I don’t pretend to know or have met Anthony Bourdain. But as an avid traveler, foodie and wanderlust aficionado I owe him a colossal debt. His stories on the television program “Parts Unknown” inspired me to become a travel writer. The world became an exciting place through his eyes, full of adventure, great food and interesting people. The least I can do is write an Anthony Bourdain tribute.
My Anthony Bourdain Tribute from a Fellow Traveler
There are many travel and food shows out there. I watch most of them. But Anthony Bourdain in “Parts Unknown” did more. He not only explored exotic lands like the Congo and ate crazy foods like the heart of a cobra, he helped me understand human nature. He dissected citizens and cultures and presented them in an intelligent and understandable way. Travel transcended selfie sticks and conveyor belt tour programs. To Bourdain exploration was more about authentic human connection.
“If you’re 22, 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, eat and cook. Learn from them – where ever you go.” Anthony Bourdain
From the comfort of one’s living room you could meet nationalities you’d probably never come across at home. Anthony humanized his subjects and presented their desires and motivations in a simple and concise way. As a result he helped me understand what makes people tick.
Ironically before the episode aired with him dining in Hanoi, Vietnam with former President Obama, Allan and I ate at the same restaurant a few weeks after. We were totally unaware of the coincidence. We ate at Bun Cha Huong Lien based on recommendations from our hotel concierge. The pho soup was delicious. It’s no wonder Bourdain picked the same spot.
No one knew of their meeting other than a close circle of people. That elite group just happened to include our tour guide in Hanoi. He drove for Obama’s security crew during the president’s Hanoi visit. Since our guide had security clearance he was asked to pose as a patron in the restaurant during filming and to “act normal”. Producers instructed him to not look over at Bourdain and Obama.
What appeared like a normal restaurant meeting between Bourdain and Obama was actually a staged event. Given Obama’s attendance, it’s no surprise the US Security Service took extra precautions. Regardless with Bourdain’s natural eloquence and producer’s expert staging, viewers are left believing the encounter was a natural event.
Instead of promoting some unhidden agenda, Anthony Bourdain showed us that citizens from all over the planet have more similarities than differences.
Prior to meeting with some coal miners in his episode on West Virginia, Bourdain professed having complete opposite political views as the miners. Bourdain was anti-Trump and pro environment. However he set aside his differences, kept an open mind and sat down over a meal of snapping turtle and listened. And in the end Bourdain confessed he empathized and appreciated their point of view.
The West Virginian coal miners were not uninformed laborers being duped by the media. Rather they were voting for what was in their best interest, like everyone does. Coal paid their bills and supported their families. Trump’s pro-coal agenda further convinced these West Virginians to vote in his favor. These weren’t some back woods hicks. They were intelligent people. He showed us regardless of political views, friendship and true understanding was possible.
“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.” – Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain humanized his subjects. It’s very easy to group a race of people together and make assumptions. Through this classification we protect ourselves from having to get to know others. We put people in boxes. But Anthony Bourdain realized this way of thing is erroneous. People are different. Just because someone looks a certain way and is from a distinct country, does not mean they think and act a certain way.
Bourdain listened more than he talked. He realized he could learn more by paying attention. Very wisely he surrounded himself with people who were smarter than he was. Through osmosis and keeping his mouth shut, he let others guide him. With so much fame and notoriety he was a paradigm of modesty.
Feeling a sense of urgency to soak up all things “Anthony” I’ve already started binge watching “Parts Unknown”. They are quite entertaining and helped me write this Anthony Bourdain tribute. Although he will be greatly missed I’ll always remember his message to get to know people and to listen more than I talk.
I would much rather be meeting him for dinner and discussing life and travel rather than writing an Anthony Bourdain tribute.
Reaching Anthony Bourdain’s level of fame and notoriety is not on my agenda. But I do hope to achieve his level of human understanding. When I travel now I endeavor to understand the people in each country I explore. Having basic knowledge of their culture, politics and economics helps me better understand the place I’m visiting. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to ease into conversations with anyone just as easily as Anthony Bourdain.
What would you put in your Anthony Bourdain tribute?
Please post your answers in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!