We’re all writing about him. Nobody needs me to write about him, too–except me. Has there ever been such a human through-line connecting you and everyone whose company you actually enjoy as Anthony Bourdain? Doubtful.
Since we’re mourning the loss of a teacher, rather than a celebrity, the sting is particularly acute, and for me there’s no better way to quell it than by thanking him for what I wouldn’t know if he’d never stretched his gazelle-like legs around the world, camera crew in tow.
1 — I try things. New, perplexing, and even intimidating foods are something to look forward to, rather than dread. This wasn’t always the case for me. Watching Anthony Bourdain’s culinary reckless abandon and subsequent enjoyment completely reframed my mind about food. I don’t want to eat something familiar that I’ve eaten all my life, that’s crazy, but what’s in that little bowl over there? Further, and perhaps more important, he wised me up to the fact that one of the best and most complete ways to learn about and enjoy a culture or location is by eating. Because you’re always doing more than eating. You’re taking in a space, reading a menu, conversing with staff, observing others, and getting a sense for how they do shit ‘round here. Nothing is more painful to me now than seeing a tourist ask a server for modifications to a local dish that make him feel more at home. Moron.
2 — I’m a traveler, not a tourist. Alternatively titled “fuck the travel guides,” I didn’t know that there was more to travel besides seeing the major sights and eating iconic dishes from movies before I started watching No Reservations, The Layover, et al. I didn’t know that traveling is just living, but better. It’s experiencing a place and a culture, to the extent that you can, like a local. And yes, you need to see the fucking Louvre, but you also need to sit on a park bench and eat some bread and blow an afternoon people watching goddammit.
3 — Canada. Oh my god. I can’t recall any episode of television exciting my reptilian brain so much as Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover episode filmed in Montreal. I booked a flight almost immediately, and started learning French simply in order to read a menu. I am so grateful to this man for showing me that there are places to love, and endless reasons to love them, that are less known than the Parises and Romes of the world. I’ve been back two more times since, and Montreal is without question my escape hatch should we lose any more of our collective American shit. Fuck the cold, give me a bagel.
4 — I want what’s not popular. As hipster-adverse as Bourdain was, he was pretty amazing at enjoying shit before it was cool. There’s art in that, in checking out sights and tastes and sounds before the world gets wind of them. The irony is not lost on me that he was often the one giving the world that wind. In being open to new things, open to trying, and more than anything open to listening to locals talk about what they love (or hate) about their city, he was teaching us all how to be better at being somewhere.
5 — I do what makes me happy, not what makes you comfortable. Funny that a man with a career in a pleasure industry made me feel better about not caring about pleasing others. My to-do list in any given city doesn’t have to delight anyone but me. I can miss the “you have to” dos and write my own version. I can skip tourist traps not only guilt-free, but with a level of arrogance knowing that I saw something cooler than they did, and didn’t have to wait in line to do it. No one can see and experience anything for me, I have to do it myself, and in a way that’s meaningful to me. And what’s meaningful to me is exploring new places, trying new things, and avoiding being the obnoxious foreigner as often as possible. Thank you Mr. Bourdain, for everything.