The Atlantic: How Lebanon Transformed Anthony Bourdain


CNN’s Anthony Bourdain was an American celebrity chef who starred in programs that explored cultures, cuisine, and societies around the world, including the ‘tiny’ country on the Mediterranean, Lebanon.

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Kim Ghattas, the Dutch-Lebanese former BBC journalist and author of the Middle Eastern historical and political book Black Wave, wrote about how her beloved country changed Bourdain for good.

In 2006, Anthony Bourdain was in Beirut about to start filming when the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel took place. With bombs raining down on the country, Bourdain and his team had to evacuate. However, they didn’t leave empty-handed.

“Despite the trying circumstances he faced, Bourdain still managed to produce a 43-minute piece later nominated for a news and documentary Emmy,” wrote Kim Ghattas on The Atlantic. “I knew his episode had told my country’s story better than I ever could. I cried when I watched it.”

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In an interview with Blogs of War, Bourdain described the trip as a “defining moment for the show—and some kind of crossroads … personally,” while still talking up Beirut as a “magical” place of “unbelievable possibilities,” Ghattas recounted.

It was this very experience that inspired Bourdin to change the style of filming and tackle more complicated stories.

Ghattas wrote that he was “struck by ‘the complete disconnect between what [he] was seeing and hearing on the ground from Beirutis of all stripes and what was being reported’ by the media.”

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He returned to Lebanon four years later to film the original episode that was interrupted by the war. This time, he was using a new method. He used food as a way to tell the stories of people and politics with more depth than the news ever could.

“Perhaps Beirut had taught him what every Lebanese knows: that conversations around and about food allow people to let their guard down,” Ghattas said.

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Le Corniche #Beirut

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Ghattas felt that Bourdain understood Lebanon as though he lived here for years. She reports that he has said:

“The food’s delicious, the people are awesome. It’s a party town. And everything wrong with the world is there. Hopefully, you will come back smarter about the world. You’ll understand a little more about how uninformed people are when they talk about that part of the world. You’ll come back as I did: changed and cautiously hopeful and confused in the best possible way.”

Let’s watch him as he expressed it here:

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, of which Beirut documentary series was a major part, received six 2018 Emmy nominations, soon after his death on June 8th.

On July 12th, 2018, Variety wrote: “The Television Academy announced the show has also been nominated in five additional categories, including cinematography for a nonfiction program, picture editing for a nonfiction program, sound editing for a nonfiction program, sound mixing for a nonfiction program, and writing for a nonfiction program.”

Here is one of his video-documentaries about his return to Beirut, as he often said, “Am I wrong to love this place?”

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