Saturday 9 June 2018

Flyin' high, now dead

I was musing earlier in the week about about the death of a 180 year old tree which I've known all my adult Irish life. That is sad but it's not totally out of chronological order. There is an old Buddhist saw for the definition of happiness as "Grandfather die, father die, son die" which sounds gloomy to deathophobic Westerners. But a moment's reflection and you know everyone would be gutted if the Order of Offing was reversed.  It makes the ground under your own feet a little less stable (or a little more inclined to open up??) when leaves of your own age start to flutter off from the tree of life. My pal Barry died two years ago at 59 and Kevin went 12 years ago at 50. I miss 'em both.

Yesterday's shock was that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was found dead in a French hotel apparently having hanged himself; he was 61. I guess there is some consolation that he was a strong advocate of Live Hard Die Young rather than dressing in cotton-wool and thinking only about your pension. I tell ya, boys, you can't have half as much fun at 82 as you can at 28 - at 82 the knees are crook and you need the bathroom far too often. Bourdain was born into a comfortable middle class family in NYC and went to college. He started vacation-working in fish restaurants in Provincetown: the fist at the end of Cape Cod.  If you read his autobiography Kitchen Confidential (and you should) you'll find that only the deranged have The Right Stuff to work in a busy commercial kitchen. The stress is 110%, the heat is 110oF, and everyone has a knife. That company is not what you and I might like to keep but the former boy-scout found a well 'ard kernel in himself so that he survived and thrived. The rush was mighty but was also enhanced: "Hardly a decision was made without drugs. Cannabis, methaqualone, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, secobarbital, tuinal, amphetamine, codeine and, increasingly, heroin, which we'd send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get." He dropped out of college after two years because he was now at home in the underbelly. Not since reading George Orwell's hotel catering exposé Down and Out in Paris and London have I felt so apprehensive about eating out.

More recently, Bourdain cleaned up his internal act and started making World Cuisine shows for TV: No Reservations and Parts Unknown which you can pick through on youtube. Last year Bourdain laid into all the apologists for Harvey Weinstein that came within range of his Twitter feed. Being a hard chaw having a way with words allowed him to fillet and mince attempts at victim-blaming.

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