Anthony Bourdain: A Final Farewell to an Inspiring Traveler
The final episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s show begin airing on CNN Sunday night. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I’ve learned from this gentle force of nature as I prepare to watch those episodes with a bottle of wine and a box of tissues.
This kind soul made me a better traveler and hopefully as a result, a better human being (though always a work in progress..). He inspired me not to just go to a place to see the famous sights, eat in the recommended restaurants and shop for the local souvenirs but to really experience places, both the good and the bad. I remember an episode that really left a mark on me. Tony was in Nicaragua eating the local food and describing how wonderful it all was. Then he headed to a garbage dump where families, including small children were scavenging for food and recyclables. He watched a small child rummaging through the waste and angrily said, “Holy $%&* man. My daughter’s that age.” He talked of the horror of local authorities knowing people live like this and not doing anything about it.
After watching how he dug into a place, I strived to do the same. When in Poland I wanted to walk where the Jews did during WWII. I stop far short of using the word “experience” to describe my journeys there as after seeing the torture rooms, gas chambers and other horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau up close I know one could never truly understand the depths of suffering the Jews and other targeted groups endured during the Holocaust. I remember coming back to Krakow after leaving Auschwitz-Birkenau, walking straight into a bar and having a shot of whiskey which left me as sober and horrified as I was before I drank it.
In Russia I wanted to experience both the beauty of the Bolshoi Ballet as well as watch the bleak towns roll by while traveling by train between the two shining cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. To meet people who told me stories of commuting two hours one way to work in the glittering capital and then heading back into the more dismal suburbs and rural areas to a house they share with multiple generations to be able to survive. To experience a culture where women are not truly appreciated as equals and I was often not welcome as a female dining or having a drink alone. To take an overnight train with a staff that spoke no English and meet a kind Russian soul that understood a few of my words and came back to me with an attempted response typed on Google Translate.
When you witness how others in the world live you appreciate your relatively privileged life much more. You realize people are born into certain circumstances they cannot change but are just doing their best to get by. Most aren’t living up to the stereotypes often carelessly imposed on them.
When asked about visiting the garbage dump in Nicaragua Tony said, “You look at this and you see people eating out of here, the very notion of food television — what I do — seems somehow obscene.” Which makes me think how ridiculously fortunate many of us are. How we could easily give away half of everything we have and probably make many families’ lives twice as good as they are now, still leaving us better off than they are.
Travel is not something all can afford but if you are able, challenge yourself to not always take the easy trips. Take the ones that will change you and impact you not just for the time you are away but for the rest of your life. I’ll close with one of my favorite Bourdainisms…
“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
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