Years ago, I lent out my copy of Kitchen Confidential. I forget to whom. I like to think it’s floating out there somewhere, and that it is loved. Instead, today, I’m carrying around my weathered copy of “A Cook’s Tour.” I once went on to Goodreads to post about it and was surprised at how many middling to negative reviews it received. This is a re-reader for me; for a six month stretch of time I’d thumb the pages while falling asleep, hoping to induce dreams of other lands. Of even (especially) uncomfortable and upsetting encounters. Of mountain potatoes and sheep slaughter. Of streets and smells I’ve encountered, via the transportation magic of words.
I read these words as I was stuck working in an office after college, wishing I were anywhere else. I am re-reading these words, now back working in an office, reminiscing about the times I was somewhere else, exploring other sides of the world. I cannot blame Anthony Bourdain for my wandering heart – that’s an inherited trait, some deep restlessness in my bones. I can directly credit Bourdain for translating this desire into words that would inspire me to always choose the more narratively interesting path. The taste of the unknown.
What does Bourdain’s death mean for us, for those who wander? Are we cursed to walk this earth alone? What is home for us? When the many curiosities of the world begin to lose their shine, what’s left?
I am actively choosing to believe that a momentary slip into the darkness, brief and fatal, does not vacate the worth of a lifetime’s accumulation of wonderment. This is a choice, one of many. We choose until we reach the bounds of possibility.
One of the many things I have loved about Bourdain is his enduring connection to Vietnam, my family’s country of origin, a country I’ve had ups and downs relating to throughout my life. At the end of Cook’s Tour, he writes:
“I’m leaving Vietnam soon, and yet I’m yearning for it already. I grab a stack of damp dong* off my nightstand, get dressed, and head for the market. There’s a lot I haven’t tried.
I’m still here, I tell myself.
I’m still here.”
I still choose to be here. If you’re reading this, know that I hope you do too.
post-script: Of course it would take the death of a personal hero of mine to give me that kick-in-the-ass into actually writing again. Not exactly a fair or equitable trade-off, but we must see silver linings where we find them, even in a pile of abandoned and corroded scrap metal.
post-post-script: Among the many gifts Bourdain has given to the world of travel literature, the phrase “damp dong” is a treasure.