I haven’t posted anything here in a while. It’s not that we aren’t traveling – I still haven’t written about our trip to Knoxville, or our trip to Kansas City, or all the assorted day trips around where we live. It’s been a busy couple of months for me trying to get everything together to go back to school in the fall, opening my little Etsy shop, and just generally existing. It’s been hard and I’ve been lacking the motivation to do more than absolutely necessary some days. I struggle with anxiety, which has a tendency to rear its ugly head exactly when I need the opposite. So, this blog has taken a backseat for a bit in favor of just getting through life.
I’m here now, screaming into the void of the Internet to try to sort out my thoughts and feelings on the world losing Anthony Bourdain. If it weren’t for him, this blog wouldn’t exist. I’ve long admired his work, discovering him in college on Travel Channel when there was nothing else to watch and becoming completely enraptured with a rerun of the Beirut episode of No Reservations. His work inspired me to keep track of my travels, via writing or blogging or Instagramming or whatever medium, and to keep track of all the places I eat. And not just to keep track of them, but to seek out the lesser-known places, to support the family owned restaurants, to learn about the little guys. His way of going through the world resonated strongly with me, for many reasons, but none more than the way he explored and shared his travels with those of us at home on our couches without being condescending towards the people he was around. I have never traveled outside of the United States and a few Canadian cities, but I strive to travel like that. I teach children from countries all over the world, and seeing a television show embracing and celebrating their cultures is nothing short of magical. Especially when they come from cultures or countries that are often maligned in Western media.
My favorite episodes of his various shows are nearly impossible to narrow down. I find myself watching the Parts Unknown episodes of Quebec and Charleston when I am in need of something to cheer me up – Quebec because it’s just such a good episode, Charleston because I know the city and so many of those places, and I will forever love the Waffle House segment. The Toronto episode of The Layover is one of my favorite hours of television, because it’s another city I love dearly. But for me, Anthony Bourdain was at his best when it wasn’t about the travel or the food but about how those things unite us, expand our worldview, bring us together even when we are massively different. The episodes that really stick with me are his episodes about Iran, Tbilisi, Jerusalem, Congo, South Africa, Myanmar, Provincetown, and Houston. Wildly different episodes, wildly different places and stories, but somehow magical in the same way. Houston in particular strikes a chord with me since he spent time in a classroom with an ESOL teacher and students, which filled me with absolute joy as an ESOL teacher. The Tbilisi episode inspired me to learn more about Georgia, a country I previously knew very little about. The examination of the heroin epidemic in Massachusetts is striking and sobering, and a beautifully filmed episode. Myanmar, South Africa, Congo…places I always wanted to know more about, places I’ve had students from, places that you assume you understand and then Anthony Bourdain shows you something completely different. Iran and Jerusalem in particular were episodes that took places we see in certain ways in the Western media and instead showed us kitchens and families and old recipes.
He had a way of presenting places to you without pretending to be an expert, without talking over the people there and instead letting them tell their stories. I know I struggle with that, and I certainly have lots of room to grow, but his work helps me to be better.
In one episode, or maybe a blog post, he mentioned something about how he always tries to read a book set in the place he’s about to visit while he’s traveling there. I’ve been trying to do that for myself, and it really does add a new level of experience to a trip, even when it’s a place you’ve been before. That’s maybe my favorite thing about Anthony Bourdain – the knowledge that even if you have been someplace before, there’s always something new to discover.
I’m just an average woman writing a little blog in my dining room in California, only having seen a small portion of the United States and almost nothing outside of it, but so much of my attitude towards travel has been influenced by Anthony Bourdain. I am gutted by this loss, and while I obviously never met him I feel like I’ve lost an important person in my life. Hearing him openly discuss his demons helped me examine mine. His work inspired me in travel and in life, and some of my most treasured moments have been curled up on the couch with my husband watching Parts Unknown. The world is a little less bright without him in it, and I am sending so much love to people everywhere who knew and loved him – and the people like me who loved him and the world through the television.
May you rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain, and may there be a hot bowl of noodles wherever you are. I leave you with this quote, one of my favorites, one that inspired me as I started traveling more often in my twenties:
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.”