Forgive me for being a bit self-reflective/indulgent. This post will have nothing to do with anything pre-anthropocene.
Anthony Bourdain had a voice I loved. His writing style was as singular as he was—honest, humorous, coarse, and unflinching. I loved to read his stuff. Reading “Kitchen Confidential” was like a minor epiphany. The behind the scenes restaurant stuff was great fun, as was reading about Bourdain’s crazy life as a chef. It certainly made me know I never wanted that life, no matter how much I love to cook. (And, gentle reader, I dearly love to cook.) But it was the way that Bourdain wrote about food that made me truly love his writing. Indeed, his cookbooks are even more fun to read than cook from. (“You’re only going to need a half-cup of that Champagne, and since you had to crack a whole bottle, and it’s going flat anyway, you may as well start drinking. That’s what’s called ‘the chef’s prerogative.‘”) The man had opinions, and one could always trust that they came from somewhere. Experience made Bourdain’s thoughts, not hand-me-down ideas and notions. I trusted the guy knew what he was talking about, whether it be sausage, boiled bird embryo, or negronis.
So it was with deep sadness when I read about his passing the other day. Of course, it was not just that he’d died, but that it was by his own hand that made it even more painful. It’s been days and I am still moping a bit; it still hurts. Sometimes this pain surprises me. I wasn’t a huge fan. I rarely watched his shows. I did not reread his books annually. I do not have a Les Halles tattoo. But I was glad he was out there. His was a voice I thought the world needed—someone whose honesty could cut or nurture, someone who dared to look for links between our fragmented humanity, someone that could make you fall in love with foods—and people!—both alien and familiar. It hurts because, here was the very model for carpe diem, who, during a sad dark hour, had decided to stop living.
I don’t know if or how my affection for the man and his words leaks its way into my writing. It’s said that a writer absorbs elements of all the voices and styles he or she consumes; if that’s true, there must be some Bourdain somewhere in the stuff I type out. Years ago, someone read a passage I wrote about a time traveler seeing a dinosaur for the first time. It included a detailed description of the beast—a Plateosaurus—its muscles moving under skin, lids sliding over eyes, the wicked claws on their gnarled hands, heads bobbing, tails swinging. “I felt like I was reading a menu,” she said during her critique. I believe she meant that in an uncomplimentary way, but I didn’t take it as such. I knew a menu could be thrilling.
RIP, Anthony Bourdain.