NewsPub Notes

Reflections on COVID and Anthony Bourdain

Fellow Athenians: If you’re not vaccinated, this might be a great time to act. Look what’s coming to Athens very soon.

On Aug. 4, 22 Clarke County Schools open with an estimated enrollment of 13,600. Think of all the children and young adults and their teachers and parents who’ll gather in close quarters.

On Aug. 18, UGA starts classes with an estimated enrollment of 35,000-plus students. UGA faculty number 3,000. UGA staff of 7,700 must be added to this number. The grand total is 45,700.

Two home football games are coming on Sept. 11 and 18, each bringing 100,000 fans and support personnel to Athens. They’ll need hotels and restaurants and will fill bars. They’ll shop in dozens of stores.

These upcoming events are great for Athens. They’re an essential part of our lives and culture. They help make Athens a fantastic town, and they help our economy tremendously. Most likely, though, we’ll be left with increases in COVID cases in our local population. I say these things not to bemoan reality, but to urge the unvaccinated to strongly consider going on the offensive by getting vaccinated. Our vaccines don’t guarantee one will not get COVID, but they have an amazing track record of keeping those who do free from hospitalizations and death.

Athens: We can tackle COVID if we all do our part. [Richard Shoemaker]

I Loved Anthony Bourdain

Last Sunday evening, I took in the Anthony Bourdain documentary, Roadrunner, at Ciné. I loved Anthony Bourdain. It was not the kind of love that grows out of truly coming to know someone. It was more the love and admiration of a living example of my own ideal of a life well-lived. The film covers the depth of this tortured gift, and the well was filled with endless darkness and stunning, fulfilling light. He was a seeker and master storyteller who tried to convey not so much his own view of the world he so thoroughly explored but rather the unvarnished truth of the beauty and stark reality of the global human existence. Yes, on the surface the mechanism was simply to present how regional food and cuisine relates to regional culture, but that was merely the vehicle he used to explore and reveal the deeply rich, glorious joy and tragic adventure of human life. And not just some of it—all of it. 

So when his own story ended as it did, I was angry. It was admittedly a selfish anger because he had taken away from me a portal into the world that I truly adored and learned so very much from. But my anger was a very small sample of the shared anger laid bare in the film. It examines the bottomless desperation and heartbreak inhabiting the people who actually did know and love him: his family, his coworkers, his professional peers and his rich and diverse group of close international friends—all utterly devastated. 

It may even have made some kind of perverted sense if he had done what he did because he had experienced everything and come to the conclusion that it was just not enough, and the depression caused by that reality drove him mad with some kind of a profound emptiness. But that’s not what happened. By all accounts, he treasured every minute and every detail of his life’s work, while at the same time reporting to us from remote corners of the world mired in desperate circumstances—many regions still suffering the results of years of international intrusion and intervention. But still he would discover joy in these places of poverty and despair among inhabitants who reveled in their culture and tradition, just as he also found that same kind of joy in the privileged modern restaurants and societies of a cosmopolitan city, and every place in between. 

No, the documentary more than strongly implies that he killed himself because he was in love with a woman who did not love him. Well, I guess there are many forms of socio-economic and emotional desperation, so who are we to second-guess this man? Still, somehow there is a senseless irony to it. It’s easy to fall into that selfish pit of wondering how one could possibly take away from the world a talent so beautifully poignant and a voice so important. It didn’t belong to him, dammit! It belonged to us. 

In my feeble attempt to understand the tragic end of a beautiful life I sometimes remember the incredible song by Don McLean, “Vincent,” and mostly think of myself as the understanding narrator, but also for a moment I must include myself in the group he refers to in the last stanza as “them.” [Michael Steele]