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Sunday, January 11, 2009

No Reservations



No Reservations

I have recently become obsessed with an American television series called No Reservations hosted by the author Anthony Bourdain who wrote, among other things, the bestseller Kitchen Confidential. From the few episodes I have seen thus far, he basically just travels around the world, eats, and drinks—not a bad gig if you can get someone to pay you for it. So far I have watched the shows about places that have meant a lot to me over the course of my life: Paris, Greece, Peru, Mexico, Italy, and Spain. It's not a cooking show in the traditional sense where you are shown how to make a certain dish. No Reservations is a celebration of food and drink from around the world. What sets it apart from other cooking/travel shows is the writing and the insights of the author/host. More than just about any other travel writer I have read (let alone cooking show dorks) Anthony Bourdain really gets the places he visits—or at least he really tries to really get them.

One thing he said during an episode about the U.S.-Mexico border stands out in my mind: “When I started to look at Texas with the same respect I show other lands I started to find much to love.” Bourdain does have a great respect for the countries he visits, but he seems to have an even greater respect for the culinary traditions of the people and the places that he visits while making his show. He often gets into the thinking of great chefs by exploring their cooking roots, this means going back home, whether that is on a Greek island or in a Mexican village. Out of all of the places he visits on his show, the one place to where I most want to return is Mexico. I love the food there more than anywhere else I have every been. I can't wait to go back and learn more about Mexican cooking, especially with my new and improved Spanish. I think I will have to try the recipe for mole I learned on a trip to San Miguel de Allende I made back in 2002. I have never tried it since I was there. I think that I can find all of the ingredients here in Spain. Finding people to ate this with me is another problem. I miss people who like spicy food. I desperately want to smoke a cigar with someone who smokes cigars. Oh brother, where art thou?

His observations on that standard of European society, the café, reflect my own thoughts almost exactly. Another observation he made about life in Spain really hit home with me. He was commenting—among other things—on the Spanish way of life, of having a coffee or a glass or wine or a tapa in a little corner bar. He wondered why he didn't have these things every day. In a nutshell this is why I came here. I wanted these things every day and that has made all the difference.

One thing that is particularly annoying about the show—and it has nothing to do with the show itself—is that American television requires that there be a parental warning after each break in the show. It's positively embarrassing that our government feels that we are so delicate that we need to be protects from every coarse word, every casual remark about abusing alcohol or drugs, every off-color comment about sex that you hear on the show. It's as if we lost and the Mormons have taken over the entire country. I've never understood people who are offended by profanity. It's just words, people. Just because we don't let people say the word “shit” or “fuck” on America television doesn't mean we will have a world without poop or sex. By the way, those two words are bantered about on Spanish television in an extremely casual nature, as if they were both just two more things that make up what is called human existence. What people in America should be more concerned with is our casual acceptance of depictions of extreme violence on TV—something that I believe lowers our collective sense of outrage when we hear about violence in real life.

What do the folks who require this childish censorship think would be the worst-case scenario if we allowed profanity and nudity on TV? We are already one of the most violence and crime-ridden cultures on earth, maybe a little sex and dirty talk would do us some good? When I watch an American movie or TV show that portrays violence in America I am invariably asked if this is how it really is in my country. I am ashamed to say that it is like these movie portrayals, at least sometimes in some places. We need to work on that. We need to stop glamorizing violence, stop making it sexy and cool. It's incredibly uncool and unsexy.