My “Bourdain Moment” was in St. Petersburg, Russia with our local guide Vladimir, who took us to a friend’s residence for a home cooked meal. Vladimir didn’t tell me or my parents this in the beginning, he just suggested we follow him up an old staircase to a communal flat at the top of an old building. I didn’t know where I was going, only that I trusted Vladimir (who I just met the day before). I was in a strange land, with I must admit, a strange tour guide, but I wasn’t scared.
The communal flat had one bathroom, one kitchen and at least five residents including a cat. Over a bowl of home cooked borscht and plov (a chicken and rice dish), we, along with Vladimir and his friends, discussed vodka, politics, old books, art and Santa Monica (our host had a picture of Santa Monica on his laptop with hopes to visit one day). If I was anywhere near Bourdain’s skill level as a reporter, I would have remembered or written down the names of our hosts correctly and not in chicken scratch (not everyone in Russia is named as easily as Vladimir).
All it was was lunch with with locals, but through friendly discussion, we all learned that no matter what country you are from, what political animal you follow, that’s what a meal is for, to share and discuss our fears, hopes and dreams. BOOM! Bourdain Moment!
Vladimir had made sure to bring a special bottle of Vodka from Belarus, a former Russian state. In recent years, Belarus has been distancing itself from Russia so I wonder if the vodka was even legal to be in St. Petersburg. That was Vladimir, our mysterious tour guide.
I might have had many of these moments in my travels before, but I never paid much attention till Anthony Bourdain gave up his chef hat and took up his travels and revealed to me the reason I travel. His television shows, "No Reservations" and "Parts Unknown," redefined the travel show, and explored more specifically why we travel, especially those of us that have this unquenchable wanderlust.
I have always said, if you can’t travel far, at least right now, step out into your own backyard and just explore your neighborhood or city.
Anthony Bourdain said something similar but a lot more eloquently than I.
“If I am an advocate for anything, it's to move, as far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes, or at least, eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
It was a shock when I heard that this man of the world recently died. It hit me like he was one of my own family as he had touched on something in me that I wanted to cultivate: my desire to travel and share stories. I couldn’t believe that this man who made friends all over the world and appeared to have an optimistic outlook on life, still had his demons. It was definitely a wake up call, for me at least, how common suicide is and to make sure to listen attentively to any in need.
Jill Filipovic of CNN offered her thoughts in an essay:
“He offered a wonderfully inquisitive, quietly humble and profoundly empathetic way to move through the world. What truly made Bourdain special was his fundamental desire to connect with people, how people all over the world use food to bond, to express their creativity, to nurture their loved ones, to carry forward tradition and memory, and to indulge in new experiences.”
She also mentions how Bourdain treated people wherever he went like human beings, with all of their human virtues and flaws.
“In a world where small-mindedness seems to be growing and walls are rising and life experience sharply diverting along lines of class and politics, Bourdain brought a powerful, outward-looking ethos into living rooms around the country.”
You can see more of Jill Filipovic’s article here.
Bourdain is one of the main reasons I became a travel writer. I travel with my parents a lot and we look for ways to travel as a local or find something off the beaten path. I watched Bourdain's Parts Unknown to inspire me where to go next and how.
In the context of St. Petersburg, and traveling those steps up into mystery, I asked myself, “What would Bourdain do?” He would double down and enjoy what life would bring him next. I have and have never looked back. I owe him a lot and will honor him by continuing to follow my passions.
World renowned director of Black Swan and Requiem For a Dream, Darren Aronofsky, met Anthony Bourdain back in 2015 on a trip to Madagascar. Something that struck me as interesting was that Aronofsky said that Bourdain was shy but seemed to open up after their first meal together.
“Tony was just himself: humble, confident, authentic, mischievous, kind. He greeted every fan's request for a selfie with patience and a smile. He was really alive, fully energized, fully engaged, very curious and completely connected to this moment in time.”
I could definitely relate to that last part as I thoroughly believe in the art of Mindful Travel. Living in the moment is something I hold dear.
Another thing that struck me as interesting was that during a long layover, Aronofsky had to convince Bourdain to take a risk. As adventurous as Bourdain seemed to be in his shows, he did have his travel fears like missing his next flight. Aronofsky continues:
“Tony religiously would go to the lounges and wait for the next leg. He was a bit nervous for sure. He had never left an airport mid-journey before. But I wanted the adventure.”
In this layover in Bangkok, Aronofsky goes on to relay what they experiences they both had in a rushed 6 hours:
“There were flaming fountains, giant gold sculptures and beer waiters wearing cheerleader outfits for their brands. A cheesy (in all the right ways) Thai cover band was banging out some hits from '80s America. Tony was thrilled with the menu's exotic offerings and could describe in detail how each nuanced plate was constructed. Arriving at the airport with time to spare, we hit one of Tony's favorite places, the foot massage parlor. Side by side, hermano a hermano, we had the knots kneaded from our soles. With bellies full and warm oily feet, the trip to Tokyo was easy.”
Aronofsky ends the essay with what Bourdain meant to him:
“You turned a light on what it means to be a human right now, right here on planet Earth.”
Read more of Aronofsky's essay here.
I had struggled to find words on what Bourdain’s travel adventures had meant to me so I had to find others to help. Upon reading tribute upon tribute to the man, and reading that last passage from Aronofsky, I think I figured out what I wanted to say.
Many people had traveled before Bourdain and many more will travel after him and I think many travelers like myself have the same spirit as Bourdain. His ability as a storyteller just made it so much easier for us all to understand what drives many of us to explore the globe. Everyone has their reasons to hop country to country and all are valid, but for some of us, it offers a way to connect with the world, something social media and technology can’t offer.
Something real, something honest, something amazing.
But also something hard to come by these days; however, I say now is the time to travel, no matter what the political climate. Only now can you figure out what makes you unique and what makes others just as unique but also understand that we are all one species that inhabit the planet and we must share accordingly.
Cheers, Now Get Lost!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline