Bourdain

There is more to write about the cultural importance of Anthony Bourdain than I can currently articulate.

Since his suicide just days ago, I’ve read remembrances and recollections that further colored in the man’s humanity. Many expressed better than I can his humble and humane approach to people, to food, and to places.

I need to have my say, though, and it is this:

As I’ve written elsewhere in my blog, I’m not what I’d define as a traveler. I’ve known many who seem to have that naturally-sourced wandering spirit that drives them to learn languages and to spend whatever resources they have at their disposal to visit the next place.

It has only been in recent years that a thirst for getting myself out into the world—to open myself to the experience of travel—has corresponded with my taking a job that requires me to weekly deal with the hassles and joys of being on the road.

Perhaps I’m too easily letting myself off the hook, but I doubt I would have appreciated roaming around had I done it more in my younger years.

Watching Bourdain’s various travel shows, reading his books, absorbing his simple yet profound message that sharing a meal with others is the nexus of culture: it’s where high meets low, where rich meets poor, where artisanal meets DIY. Slowly absorbing this message has opened for me a more expansive, and frankly, a far better world.

We are more than the sum of our appetites, but it is through accepting, voicing and experiencing those hunger pangs—together—that we share what it means to be human.

Let’s follow Bourdain’s example and travel far or wander close and take our place at the table.

A Year in the Sky

For reasons that are now lost to the blur of childhood, the character of Peter Pan (the Walt Disney version) resonated on a profound level with my five-year-old self. Certainly part of the attraction was the never-grow-up attitude. And the fact that he wore a dagger. And that he fought pirates.

More than all of those touch-points, however, I was drawn to Peter Pan because he could fly.

In the mid-1970s, unless you had access to 8mm movies or what was then nascent home-video technology (I did not have access to either), you could only watch—and re-watch—movies as they were released in theaters. The classic Disney animated movies were on a re-release cycle of multiple years, so kids from my generation (Gen Xers represent!) could say that they saw ‘Sleeping Beauty’ when they were six or ‘Pinocchio’ when they were nine.

I was five when ‘Peter Pan,’ originally released in 1953, was re-released. And I was ready. I had had the album version of the movie (it was a combination of narrative and soundtrack) from before I could remember, and I had dressed as Peter Pan for as long as I could walk, and to this day I can’t hear ‘You Can Fly’ without zooming around the room, my arms cast wide. Seeing the film back then cemented the character’s importance in my genetic make-up, and it’s been one of the tragedies my life that Peter Pan didn’t try to recruit me to be a Lost Boy. Or that I can’t literally fly.

And yet.

For more than a year—thanks to my taking a consulting job where I now regularly travel across the United States—I have lived in the sky. The toughest parts of being a traveling consultant are what you’d expect – being away from my wife and children, spending inordinate amounts of time in airports, dealing with other people (folks, reclining your seat is akin to committing all Seven Deadly Sins at once, and the Universe will find a way to punish you for doing this, and the Universe is just in doing so), and the physical reality of sitting for hours in Medieval airplane seats.

However, there’s part of living up here that never gets old. The miracle of flight.

We are creatures of gravity. We are earthbound. To trick or escape this, whether for a moment or for the length of a transcontinental trip, is wondrous. It is our opportunity to thumb our nose at the way things are. It’s our moment to simultaneously be closer to God and to openly defy Him.

Airlines do much to obfuscate and separate us from this miracle, because to acknowledge the blessed nature of being able to live part of one’s life in the sky is to acknowledge that gravity always wins and that our lives are more obviously at risk. This obfuscation isn’t always unfortunate (there are times, during severe turbulence, say, or in the midst of a magnificent thunderstorm) that I appreciate not being reminded that I’m in an all too fragile aircraft amidst a much vaster, elemental force.

Sometimes ignorance is necessary for mental survival.

That said, I find—and perhaps you do, as well—that as I get older, I become more integrated with my previous selves. Passions and interests and pre-occupations return and re-surface, and there’s a settling into who we are that synchs up to the person we have always been. It feels natural that a component of my existence has brought flying back as an integral aspect of my life because I’ve always wanted it to be so. It’s different than I’d envisioned it, certainly, and yet it’s present.

As if I’ve been practicing the act of living in the sky all along.

Here’s a nice bit from Louis CK that acknowledges the realities of airline travel vis-a-vis the awe that flight _should_ still summon in all of us. 

New York Like a Christmas Tree*

As someone born, raised and still living on the West Coast, New York City has always been a mythical and out-of-reach place

As a kid, New York was the mega-city with attitude, much different than the sleepy surfer town of my youth. It was where my favorite childhood superheroes patrolled. Later, as a budding writer and musician, New York was the mecca where the writers and musicians I loved struggled and created and performed. And as an adult, it was where 9/11 made each of us defacto New Yorkers.

But the place was still somehow far away.

I’ve never felt, as many do, the need to challenge myself by living there. I was content that New York was over there should I ever want to visit, and up until my early 40s, that was the status quo – one of the many places I intended to see before I die.

That changed when I took my new job in late 2014.

I had to travel to the city extensively on behalf of a client, and I was able to experience the place in a unique, and admittedly privileged, even spoiled way. My airfare and hotel and food costs were covered as a job expense. I didn’t have to struggle to find (or afford) housing; I didn’t have to scramble for employment.

I was able to be a part of the place as more than a tourist and not quite a resident. There but not there. An outsider insider. (But not quite this bad, I hope.)

Even so, I like to believe that I get it now. New York works and wears on you, and when you’re not there, the city makes you crave it, makes you want to be there and nowhere else.

A colleague (and resident) described New York as a city with an old soul. To be part of it—even as that outsider—was to be welcomed into the center, that ancient epicenter, around which the rest of the world has always orbited.

It’s a messy place. Not dirty, per se, (although there are of course grimy elements) but messy. Rangy. There’s no reason that so many people with so many different personal trajectories should somehow make the city work and yet the city does work; it emanates a palpable, synergistic cultural force that’s as infectious as it is addicting. It’s magical. Truly.

Tonight this city belongs to me.* And you.

(*Apologies for lifting another quote from U2 – this one obviously ‘Angel of Harlem.’)