If the world stops, it is logical that the focus of attention is focused on people who have not stopped moving to feel alive. Even in those who lived so long that life did not reach them in debauchery. So it was at the Hollywood Oscars with three statuettes for the film Nomadland of the director Chloé Zhao, and this is happening with the reception of World Travel: An Irreverent Guide (Ecco, 2021), the latest and acclaimed book by Anthony Bourdain. Two stories with two protagonists uncomfortable with comfort, two people convinced that happiness did not belong to them. That is why they were still looking for something or someone eagerly.
The celebrated chef, writer, television host and inveterate traveler took it upon himself to dampen Americans’ fear of flying into the unknown. His best asset was pulling an innate charisma and unconditional love for local cuisine. If the best dish was in a poorly lit cul-de-sac, the starry restaurant in the hall of a luxury hotel would take wind. With more astuteness than effort, he realized that his audience was much more interested in the people who made it possible for the plate to arrive at the table than in the contents of the plate, and that they were more attentive to the anecdotes of the trip than to the trip itself.
I am a storyteller. I go to places, I come back and tell you how I have felt in those places
From excess and testosterone, on the way he was right many times and he was wrong so many others. It is strange, but after traveling the world once and dozens of times during 20 years of television service, now it is the world that has forced him to travel once more, assigning him one last and strange mission: to rescue us from the fear of living without masks, despite the fact that the author himself denied his fate in a hotel room in eastern France in 2018.
“I am a storyteller. I go to places, I come back and tell you how I have felt in those places ”, he said in 2012 to summarize his work in a frankly pragmatic way. Anthony Bourdain was well aware that the television version of what a true gastronomic journey should be was nothing like his. At least, no cameras in between or far away. It was just a version voluntarily manipulated to make it prettier, more satisfying, more enjoyable for all audiences. That is why he always insisted on emphasizing that his vision of the world was only a starting point. Nothing more and nothing less. “Eat like the locals,” says the cliché. And that’s what Bourdain did, eat like local people with local people. In a better world, what would happen a posteriori would be the same as in those youth books in which the reader chose his own adventure.
What comes next is not opinion: Bourdain on more than one occasion recorded his appalling panic about recommending restaurants with proper names and exact addresses. The “Bourdain effect” was called by his team of collaborators putting their finger on the wound. As in a science fiction dystopia, a place X lost its essence shortly after Boudain spoke its name aloud. For the price of fame or dying of success, the point is that the star was fading. Or is the “Bourdain Menu” at a humble Hanoi pho and ramen stand, doubling the price, not a sea change after your visit with the show for CNN?
What Bourdain feared was what a television program demanded to survive on the air. “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” were called, and magically, Bourdain turned (unintentionally) non-reservations into infinite queues and unknown parties into ultra-famous. Ultimately, the metamorphosis of a restaurant was the business decision of the owner of the premises and not Bourdain, but the root contradiction was there giving the rod, both in his work and in his personal life. Gentrifying restaurants to open his mouth too much, that was his biggest nightmare. And like a fireball rather than a snowball, regret burned his throat and he went back to smoking after many years clean.
It is a very hard and lonely thing to be the co-author of a book about the benefits of traveling the world when your writing partner has stopped traveling the world
Because no matter how irreverent the title of the book predicts that the guide will be, can you write a gastronomic guide without mentioning thousands of proper names? Can you design an atlas of the world through the prism of a celebrity chef without your favorite common names? And in short, can a Bourdain book be made without Bourdain? “It is a very hard and lonely thing to be the co-author of a book on the benefits of traveling the world when your writing partner, a well traveled person, has stopped traveling the world. And to be honest, in the difficult days and weeks after his death, I found myself again wondering: Does the world need this book? ”Laurie Woolever confesses in the introduction.
Whether you need it or not, the fact is that it was done almost by popular acclaim and editorial demand. As with any celebrity who transcends his figure and accesses the Olympus of popular culture icons, if the tears of a used handkerchief could be worth millions at auction, Bourdain’s last words became pure gold. It is very likely that the name of Anthony Bourdain written on the cover in a font size larger than the title of the book does not help the co-author, but “there is risk and reward after being exposed to the world and the voracious hunger of people to eat , travel and live like Tony ”, Woolever sentences almost as if wanting to justify his decision to go ahead with the editorial project.
And it was not easy for him. After recording a first hour of informal chat in Bourdain’s apartment in New York to lay the foundations of what would become a rogue guide, the intention was to encourage a give and take between the two with new recordings. It seemed the only way to outline a point of view with face and eyes by selecting countries, cities, restaurants and people. Something like a “The best of Bourdain” but with traps, so that the tourist would get lost looking for the places.
Almost like a psychologist who does not charge her VIP client, Laurie Woolever was convinced that she would know how to round out sentences with her boss’s open endings. As a talented and experienced writer, she was relatively calm, because where Bourdain’s impossible schedule didn’t give them time at all, she found herself able to fill in the gaps without a hair showing. But his brilliant plan was gone and it all came to nothing. Well, in 60 minutes of chaotic brainstorming, 60 minutes to complete the book that all foodies and foodies, that all travelers awaited with adolescent fervor. Extreme pressure behind Lieutenant Woolever, as Bourdain liked to say.
‘World Travel’ is as if Bourdain knocked on the reader’s door without warning and sneaked into his house with jet lag, a bad shave and the same clothes with international plane sweat
In order for the project not to remain definitively in the drawer of oblivion, the New York editor had to work hard interviewing the key people in her small environment or circle of trust and filling in the gaps with transcripts of her television programs, essays and various texts. In the press. Say puzzle or collage, whichever sounds best without being too damaging to the co-author. Let no one look for an official guide in this manuscript because they will be disappointed like a piano. World Travel It is as if Bourdain knocked on the reader’s door without warning and sneaked into his house with jet lag, poor shaven and the same clothes with international plane sweat. It’s like opening a beer from your fridge without permission and with that old-school hardcore gamer face saying, “What? What do you want me to tell you?”.
He begins psychoanalyzing in Argentina and goes through several hot spots of his liking, such as Brazil, Peru, China, India, Italy or Japan. Special mention should be made of France, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the United States and their beloved Vietnam. Places where he talks about more cities, more restaurants and more people. By the way, Spain appears rather little. Barcelona reduced to a city of good preserves. Something is something with Quimet & Quimet and Taberna Espinaler. And San Sebastián, with his adoptive father Juan Mari Arzak, Elkano, Ganbara, Bar Haieza and, of course, Asador Etxebarri, where he ate one of the best dinners of his life.
As a self-destructing message, Bourdain would most likely be delighted if the reader ripped the guide into a thousand pieces once read. So that when you step on the ground of your first post-pandemic destination, you would only be left with a hodgepodge of names and places without a defined route. It would not be necessary for the reader to eat the pieces of paper, it would be enough to choose his own adventure beyond what is written on the pages. And in the name of Bourdain, never look for his presence in the rear view mirror again.