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.

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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.


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