Unintended Consequence of Silence RE: Bourdain’s Suicide

November 27, 2018

By Karen

CNN has eked out its last moments of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. His apartment has new tenants. His condo is on the market because his wife and daughter have moved elsewhere.

In spite of his books, reams of interviews, TV shows and movie appearances still available to read and watch, because his voice is gone on current events, he’s inexorably blurring and slipping into irrelevance, like a dream remembered.

It’s been nearly six months, and not only do I still feel no closure, but I’m troubled by how his suicide is morphing in a way he never would have intended.

On November 13, The Wall Street Journal ran an article, “The Dark Side of the Restaurant World.” It led with a Chicago restaurant manager, Charles Ford, deciding “he would no longer be silent about his three suicide attempts,” and discussed the physical and emotional toll of restaurant work — long hours, abysmal pay, never-ending physical demands.

But the sentence that got my attention was, “Through Mr. Bourdain’s literary manager, Kimberly Witherspoon, the late chef’s family declined to comment for this article.”

On one hand, that made sense because Bourdain hadn’t worked as a chef since 2000, when he began filming A Cook’s Tour for Food Network.

On the other hand, his family’s silence let his suicide be used as a consequence of what ails the restaurant industry. This is what they should have said…

ANTHONY BOURDAIN DIDN’T KILL HIMSELF OVER A JOB HE HADN’T DONE IN NEARLY TWO DECADES.

I think by his count, Bourdain spent 28 years slaving in restaurant kitchens. He was proud to pull himself up the chain until he achieved head chef status at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City. He told this story across several books. If there’s someone out there with a better memory, please tell me where he ever mentioned feeling suicidal over working in a kitchen.

What I recall is his pride in having the toughness and stamina for the work. He loved hanging out with co-workers after a brutal shift. Later, when he had a platform, he became their most outspoken advocate, particularly for the immigrants and women.

I truly sympathize with Charles Ford’s struggles, but I wonder what Bourdain would have said in his snarky days about a general manager who worked in a suit everywhere but over a hot stove and couldn’t hack it.

Kitchen workers have grueling jobs, but I think they’re mistaken to make Bourdain their poster boy for suicide. It’s just like how people still insist on calling him a “celebrity chef” when he NEVER was.

Pre-Kitchen Confidential, nobody ate at Les Halles because Tony Bourdain was the chef. He’d be the first to say it. By the time he became a bona fide celebrity, he hadn’t been a chef for years.

So far, Chef Daniel Boulud has been the ONLY acquaintance to come anywhere near speaking what’s probably closer to the truth about Bourdain’s death. This month he told Us Magazine Bourdain died because “his heart was broken,” and that his death was “a shock to everyone, absolutely.”

Tony’s mother Gladys said essentially the same about his lack of suicidal tendencies when the news first broke.

In the months since, those of us seeking the truth have taken a closer look at the dark forces that began to consume Bourdain in 2016 when he fell in with Asia Argento and her friends.

This past September, Argento was still giving teary interviews about how she felt Bourdain had abandoned her and her two children (for the record, her daughter is 17 and her son now lives with his father in the U.S.), with no mention of Bourdain’s own 11-year-old daughter.

This month (November), Argento was reported to have hooked up with a paparazzi sprung earlier this year from his second jail stint, they had sex on her table, and he claimed to be besotted with her. Italian media soon reversed course, reporting it was a stunt Argento pulled for money and publicity. Whichever version is true, that’s just a peek at the woman Bourdain considered his “soulmate” until he learned three days before he died that she had cheated on him.

Tony’s family didn’t hold a public memorial service because they didn’t think he’d want one. But memorials are for the living, not the dead. Into the void have grown many pop-up homages, mostly by restaurant chefs, which is great. Bourdain was their champion. His life had become one of showing us restaurants and their menus all over the world that we’d otherwise never know.

He was restaurant workers’ biggest cheerleader, but I think he’d be the last to consider his death emblematic of how hard and hopeless kitchen work can be.

Rather, he was a SURVIVOR of it and proud to be. It was his life AFTER being a chef that killed him. We still don’t — and may never — know exactly what aspects of his life did it.

Unfortunately, this silence has left the door open to whatever spin anyone wants to put on it. I don’t think Bourdain would have approved.

Advertisements

Bourdain’s Travels End in the Lower East Side

November 14, 2018

By Karen

On November 11, CNN aired the final new episode of Parts Unknown that Anthony Bourdain’s crew could finish without him. Remaining in limbo is unseen footage from a shoot in May in Florence that Bourdain did with then-girlfriend Asia Argento. CNN has said it will not air whatever film was captured in the Alsace region of France with Eric Ripert during the week leading up to Bourdain’s suicide in June.

Tony’s final wander through the Lower East Side of Manhattan was given kaleidoscopic effects that may have mimicked the mental downward spiral he was trying to conceal. The visit aptly brought his life full circle by showing his stomping grounds of the 1970s and ‘80s, when he was a young heroin addict who thought he had no future.

Once fame found Bourdain, and particularly when he became a father at age 50, we watched him reject, one by one, the trappings of that former life: his thumb ring, his earring, his leather jacket and smoking.

But in the end, he was heavily smoking Marlboro Reds again, and the last leather jacket he chose looked as weathered and worn as the man himself had become.

Bourdain in Lower East Side of Manhattan

(Photo – David Scott Holloway/CNN)

I confess that I had mostly never heard of the musicians, artists, writers and poets Tony met and reminisced with. I’m only about two years older than he, but I must have been living on a different planet, although decades ago I got a taste of his origins.

My family was transferred to New Jersey in 1969 and I became a freshman at Freehold High School, about 50 miles south of Leonia, where Tony would have been in 7th grade. Had we met then, he probably would have scared the shit out of me. I was still reading Little Women, but found myself surrounded by tough kids who smoked pot, had sex and terrorized the teachers.

We moved again when I was a sophomore and I blocked out my year of living dangerously in Freehold, but it would all come rushing back whenever I saw Bourdain talk about his disaffected youth.

The ZPZ cinematographers really captured the LES’s cigarette butts, garbage, graffiti, abandoned shopping carts — a landscape Bourdain could wax nostalgic about. Spinning and blurry video, close-ups of dolls with dead eyes and dirty bare feet, and talk of rats completed the picture. Did I see some man about to bite off a mouse’s head?

From that squalor, thanks to the power of his writing, Bourdain’s world evolved into a $13,000-a-month 64th-floor apartment with river views at Columbus Circle.

Finally, forget the bone marrow or sushi Tony always cited as last-meal preferences. The last meal of his TV career was plain eggs boiled by artist John Lurie in his apartment. It must have been when Tony admired and bought Lurie’s painting, “The sky is falling. I’m learning to live with it.”

The LES episode was filmed in April 2018. That’s when Tony paid Jimmy Bennett $200,000 to make Bennett drop his claim that Argento had raped him when he was under the age of consent.

During the final montage of frantically swirling graphics, I wondered if that’s what Tony saw in his last moment. The accompanying music was Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” and if you listened carefully, you could hear Tony’s 11-year-old daughter Ariane singing along.

If Bourdain had lived to polish the episode, I have no doubt his narrative would have pulled it all together, making the gritty Lower East Side the natural spot for young Tony to hone his tastes in music and art. But without his reassuring voiceover, seeing his sad-eyed, now-haggard face just highlighted for me the dreadfulness of seeing Anthony Bourdain’s hard-won ascent to bestselling author and revered world traveler end in oblivion in a lonely French hotel room.


Feeling Some Post-Mid-Term Blues

November 7, 2018

By Karen

The mid-term election yesterday was supposed to reject Trump’s first two years of mocking and dismantling every constructive thing this country has ever achieved. I expected decent, disgusted people of all political stripes, women, millennials, new voters, LGBTQ and minorities to turn out in droves and tell the GOP loud and clear that “treason” is not the new word for “policy.”

WTF happened? Yes, the numbers were up, but what’s with the tepid results? Democrats won only 28 seats in the House and actually lost ground in the Senate.

Today, Dems should be able to tell Trump and his spineless enablers in Congress to “STFU. We’re back in charge. We’ve had enough of your bullshit. Don’t even try pushing through any more. Ain’t gonna happen.” But they can’t. And Republicans are gloating.

One bright spot happened in my neck of Virginia. Senator Tim Kaine (Hillary’s running mate) beat Corey Stewart by 16 points. Stewart’s a Minnesota-born Trump Mini-me who brands himself a Confederate neo-Nazi and promised to run a “vicious” campaign. In this victory speech, Kaine said voters had sent a message of “good over evil, light over darkness, understanding over ignorance.”

Amen.

In my congressional district, VA-7, Democrat Abigail Spanberger beat Dave Brat, a Trump-loving, misogynistic tea party darling, in a satisfying upset. True to his name, Brat refused to concede, probably hoping for divine intervention from Putin.

And in New York, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. But the district she won is already heavily Democratic. Whereas on nearby Long Island, racist misogynist Republican Pete King won his 14th term.

It was also gratifying to see Wisconsin voters finally kick their scheming, lying scumbag of a governor, Scott Walker, to the curb.

But in Montana, Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte who body-slammed a Guardian reporter, and who Trump proclaimed “his guy,” kept his seat.

In Florida, sharp, classy, articulate Democrat Andrew Gillum lost the governor’s race to Ron DeSantis, a bigot who urged voters not to “monkey up” the election by voting for a black man.

In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams should have easily buried Brian Kemp to become the country’s first black female governor. Kemp refused to stop overseeing the election he was a candidate in because he was too busy rigging it to disenfranchise minority voters every which way he could — and now the results are too close to call.

And probably the most stomach-turning result came in Texas, when that sleazy hypocrite everyone loves to hate, Ted Cruz, managed to beat Beto O’Rourke by 3 points and keep his Senate seat.

Whenever California manages to drag in its results, Democrats will probably pick up a few more seats, but not enough to assuage my disappointment with the bottom line.

I really, REALLY believed this country had enough good people to slam the lid on the Pandora’s box Trump has opened with his celebration of greed, ignorance, hatred and oppression, but it simply didn’t happen.

Either too many reasonable people stayed home in the mid-terms, or we really are eyeballs-deep in stupid, backward-looking racists who think their best interests are served by a con man who preys on rubes while he runs the country into a ditch to enrich himself.

The Senate is still poised to rubber-stamp whatever acts of treason Trump proposes. I hope that when the House committees investigating Trump’s myriad crimes switch to Democratic control (buh-bye, Devin Nunes!) they will crank up the heat to full-blast, get the subpoenas flying, and stoke Trump’s fears about spending the rest of his life jail until resigning seems a safer alternative to running for re-election.

And then there’s always Robert Mueller. Our last hope.


Saudi Solution is Simple: Show Us Khashoggi’s Body

October 22, 2018

By Karen

Trump and Kushner are still playing coy over whether they believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the killing of Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2.

One story is that Khashoggi synced his Apple watch to the iPhone he left with his fiancée outside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, which saved a file to the cloud of what the watch recorded happening inside the building. However, the BBC dissected the gadgets’ capabilities and debunked the likelihood of this.

Turkish authorities claim to have audio and video of Khashoggi’s murder. They’re reluctant to share this information and reveal the true extent of their surveillance practices. Understandable. But they’ve released plenty of gruesome details.

Meanwhile, the Saudis have been using Trump as their stooge to float a series of denials and fanciful lies, including that 60-year-old Khashoggi got into a fistfight and was accidentally strangled when somebody put him in a chokehold.

Based on Turkey’s revelations, it appears Khashoggi was ambushed by 15 Saudi men equipped with a bone saw, flown in specifically for the occasion. Once Khashoggi entered the consulate, he was tortured, apparently had fingers cut off, then drugged and dismembered while still alive by a man who told the others it was good to listen to music whenever butchering a person.

If none of this happened, the Saudis should be able to produce Khashoggi’s completely intact corpse.

But they haven’t. They can’t even say where it is.

Instead, there’s video of a body double wearing a fake beard and Khashoggi’s clothes (but not his shoes) leaving by the consulate’s back door with another man. Cameras also caught the double entering a public restroom and emerging in his original clothes, sans beard, then dumping a shopping bag (containing Khaghoggi’s clothes, presumably) in a dumpster.

A small handful of Republican senators (Paul, Sasse, Corker and Graham) have professed outrage, but we know they’ll be dancing in a chorus line behind Trump when he soon kisses MBS on the lips and declares his everlasting devotion to Saudi Arabia.

The truth is that Trump is personally terrified that sanctioning the Saudis will cut off the sweet, sweet flow of cash into his own pocket; instead, he feigns concern over losing a $110 billion arms sale that was tentative at best.

The world sees an impotent United States making excuses for unimaginable barbarity on a man Trump keeps reminding us only lived here on a green card, as if his life mattered less than any blond-haired, blue-eyed native redneck.

The Saudis may have done the killing, but this blood is all over Trump. Without his daily rants about the press being “the enemy of the people” and rally ravings about how he loves to see journalists body-slammed, encouraging his moronic supporters to hate the legitimate news media, he sends a deadly signal.

Bottom line: The House of Trump loves terrorizing journalists. The Saudis gave him the gift of showing what can happen to anyone who dares to question or criticize the powers that be. In Trump’s eyes, that’s a plus, not a problem.


Bourdain Revealed Last Wishes in Indonesia

October 9, 2018

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain probably filmed Parts Unknown season 12 Indonesia in April 2018, about the time his $200,000 payment went to Jimmy Bennett in hopes of killing Bennett’s claim that Tony’s then-girlfriend, Asia Argento, had sexually assaulted Bennett as a teenager.

Bourdain filmed one scene at a Bali resort surrounded by sunbathing and swimming tourists while he braved the heat in jeans, sipping an umbrella drink, mocking Wagyu beef sliders, and seeming to hate every minute.

Then a one-eyed man named Lawrence ferried Bourdain to a former penal island, where they shared an enormous lobster and talked about death. Tony says, “I’ve thought about, as one does, how do I want to go?”

Lawrence suggests, “You want them all to cry, don’t you?”

Tony answers…

“No. Leave me in the jungle. I don’t want a party. ‘Reported dead.’ You know, what actually happens to my physical remains is of zero interest to me unless it can provide entertainment value. Throw me into a wood chipper and spray me into Harrods [London department store] at the middle of the rush hour. That would be pretty epic. I wouldn’t mind being remembered in that way.”

Two months later, Bourdain didn’t get his “epic” ending; he was cremated in France on June 13 and his ashes flown home to his brother Chris on June 15, ten days before what would have been Tony’s 62nd birthday.

But the rest of what he said is pretty spot-on. We know he killed himself by hanging with some alcohol in his system, but no suspicious drugs. Period.

Esquire just presented as fact that Tony’s family held a small private ceremony, but that statement is only based on a June 22 New York Times article that says…

“The family will likely have a small, private ceremony of some kind, said Gladys Bourdain, his mother. ‘He would want as little fuss as possible,’” she said.”

So, we still don’t know for sure. Many restaurants have been hosting special dinners in Bourdain’s memory, as on October 5 at Sardine in Madison, Wisconsin. It was ostensibly to honor Jacques Pepin, but when Pepin and his daughter Claudine arrived, they learned it was also a suicide prevention fundraiser.

Barring some new revelations in a CNN documentary and a biography scheduled for 2019 release, this could well be the end of the story. Except…

Tony’s ex-girlfriend, Asia Argento, used Trump’s well-known tactic of spreading lies by claiming “people are saying” to tearfully tell the Daily Mail details of a far-fetched tale about Tony’s death that she claims Rain Dove told her.

But, of course, Asia doesn’t believe it. Anything to paint herself as the victim.

As we’re watching Parts Unknown’s final episodes, it becomes clear Bourdain was increasingly preoccupied with death. Although Indonesia footage was edited posthumously with the benefit of hindsight, it includes THE most grisly scene I’ve ever seen on ANY Bourdain series, bar none. And I’m not talking about the whole pig roasting on a spit.

It’s a human funeral, beginning with a close-up of the deceased’s face as the body is being prepared for final rites. The public cremation includes the sight of the now-skinless, hairless blackening skull, fingers, joints and bones. Finally, the fragments and ashes are gathered into a cloth, several people wade into the nearby surf, and the remains are dumped into the water.

The cremation was supposed to be the mourners’ happy phase of the ceremony, and an off-screen voice explains…

“Time is circular. Death is but the beginning of another journey.”

One has to wonder if Tony believed that, and if those words came to mind in that hotel room in France, making what he was about to do seem not such a bad thing.

The episode ends with a bit of recycled voiceover (from Greece?), where Bourdain says…

“All stories should end on a beach. All the good ones do, anyway. Why should this one be any different?”

I wonder if it’s a clue for us that his family scattered his ashes in the Atlantic. I hope so. It seems fitting, considering how much time he spent living near it and flying over it.

PS: I started Bourdain’s last graphic novel, Hungry Ghosts, today. Stay tuned for a review. (So far, I’m impressed by its high-quality hardcover production for the amazing low price of $11.99.)


Don’t Let the Babble Bury Kavanaugh’s Many Flaws

October 1, 2018

By Karen

I watched all of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s and Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate Judicial Committee last week. Republicans seem thrilled to limit their vetting to a possibly unprovable he-said-she-said scenario of attempted rape.

Matt Damon dropped by SNL for a parody of the Kavanaugh hearing. It’s hilarious but terrifying because it’s only a mild exaggeration of what happened that day.

Brett Kavanaugh has displayed so much more about his unfitness for the Supreme Court that his underage drinking and rape aspirations in high school are the least of it. While writing this, I discovered another Yale classmate, Chad Ludington, has just joined the growing list speaking out about Kavanaugh because they know firsthand that he’s lying about his behavior. Here are some other red flags we must not forget…

Sense of Entitlement – Kavanaugh talks about the Supreme Court job as if it’s owed to him. (Tough shit, Merrick Garland.) Trump’s so desperate for a justice who believes the president is above the law, you have to wonder how much smoke he’s been blowing up Kavanaugh’s ass.

Belligerence – Demanding Senator Amy Klobuchar tell him her drinking habits was so obnoxious, someone must have persuaded him during a break to apologize, even though he was only using Trump’s deflection technique. Kavanaugh also behaved like a peevish brat in refusing to answer Senator Dick Durbin’s question about whether he’d want an FBI investigation to clear his name. I could write all day about Kavanaugh’s displays of arrogance and disrespect to the Democratic side of the committee.

Partisanship – He actually managed to drag the Clintons into his opening statement, as if they have anything to do with anything. Kavanaugh’s impatient, almost sneering contempt for Democratic questioning conveyed that he will be anything but impartial if he manages to get through this. He all but said to them, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Alcoholism? – From his flushed face and constant water-gulping, it appeared Kavanaugh may have been drinking earlier that day. And what other SCOTUS nominee has spent so much time talking about beer? Heavy drinking seemed to be his part-time job for many years, so how do we know he’s doing doing it now?

Lying – Following another Trump example, he lied about easily verified things, such as the meaning of boofing and a Devil’s Triangle, and that he could drink legally in high school (he was only 17). Other examples are too numerous to list here.

Gambling? – Since the latest hearing was about attempted rape, there was no mention of the $200,000 credit card debt Kavanaugh racked up mainly on baseball tickets but managed to quickly pay off before his federal judgeship although he didn’t have that much money in the bank. Was he betting on games?

Financially Compromised?Kavanaugh’s funding sources are almost as murky as Trump’s. His ($220,600) and his wife’s ($66,000) salaries seem a tight fit for their lifestyle. They bought a $1.2 million house Kavanaugh described as a “fixer-upper” that’s expensive to maintain. They joined a country club with a $92,000 entry fee and $9,000 annual dues. They have two daughters attending a $10,580-a-year-per-child private school. He seems to be getting extra cash somewhere, but it’s not revealed in his financial disclosures.

Contempt for Women – Four women have shared stories of Kavanaugh being an aggressor or of doing nothing while his friends gang-raped girls. He’s anti-abortion and considered most likely to overturn Roe v. Wade. He seems to see himself as a privileged white master of the universe, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.

In addition to whatever the FBI finds, I think we’ve seen and heard enough about Brett Kavanaugh to know he’s the last person this country needs on the Supreme Court. May the FBI interview enough people this week and corroborate descriptions of this despicable man to not only keep him off SCOTUS, but to kick him off the bench altogether.


Outraged at Balvenie’s Emmy Tribute to Bourdain? Get Over It.

September 19, 2018

By Karen

In February 2015, Anthony Bourdain partnered with The Balvenie, makers of handcrafted single malt Scotch whisky, to host a series of short videos called Raw Craft. It was notable because Bourdain always said how much he loathed celebrity endorsements. But in this situation, PRNNewswire quoted Bourdain changing his tune…

“For me, there is deep satisfaction in seeing people, with a particular skill set and a real passion, produce a beautiful thing which is why I’m excited to be a part of these programs in partnership with The Balvenie. There is no doubt for me, that if you can have it, you want the stuff where people have taken their time, paid attention to and personally care about how it was created. It is very important to me that these kinds of crafts continue into the future and we value artisans who make the decision to choose quality over quantity.”

This statement is not inconsistent with the philosophy Bourdain always espoused. He went on to film a series of 14 videos for Balvenie, giving exposure to a variety of obscure but dedicated small business owners.

After the partnership began, Bourdain made waves in the whisky world by sacrilegiously saying he preferred his whisky on the rocks, proving he was no brainless shill for Big Booze.

During the Emmys (and I swear on a bible I saw this spot BEFORE the “In Memoriam” segment, not after — it must have replayed but I fast-forwarded through it), Balvenie ran a 30-second tribute to Bourdain. Twitter had a hissy. Here’s the spot so you can judge its tastefulness for yourselves…

Maybe Trump and the GOP have destroyed my sense of outrage, but I found nothing wrong with this. It was a tribute to Bourdain’s commitment to quality, and a thanks. Basically, they showed him explaining how he chose to live and work.

(Well, until 2016, when he met a certain Italian actress. That’s another story.)

I believe fans who think this was Balvenie’s cynical attempt to cash in on their Bourdain connection one last time got the motivation wrong. I saw a sincere attempt to honor a man who, in his own way, was every bit the craftsman they consider themselves to be.

Maybe I’m being played by Balvenie, but next time I visit a liquor store, I’ll probably buy a bottle (if I can afford it) just for the experience of trying something Tony believed in.

And call me a sucker but, shortly after Tony died, my car swerved into the drive-through of Popeye’s Chicken because I suddenly craved his secret guilty pleasure.

We can reread his books and rewatch his shows, but I think sharing the foods and drinks he enjoyed would probably please him most.


%d bloggers like this: