I was still on the sofa at four in the afternoon, still half-dressed, when I decided that my life could not be complete if I did not somehow become friends with Anthony Bourdain. My son, then a young teenager, also in his underwear, was as inert and transfixed as I was. We were both locked into the ninth or tenth consecutive hour of a Labor Day weekend marathon of Bourdain’s cultural-journey-through-food breakthrough show, “No Reservations.”
I remember the exact moment, the exact image:
The long, lanky, exquisitely sad-faced visage of a road-worn Bourdain sitting on broken pavement in a South American alley – Buenos Aires or maybe Montevideo, there is no way to be sure when twenty episodes are consumed at once — his back to a stone wall, arms crossed above his knees, watching children play at rag-tag soccer with a deflated ball. And with the older men, he is sharing Siete y Tres, the backstreet concoction of cheap red wine and Coca-Cola. And all this imagery with his narration — his exquisite writing so weighted with love for other worlds and their peoples – just washing over another delicate moment.
“This guy is so fucking real,” I remember telling my son.
“This guy,” Ethan replied, correcting me, “might be the absolute coolest person on the entire planet.”
Still prostrate before the Travel Channel two hours later, I was located by my more culturally literate wife who informed me not only that my discovery of Tony Bourdain’s greatness was belated – the man was already a phenomenon in the world of cuisine — but also that we had met and enjoyed part of an evening with him at a crime-writing convention in England some years before. Freshly boosted by the success of Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain had been trying his hand at crime fiction – a master storyteller still sampling forms before simply inventing the documentarian oeuvre for which he was perfection itself.
On that night in Manchester, Bourdain compassed us both and immediately apologized for the poor treatment he had given Baltimore in his writing: “Forgive me. What I remember of Baltimore is that I was an addict at that point and I had the hardest time finding heroin there.”
Defending our city as best one can, we both assured him that this was no fair reflection on Baltimore. It merely marked him as the most incompetent heroin addict on record.
“That guy?” I remembered. “He was grand.”
“You really, really need to read Kitchen Confidential,” she told me.
And I did. And from that moment forward my primary mission for all of that autumn was to hang out and eat and drink and become friends with this Anthony Bourdain fellow.
* * *
In the end, I cold-called him. And I don’t actually remember what I said in the opening seventeen-paragraph ramble of desperate exposition that followed his simple, “Hello.”
I know only that I was talking at standard front-stoop reporter-interrogative speed, which is to say at enough revolutions-per-minute so there are no pauses long enough for the subject-victim to say “no comment” or “I have to go” or “how did you get this address, you sick parasitic bastard” before slamming the door in your face. I just kept talking until I ran out of stupid justifications for having bothered him.
The stupidest of which was, perhaps, this:
“I make television shows and I’ve got a show order from HBO for a post-Katrina drama in New Orleans that features a chef trying to make a go of it after the flood. And, Mister Bourdain, while I love great food, I’m perfectly ignorant of how it actually comes to be. In other words, I like driving cars fast and I have no idea what’s under the hood of one. Would it be possible to buy you a meal and pick your brain?”
It was Laura who came up with that lie. And it was a lie, however plausible it sounded in the moment, or however true it ultimately became. At the time that I approached Tony about helping us with Treme, I wasn’t actually thinking about the task of writing Jannette DeSautel or her culinary adventures. I hadn’t focused much on that arc or on what Bourdain could do with it. No, I just wanted a bromance.
We met at Sushi Yasuda on 43rd Street near Grand Central, with Laura carrying a pen and notebook to maintain the fraud of a work meeting. Every now and then she would write something down, but really my wife was just as smitten.
And, of course, he was as he seemed on all those hours of television: Warm, engaged, curious, all of it glossed with a veneer of self-mockery that you understood was well practiced, yet nonetheless genuine. He wore life’s mistakes as a badge and laughed at the improbability of his newfound cultural iconography. He said he felt like he was now racing through life in a stolen car, checking the rearview, but incredibly, somehow, there were no misery lights yet coming for him. And me, the police reporter from Baltimore with an HBO production deal, heard the absolute honesty and wonder in that.
A lot of people will tell you that on meeting Tony – despite how extraordinary a being he was – they somehow felt as if they’d known him for years. In part, this was the natural result of having so much of his wit and intellect bleed across our television screens. But just as elemental, I believe, was the man’s almost unlimited capacity for empathy, for feeling the lives and loves and hopes of others. He listened as few listen. And when he spoke, it was often to deliver some precise personal recollection that was an echo or simile on what was still in his ear. He abhorred a non sequitur; for him, human communication — much like his core ideas about food and travel and being – was about finding the sacred middle between people.
I am someone who can’t do two things at once. At one point during that lunch, while struggling to talk coherently about a culinary arc in Treme that I hadn’t actually thought much about prior to meeting Bourdain, I made the error of filling my soy cup with sake. Being exceedingly polite on this first meeting, Tony said nothing. Later, walking back across town, I replayed that submoronic moment to my wife, who laughed and made it so much worse by noting that Bourdain himself had savored Naomichi Yasuda’s fare without soy sauce at all. As one does when the fish is so transcendently fresh.
Oh Christ. Fuck me.
Months later, when we gathered for the first time in New Orleans to begin the actual work, I joked that given my lunchtime performance, we were lucky to have him deigning to help us write the DeSautel storyline.
“You were a complete barbarian,” he assured me. “Fortunately, Naomichi didn’t visit our table or I would have had to disavow you and all your works publicly.”
He was always that funny – either dry in his rhetorical savagery, or over-the-top hyperbolic in his foaming rage at vegetarians or micro-beer experts or elitist social or political orders. Everything built to a moment of careful, thoughtful wit. He often spoke as well as he wrote, and given the stylistic command of his prose work, this is saying something. I know a lot of writers. Only a few of us speak as we write. Shit, on a bad day, we can’t even write as we are supposed to write. Tony was never arch or florid; his comic exaggerations and rhetorical provocations were always somehow perfectly measured. He said what he meant and he meant what he said and he landed all of it. As a conversationalist, he simply delivered, moment to moment.
I could spend days explaining how perfectly his written scenes for Treme serviced Janette Desautel and her journey – and more importantly, how carefully and honestly he traversed the wounded, shoulder-chipped post-Katrina moodiness and pride of the New Orleans culinary world. The scenes were fresh butter. They need only be trimmed to fit in the expanse of fifty-eight minute episodes, and even then, what we had to consign to the cutting-room floor was entirely worthy. It died heedlessly, for space only.
His first scene of a kitchen at work crested gracefully in this moment: The worthy Kim Dickens as DeSautel, her restaurant finally reopened, plating a shrimp-and-grits entrée crowned by a crusted brown-red prawn, bug-eyes and antennae upward, praying to whatever deity governs such transcendent perfection.
“Take a picture of that shit,” she tells her waitress with pride and an insider’s voice of a cook in command of her kitchen.
From that line of dialogue forward, we had no fear for the arc – neither in its direction, nor its execution. For four seasons, in the writers’ room and on the page, Tony guided and wrote us all the way home.
* * *
Tellingly, what Tony wanted to say with the story arc in Treme was precisely the theme he was pursuing in his own work: Move, go, journey, address the new and different, acknowledge the vast distance and all of the epic social and cultural pluralism and then — at the same time — celebrate the commonality of being human as well.
Despite the hermetic tendencies of New Orleans itself when it comes to culture — all the more exacerbated and heightened by the genuine feeling of civic siege that existed there after Katrina – Bourdain insisted that creative and personal growth is, for all us, dependent on encounters with The Other, on a journey from the known and comfortable to the alien and disorienting. It was Tony who argued that once her own restaurant faltered, DeSautel should journey to a volatile culinary capital and be tossed about in Goldlilocks fashion as a line cook in various New York kitchens – this one too hot for her, that one too cool – until she lands in a place where new lessons and experiences begin to permeate. Then and only then should she return home, marry the new to the known, and be more than she would be otherwise. That’s what he argued successfully in our drama. That’s what he argued successfully in his world journeys on television.
He was precise when he told Barack Obama that he wished more Americans had passports. And indeed, it’s hard to argue against the idea that the portion of our republic that hasn’t ventured abroad is the deadweight now dragging us into national mediocrity, insisting that all points of the compass save ours lack basic liberties, or don’t exalt human values, or don’t eat, drink, cure the sick, proscribe violence or educate fools with greater efficacy than we do in this fading realm. They won’t go there. They won’t dare. Yet they already know how exceptional America is and how miserable and frightening the rest of the world must surely be.
Go, move, see, feel, eat – grow. The Church of Bourdain was founded not merely on the ever-more-vulnerable national credo that all Americans are created equal, but on the much more ambitious insistence that this declaration might be applied wherever you wandered and with whomsoever you cooked or shared a meal. He remains, for many of us, the American that we wish ourselves to be in the world’s sight. To have him widely displayed as our countryman, open to and caring about the rest of the world, and being so amid our current political degradation — this was ever more important and heroic. To lose him now, amid so many fear-mongering, xenophobic tantrums by those engaged in our misrule, is hideous and grievous.
But make no mistake: It wasn’t love of food that led Bourdain to the embrace of a shared human experience, of a world merely hiding its great commonalities behind vast and obvious culinary variations. It was the other way around. Tony was intensely political, a man always aware of those at the margins, or those who seem never to be reached by wealth or status or recognition.
When he came to Baltimore for an episode, he eschewed the usual subjects of crab cakes and oyster shuckers and instead willfully crossed to the other side of the city to highlight the palate of black Baltimore – the pit beef stands and the fried lake trout joints (not trout, and damn sure not from no lake) — that are a staple in the parts of town that never show up in Baltimore Magazine’s listings of great dining experiences. Some locals were livid at the obvious omissions; many others, long ignored, took real delight.
And it was the same everywhere. He did not journey to Louisiana to dart from one white tablecloth to another among the established New Orleans eateries. Instead, he was in search of the best pho however far out Chef Menteur Highway it happened. Or even further afield, he was hours to the west at an Opelousas campground boucherie where keepers of the Cajun cultural flame battled through a 98-degree day to disassemble an entire pig at fifteen separate stations and make all of it disappear in gastronomic ways that no Royal Street restauranteur could ever fathom.
Always, wherever he went, Bourdain hunted the street food and the street people and the street parade. Once, after a day of storyboarding on Treme, my wife and I took him to a well-regarded high-end restaurant downtown and immediately, regardless of the fare itself, I knew I had erred. He’d had this experience too many times before – shit, as the chef at Les Halles, he’d delivered this experience night after night. We would have been better going on a crosstown challenge for the best roast beef po boy. Instead of pursuing much of his entrée, Bourdain asked wistfully if he could have our then-baby daughter on his knee; his own child was then three; he missed holding an infant more than he needed another plate of sweetbreads.
Yes, Tony was political in every respect; telling his stories from the left, always with an eye on inclusion, always positioned against the empty sneer of American exceptionalism, always ready to turn his gaze on anyone uncounted or ignored. At the same time, it wasn’t necessary to hew to a perfectly progressive line to break bread with the man. Journalistically, he gathered his material with an open mind, never making the basic act of humans bonding over a meal contingent on anyone’s place on the political spectrum. He could eat barbecue and shoot automatic weapons with Ted Nugent if it said something he thought relevant about the terrain in which he was traveling.
In the same spirit, I don’t think he chose his chef friends — or any of his friends — based on their political sensibilities dovetailing his own, or even on the quality and authority of their cuisine. Instead, looking sideways at the great diaspora of people I know who admired and loved Tony Bourdain, what seems most clear is how little bullshit there is. The icons of the kitchen with whom he most clearly connected, and whom he brought to Treme – Colicchio, Ripert, Dufresne, Chang – are, for all their standing and talent, remarkably devoid of cant and flummery. For Bourdain, a man of commanding and exceptional wit and talent, the greatest and most honorable fight was to stand with ordinary men – whether a New York busboy or a vendor on a Ho Chi Minh City streetcorner, a production assistant in his crew or a fan who recognized him on a subway platform. I loved him for this. It was, perhaps, the most important predicate to the great achievement of his journalism: Wherever you go, whoever you meet – there we are, all of us, so different and so much the same. And he chose, I think, his close friends in some part for their talent, but in greater part for their ability, regardless of that talent, to be themselves with all others, in all other spaces.
So I am sure, as I tell you this next story, that he surely did not blame his best friend, Eric Ripert, for serving the most exquisite meal to Henry Kissinger at Le Bernadin – the one that took place only a few tables from myself, my wife and a copse of other writer friends. Yes indeed, there he is, firm in my memory: Hunched-troll Kissinger, curved into his seat at a four-top, dancing his little spoon across the layers of Ripert’s legendary dessert egg – only a hundred plated a night for select customers – talking political science to his crisp, waspish dinner companions, the backwards consonants of his accent grating against my ears: “Vell, it is not really so hard to zee…”
The next day, when I email Bourdain a full-throated tale of this encounter, ripe with all my stunted and thwarted fury, he will forgive Eric, who lives life in a genuine construct of Buddhist thoughtfulness, disconnected from the brutalities and judgments of a political world. Eric, he will assure me, will know little of Kissinger or his works, and is wholly innocent of knowingly feeding America’s greatest living war criminal a dessert fit for prophets and angels. Indeed, I already know as much is true from the surprise on Ripert’s face when the chef came to visit our table, minutes after Kissinger had paid his bill and departed, and I sputtered out shards of raving Wikipedia entries on Chile, East Timor and Cambodia.
Okay, I reply in another email, so Ripert is innocent. But me? I knew. I could have done something. I could have summoned Aldo, the master sommelier, and asked him for the most expensive bottle of Chilean red on the wine list. I could have had the bottle quickly decanted, taken a sip for myself, and then marched over to Henry Kissinger’s table and poured it over the bastard’s head: “Compliments of Senor Allende, you ratfucking murderer.”
I waited on absolution.
Nothing. So I wrote again, offering the obvious reason for my inaction:
“But alas, we were all guests of the chef and this happened in his full dining room. Thus do manners make cowards of us all.”
A minute or two passed until Tony emailed me two words only:
* * *
Here’s the other thing: He knew everything,
I don’t mean he knew everything about food or cuisine or travel or even world culture. I mean that for having come up in kitchens, without the formality of too much higher education, Tony Bourdain was simply a brilliant autodidact. He read voraciously and widely. He read things that were relevant to his work and he read things because he simply wanted to know everything a man could possibly know about a given subject. I don’t mean he read the canon for literature and enough non-fiction to be current or relevant at parties, I mean he read the obscure, often turgid stuff that academics wade into when they want to know the last fucking detail about something. As he was about so many things, he was obsessive about what could be learned and known.
After Treme, the project in which my production team held the most hope was a careful history of the CIA from the end of World War II through to the inevitable blowback of 9-11, examining in detail America’s postwar foreign policy footprint in the world. As we began to contemplate the staffing of that writing room, Ed Burns & I brought on espionage novelists such as Dan Fesperman and began to engage in discussions with the likes of Alan Furst and Joe Kanon. Names that made sense.
Bourdain, however, pulled me up once he got wind of the project.
“I can write that stuff.”
I humored him. You’re a great writer, Tony, a fucking natural with drama as it turns out. But for this room we’re looking for a particular level of expertise…
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “I have that.”
I began to query him politely on basic stuff: Angelton and the Italian elections, Haney and the Korean fiasco, Philby and Istanbul…
“Though, of course, never mind Philby,” he interrupted, at one point, “by then the Americans had been entirely compromised by their taking on Gehlen and his crew.”
“And what, Mr. No Reservations, do you know about Reinhard Gehlen?”
He looked at me for a moment, genuinely disappointed in my lack of faith.
“I can read a fucking book. Same as the rest of you fucks.”
And he had. Every history, every memoir, every cache of made-public government files that we had been chasing in the months of preparation to write our pilot scripts and show bible – all of it had already been acquired and read by Tony Bourdain. I told him he was in, and then hurried back to Baltimore to assure Ed Burns we had a live one on our hands.
“The food guy?”
“Ed, he knows this stuff. All of it. Cold.”
Ed, a vegan, was entirely dubious. “That guy doesn’t even get nutrition and world hunger issues right.”
I could only giggle and look forward to a green light on the series and several years of Ed Burns and Tony Bourdain yelling at each other across a Baltimore writing room over the nature and purpose of pork itself, never mind the Bay of Pigs. Problem was the green light never came.
For years, ever since the end of Treme, I’d been updating Tony on a nibble from this network or that, raising his hopes for a moment, then delivering bad news the next. A year ago, we had some belief that the BBC was going to pick the project up. But no go.
Six months ago, in December, I found myself in New York doing a charity gig with Tony for the PEN writer’s group. There were always charity gigs with Tony. Some were public, and some, as we are now learning, was Bourdain making things happen without anyone knowing, without ever playing it for pride or gain. We hadn’t been in the same city for months so we went hard at the bar even before the affair began and then we kept right on going throughout, eventually making good our escape to Desmond’s, a joint just a block up from where Bourdain used to cook. He had the home field advantage, but I tried to stay with him drink for drink. A few regulars from the old days greeted him as if it was just another after-shift respite from Les Halles. A couple of fresher faces asked for photographs. He accommodated all politely, dutifully, and in the case of a few remembered faces, warmly.
For us, there was fresh talk that the U.K.’s Channel 4 might take a chance on the CIA project if we could further enhance the role of British Intelligence in the narrative. The problem was that postwar Berlin, which featured heavily in our pilot, had been done to death already at the Le Carre-saturated BBC.
“Until we figure out how to do this without leaning on the Berlin station part of the story, all the Brits are going to be leery,” I explained.
He took that in and relayed his own status. He was bone weary at the moment, but nonetheless, he was going to re-up with CNN and continue wandering and eating and telling stories for at least another few years.
“Are you getting tired?”
“I am. But I don’t know that I can stop. I can’t sit still. I know this.”
Then he talked about the ongoing battles with Harvey Weinstein, about his girlfriend and her public stand, about the cost of it and his pride in her. His tone was of someone who had been through a grinder, but who was now certain that Weinstein and all of his lawyers and private investigators and threats would be vanquished.
“Asia,” he said of his girlfriend, “is incredible.”
We had one too many. I was ready to sleep. We stood in the cold on Park Avenue South a little while longer, then hugged, which always seemed a ridiculous gesture with Bourdain, whose height made you feel as though you were embracing a cathedral. He was flying somewhere absurd in the morning. He still had to pack.
“Travel safe,” I said, which sounded dumb even as I said it. Yup. Me, waving away Tony fucking Bourdain with a platitude about how to travel.
The next day, of course, I would get on Twitter to tease him, to brag about drinking Tony Bourdain under the table at one of his own haunts. He would reply and concede defeat, but we both knew it was a lie. By then, I had swallowed two Tylenol and three Advil and I was drinking straight Coca-Cola for breakfast. Meanwhile there was already an email waiting for me in my inbox:
“Been thinking about the Berlin problem. Might consider other crucibles of the Cold War with great character inspirations:
Vint Laurence and Tony Po in Laos.
John Stockwell in Angola.
Operation JM/Wave in Miami.
Howard Hunt and David Atlee Phillips in Guatemala Arbenz campaign.
Lucien Conein in pre-war Vietnam.
Yuri Nosenko in custody.
I read that and wondered how the fuck how. Motherfucker was as drunk as I was, and between all the travel and the Weinstein battle, so much more tired. Yet he was already in the air somewhere – I couldn’t even remember what he had told me – heading to some other godforsaken time zone. Now, today, it’s tempting for me to seize on the drinking and the weariness and the offhand remark that he couldn’t stop making those journeys and extrapolate some portentious meaning. But I know that I’d be lying to myself and grafting insight on a moment only in retrospect. No, I went to work that next day hungover but sated with smart talk, good drink, savage jokes, the hug goodbye, and the memory of my friend crossing the avenue, heading for the subway, then disappearing down the hole.
* * *
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It takes energy, massive amounts of energy, to keep going in the face of chronic, endless, bottomless depression. It’s like being an introvert, but times a factor of about a thousand, and with psychological and emotional pain – and the deeper the depression, the deeper the pain. It’s exhausting. But Tony kept going, full speed, damn the torpedos… until there was just nothing left to recharge. Quality vs quantity, if you want to oversimplify it. He could not have both, so he opted for quality. “I hope I die before I get old” is a line that keeps running through my head these past few days.
When I heard the news I was shocked. He wasn’t my friend, but it was a gut punch nevertheless, because he was just so… big. A big personality, big talent, big genius, living a big life. A gifted writer. So different from me in so many ways, but — like me, the willingness – hell, the compulsion – to always speak his truth and to hell with the consequences. Like me, an appreciation for dark humor. Like me, an uncompromising moral compass. But, once my head cleared a bit, I realized that I wasn’t completely surprised. When I watched “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” I sometimes caught a flash of pain and sadness and tiredness and struggle behind his eyes, and I recognized that flash. Suicidal depression – like me. So, so easy to miss, unless you know what you’re looking for.
David, I am so sorry for the loss you have suffered. I can’t even begin to imagine how deeply this is affecting those who knew Tony and counted him as a friend. For me, I wish Tony had been able to dig down to find what he needed to keep going, but since he could not, then I wish him peace.
Thank you David! A wonderfuu memorial to a wonderful man!! He will be missed…
A truly beautiful piece, thank you for sharing.
As I remember you, I have to agree with Joe Hill! I’m sure Scheltema and Bolgiano would agree, too! And Erin Winther is right – that shit made me cry. Again. Fuck.
The Chile Man
You have generously shared with us moments of your very real friendship with this very kind and exceptional man. Bourdain became a staple in my diet when Gourmet Magazine ceased publication. As someone who loved to cook and gather my friends and family I was always curiouse about what we ate and food history. I grew up in a working class city near Boston, MA. my neighbors were Greek, Italian, Polish, Irish. My food travel happened between the pages of Gourmet, then, just in the knick of time, enter Anthony Bourdain. In 1990 I became disabled. Though I did travel some, with Mr. Bourdain I went much further. I learned more. I felt part of something. I too binge watched. This past weekend I bingewatched and wept. I was deeply moved by his living. So sad by his passing. The world was a better place with him. I pray his tired soul gets the peace he wanted.
As always, Mr. Simon – your writing touches my heart. Thank you for generously sharing your memories with us.
He spoke as well as he wrote. Best line best description. It was true. He was a genius. I am so very sad there will be no more from him.
[…] and now, David Simon — current showrunner of The Deuce and creator of The Wire — has penned an incredibly moving essay about how his binge-watching obsession with Bourdain’s No Reservations led to their years-long […]
Thank you sir. An eloquent and beautiful remembrance. I’m sorry for your and our loss.
[…] a poignant remembrance posted on his personal site, David Simon, the writer and creator of The Wire, recalls the instant affinity […]
wonderful perspective of the Tony we all loved in one way or another
Thank You…Thank you so much.
Between the tears and the laughter; I, no, WE needed this. Thanks for sharing this.
David, please know how many of us envy your conversations with the great Mr. Bourdain. You were kind enough to show us a different perspective of his greatness and we are all made the better for it:) The line of him emailing you this oh so perfect/raunchy name about your fear of dumping the wine on Henry Kissinger made fresh new tears come out of me- this time in pure unadulterated laughter! It fits what we, the plain old audience , thought we knew of this special man.
Because of this great man, I now have a passport, with my eyes first set on Thailand and all stops in between! He’s made me get up off my ass, and actually see the wonderfully beautiful world, and for that I will forever be in his debt. Because of his shows, my children are MUCH more adventurous eaters, and are finding not only do the love the foods, but the languages as well. “How else can I express how truly great this food is mom if I cant say it in their language” (says my 20 year old)
I want you to know that this is hands down the very best article/eulogy for Tony and we all miss him from the bottom of our hearts.
Thank you so much for sharing. Hugs to you.
Thank you. Reading this story makes me believe that someday I could have met Anthony Bourdain (would not dare say Tony until it is ok). Thank you, for writing these words and telling these stories and thank you for bringing a little bit of light into a dark time. Anthony Bourdain will be missed by me and my family and I hope one day to share the shows with my son as he grows older and asks why I learned to cook.
Beautiful and moving. I admire your writing… and miss your inventive profane invective on Twitter.
Thank you for this. For the first time since we lost him, I feel a bit uplifted.
Forgive my choosing your forum as my place to dump my thoughts:
Tony was a treasure even for me who only experienced him through electronics and page, first on my morning-commute radio back before we all programmed our own intake, then through book and tv shows (both his own and David & Eric’s).
First, he was entertaining. Then he reappeared as a conduit to worlds I’d never get to experience otherwise. As I began to seek him out and he began to grow and reverse some of the harms that he’d packaged into the entertainments, he became a revelation and something to think about even when he wasn’t in front of me. And in these last few years, as he refined his shows and presence in other media, he was as good as any op-ed columnist in fomenting wide-ranging reflection on the world we live in.
I think of the scene at Uglesitch’s — not sure of the degree to which Tony wrote it & I won’t explain the narrative reasons why it resonates for me in the presence of one who is far clearer on its purpose, but I love returning to the messages I take from it and i love that Tony found a way to go back and elevate one of the people he’d denigrated in his first public incarnation.
And I think of a tired night of solo parenting when I threw together 4 fairly mundane ingredients to some effect and satisfied my not-yet-three year old. After the meal, we watched and discussed Parts Unknown in Senegal together — her first non-kids targeted entertainment. Eight months later, she will still occasionally say, “instead of Daniel Tiger, we could watch Senegal.” And last night in the apartment complex courtyard, when the girls chose countries to represent in their soccer match, an 8-year old asked her what country she’d represent, “I’m Senegal!” she said with a boatload of joy.
Thank you, Tony.
beautifully written. reopened the wound… i’m so very sad that the world lost a truly great man.
[…] the post on Simon’s website, he remembers cold-calling Bourdain not long after that magical 10 hours on the couch, using his […]
Thank you for this. Following his death, I find myself yearning and searching every corner for more pieces of him. I don’t want him to be gone – I wasn’t done learning, listening, admiring. Don’t ever stop sharing your memories.
Thank you for sharing this.
“I can read books just like you fucks.”
How can you not love the guy.
This is beautiful, thank you. And thank you for your art and realism and shining such a clarifying light on Baltimore and New Orleans, both with their warts and beauty. I hope you know that in a different way, your empathy and appreciation for all types of people is as much part of your work as it was Mr. Boudain’s.
I will read this again and again and savor the memories you just gave me of him. Thank you.
The light of Bourdain’s soul shines throughout this. And so does yours. Thanks.
hugging a cathedral. yup.
I always believed one day I’d be able to convince him to let me cook a meal for him. Possibly a good Sri Lankan beef curry like my mom made it. But worlds better. Eat at my table like it was in the house I grew up in, in Colombo. I really believed it. Just never got around to asking.
And the only man I’d ever have seriously considered marrying.
This cuts deep, bleeds. Catharsis. I’m ridiculously hungry now.
Great read and backstory. Loved Treme and the restaurant arch in particular. It rang true for me, and I’m just a foodie. I guess Tony never wanted to be on camera? Sorry to hear about the CIA project. I’d watch!
Wow, beautiful, perfect. And the absurd place in the godforsaken time zone was Toronto. I picked him up at the airport around 10 am and he was cursing you hard for his hungover state, which didn’t (at ALL) show. I gave him a big plate of my husband’s rice and beans and we spent the entire day talking about sexism in the restaurant business and how to make it better. He was so good to me when he didn’t at all have to be. Then we drank a bunch of wine and he hopped back on a plane.
David, Van Morrison has a song I love called “Did Ye Get Healed?”. Well, I don’t know if I’m there yet, but this beautiful piece of yours moved me a lot closer to that goal. It provided me with tears and laughter. In fact, the “you pussy” line may have made me crack a rib.
It hurts so god.
Thank you so much for sharing this. Even more proof that we’ve lost one of the best.
Thank you. Really beautiful. And perfect way to end, watching dear friends cross the street and go down into the subway after standing in a street prolonging your departure. Drunk. I’m sorry you lost your friend. I thank you for your honesty about your dorkiness – you are all of us. Keep doing the good work. Much love to you all.
David, you and Tony have both contributed to the richness of my life experience and I thank you both for that, love and blessings for both of you being real.
This is stunningly beautiful. Thank you.
Damn David. One if the more eloquent stories I have ever read. Thank You!
When you have depression it’s like it snows every day.
Some days it’s only a couple of inches. It’s a pain in the ass, but you still make it to work, the grocery store. Sure, maybe you skip the gym or your friend’s birthday party, but it IS still snowing and who knows how bad it might get tonight. Probably better to just head home. Your friend notices, but probably just thinks you are flaky now, or kind of an asshole.
Some days it snows a foot. You spend an hour shoveling out your driveway and are late to work. Your back and hands hurt from shoveling. You leave early because it’s really coming down out there. Your boss notices.
Some days it snows four feet. You shovel all morning but your street never gets plowed. You are not making it to work, or anywhere else for that matter. You are so sore and tired you just get back in the bed. By the time you wake up, all your shoveling has filled back in with snow. Looks like your phone rang; people are wondering where you are. You don’t feel like calling them back, too tired from all the shoveling. Plus they don’t get this much snow at their house so they don’t understand why you’re still stuck at home. They just think you’re lazy or weak, although they rarely come out and say it.
Some weeks it’s a full-blown blizzard. When you open your door, it’s to a wall of snow. The power flickers, then goes out. It’s too cold to sit in the living room anymore, so you get back into bed with all your clothes on. The stove and microwave won’t work so you eat a cold Pop Tart and call that dinner. You haven’t taken a shower in three days, but how could you at this point? You’re too cold to do anything except sleep.
Sometimes people get snowed in for the winter. The cold seeps in. No communication in or out. The food runs out. What can you even do, tunnel out of a forty foot snow bank with your hands? How far away is help? Can you even get there in a blizzard? If you do, can they even help you at this point? Maybe it’s death to stay here, but it’s death to go out there too.
The thing is, when it snows all the time, you get worn all the way down. You get tired of being cold. You get tired of hurting all the time from shoveling, but if you don’t shovel on the light days, it builds up to something unmanageable on the heavy days. You resent the hell out of the snow, but it doesn’t care, it’s just a blind chemistry, an act of nature. It carries on regardless, unconcerned and unaware if it buries you or the whole world.
Also, the snow builds up in other areas, places you can’t shovel, sometimes places you can’t even see. Maybe it’s on the roof. Maybe it’s on the mountain behind the house. Sometimes, there’s an avalanche that blows the house right off its foundation and takes you with it. A veritable Act of God, nothing can be done. The neighbors say it’s a shame and they can’t understand it; he was doing so well with his shoveling.
I don’t know how it went down for Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade. It seems like they got hit by the avalanche, but it could’ve been the long, slow winter. Maybe they were keeping up with their shoveling. Maybe they weren’t. Sometimes, shoveling isn’t enough anyway. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but it’s important to understand what it’s like from the inside.
I firmly believe that understanding and compassion have to be the base of effective action. It’s important to understand what depression is, how it feels, what it’s like to live with it, so you can help people both on an individual basis and a policy basis. I’m not putting heavy shit out here to make your Saturday morning suck. I know it feels gross to read it, and realistically it can be unpleasant to be around it, that’s why people pull away.
I don’t have a message for people with depression like “keep shoveling”. It’s asinine. Of course you’re going to keep shoveling the best you can, until you physically can’t, because who wants to freeze to death inside their own house? We know what the stakes are. My message is to everyone else. Grab a shovel and help your neighbor. Slap a mini snow plow on the front of your truck and plow your neighborhood. Petition the city council to buy more salt trucks, so to speak.
Depression is blind chemistry and physics, like snow. And like the weather, it is a mindless process, powerful and unpredictable with great potential for harm. But like climate change, that doesn’t mean we are helpless. If we want to stop losing so many people to this disease, it will require action at every level.
My friend Wes wrote this.
This is absolutely amazing. Will your friend Wes share this in a more public space? The analogy is the best I have ever read.
This article, and that reply are 2 of the most amazing things I’ve read this year. Thank you for sharing.
Your friend Wes’s piece on depression is one of the best I’ve ever read, and I am a lifelong major depressive whose superpower is reading. I’d love to see more of his stuff.
Thank you for this. Coming from the wife of someone who suffers from Bipolar Disorder it’s sometimes hard to understand the why and what of depression and what my husband is experiencing…this analogy is beautiful.
This is perfect. I was just noting to my spouse yesterday that the core thing about depression is the utter exhaustion it engenders…you are tired from pretending to the world, you are tired from ignoring the inner critic, you are tired from forcing yourself through the ordinary elements of daily life. It is NOT about “being sad”; it is about being crushed. I would love everyone in the world without depression to read this. I wish I had some attribution before I share?
I agree with Cheryl. This is not only an accurate description, but one that I think most people can grasp, which I thought impossible until now. Will Wes make this public?
Your words are so profound and realistic. I do need to beleive that Your friend Wes deserves what you mention as a climate change. I, who suffered depression, not only understand it but I encourage him, from my place in the world, Tucuman, Argentina, to value every daily effort until one day, he can, with help, stand up and love the snow again , the sun, life itself. It is difficult, but possible. Deep hug and thank you for your testimony.
This is amazing. I’m going to print it and show it to my husband, who still can’t quite wrap his mind around our son’s depression. Thank you and Wes for sharing it.
Thank you, Jeremy.
Please please publish this somewhere Wes + Jeremy – it’s incredible!
Dear Jeremy and Wes,
Thank you so much for writing this, the winter has indeed taken Mr. Anthony Bourdain, to parts unknown and I pray it is to heaven he went. Depression is a vile thing, it robs us of our vitality and life force. It takes people we love in such an insidious manner that we need to take it by the balls and deal with it. I love the way you have illustrated this awful thing in such a simple yet powerful way. Thank you again.
Thanks to you and Wes for sharing that perfect analogy. I’ve never heard it described that way before, but I found it very relatable.
Thank you for sharing, and sorry for your loss.
You should be honored that you got your balls busted by one of the best.
Next time you dine with Kissinger, you know what to do. Just make sure to tell him “this one is for Tony”.
God you can be a turgid asshole but this gets you off the hook for a while.
This is absolutely breathtaking. Thank you so much for allowing us a glimpse inside, a place where so many of us wished we could have gone.
Time better spent than defending the Twittersphere from idiocy. Thanks for sharing it.
This is necessary poetry for the times we face. Thanks for writing this, David.
Thank you so much. I’m very sorry for your loss.
Thank you for this glimpse into Anthony Bourdain. All I knew of him was what I read and saw on the television, and yet I felt such a great sense of loss when I read that he was gone. I cannot imagine the pain someone who knew him must feel.
I try to write to artists who touch me, and I have done so from time to time since the death of John Lennon. I wish that I had thought to write to Mr. Bourdain, and now that chance is gone forever.
In that vein, thank you, Mr. Simon, for your work, for the humanity and the understanding that you bring to it and your characters. From “Sheeeeyit” to “the most incompetent heroin addict on record”, your work has entertained and made me think, and I greatly appreciate it. Be well, sir.
Your loss is shared by many others, but yours has to be more keenly felt than most.
An aside: In 1987, as a 16-year old, black haired punk rock banquet waiter in DC, living on her own + lying about her age, I dropped a massive metal tray of chicken dinners on the legs of this old guy with glasses at a fancy NASA event at a big hotel outside of DC. I’d tripped over a tangle of camera wires. The room went silent. It was Henry Kissinger. He was startled and his shoes were now dirty. He was not happy. My last banquet gig ever.
Thanks for your beautiful tribute, David Simon. My heart fucking hurts, too.
Well plated. Best,
Thanks so much!
Extraordinary, beautiful and heartfelt. Thank you so much for revealing ,ore,about the brilliance of Anthony Bourdain.
AB was Hitchens post-Hitchens & taught me more about community history, compassion, analysis of truth vs lie, life, politics, oppression, optimism ……and food.
He was the real deal – the barometer of my world outlook. After losing Hitchens I was bereft. After losing Bourdain I’m heartbroken, but not lost. I remember everything he taught me and know how to make better decisions that my pre-Hitchens. pre-Bourdain and pre-David Simon life..
I’m so glad he was involved with Treme, which I loved more than The Wire, perhaps because I’m a pro musician, but more likely for the same reasons AB loved DS & vice versa.
David- you are a lucky man to have known him. Thanks for a good cry. Again. Erin
Thank you for this. It really hurts that he’s gone and I’m so sorry you lost a friend.
Hope we get you back on Twitter