I am not a chef, artist, musician or even could be considered that cool. However, I have experienced some of the most amazing travel journeys. I remember a trip to Egypt with my father where we ventured out of the safe confines of the hotel Semiramis to take a taxi to the market Khan el-Khalili. We didn’t speak the language, know the customs, or understand the geography. We wandered narrow passage ways, stepping to the side as lamb herders guided their flock past in preparation for the break of the fast and marveled at wonderful stalls containing spices, antiques and jewelry. We decided to sit down and have some shay at one of the coffeehouses that offer outside seating. As we sat within this bustling marketplace, the tourist buses drove by looking down on us while taking in the scenery and spectacle of it all. I sometimes wonder how we had the courage to venture out in a foreign land to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the city. I owe all of this to writer, tv personality and chef Anthony Bourdain.
Anthony opened doors for all of us. He taught us that we could all get out of our neighborhoods and daily routines and experience the world around us. His advice ranged from exposing the uninitiated to dishes like Poulet en Vessie (chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder), Mapo Tofu and Vietnamese Bun Cha to admonitions about eating “airplane food”. He was knowledgeable in matters of culture. Frequently, he would wax poetic about film, music and political causes near to him. From afar it didn’t look like he suffered fools lightly. However, it was clear that he had a genuine desire to not only get to know other cultures, but rather to understand their deepest meanings and beliefs.
He was an father like figure that taught us the right and wrong way to act when faced with new places and experiences. In one episode, he checked into the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. He explained, “…you feel like you’re staying at a kooky uncle’s place., Generally anybody can get in here… As long as you behave… according to certain undefined rules…, You don’t geek out on who you may or may not see here, you definitely don’t take pictures and you don’t behave like-a-(expletive).” He goes on to explain “You will be treated the same as the famous guy at the next table.” Anthony opened doors for everyone interested in seeing what was inside. He exposed us to things that we may have never seen or even heard about while living our everyday lives. For me, he helped me form my dreams and travel aspirations.
When a tragedy like this happens, the initial reaction is to start a dialogue about addiction or mental illness. While both of these may or may not have played a factor in the outcome. Out of respect for his family and loved ones, I think commentary of this nature is best left to those who were in his life. I Can only imagine how difficult Anthony’s schedule must have been. As a follower of his on social media, he would often post scenes from his upper east side apartment with some cool music as his soundtrack. It gave us a small glimpse into his limited life off the road.
It is hard to admit that I have been personally impacted by someone’s death whom I did not have the pleasure of meeting. But, Anthony became a part of my life. I looked forward to every new episode. Since he moved his program to CNN, it became a Sunday night ritual in my family to see the world through the eyes of another. He had a strong sense of what he believed was right and wrong. Anthony was not shy to expose the injustices of the world. He went to dangerous places in search of the essence of the people, culture and at times, their struggle.
You can’t have a conversation about Anthony Bourdain without bringing up “cool”. There is no doubt he was cool in the Steve McQueen, Paul Newman mold. However, at the same time he allowed the audience to see him experience new things that sometimes made him uncomfortable. His on-screen adventures made him appear to almost be a modern-day renaissance man with a touch of Indiana Jones.
One of the things I noticed on the street that day, in Cairo were the tourist police. While we sat waiting for our check, a woman approached and handed me a folded-up piece of white paper. On the sheet it read the word “Cipro”. I handed her a twenty-pound note, while that wouldn’t equate to much in US dollars, it was meant as a gesture of kindness. This did not appear to satisfy her, and she began trying to speak to me in Arabic. After a minute or so, she reached down and kissed me on my cheek. I swung my head and nodded to the police officer who had been monitoring and instantly she was taken away screaming. I am sure Anthony would have found a more polite and elegant way to handle the situation. Anthony said “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Anthony gave us a gift, the least we can all do is to honor his memory by continuing his journey.