The Heartbreaking and Surreal Times of ‘Anthony Bourdain in Beirut’
Travel Blog • Michael Yessis • 08.22.06 | 8:18 AM ET
The Travel Channel aired Anthony Bourdain in Beirut last night, the story of what happened to the “No Reservations” host and his crew when they were stranded in Beirut, Lebanon last month during the early days of the war between Israel and Hezbollah. “It’s not a hard-news account of what happened to Lebanon or what happened to Beirut,” Bourdain says at the beginning of the show. “I think at best it’s a little bit of what Beirut was and could have been. What it felt like to be there when things went sideways. This is not the show we went to Lebanon to get.” Nevertheless, Bourdain returned with one of the more compelling travel shows—or any television show, for that matter—of the year.
Bourdain took some heat early on when he gave an interview to the New York Post from Beirut, stating that, among other things, “The mojitos here are great.” This show puts the comments in context. His crew had the cameras rolling from before Hezbollah’s kidnapping and killing of the Israeli soldiers, and last night’s program captures gunfire as it breaks out in the city and Hezbollah supporters as they drive the streets, waving flags from the windows of their cars. Still, some citizens put on brave faces, drinking their way through the first night. Bourdain was just acting like the people around him.
The next day, however, it becomes apparent that the situation has drastically worsened. Bourdain’s local handlers flee, and he and his crew are evacuated to a safer hotel. Most of the show captures the surreal and heartbreaking days that follow as Bourdain, his crew and the hotel’s other guests literally watch the war unfold from a swimming pool that overlooks the city. To Bourdain’s credit, the show captures him in both good and bad moments, and his narration makes clear that, though this experience has deeply affected him, he knows he’s a lucky one. He’ll live to broadcast more “happy” travel shows. The people he left behind in Beirut have uncertainty and danger ahead of them.
Bourdain told the Washington Post that he would like to return to Beirut someday. “If anything, the great unfinished business in my life is to someday go back to Beirut to show the world what I saw for two days before the bombing.”
I hope it happens, and I hope the Travel Channel puts “Anthony Bourdain in Beirut” into the regular broadcast rotation.
Photo: Anthony Bourdain in Beirut
Related on World Hum:
* Anthony Bourdain in Beirut
* Anthony Bourdain Evacuated from Beirut
* Bourdain: “I’m Feeling a Little Pessimistic About the World These Days”
* Bourdain in Salon: “Watching Beirut Die”