Parts Unknown: Decay, Ruin, Rubble, Grunge, and the Beautiful Home You’ve Never Truly Known

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine


*The photo above is a screenshot from CNN’s YouTube channel. The full video – Season 6 Trailer for ‘Parts Unknown’ – has been embedded below.

I don’t know why, but all of Anthony Bourdain’s – and Parts Unknown‘s – best work is done in the United States.

Actually, I do know why. I think it has more to do with me.

I love things you’re not supposed to. I think that’s been a development, not how I started or even how it was when I graduated high school. I love decay. I love burnt food. I love rot. I love ruin. I like gentrification, to a degree – or actually, I’m fascinated by it. Like this photo I took at Angkor Wat in August, there’s something eery and awesome, although a little sad, of a perfectly green leaf growing out of a pile of rubble. But vice versa, I really dig the opposite – think of grungy, explosive, creative neighbourhoods in expensive, thought-to-be uptight cities like Vancouver, San Francisco, or Seattle.

Nothing is ever as it seems, whether you go in thinking it’s ugly and dead – again, how delicious – or or thriving, colourful, and alive – I know, boring, right?

So that’s why, I think, I dig Bourdain’s shows in Jersey or San Fran (the ‘Bay Area’ it was called last week, and it was a truly terrific hour of television) or Massachusetts or Detroit or Miami or Mississippi or New Mexico or Las Vegas or most of Hawaii. (I didn’t really like The Bronx one that much, but that’s more to my own tastes than that episode’s quality, I’m sure. Just like I’m not into Bourdain’s never-ending martial arts tie-ins. Again, that’s just me not caring about martial arts, so I fast-forward through those bits when I re-watch them – and oh boy, do I re-watch them.)

Parts Unknown takes its host, and its audience, to every corner of the globe. It takes you to places you never knew you’d give a shit about – think Madagascar or Zimbabwe. And it takes you to places you’ll ache to go to, then ache to go to again – Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Mexico, Shanghai, Korea, Marseille, Tokyo, even fuckin’ Iran.

I’m Canadian. I watched the Canadian episode and thought, ‘Boy, I have to go there one day.’

Because the truth is, there are so many parts of where we live, even inside out own homes, that we know nothing about – where we’ve never been, where we ignore or avoid, either intentionally or because we’re ignorant and those spots just slip through the hardwood. And then we discover it, we suck up all that’s untouched, like a flock of skiers raking fresh powder, and complain it’s so yesterday. (For instance: San Francisco’s Divisadero corridor, apparently.)

This is true of everything, not just locations. Cops call it the Detectives’ Curse. The traveller calls it a Tourist Trap. I dunno, I tend not to worry about all that myself. It’s natural. I mean, if you are a tourist, should you really feel terrible about acting like one, or about being one? Of course not.

Everywhere you go, you’re always going to be a Haole.

Even Bourdain makes concessions for the places he can’t help but like – places that nasal food lovers would pish-posh at, like In-N-Out Burger or Hawaiian-theme tiki restaurants.

The show spends its existence going to places you thought you knew, and it hooks you on that premise. And then, it shines a light on all the ways – the setting, the people, the bars, the sidewalks, the cultures and neighbourhoods – it’s better, or at least different, than you imagined.

Bourdain isn’t a journalist. His show isn’t news.

But it does what journalism, what news, is supposed to do. It investigates, lifts up, and excavates. It’s a surgeon standing over the globe.

It’s good to know somebody’s looking out.

VIDEO: A Jiu-Jitsu Battle in San Francisco

VIDEO: Parts Unknown – Season 6 Trailer