It has been over a week now that Anthony Bourdain took his life and I still have a hard time collecting my thoughts and feelings on it. Even his very last action taught me something fundamental about people: Sometimes we know nothing about them, even if they influenced our lives significantly and spoke to us for uncountable hours.
I actually would have never guessed Tony was in a bad spot right now. From all that I knew – and I followed his doings quite a bit – I had to assume the opposite: He had started practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, training in local gyms where ever he went. Everybody who does BJJ will tell you that it grounds and humbles you like few things in life. It has the reputation of producing some of the calmest and most balanced practicioners in sports.
Tony also found new love in his life. His outbursts of affection on social media seemed unusual for him but never made me think "that's a guy in distress!" or even something remotely similar to that. He just seemed to be a happy guy with an awesome job he was incredibly sucessful in. A guy that had overcome addiction and a miserable life, now traveling the world, producing better and better TV every month. With a show he had complete artistic control over, telling more and more significant stories about it meant to be a human being in this world.
As of 2018, the storyteller Bourdain used food only as an entry point into what actually mattered. There was not one episode of Parts Unknown where I did not learn something about me or the world I live in.
Tony was a guy that recently made a "food centered" show about scientists working in Antarctica, opening tin cans for dinner. Fighting the most hostile climate on earth at work and a more and more science-hostile climate at home, still trying to explain what's going on with our planet. Scientists that would never talk down to the janitor or the "fuel guy" at their outpost because they damn well know the Antarctic will come and kill them in days if that people down their payroll wouldn't do their jobs. I have not seen a more elegant and less in-your-face metaphore for what our modern urbanized society lacks.
In interviews Bourdain often got asked how awesome on a scale from 9 to 10 it was to do his job. Traveling the world, drinking, shoving food in his mouth. In retrospect, he always seemed like playing his own PR person answering this question. He knew that – objectivly – he had hit the jackpot and thereby needed to tell people how fortunate he was. But deep inside it did not fill the holes, did not give him what he needed to be happy. Whatever that was; I'm sure he didn't know either. I'm also sure he did not fail in trying, in searching for it.
So many great memories in my life can be traced back to places I saw first on an episode of No Reservations, The Layover or Parts Unknown. Crazy evenings at "l'avant comptoir" in Paris, humbeling lunches on plastic chairs in Vietnam, not getting Tickets for "Tickets" in Barcelona every time I try to. Maybe it's time to move on now.
"If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food, it's a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move."
Move in Peace, Tony.