Forgive me I'm out of practice. I haven't written much here or anywhere in the last few years. I blame it on Prozac. My desire or need to express myself out loud, in words, has been stifled. I'm just not that inspired, compelled, or motivated. I think my open-ended drug prescription has been a prescription for mild numbing of my emotions and a physical laziness which makes keeping it all inside less taxing. It is the price I pay to feel safer and saner. But don't think for a second that the thought treadmill has slowed down; it hasn't. It just doesn't want to be witnessed in action as of late. Today is an exception.
It has been almost a week since famed travel and food anthropologist Anthony Bourdain took his last breath—by choice. Or was it really a choice? That is debatable—at another time, in a separate blog entry, with a different state of mind.
Anthony's suicide ruffled my dormant feathers, stirred my still pot of stagnant soup stock—reviving it to a vibrant simmer. I haven't been able to brush-aside thoughts of what he meant to me: how he inspired me and changed my perceptions of foodways, foreign cultures, hospitality, and what it means to being a gracious guest. (Wish I had that last one down before travelling to Europe in the early 90's. What a ninny I was back then. What is the common phrase? Oh yes: an ignorant, arrogant, spoiled American.) I'm not the only person to share these sentiments, of course. Millions caught the Bourdain virus. We became a collective of foodies, chefs, travel enthusiasts, social scientists and common curious folks who loved and respected this snarky, creative, talented, hilarious, insightful genius.
Like many, my love of all things Bourdain began with his best selling book, Kitchen Confidential. It was the starting point. It captured my imagination and forever cemented my space in his global fandom. I thought, "Who is this guy? What insight! What wit! He became my intellectual hero—along with the late Christopher Hitchens. Both had chutzpah and charisma, could hold court, make one laugh out loud and cheer with utter gratitude to both for having the kahunas to unapologetically articulate human truths with such clarity and originality. Although Bourdain chose the destination and context, we were always involved in the adventure.
I can't claim to know why Anthony Bourdain decided to leave a party he was hosting. Even those closest to him are left with questions without answers. And so we'll keeping searching for these answers until we become comfortable with ambiguity—if we ever do. For his family and friends, this may take years—hindered by what ifs and guilt and possibly even anger—at him for taking his life and at themselves for failing to prevent this tragedy. The French detective in charge of the case stated he thinks it was an impulsive act—not premeditated—as if to ease the burden of the survivors who failed to see the warning signs. But truly, all suicides are premeditated. Perhaps no note is left behind, no weapon of choice purchased weeks in advance. But my reasonable mind informs me that all suicides have a modicum of preparation—of forethought. What evidence do I have to substantiate this claim in the case of Bourdain's suicide? Two things: he wanted to die in France and he wanted Eric Ripert to be the one to find his lifeless body.
France is where it all began. Tony fell in love with food and adventure while on holiday there as a child. It was with his first taste of a fresh-from-the-water oyster: "It tasted of seawater...of brine and flesh...of the future." "...I'd learned something. Viscerally, instinctively, spiritually—even in some small way sexually—and there was no turning back. The genie was out of the bottle. My life as a cook, and as a chef had begun." (From the opening pages of Kitchen Confidential.) And as where it all began for Tony, it also ended.
Why Eric Ripert? For one he is French—able to navigate France's laws and mores surrounding death procedures. Secondly, he was Tony's best friend—his confidant, his colleague, the person he trusted the most who loved him unconditionally—the one person whom he felt would protect his dignity and privacy after his death. Believing this so, makes me feel slightly less troubled knowing Anthony was not alone. Not really. He was loved, cherished, respected and best of all understood by at least one other person. Is that enough to keep one living? Apparently not. But it does offer my mind some peace. Comforts me. Calms me. Lets the feathers relax again and the soup return to a stillness—for now.