Travel & Food

Any posts that concern travel, vacation pursuits, and discussions on food and beverages.



Sixteen years ago this month, I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and it changed the course of my life.

I had been trying to make it as an actor in Los Angeles for nearly two years, and I hated it out there. I was profoundly unhappy, and felt superficial and empty. I wanted to give back. So, I joined AmeriCorps National Service, and I was assigned to an inner-city high school in Pittsburgh.
I served at Northside Urban Pathways High School as a tutor and mentor in a program called Knowledge to Empower Youths to Success (KEYS). One of the requirements in my year of service was that I do a community service project. Many of my colleagues in the program were doing things like bottle drives and organizing park clean-ups. As important as those thing are, I felt like I would best serve the community by sharing my art and using my skills in the theatre to try and help the community in some way. Late that spring, I directed my very first play. It was an original work, written by me and the students, covering topics like racism, homophobia, sexism, and other social issues. For many parents, this was the first play they had ever seen. For most of my students, it was the first play they had ever been in! It was an amazing and transformative experience, and the parents and school community were really moved and impressed. I had never directed a play before, and the experience was so rewarding and inspirational, it made me seriously reconsider what I wanted to do with my life.
As it turns out, the school liked me so much, they decided to hire me as their English and Theatre teacher the very next year. The only stipulation was that I earn my teaching certification. While teaching during the day, I went to school nights at a very good small Liberal Arts college in Pittsburgh called Point Park University. I studied Education, and within two years, I earned a Postbaccalaureate BA in Theatre Education, Grades 7-12, with certifications in Theatre and Communications. I graduated Suma Cum Laude – at the top of my class. It was wonderful to be back in school. It also made me realize that I eventually wanted to go on to earn my Master’s degree.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was teaching my first week of high school. I had just taught English to my freshmen, and was about to start teaching my seniors. The school was a small charter school on the tenth floor of a building owned by Point Park University — directly in downtown Pittsburgh. I was told by one of my seniors that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in NYC. Given that he was kind of a class clown, I did not believe him at first. He told me to turn on the television. I did, and we all watched in horror as the second plane hit, and I realized that we were under attack. During a hasty and impromptu meeting in the hall with the Principal and other teachers, we were told that there was a fourth plane, and it was headed directly at Pittsburgh. Authorities believed that it was heading towards Washington D.C., but had no idea if it would get there. All we knew was that it was heading towards us. Given that we were on the tenth floor of a downtown building, we were told to evacuate. Since all the kids were on the city bus system, we sent them all home, and called their parents.
After making sure all the kids were gone, I left the building, and was horrified by what I saw. The entire city was in a panic, and everyone was trying to evacuate. It looked like the scene out of some dystopian disaster flick. Everyone thinks about the nightmare scene in NYC and DC, but not many people know that Pittsburgh thought it was going to be next. If you know Pittsburgh, you know that the city lies at the intersection of three rivers, and that there are more bridges in the city than any other in the world, except for Florence, Italy. As you can imagine, all the bridges were packed, and there was huge congestion. Luckily, I lived in a nice neighborhood called Mt. Washington, which was over the bridge, up a small mountain, and overlooked the city and three rivers. I simply walked over the bridge and took one of the inclines home. The Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines are historic inclined plane cable cars that go up the side of this hill in Pittsburgh. At the top of the hill, are breathtaking views of the city, including the stadiums where the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates play. Yeah, we lived up there! When I got to the top, I went to one of my favorite restaurants and sat and ate, as I watched all of the news coverage on television. It was — hands down — the most surreal experience of my life. I still have nightmares about that day.
Pittsburgh is one of those cities which gets a bad rap. Almost no one has actually been there, but everybody talks about it like they have. Everyone thinks they know Pittsburgh. They most often think of it as a dirty, grimy, blue-collar steel town, right in the heart of the rust belt. Many people have described a rusty, white version of Detroit, filled with falling down buildings, and soot-covered everything. While that may have been the Pittsburgh of 30 years ago, it doesn’t resemble the place I came to love. While it’s true that there are lots of abandoned industrial buildings, what’s amazing about the city, is what they have done with them. They have turned buildings into artist studios and living spaces, art galleries, museums, performance spaces, and all kinds of mixed-media venues. They have also created amazing restaurants in these spaces.
What people don’t often realize is that all that steel money had to go somewhere, and in many cases, it went to the arts and sciences. Carnegie Melon University is one of the premiere arts and technology universities in the world, and Pittsburgh has many other great colleges and universities as well. That Carnegie money also went into creating some amazing libraries, as well as the extensive network of museums the city has to offer. There are science museums, art museums, history museums, and just about every type of museum you can imagine. There is beautiful architecture all over town, as well as wonderful parks and green spaces spread throughout the city. And of course, who can forget the storied sports history Pittsburgh has to offer? The Pittsburgh Steelers have more trophies than any other team in the NFL, and the Pirates and Penguins have their own share of impressive hardware.
One of the best things about Pittsburgh is that it is thoroughly unpretentious. It has some of the best museums, universities, and sports teams in the country, but it’s still a small town feel. The city is still a very working-class place, with a wonderful arts community and money to support the arts. It has a world class ballet and symphony, and many great places to eat. It is a first class city, at a very reasonable price. The cost of living is very low, and your money goes a long way there.
While I was in Pittsburgh, I also got the chance to act A LOT! I got an incredible amount of work, and developed close relationships with their local theatres — The Pittsburgh Public Theatre, The City Theatre, and the Point Park Playhouse. It was in Pittsburgh where I saw Adam Rapp’s play, ‘Blackbird,’ starring future Oscar nominee, Michael Shannon. The play would have such a profound affect on me, I later went on to direct it as my first full length directing project in grad school. During the month that it played, I must have seen it seven or eight times, and became close to the Artistic Director, and often got to hang out with the cast and the playwright, Adam Rapp. Because I established this relationship with Rapp, I was later able to fly him out to my graduate school and host him for a series of workshops and lectures, and had him screen his film adaptation of ‘Blackbird.’
Even though I was just a young actor of 24, I was planting seeds in Pittsburgh that would later blossom. It was in this city that I directed my first play, and realized my love for directing. I would later go on to get my MFA in Directing from Illinois State University. It was also in this city where I taught my first class, and realized that I had a love and affinity for teaching. Directing and teaching are what I do for a living today, and it all started in Pittsburgh. It was also where I got my second degree in Theatre Education, and realized I loved school, and wanted to pursue my Master’s degree. It was also where I first considered going into Academia.
Finally, Pittsburgh was a place where I found myself. I found love in Pittsburgh, and although those romantic relationships didn’t last, they taught me a lot about myself and the kind of partner I wanted to be. I made lasting friendships there, and it was the place where my best friend, Brendan, and I grew closest. For three years, we shared an apartment together, and shared a lot of memories. His family was there, and I grew especially close to them. It felt like a second home. I will always love Boston, and consider it my one true home, but Pittsburgh might be my second favorite city I’ve lived in. Obviously, other cities have much more to see and do, but Pittsburgh is where I became a man. It gave me my spirit. I’m glad to be back in Pittsburgh, and to catch up with old friends!

How Serving In AmeriCorps National Service Changed My Life


Today is the Millionth Member Celebration of AmeriCorps National Service, celebrating its one millionth member serving communities in need all over this great nation. AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.

When I was 24 years old, I was living in Los Angeles, and feeling miserable about my life and my failed acting career. I was working at a bank, and trying to find acting work, with very little luck. I felt so selfish and unfulfilled, and was volunteering my time at a soup kitchen just to try and at least help someone else — if I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to give back, and finally made the difficult decision to leave Hollywood, and put my acting dreams aside…at least for a bit. I decided that I wanted to live a life of service. Three months later, I enlisted in AmeriCorps National Service, and was assigned to an inner-city high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The year I served in AmeriCorps was one of the best years of my life. I tutored and mentored at-risk inner city kids, and at the end of the year, I wrote and directed a play with them for my community service project. It dealt with racism, sexism, homophobia, and other social issues. It had a huge impact on the community! Many of my students’ parents had never even seen a play in their lives before! They were incredibly warm, and receptive, and some of those students still tell me how much that moment meant to them. It was unforgettable. It was also the first play I ever directed. It wouldn’t be my last.

The school was so impressed with my service, they hired me to teach English and Theatre the very next year. I went back to school, and earned a second degree in Theatre Education. I went on to teach high school for four more years, and later, I taught at a university. I eventually went on to earn my Master of Fine Arts degree — in Directing — something I had learned to love during my year of service.

AmeriCorps changed my life, folks! And I’m not even exaggerating. I may never have gone back to school, and gone on to a life in education. I may never have discovered my love for directing, and gone on to get my MFA. I may never have had that close contact with the African American community, and learned to love that culture — for all it’s triumphs and challenges. I also made some best friends for life. AmeriCorps gave me the experience and tools I needed to be an educator and director, and to live a life of service. I still teach and direct, and perhaps even more importantly, I am still an active volunteer in my community. I currently volunteer as a Media/ PR/ Marketing Assistant for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, tutor and mentor adult literacy students, and work on several local and state political campaigns. AmeriCorps helps change lives…starting with your own!

If you want to give back, and live a life of service, I would suggest you consider serving in AmeriCorps for 1-2 years. Apply today!

To apply, please go to

#AmeriCorpsWorks  #1of1Million

Restaurant Does Hard Time For Making Light of the Death Penalty In UK


A website for a restaurant calling itself Death Row Dinners had a series of black-and-white images of death row inmates with menus around their necks. Alongside the photos, it said, “Eat like it’s your last meal on earth,” and asked, “What would your last meal be?”

The £50-per-head restaurant experience promised Londoners the enjoyment of dining on their very own last meal, “without the nasty execution bit.”

The pop-up restaurant was set to open in the hipster neighborhood of Hoxton, east London, at a place called The Penitentiary. The owners described the unique penal atmosphere thus:



A backlash against the restaurant ensued on Twitter soon after it was announced as people explained why the idea is so utterly terrible. One Tweet read, “You’re not sorry. You’re using people about to be murdered by the state as props. At least be honest. You’re bad people.” Another read, “…using pictures of people who were executed with “menus” round their necks, how on earth did you think that was okay?!” Finally, a third read: “…using capital punishment as a gimmick for a tatty restaurant and they’re based in Hoxton how’d I fucking guess?”

After the backlash reached a deafening peak, the restaurant broke its silence: “We’re shocked and saddened by the response to Death Row Dinners and are genuinely very sorry for any offence caused. The pop-up is intended to explore the concept of last meals; anyone who has ever been to a dinner party has probably had this conversation – what would they love their last meal to be. In light of the response to the idea we are considering our next steps and will update everyone with our decision.”

There has been no word since.

I came across this article on Buzzfeed, earlier today. What initially caught my interest about this news story was the silly and unconvincing premise of the restaurant. I thought the pictures of the ‘felons’ were reminiscent of those old timey photo sessions, where families would dress up in the clothing of the Old Wild West or in convict stripes with ball and chain and Keystone cops. Never for an instant did I think I was actually looking at convicted felons, or worse, men on death row. When I read about what the concept of the restaurant was, I thought it was a good marketing gimmick, and would probably do well. But I was not shocked or repulsed by the concept, because it’s the kind of thing we do in America EVERY SINGLE DAY. There are tour guides giving tours of old west saloons where dozens met their brutal ends; guided tours of bloody battlegrounds where indians and frontiersman fought; there are Civil War cafes and restaurants in and around Gettysburg that play up the bitter feud between North and South. In San Francisco Bay, tourists take tours of Alcatraz, and visit related giftshops and theme restaurants. In Chicago, there are tours of ’30s era gangster Chicago, with all the notorious haunts of Al Capone, and the site of the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. In Boston, there are reenactments of fierce battles of the American Revolution. In most instances, the historical guides and educators are respectful and somber, but not always. In Salem, Massachusetts, the time around Halloween is a horror show of ghost tours and witch burnings, and the joyous delight in the macabre often overshadows the gruesome reality of the executions of innocent young women. The country is full of amusement parks that have themed sections, glorifying various battles and wars, and romanticizing America’s rough and tumble past. So if history and the present are any indication, a sensational, slightly tongue-in-cheek theme restaurant like Death Row Dinners would be very successful here. I can easily imagine it on the Las Vegas strip or in Atlantic City. Texas has a rich history of capital punishment, and a slightly twisted sense of humor, which might make it ideal. They might even argue its presence might help deter crime. Regardless, such a concept would likely thrive in the U.S.

And that became the very crux of this story. That I would look at such a restaurant, and ostensibly see no problem. I was viewing the concept through my American goggles, which appreciated the gallows humor of the ironic and glib scenario, the hyper-capitalist opportunity to seize on a unique business model, and the very grim reality that in many ways, the States were still untamed, and violent death was always all around us. The last execution here was only weeks ago, whereas there hasn’t been anyone hanged in the UK since 1964.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this story is the very fact that it’s been decades since England’s last execution, yet these concerned citizens are just as fired up as if it were yesterday. It’s more than evident that if this small swath of Londoners speaks for a larger sample, then the average citizen is firmly anti-death penalty. Perhaps even more surprising than their committed fervor and resistance to capital punishment, was the vitriol and scorn directed at the restauranteurs for their perceived injuries against a group that simply didn’t exist in England anymore – death row prisoners. They were chiding on behalf of theoretical prisoners, perhaps in other countries. I was struck by how personal their words were, as if their sons was facing their last meals. I’ve grown with British television, literature, music, etc. and yet I’m continually surprised. Of course, I believe in free speech, and fiercely support those businessmen’s right to open that restaurant if they choose, but if that toxic sentiment is any indictor of success, I don’t expect the UK was the place to open such an establishment.

The place to open such an ironic, irreverent, garish, ambitious, and macabre business would naturally be the United States. Death Row Dinners could exploit America for all her weaknesses and vice.

We live in a culture divided — where have the population vehemently believes in the death penalty and the other half steadfastly believe in sparing lives. Those who advocate for death, cite statistics that affirm the practice is a reliable and provable deterrent to crime. Some argue that it is cheaper to execute a prisoner than to incarcerate them for life.

I am unquestionably against the death penalty. A July 2009 study titled “DO EXECUTIONS LOWER HOMICIDE RATES?: THE VIEWS OF LEADING CRIMINOLOGISTS” by Michael L. Radelet and Traci L. LaCock, demonstrates an overwhelming consensus among criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question strongly supports the conclusion that the death penalty does not add deterrent effects to those already achieved by long imprisonment. A new study of the costs of the death penalty found that capital cases are more costly and take much more time to resolve than non-capital cases. One measure of death-penalty costs was reflected in the time spent by attorneys handling appeals. The study found that defense costs for death penalty trials averaged $395,762 per case, compared to $98,963 per case when the death penalty was not sought. The Department of Corrections said housing prisoners on death row cost more than twice as much per year ($49,380) as for prisoners in the general population ($24,690).

Another imperative reason to abolish the death penalty is the potential for wrongful execution — considered a miscarriage of justice –when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment. Newly available DNA evidence has allowed the exoneration and release of more than 17 death row inmates since 1992 in the United States, but DNA evidence is available in only a fraction of capital cases. Others have been released on the basis of weak cases against them, sometimes involving prosecutorial misconduct; resulting in acquittal at retrial, charges dropped, or innocence-based pardons. The Death Penalty Information Center (U.S.) has published a list of 10 inmates “executed but possibly innocent”. At least 39 executions are claimed to have been carried out in the U.S. in the face of evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt. Even if just one inmate is innocent, that is too many to put to death. Lifelong sentences without parole ensure that would never happen.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter. Those who support capital punishment are not really that concerned with deterrents or the housing cost of prisoners. Not even prison overpopulation. They seek vengeance, masked as justice. This bloodthirsty hunt cannot be satisfied with rehabilitation, because they don’t seek redemption or the saving of men’s souls. Instead, they want the closest thing to suffering — death. As if a life sentence without parole wasn’t punishment enough. I’m afraid I can’t see the logic in murdering someone as a means of punishing murder. Some of us in this country still think we’re in the Wild West, and live by some cowboy code, but for the rest of us, we live in a civil society, and we invest in the principles of rehabilitation, forgiveness, redemption, and mercy. Why is it that we are one of the only countries left still practicing this outdated and barbaric practice?

It was right then that I remembered my own humanity, and that I did in fact feel very strongly about the death penalty. In fact, I have more of an urgent need, given its continued practice in this country. In truth, there is something cruel and inhumane about spoofing those on death row. We’ve somehow learned better than to depict concentration camp victims so scornfully, or African American slaves, and maybe even Native Americans. Yet, we view them as victims — often of our own avarice and aggression — whereas convicts got themselves there, and they deserve nothing in return. Sadly, this is how many feel.

I’m no prison reformer, nor in any position to judge anybody else. However, I cannot help but firmly believe that all men and women, no matter what their crime, deserve to be treated with humanity, dignity, and respect. Perhaps I am self-righteous, but I can’t see how any belief is virtuous that is rooted in hatred, vengeance, payback, or even justice. For those who believe in God, scripture is clear that justice only comes with the Judgement. Thou shall not kill. I can never understand how these people pick and choose what works for them. I believe in mercy and the hope that we all have the power to change. And I’ve changed my mind about Death Row Dinners. For all the lives that came before, and all those still on death row, may we one day spare a life, and save a soul.

Bad Boy Bourdain: The Culinary Gangsta


I’m not really a fan of reality television, but there are a few notable exceptions. The one man who has the power to get me to watch anything he does is former chef, and culinary bad boy, Anthony Bourdain. I mean, I like cooking shows okay, but what he does is something special and altogether different. Although he was known primarily as a chef, Bourdain no longer works as one, especially since the wild success of his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, and his move to the Travel Channel in 2005 to begin hosting the culinary and cultural adventure programs Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and The Layover. In 2013, he joined CNN to host Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. I was introduced to him first through No Reservations, and then more significantly through Parts Unknown, which has become one of my favorite programs on television. His shows make me forget why I hate reality television, and reminds me of how powerful food is in understanding a culture, and how a meal can change lives, topple governments, forge alliances, or simply make for a lovely afternoon. Anthony Bourdain understands the power of a meal, and expertly exploits each moment for not only our enjoyment, but our enrichment as well.

In the show Parts Unknown, Bourdain creates a postmodern mashup of cooking show, history lesson, cultural anthropology, travel documentary, and food appreciation. In Parts he travels to countries all over the world, including some rather unstable parts of the world (Columbia, Congo, Myanmar, Lybia — just months after Arab Spring). And in each place, he manages to have the most intimate and authentic experience you can imagine. He meets, greets, and eats with local chefs, writers, musicians, and other natives. They take him to their favorite restaurants — whether it be a five-star affair, or a food cart along the side of the road. He makes sure to try as many of  the main dishes of the region, and stays several days, to help facilitate that. It also allows him to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in different parts of the city. Without fail, no matter where Bourdain goes, he is at least familiar enough with their cuisine to know what ingredients they favor, and how they prepare their food. If nothing else, he knows just enough to ask all the right questions. This is all shared with the audience, and we are doubly rewarded in seeing this world through his eyes, because we have access to his knowledge, but also are allowed the joy in discovering and trying new things. One of the most valuable aspects of the show is how brilliantly Bourdain is able to put it all into context. He pays attention to the history of a culture, how their food shaped them, and how their history shaped the food.

As a television personality, and host of the show, Anthony Bourdain is so laid back, and easy to be around, he disarms his companions, and puts them at ease. His slightly detached and confident demeanor is complimented by his eager enthusiasm for food, drink, and culture. He is genuinely curious and interested in finding out what goes into a dish, and what makes a culture tick. His charm is in his self-assurance, yet egoless interest in what you say and do. It allows people to feel that they are the only person in the world at that moment, and that what they say matters. It cannot be overstated how comfortable Bourdain is at making other people feel comfortable, and come off as smart and well-informed. He simply makes other people look good, while masterfully guiding conversations where it needs to go. Through his eyes, we see the joy and the wonder he takes at literally consuming another culture.

What is perhaps most surprising about Bourdain’s style is not only that he makes other people feel safe, important, and knowledgeable without losing face, but that he does it while continuing to ask them challenging and often provocative questions.  His charm lies in the ability to play the innocent, and ask questions that challenge people’s assertions, but delivered in non-threatening packaging. It’s all in the inquisitive — almost childlike — tone of his voice and the assumption that he’s a friend, and that there’s not a hint of accusation in his voice. After all, most of these interactions take place while enjoying a meal the host has prepared. Bourdain knows the sanctity of the meal and the symbolism of breaking bread with another. Our intrepid chef knows his limits, but expertly exploits the moment. In the  very powerful episode set in Jerusalem, Bourdain employed this technique numerous times. Despite being Jewish on his mother’s side, Anthony did not grow up with any religion. Regardless, he made it clear that he still considers himself culturally Jewish. With this in mind, it was remarkable how even-handed he was to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Indeed, he sat down to eat at Jewish and Muslim tables. All the while, he was respectful, praised their food, and showed deference in their homes. He also asked them all very challenging questions. He occasionally asked them to clarify certain answers, particularly the more intolerant ones. Even such a simplistic technique proved moderately effective, when people slowed down their answers and were forced to confront the intolerance of their words. It may not have changed anyone’s mind, but it shone a light on the reality that even though they may live in close proximity, these two ethnic groups are isolated from each other. Each side only hears the rhetoric and confirmation of its own people echo back from the wall, without ever really knowing what it must sound like on the other side. During one exchange, Bourdain questions his Jewish host at the dinner table as to why it was acceptable for a nearby Muslim house to have hateful graffiti scrawled all over it. The man intimated that it wasn’t him, but villains who had perpetrated it. He pressed back, and asked why the man had allowed it to stay there. In that fraction of a second, the Israeli felt the impact, and there was recognition somewhere deep inside. The man replied that he did not know, but that they really ought to paint over it. There was no harm done and the meal continued to be a pleasant one. Those are the kind of acrobatic linguistics Bourdain can do. He may look like an easy going burnout, but underneath it all, he’s cleverly unraveling a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, and inside an enigma. All for us.

Anthony Bourdain can have strong opinions, especially when it comes to food. However, he is very sweetly deferential when it comes to most people. He rarely injects his own argument or opinion, and sometimes the only way of knowing is in the content and tone of the questions he asks. When he does offer his opinion, it can sometimes be serious, and critical, but he offers it in the concern of a friend, and it reads as sincere and nonjudgmental. Examples of this can be found in his assessment of the challenges certain countries face. For instance, in Columbia, he witnessed the shells of buildings and the abject poverty left behind after the drug cartels retreated. He strongly pointed out the considerable work they still had left ahead, but praised them for their resiliency. He went on to say that if Columbia could recover from such dire adversity, imagine what a country with resources, like America, could do. In another episode, Bourdain traveled to Myanmar, not long after the country opened up. The infrastructure was archaic, and the country had withered with age and neglect under a military junta and dictatorship. The country had been plagued with fierce civil war, but in the years of military rule, there were countless instances of human rights abuse and harsh oppressive regime tactics. When Bourdain met with his various hosts, a few of them had been political dissidents, and had served time in prisons, under inhumane conditions. Bourdain listened and asked questions with ease and curiosity, even as they recounted their horrors. He’s not a sentimental man, nor is he prone to dramatics, and so when he heard of various atrocities, he didn’t feel the need to placate, comfort, pity, or encourage the speaker. He just listened. Although he has very clear opinions, we often only hear those in the voice over, not in his interaction with foreigners. (If you can call them that, in their own country!) It doesn’t take long to realize Anthony Bourdain’s about as sharp as they come. But he uses his intellect in interesting ways.  If he shows off or boasts, it’s never in a way that diminishes another person. He is very respectful of the people that play host and guide to him while he’s in country. Whether he honed his skills in the kitchen, or on air, Bourdain has come up with a television recipe that tastes great.

When our host went to Libya, it was only months after the fall of Gaddafi. At first, there was a contagious feeling of celebration in the air. Bourdain came across men and boys setting off fireworks in a large square, and the atmosphere was jubilant and joyful. He met with arab men that spoke of fighting in the resistance, and took pride in helping to overthrow the dictator. They spoke fondly of the bloodshed of Gaddafi, and wished they had held the knife themselves. Their words were brutal, but came across as those who have been victimized for far too long, and sought vengeance on their oppressor. Bourdain did not pass judgement, nor did he give them a pass and validate their words. Once again, he seemed to always know what to say. Whereas the first day or so was pleasant, and the he had met many gracious people, things took a turn for the worse soon thereafter. At the site of Gaddafi’s sacked and pillaged fortress, the camera crew was besieged by one of the many gangs that had formed in the vacuum of rule, and told to leave and surrender their film. They were a vigilante group, like many in the country, whose mission was to hunt down Gaddafi supporters. The irony of the whole thing is that the crew was hosted by rebels who had fought alongside the kind of men who made up this faction who was assaulting them. They had all fought on the same side, but already life was splintering all around Lybia. Chaos was scary, and Bourdain was now in fact shaken by what he had seen. The following days were equally tense and they faced challenges crossing checkpoints and traveling at night. The evening was a frightening time, and they were warned not to travel after dark. The episode ended warmly though, when Bourdain sat down for an outdoor meal on the beach, with several warm, but traditional Libyan men. They all ate from a large bowl of rice, with either freshly slaughtered goat or lamb on top. Naturally, they all ate with their right hand, and Bourdain effortlessly followed traditional Muslim custom. There was also a young woman there: a doctor from the village, who had been educated in America, and returned during the revolution to assist her people. She was a scholar and highly educated woman, and yet she was forced to sit at the kids table, removed from the men. It was their custom, and she did not question it. Bourdain mentions in his narration that he almost wished he could have said something, but what would he have said? It is their custom, and as always, Bourdain honored that.

In addition to learning about the food, drink, customs, and history of a country, the show functions as a compelling travelogue. Through his travels, we see a variety of the landmarks of each city, but more impressively, we see the underbelly and working class view of these cultures. That means that we often are taken into crowded and bustling farmer’s markets, into slaughterhouses, down thru wine cellars, into an ice house on a frozen lake, around ancient ruins, on a fishing boat down the Congo River, up a rocky narrow path to an orchard of Cacao trees, into a seedy hookah bar, and many more intimate, and uniquely cultural places. These are not the kind of locations you’re going to find in a Let’s Go Europe or similar travel guide. These are the gritty and unceremonious epicenters…the heartbeat of a city, if you will. By the time the show’s over, you can’t help but feel like you’d been there, and had tasted everything Bourdain had eaten, and felt the agony of each of his subsequent hangovers! You can’t help but feel like you got the insider tour and explored these cities like only the locals know how. Did I mention the show is less than an hour long? Yet somehow, Bourdain manages to fill that hour with meaningful and substantial material. This is not your typical travel show, where the camera moves at breakneck speed to make sure all the landmarks and significant neighborhoods are covered. Parts Unknown isn’t about showing you every tourist site there is to see. The name says it all. Bourdain is attempting to uncover parts or places unknown to us — even the cities we think we know well. He doesn’t just go to far flung exotic countries; there are episodes on New Mexico, Los Angeles, and Detroit, for example. The show is about immersing yourself in a culture, and meeting like-minded chefs and artists, who will show you the unseen hidden art, culture, and beauty of each place. It’s not surprising to learn that the true lessons in history and the fundamental knowledge of a people can’t be found where the tourists are, but must be earned in the streets, down the alleys, and in the cafes and bistros. We can’t help but come to the conclusion that the best way to know a people is to find what unites them. More often than not, a culture is identified with its food, and the act of preparing and consuming it. Food is what binds us together. Bourdain understands this better than anyone, and he uses the dinner table to question, savor, taste, smell, and comment on whatever place he happens to be. And he always knows how to speak the language, because he’s fluent in food, and that bridges all divides. When you sit down and break bread with a person, and allow them to share their food with you, you will learn more than you ever would on a ten day guided bus tour.

No discussion of Anthony Bourdain would be complete without mentioning his dry and acerbic wit and scathing sense of humor. As I’ve made abundantly clear, Bourdain is a very smart man and also exceedingly street savvy, as you would expect any native New Yorker to be. He grew up in suburban New Jersey though. His humor is an interesting mix of styles. He certainly has a wry Jewish wit, with the elements of intellect, irony, and sarcasm, and the historical timeline back to Vaudeville and Yiddish theatre. But it’s not only that. Although he grew up comfortable (Father worked for Columbia Records, mother for the New York Times, and he went to prep school and then on to Vassar.), Bourdain was drawn to the seedier underbelly. He ran with a fast crowd in the restaurant business, and began to abuse drugs. I mention this because I think his humor is also over-sexualized, crass, countercultural, anarchic, punk, and anti-authoritarian. So what this translates to is a smart and sometimes witty sense of humor, but sprinkled with a darkness, scathing sarcasm, goofy irony, and defiant streak. In the episode on New Mexico, he makes a sophomoric joke about a phallic shaped rock formation behind him. It becomes meta, when he comments on needing a 50-something year old sense of humor, and it was time to grow up. I cannot agree. His brand of humor is off-beat and refreshing, and serves the show well. Especially when paired with his more serious and hard-hitting style.

I’ve traveled across America, and been into Mexico and Canada a few times. I briefly lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and in a 17th Century castle in the Netherlands. I made my way all over Europe. But I think what I am most proud of is how I made my way around. Like Bourdain, I suppose I’ve always had wanderlust, and was never just satisfied visiting a place. I wanted to know where I’d been. I always made an effort to go to the out-of-the-way bars and pubs, and I went to dance clubs and concert halls with no other English speakers present; I sat on bar stools and tried horse meat croquettes; drank Scotch whisky with bagpipers from a local tattoo; carried a journal to write down new Dutch words I learned in the village. Wherever I went, I asked what the locals were drinking and eating, and I was adventurous, perhaps to a fault. I made friends easily, and that’s part of what I admire about Anthony Bourdain so much. I see myself in him, and marvel at how easy and comfortable he is with new people and trying new things. He has such a remarkable confidence and command, while not boasting or using his ego to belittle others. But at the same time, Bourdain is no blushing flower. He can be rude and crass, and is renowned for his liberal use of profanity and sexual references, especially the use of double entendre to describe food. Furthermore, Anthony is no saint, and it quickly becomes clear that he has quite a colorful past. He is not shy about discussing his past drug abuse problems, and his struggles with staying clean. He also has a few tattoos that we can easily see, and the certain raggedness of a face that had seen some years. Ultimately, you get the feeling that this guy has lived life to the fullest, traveled extensively throughout the world, been in a few knife fights and gotten his ass kicked one too many times, been to bed with many different women, done far too many drugs, and tasted the most exquisite foods this planet has to offer. Although I am nowhere near his level of experience or debauchery, I have lived my life as if each day was my last, and tried to suck the marrow out of each precious moment. And as you might expect, that kind of commitment has led to many regrettable mistakes I wish I could take back. But just as assuredly, there have been even more sublime days of discovery and the bliss that can only come from those sweet moments you know are historic, and will never come again…except in your dreams. Anthony Bourdain lives life out loud, and his idea of adventure is not colonial or proprietorial, but respectful and sincere in moving amidst a people, and exploring their culture from the inside out. This ‘Chef-at-Large’ bears a confidence that comes from great sorrow and triumphant success, and has left him with the most impressive ability to put people at ease, and charm them into their own special greatness. All while never losing his cool or control. With Bourdain, we always know he’s steering the ship, we just don’t always know when and how. A man’s gotta have some parts unknown.