World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain Review

Bourdain cover

The cover (which depicts Bourdain outside a Paris café) was illustrated by Tony Millionaire, who also drew illustrations for each chapter.

“All of us, when we travel, look at the places we go, the things we see, through different eyes. And how we see them is shaped by our previous lives, the books we’ve read, the films we’ve seen, the baggage we carry.” Anthony Bourdain

A little over two years after his death, Anthony Bourdain is still teaching us about tasting and traveling with an open mind and fervent curiosity. As the month of his birth and death, June is considered a month to honor Bourdain and his legacy. My social media feeds have been filled with tributes to him by fellow chefs, journalists, and friends. His legacy is long-reaching in its impact on how we eat, how we travel, and what we value. His last book project will be hitting the shelves in October. It is billed as a travel guide, but for me, it read more like a love letter from Bourdain to all the places that changed him as an eater and person throughout his life. Written with his longtime assistant Laurie Woolever, the writer who also co-authored his last cookbook Appetites, it’s called World Travel: An Irreverent Guide. 

“Maybe the world could use another travel guide, full of Tony’s acid wit and thoughtful observations and a few sly revelations of the mysterious contours of his battered heart, stitched together from all the brilliant and hilarious things he’d said and written about the world as he saw it.” Laurie Woolever

Do not buy this book to use as a travel guide. Buy this book to, just for a moment, immerse yourself once again in Bourdain’s gorgeously unapologetic prose. If you are familiar with his shows, you have heard this material before. That does not make it less impactful. Bourdain’s casual use of expletives and reverence for place and ingredients jump off the page. The best part for me though, was the inclusion of personal essays that give insight into Bourdain and his life. These interruptions to the narrative reveal the impact Bourdain had on the people in his life.

“Lyon brought out Tony’s softness. Lyon likes to see itself as “the gastronomical capital of the world,” and, whether justified or not, there is no question that the city takes its food very seriously. This is what humbled Tony, the city’s reverence for the meal.” Bill Buford on Lyon with Tony

“We got the food bug, the travel bug, and the understanding that you could hang out with people from foreign countries, and learn things, and take pleasure in coming to understand them. This is where it all started.” Christopher Bourdain on their first trip to France

“Through my work, I’m developing creative content that’s centered on Korean culture. Everything I do is through that lens now. Tony was the person who unlocked that for me. He helped me realize what I want to do as a creative person, and as a person, period. He fundamentally changed me. Thank you, Tony.” Nari Kye

These are some words from a few of the essays, but a picture of Anthony Bourdain begins to emerge from these snippets. He was generous. He was respectful of traditions. He was adventurous from an early age. He also recognized his position as teller of the stories of the places he traveled to and acknowledged his privilege and responsibility to get it right. The book reveals the tremendous research Bourdain did before each location. It is filled with bits of history and politics of places such as Kenya where he outlines the nascent days of hunter-gatherers, to the oppressive British Colonialism, finally to the burgeoning middle class and multilingual professional sector. Each country and city highlighted has this backstory information, but also offers advice on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do while there. The book does cover places Bourdain went for his shows, but also contains updated information on all of the restaurants, hotels, and off-the-beaten-path places.

I bookmarked some of these stops for my own future travels. Like his insight on hotels in France…

  • “Me, I always stay at L’Hotel in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A very discreet joint known for being a love shack to the tragically hip for ages. Even more important, it has the necessary distinction of having had famous people die there. In 1900, the author Oscar Wilde kicked the bucket in room 16. . . . This was his last base of operations for a legendary three-year bender that ended badly.” With that description how can you not check in here?

Or this nugget on how to get around in London…

  • “Something you should know—never take a minicab, only black cabs. Black cabs have a meter. You know how much you’re paying. Plus, not only do they know where they’re going, but they know alternate ways to get there. Minicabs, they pretty much charge whatever the hell they like, and the likelihood that they know where they’re going is remote in the extreme.” 

And to seal the deal on his greatness, he has bookstore recommendations. My bookish heart is full, and can’t wait to check this spot out.

  • “It’s not all beef, muscle cars, and classic cocktails in LA. There’s a particular pleasure to be found at Book Soup…Their every shelf is personally curated by the well-read staff. They have an amazing and esoteric collection of unsurpassed LA-related weirdness. A great and rare pocket of wonderful and strange and beautiful. And they’re a major stopover for all the heavy-hitting authors to read.” 

Then he hit me with a spot in Georgia close to my heart, The Clermont Lounge. It is seedy. It is dark. It is a stripclub. It is  must-do when in Atlanta. Bourdain thought so too…

  • “The best, the finest, the most uniquely weird and wonderful beloved Atlanta institution, is the Clermont Lounge. This place should be a national landmark. The most beloved institution in the entire city, a place of Renaissance-era beauty and erotic and sophisticated nightlife, where the shots flow out in tiny, plastic cups. It’s not like other strip clubs. It’s operating on a whole other level.” 

As fun as this guide is, there is a greater message to Bourdain’s words and life. He knew he was the voice for the cultures he visited and he took his role as their storyteller seriously. He recognized he may be the only voice these stories may have. He acknowledged this perhaps best in an interview with CNN about the Kenya episode of Parts Unknown, “Who gets to tell the stories? This is a question asked often. The answer, in this case, for better or for worse, is, ‘I do.’ At least this time out. I do my best. I look. I listen. But in the end, I know: it’s my story, not Kamau’s, not Kenya’s, or Kenyans’. Those stories are yet to be heard.”

Anthony Bourdain offered us a view into places and people many of us will never see up close. He allowed us into his private world of exploration. He irrevocably changed the way we tell stories about food and travel.

Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

One thought on “World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain Review

  1. Pingback: Eat A Peach by David Chang Book Review | Strawbabies and Chocolate Beer

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