This is our tribute to Anthony Bourdain because Anthony Bourdain talked up Fonda Margarita.
You’ve met him before, did a dinner with him once for a charity, and it was you and a handful of other chefs, raising money for a cause. (You do things like that.) You say, in some ways, he was as people saw him, larger than life, large-hearted, a personality, but there’s always that drawback of celebrity and public figure-dom — that no one ever really knows who the human being behind the public figure is, that public figure-dom works so often in absolutes and doesn’t have the space to give for nuance and complexity. People are so rarely either/or. They’re often a mess.
I agree, and we lapse into silence in the car, looking out the window instead. Mexico City is colorful and lush, and we’ve been lucky with the weather. It’s been cool, just a touch of humidity in the air, thunderstorms rolling in late at night when we’re already in or heading in, done for the day.
I never knew Anthony Bourdain, never met the man, but there’s a lot I could say about his death. I found out about his death at 6 AM on a Friday through David Chang’s Instagram, and I was pulled over to the side of the road, scarfing down oatmeal on my way to Soulcycle. Chang had posted a black square, lyrics in the caption, and my first thought was, Shit, who died? because a black square means grieving. It often means violence. It means loss.
The comments told me it was Anthony Bourdain who’d passed, and he hadn’t just passed — he’d taken his own life. I didn’t Google him or look for any news stories or updates or whatever; details are often gratuitous and irrelevant, much like the question why. Why would someone like Anthony Bourdain, successful, respected, and famous, take his own life? What kind of pain must he have been carrying, what kind of darkness, what kind of sadness?
After the initial wave of sadness washed over me, it was rage that filled its place. I rage when I hear about someone’s death by suicide; it doesn’t matter who it is because the fact — yes, fact — is that we should not, would not, be losing people to suicide if we’d stop being so fucking precious about mental illness. We would not be losing people to suicide if we’d stop making so little of something like depression, if we’d stop casually throwing it out there, Oh, I’m so depressed, like depression is a mere feeling that just comes and goes, just a mood, just an emotion. We would not be losing people to suicide if we’d stop cloaking mental illness in shame.
Depression is a disorder, and it is not something someone just “gets over” because it is not sadness. It isn’t the blues. It isn’t a feeling. And I don’t realize you’re focused on me, your expression almost quizzical as you work through the emotions in my voice — I care about this; maybe I care too much — maybe I care in the ways that only someone who knows can care.
You don’t ask, though, not in words, and I go silent, try to push myself into the corner of the car. You reach for my hand, though, lace your fingers through mine, rest our hands in your lap. You wait for me to speak.
Shit, I don’t know, I say because I don’t know what to say. I’ve never really had to explain this before, not really, at least not to anyone who wasn’t a medical or mental health professional, and definitely not to someone I loved, someone I want to stay with me for a long, long time. I just — and I want to shake my hand from yours but your grip is firm, want to tell you to look away but your eyes are locked on me. I look straight ahead instead, past the headrest of the passenger seat, past the dashboard, past the windshield. I know what it’s like to want to die. I know what it’s like to try. It’s not easy to die.
You still don’t say anything, but maybe it doesn’t matter because the car stops and we’re pulled up next to a queue of people waiting to get into a building. The building doesn’t look like much, but there’s a big sign that says we’re at the right place. There’s a park across the street, a woman sitting in front of the building, a tray of pastries set up next to her.
We thank our driver and get out into the bright Sunday morning to join the queue. There are fewer tourists than I anticipated; we’re the only ones until another party of four joins the queue ten minutes later. You’re still quiet, your fingers still laced through mine, but I can’t see your eyes anymore — you’ve put your sunglasses back on against the morning sun — and I wonder if this is it, if you’re figuring out how to leave once we get back to the States, if you’ll ghost me, disappear, get super busy all of a sudden.
The queue luckily moves quickly, and we’re soon at the door, and there’s a man there, and he’s seating people and singing at the same time, a man playing guitar behind him. It’s just one room, Fonda Margarita, a few rows of tables and benches on either side of an aisle. The kitchen is in the back. There’s no fuss, no formality, no privacy between groups; you sit where space opens up and bump elbows with your neighbors, reaching over them for napkins and utensils and salsa.
The internet said to get the beans with eggs, so we do, even though we don’t know what to expect, think it looks funny and unexpected, a crescent log that sits, solid and dark, on a plate. We also get the chilaquiles verdes con huevos and two cafe ollas, and the coffee comes thick, sweet, black. I’d typically ask for milk, but I don’t know how to do that, so I drink the coffee black.
When our food comes, it comes with a basket of freshly-made tortillas, and we take the tortillas, smear them with the refritos con huevos, fold that up and dredge them through the green sauce of the chilaquiles. We run our forks through the chilaquiles, breaking the yolks of the eggs, using our free hand to grab a chip, scoop green sauce, egg, sour cream onto it. The tortilla chips are still crispy and fresh, not stale, even when drenched in green sauce, and the sour cream adds a hint of coolness, the eggs a satisfying depth. I love eggs, I say. I know, you say back, pausing before adding, Don’t fucking die on me.
If you were someone else, if you were anyone else, I’d have thrown the plate of chilaquiles in your face and walked out, but you’re you, and you don’t mean anything by that other than I love you, let me love you, so I smile and feed you a chip instead. Unfortunately, that’s the best I can do because I learned a long time ago not to make promises I don’t know I can keep.