Most of us can only write about what we do and what we know which probably explains why a lot of Hollywood movies are situated in California. I know Hemingway wrote pretty much experientially. There were exceptions like Saul Bellow who wrote his brilliant ‘Henderson the Rain King’ without foreseeing the necessity of actually having to visit Africa to write about it. And the Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges who was such a mad genius that he actually wrote about things and places that no one ever has or ever will visit.

But unfortunately I am one of those experiential guys and guilty as it might sound I have been re-watching the ‘No Reservations’ episodes; the Travel channel’s answer to everyone else’s food shows. So instead of writing about something critical like the world health crisis or the upcoming free elections in North Korea (kidding) I can only pull culturally and experientially from the Tony Bourdain shows that I’ve been watching of recent. Or I can talk about running some more but I can also do that next time.

Everyone today seems to have an obsession with food. And every country today seems to have multiple food shows. There is the good, the bad, and the ugly. In America and the American export markets there is Tony Bourdain. Coming in a very distant second place is that short, fat guy who tries to more or less do the same things as Tony – travel, write, eat – but he does it so bad that the show sucks so majorly it just reminds us how bad everyone else is below him. Which like I said makes Tony, like it or not, the proverbial one-eyed king in the land of the blind.

TV is so hard to get right that I had to let mine go 22 years ago. But I still watch some of the programming (DVDs, streaming) from time to time. And like now I can’t help myself: to watch, to ruminate, aye, even to nit-pick a little as I re-watch ‘No Reservations’. But I will not let myself get swept down that rat-hole of opining where I somehow feel it’s incumbent upon me to moralize about food. But likewise I need to remind you, gentle reader that I am in Mexico without so much as library card and so food fiction in whatever media format has somehow become necessary again. Yes, I am watching it on my 10” netbook but the standalone speakers are stereo so it’s [almost] not as bad as it seems.

But at least I am not in Afghanistan like my old work colleague, Willie who I just got an email from this morning. I replied that they must be paying him a butt-load of money for him to leave the comfort of the Washington, DC suburbs for a place like Afghanistan. There might be a significant amount of violence and mayhem down here in Mexico but at least you can go out somewhere for a decent drink. And wouldn’t the entire Middle East be a better place all around if its arm-bearing citizenry put down their guns long enough to pick up a serious cocktail habit? And I know for a fact that it’s really hard to fight when you’re really drunk.

Maybe American foreign policy would improve if we started sending guys like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam as ambassadors. I mean send drunks, not politicians to ambassador (verb). And arm their C-47’s with full cargo loads of American whiskey to distribute by way of America’s newer welcome wagon like approach to a more gentle diplomacy. I mean come on; we’re going to send that vegetarian Kennedy girl as the ambassador to Japan? Like that’s a great idea. A privileged and mis-fit American royal operating in a culture so alien that we might as well just blast her to Mars.

And forget the $1B aid package to Egypt. We should take that money and spend it at the distilleries and the drop-parachute pallet after pallet of cases of Jim Beam and Old Grand Dad whiskeys out of the ass-ends of C-47s until the country is entirely covered in the stuff. Don’t you think that would make the people happier than just buying the ruling regime more damn guns?

And all diplomacy period should proceed out of an invitation to stop by for drinks.

Take Churchill for example. Drank like a fish all day long then worked and partied all night. We’re talking about a guy who would sip a ‘weak’ scotch and soda while reading correspondence; all before getting out of bed. It took time but Roosevelt finally figured out how he did it. He found out that Churchill would slip off for a long mid-afternoon siesta to sleep off lunch which in turn served to gird his loins for a late evening of work and yet more drinking and eating.

I’ve pretty much always enjoyed Tony Bourdain and his wit long before the cable TV show. I think I am one of the original discoverers of his now famous ‘Kitchen Confidential’. It  has kitchen stories that I now have to somewhat include among the pantheons of greats like Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’; a practical, sad, biting humorous epic that truly captures the long drudgery of those who are made slave to the kitchens.

I have found some irony in the early episodes whenever Tony squints after taking a bite of something delicious and then repeats one of his trademark lines of  ‘that’s good’ when I remember that it wasn’t until much later into the show (like several seasons ahead) where he quits his two pack a day habit. Cigarette smokers in case you didn’t know do not have a very good sense of smell or taste.

I think his greatest episode through Season 6 is ‘Madrid’; a great city with a great food tradition. In the second part of the show he has the same likeable Spanish chick from an earlier season acting as his host. But first he has this great old retired international war-covering journalist now food writer dude who serves up some pretty knowledgeable local food info. You could just tell just by looking at the guy and the way he wielded his knife and fork and especially his wineglass that he was a someone who had systematically over the course of his life pretty much shot up and robbed the entire pleasure train. Ambrose Bierce defined debauchee as ‘someone who has so seriously pursued pleasure as to have had the misfortune to over take it’.

And one of the Madrid’s episode’s highlights is where he interviews a newly married couple who had teamed up to create and manage a highly innovative and very successful city restaurant. The young chef is very cool, the Chinese inspired food is also very cool, and his new wife is a major babe with quite possibly the sexiest silliest sexiest voice on earth. ‘Madrid’ was great.

I have found that Tony and crew are most challenged in places that do not have both a broad nor deep food culture. He has fared best in places like Italy and France. He did some great shows in Asia but fell flat on his face rather miserably in Singapore and Tokyo. I can understand screwing up the Tokyo episode because of its rather narrow food culture but still is that any excuse to backfill half the content with the stupid flower arranging, the long Kendo scene, or that execrable scene where a bartender spent a really long time to make him a sophisticated cocktail only to have it turn out as silly looking? Hello Kitty.

But how did they manage to screw up Singapore? I ask again, just how do you screw up an episode on Singapore’s food? Yes, he found the hawker stalls all right but he didn’t do the food justice. Singapore has this righteous blend of India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesian cultures; not to mention some Filipino now that I think about it. And the food reflects it. There are only a few other places on the planet earth that has the same breadth and depth when it comes to their cuisine and Tony, you blew it. He did get it right when he said that the best food in the world could be found there but then again he had kissed and lied before when he proclaimed that very self-same thing about a few other places too.

I found the ‘Pacific Northwest’ show offensive. It had that unavoidable vibe that goes with all that smug self-confidence of living an expensive all organic lifestyle. Ughh.

Tony’s future wife is introduced in Season 3 in the Tuscany episode as a critical and opinionated bitch. And after seeing her again in Season 4 at the end of the first Spain episode and then again in Season 5 where he introduces his new family in the Sardinia episode I still can’t shake that original first impression nor dissuade myself of the notion that she is a ticking time bomb of a big divorce settlement just waiting to happen.

I like Tony but I wish he’d gracefully bow out of popular culture about now. He’s had his moment in the sun but his act has been getting rather stale these last couple of years.

So Tony, if for no other reason but for the sake of dignity, please make your last few million, pay down your lifestyle and get the hell off the stage.

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