Born To Go and Chasing Rabbits: The Final Intersection of my 20 Year Love Affair with Anthony Bourdain

It’s not a coincidence that a documentary about Anthony Bourdain comes out months before my final book, where an entire chapter is about him and the lens he gave me to see my relationship with mathematics with the same feral and romantic perspective that marked his entire career as a storyteller, author, and world renowned personality.

Soon as I started watching the trailer, I felt the overwhelming emotions coming. I could see the tsunami of it all coming. I let it wash over me. I wanted to be honest in the moment with my thousands of moments of knowing, seeing, and listening to Anthony.

This is my fourth blog about him in the last three years. As such, it only made sense to have a chapter in the book anchor my book.

7000 words later, the chapter comes to rest with these last words, having had a meandering journey with hopefully the same spirit as Anthony Bourdain.

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One of the things I knew when I started writing this book was that Anthony Bourdain’s life and travels would come to symbolize a chapter of this book. I have read all his books. I have watched every episode of A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, The Layover, Lost Craft, and Parts Unknown. His many, many musings, subtle and in symphony with the moment, carry life lessons. It is no surprise then that a riveting and emotional documentary of his fascinating life, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, came out in the summer of 2021. His life lessons have dripped warmly, effortlessly, and constantly in my relationship with mathematics.

In an episode from the first season of A Cook’s Tour, he visits his friend, Scott Bryan, and his restaurant, Veritas, in New York. There is this wonderful scene where Bourdain is surprised by a red wine being served with a sea bass, and then waxes poetic how we need to be surprised more by what is put in front of us.

Mathematics is the story of surprises. Yet, we always seem to be pairing white wine with fish. We are hustling math as procedural and routine. We are nowhere near the edges of math that we are capable of taking our students to. In another episode from that season, Bourdain is in the middle of the Sahara, and dusk is setting in. He is lying in the reddish sand, reflecting on how a “loser” like himself could be sitting here, experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime moment. He then says, “life finally lives up to its advertising”. When does math live up to its advertising? How do we put every student on a sloping desert hill in the middle of nowhere and have them issue a similar epiphany? Math is beautiful. Selling it as anything else is selling it short.

Food needs to come from someone to have it have meaning and purpose in the celebrations of life. Math needs to come from you. To be more specific to the implied inclusivity and reference a great Nirvana song — Come As You Are.

Everyone belongs to mathematics. Everyone should live for it as well.

Author of Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics and Co-Author of Math Recess: Playful Learning in the Age of Disruption. Speaker. Amplify and Mathigon