ASP Travel Writers Celebrate the Life of Anthony Bourdain
On the late, great writer and presenter's birthday, fellow travel writers Joanna Biggar and Linda Watanabe McFerrin share some words.
Anthony Bourdain's literary career began on a surprising note, a detective story. The long-time media personality and celebrity chef had more than an ephemeral love affair with the grimy world of fairytale spy stories and gore action: he released three novels in the genre, and two graphic novels (Get Jiro!) late in his career. This fact shouldn't be surprising to those who've followed Bourdain from "Don't Eat Before Reading This," the New Yorker article that made him a household name, to Medium Raw, his memoir. It was the grit in the charm in the intoxicant of a sincerity incapable of omitting grime which drove Bourdain. If Linda Watanabe McFerrin seduces us with the profound sexiness of a Venetian plate in On Pleasures Oral, then Bourdain teaches us to see that very sexiness as inseparable from the kitchen that produced it.
“I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam.”
As a traveler Bourdain was consummate. This he has in common with Joanna Biggar and Linda Watanabe McFerrin who work together in travel and writing as “The Wanderland Writers.” Anthony Bourdain was in search of the perfect food and that search brought him to both the most remote and most metropolitan of places, as well as all the in-between. But, he didn’t only document this on his acclaimed television show. He, too, like Biggar and McFerrin, was a travel writer. His writing only became more prolific once he had the budget and time for travel. Some of his best works like A Cook’s Tour: In Search of a Perfect Meal, and No Reservations, read more like travel guides than cookbooks and culture-studies than comic schlock— and it was obvious he cared for the craft of writing.
His immense influence as a travel writer is the reason that today we celebrate him here at ASP. Not only did Bourdain make huge strides in bringing people who had never traveled, arms-wide and welcoming, into the genre of literary travel, but he did so with a Baudelairean enthusiasm for all travel regardless the grit. In a word, he did not write pieces fit for the mainstream and yet the mainstream embraced him, loved him, emulated him, and in doing so affirmed all the acrid kitchens of the world, all the hangers-on: the violent histories, the almost broken almost complete people, the carcasses, the cuts and contusions, the tossed greening flanks, and cigarette soaked family meals.
Today, on the official Anthony Bourdain Day, we reached out to two of our authors who came into prominence as travel writers about the time that Bourdain was cutting his teeth writing on the road. Poet, Rose Solari, lover of his work, also chimes in to celebrate Bourdain.
Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Today I am here in Vatika, Greece, in the southern Peloponnese. I’m sharing a moment in a series of moments with lifetime friends. We are eating barbounia—fresh-caught red mullet, grilled and served up heads and all. My friends are telling us exactly how we must eat the eyes and brains. Whatever is left they will give to the cats so prevalent here around all the kind habitations in Greece. The conversation with its emphasis on food and custom reminds me of fearless fellow traveler and extraordinary raconteur Anthony Bourdain on the anniversary of his birth. He is profoundly missed.
Anthony brought us all closer to one another through shared rituals and the acknowledgement that we can learn from one another. He also supported some of our mutual friends in their time of need. He crossed boundaries. He was touched by the world. He took risks.
He is a hero of the heart.
"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."
What I love best about Anthony Bourdain’s writing is how unabashedly hungry this author was — for new experiences, new landscapes, new faces, and yes, new tastes — and yet, how loving. His appetite was as big as the world, and so was his heart.
A shimmering girl who disappears in daylight. A boy who goes to war and comes back forever broken. New landscapes in which old ghosts appear, telling their stories. Such are the people, places, and images that fill Rose Solari’s third collection of poetry, The Last Girl.