by Maisie Smith on June 25, 2018
I am a rather ordinary person. Most days you’ll find me sitting behind a desk fretting over verbs and client expectations. I worry about climate change and income inequality. I complain about potholes. I take pictures of sunsets.
But I’m also a restless soul.
I’m a seeker. A thinker. A dreamer.
The itch to lace up my boots and traipse the world is a constant presence in my life.
I blame my raging case of wanderlust on Anthony Bourdain. No Reservations and Parts Unknown have become a decade-long obsession. I take notes. I make lists. I rearrange my lists. Italy first. Then Ireland. Then Kathmandu.
I had just returned from a three-week trip to Portugal when I learned of Anthony Bourdain’s death. It was a gigantic punch to the gut, the kind that leaves an existential ache. He was the best friend I never met, a kindred spirit with no time for bullshit.
And I loved him wildly for it.
I think most people felt this way about the man. Bourdain was one of the greatest storytellers on the planet. He pulled back the curtain on the human condition. There was a sharp honesty that showed in the beautiful bits and ugly truths he revealed about the world. Between those extremes we saw curiosity, irreverence and compassion woven together by his word magic. He understood the most basic human desire—to matter and to be known—and spent most of his time listening.
In Season 2, Episode 6 of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain and his team traveled to Sicily. “Awesome,” you think. Sicily. Home of The Godfather. Pizza. Piazzas. Eating pizza in piazzas.
The episode quickly leaps off the rails. No more than five minutes in, Anthony is diving for cuttlefish and octopus with a local fisherman and restauranteur. It turns out to be a staged event, complete with dead store-bought seafood tossed into the water like confetti by eager helpers in a nearby boat.
**Plop. Plop. Plop.**
Everyone is pretending to believe the sham unfolding before their eyes.
Except for Anthony Bourdain.
“I’m no marine biologist, but I know a dead octopus when I see one,” his voice overlays as the camera pans to a lifeless octopus blob floating past his face. And then he snaps.
Realizing the scene is staged, his smoldering rage is palpable. “Something fell apart down there,” he later said. The episode turns into a drunken disaster as the beleaguered host looks for something to soothe his shattered soul. That “something” turns out to be Negronis. Lots and lots of Negronis.
My heart hurt as I watched his existential crisis unfold. Disappointment, disgust, sorrow, the tacky/lazy/pandering side of humanity, a tug of war between empathy and contempt–it was all laid out like a picnic lunch, forcing you to ponder the kind of world we live in.
And that’s why we loved Anthony Bourdain. He was unapologetically himself, even if it meant we saw the rough edges of his clashes with humanity.
The world isn’t perfect and Bourdain knew it.
He taught us to expand not only our palates but also our minds. Engage. Never pander. Connect above all. And hopefully in that process you’ll learn a thing or two about yourself. “Open your mind, get up off the couch, move,” he once said.
It wasn’t until five short years ago that I became a true traveler. Sure, I’d sucked back piña coladas poolside in Puerto Vallarta and wandered the decks of a cruise ship steamrolling through the Caribbean, but I’d never actually experienced the world. Anthony Bourdain inspired me to embrace humanity’s similarities, instead of focusing so much on our differences.
His voice has been an unconscious narration that guides me down medieval alleyways and obscure dirt paths. He proved that stories could be both simple and complicated. He taught me that travel is an endless learning curve. It’s okay to be wrong, confused, and vulnerable. It’s when you become outrageously lost that you learn who you truly are.
Anthony Bourdain was more than a travel writer. More than a celebrity chef. More than a television personality. He was a world revealer. He machete-hacked a path for the misfits and oddballs of the world and showed us that we could claw our way from the bottom, lay our truths out on the table, and be ourselves.
His legacy was honest and real. And I will miss his voice, his writing, his everything.
Let’s continue to share meals, stories, belly laughs, heartache and hope around tables with strangers. Let’s settle into plastic chairs and drink beer together in the afternoon and not be so fussy about it. Let’s make our moments matter.
Just like Bourdain did.