I was reading Ronan Farrow's new book these last few days, about the death of diplomacy in American government. I guess I knew a lot of it already but he's a writer, like a writer-writer, and seeing it all laid out in this way that was so stark was also something. I recommend it. At the center of it were these two old-school diplomats, including a woman I'd never heard of who was the last American with a human heart in Pakistan. She was prosecuted by the government for espionage for stuff like having dinner with Pakistanis, because we're in a time and place and point in the War on Terror where there's no longer a framework to recognize that as a thing that someone who works for the Foreign Service might wish to do. Richard Holbrooke worked so hard to get Obama's administration to turn away from literal warlords committing unspeakable atrocities in the name of fighting the Taliban to maybe get some money to some fucking farmers that his actual heart burst in his chest. That's how hard he cared about Afghanistan. You know, he died and that was that.
So anyway that's been the week in my brain leading up to today, to Bourdain. One of our last Great Diplomats. I say that with absolutely no exaggeration. Bourdain was also someone who meant something to me on more of a personal level, not because I knew him but because I could see myself in him. He was someone else who lived more than one life and it's wild when you see someone else who got away with it, who's walking around and talking about it all in the right way, a piece of your story expressed through this person who has--who had--a much, much better personality. Bourdain didn't have that repulsive self-glorifying tendency of every writer I ever admired growing up. I always thought that was because before he was ever a Writer, he had an actual job. He had this attitude of humility (not as a celebrity, but as a person in the world) that I found relatable. I hope I have it too.
In my twenties I was in New York for a month; it rained the whole fucking time but a highlight was a visit from my friend Kevin and the night we went to Les Halles. I think Bourdain had already moved on by that point, but it was just this emotionally charged thing of visiting this place that had been so important in the life of someone we both idolized. Kevin and I grew up in this dumb town, both people who were super interested in humor and food in a place where there wasn't a lot of interest in those things. Bourdain was an international phenomenon from the beginning I guess, but these were still the early days of internet, where you felt like you were really finding something, like it was yours.
By total fluke I came across an incredible story about Bourdain yesterday, not even 24 hours before he died. This is Ben Rhodes, the big Obama guy who has a new memoir that I was skimming for work.
I feel just as self-conscious as everyone else who's been talking about this today...but I'm grateful to have come across it. I have a feeling, knowing Bourdain got to hear that. It's a lesson too, that you can mean something like that in someone else's life and not even know it. I'm adding it to my list of things to think about when I feel these things that are bigger than me. Pulling down his books from my shelves and maybe cook myself a steak. It's a hard world, and Bourdain's gift was never letting us lose sight of that, even as he offered it all up like a jewel.