Anthony Bourdain, a man of contradictions, has died. Yes he ended his life, but he seemed to know more about how to enjoy life than anyone I can think of. As I watch CNN’s marathon of favourite episodes of Parts Unknown, I’m trying to pay it forward by trying to capture a bit of what I’ve learned from him, a man who was among other things a great teacher.
- Say “yum” or “mmm” when someone gives you a taste. Did Bourdain ever say a critical word EVER? He takes a taste and inevitably says “thank you”. Music critics? We could learn from this guy. Be grateful. Getting to listen to beautiful music is a blessing.
Now of course we don’t see the preparation, the research. But that only means that Bourdain & his team make sure they’re eating something wonderful before they set up the shot where everyone is moaning in ecstasy. But it’s not so hard to stifle the negative words, is it? Smile, nod, model enjoyment & pleasure.
- Curiosity seems to be fundamental to intelligence. Bourdain asks questions, always trying to figure out how things work, enquiring about what’s in a recipe and how something is made. And most fundamentally he wants to taste things he hasn’t tasted before. Remember to try something new, and when reading a menu, order the strangest thing there.
- Don’t stipulate. Open your heart to what’s before you. Sure, it’s all staged for TV, maybe it wasn’t like that in real life. Okay! So maybe we should pretend we’re on Parts Unknown and that we are meeting people whom we admire and embracing beauty and brilliance. Applaud creativity, laugh at jokes, eat it up, devour what’s before you. Love it unconditionally.
Later (when you’re writing about it)? then you can dissect and contemplate what might be going on. But when you’re face to face with the artists? Offer them love and support.
They are apprehensive, or possibly even terrified of what you might say. Me? I’m gentle Pollyanna, so nothing to fear. But even so: be gentle, careful.
- Be profane. Don’t be afraid of bad words. They are truthful, dammit.
- Listen to the person you are talking to. What do they know? where have they been? what interests them? Shut up and listen.
- Learn martial arts : because walking into strange places is easier if you know ju-jitsu or karate and have a wash-board tummy. I’ll never get the rock hard abs, but it’s not a bad idea, the morning after pigging out.
- Eating is fun and drinking is fun and if you’re not loving it, not having fun don’t do it. Wait until you have a good reason to eat or drink such as acute thirst or hunger. This is really about going to see opera or a concert. What was it CS Lewis said? Fans of mystery novels should review mystery novels. If I am a baroque and classical fan, sitting at a modern opera hating its dissonance: maybe I shouldn’t be there. Love is the answer. No I don’t know what the question is.
- Good cheese is better than a naked body on the beach. Although I’d love to have the opportunity to make the comparison.
- People are vulnerable when they are eating and drinking. Vulnerability? However you get it, it’s indispensable for rapport. The unmasked vulnerable person is the real person: the one you want to meet
- Bourdain regularly pursues the un-commmon rather than the mainstream, the road less traveled. There’s a great episode I saw tonight celebrating examining how Marseilles is a better alternative to Paris. So of course when he comes to Canada? he explores Québec or Newfoundland. Of course.
- Compassion for the addict and their addiction: no judgment because he has been there and it could happen to anyone. How is it that this food & travel show taught me more about heroin than anything I’ve ever seen? Possibly because Bourdain has literally been there himself.
- He’s unafraid to look inept or goofy or incompetent: because he is comfortable in his own skin and in front of the camera. I am remembering an appearance I made on CBC’s opera quiz, and how I laughed at my own ineptitude. Nobody really cares about performance, so long as you seem comfortable in your own skin. This is true when we’re singing or playing the keyboard. The audience / congregation don’t want to be stressed out about whether you’re able to hit the high note.
- Bourdain started in the kitchen himself. He never lost his respect for the hard work of creation. Critics should have some sense of the labour involved, some respect for the work.
Honouring the worker honours the work.
- Parts unknown? Visit them both on the map AND on the menu: explore new music new food new people new books new media. Indeed, the parts unknown can even be ourselves. Do we know our own parts?
And why did he choose to end his life? Who knows. I am sad for such a death. But i can’t miss his love of life, joie de vivre.
In the meantime seize the day or seize the bottle or seize the lover. Enjoy yourself and you’re walking in his footsteps.