Anthony Bourdain had started smoking again, was the first thing I noticed as he sat down with me last February. He was a bit hung over from a recent working trip to south Louisiana for Cajun Mardi Gras; “Harder partying than I’m used to, I gotta say,” he said, laughing. Despite his great height his leonine head seemed just huge, and a little fleshier than I’d imagined; there was this slight dissipation to him.
But no—who could be troubled about the wellbeing of Anthony Bourdain? Just look at him, so debonair, so completely at ease. A veritable prince of savoir vivre. Sixty-one, and still very elegant in his looks; the word sexy came to mind. Almost an old-fashioned word now. The sort of person who seems to think with his hips, his hands. He was in love, he would later admit; he and his new girlfriend, Asia Argento, had started smoking again together. He was a little rueful about the smoking, had the air of someone who meant to quit soon.
As he started to talk, everything about him became familiar at once; he slipped so effortlessly into the sleek carapace of his fame. The very air of vulnerability he projected, along with the rough candor, was part of this persona. But in fact he was a very private person, as his assistant, Laurie Woolever, reminded me after his death. Something I’d already known, from reading his books; he’d liked the piece I’d written about him and sent me an unbelievably kind note about it, which was what had emboldened me to ask for an interview. That, and he was famously generous to writers in general.
He loves the world, and that’s what this new publication is about, I’d written to Woolever. I’d be so thrilled if he could talk with me a little bit about this, even over the phone. The reply came right back.
Tony has agreed to do an interview, though he is in town only briefly next week. Could you meet at 3 pm on Friday Feb 16? He has suggested either Bouchon Bakery, on the third floor of Time Warner Center, or Coliseum, a no-frills bar and grill on West 58th between 8th & 9th.
When someone’s that famous, things have to be arranged within an inch of their lives, but there was no time limit set for the interview. I thought he’d spend maybe fifteen minutes with me, and to make them count I’d need to be laser-focused. I decided to ask him about the matter of luxury. Because through his television work—“Parts Unknown” especially—Bourdain showed Americans a different way of thinking not only about food, but about travel and tourism. About looking at ourselves as one part of a larger human story, in stark contrast to the conventional notion of travel: Americans casting themselves as “exceptionalist” democratic superstars in a drama, with the rest of planet Earth as their Tour Guide co-stars, and plenty of violins in the soundtrack.
Had Bourdain succeeded in bringing a more inclusive and egalitarian dimension to American culture? What is tourism now? Isn’t it doomed, all this determined globetrotting for two weeks a year, with the obligatory “authentic” “hole in the wall but AMAZING” dining—wasn’t it all just breathing on the Lascaux murals, and trundling dutifully past the Vermeers? Is it immoral even to get on an airplane? What was the goal of his work, ultimately? How did he see it?
So… one topic, and try to persuade him to say different things from those he’d already said in interviews. I braced myself for fifteen minutes of attempted psyche vacuuming.
Instead he spent two and a half hours with me in the comfy Irish bar, blabbing about everything under the sun. The transcript of this conversation is in excess of 20,000 words. And nobody bothered us in all that time, it was like there was a force field around him.
“Not one person has come up to you. Does this happen like—anywhere on earth?”
He talked about #MeToo and the powerful forces of evil arrayed against decent people, about Rose McGowan, about raising daughters, about the sexual mores of the 1970s. He told me how he imagined the death of Harvey Weinstein, a hilarious, weirdly specific fantasy that I’ll share with you in a moment. We talked about luxury, too.
He drank Stellas and I drank Malbec. We went outside and I had my first cigarette in some years. We went back in and had another couple of drinks and went back outside and had another cigarette (Marlboro Reds). He invited me up to see his apartment right across the street. It was way up high in a luxurious new building, the place itself spotless, almost characterless; like a very beautiful hotel room, but with a ton of books, and better pictures on the walls. He spent five days there a month. He showed me his trepanning tools and his portrait of Iggy Pop in the living room. I was so gobsmacked (and tipsy, by now) that I managed only to take a few blurry cell phone photos, half-thinking I might ask for a followup later, and if that happened I’d bring a photographer. Just the conversation was going to take a long time to digest. How long? The answer is: forever.
I like the idea of inspiring or encouraging people to get a passport and go have their own adventures. I’m a little worried when I bump into people, and it happens a lot—“We went to Vietnam, and we went to all the places you went.” Okay that’s great, because I like those people and I like that noodle lady, and I’m glad they’re getting the business, and it pleases me to think that they’re getting all these American visitors now.
But on the other hand, you know, I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes. To mistakes, because that’s the most important part of travel. The shit you didn’t plan for, and being able to adapt and receive that information in a useful way instead of saying, like, “Oh, goddamnit, they ran out of tickets at the Vatican!” or whatever, “That line at the Eiffel Tower is you know, six hours!” and then sulk for the rest of the day.
on the Cajun Mardi Gras.
(this episode of “Parts Unknown” eventually aired on June 17th.)
Well, they make their own costumes, you know, they’re made from generally found, leftover stuff. And, you know, it’s a tradition that goes back to when they were all desperately poor, and one day a year they got to put on masks and make fun of the clergy, the landowners, the aristocracy—anybody in authority—but also because they had masks, without shame, they could beg for food.
So they’d go from house to house in a big drunken mob, ridiculing everything in authority freely, and then beg for you know, a chicken, some rice, and then make a big pot of gumbo at the end.
It was a wild debauch… terrifying at times.
Did you dress up?
I did! I had a woman who’s been doing them for forty years make me an elaborate uhhh… yeah.
on Taking drugs, these days.
I can smoke weed at home when I don’t need my brain anymore but like as far as socially interacting with people, or being any situation where I might be called upon to answer the phone or make a decision? I’m not gonna do it!
No way man… back in the day you’d buy a lid, which was like a sofa cushion, you’d smoke a joint and nothing would happen to you.
Now the stuff is devastating, you can’t leave bed.
This is one of the things I find so weird about England! Every time I’m there, I’ll be out drinking with perfectly reasonable, nice people. And then somebody… it happens every time! Let’s get some charlie… some coke! And suddenly everybody’s high on coke, and it’s like what is this, 1986?! I mean who does cocaine anymore? What the fuck?!
Young people! Young people that don’t need to sleep.
No one I know… I’m so out of it I haven’t seen it in ages except in England, where it really jumps out at you because people my age are still doing it.
Where do they even get it?? It’s probably full of weird detergent or contaminants from like… oligarch crime rings.
Oh it’s rampant over there. It’s the major market over there in Europe. I think they’re doing more per capita than we do.
on Journalism and Interviewing.
The worst thing about North American journalism is its insularity: the feeling that the United States is the world. And this is true even of the New York Times; nothing comes from the perspective of other places…
Or anyone outside of Timesland.
Yeah! Exactly… and that kind of feeds into the materialism that brought us to this point politically. So… I’ve always seen you as somebody who made the world bigger for people, and who is kind of immune to questions of status … you will find the coolest person in the room no matter where you go, and it’s not about wealth or titles or status; that person might be a grandma, or a plumber. So if we could democratize how people look at the world now, given that the U.S. finds itself in this… position, how are we gonna do that?
One of the things I’ve started noticing on my shows and through my experience was… [say] you go to a place like Beirut, and you find yourself talking to a Muslim woman. If you’re a journalist tasked with an agenda, you know, you’re there to report a story, and you come right out with it. You’re going right into some very difficult areas. Whereas I have the luxury, I’m there to eat! Presumably. I’m there to eat, and I’m asking very simple questions.
What makes you happy? What do you like to eat, where do you like to go to get a few drinks; you know? What do you miss about the place when you go away? And I find, again and again, just by spending the time, by asking very simple questions, people have said the most astonishing things to me. Often things that would be very uncomfortable for them outside of that casual context; things that we’ve had to edit out of the show, that might come back to bite them.
I’m going to suggest something to you about that. As you know I read all your books, lol.
I was really impressed by that, by the way.
I’m telling you. Wellll… when [it was assigned] to me I didn’t know quite how many there were.
Sorry about that.
No no, it was very enjoyable. Okay though. You can say you want to relate to somebody on a human level. How do you achieve that?
There’s a classic police interrogation method that I didn’t knowingly adopt, but I realized over time that I was doing it. I will talk a lot about myself in scenes. I’ll go on and on, telling about… looking for ways to disarm them, by basically, telling them things about myself that might be painful or embarrassing. We later edit all of that out; it’s all about getting them to a point where they feel free to say something. Or I’ll ask a procession of really stupid questions, you know, in the hopes that they’re going to give me a smart answer. And then you just hold your breath and listen.
So what I meant to ask… there’s a scene in Gone Bamboo where you’re trying to get in the methadone program.
And your character’s trying to disarm the man in charge in so much like what you’re saying. As if… this might be part of your character, you like getting into someone’s mind. Would you say that’s your character?
Well… I have a New Yorker’s tendency to reveal a lot more than is necessary about themselves, in general? So we’re used to it in ways that maybe other cultures, in other cities, are definitely not.
But… I’m thinking of a Muslim woman, a refugee from Lebanon, who started to talk about her sexual awakening. She started out with talking about how horrible it was to have to flee her home country, but she discovered her bisexuality; she talked very frankly about this whole sexual awakening during wartime and it was this astonishing thing; to protect her, we didn’t use much of it.
This happens a lot. People will suddenly get to a place… there’s often alcohol involved. This is very important, you’ve established something by accepting their food, whatever it might be, without any judgement or expressions like, uhhhhhh I don’t know!—or any skepticism with it; the fact that with an open mind and heart you are visibly grateful and appreciative of what is offered to you, even if very poor or by our standards, very unusual.
Do you ever stop?
You don’t… you just go from thing to thing.
I wondered about this; I’ve stopped wondering. I’d entertained the notion that I’m working toward a goal, or a day, where I could sit on a Tuscan hilltop in a hammock with a big stack of books, but I understand now that I couldn’t… that I can’t do that. I can do that for short periods of time. But I can’t. I can’t.
It’s helped me a lot that Asia is the same way. That there’s no shame in this, you know… She’ll point out the ridiculousness of kicking back on the beach, because she’ll say right up front… “This doesn’t appeal to me at all! This is a living death.”
I can’t do it. I can do it for a few days at a time.
But you don’t even just work! You move, and move…
Like I’ll finish a book or something like, an entire season of the show? And I’ll look at the calendar and realize I have three weeks of nothing, which… seemed like a really good idea for the rest of the year. But during that period immediately after unburdening myself of this pile of frantic work—that’s when I go into a panic and I start overcommitting to a lot of projects, maybe comfortably removed from that date but I do suddenly feel like: What do I do now?
I need deadlines, I need pressure, I need my mind to be working.
Your world is not explicitly materialist; I think that’s a lot of why you’re a role model for really young people, like in their twenties. That cohort is not looking to go out and get an MBA, it seems to me.
But still, there’s a lot of luxury in your world. I watched you eat ortolans. And I was so excited because I’ve read about it a hundred times, but also: this is bad! You know… these luxury things, this entire edifice is built up so that very few people can enjoy it.
Right. But… it’s not a luxury, though it is, so much as a rarity. It’s not a thing as much as it’s an experience.
I’m not materialist… look, I like expensive plumbing, I like a really nice hotel room, especially after I’ve been staying in some really rough ones. The way I acquire things has really changed over the years; maybe that’s a function of age, and two marriages. I know very much what won’t make me happy. The perfect car will not make me happy. The perfect house will probably make me sad, and terrified.
Please elaborate on that… why?
Well, because… a house is a commitment, you know? You have to take care of it. It’s like any beautiful thing you have to maintain and protect. And then you also have to consider who gets it after you’re gone. And so even books and records, which I… books in particular, I have a lot of books that I really love. When I acquire one that I really love it’s difficult for me, because I think about… who does one pass this on to?
Even works of art, things like that; who will appreciate it the same way? You cannot take it with you. You know?
As much as I look at houses sometimes and think wow, that would be really nice, if that were my house, I know that I would be miserable. It would be… cleaning out the… the gutters, and you know, what about the pipes freezing, and if you own a home it means you have to vacation in the same place every year. I’m a renter by nature. I like the freedom to change my mind about where I want to be in six months, or a year. Because I’ve also found you might have to make that decision… you can’t always make that decision for yourself, you know… shit happens.
If you travel even a little bit you realize straightaway that you are insanely rich. Like anyone, what we call “middle class,” you’re insanely rich.
I felt especially complicit in the whole materialist clusterfuck that caused this to happen after the election, like the incrementalism I’d so long believed in was just a way to stay selfishly real comfortable. But I still feel like I want there to be beautiful things in the world… expensive things, even.
I don’t feel complicit; I think money is shit. You know… how much you spend on a thing… If I spend a couple thousand dollars on sushi for two, I don’t feel guilty about that. I do find that my happiest moments on the road are not standing on the balcony of a really nice hotel. That’s a sort of bittersweet—if not melancholy—alienating experience, at best. My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin’ across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on… this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.
To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; it’s a story you can’t tell. It’s a story you almost by definition, can’t share. I’ve learned in real time to look at those things and realize: I just had a really good moment.
on The Despots’ Club.
I would think governments would be thrilled for you to come, so they would protect you and make everything look all super perfect.
We wouldn’t let that happen in the first place.
Tell me more about not letting that happen.
The lethal mistake is to accept the cooperation of any official entities, tourism officials or governments… we really try to avoid that. If it’s a country where they insist on assigning an escort, like in Bhutan you have to have an approved tour guide at least there. You can set your own agenda.
Other countries… you think it’s your driver or your translator but actually they work for the interior ministry and behind your back, they’re quietly terrorizing or intimidating the people you might be talking to, to make sure they know ahead of time not to say anything that might embarrass their government or worse—worst of all, trying to make reality appear better than it is.
In which case, someone shows up the day before, visits the local butcher in this tiny little town in Transylvania that we wanted to shoot, decides that their home is not pretty enough and moves them to somebody else’s home, where they’re going to pretend it’s their home, and then dresses the kids up—insists that their poor kids dress up in traditional Transylvanian garb, and dance—it’s all so stiff and horrible. Of course we knew all this right away, and in the case of the Romania show, it was just a horrible and really mean Borat-like comedy, because we showed every bit of artificiality and manipulation and requests for bribes and you know, all of that. It was ugly. We don’t set out to do that; we try to avoid that.
In a repressive state, there are often people who will try to gently nudge you away from shooting vital military infrastructure, the men in balaclavas in the van, dragging people out of their homes, but other times it’s more subtle. Like in Egypt, they didn’t want us to shoot foul, the everyday street food. They were absolutely apoplectic when we said we wanted to shoot it and we never understood why, initially.
Well we stole the shots anyway, we got it. But they understood that the show is seen in Egypt, this is before the Arab Spring, and the bread prices were going up, the flour mills are owned by the army, and foul is what most of the population live on, which is something they didn’t want to acknowledge, either; this is it, this snack of flatbread and some watery lentils, this is all the Egyptians are getting to eat, most of them.
And they’re like, “You don’t want to shoot, it’s not interesting!” and we said, “Yeah, it’s very interesting,” and they’re like, “No it’s not good!” and we said, “No, no this is exactly what we do, everyday food and the people!” And they say, “You must not shoot, we’ll pull your permits, we’ll kick you out of the country.” We shot it anyway.
Some of the more totalitarian governments are much more tuned into that, the politics of food, than others…
I had this book that was like you know, Dictator Chic or something, the Ceaucescus’ bathrooms, Saddam’s dining room and this whole Lucullan, like Feast of Trimalchio scenes of dictators’ houses and grounds and stuff, you know… like really scary shit, and you’re like, okay this way of life, it’s gross now, obviously gross.
This is back into the luxury thing. There’s this moment where luxury is beautiful and great and then it just veers off into—
Dictators tend to eat really really badly, you know, they insist on it. It’s like the super rich! I mean, where do they go? There’s all these great Italian restaurants in the city but they go to Cipriani, you know, they go to Nello, they pay a hundred and twenty bucks for a bowl of spaghetti pomodoro or whatever they’re paying. Why? Because they want to live in that bubble. The one thing they can be guaranteed there or at Philippe or Mr. Chow or places like that is that they won’t be called out by a normal person who is pointing out the obvious. Your plastic surgery is botched. You know, regardless of what your friends tell you, you’re an evil person, and you’re eating really shitty food, which you’re paying too much for. Those places, they’re insulated from that, you know. You want complicity, everyone at Cipriani is complicit, you know, everyone who goes to Nello or Philippe or Mr. Chow, understands that they are signing on to, uh. The despots’ club.
on Politics ca. February 2018
Okay let’s talk about politics, because an amazing thing just happened.
Yes, the Russian indictments?
What do you think?
Well I don’t know, aren’t they… I think there might be some of the Russians named, uh, particularly the ones who move back and forth, I mean considering the number of convenient heart attacks, uhhh—
and people suddenly falling out of a building—
I think for a number of those people, witness protection might be a better option than going back to mother Russia. I mean if you know too much, if you’re high up in one of those countries, that’s a very bad place to be.
Dude there’s been like twenty of them, or something.
Yeah. I always thought Felix Sater is the one who’s gonna come right back to the States because that guy seriously knows way too much—
The whole thing is like a Magnitsky explosion—
I just… I just am wondering what this does to the Europeans now. I think this is gonna have an effect on like, Brexit? It seems to me that there’s nothing that this doesn’t affect, somehow or other.
I think this is most useful because it makes it so much more difficult for Trump to fire Rosenstein or Mueller, now that you’ve shown, in a not offensive way: Nobody’s accusing you of anything!
I think Trump’s going down for the money. Collusion is tricky to prove, it’s the money. And once they get too close, in my view he will declare victory, congratulate himself on the fantastic job he’s done and resign, saying the job is too small for him. Just what he did in Atlantic City! I got mine, big success for me, and leave behind a shambles.
You were a hero to so many women, so thank you for that.
No really and truly not at all, I’m just a guy who saw what his girlfriend and her friends uh… you know. I saw a lot.
There’s a lot of men of your generation and mine, which is about the same, we grew up in a time—this thing is really complicated for someone my age. My generation struggled for the right to say Yes. I grew up in a really repressive world.
So… I watch this and I just worry that they’re gonna get themselves in a place where they Victorianize this thing.
Asia feels very strongly that you know, a puritanical or Victorian focus would be a monstrous outcome, um, you know, we have the Deneuve letter and all; it’s really tough finding the middle ground here.
It’s so upsetting, it’s so damaging, the Deneuve thing, I couldn’t believe it.
I grew up sort of you know in a really post-hippie time, you know, where people were learning to say yes. You know, I went to a women’s university, surrounded by women, I started my career in Provincetown which is 90% gay, and whatever mentality or ethos existed in my early kitchens, most of which were in the West Village (an important distinction) it was very, yes, it was very sexually liberated, everybody slept with everybody, but it was also not a thing—you don’t hit on women, not because of any ethical consideration, but because that wasn’t cool! that was just not—that what the football team did.
Gross people did.
It was something gross people did, the clownish bad guy did.
I was there, you don’t have to tell me.
I didn’t really experience the bad kitchens until the Rainbow Room. And then at some point, shit did turn, and I’m sure I missed it.
You know a lot of the chefs, all of the really bastard chefs, most the really oppressive ones, the old school ones, were abused children, were abused by their parents, were abused and neglected, physically, mentally, in every possible way, and then became just like their abuser, and would perpetuate the system.
A lot of chefs never really understood, or understood only really belatedly; they’d been powerless for much of their careers. I don’t know. For most of my career, chefs were creatures without power. To talk about power imbalance, is… in retrospect, there was one. But I think we all saw ourselves at outcasts, as weak, except in our little bubble in the kitchen.
I love your writing about that, the pirate ship. It’s fun.
I’ve given away all the royalties to the book.
I don’t wanna say… to various, deserving people. I don’t want that on my… I’ve gotten enough out of that book.
That’s very touching.
No, I’m just freeing myself.
It’s possible to create tamper-proof archives.
This is a time when commonly accepted facts are routinely rejected, instinctively rejected, deliberately—
All the data from Antartica. Anything to do with climate change is under threat. And people choose, and I expect in the future, will increasingly choose, their preferred reality.
That’s what tamper-proof archives were made to combat.
I hope the truth matters. More rather than less. I suspect that good quality agitprop might actually be more likely to thrive, but also might be a more successful strategy for shaping the world the way we want it to be. For me, successful agitprop is not fucking preaching to the converted, which is what sickens me, I cannot, barely… do you follow Michael Skolnik? I can’t bear to read… I can’t fucking bear it. I almost want to like, become a Republican reading this. This is how deeply offended I am by self-congratulation, his saccharine hashtag-driven expressions of solidarity, his messianic certainty that he is in some way a vanguard of something. It really makes me wanna vomit.
How did you feel about Clinton? There was a lot of that around her.
Look—after my ill-advised hemlock comment to TMZ, I found myself um, you know, with hundreds if not thousands of death threats and MAGA trolls, and Russian trolls, and anonymous posts and letters to me, my ex-wife, to everyone in my life. And I ended up being interviewed by the Secret Service, who were very nice. They had a large number of official complaints, and of course they have to respond, so we had a very cordial meeting of the minds.
Dang it must be so awkward, to be so famous.
But I will tell you that as frightening as that was at times, when I sat there with Asia, as she texted her sisters… watching the Clinton apology on Weinstein, and [Asia’s] watching this statement, there was a lot of anticipation. People were really hoping she’d come out with a… I don’t know. Let’s just say with something different. I immediately tweeted my disappointment, very much shaped by what I saw around me. And I will tell you, that was really fucking frightening, the reaction to that. You know, I voted for her.
I did, too.
I was really disappointed with the statement. But even by expressing that, the way that my comment was turned, very neatly—suddenly I wasn’t expressing disappointment in her statement; I was blaming her for Harvey Weinstein’s crimes. The way that turned very nicely was a good bit of artistry and deeply frightening to me and really, really…
It’s dangerous to be as famous as you are. Really dangerous.
You know, suddenly we were talking about something else, and it wasn’t good for me.
There’s an opportunity, in twisting what you say. For people who have an agenda.
I learned a lesson.
You’re a source of value, you’re a valuable target, a cynosure of attention… it’s not normal.
I got slapped down hard. And it was a chastening experience.
on The Coliseum.
I love this place, it’s so amazing.
It’s like a safe zone for me. It’s like nobody gives a fuck. Ever.
It’s really the one place I can think of off the top of my head where I can go and reliably sit down at the bar have a lonely 4 o’clock in the afternoon beer, listen to the juke box, and tweet or whatever I’m doin’, and literally no one will fucking hassle me.
Yeah I dig it. And it’s like, it’s old, people have been coming here forever, the décor is impossible…
It’s an anomaly.
on Hidden Forces.
There are forces out there who are really fucking powerful and scary. I had dinner with Rose McGowan, and Rose is telling me you know, these people are spying on me, people are saying they’re my friends and they’re in fact not my friends, they’re paid intelligence operatives, and I remember thinking look, I support you all the way, but in the back of my head I’m thinking, I dunno, I’m not so sure about this, and then a minute later this nightmarish…
It was true! You know… I covered the Gawker trial in St. Petersburg. We had no clue that Peter Thiel was paying for that shit. There were a million journalists there! All this Hulk Hogan nonsense. We did not know what we were looking at.
I have come to understand, traveling around the world, I see good people crushed randomly under the wheel or by bad things, all the time. As I see it happen to friends… not to be too paranoid, but I think they’re doing a very effective job on Rose… I don’t know when the truth is enough anymore!
on José Andrés.
So last summer, I’m in New York, Asia’s coming to New York—
You’re in love!
[He smiled in such a way.]
We had a couple of cocktails, oh, let’s get some sushi. Let’s get some really good sushi. And we wanted it quick. And Masa, understandably, could not accommodate us that evening. So I called my assistant, Laurie, and I said can you find us some real, you know, real sushi service. She calls back and she says okay, I got you a reservation at Nakazawa. It’s owned by that shithead who moved into the Trump Hotel after José.
So I say right away, wait a minute, isn’t this place—she either advised me of that fact or I advised her of that fact, but she mentioned she had already gotten a reservation. Which of course she immediately canceled. I’d famously said I would eat at none of this man’s businesses ever. Fuck ‘em. Yeah but now, this interview in the Washington Post, “You tried to make a reservation here last August, and I refused it”—
In fact, Laurie made a reservation and we called back and canceled as soon as we realized. But I’m bothered by this.
No. You know, that’s silly, to care.
First of all, I have loyalty to José.
Wow, he really was a prince about all that.
José is just as good as he says he is. I’ve known him a long time. I’ve never seen José say a hateful thing. You don’t talk about women in front of José… Oh no. He is just as driven, just as emotional, just as genuinely concerned, as he appears to be. He can’t fucking help it. He’s a good man.
A good man! We have those.
He’s a good person. He’s like superhero level. [laughing] Yeah, he’s way above us.
I believe you.
[Okay I just have to step in here for a second and say that this man Bourdain’s manners were such that he said “above me” right there out of delicacy, in order that I should not be offended by what might be considered an unfavorable comparison with his friend, the famous chef (whom I have never met, and cannot therefore tell you which of the two of us is morally superior.) But the thing is, there had been such a comradely, gentlemanly inclusiveness to begin with, in having said “way above us.” That hadn’t escaped me either. There was no need at all to be so courtly with someone so recently met, and for whom he was doing such a colossal favor.]
I love everything [José] said about it, how he handled himself was so dignified and beautiful, and it didn’t create a polemic that was unnecessary, I just thought it was really neat. But like, this is what I wanted to tell you, I’m working so hard because I know there are good people who can do things in the world and you don’t just have to lie down!
on the Revolution, and Squirrel Pie.
See, I… I love the Lenin quote… it’s very cynical. But I wonder about it: “On the train of the revolution we will lose the liberals at the first turn.” It’s a bloodthirsty fucking comment. But… I don’t wanna sound like a Weatherman, but… that degree of activism…
I mean I hated the whole uh what was it, who were the idiots who camped out in the tents hittin’ their fucking bongo drums? Uh.
You know… meaningless, in my view. Targeted… wildly destructive demonstrations with lots of casualties? Especially you know, young… blonde, white kids? There’s a little bit of Maoist in me, in that regard. One thinks the movement needs martyrs.
Mmm… I’m like… a pacifist, you know? A Fabian. I think we need truth tellers.
We fucked up the Sixties, you know?
We really fucked it up. I was like… a baby, but still yeah, I feel responsible.
I just missed it, in a sense.
What year were you born?
’56. I missed the draft. The Summer of Love… by the time I was seventeen and old enough to participate, the whole Summer of Love thing was ridiculous and had already gone sour. Any notion of a revolution we could all agree on was long gone.
Our attention spans I think are an obstacle to, and also our inability, by our highly…
You know, I just spent about ten days in West Virginia. I like them. I liked the Trump voters. They say grace every meal. Coal is gone.
I love them. And anybody who cannot understand how important even the promise of a slight increase in the number of coal jobs is, how important that is to their cellular tissue, their self-image, everything. How grotesque it is, for people to bigfoot in and say we’re all going to move you into solar, and why can’t you people… No!
The contempt and the ridicule which has been heaped on places like West Virginia, which is the heart, demographically, of enemy territory, as far as New York liberals like us are concerned. If we cannot… This is something we fucked up in the Sixties. We were fighting against cops and construction workers… cops and construction workers were exactly who we fucking needed! They were the first to die, in Vietnam. We weren’t gonna!
There’s nearly eight billion of us and we’re all in this mysterious situation. It’s a spinning blue pearl in space. None of us knows why we’re here. We have no idea, it’ll end, and it’s as temporary for the least of us as for, like… somebody who’s been alive for a day is in the same condition as an 80-year-old gazillionaire. Slice it any way you want, everyone’s in the same condition. Mystery, amazement, beauty. Strangeness.
Amazement and beauty are luxuries, however.
To be able to think about them, maybe? But… there’s a lot more than we think, right?
Mmm… I see… I’ve seen so many nice people do really terrible things.
Me too. But maybe that’s because we persuade people that “having stuff” is important, or good…
How do you persuade people to feel empathy? To be kind, to be curious?
I know how.
This is the challenge.
You have to love them. That’s how you do it, you have to love them.
Yeah well I think… we’ve been falling down on the job, in that regard.
Wait. You’re good at that. You love people! And that’s what you’ve given!
I love West Virginia… I do! I really really do. Just… I’d almost move there out of spite.
As a fuck you to everybody who agrees with me. You know what I mean?
Yeah. Yeah!! I completely do.
Because it’s kind of amazing. Bullshit does not fly in the hollers. You know what I mean? You either got enough food or you don’t. If you don’t, you grab a rifle and go out back and you shoot a squirrel. You either know how to dress a squirrel or you don’t.
Could you dress a squirrel?
Yes, I can.
[proud, in a lovely way.]
What would you make out of it?
I’d make squirrel pie, I’d make squirrel gravy…
We could make Kentucky Burgoo?
Yeah! I know what to do with a squirrel. Their anatomy is not much different than anything else, I know how to dress them, I know how to do it all. I’ve done it.
Wow. Squirrel pie!
What do you season it with?
It’s like uh, very, you know, British stodge…
Like a steak and kidney pie type of thing, a bit plain. Onions, pepper.
Yeah. You have an herbal component in your kitchen garden.
But for choice? For squirrel pie what’s the herbal component? Sage.
Sage, stock. Maybe, yeah. I mean I would advise, but.
If you have sage… but… it’s good!
on The New York Times Opinion Section.
Yeah… I’m so glad we got to that point, cause that’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to make there be love in the world for people between each other, cause I think that’s what missing in our journalism [dissolves laughing], I really do. It sounds crazy, but that’s what I think.
Yeah. It’s particularly um, it’s painful to… look, I read the op-ed page of the New York Times and I wanna fuckin’ kill myself.
Wait’ll you see! We hired a fact checker, to fact check them.
Ah, good. Who is it who’s corrected there the most?
I dunno, Brooks? Like… Brooks is the biggest doofus.
It’s like Night of the Living Dead over there.
Oh my god, Bari Weiss. What the hell has happened.
It’s the fuckin’ worst.
That guy Bennet. He needs to be shot out of the nearest cannon.
Who’s the one with the obsession for Asian sex trade? Kristof. A little fuckin’ creepy.
Maureen Dowd: How the fuck do you have a job?
I don’t knoooooooow! They just don’t ever fire them, it seems like.
At this point she’s sort of like, um, Shecky Greene… she’s like… no! Joey Adams, it’s like the Joey Adams column in the fuckin’ Post! Ten years after Joey was dead! Telling jokes that weren’t funny in 1946! This shtick… god it’s like watching your grandparents breakdance naked. It’s just like, ohh fuck… grandma nooo ohhh, ohh….
No. Now… I’m taking issue with you right now. You’ve complained about old people dancing before, sometime. On a boat, or some shit. No, at a fancy party of rich people.
It was a Qaddafi party.
Yes! And you were saying you shouldn’t dance, if you’re over some age? That’s wrong.
Look, I’m coming around to your, uh, way of thinking.
People should dance. Even if they’re old. Not necessarily naked.
I don’t know if you want to do the fucking breakdance. Yeah, I don’t think I’m a breakdance kind of guy. But look, if somebody I cared about showed me how to like, slow dance, or reminded me of my early dance class lessons, I would be very happy about that.
Dancing is a good idea, always.
If I could tango, I assure you I would, until my dying day. Which I cannot.
Oh my god, you and Asia have to totally go. You have to learn how do it, you gotta go tango. It’s amazingly beautiful. You’ve gotta try it.
I’m sure she knows. She knows.
Okay so you’ll go and do it. Alright. I’m going to hold you to it.
[back to the NYT op-ed page]
Talking to a cab driver, could you just kill him?
If you could strangle one of them, which one would it be?
I would say Friedman.
Really?! More than Bret Stephens?
That’s low-hanging fruit. Somebody else’ll get to it.
I’m goin’ for the big kahuna. The Brainiac.
Okay I’m down with that. Oh Brainiac. Oh my god, that’s bad.
They’ve always been bad! Rosenthal, you know, he was unbelievably…
I didn’t subscribe in those days.
Oh my god. The way Larry King speaks? He wrote.
Look, it’s a powerful platform! Frank Bruni… Come on!
Oh my god Frank Bruni.
I know he has his heart kind of in the right place kind of but… he’s a buffoon.
Well, once in a while…
Even when I agree with him I can’t bear it, he’s a Skolnik, I’m just uh….
Stylistically… but like there were moments during the campaign that I was like, okay please, have at it.
It’s refreshing to see him say the things he does sometimes when he’s really angry when he’s a guest on CNN: It’s exactly what people should be saying. But I’m always feeling like ah god, why does it have to be you? It should be like a marine lieutenant, immediately returned from the front, saying exactly that, exactly that…
But I mean how many… just think how complicated it is, between the race thing, how that place is situated, you know? I know maybe 20 people that work there, it’s a really weird culture, they’re very ranks-closing, like you were saying earlier?
I know, they’re all about that.
You know about that from when you were a child.
How do you reach out to, you know… How do you have a Joseph Welch moment? That’s the one I’m waiting for.
The guy who… that moment in the McCarthy trials? “Have you no decency, sir?”—THAT moment! That moment! Nobody is even capable of or willing to have that moment.
You know? We’re having it right now. We’re having it all the time. It may not like, it may not coalesce into that diamond hard point, at the moment, but those things are created afterwards.
Somebody at the White House press briefing has to sacrifice their job and say: You utter piece of shit! Do you really expect us to swallow that steaming load of horseshit? How do you live with yourself? You should be ashamed. Give me one guy to throw themselves on a fire like that, lose access, lose the gig at the White House, for that infinitely repeatable meme. Give me that. Just give me that. Someone to stand up.
[There’s a lot here about Asia Argento, when we got back from having a smoke. He talked about her a really lot. We toasted her.]
Do you think of yourself as an artist?
No. I do not.
No. I am spoiled, in that… from the very beginning I’ve always and only made the television I wanted to make, and as soon as I could I told whoever was involved to go fuck themselves, and somehow landed on my feet someplace else, with somebody who was willing to indulge me in even grander fashion. So I haven’t had to deal with the grim reality of well, you either do the Best Burgers in America show, or you have no work at all! I haven’t had to live with that. I haven’t had to be particularly nice to people I don’t like. Ever.
I really and truly don’t have conversations on the phone ever, in my business life, with people who I don’t like and respect. Nobody calls me up on the phone who’s an asshole, where I roll my eyes and say uuhhhh I have have to talk to them or I have to kiss their ass. I’ve been ridiculously free of that kind of thing that everybody else in the world has to deal with as a reality. I mean you got kids. That’s everybody’s reality. But it is not mine.
Wow it’s true, you are this weirdo unicorn weird… guy.
Well… it’s working out great. Okay so… I want like young people to read what we’re talking about and be able to find new ways to look at the world and interact with it that don’t have to do with all the bullshit. And you know how to do that, or, people think you know how to do that. Like they think that you can just land in a city, and go meet the people, and interact with them on a human level, and I think that’s the future of the world, that we don’t have to care about nations or boundaries or passports or whatever. We could just eat together, we could just be together. We could just talk together.
I think a recognition that you’re almost always the stupidest person in the room when you venture out of your comfort zone, respect for that clear certainty. if you’re in Beirut, you don’t know what’s going on? Uh, the willingness to walk in other people’s shoes, the sense of perspective… wonder.
It’s a way to look at things and say, wow.
Why would you say wow? What’s underneath that?
When you see people, again and again, how much they can do with very little, how people struggle and persist, you know… Look, I believe in some basic virtues, you know? Mercy, humility, curiosity, empathy. They sound quaint now, but—
No, this is happening every minute.
No, they are quaint now. We live in a world where we cannot, if you’re running for political office, you cannot admit to speaking a second language, extensive travel, or a familiarity with arugula.
Poor John Kerry.
But how do you travel the world? You know, you said earlier, the more you travel the more you look inwards. Mark Twain said travel is fatal to prejudice. You try to put yourself in a place where you can see things, and let things happen. Where you’re not always in charge, you’re not in control, [you need a] willingness to go with the flow, and understand, you know, you’re in somebody else’s house, somebody else’s country. You’re not in charge.
By virtue of being an American with a passport, you already, you’ve got your exit card. You can hit the emergency parachute at any time. That’s enough.
Like the letters of transit in Casablanca. My father said this amazing thing to me… he was from Venezuela, and had grown up around the crazy Latin American politics. And he like found a copy of Capital in my room and really hit the roof. He goes, if they don’t let the people out of a country, there’s a problem.
You know, so I became a leftist anyhow. But I have sat across from a lot of white guys telling me about the literacy rate in Cuba, and you know, the number of times I’ve had to say look, if all they let you read is Fidel’s fucking speeches, that’s like not okay.
No. I despise communism as much as, at least as much as I despise our system. Worse.
We need a new book! Why don’t we have a new book? Why are we still talking about books from the 19th century?
Because we cannot choose the leaders of our revolutions, they’re all deeply flawed and they will all—all revolutions will be corrupted. That’s something we have to be vigilant…
Have you seen Mother? I would see it. Because it’s very much about, it’s about the Bible, it’s a biblical allegory, but it’s very much about… it’s like the #MeToo movement. It starts out as this wonderful thing, and it becomes a monstrosity.
Look, the minute everybody in the room agrees with you, you’re in a bad place, so I’m a big believer in change just for its own sake, just to show that you can change, to move forward incrementally, but ain’t nobody gonna make everything better. Whoever has the intestinal fortitude or the megalomaniac instincts, uh, sufficient to lead any kind of a revolution will inevitably disappoint horribly.
There’s never been any evidence other than this.
The best revolutionaries of course are martyrs who died before they could turn into disgusting, self-serving, corrupt pieces of shit. As they all do.
I know! Okay, let’s forget that then. Forget dogma, a cookbook for how things should be. Like what do we do for these kids? Can we help them? At all?
I don’t think so.
Asia said this to me. Children create themselves independently of us. All you can do is show, like in my case, my daughter feels loved. She knows she’s loved. She has good self-esteem. Very important. And good martial arts skills. So no man, no boy—
Oh, can get the better of her.
—she knows she can take any boy in her age group. That’s all I can do as a father. I can’t pick all of the things that, you know. I can’t. She so far… ahead of me, I can’t pick her music, her boyfriends, whatever, however she’s going to turn out. I can give her these basic things.
How old now?
Ten. But… I think how resolute she is, how much she wants to change the world, is willing to sacrifice in order to change the world, that’s gonna have to come from within. In fact, you know Skolnik on his Twitter feed, he’s been indoctrinating his son Mateo Ali—this poor kid is like, three—“See honey? This is our homosexual friend, you know, it’s okayyy, you know, there’s two mommies! Mateo and I were in the demonstration today for Hillary Clinton.”
The kid’s fucking four! It’s like, come on man, let the kid alone. Let him have a childhood! Let him make a decision! Trust your child, give him love, faith, and talk about smart shit in front of him. They’ll turn out okay. Trying to make a mini-me… it sickens me.
I know. It’s depressing.
“I came home tonight and started to explain to Mateo about Black Lives Matter.” You know, the kid’s fuckin’ four!
Can I just tell you something, your interest in this man is unhealthy.
I know. There are a few other Twitter feeds that I’m like… I’m paralyzed with horror.
What are the other ones?
Sarah Nicole Prickett… who is really, really smart! I tried to get her to write a book a few years ago, I read some really incredible thing about like Joan Didion that she wrote, it was fuckin’ amazing.
I’m a Paulette. Don’t bring me your Joan Didion.
I’m a big Didion fan.
No, you are wrong.
All right. I accept this. [laughing] I made a list of writers I like and somebody said “Where are the women writers?” and I’d said, Patricia Highsmith and Joan Didion! And somebody said, “They don’t count.” “They don’t count as women”—?! Anyway.
[Prickett] just writes about fashion and like, it’s the most self-involved twitter feed by a really smart person that drives me out of my mind. Disproportionate to the offense.
Ludo Lefebvre. Do you follow him on Instagram? Do you follow his wife? His wife like, French chef wife I think, she, she IGs her kids, very curated style.
I forget, I’m like, ahh there are a few other…
People go crazy on their kids. Like their babies. What are they doing all day? Nobody gets a chance to eat lunch in the house because there’s a picture of the baby every 25 seconds.
Yeah. I never put my daughter’s face up on anything. Ever. She don’t need that shit.
Well… you really have to think about that.
Her mama… her mom is awesome. It’s obvious like, you know, beyond helicopter mom. Italian parenting is very different from American parenting. You know in America, your kid wanders over to an open window, and you go, honey, don’t go near the window, it’s dangerous, you might get hurt.
Italian parenting is saying, “Don’t go near the window, you’ll fall out the window, you’ll break your neck, you’ll die, and you’ll never see your parents again.” “Don’t go near the stove, you’ll catch fire, all your hair will burn off, you’ll die, and you’ll be bald.”
I’m like, you’re traumatizing me! The kid’s four! But it worked.
She puts her money where her mouth is. Very strong mom but you know, a mom who believes that this is an evil world that you should be militarily prepared for. So don’t put your face on Instagram, because bad men will come and cut off your pee-pee parts and your ears and send them to your parents. Fucking hell!
The worst thing Asia ever said to me, she’d had a bad day, she was doing a play in uh, Turin? Somewhere in Italy. And she was rehearsing and she’d had a really bad day with the director. Dude, of course. And she comes home and she’s fucking furious. And we’re texting back and forth, cause we only argue by text. She’s like, fucking angry. Fuck you too! You always wanna win! You always wanna win!
I was really offended by this. I was so hurt by this. I do not need to win. I am not a competitive person. I need to survive.
Were you ever?
Never. Sports, fucking hated them. Always hated sports. Again, it goes back to that Sixties thing… I just wanna fucking survive. I don’t need to be number one. I don’t need to beat the fuck out of somebody. I don’t need to be ahead. I just want to still be here at the end of the fuckin’ day, doing what I’m doing, without anybody hassling me.
And you said that…
And well, it was true, so. I’m not like the other guys.
Yeah you’re really not.
I’m not. I really don’t need to win.
on Trump voters.
So like how do we make things more equal?
I don’t know, I’m so merciless. I’m so…burn the temple down. How could it be worse? This is exactly what Trump voters thought. And I talked to them! I said, you know this guy doesn’t care about you, right? He’s taking a big steaming dump on a golden toilet right now, he’s a New Yorker, he’s never changed a tire in his life and you voted for him.
They’re not foolish, they don’t believe that. They recognize an anarchist. They recognize somebody who is likely to pull down the whole rotten temple that they despise so deeply that they will repeatedly shoot themselves in both feet for the pleasure. Of seeing all of these craven scumsucking pig-dogs who betrayed them year after year and let them down and mocked them—
What if Bernie had been his opponent?
He would have been a dream opponent for Trump. We live in a deeply racist society. We hate intellectuals, Jews—
You don’t think he would’ve won. Woah, cause he was a Jew?
I’m a Jew and I’m thinking, believe me, you wanna talk about getting out the vote? You’re gonna get a lot of fucking people out who don’t plan to vote who’d vote just to keep the Jew outta the White House.
I think he would’ve won because of the 27 dollars.
I find his supporters largely—his more vocal supporters—largely insufferable. In spite of the fact that I agree with him on just about everything, it’s not like he’s not talking sense, almost always he is. I have no love for Clinton. But look, I have uh—
Should we have gotten rid of Bill Clinton after the Lewinsky scandal?
Bill Clinton, look, the bimbo eruptions—it was fucking monstrous. That would not have flown today. A piece of shit. Entitled, rapey, gropey, grabby, disgusting, and the way that he—and she—destroyed these women and the way that everyone went along, and, and are blind to this! Screamingly apparent hypocrisy and venality. How you can on the one hand howl at the moon about all these other predators. And not at least look back. OK, let’s say, well, it was all consensual: powerful men, starstruck women, okay fine, let’s accept it at its most charitable interpretation. Fine. He is a very charming man, I met him, he’s fucking magnetic.
Wow, yeah. I’ve never seen anything like him.
As is she. When you’re in the room, you think wow, she’s really warm and nice and funny. But the way they efficiently dismantled, destroyed, and shamelessly discredited these women for speaking their truth.
… is unforgivable.
Unforgivable. Why didn’t we get rid of them? We should’ve gotten rid of them back then.
No… no, look. I think – I don’t think he should’ve been thrown out of office for this.
Why not? We want people who are of excellent character to be in that office.
I think you recognize people for what they are, and you determine for yourself, I’m not voting for that motherfucker ever again! Or anybody who enabled him, you know? This product, okay, I voted for it, it’s in. Is this grounds for pulling someone out of office? I don’t think so.
What if we did have those kind of standards? We want a person who is like, honorable.
I would look at it this way. I would never under any circumstances vote for Bill Clinton today. But I think impeaching the guy over Lewinsky was ridiculous. Particularly given today.
It was the shaming, discrediting, undermining the women that made both of them unsuitable for any future endeavors. I don’t think they should’ve pulled him from office.
Let’s talk about charisma. Like Clinton’s, and like the Obamas, who also have that magic thing, like you have. The magic thing of talking to people and they’re like, Oh yes, why did I never think of that before? And it could be anything. People like you who could persuade anybody that like, yes, the sky has always been green, and dolphins can fly—
See, I found Obama very unconvincing in public, much of the time. I was always wanting a little more passion, stop halting—the halting, careful speech. In person, absolutely the most gracious, graceful, real, funny, uh, no sense of calculation, honest, I mean, you know. Him I’d vote for fuckin’ again, any time.
Yeah and he like droned people, and bailed out the bankers.
I believe he may not have been the greatest president in history, but he’s one of the fucking nicest, good, one of the best people we ever had.
No!! No. He lied. I worked hard for that campaign. I saw and I just believed him and I was like Hope, Change, Yes. I’m like, I’m so happy, we won, you know!
Minute one he started fucking with us. He promised transparency, he like—more whistleblowers were prosecuted than at any time. There’s not one fucking banker in jail. Not one! Jail me one fuckin’ banker! These people stole nine million houses!
There’s that scene in The Wire… see, this is the default position for white guys always, quote The Wire—with, where Mayor Carcetti comes to office, the idealistic young man, and the guy comes in and he says, Mr. Mayor, he’s the shit sandwich. And you’re gonna eat it. The guy before you ate it, the guy before him ate it. This is the reality. This is the real situation. Everybody’s been lying to you up till this minute. I’m about to explain to you the truth of the situation you are now facing and the forces opposing you to get anything done. Now eat the shit sandwich. I don’t wanna eat the shit sandwich! You are going to eat the shit sandwich.
This is the thing! We’re all accepting this. It’s like, as long as we keep—
I’m a firm believer in cynical accommodation of uh, the lessening of—compromising one’s principles for the greater good, to a point. Um, but don’t make a living out of it.
There’s a moment where it’s not okay!
Well, for the Clintons it’s a brand. For Obama I genuinely believe he made regretful but calculated decisions, I’m gonna save my ammunition for this, this fucking—
No, it’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare! And I know he was facing a really bad thing—
Well, you’re never gonna see a better human being in the White House, I believe.
I loved him, I loved them, I sacrificed a lot for him but I was very disappointed.
I mean, I spent a fair amount of time with the Obamas.
There were things he didn’t need to do that he did. I guess, we wanna make excuses—but the way we make excuses for Obama is the way they make excuses for Trump. We can’t do that.
Well… I found it very frustrating. It’s not something I wouldn’t call out.
It’s got to stop.
Well look, you know, you got two options here. One you’ve got, somebody who is going to be make compromises and concessions, and the other’s Pol Pot!
If you wanna burn down Washington to the fucking ground, you know, I’m with ya. I’m just waiting for a mob to assemble. I don’t quite see that happening. And who will be leading this charge? Because if Susan Sarandon is anywhere among the joyful revelers, I’ve clearly chosen the wrong pony!
No, it’s not happening. But look what happened when Keith Ellison was supposed to lead the DNC. That was like, the most important thing to me that’s happened this entire time. He had the backing of Schumer. He had the real leftists and the backing of Schumer, and was prepared to bring the populist message that the people are demanding.
Yeah! Schumer supported Ellison. But Obama got on the phone and said, we want Perez.
That was the moment I knew that my suspicions about Obama had been correct. And I loved him, I had loved him, but like… he fucked us. And he got on the fucking jet ski with Richard Branson right after he got out of the White House and I’m like, dude.
Is that really the first look that you want? You are a guy with a brand. You know that you would not do that if it were you.
No, I wouldn’t.
You would not. Why not.
Um. Cause I’m vain.
… and I think Richard Branson is kind of a douche. That’s not who I wanna hang out with. You know… time is short.
I… look. I know Obama wants to move to New York. And I know he likes New York restaurants, and he wants to eat in New York restaurants. And if he’s gonna make a few speeches for big money to do that, I’m ok with that. What’s the problem with that? They’re not buying influence at this point.
What’s the problem with that?! You’re the—you’re carrying the hopes of a generation of people! You need to be a fucking—
Yes, yes! You need to be a fucking activist, that’s why we voted you in you motherfucker!
What did it do for Jimmy Carter?
He will be remembered and honored a thousand years after Obama is forgotten. That’s what it did for him.
I don’t know. As long as he’s not cuddling up with Henry Kissinger, the man’s okay with me.
Well??! He sought the approbation of Kissinger! He sought the approbation of Kissinger, and you know it.
Yeah, but they’re not bestest buddies and next-door neighbors.
Are you making excuses now? He sought Kissinger’s approval and blessing and you know it, and I know what you think of Kissinger…
It ain’t right.
Face it! It’s not good! We need to do better than this, Anthony Bourdain!
We’re gonna do better than this.
I don’t know that we will.
At this point I would sacrifice, I would compromise many of my principles just for basic fucking competency, in somebody who reads a daily security brief you know? Who’s willing to do their fucking homework, who has some, some, some understanding of how government works!
We’re listening to this, the tame media saying, “He needs a simplified version of it!” and not questioning, why would we want a person in this gig who can’t read?
Right. Or, it’s like, that’s okay, cause Jared will brief me later. Does Jared tweeze his eyebrows? They look manscaped. Those are not natural eyebrows. It’s like Howdy Doody time.
That dude’s going to jail.
Can you see eight guys standing around, and Jared’s out of the room? And they’re all co-conspirators, they’re all saying, “’ey don’t worry bout Jared, he’s fuckin’ solid, the guy will stand up, he ain’t gonna say nothin’.” No one has ever said that! That fuckin’ little punk is gonna squeal, just show him a tray of jail food, the guy will fuckin’ shit himself.
That kid was a born snitch.
Let us hope the moment comes.
Well… Manafort goes next, because Gates rolled today. And we all know Manafort’s such a principled guy. I’m sure he’ll stay loyal!
A man of honor. And his daughters are accepted into polite society. Which… John Locke said in 1678 or something, that what we need to do if we want to change how people behave, it’s not to change laws, it’s to change fashion. To change what is cool.
I believe that. That’s why I believe that for instance, all of the guys responsible… like the Big Pharma execs. It’s not so much, how long they spend in jail. It’s about, do they get pulled out of their home in Westchester, frog-walked out in front of their fuckin’ neighbors? Humiliate them! Humiliate them! Because they will change their behavior.
Corner boy is not… he can’t. He doesn’t have any other options. Shithead will find somebody else to screw over for money. But if you walk them out in front of their crying children and the neighbors… humiliated as a drug dealer, charged with conspiracy.
They can no longer go to the cool kids’ table! They can’t go to the restaurant, they can’t go to the party. They can’t go to, their friends don’t wanna be near them anymore.
For me, I have this discussion with a number of people, as you might imagine. However much people might want to see Harvey Weinstein dead or in jail, he’s in fucking Arizona. He is in Arizona, eating in restaurants in Arizona.
And at off the grid restaurants in Arizona, so he can’t even eat at the best sushi restaurant in Scottsdale. He’s gotta go to some shit fucking place. So Arizona, I mean, as much as I’d like to see him, you know beaten to death in his cell—
It’s much better to watch horrible people live and suffer the consequences.
My theory of how he goes is uh, he’s brushing his teeth in a bathroom, he’s naked in his famous bathrobe, which is flapping open, he’s holding his cell phone in one hand because you never know who on the Weinstein board has betrayed him recently, and he’s brushing his teeth—he suddenly gets a massive fucking stroke—he stumbles backwards into the bathtub, where he finds himself um, with his robe open feet sticking out of the tub, and in his last moments of consciousness as he scrolls through his contacts list trying to figure out who he can call, who will actually answer the phone.
And he dies that way, knowing that no one will help him and that he is not looking his finest at time of death.
Bourdain wrote about suicidal despair twice, to my knowledge. The first time was in his second crime novel, Gone Bamboo (1997) in which the philosopher-hit man Henry Denard finds himself in deep trouble with the mob, who’ve caught up with him on the island of Saint Martin.
Leaving the Mariner’s Club, he took the mountain route back to the pond, the scooter handling differently without Frances holding on in the rear… A few hundred yards ahead, the road took a steep drop down the other side of the mountain to the sea. The road was ungraded and unbanked; one could easily fly right off the side of that mountain, and Henry considered that option, toyed with the idea as if playing with himself, not serious, just to see how bad things were…
Bad manners to kill yourself. Realizing how drunk he really was, Henry started up the scooter and drove cautiously home.
Curiously, he wrote the same scene a second time, in a memoir, the 2010 Medium Raw; it had really happened. But the memoir relates the scene happening about eight years after the novel was published—in 2005 or 2006, after the crash of his first marriage to Nancy Putkoski, the high school sweetheart whom he’d followed to Vassar.
That’s where I was in my life: driving drunk and way too fast, across a not very well lit Caribbean island. Every night. The roads were notoriously badly maintained, twisting and poorly graded. Other drivers… were, to put it charitably, as likely to be just as drunk as I was… I would follow the road until it began to twist alongside the cliffs’ edges approaching the French side. Here, I’d really step on the gas… depending entirely on what song came on the radio next, I’d decide to either jerk the wheel at the appropriate moment, continuing, however recklessly, to careen homeward—or simply straighten the fucker out and shoot over the edge and into the sea.
Bad manners!? His manners were immaculate.
Bourdain was a very private man but there were things about him that could be intimated from his work. One of these things being that the real person, the man underneath, was troubled in some secret way, and that he needed to hide that trouble, to dress it up for public consumption.
I wonder whether this is not just one more bad thing about exceptionalism, the thing we are in fact not really getting away from. Parachuting in to enjoy the hole in the wall is still parachuting in. What if you still end up in the good hotel, the big house, the apartment on the 60th floor? Maybe it’s the exceptional, special people with no faults, the people who have to perform “authenticity” flawlessly, all the time, for everyone, who are, who must be, the most troubled of all.
Did anyone ever ask him what that moment meant, or when it really happened? I wanted to, but I felt constrained, like it would be intrusive and rude to ask: Did you really almost drive off the edge of an unbanked road in Saint Martin? When? Why? How many times did you think about killing yourself? I think maybe your real friends knew something about that, but maybe not enough.
Even now with all I knew and have learned, I could believe anything about this gifted, passionate man’s death. Outrageous stories of every description came out after the reports of his suicide in an Alsatian hotel, and I could believe any one of them. I could believe that he was taken out by a hostile government or by some political enemy. That he just judged himself very hard one night and chose deliberately to end it. That he had a wild moment of uncontrollable panic. That he had a broken heart. Any of these things, or none of them.
Popula is 100% ad-free, reader-supported journalism accountable only to you. Every dollar of your subscription goes straight to our work. Thank you for supporting Popula.