On Anthony Bourdain

Finding Anthony Bourdain was a complete accident. Flipping through channels in Moscow on a completely ordinary day, I stumbled across this weird dude on a military boat saying, ‘Not how we expected this show to end, huh?’.

Anthony Bourdain in Beirut, 2006 from Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Vimeo.

That dude was Tony and he was filming an episode of No Reservations in Beirut. The problem was all hell broke lose on his first day of filming and he, his crew and many others were trapped in a hotel until they could get out of the country safely. He, the star, seemed more concerned about his crew, the other hotel guests (particularly the kids) and the hotel staff, as well as all those beyond the hotel living in hell on earth. He cooked for his crew as stress relief, and mostly he showed such a rare degree of honest compassion for everyone else in that episode that he was just … some dude who happened to have this really cool gig, talking about food and eating it on camera. In a war zone.

I was hooked.

I watched him through the last episode of No Reservations. I mourned the closing of El Bulli with Tony.  I have watched almost all of Parts Unknown faithfully, although I am a bit behind.

I love his perspective on food, his commentaries on the cultures in which he finds himself and his interactions with the people he meets as he eats and pontificates across the globe. He makes the different seem not so bad. And, not quite so foreign.

When he traveled to Cuba in 2011, I was equally thrilled and horrified. My biggest fear was ‘which’ Cuba he would see; which Cuba would he show his legions of followers from the couch. But, before that show aired, he wrote the following:

It’s easy, I know, to over-romanticize the unspoiled. Especially when “unspoiled” means “poor”. But look. Look.

Whatever your politics, however you feel about Cuba–look at tonight’s show and admit, at least, that Havana is beautiful. It is the most beautiful city of Latin America or the Caribbean. Look at the Cuban people and admit that they are proud and big hearted and funny and kind–and strong as hell, having put up with every variety of bullshit over the years. On these things, I hope we can agree.

That episode made me weep for the country which has embraced me and which also breaks my heart just a little every time I think of her and her amazing people. He got it. And, better yet, he showed it to everyone else.

He showed so many parts of this crazy world to us all, and showed us the unpolished, unvarnished, unsanitised versions. Because that’s life. For all of us. Regardless of the perfect images we personally choose show to and share with the world.

‘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.’
Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

This past year, he’s also been a rather vocal ally to women, supporting #metoo, understanding the inherent irony of a chef from an incredibly chauvinistic and misogynistic profession giving voice to acts of misogyny and sexism. But, you know, having that ultimate dude as an advocate for women calling out powerful men meant something.

All of it did. It does.

Now, in a world in which we won’t have his wit, his curiosity, his insatiable appetite for all of the food, his uncanny skill with words and their descriptive beauty and power … I’m simply heartbroken.

Thank you, Tony. You gave us too much. And, forgive me, but I really, really, really want to punch you right now.

If you feel at all at the end of tether, before you do anything, please call / reach out to me. Reach out to someone. Anyone.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. Take a moment and know that you are loved.

On ‘The Hunting Ground’

We missed this documentary from two years ago. I’m not sure how, but given where I was emotionally two years ago, that may not be a bad thing.

Last year, in the wake of the outrageous ‘sentence’ handed down to Brock Turner and other college athletes who sexually assaulted women at various universities, I read Jon Krakauer’s Missoulaan incredibly chilling account of the lengths one university football town would go to to protect it’s star athletes. Sadly, Missoula, Montana and the University of Montana are but one of far, far too many college campuses plagued by an epidemic of sexual predation and violence against mostly young women. By no means are young men spared either, however.

The Hunting Ground, a 2015 documentary by the makers of The Invisible War, painfully and carefully tracks the criss-crossing of the United States by two brave young rape survivors from the University of North Carolina. Their objective is clear yet anything but simple: to call to account university administrators for their woeful and shameful inattention and at times contempt for those who dare report the assaults they not only endured but survived. In these brave individuals’ own words, ‘the responses by the universities were often worse than the actual assaults [they] experienced’.

In the wake of #metoo and what seems like daily revelations regarding sexual harassment and assaults by the rich, powerful and (in)famous, those of us ordinary individuals who have faced similar experiences and the inevitable doubt which follows from those in positions to hand out justice remain not only unsurprised but angered and feeling let down once again.

Indeed, based on the well-documented and researched figures provided throughout The Hunting Ground, I honesty felt a bit sick at various moments. Yet again.  

From the proportion of college-aged women who are likely to face an assault (11.2%), to the numbers of expulsions resulting from cheating  compared to on-campus assaults (the former vastly outpace the latter, which are negligible at best and quite often zero) to the proportion of all assaults remaining unreported (80%), its all a stark reminder that we collectively have a long way to go vis-á-vis believing women and men who are violated in the worst possible way.

At the very least, we should be able to ensure that those brave enough to step forward feel supported more than those who commit such heinous acts.

The Hunting Ground reminds us that we have a long, long way to go. And, given current events, now seems like as good a time as any to continue on that journey towards justice.

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For more information on creating an environment in which sexual assault is not tolerated or accepted and providing supportive environments for survivors, visit It’s on Us.

 

Crazy Cat Ladies — On ‘Kedi’

It’s safe to say that in this house we are crazy cat ladies.

At some point when I find a bit of free time, I’ll finally sift through the photos from our last trip to Cuba and put together a post I’ve been mulling on ‘El Gatos de la Habana’ — The Cats of Havana. I must have hundreds of photos of cats. Just cats, doing what city cats do. With catitude.

Naturally, one of our favourite non-anger-inducing documentaries in recent memory features cats and the crazy men and women who love them.

Kedi‘, which premiered in 2016 in Istanbul, follows the lives of various city cats who inhabit the streets of Istanbul and the humans who live alongside them. It’s rather fitting that the personalities of each of these twitchy-tailed and -eared creatures rely on narration from the humans who feed, care for and watch over them as they come and go at will, occasionally hissing and swatting at any unwelcome attention. These cats are not merely known to any one neighbourhood’s residents; they are considered fellow members of those communities, each individual with unique personalities, character flaws and moods much like their human pals.

Throughout each cat’s story, the humans in its life detail each cat’s quirks, habits, likes and dislikes. Power struggles. Histories. Annoyances and indicators. And, naturally, relationships. Both with other cats and humans. Take what you know of your own community and extend that intimate knowledge to the animals in your hood. That’s what this documentary offers for a city filled with cats.

More than anything, this is a story of symbiosis. The cats of Istanbul, as told by one human character in the film, enjoy a long and storied past, and one completely intertwined with humans. They arrived from various locations far and wide primarily via sailing vessels. Once trapped as their ships set sail without them on board, they then added a bit of diversity to the feline population of Istanbul. After they earned their keep as controllers of the rat population in the city’s sewer system, they took on a rather more important position, and one not entirely without some sort of mystical quality. Rather touchingly, several of the humans narrating individual stories speak of how they feel various cats ‘saved’ or ‘healed’ them. And, just as many humans feel that, ultimately, caring for cats might just help us humans care for and be kind to one another again if only we would try.

Cheese factor aside, this documentary is a must-see for any aspiring or confirmed crazy cat lady. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of cats, it provide a bit of insight into why so many of us are.

Hubris squared

Sometime in May or June of 2008, I stumbled across an absolutely unbelievable podcast that explained the burgeoning housing crisis and soon-to-be catastrophic turmoil on Wall Street. The Giant Pool of Money (parts 1 and 2) talked about well… a giant pool of money, and why this might be a concern for all of us.

We’re all well familiar with the hubris of the financial industry and Wall Street in particular by now. And, whilst many lives were changed and the fall-out from the 2008 global financial collapse is a bit better understood now, we’ve seemingly moved on. Fines were levied against banks and their CEOs and directors. Much money was pumped into an industry that created an unimaginable mess all in the name of greed. Yet, no one was really held to account for creating economic calamity for millions. At least no one in the US.

As Main Street called for ‘heads to roll’, no real consequences befell those who orchestrated the largest financial collapse since the Great Depression. Enter the single attempt to prosecute those ‘responsible’. And, enter hubris of an entirely different sort.

Ultimately, Abacus Federal Savings Bank in Manhattan was found not guilty (quite rightly). But, why was it the target of prosecution for acting precisely as it should once employees acting against the law were discovered and following established risk procedures? Yet, still, the larger, more powerful banks that instituted predatory lending practices, whose CEOs earned billions whilst their banks nearly failed, remain untouched and unscathed?

Perhaps Ralph Nader was right: only the super-rich can save us all. I’m not holding my breath, but I will cheer for and applaud institutions like Abacus.