I should have died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car- a really nice car- and I keep looking in th erearview mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet. – Anthony Bourdain
Two years ago, I was going on a trip to Nuremberg with a stopover in Amsterdam, I’d never been to the Netherlands and all I knew about it was the active weed culture. I extended my layover to a weekend and looked up things I could do whilst there. My friend, Valerie @vogueandcoffee, pointed me to some dude called Anthony Bourdain, and his series, the Layover. I was rediscovering my love for travelling again, especially around Europe. I watched the episode on Amsterdam and was immediately moved by, trash talking, really real, no bullshit taking, host of the programme; Anthony Bourdain. This is what I was looking for in a host of a travel series; a deep dive without feeling like you are in the deep end. Someone who brings you to the best of things, not just the sunny side, the real side, the grit, the flavours, the locals, off the beaten path and to the real parts. More than anything he was honest, open and fun and inspiring and refreshing and entirely giving of his knowledge and experience. I appreciated his way of telling a story, it unfolded in a way TV is not accustomed to. Different in a way one does not see on TV, he cursed, told dirty jokes, and was at ease with who he was; this was clearly a man who’d lived hard, made many bad decisions but came out on the other side; it was good to see him thrive. He was comfortable in any situation, in any country, whether he was eating pepper soup with the locals in in Obalende in Lagos, sitting on a plastic stool eating cheap food and drinking good beer with President Obama in Vietnam or eating pancakes in a pokey little cafe in Amsterdam…which is one of the places I dined on my weekend in Amsterdam. I showed up without reservation, after having walked past the entrance five times, and when the host asked for my name, I told him I had no reservations but that Bourdain told me to come here. He smiled, because that was likely not the first time he’d heard that line, and made a space for me at the bar which anchored the small kitchen where I watched my pancakes being made.
The Upstairs pancake house in Amsterdam. It’s a hole in the wall, up steep steps, rumoured to be the inspiration for the famous Beastie Boys line; When I’m in Holland I eat the Pannekoeken the boys were regulars there too per the chef, and where Bourdain and his crew dined and filmed that episode. If you haven’t been, you should if you find yourself in Amsterdam. I haven’t been everywhere in the world yet, but I’ve been to quite a few places and eaten in a few more, and of all the foods I have eaten, this is easily the best place to have pancakes. I got chatting with the chef who asked me how I came to be in his restaurant and I told him I’d seen his episode on Bourdain’s thirty-six hour layover in Amsterdam. He went on to point out to me where he sat and his crew filmed, incidentally there were some American soldiers who were on holiday, sitting in that spot, they’d also found out about the place on Mr Bourdain’s programme. It was a small corner in the really small café, but this is what Bourdain was able to do; bring people and cultures together through food; me, a Black woman, soldiers on leave from active duty, a couple from Vietnam, a group of young Chinese travelers, etc. without question, they have all watched that Bourdain episode, and here I was with a dutch chef, at least I think he was dutch, and a Vietnamese assistant who recommended a restaurant for me in the Hague for my trip the next day. This was the way Bourdain touched me without ever having known me. Whenever I go back to Amsterdam, I stop by the Upstairs Pancake house for a savoury or sweet meal because Bourdain told me to do so, and now, I will always do that because it is a joy brought into my life by a stranger many worlds away from mine.
He made me a better traveller not simply a tourist; travel for me has become more than just seeing landmarks and capturing images; it is immersive, a cultural awakening that was never there before I watched that video two years ago sitting in Schipol airport. I go back to places I have visited and feel it differently, more buoyant and entirely unafraid of the unknown. Anthony Bourdain taught me to be a fearless traveller, in his way, opened us up to other cultures and taught us that we as human beings are one and the same; our experiences might be different and our cultures varied, but we share that intrinsic uniqueness of being human and whatever our works of life, our nuances that bond is sacred.
Before I travel I search parts unknown, his travel docu-series on CNN, for recommendations because I trust in the voice of Anthony Bourdain. He touched so many lives with a passion for what he does, he lived wildly outside the box and through food he introduced us to strangers in far flung corners of the world and made them familiar to us. In his own way, he brought the world together. He wanted us to see the world, experience life in someone else’s shoes, see different cultures, see the world and all its people or some little part of it, even if it is right outside your doorstep. He was easily the coolest person on TV doing what he did, he brought so many cultures into homes and opened up the world in a way we are not accustomed to. His demons were not unknown, he shared his story with us, he was far from perfect but he was a man who wanted to live behind a better world than he found it, and he did that through his adventures. I wanted to hang out with him. He re-fueled my passion for travel, took me to places far and away, unknown, or even close to home I’d yet to explore. From my living room to a seedy joint in Paris or some far flung place in London which, myself a Londoner for over twenty years, had never heard of or anywhere in Tokyo his favourite place. He spoke out, spoke up, was an advocate in the fight for justice and an ally to the #metoo movement. He was honest, and I hope he lived a good life, despite his struggles. As good a life as he gave us with his journeys.
I hate that he is dead, we have lost a great story teller and adventurer, one who was willing to open up the world a little more. I will miss him the way you miss a best friend, the one friend always there with you on your wild and crazy journey through the world. Mental Health issues has no discrimination and knows no boundaries and Bourdain was proof that though one may live the most charmed of life, they still struggle with their demons. It is a disease that comes in many phases and can be most debilitating and paralysing. It is the silent killer that can strike at any time. Please don’t stop reaching out to loved ones and even those you have fallen out with, whether it looks as if they live a charmed life or have it all; we are all going through something and simply because one cloaks themselves in designer this or travel to that exotic part of the world, is meaningless in the face of mental wellness; the world could use a little love right now. Likewise, if you suffer from mental health issues, please reach out, be it on social media, a random phone call, a tweet, a picture, a message in a bottle… whatever form of communication there is, please reach out because you are not alone. The world can seem dark and disturbing, especially in these times, but know that you are loved and there are people out here who care for you and will listen and help in whatever way the can. Hope is not lost. You are enough and the world is a better place with you in it. If you believe anything, please believe that.
Man! I’ll miss you Mr Bourdain, I will miss you a heck of a lot and as I journey through this world, I will carry you with me in any way I can. By the light that lights up the sky I hope you are resting in the peace of love and light.