Free Me, Anthony Bourdain

By Karen

I gave Anthony Bourdain’s latest book, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, to myself for Christmas, just to have him under my tree. Now that I’ve finished it, I’m left with an empty feeling. Like the one I had after his Christmas special, where the only family he admitted having was his brother’s.

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Bourdain described this book as a scrapbook, offering a “whiff” of his travels. It’s also a team effort, a tribute to his crew. But frankly, I have no interest in his crew, even though I agree they must be amazing to do what they do.

They’ve probably met for drinks to flip through the book and reminisce over the adventures it only hints at. However, I felt like I wasn’t getting all the jokes. You know, the lame kind where you don’t laugh and someone says, “You really had to be there.”

Bourdain’s writing reflected his usual incisive, sarcastic, and hilarious brilliance, and the photography was beautiful, but certain locales got short shrift and the book overall lacked proper flow (except for the section on bathrooms, of course).

Touchingly, his dedication was to his infant daughter, Ariane, whom he had with Ottavia Busia last April. I’ve been digging for more on Wife No. 2, but all Bourdain ever volunteers is that she’s Italian. I assume she’s also younger than No. 1, because 50-something women his age don’t typically pop out babies on short acquaintance and let the wedding sort itself out later.

I read somewhere that he fell for his “hot tour guide,” whom I assume was Ottavia. And I think she almost died of food poisoning as his “then-girlfriend” in Peru because he mentioned it in the book.

I’d like to abandon my fantasies about Tony and get on with my life. I can accept that he’s no longer the man I wish he were. Actually, he never was. He’s always been married or seriously involved. I’ll still watch No Reservations and read all his books, and I’m sure I’ll love them. I just want to be free of the dream of what might have been.

All I’m asking for is one picture of him laden with a diaper bag, carrying Ariane, with baby vomit dripping down his shoulder, wrestling a stroller down some stairs while his hot new wife stands idly by. Then he’ll have as much appeal to me as a sex icon as Emeril.

But his diligent crew may never get that shot because Bourdain’s trapped in his fake image as an untamable stud-muffin. He may fear that one tiny glimpse of his reality will shatter his fairy tale existence and send him back to the Les Halles kitchen in obscurity. That even the Food Network will lose interest in rerunning A Cook’s Tour.

Although he’s built a career on seeking truths in other cultures, I guess Bourdain can’t afford to be totally honest about his own life.

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