Friday, February 10, 2017

Anthony Bourdain on TV (Congo)

A couple of days ago I posted a couple of passages from a New Yorker profile of Anthony Bourdain. I became intrigued, so I've been watching two of his shows that are streaming on Netflix, "A Cook's Tour" (2002-2003), his first I believe, and "Parts Unknown" (2013-present), his current series. I like them. He's created an interesting person, a profane chef-adventurer, and he plays it well.

I was particularly impressed with an episode from the first season of "Parts Unknown." Bourdain visited the Congo, going in from the eastern side through Rwanda, making his way to the Congo River, and taking a boat on it four a couple days.

They make their way to a remote station that had once been a biological research institute:
At the remote Yangambi Research Station, a hundred kilometers downriver, the chief librarian and his clerks also show up to work every day at the powerless library, the showpiece of a once-massive complex of modernist buildings – now without electricity or running water, of course – and do their best to fight the ravages of moisture, mold and age on the thousands of volumes of botanical and agricultural knowledge.

They too are proud and living in some kind of hope. Waiting for something.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the Congo is "too black and too sad" and certainly too complicated to ever attract the attention of the world, much less television audiences.

Yet it is also magnificently beautiful.

It is – gorgeously – like "going back to the earliest beginnings of the world" and just as gorgeously (if tragically) post-apocalyptic, whole cities, once-grand hotels, lovely buildings, a whole society (albeit a cruel, exclusive and oppressive one) receding into nature.
His voice-over explicitly references Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the soundtrack references Apocalypse Now (not to mention that he "names" the boat after Captain Willard), which, as you know was based on Heard of Darkness. In this episode the food was almost, but not quite, incidental to the adventure (and the commentary implied in that adventure).

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