Anthony Bourdain and His Vietnam Thing

By Karen

Tonight’s our last fresh fix of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations until August but, rest assured, Travel Channel will probably rerun Tony all summer until Andrew Zimmern and Samantha Brown are screaming “Uncle!” in harmony.

Tony returns to Vietnam.

According to his latest blog entry, “How Can I Miss You, When You Won’t Go Away?”, he’ll be house-hunting for a one-year move there some time in mid- to late-2010.

When he mentioned Hoi An, my neck hairs prickled. While Tony was still toiling at Les Halles, I wrote a novel (unpublished), an updated Ship of Fools, with a character who was a Vietnam vet with a taste for Asian women after frequenting brothels in Hoi An.

Now, I know little about Vietnam and did perfunctory research to find a spot where a soldier’s trysts would be believable, but I imbued Hoi An with a magic that transformed this character’s outlook.

And now Bourdain wants to live there. Life imitates art.

His post is uncharacteristically personal and poignant. Giving us a glimpse into his dark mental processes while on the road speaking, as I recently saw in Durham, NC, makes the warmth and charm he has on stage even more amazing.

The effort he put into writing this piece is apparent. It’s elegant and even his punctuation spot-on. There are only 2 strange new compound words (puppy-or and exercise-like) near the end where he means to use em dashes.

But he leaves us eager to see him discover Chile when NR resumes.

Thanks to Ingrid at Room241 and her “inside scoop” on Vietnam, you may read elsewhere that Tony might be writing the “great Vietnamese novel.” True, he may finally finish a novel he’s been working on for several years called No New Messages, but his 3-book deal with Ecco Press calls for a Vietnamese Year in Provence-type memoir that I think would be even better.

Tony was in Santa Barbara, CA, on February 27, and here’s a good write-up on that. This photo, the one I couldn’t get in Durham, was taken there, but he looks exactly the same.

(Photo - Paul Wellman)

(Photo - Paul Wellman)

Here’s an interesting recap of the Top Chef Season 5 Reunion show (at least Fabio was picked fan favorite) with yet another plea for Bourdain’s return as a judge.

And yet another blogger sings Tony’s praises while she rues his marital status. (Ottavia, if you’re reading, it’s nothing against you. She’s just disappointed he’s not single.)

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17 Responses to Anthony Bourdain and His Vietnam Thing

  1. Bob says:

    Is it just me or is Tony wearing all black because “FINALLY” he’s putting on weight???
    Looks like he has a bit of a gut in that picture..

  2. catsworking says:

    Bob, you said it, I didn’t. When I saw him in Durham, I noticed that there seemed to be a little pooch in his stomach at certain angles. This picture would seem to confirm that.

    I wonder if quitting smoking has anything to do with that? They say people tend to gain weight when they kick the habit.

  3. Petunia says:

    Who is Ingrid at Room 421?

  4. catsworking says:

    Petunia, Ingrid came into the picture a month or so ago. She works for an agency called Room241 in Colorado that was hired by the Travel Channel to increase the online buzz about its programs, among other things. She told me she’d been reading Cats Working for some time and decided that I was an “influential blogger” who should receive her “inside scoop” on upcoming No Res episodes. The scoop usually comes with a commercial clip.

    Other bloggers on Ingrid’s list have been posting her scoops verbatim, which is why you may find identical promos of his shows all over the ‘Net, even though they’re written in first-person like they’re the bloggers’ original thoughts.

    That’s not how we operate at Cats Working, so I just share tidbits I get from Ingrid here and there as they seem pertinent. But it’s nice to know that Travel Channel considers Cats Working helpful in getting the word out about Bourdain’s activities.

  5. Adele says:

    Karen, I just read Tony’s “How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away” post, and as you said, it was excellent and surprisingly personal; I’m looking forward to tonight. But I’m more interested in the fact that you have an unpublished novel lying around, and it’s sort of an updated Ship of Fools. Do tell (or email me and tell me about it); I’m most eager to hear.

  6. catsworking says:

    Adele, I started writing novels when I was about 23 and completed at least 5. The 4th one was called Liars & Lovers and won first place in a contest. The prize was publication, but the chosen publishing house went out of business before they printed my book. By then, 2 years had passed and I’d lost interest in it (thinking I could do much better, as writers tend to do), so it went into the closet with the first 3.

    The 5th novel was my updated Ship of Fools, titled Tales of the SS Nordkapp, the first installment of what I envisioned as a series set on that ship. For the sake of length, a California literary agent (who shall remain nameless because I’m still pretty steamed at her) had me gut the plot until the book was a shadow of what I intended. Then she declined to represent me because she said the book now “lacked emotional focus.”

    So after 2 very frustrating near-misses at getting my big break in fiction, I turned to non-fiction and have stuck with it. I did recently resurrect novels No. 1 (a vampire tale called The Greystone Legacy) and Liars & Lovers to show to some curious friends, and they told me I should never have abandoned either of them. Maybe they were just being kind.

    Personally, I think the Nordkapp book was my best because of its intricate plotting. Who knows? If I can find another agent, maybe some day I’ll pull it out and try again.

  7. Bob says:

    What’s this. Bourdain has a pathalogical fear of Pressure Cookers ?????? I admit those things scare me, hissing and spitting the way they do.

    Good write up, you should get your other books published Karen… I am sure you.. just go with a different publisher.. remember we knew you when you were still Little People!!!!

  8. Nancy (not THAT Nancy) says:

    I loved this episode. Now I can see why he wants to live there. And I was drooling at the food…yum.

    Karen, what an odd coincidence about Hoi An. And I agree, I think you should try another publisher for your book. I do know how demoralizing it can be from direct experience though. I swore after I finished my first book that I’d never do another. I got over it but it took years.

  9. Adele says:

    Good grief, Karen, you’re certainly prolific. I remember on the first season of “Mad Men” Don Draper (I think) saying that most of the guys in Creative had a novel or two in their desks. It sounds like you were born to write, though, and perhaps you should dust off the novels and try some other publishers. (Alice is on top of my monitor — obviously not a flat screen — and her paws are right in front of what I’m typing; I think she agrees) I think The Nordkapp sounds interesting, and this just might be the time for a big intricate book, where one could bury oneself and forget one’s troubles. I’m with Bob and Nancy.

    My favorite NR shows are generally the ones where Tony is moved by his surroundings, so I liked last night’s show, very much. The photography was great, and Hoi An is a truly beautiful place.I can just see Ariane sitting on her haunches like the Vietnamese kids. Although I’ll never get to all the places in Europe, I want to visit, I’ve always found Graham Greene’s evocation of pre-war Saigon very alluring. The combination of French incluence and tropical decadence is really a winner for me. Think I’ll order Indochine from Netflix.

  10. catsworking says:

    Bob, thanks for the encouragement. Fiction is highly competitive and often won’t be considered by publishers “over the transom” by a first-time novelist (which is what I’d be considered even though I’ve had 2 other books published and magazine credentials longer than your arm). What I need is a good literary agent. If you know any, put in a good word for me.

  11. catsworking says:

    Nancy, I’d have to reread the Nordkapp book again before I’d dare send it anywhere. Times change. Tastes change. I think the basic premise was sound. I know I’d want to do a total rewrite. And since fiction isn’t paying my bills, I’d have to squeeze it in. And I’ve got a couple of other non-fiction book-length projects I think I could bring to market quicker.

    But you never know. I always did enjoy writing fiction.

  12. catsworking says:

    I haven’t seen the Vietnamese episode yet. I taped it. Maybe tonight.

    But I will say that Cats Working exploded today with searches on Bourdain’s wives (with Nancy edging out Ottavia), breaking all previous records with about 4,000 hits, so I’m thinking he must have said something in Vietnam to have sparked all that curiosity.

    Now I can hardly wait to see it.

    I’m a HUGE fan of Mad Men, too. Love that show!

  13. Bob says:

    I am still waiting to see the new episode myself Karen.
    I do actually like his Vietnam shows, he seems so at ease there… Eating Bun Cha or Squeesal..

    Actually I was quite the writer in High School, still kicking around a book or two in my head. Mostly I did short stories and poems… The Muse does not visit as much as she once did. Alas..

    Normally my writing process consists of kicking around an idea for a day or two then barfing out on a page. The actual writing process takes me very little time, its the Re Writes and Edits that kill it for me..

    Must admit I missed Tony tonight, He plays twice here on Tuesdays… Got running around trying to fix my oven, Thought it was fuses but I guess not..

    Well Anyhoo not going to get worked up about it, looks like I am going to be sharing pots and pans pretty soon anyways.. Ahhh Young Love.

    Going to try to find a that Bourdain download.

    As always
    Bob

  14. Bob says:

    Just a little add on, Got on a nostalgia trip, went way back to the first NR Vietnam Episode…. Not his first trip by the way … As Tony likes to say it he did an Asia trip on an inferior network.

    Thus for any newbies hanging about that’s where you see him eating live Cobra

    Anyways, He looks so much better now.
    I guess married life is agreeing with him.

    Not to give any disrespect to Nancy.

    Cest la vie eh

    But looking better, AKA NOT Gaunt

    Well off to bed
    I rant to much

    Take care all
    Bob

  15. catsworking says:

    Bob, I saw the new Vietnam episode last night and I agree with you. He rarely looks happier than when he’s slurping down that country’s food.

    I was sorry to see that he didn’t seem to find the type of housing he was looking for, i.e., anything he could afford that wouldn’t have the family crapping in a hole in the ground.

    Even though he waxed very eloquent about the country, as always, I felt like there was an undercurrent of despair there when he viewed it through what would be his wife and child’s eyes. You’ll see my theories in today’s post.

    Only time will tell…

  16. may says:

    I met Mr. Bourdain briefly in MN. He seemed to be a man of genuine, intriguing character. Any VN episode on NR always holds a special place in my heart. My beloved Viet Nam is in my blood and soul. I am quite touched by AB’s sensibility & humility in his encounters with Viet Nam-the land, its culture & people. His writings, words & interactions pertaining to Viet Nam feel organic & instinctual. His VN episodes often reduce me to tears due to the poetic content, sublime beauty and the damn delicious food! Ah, Mr. Bourdain, thank you immensely for seeing Viet Nam with an open heart as well as allowing yourself & viewers to discover this country with a sense of hunger and passion. Welcome to Viet Nam, the magic!

  17. catsworking says:

    Welcome, may! When it comes to Vietnam, you and Anthony Bourdain certainly seem to be kindred spirits. I’m sure your reaction to his travels there is exactly what he would like all viewers to feel. Vietnam is a very misunderstood country in the U.S.

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