“What happens next will be instructive.”
Doors open for someone like Anthony Bourdain.
When visiting London, his options include hungover breakfast cooked by Nigella Lawson; a visit with Ralph Steadman—the man who illustrated most of Hunter S. Thompson’s work—in his studio, or a meal at one of England’s finest restaurants with one of the country’s top food critics.
There is a price to pay for these open doors, though: Sometimes you must watch a door close.
It was June 23—the night of the Brexit vote.
“I woke up the day after arriving in London to a very different country than the one I’d gone to sleep in,” Bourdain wrote about Sunday night’s episode of Parts Unknown.
What should have been a very simple episode, filled with old friends and hearty English cooking, quickly became an in-depth exploration of British identity.
With every conversation, Bourdain asked Londoners what they thought would happen with the future of the country. The answers were eerily unanimous.
Steadman described the days after the Brexit vote as “a rather large hangover.” Margot Henderson, the chef behind London’s Rochelle Cantine, said it felt “like the end of the world.” Bourdain himself said the mood was “a collective nervous breakdown.”
The only way to deal was with rounds of Guinness at the pub.
Bourdain’s London episode spent a lot of time eating “working class” food and talking about the hearty peasant meals that worked their way into standard English fine cooking. He sat on plastic chairs with Jamie Hince, half of the rock band The Kills, and ate Jamaican food in the street.
The episode also explored the country outside of cosmopolitan London. It explored the identity of the British immigrant. And it explored an insidious, permeating need to transform the country back into the Great British Isles—a longing to Make Britain Great Again.
In the days after the Brexit vote, the guests on Parts Unknown expressed a sadness and a shock with their country. Bourdain seemed to take the vote personally. Perhaps he bore in mind an upcoming vote on the other side of the pond.
There are shocking similarities between the U.S. and UK—and more than just the hairstyles of two conservative party leaders, as Steadman pointed out. There’s a frustration with government as is, a fear of the unknown and (what seems to be) an irreconcilable ideological divide.
The total impact of the Brexit vote is still unknown. The world will not understand the true extent of this decision for many years. But we should all have an eye on London.
As Bourdain said, “What happens next will be instructive.”