Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)

There is not much to connect TV presenter Anthony Bourdain, whose death was announced earlier this week, and Evelyn Waugh except for their inclination to travel to difficult destinations and then report about it. Bourdain was also a writer, and according to the New York Times, he was a close reader of George Orwell. His first published essay in the New Yorker, that grew into his book Kitchen Confidential, was modelled on Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.

One commenter (Michael Rennier), writing on the website of Dappled Things, a Roman Catholic literary journal, makes this connection between the travel journalism of Waugh and Bourdain:

[Bourdain’s] travelogues were sensitive and insightful, particularly about the fragility and beauty of the human experience. Even as he experienced genuine highs in his exploration of the world, he clearly found meaningful connection in more intimate moments simply connecting with new friends on an individual basis. Travel is broadening in the way it opens us up to new cultures but also in the way it puts us into contact with other human beings […]

In his travelogue Remote People, Evelyn Waugh is brutally honest about the psychological cost of travel. He writes about how we tell stories of travel with selective memory, forgetting the pains and inconveniences, but also the one, inescapable, supremely devastating terror of melancholic personalities – boredom. He writes, “The boredom of civilized life is terminable and trivial…I am constantly a martyr to boredom, but never in Europe have I been so desperately and degradingly bored as I was [while traveling]”. He then delicately dissects the concept of human boredom, writing from a hotel in the heart of Africa while waiting for a steamship whose arrival is indeterminate. The point being, no matter where we are or what we are doing, a human being must struggle with the highs and lows of existence. Travel is a beautiful thing, but it isn’t a magic pill to solve the existential sickness that ails us […]

Waugh Society member, Richard Oram, makes the same point about travel and boredom in a recent email referring to Bourdain’s death and citing Waugh’s January 1933 article in the Daily Mail entitled “Travel–and Escape from Your Friends.” CWEW v26, p. 491. This was based on Waugh’s contemporaneous trip to British Guiana.


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