Armchair Travels Memories & Reflections

I Blame Anthony Bourdain

I still can’t believe he’s gone. 

Two years ago, when the news of his death hit the internet, we were staying with friends in Vermont, in the middle of our road trip. I had just woken up, was scrolling through my newsfeed, and then I saw the words. Tears sprung to my eyes and I sat straight up in bed. How could it be possible? 

It goes to show that we never truly know what another person is going through. 

In the days that followed, I processed the news, sorting through my feelings. I cried for far longer than I thought I should; I didn’t even know him, after all. I’d never met him, though I’ve always hoped that some day our travels would let us cross paths and I could tell him to his face how much he’s inspired me. But I didn’t know him. And yet I cried. I cried a lot. Thinking about it now — how desperate and alone he must’ve felt in order to take his own life; the utter despair — I want to cry more. 

Last year on Bourdain Day, I wrote a little about why I’ve admired Anthony Bourdain as much as I have. To me, he was more than just a celebrity chef and travel journalist. He was much more than some food guy who made a travel documentary series for CNN. He was more than just that asshole New Yorker we’d watch on Netflix. Anthony Bourdain has inspired my husband and me to travel in a certain way, exploring cities, tasting cultures, meeting people, with curiosity, and open minds and hearts. He inspired dreams of places not yet visited, lighting a fire under my ass to get going, get out there, experience things that make me uncomfortable, pushing me outside of my comfort zone so that I may better know the world, and better know myself.

Anthony Bourdain has inspired my husband and me to travel in a certain way, exploring cities, tasting cultures, meeting people, with curiosity, and open minds and hearts.

In fact, I blame him for fueling my marriage’s wanderlust.

Sunset on a lava beach on the big island.

We can totally blame Anthony Bourdain for our six week European adventure in 2016, for our trip to the Catbird Seat in 2019, and hell, we can even blame him for initially inspiring us to sign up for home exchange.

It started out as a simple question: Justin and I were watching the Grenada episode of Parts Unknown, mouths drooling as the camera brought Spanish dishes into our living room. He turns to me halfway through the episode (right after the mention of the afternoon siesta) and says, “Why don’t we live there?”

Because we live here, I said, laughing. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t GO there, or even live there for a short period of time. As I researched longterm vacation rentals, my Googling took me to HomeExchange.com (and I remembered first seeing the concept in one of my favorite romcoms, The Holiday!) and we started looking for a long-term swap in Grenada, Spain. After 40+ rejections (no Spaniards want to come to Nashville?!), we received an unexpected message from a couple in Holland proposing a 4-week exchange. Holland is not Grenada, but I showed the message to Justin, who looked dubious, and asked him, “Well, what would Anthony Bourdain do?” 

He would go to Holland.

So we went to Holland

Our fabulous home exchange partners, Cora and Hans, and their family.

He could have a transcendent experience at a Michelin starred restaurant or a Waffle House. The setting in which he ate mattered far less than the food itself or the people who made it.

Bourdain was endlessly curious, asking probing questions to get to the root of people’s lives. What motivated them? What scared them? What made them hopeful about the world? Even if he didn’t speak their language, he would find ways to communicate, whether through slow careful English or with the aid of an interpreter, so that he could learn from the people he met and let them share their stories. 

What good is a place without its people? Can you imagine visiting Paris or Barcelona or Buenos Aires without talking to the inhabitants, stumbling through the language barrier, and interacting with those who lived and worked and loved in the city you were visiting? People, in all of their terribly glory, give a place its energy. When places are described as chill or romantic or youthful, that is thanks to the people who live there. Remove the people so you only have monuments and museums and buildings, and you’re left with the shell of a place. The heart has gone missing. 

Anthony Bourdain wanted to get to the heart of a place, crack it open, and hear its stories so he could share them with the world.

So today, on Bourdain day, as the world slowly emerges from a pandemic hibernation, I want to hear YOUR stories. What place speaks to you? What city have you fallen in love with? What travel adventure lives in the forefront of your mind? What destination are you itching to discover?

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