By Troy Headrick
This past Christmas, I received an Amazon gift card. I used it to buy three books, including Anthony Bourdain’s The Tasty Bits.
I’ll never forget the morning I learned that Anthony Bourdain—famed chef, travel writer, television personality, recovered junkie, and hipster guru—had committed suicide. I was sitting on my butt, watching TV, and suddenly there was breaking news: ANTHONY BOURDAIN FOUND DEAD OF AN APPARENT SUICIDE. I immediately went into mourning.
I’ve always felt a kinship with Bourdain. That’s because I, too, traveled to many of the places featured on his two long-running shows, No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Unlike him, though, I am not famous, nor were my adventures televised. There was another significant difference between us. He was mostly a tourist, albeit an extraordinarily well-traveled one; whereas, I lived the life, for nearly two decades, of an expatriated American. Thus, his visits to places were short-lived. Mine, on the other hand, were long forays into far-flung spots. Thus, to use a food metaphor—an apt one given the person we’re talking about—Bourdain mostly nibbled when he went to other places. My years-long forays into Europe, Asia, and Africa were more like festivals of food consumption.
The Tasty Bits is a collection of Bourdain’s essays on all sorts of subjects. In the “Preface,” I ran into the following passage:
“Words fail me. Again and again. Or maybe it’s me that fails the English language. My depiction of the day’s rather extraordinary events is workmanlike enough, I guess…but, typically, I fall short. How to describe the feeling of closeness and intimacy…?”
Bourdain goes on to confess, at some length, about how impotent he feels when trying to recreate experiences and the feelings associated with such, using mere words as his medium.
Being human means that one has been given the tool of language, but like all tools, language has its limitations. Language helps us fulfill the desire to communicate and be creative, but this ambition, like all ambitions, can leave us frustrated, as desire frequently outpaces ability. Writers, perhaps more than others, acutely feel how limited (and limiting) words are. For example, does using the word “love” really capture all that is meant by the idea of love?
I’ve often wondered why Bourdain, with all that was going for him, decided to kill himself. Perhaps—and this is pure speculation—he finally felt that language had completely failed him, as he said in the above excerpt? Maybe he came to believe he’d said everything that needed saying and it was now time to shut up once and for all? Or, maybe, at the time he ended his life, he was having an experience (or living through a period) that he couldn’t write about? Perhaps, I’m using the wrong metaphor? It’s quite possible, as a traveler, he felt that it was time to leave the well-worn path and cut through the unknown and unknowable wilderness—into the impenetrably dark forest?
I look forward to reading your comments and responding to them.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.