Really? Seriously? Why? These three words coursed through my mind this past Friday as I got a text from my mom and confirmed it via the power of the all powerful internet: Anthony Bourdain passed away today at the age of 61. I was ready to shut out the final Friday of my academic career like a boss, but the news of the death of the original foodie/traveler/essayist/activist/chef/Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practicer/general badass hit me harder than the smell of a ripe durian. Why the impact? It is a journey that began in my childhood.
Everyone at some point in their life has some type of fear. Be it heights, spiders, or even clowns (I still find them creepy to this day), but my big fear when I was a kid was the dark when I was trying to fall asleep. Why was I scared? Perhaps it was the the mystery or the dread of the unknown lurking in the darkness that engulfed me each night. Little did the things that went bump in the night know that I had a secret weapon to combat my anxiety: A small music box that played the Disney song, “It’s a Small World” (which also was hilariously spoofed by the Simpsons). I would pull the string on the music box when I felt overwhelmed, and the melody would calm me down while I also sang the song to myself as I slowly fell asleep which is as follows:
It’s a world of laughter
A world of tears
It’s a world of hope
It’s a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time that we’re aware
It’s a small world after all
Luckily, my fear of the dark went away as I grew a bit older, and my music box fell silent. However, the verses still echoed in my head as I began to read more, make new friends from different cultures, and finally made my first trip overseas in 8th grade to Italy. It was around that same time that I stumbled across a book called Kitchen Confidential by a then low-key Bourdain. I read it from cover to cover, and I couldn’t get enough of the chef’s in-your-face attitude and no-nonsense approach to writing. This publication ended up being an inspiration for this very blog I started back in 2011 after completing my own foodie tour of his town, New York City. When he began his tv show on the Travel Channel, I watched it with great fervor to see what place he would go next, and what wacky situation he would approach with his trademark snark but good humor and thirst to learn more of other peoples’ way of life and struggles they might face. Each episode opened my eyes to the possibility of new lands to explore and new cultures to learn. Every time I said goodbye to my parents at the airport before leaving to live abroad, I turned around to face an unknown world that filled me with a familiar feeling of fear and anxiety. However, instead of having a music box at my side, I had Bourdain’s words as my North Star:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you.”You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
As I found myself at various points in my life looking out over Africa from the Rock of Gibraltar, navigating a remote jungle in the middle of the night in Costa Rica, and venturing into the heart of the hermit kingdom of North Korea among other places, I learned more about the world and myself yet realized how little I actually knew. His advice also helped me appreciate both simple and fine dining and try anything under the sun including dog soup, snake, turtle jelly, and even poisonous blowfish and its sperm sacks. Experiencing different cultures through dining wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t step outside of my comfort zone.
All of these experiences bring me to today. Reflecting on his passing, it seems that the words that I used to sing myself asleep resonate all the more when reflecting on the impact Bourdain has had on me as a traveler, writer, gourmand, and person and the rest of the world. His shows made us laugh, but his passing left us in tears. Our world is filled with future hopes but also tempered with fears. However, through travel I think that we can be more aware that in the end we have more in common that we might think. It truly is a smaller world thanks to Tony. Bon voyage et appetite, chef.