Anthony Bourdain’s lessons in hospitality

AB3

I love to cook. I love to eat and drink. A relaxed, leisurely meal with good food, good wine and good friends, for me, is truly a touch of heaven. Around a table, plain or fancy, community is born. Lives are shared. Bonds are made. 

The death of Anthony Bourdain shocked and saddened me, as it shocked and saddened so many others. I have been a long time fan of both his books and his shows. 

I read his books with envy. Anthony wrote like I wish I could write. Witty. Smart. Honest. Raw. But, what I loved the most about the man, was his utter joy at sitting down to break bread with anyone and everyone. The mighty and the humble. He loved people, and it showed. He was as comfortable dining in Michelin restaurants as in the back alleys of Vietnam. 

AB 1

Anthony Bourdain was the antithesis to the current isolationism and xenophobia that is spreading around the world. He contrasted the image of the “ugly westerner” travelling in baseball cap, cargo shorts and Crocs, grumbling and complaining that “this isn’t how we do it at home”. 

“Why can’t everyone speak English?”

“This isn’t how pizza is supposed to taste.”

“Eww, this street food looks dirty. Wonder if there’s a McDonald’s nearby?”

hospitality

There are two sides to hospitality. Giving and receiving. 

Giving hospitality is often, by far, the easier of the two. When we invite others to our home, we are in control. We choose who is coming. We choose what to serve. We choose how we will spend our time. 

Receiving hospitality, from family and friends when we know what to expect and how to behave, is also easy. But…

How many of us would feel comfortable being welcomed into a completely foreign environment, not knowing the people, language, customs, culture or food?

You don’t have to travel miles to imagine such a situation. It could be a family down the street, or across town. For many of us, no matter how warm and welcoming the hosts, we still experience an  “uncomfortable hospitality”. We are out of our comfort zone. We fear newness, difference, and the unknown.

We are used to being in control, and having others form themselves into our image. Not the other way around. 

What Anthony Bourdain did on the micro level, had a much deeper meaning on the macro level. Sharing a bowl of soup with a street vendor in Thailand instantly builds bridges among cultures. Welcoming being welcomed by the “other”, and relishing that welcome, opens doors to dialogue and friendship.

Perhaps we depend too much on elite diplomats to forge peace in our world. Perhaps the answer lies in that most Christian of symbols. The most human of activities.

AB5

A table. 

Sitting down with our sisters and brothers.

Breaking bread and raising a glass.

Sharing our stories, our joys and our fears.

Communion, in its deepest most human sense. 

The world has lost a great promotor of global table fellowship.  May he rest in peace. 

To be treated well in places where you don’t expect to be treated well, to find things in common with people you thought previously you had very, very little in common with, that can’t be a bad thing.

Anthony Bourdain

how to treat folks who come from away

Art is at its most powerful when it challenges the status quo. When it speaks truth to power. When it nudges us to go beyond words to action.

The musical, Come From Away   has this power, without the aggressive edge of “in your face” political preaching. You leave the theatre with your mind filled with toe-tapping melodies, and your heart filled with renewed hope in the inherent goodness in humanity.

You also leave with your soul pondering how our nations and our people are currently treating those who “come from away”.

come-from-away-royal-mtc

This is ultimately a story of how people fought terror with love and helplessness with compassionate action. Its hard to imagine a “feel-good” musical based on 9/11, but Come From Away is nothing if not relentlessly and unabashedly life-affirming.

Source: Believe the hype: Come From Away a heartwarming, funny, moving musical about passengers stranded by 9/11 – Manitoba – CBC News

We were lucky (SO lucky!) to have tickets to see the sold-out production of Come From Away, currently playing at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. The show was beyond good. I could go on and on raving about every aspect of this musical, but you can read great reviews are all over the internet and social media.

What has stayed with me the most is the message at the heart of the play…

Hospitality

True hospitality is less about following the “Miss Manner’s” book of etiquette and more about being warmly embraced into someone’s home or community.  It is this spirit of hospitality that is celebrated in Come From Away. What does this spirit of hospitality look like?

Hospitality is being available for the unexpected

The horrors of 9/11 came without warning. The good people of Gander, Newfoundland had no time for strategic plans or lengthy committee meetings. No one was ready for this unexpected event, but they made themselves available.

The people saw the need, quickly discerned how to respond, and went into action. Everyone knew what they could do, and simply did it.

Hospitality is being inclusive

Many social gatherings are carefully planned and orchestrated. Guests are hand-picked. Numbers are limited to how many we can afford to feed and entertain, or fit into our home/venue. The pool of guests often reflect a similar mind and/or social stature.

On September 11, 2001, the town of Gander was asked to open their airport to 38 planes, and their community to 6,579 passengers. There was no picking and choosing of guests. All needed to be bedded. All needed to be fed. All needed to be welcomed.

Hospitality extends beyond fears

There were many unknowns in the hours after the 9/11 attacks. No one knew if there were bombs or terrorists on other planes. Security was paramount. Rational actions had to be taken during an irrational time.

Crews and passengers were left in the dark as to what was happening on the ground in New York and Washington. No one was allowed to leave the planes until the next day, and only after careful security clearance. Come From Away pulls you in to the fears and uncertainties that were present in those hours.

Hospitality was extended, despite the fears. Hospitality sometimes requires courage.

Hospitality is learned and nurtured within community

The folks in Gander didn’t have to over-think what hospitality was. Newfoundlanders are known for their friendliness, open doors and kitchen parties. Here’s what happened recently at Toronto’s Pearson Airport during a flight delay.

In Come From Away the passengers are incredulous at the unconditional hospitality shown to them. Invited into a stranger’s home, one passenger worries about the safety of his wallet. Quickly, he and the others are amazed at the generosity of the towns folk and surrounding communities. The guests try to repay their hosts for the kindnesses shown to them, but payment is refused with a simple response. “You would have done the same”.

You would have done the same.

But, would we have? Do we? Most of us are conditioned to be good hosts to family and friends. But how do we welcome the stranger? Are we unconditionally hospitable, or do we condition our hospitality within a tightly controlled comfort zone?

The story of Come From Away is uplifting and hopeful. The gift of the musical is its ability to make you laugh and cry within the space of seconds. Its songs and script are fact-based and fast-paced. The show ends long before you are ready for it to be.

The message continues to resonate.

Hospitality. 

A message both timely and inspirational.