I was in Bishkek when Bourdain died.
Anthony Bourdain made the case for seeing the world because it is familiar and not because it is different.
My first idea of what travel might be came at age 12.
My uncle moved in. He brought with him a well-used box set of Long Way Round, that great adventure of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. A tax-payer funded, multi-million dollar affair it was. But I’d never heard of Kazakhstan until then. Or Mongolia. It was by far the grandest pursuit I could imagine: inching around the world just 'cos you can.
Then I was older and it was books: Paul Theroux and his cynical view of things. Fitzroy MacLean and his dalliances in the Balkans. Patrick Leigh Fermor and his pan-European trek. Kapuscinski and his escapades around a dying Soviet Union.
This year it had been Anthony Bourdain.
The great fallacy of travel - perpetuated by all those industries surrounding it - is that it is all magic. That it is endlessly valuable, thrilling and transformational. That the world is always an utterly foreign and exotic place. I developed that sense with my early list of inspirations.
Bourdain, refreshingly, told me the opposite. I enjoyed his narratives because they didn’t subscribe to the fallacy.
A natural sceptic, his travels - and the yarns that spun from them - appeared sincere, never hyperbolic. I didn’t watch Parts Unknown and feel like I just had to go to that episode’s location. His travel wasn’t listicle worthy - it wasn’t the top ten restaurants in Paris. The food was just a familiar medium from which he could pry open a door worth opening.
Bourdain was an honest broker. He presented the world in a way that - to me at least - made it feel both worthwhile exploring but utterly recognisable. His cool, calm demeanour made everywhere feel unintimidating. It was an exploration of what’s normal about the world as opposed to a fetishisation of what's abnormal. He made a case for seeing the world because it is familiar and not because it is different.
Maybe it was because Bourdain’s life and personality was so extraordinary - his brand at home so large - that he celebrated so stridently what felt ordinary where his celebrity had yet to trickle. I’m not sure. Whatever the source of his inspiration, it manifested into something I'll miss.
That he managed to co-opt a 24-hour news station into playing his quirky documentaries about places as far flung as Kurdistan and the Congo - during prime time, in a country where 60 per cent of its people have no passport - is also just fucking cool. ■
Bishkek, Kyrgystan. 8 June 2018.