Bourdain.


Illustration by Jenny Mörtsell.

 

It has been a tearfully confounding few days for those who imagined a life of elation for that man privileged to travel and eat anywhere in the world, to dine in places high and low, to taste cuisines in remote outposts, and consume foods prepared by experts in professional kitchens, or cooked on stoves by mothers in Ghana, Sicily, Ukraine, Bali, Uruguay and Northern New Mexico.

Why did he, of all lucky mortals, choose to strangle himself in a hotel bathroom at the five-star Le Chambard in Kayserberg, France?

 


Once a fuck up, a drugged, sad, angry rebel from New Jersey working in restaurant kitchens, he somehow strapped himself down at a typewriter in his early 40s, cigarette in mouth, coffee at hand, and composed a brilliantly inventive memoir exposing the death, filth, corruption, blood and cruelty turning out fine cuisine. “Kitchen Confidential” became a best seller and a 44-year-old loser was suddenly the toast of New York and the hero of truth tellers around the world.

In our early 21stCentury Bourdain was the healer, the traveller, the sage, the explorer, the courageous adventurer who called bullshit on all liars as he saw them, those phonies who dance on the Food Network sets and perform like The Rockettes as they whip up Key Lime Pie for a studio audience clapping on cue.

Later, he acted as our elder statesman, visiting those places around the world despised and feared by people who knew nothing of them: Lebanon, Palestine, Iran and Russia. His every meal was more than an exploration of cuisine; he conducted discursive, penetrating, eviscerating discussions of why and how nations and individuals do what they do in food, war, love and politics.

He stood up for women degraded by sexual assault and gender inequality. And called out others who would deny injured females palliative justice.

Sometimes his articulation and verboseness became exhausting, his face, sunken and tired; his body long limbed, tattooed, tanned and tired. And he was always drinking something.

Yet somehow he was allowed, by the networks that employed him, to get buzzed on camera, for in those late hours when alcohol magically connects words to ideas and liberates men from self-imposed constraints, Bourdain flourished, every sense of his intellect and wit was lit by fire, and the camera captured it.

His life as we projected it off our own, was a mirror of baby boomer fantasy, travelling from drugs and rock and roll, divorce and shitty jobs into the universe of eternal fame, free travel, the ability to express himself on paper, on camera, to go anywhere in the world. And eat dinner with Barack Obama in Vietnam, the last destination wrapping up that pinnacle of American shame, repackaged as a television event of healing and camaraderie with the black American President in our former enemy’s capital of Hanoi.

Seemingly every insurmountable obstacle of hate: race, religion, gender, or war was solvable over a bowl of pho or a plate of tacos.

He took up Ju Jitsu, and at 60 was lean and defined. Book publishers and publicists, agents and advertisers saw him as the perfect imperfect. He was the star of CNN but somehow his own man.

And then at 61, like Hemingway, Bourdain did as Hemingway did and killed himself.

In those last five minutes of his life, alone, near the toilet, Bourdain murdered Bourdain, a dastardly tragic, unjust, undeserved death; and a malevolent attack on the entire human race who was joined to him in an unofficial, but widely accepted compact of love and mutual understanding.

His suicide robbed us of that satisfaction that there is greater meaning to life, to grow to understand by venturing out into the unknown.

Now we are back to nihilism, that nothingness of despair, that poison of philosophy whose only known antidote is survival, carrying on, living under any condition to stay alive, confronting the urge to end it all by persisting to the very end.

6 thoughts on “Bourdain.

  1. I started a post about Bourdain, but felt I wasn’t saying new or insightful. I’m glad I didn’t, because I couldn’t have done better than what you did here.

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  2. I loved reading this post on Anthony Bourdain. He was a fascinating and complex man. Such a tragic loss. And I personally, would welcome an op-ed on Kate Spade as well. Your coverage of Van Nuys is great but PLEASE don’t limit yourself to only valley postings. It’s nice to mix it up once in a while. Keep up the good work!!!

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  3. Your can post whatever you want. No one is required to read it. The question you did not address is the pain Anthony Bourdain was experiencing. Of course we do not know what that pain was. Millions of Americans are suffering some kind of mental pain. There has been a 25% increase in suicides between 1999 and 2016. That is why there is a national hot line for suicide prevention. The suicide prevention line is 1-800-273-8255.

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  4. I lived in Van Nuys for 11 years, I love Anthony Bourdain, and yes the above piece has nothing to do with Van Nuys, and for a second I was excited to think it may because Van Nuys, not unlike Mr. Bourdain’s shows, includes food and people from all over the world, glamorous or not! I’m not pissed off that this is here, now an op-ed about Kate Spade….that’s a stretch (for me at least).

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  5. What does this article about Bourdain have to do even remotely with Van Nuys?? You have to wonder why this was inserted here even though it does state that this little site is about, but not limited to, Van Nuys! I could care less about this guy, his life, his issues as he grew up, etc. I can read about all that in the newspapers if I care about that! Personally, everything about Van Nuys, even the whole Valley, is what I come here for, and I’m not interested at all in these completely un-related rants and opinions about ‘other stuff ‘. It cheapens the site and brings it down to the level of random personal Tweets! I’d hate to see this place go bye-bye because it won’t stay focused on the original subject matter, but me myself, I find it disappointing, and if it continues, unfortunately, I will stop reading this and delete it, as my interest, (and what keeps me coming back again and again, is talking about Van Nuys, the surrounding areas, and how things were back in the day to now!)

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    1. Sorry man you aren’t the censor of what I publish on this blog. Like it says at the top of the page, since 2006, “not limited to Van Nuys.” Be my guest to not read this. My interest in the rest of the world is not bounded by Victory and Sepulveda. And this was not “inserted” here. It was written by me. Start your own blog and focus only on Van Nuys. Good luck.

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