It starts with “The Passenger”, by Iggy Pop. The Spotify playlist, “Parts Unknown” that is. Yes, this entry is about Anthony Bourdain‘s “Parts Unknown” docu-series, produced by CNN.
This Gentleman, here above. Anthony Bourdain took his own life a couple of months back, on June 8th, and although I’ve been meaning to write about him in my “About” page, I just never thought I would run out of time. Or maybe I haven’t, as what he had to teach me, he already has anyway.
A chef, turned writer, turned storyteller, turned my favorite companion when I just feel like traveling the world. The joy of having “Parts Unknown” in my Netflix subscription is inexplicable.
When you feel that the routine life around you is just too small. When you feel that boredom with that familiar street you are repeatedly taking to and from work. When, for a moment, you realize that you could literally hop on a plane and go see another destination, near, far, unknown.
That’s when you turn the tv on, and when this song comes on, you know it’s that time.
When Anthony Bourdain cheers me up the most. When I can smell the olive oil pouring in the hummus in the Lebanon episode, or watch him taste some absurd dishes at Noma, in Copenhagen. Or maybe all the way in Hawaii, discussing the use of Spam. And why not Italy, Japan, China, Congo? I mean the guy has been around.
But how has Anthony truly inspired me?
A few months into creating this blog, I was thinking of what I truly wanted to achieve? Was it a technical website discussing the latest gear? No. Was it solely artistic? No. Only documentary? Closer. And then I came up with “Discovery through Photography“. A way for me to discover, learn, explore the world using photography as the vehicle. Loose enough to span many topics, but all tied up and neatly wrapped by photography.
I recall sitting with my wife one night and just rambling on about these thoughts. And all of a sudden I likened the idea to “Parts Unknown”. I recall saying something along the lines, “I hope that Discovery through Photography becomes a way to discover the world, but instead of food being the glue, like in ‘Parts Unknown’, it is photography”.
And numerous times after that, when casually having a cigarette with friends, colleagues, or new acquaintances, I would compare this blog to “Parts Unknown”. The spirit of it that is.
In an instance the person would understand. It’s not only about food. It’s not always about geopolitics, about traveling, about distant cultures. Actually, it spans all across the board. What keeps it together is enquiry. Asking the people he meets questions to learn about them, their nation, their culture. It is a genuine interest in sitting at the dinner table, which is the same for every human across the globe, and with a full stomach, getting to know each other.
That, for me, is priceless. Probably an obvious statement, because of the program’s success, but nonetheless true.
I recall watching the Detroit episode with such pride. Anthony stating, “You should come here [Detroit]. You should see this. Of all the American cities, this is easily one of the most awesome.” Watching the Packard Plant, which I had visited as well, the hanging out and eating with a firemen brigade discussing how under-financed the city actually was. I was so proud of Detroit.
Or the episode where he was chillin’ with Barack, Obama that is, in a Vietnam restaurant. Ya, of course it was all staged, but the stage this time wasn’t some fancy, Presidentish kinda place. It was a small restaurant in Hanoi. I think they ate Pho. I’m sure they were sipping on a cold beer.
And what Obama said about his passing also rings true with me. “Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer. This is how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”
In 2013, he was awarded the Peabody Award, “[to] honor the most powerful, enlightening, and invigorating stories in television, radio, and online media” (wikipedia) for “Parts Unknown”. The added comment? “For expanding our palates and horizons in equal measure.”
His style of journalism was new. He didn’t shy away from asking tough questions but never in an inquisitive and arrogant way. He always made sure the subjects he interviewed were made comfortable to give him true answers. He also interviewed, or should I say, had dinner, with the most disparate array of guests. It was always interesting to see the genuine answers of commoners, not some guided speech by some representative of whichever government. And he did this through food. Two, or more people, legs underneath the table, and just beautiful world food to indulge in.
Maybe, it’s like the Magnum photographers and their style of photo-journalism, that was just different from the other reporters of the time.
I won’t tire from watching the episodes of “Parts Unknown”. I won’t tire from watching Anthony Bourdain, and his guest, taste wonderful cuisine and discuss everyday issues without the academic and boring undertone of ‘standard’ reporting. And I won’t tire from wearing Persol sunglasses, which was probably the first thing I noticed when I saw the first episode of “Parts Unknown”.
Most importantly I’ll keep him, and “Parts Unknown” as a source of inspiration for this blog, and more.
Thank you Tony, can I call you that?
Until Next Time,