By Sarah L. Myers
New York, NY, USA

If you just blur your vision a little bit, you can see it in the way it used to be.  
– Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown: Congo Episode

Anthony Bourdain is in the Congo, staring out into the sky above the jungle. He wears his worry for just a second before resuming his role as Joseph Conrad in the Heart of Darkness. Moments later he’s Tony again. He laughs gleefully at a shock of lightening keeping his plane – a primitive model of which not even he had seen – on the ground. He’s badass, relentless, and without fear.

At the center of Heart of Darkness lays the dichotomy of the civilized and the savage. No one possessed that spirit more so than Tony. While always leaning more toward the savage, he was elegant and civilized in ways only a world traveler could be. He walked like a caveman with a loping gait and long-swinging arms. His Appetites cookbook contains recipes for British-style pheasant alongside the pornographic glory of a sausage and pepper hero from the food truck. One of these makes him “shit like a mink”. It’s your guess.

It’s taken me a few weeks to write this. With blurred vision I’m able to revisit my
Sarah L. Myers
favorite episodes of No Reservations and Parts Unknown. I drank the “Black Death” Brennivin in Iceland because Tony did. I signed a fake name to get into Trisha’s, a sunken little hideout in London’s Soho district, because he once drank there. I was new to the city when I went to Les Halles and closed the place on half-priced wine night. With every glass I felt just a little closer to my chain-smoking, ball-busting hero who demanded only the best of himself but was always the first to self-deprecate.

How could someone so hungry for life choose to end his this way? That has been the hardest question I’ve asked myself as I tried to write this. I always saw a boyish joy in his reaction to the world. If he was taking his problems with him, it was a burden with which we could all identify. There’s not one place I’ve seen that has made me forget that my cousin, Rachel, my best friend since the day I was born, is gone too.

In his book Medium Raw, Tony writes about drinking alone in a bar, describing the pre-fab Irish pub complete with Celtic curio and bartender on a student visa. He rips the menu of wilted pickles and talks shit about the fried zucchini. A song comes on the jukebox and he’s transported back to Beirut, where an episode of No Reservations upended into chaos amid political uprising and violent protest. He smells burning jet fuel, hears rockets, and accepts a sudden sadness. He pulls himself out of the moment but writes he is sure no one else at the bar feels the way he does.

This might be my favorite story he’s ever told. We all balance on this wire every day. Who doesn’t hear a song or see a photo that dredges up something to break your heart again? One reason it’s taken me so long to write this is because for weeks I couldn’t hear his voice on TV without jerking like I’d been slapped. Of course I didn’t know him personally, but he had donated items to Thirsty’s Joey Ramone charity auctions and I’d run into him once at Rudy’s – that beloved Hell’s Kitchen dive with free hot dogs and duct-taped booths. Tony didn’t stay long. A drunk guy thought he was David Byrne. Never one to suffer fools, he promptly left.

When visiting Rome, a place very special to Tony, he comments on the ruins that enchant him and the endurance and power of such a place. Then, he says, “Shit gets real.” When the ruins don’t belong to you, when the cross to bear isn’t hanging from your shoulders, they are easier to gaze upon with admiration and wonder. What was going through his mind that day? Where was the one place he just couldn’t get away from? We all wear our shadows differently. It’s heartbreaking to imagine the pain he must have been in.

Sarah's Secret Beach (Belize)

In a little more than a month I’ll be back in Provincetown, a place close to Tony’s heart and now just as close to mine. I’ll cheers to him at The Underground. My vision will be blurred but probably for other reasons. I want to celebrate my hero in a place he loved. Tony is everywhere in Ptown - in the Portuguese kale soup at the Lobster Pot and the salty midnight pies at Spiritus. I’ll focus on those fun, irreverent things about the quirky town instead of picturing him ducking to get through the door at Old Colony Tap.

If you just blur your vision a little bit, you can see it in the way it used to be.

The second a moment ends, it becomes something that used to be. I am struggling with the very real fact that someone I trusted to show me the world chose to take himself out of it. To me he was completely invincible. We could go anywhere as long as he was there to take us with him. Where are we supposed to go now?



Sarah L. Myers is a founding member of the Editorial Board of Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.