Images courtesy of Travel Channel
The deeply, strikingly emotional reaction, in the wake of the shocking suicide of Anthony Bourdain, has seemed to almost reach the level of outpouring of both sadness and love upon the loss of David Bowie in January 2016 – no small feat, surely.
But to see that the endearingly profane, boundlessly passionate chef, CNN travel show host, and unparalleled storyteller had touched the lives of 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds in equal measure is a testament to his ability to draw so many into his world of matter-of-fact anti-establishmentism, unshakeable ethical questing, and border-defying ability to achieve détente with the citizens of virtually every corner of the planet, via the joy of sharing an authentic, if sometimes unsettlingly peculiar meal.
Yet for all of the far flung destinations he traveled to over 13 years and three shows (No Reservations, The Layover, Parts Unknown), there was something about his 2011 visit to Vienna, Austria that seemed to bring forth the greatest measure of his almost childlike, captivatingly unspoiled humanity.
At the time he shared a network – Travel Channel – with the chirpy fellow traveler Samantha Brown (host of the unfailingly blithe Passport), whom he occasionally poked fun at for the sake of a reasonably easy laugh. And the Vienna trip was seemingly conceived as a way for him to spend an entire episode effortlessly rattling off a steady stream of acerbic “Hallmark Channel” sneers, while traversing a city whose Germanic obsession with Christmas cheer remains nothing, if not completely shameless and unrestrained.
Yet over the course of the show and clearly unplanned, a charmingly warm and cuddly Anthony emerges. He soon finds himself earnestly reveling in all that sparkly holiday conviviality – and as a viewer, you can’t help but get viscerally swept up into it as well.
“I came here and I thought it was going to be one long Nazi joke,” he smirks. “But, you know, I’m morphing into Samantha Brown.”
Naturally, though, it isn’t all “comfort and joy” and mulled wine. He downs some gut burning local hooch, dines on sheep sphincter – “This tastes like ass, in a good way” – and finishes up by sharing a few Jäger shots with local chefs during a late night snow-covered-sausage-stand visit.
“I thought I’d hate it,” he confesses of the architecturally majestic Austrian capital, “but it’s my new happy place.” And it’s just that sort of disarming honesty that made it easy to feel as if he was as much a “friend” and kindred spirit to his followers as someone simply hosting a television show that they enjoyed viewing.
And yet now, watching the Christmas market scene where he amusingly snarks, “It seems promises of more alcohol to come can occasionally overcome my mortal dread”…you can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t trying to tell us something.
We’ll sincerely miss you, Mr. Bourdain.