Today is Easter, and we are going to be getting takeout from a favorite restaurant. I hope to write about that meal later today or tomorrow. But, for right now, I would like to repost this essay I wrote about the late Anthony Bourdain, just after he died in June 2018. It originally appeared on the Blogspot version of my Overeducated Housewife blog, when I was living in the Stuttgart area. I don’t have a specific reason for sharing this today, other than I think it’s a good post. Actually, it reminds me a bit of what we’ve lost since COVID-19 came along. I am so ready for another day trip somewhere… and new photos, especially for this blog. I miss travel and eating in restaurants.
Edited to add: Looking back at my original piece, I see it was preceded by another post I wrote just after Bourdain’s death. I had just discovered his show, Parts Unknown, about three weeks before he committed suicide. I had watched it because he visited Armenia, which is where I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1990s. I was enthralled by Bourdain’s show and was looking forward to watching more episodes. But then, seemingly out of the blue, he killed himself. So did famed handbag designer Kate Spade. The post that preceded this one was about how depression really isn’t the “common cold” of mental illness. It can be very serious and even fatal.
A couple of weeks ago, Bill and I went to Ribeauville, France for Memorial Day weekend. Since January 2017, Bill and I have visited Ribeauville, in Alsace, four times. We’ve found a sympathetic apartment owner who doesn’t have a problem welcoming Zane and Arran. Aside from that, Alsace is a very beautiful area that isn’t too far from where we live. It makes for a convenient place to get a weekend away.
Last Friday, Anthony Bourdain killed himself in Alsace. He was staying in Kaysersberg, a town Bill and I had been hoping to see during our last visit. We never got around to going to Kaysersberg on our last trip, but it’s definitely a must see the next time we’re in Alsace. Especially since last night, Bill showed me Anthony Bourdain’s final Instagram post…
This is a screenshot of Anthony Bourdain’s last Instagram post. He put it up exactly one week ago.
I know a lot of people who read this blog regularly might not necessarily read my travel blog (although this is being reposted on my travel blog in 2021). Those who haven’t read the travel blog probably missed my recent tale about the dish pictured above, Choucroute Garnie.
Choucroute Garnie is a very popular dish in Alsace that includes Alsatian style sauerkraut, sausages, charcuterie, other salted meats, and potatoes. Many restaurants in Alsace serve it, and my husband, Bill, happily enjoys it. In fact, below is a picture of Choucroute Garnie he ate when we visited the quaint town of Eguisheim, France in February 2017.
Bill enjoyed Choucroute Garnie at Caveau Heuhaus in Eguisheim.
Although a lot of people like this particular dish, it’s not something I would voluntarily order. I don’t like sauerkraut very much. Actually, I don’t really like cabbage because it upsets my stomach and makes me fart a lot. I will eat cabbage to be polite, but I don’t care for it and would avoid ordering it in a restaurant. While I do like sausage and other pork products fine, I also wouldn’t necessarily order a big pile of them as pictured above. One sausage is fine for me. I don’t need to eat a big plate of pork.
On the first night of our most recent trip to Ribeauville, Bill and I decided to have dinner at a restaurant we had not yet tried. Our experience at this establishment was disappointing from the get go and continued to get worse. I had decided on an entrecôte (rib eye steak) for dinner, but our waiter somehow heard “choucroute” instead. I was a bit suspicious when he didn’t ask me what sauce I wanted or how I preferred the steak cooked. However, he took off before I’d had the chance to say anything and we didn’t see him again until his colleague tried to deliver the dish pictured below…
The Choucroute Garnie I didn’t order. Bill says it wasn’t as good as the one he had in Eguisheim.
Unfortunately for our waiter, I was tired, hungry, and way over the bumbling service we had already experienced at that point. He came over to argue with me about what I’d ordered and actually had the nerve to say, “You couldn’t have ordered entrecôte. If you had, I would have asked you what sauce you wanted and the temperature.”
My acid reply was, “That’s right. You didn’t ask and I wondered why.”
He scurried off with the choucroute, but then came back and tried to get me to take it, since cooking what I’d ordered would take time. I really didn’t want the choucroute, but I was especially exasperated that the waiter had accused me of lying about my order and was trying to sell me something I didn’t want.
Bill, prince of a man that he is, took the choucroute and I took his dish, which was potato pancakes with smoked salmon. I had actually been eyeing the potato pancakes anyway, so it was initially no big deal. But then I realized that one of the potato pancakes was very scorched. I didn’t bother to complain because, at that point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. But I did turn the experience into a snarky blog post and a few people in my local food and wine group thought it was funny. When I saw Bourdain’s final Instagram post last night, I was reminded of my own recent experience with Choucroute Garnie. It was just something else, besides depression, I’ve had in common with the late chef.
People who read this blog and those who know me personally may know that I have suffered from depression for years. It’s not nearly as bad now as it once was. I no longer take medications for it and I don’t have the same distressing symptoms I used to have. However, I do sometimes get very pessimistic and “down”. I think about suicide often, although never to the point of making plans or carrying them out. It’s more like fleeting thoughts of how life is kind of wasted on me, since I don’t really enjoy it much. I see people with warm, loving families who are dealing with life threatening illnesses or injuries and they just want to live. Here I am feeling kind of apathetic about my existence. Although I do enjoy many aspects of living, I don’t necessarily have a zest for life.
A lot of people probably think I have a pretty charmed life. If I were looking at me, I might think the same thing. I have a wonderful, patient, indulgent husband; I’m basically healthy; and I get to travel a lot. While I don’t really make money, I do have a vocation that I’m free to pursue with no hassles with editors or people paying me to create content. I don’t know if anyone cares about my writing or music, particularly on this blog, which doesn’t bring the hits it used to. However, writing it gives me something to do with my mind and a reason to get up in the morning. It gives me reasons to read books so I can review them. Believe me, although I’m frequently bored and sometimes depressed and anxious, it’s not lost on me that some people might envy my freedom and ability to see the world. I agree, those are wonderful things.
I really don’t know why I have these deep seated feelings of shittiness. I think there are probably a lot of factors, some of which are hereditary and some that are situational. I usually feel worse when I express something negative and someone tries to be “helpful” by telling me how wonderful my life is. I probably ought to keep my negativity to myself, but that’s not necessarily helpful, either. Whenever someone, especially a person like Anthony Bourdain, takes his or her life, people are shocked and wonder why they never “reached out”. I have found that reaching out often annoys other people, most of whom would prefer it if you’d just get over yourself and didn’t involve them in your problems.
I do want to express one thing that I’ve recently realized. Despite feeling insignificant most of the time, I know I have made a difference to a few folks. When we moved here in 2014, I decided to promote my travel blog in the local community. I’ve gotten some negative feedback from a few people, but for the most part, my posts are well tolerated or even outright appreciated. I notice the ones I write about things to do locally and/or local restaurants are especially popular. I recently wrote one post about places to go to “beat the heat” in Stuttgart. That one has really taken off. I’ve seen a number of people come back to it repeatedly, since it offers enough suggestions to last a good portion of the summer. It makes me feel productive when I see that people are inspired by my experiences.
It occurred to me the other day that while I may never know who has been affected by my writing, in a way, I will have helped some people make priceless memories of their time in Europe. The people who read my posts about obscure places like Ruine Mandelberg, Glaswaldsee, or the Burgbach Wasserfall, especially if they take the time to see them for themselves, will have memories that, in a small way, I helped them make. I know that may sound like an egotistical statement to some people, especially since I have also been affected by other people’s writing. However, knowing that a few people are taking my suggestions and making memories of their own does give me another reason to keep writing and going to new places on the weekends. It gives me a purpose for being here, other than just to wash Bill’s underwear and make him laugh. I’m always looking for new things to see and write about. In the process of visiting and writing about different places, my own experiences in Europe are also enhanced. I’m never sorry after having explored somewhere, even when something goes wrong.
When I lived in Armenia in the mid 1990s, I often felt like I was wasting my time. I got a lot of negative feedback from my Peace Corps bosses as well as my local counterpart, who felt I wasn’t doing enough. I was in my early 20s, hampered by depression, and kind of overwhelmed by what I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t feel assertive enough to start, say, an English club or hang out with the kids. I remember the summer of 1997, as I was planning to finish my assignment, going through some rough times all around. I couldn’t wait to leave Armenia, and yet the prospect of going home was very scary. When I did finally get home, the homecoming I had eagerly anticipated was pretty much ruined by my dad’s entrance into rehab. As bad as I felt in Armenia, I felt even worse in the year after I returned home. I felt like such a burden to my parents, especially since I wasn’t even sure my time in Armenia had been productive. I started becoming very despondent and hopeless. That was when I finally got treatment for depression.
Things gradually got better. I learned how to wait tables and about fine dining. I studied voice and attended to my depression for the first time. I made some friends. Finally, I landed in graduate school at the University of South Carolina, which was fulfilling, although it didn’t lead where I thought it would. I earned a MPH, MSW, and ultimately an Mrs….
Before I decided to go to USC, I remember interviewing at Western Illinois University and telling the director of a Peace Corps Fellows program that I knew that I’d made a difference simply by going to Armenia. He visibly recoiled at that statement. I think he thought it was an arrogant thing to say. Actually, it was a statement of fact. I was in Armenia at a time when there were few Americans there. There were people I met there who had never seen an American in person before. I know a lot of them still remember me and always will. Even knowing that, though, didn’t erase my feelings that I hadn’t done enough and that my time in Armenia didn’t amount to much.
It wasn’t until almost twenty years after I left Armenia that I found out that– for real– I actually had made a difference. Facebook put me in touch with my very first Armenian teacher, who still works for the Peace Corps, as well as one of my best former students, who is now a high ranking director in the Peace Corps Armenia office. I didn’t have anything to do with his decision to work for the Peace Corps, but the fact that my former student remembered me and I didn’t permanently turn him off of Americans means that my time in Armenia was well spent. Maybe I wasn’t the most hardworking or dedicated Volunteer, but I still made a difference. And maybe people in Stuttgart think I’m annoying, obnoxious, and arrogant, but there are people who like what I do and it’s affected their experience here in a good way. So that keeps me going… at least for now.
If you’ve managed to read this whole post… which is a lot longer than I’d intended it to be… I want to thank you. Thanks for giving me a reason to get up in the morning. Thanks for reading about how Anthony Bourdain and I tenuously have a couple of things in common, even if it’s just being served Choucroute Garnie in Alsace and visiting a few of the same places, like Alsace and Armenia. Knowing that even a few people like what I’m doing means a lot more to me than you’ll ever know. And maybe someday, in Bourdain’s honor, I’ll order the Choucroute Garnie in Kaysersberg… But I’ll be sure to take Gas-X, too.