Sometimes your world is changed through writing; and sometimes, more rarely, you also change the world through your writing. Pen to paper, that oldest and most significant of technologies. Everybody dreams of being something more, grander, with greater significance. Money, recognition and that cushion from the grinding blinding panic of mediocrity, of anonymity. A life that never rages; perhaps the greatest fear of all. What we make of our lives, that is the question. Followed by what we make of what we have made of ourselves; this often is ignored, after we have arrived. It should be the easy part, right?
Anthony Bourdain was just another chef – every restaurant has one. Some are amazing, some are just line cooks. Some have flair; others are comforting in a way that sooths aching hearts. Anthony Bourdain was probably a mediocre chef, but one whose world was changed through writing and in the process he changed the world through his writing, not only his books but also the thoughtful monologues with which he filled his travel shows; his eating shows. Even now I can hear his calm voice narrating the reflections, waxing philosophical about food. That’s why they were so charming, his shows – who of us does not cook and eat, and in doing so who does not also believe he is doing something ancient and noble and good.
Yes, another shining candle killed himself yesterday. They are starting to add up; Robin Williams, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymore Hoffman. Now Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain is by far the greatest shock – because we all expect it from the Hollywood crowd, but he was not of that crowd; at least not really. He was a cook; a chef. First and foremost. Famous at the end to be sure; but not bitter and partisan and blank like the actors who strut naked across the big screen these days. With no agenda, except that which is brought by a full belly and the warmth of spirits beside a desert Sahara fire. Food, since the first days when a caveman learned that throwing a hunk of mastodon in the fire saved him hours of chewing, cooking has been central to the human experience. Absolutely central. The breaking of bread; from a Raven bringing Elijah bread and meat to Jesus’s last supper of wafers and wine and beyond, chicha and ceviche, poi and gumbo. Peru and Malaysia and Mongolia; yaks milk in a yurt.
Anthony Bourdain took us to all these places and let us experience them with him, glorying in a wide world which has defined itself by what it eats. That most a-political of acts, cooking – and eating – allowed us to bridge gaps, build bridges and reach if not understanding at least acquaintance and familiarity. And a little of that goes a long ways.
I was very much surprised by Bourdain’s unlikely end. Of all people, I did not expect this to be how his story concluded. He looked more composed, cynical enough and strong enough to weather the demons which come in all forms to wage war, even upon the most assured of all of us. And I can’t help wondering what was wrong and why did nobody see it. “Find what you love to do, and let it kill you” – as the saying goes. Maybe he did; at least I’d like to think so, not that it helps assuage the sorrow.
So there it is, my eulogy. RIP noble soul, the world is a little darker today – thank you for brining me some measure of peace, even if you for reasons I cannot fathom did not find your own.