photo by Bert Kaufmann via Flickr
When you think of travel, good food, and adventure, who do you think of? Do you have time to wonder?
Take out your boarding pass. Go.
Entry point: Lisboa, Portugal. June 2018. (Exit port, supposedly, the same city, two months later.)
Meet at the airport car rental spot. Go.
My father and brother were waiting, their flight having landed in the capital city an hour earlier. Both of them had explored this part of the Atlantic coast before, and both knew that the best way around would be on four wheels. We wanted to take mini-trips in and out of the city, for sure, but also we needed to drive from the airport to the city center, a three thousand year old maze, to get to our BnB, which, again, was in the middle of a zillion tiny inaccessible ancient alleyways, not to mention we were late as it was to pick up the keys, so car it would be. Fast. Reliable. Go.
Barrio Alto, 2018. Silver sky, flush-faced tourists, and old locals like potted-plants on their balconies, chainsmoking. Jacket weather. Ominous vibes, nervousness, new trips, always. What’s new? A lovely young portuguesa managing the property opened the door, waved us in, ran through the details, on and on and on…
Jetlag summer daze. Rest, not yet. I was so dizzy and disoriented, there was only enough energy to ask her for the wi-fi password, while my brother and father handled the rest. (We were given only two copies of keys, they got them.) So many metaphors. They, probably my brother, booked the property. My father, probably my brother insisting yes or no, prepared an itinerary of the right restaurants and the best museums. I was there for the ride, basically. I owed them more than a thank you for organizing this part of the trip, but, after two long continuous years of work and study, of taking leave of my job and graduating, the last thing I wanted to do was think. It was June. So, with the flow, go.
Just to name drop a bit: “Cicerone,” my father, guided us here and there and shared more than a few keen remarks: showing us the Carmo Convent, taking us to Jorge’s Castelo, leading us to an architectural Lift to arrive at some Miradouro and cheers over a round of cold Sagres beers. All the while my brother helped us order the right sea food at Ramiros (presebes, please, and whole crab, oh and tiger prawns, por favor, obrigado, only order ham if you want to decorate the table, we say), and later helped us find a bar spot where the surfers go to at Praiado Guincho. Crowds were behind us wherever we went.
Just to sit, finally rest and reflect, enjoy day one: we discovered Rua Dom Pedro, jumped in a bar between two parks. Pig cheek, red wine reduction, and a black rice platter with squid ink and calamari: it was so cold now that my brother went to get our jackets back at the flat, which led to an awkward encounter with an old lover, her sister, and a boyfriend; meanwhile my father and I sat and people-watched from the sidewalk at people passing by, coming in and out of the bar, of our lives — when sharply my father whispers, “Mierda.”
This was June 8th, the day Anthony Bourdain was found hanging under a hotel ceiling in northeastern France, the day he left a seat at the table of food culture empty forever.
For a moment’s silence, what mattered? We were three travelers who had idolized Bourdain for a decade. Now he was cut from our lives, travel itself left in slices. Now, running around, making it on time or late to things, exploring, what the hell for, to rest, to rest in peace, deuces, our trip became a breath’s chance to process how and why we were alive.
His death, our beginning, part one, summer 2018. At least he went out doing what he loved, I prayed, which was all I could do. I had no idea my own trip would be cut short sooner than planned.
“No van a creer con quien me encontré,” Axel, my brother says, meaning , You’ll never guess who I ran into, treads untangled over his forearm.
“Murió,” whispered papá. “Bourdain murió.”
No guessing. Pass the plate, please.