Thank you, Anthony Bourdain

"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 Bourdain

•••

Anthony Bourdain’s name was not well-known in my household, but I have seen the season in which he dined with Barack Obama—I loved his wit, honesty, and bluntness (and President Obama’s own banter). His show was a refreshing change from the sanitized, fake reality shows in which chefs stand behind raised counters attempting to convince me that I too could replicate their complicated recipe requiring hours of prep and ten assistants to execute. Parts Unknown made travel real, unfiltered; the restaurants he visited as he took us on his trips featured actual people who put all their effort into creating a product others could enjoy—he showed us the kind of passion we don’t often see in a world that increasingly relies on social media façades and a ubiquitous busyness that sometimes leaves us unable to spend time with those we love. Anthony Bourdain made an effort to understand others’ intentions, a process that can reveal more complex, interesting individuals.

Though Anthony Bourdain focused on the food, he indirectly showed us how messy travel inherently is: yes, it’s possible to book flight tickets, hotel rooms, and restaurant reservations all before stepping on the plane, but the true spirit of travel lies in the unexpected alleyway with the local tavern tourist would never think to frequent; the pedestrian-free paths in a quieter part of town; a museum showcasing a city’s history with minimal fuss and fanfare. Real travel, to a certain extent, is not overly planned or sanitized—he understood this, and attempted to show us the beauty of letting travel be organic. After all, eating and traveling both rely on, at their core, meeting other people: someone is responsible for the food you consume and the history you ingest.

There was far, far more to him than his outlook on travel, but this one facet of his life seems to almost encapsulate the rest. Checking off the Eiffel Tower on one’s to-do list is not necessarily synonymous with travel, nor is arriving in a foreign country only to seek out what is comfortable and familiar. It’s more about getting lost on the subway system, eating in a restaurant in which the staff does not speak your own language, and about appreciating being a guest, if only for the briefest moment, in the bubble which different people call home.

In the outpouring of memories over the course of the past day, what stood out to me was not necessarily people’s individual recollections of Anthony Bourdain, but rather what people mourned overall—his honesty. People, myself included, remember him as someone who cut through the bullshit; he preferred a home-cooked meal, even while on his travels, as opposed to a fancy meal that otherwise had all the flashy details and obscure ingredients. We were drawn to him not only because his life trajectory seemed aspirational, but also because he showed us what’s valuable: the work we do, the people we care for, and the appreciation we ought to have for the small details that connect us to one another.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy about his passing is not what he left behind, but whom: people he cared about, and those who loved him for the meaning with which he suffused his work and interactions. We will miss him because he was real, because he saw the realness in others, and because he reflected that goodness back into the world. Thank you, Anthony Bourdain.