food with. He was as impressed by West Virginia coal miners as he was by celebrity chefs. He sought out the extraordinary in the ordinary and the ordinary in the extraordinary. He had every travel junkie’s ultimate dream job, and he used his platform to tell the stories of the places he visited in a way that went far deeper than which sights and restaurants to tick off your bucket list.
I tried to travel like Bourdain, to take the extra time to connect with those I met along the way. I’m reminded of a dinner in Colmar, Alsace, ironically not far from where his life ended. It was November of 2016, and Trump had just been elected President. We’d been in Reims – Champagne country – the day before when the news broke. Our trip plans had entailed toasting Hillary Clinton’s win with some celebratory champagne. Alas, that was not to be.
We walked through the cobbled streets of Colmar, a medieval town with timbered buildings dating from the 1400’s, looking for somewhere to eat. In the center of the old town, Le Fer Rouge is a classic Alsatien restaurant in a quaint and charming old building. My husband and I sat in the back corner and chatted about the election. Our waiter, overhearing us, asked where we were from. I said we were American, and, in broken franglais, explained how terrible it was that Trump had won the election. Over the course of our meal, we spoke with our waiter about immigration, European right-wing politics and French stereotypes of Americans. At one point, he whizzed our cardboard coasters to us with a joking shout of “for Trump!”
Our shared connection made that dinner far more memorable and meaningful than if my husband and I had sat in the corner, ordered our food and only spoken to the waiter to give our orders. Because of our waiter’s sociable personality and our willingness to share a conversation, we learned that not every French person sees the immigration issue the same way, that in small, rural, fiercely independent Alsace, there is nervousness at the prospect of their way of life changing with large influxes of people from elsewhere. After following the restaurant on Facebook – just a click away in today’s social media world of constant connectivity – I was saddened to learn of our waiter’s passing earlier this year. I thought of Anthony’s words from his book “The Nasty Bits”: “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”
Everyone who loves food and travel idolized Anthony Bourdain. Everyone wanted to do what he did, aspired to be half the writer, speaker and thinker that he was. He used his talents for good, to shine a light on injustice, to let neglected and overlooked communities speak for themselves. He used food and travel as tools to get to the heart of our shared humanity, one plate at a time, one road at a time, one place at a time. He seemed to always be searching for what is real, what is true – which was often beautiful, but nearly as often ugly. The tragedy of his death is that this world has lost his unique voice, and his powerful way of looking at and reflecting the world back to us. There will never be another Anthony Bourdain. My heart aches for his daughter, his family, his friends and associates and all of us whose lives he enriched and inspired. I hope that he has found peace.
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