Tribute to No Reservation (part two)

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As my husband said about the 1st part of this article, “He seemed nice, so what?”, I was shocked!

I might revealed my self like one of those bubbly groupies to Anthony Bourdain. Like I would adore him so much just from the way he look. No no no, that’s not the object of this tribute series.I want to make like a remembrance wall for the beloved show that never failed making me smile appreciative and nodded enthusiastically of anything Tony had said. Dear readers, please enjoy my second attempt making another Tribute to No Reservation.

For the purpose of highlighting No Reservation show and not the other ones Anthony Bourdain made or is making, I will use his own words to guide us along this bitter sweet path of memory lane. I quote pieces from Anthony Bourdain’s own writing at Travel Channel Blog “Blutarski: Zero point Zero” .

I present to you (again), the greatly imperfect yet the best food and travel show in the world: No Reservation.

It wasn’t a love at first sight for me ,with this show.

I was exposed to it very late on its tract. It was at the 4th season of the show,  I saw Mr. Bourdain and his wit for the first time. I was taken by surprise with how many f*** words he used on the teve show. A little bit annoyed, yet intrigued with this lanky dude who seemed very…. not nice, in a masculine way. So it was a positive Not-Nice character that made me look for the show’s schedule on TLC. While at that time, I still drawn into -happy go lucky bright and sunny- food shows like Jamie Oliver‘s and Nigella Lawson‘s or -smile into the rainbow- travel show like Samantha Brown‘s.

As a natural pessimistic and born with lack of trust in humanity, I fell for the show immediately. It as mouthwatering as the others, not so many smiley faces, but the ones there, were genuine or at least as a sign of respect. With extra punch of -spiky sometimes pungent and creamy, yet always intoxicatingly addictive and seductive- lines and lines and lines of words in narration.

This show, has the intensity of slightly overripe premium quality Durian for me. Not Thailand’s Monthong Durian kind, with famously obese flesh, sweet but has less essence of true Durian flavor. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation was and still is, like a wildly grown Durian found in the deep forest of North Sumatera, Indonesia. It has leaner flesh than Monthong, but boy o boy … it sure could knocked you down from mouth-gasmic sensation.

No Reservation gave me a brain-gasmic sensation simply by listening Tony’s narrating with his bold, harsh, never shy, sometimes funny, seemed arrogant but truthfully humble, poetic even romantic choice of words. All of that means, I’m head over heel in love with the show, incase you didn’t catch my point.

But as any man made effort, it will ever be, anything but perfect. So does this show.

As a fan and hypnotized follower of Bourdainsm, I did see the ups and downs between 140 episodes. Although what I thought downs, not necessarily the bad episodes for anyone else, including Tony him self. Next are several shoots he thinks as less satisfying episodes, let’s see if I feel the same.

“The weak SOUTH PACIFIC and MARQUESAS show was the result of pure bad luck. One scene after another went by without anything useful or compelling recorded. One day after another passed with each intended scene turning out to be something other than what we’d hoped. Two full days where nothing worked.  That we were able to cobble together shows at all in cases like these was always a triumph of great camera work and great editing (technique) over content. Sometimes it was a close run thing.” -Anthony Bourdain

You should watch the full episodes, but I agree that this one did not made it to my ‘Ups’ basket. For me, its more to my personal preference of the background setting’s ambiance. I never liked beach or beachy areas more than mountains. Besides that, Tony’s enchanting narration lack of lustful passion or even vengeance. He sounded just polite and normal.

“Responsibility for some failures rested entirely on me. They sucked because I sucked. BERLIN should have been a good show: great producer, great shooters, great fixers, great city. But for no good reason at all, I just wasn’t “into it.” And the show reflected my unhappiness and my unwillingness at the time to even try.” -Anthony Bourdain

“..Lars honestly believe this is a soothing environment. And I.. I guess it is if your idea of soothing is nipple clamps, enemas and assless chaps…” 

His expression towards the kinky museum hotel at Berlin. That’s one line only, put this episode on my Ups basket. When you watch the full episode, listen carefully when he describe his plates of food, you’ll understand what I mean.

Here are some of my favorite ones;

“Schnitzel purist view pork, chicken or turkey schnitzel, the way I view soybean hot dog. That is, with barely conceive contempt.” 

(Head cheeses at Rogacki) It’s a wonderland of pork.” 

“All the petty aggravations of the world fall away in the presence of a perfectly cooked pig shank, or as they say in german — eisbein…. it’s a cheap, preserved piece of meat — tough like a rock….And yet this is the most magnificent thing ever …. Goulash, meaning it’s the less tender cuts of meat….Cabbage — is there a cheaper vegetable in this world?….Potatoes. I mean, this is a panorama of struggle, pain, deprivation, and skill of transforming simple good things into something great.”  

He really could create a seductive paragraph on site, over a humongous pile of peasant food! I could never get over his wordly-charm.

“Some disastrous shoots, through the sheer weight of misadventure turned out, like SICILY, to be good shows. Though not in the way we intended.  The scenes that were supposed to be “great” ended badly—but the ones for which we had low expectations (the caper farmers in Pantelleria) became magically real, spontaneous and fun.” -Anthony Bourdain

This is another episodes that goes straightaway to my Ups basket just by seeing a couple frame of shot when Tony lying down helplessly on Lost and found baggage claim at the Palermo airport and the way he gave us the “what the f***?” blink along with his polite smirk when meeting the President of regional Sicily.

Guys, this was one of those moment when I got goosebumps by seeing a food show. The back sound might influence my mood a little. Reminded me of old mafia movie that my parents used to rent back on VHR days, that I wasn’t allowed to see but a little peek here and there. My brain was quite distracted digesting all the stunning setting, gorgeous character of people featuring on this episode, making me very difficult to pick Tony’s lyrics. But, here’s one with his usual dramatic and gloomy ambiance lurking around the words and the voice.

“Palermo, Sicily. A narrow crumbling street. Cut to a large covered basket. Steam carries the vague sour smell of mystery meat. A heavy man looms silently, revealing nothing. Suddenly, he reaches inside, slaps a steaming mound of flesh onto your palm, and you’re instructed to swallow it instantly, leaving not a trace. Would you do it?”

He talked about Frittola vendor. C’mon, didn’t that description stimulate your mind to find out more? Or hungry.

“ICELAND was certainly improved rather than hurt by running into a blinding blizzard—and a general overlay of depression and darkness.” -Anthony Bourdain

Oh yeah, this one is pretty horribly confusing. If you watch the whole show, you still got a few smile and laugh from Tony’s misery and cranky mood. But this definitely on the Downs basket.

“Maybe the best single example of this was the ROMANIA show, where absolutely everything was ****ed up beyond all hope or recognition: wrong fixer (the inexplicably addled Zamir), unfriendly populace,  officials looking for backhanders,  and guides with other agendas who did their best (in the hope of portraying their country in a desirable light) to ensure that absolutely every genuine moment was quickly  smothered under a thick scrim of artificiality, falsehood and staginess.  It was a nightmare to shoot. An utter failure on all our parts—and yet it became a timeless classic of Travel Gone Wrong—unintentionally hilarious. It may have made all of us Public Enemies in Romania (and the subject of scandal and speculation in their national press)—and it may have been terribly unfair to the country and to the many Romanian expats who tuned in, looking to see something beautiful of their beloved homeland…” -Anthony Bourdain

When Tony’s face didn’t lit up seeing a whole roasted pig, like that, then something was terribly wrong happened

On this episode featured Zamir, Tony’s fixer turn best friend. I gotta admit, a few things I remember about this one are; too many awkward moments related to culture shock or food, rather missed the point bitter humor and loads of alcohol consumption. I got very little, almost none of brain-gasm from it. Downs basket it is.

“But, of course, there were bright spots too. Shows of which I will always be proud.  Favorites, both personal and professional where everything (or most things) came together. HONG KONG, particularly the scene where a third generation noodle maker practices his craft, rocking painfully and disfiguringly on his bamboo pole under the faded photos of his parents encompassed everything I believe to be good and true about people  who choose to make food the very best they can.  It was a beautifully shot and edited sequence– one of our very best. If our show is principally in the business of celebrating cooks—wherever they may cook—and in whatever circumstances—then this was as good an example of our work as we could ask for.” -Anthony Bourdain

Ooh I remember this episode very well, including the Kung Fu style fast hand making dumplings, underground gourmet dinner and generations of soy sauce making family. This one, not only goes to my Ups basket, will guaranteed to make your mouth watering profusely and your stomach growl in envy seeing all the succulently pornographic foods on your screen. How about Tony’s prose? Well, let me show you my favorite.

“Imagine living inside a giant the pinball machine, where the object is not to win, but to eat. Propelled at high speed through space, bounce unpredictably, between flashing lights, through narrow passages ways of seemingly never ending sequence of dark spaces …”

Like a lullaby, his palatable sentences flows on and on and on, rocking you into a deliciously dramatic world of Bourdainsm. You could see it through the sparks in his eyes, that he really was enjoyed him self and truly amazed about the noodle pulling skill.

“I’m happy with all our VIET NAM shows—probably because I’m always so ludicrously happy to be there.  I could just watch the B-roll from those shows all day.  Everybody who works on the show seems to feel the same way.  It’s a good place to work, a good place to eat. A good place to be”. -Anthony Bourdain

Watching No Reservation in Vietnam the first time until the last time was like seeing a kid on amusement park. The phos, the bahn mi, the pork, the mystery meat dishes, the seafood, rice fields, spicy-salty-sour goodness that really speaks to him. All of it go to my Ups basket.

One show that I quite embarrassed, and plunged deeply into my Downs basket, when Tony went to Indonesia.

I don’t know why he didn’t get all the good stuff, the rustic but classic Indonesian food.

If you still remember when Tony wandered around alone in Jakarta’s narrow alleys, eating Nasi Uduk for breakfast-NOT the well known for the taste ones, but more like -to prevent starving ones. It still vividly replayed in my mind when I yell, Why?…. Oh Why…no body took him to the rather decent breakfast vendors? Even the street vendors or hawker style vendors, there are numerous of them that we could show the world, proudly. Nasi Uduk to Bubur Ayam, Nasi Goreng to Bubur Kacang Hijau, Old school bread to fritters.

And then, he bought a bowl of sweet icy dessert from street cart that not known for his hygiene. I’m not being snobbish here, I like those stuff. I ate from hawkers all the time. But I have the stomach for it. Although Tony had travelled around the world, I don’t want him to remember Jakarta as one of the city that made him sick! Another series of yelling and pulling my hair out of frustration happened then. Jakarta has Es Teler 77 and Es Cendol Pondol for example, if he want air conditioned setting. If not, there are lots of places even street food merchant selling Es Cincau, Es Campur, Es Cendol Padang, Es Blewah, Sop Buah, etc with better hygiene and TASTE.

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The Garut scene, well I didn’t know the agenda, but why the hell did somebody bring No Reservation show to a private resort like that? Anthony Bourdain should be allowed to dip his leg to a real culture, stuff that happened everyday for normal people. Not to be isolated to some expensive -faux heritage place. They gave him a room in one of faux-hut that only can be accessed with small wooden boat. Then they delivered a Serabi for him in the same way. What the f*** was that? West Javanese didn’t have floating village culture! That’s not how the REAL Sundanese live their lives! Oh man, I was-and still really angry with that.

There are more of bits and pieces I cursed about that episode, but that’s enough. I don’t want this second part to end bitterly. So, I borrowed another his paragraph that stamped all over with sweetness, love and smile. It’s when he visited his new in laws at Sardinia. Ups basket, for sure.

“SARDINIA was a risky show, because it was so personal, and I had a whole new Italian/Sardinian family looking over my shoulder—and more perilously—I had chosen to include my wife. I anticipated some angry blowback from fans. But my wife’s father’s family in the mountain towns of that incredibly beautiful island were the best “fixers” any one could have hoped for. The cinematography was incredible. And the editors, in spite of the fact that I was sitting in their laps for much of the cut and making their lives miserable, responded with a beautiful and heartfelt love letter to what is for most people an unfamiliar culture.  Warm and fuzzy and family friendly  was NOT what fans of the show had been led to expect of me. But I was grateful for the opportunity to be a Dad on camera.  It paid off in a good story and good show—and as an honest reflection of the facts.” -Anthony Bourdain

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