Vale Anthony Bourdain

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This city is the self-proclaimed centre of democracy, science, and culture. Unlike many other self-proclaimed centres, though, this one’s claims tend to be borne out by history.

I landed yesterday, blinked and nodded politely as my lovely driver gave me the rundown on the city he’s doubtless done a million times before. Got to the apartment, dumped my everything, found a cold beer in the fridge and toasted my own arrival.

As I took my first few tentative steps out into the streets, an all-caps message arrived from my partner: Anthony Bourdain was dead.

Before we get into this, it must be said that I never met the man. But it’s testament to his talent as a presenter, as a writer, as a storyteller, as a presence, that the news of his passing felt like a punch to the fucking gut.

Between a full-time job each, my partner and I struggle to find time to sit down and smash TV shows — particularly those of the intellectual variety. But during a prolonged fortnight of illness some two or three years ago, The Layover popped up on Netflix, and we destroyed it. Since then we’ve watched nearly all of No Reservations and every episode of Parts Unknown, and between us we’ve read most of the words he wrote. Tony was a source of wisdom on many things, most recently how to prepare garlic: a quick Google that settled a light-hearted argument at work.

Every episode of his series was meticulously planned and shot, playful and experimental, and always accompanied by the most beautifully constructed narration. His crew were seemingly eternally devoted, and clearly thinking above and beyond the necessities of the job; Zach Zamboni’s extended philosophical essays on cinematography have turned up more than once in my reading lists for class.

I was desperately looking forward to seeing the episode Tony shot in Hong Kong that was directed by his girlfriend Asia Argento and shot by the inimitable Christopher Doyle. Now I’m not sure I can bring myself to see it, knowing what we all now do.

In how many fathoms of darkness must a soul be swimming in order for this to be sweet release? Surrounded by those who would take a bullet for you, in how much pain does one need to be to take this action? It must have been insufferable, insurmountable.

I’m just stunned. I’m still getting over this, and will be for some time. In many ways I’m glad to be travelling, at the moment. Anthony Bourdain brought travel down to earth, to the people and their stories, and to the food that locals don’t think twice about scoffing — Tony saw cities not as tourist traps, but as living, breathing places where people do indeed pass through, but people also live, work, and die.

There’s not much to say. Just: thank you, Anthony Bourdain, for your words, your wit, and your way of seeing the world.

in transit

My head knows what time zone I’m meant to be in, but my body has no idea. I’ve reset all my clocks, but apparently it should be 2am, so naturally I’ve just sat down with a beer. I haven’t really slept; dozed on the plane here, and had a quick power nap once I realised how long my layover would be.

I have to kill eight hours in Abu Dhabi, in the gigantic circular Skypark that houses all the cafes, bars, duty free. Those observing Ramadan are indulging in the wee hours before the sun comes up. It took me longer than I’m proud of to figure out why some people didn’t take meals on the flight from Melbourne.

From my vantage point at the SkyBar I can see the tiny glass box in which three men are quietly smoking. I feel like the haze should be thicker, but clearly the ventilation problem was sorted out long ago.

I’m on my way to Athens. I’ve read a lot about Athens; studied it in high school. I’ve hard it’s just one of those places to have to experience. So I’m looking forward to doing just that. Speaking of soaking up places, I’m meant to be filming on this trip, so maybe I’ll finish my beer and go do that thing.

Yes we POPCAANZ

Lambton Harbour and Oriental Bay as seen from the summit of Mount Victoria (pic by me).
Lambton Harbour and Oriental Bay as seen from the summit of Mount Victoria (pic by me).

I’m sitting in an apartment, outside which the manic Wellington weather swirls and swishes. After a glorious week, with crisp, sunny days (see above), the clouds have rolled in, and it’s bucketing down.

However, today’s disposition is not dampening mine, with the memories of a second, successful POPCAANZ fresh in my mind. My paper on the cinematic frame was received well, with lots of excitement that I’m developing more research and teaching on the same topic. But that was out of the way early on, and I was able to settle in and see a bunch of other, vastly more intelligent people talk about their passions.

There was a Baudrillardian deconstruction of Wes Anderson which was so thorough that by the end he did not exist. Another highlight was a refiguring of the narrative of Toy Story according to an object-oriented ontology, and a materiality of trash. Not to mention a textual analysis of Agony Aunt columns in the New Zealand Women’s Weekly. And then an introduction to the Leathermen culture of rural New Zealand.

And that’s barely scratching the surface (and I only mentioned two papers in a very strong film stream). Food was great, the location (Massey University) very cosy and accommodating, and the company a lively combination of old friends and new contacts.

There was very exciting news, too, that POPCAANZ will now be opening up to our Asian neighbours, and revamping the associated journal accordingly.

Bring on Sydney next year!