"My shame will be absolute..."
"I've never had a nervous breakdown before, but something fell apart down there ..."
Those lines might be in Anthony Bourdain's letter back to the Sicilian Department of Tourism after his little trip through the island for the latest installment of Parts Unknown on CNN.
It took a little time to process everything that happened during the first 14 minutes of Sunday's episode. Bourdain had traveled to Sicily before, but that trip ended in disaster.
"It was an epic goat rodeo," said Bourdain, "a failure of humiliating scale."
He only offered this anecdote in hopes of making it right this time around. "How hard can it freaking be to make a good show in Sicily? How low-impact could it be?"
Turns out a lot harder than one might think.
Bourdain starts the show with a local chef on a boat, bobbing up and down over the choppy waves of the Mediterranean. They're supposedly going to catch a variety of sea life that they'll proudly haul up to the restaurant and serve that night for dinner.
Bourdain has on a full wetsuit and seems pretty much cool about the excursion. He's skeptic about the loot the chef plans to catch -- a skepticism with roots in his previous show, No Reservations -- but gladly plays along. He jumps in the water with snorkel and mask. What happens next is crazy.
The guys that stay in their boat throw octopus and fish in the water, that the chef, Torino, pretends to heroically catch. They're simply fetching dead sea life out of the water for, what the chef obviously hopes, will be a highly edited version of the show. Something got lost in translation. Bourdain is shattered. A drink-himself-into-oblivion level of depression ensues. He actually gets so drunk after going "diving," and he says he doesn't remember dinner (which, yes, was also filmed).
Following are Bourdain's best excerpts and one-liners, all of which took place in just the first 14 minutes of the episode:
"So I get on the water and I'm paddling, and 'Splash!' Suddenly, there's a dead sea creature sinking in front of me. Are you kidding me? I'm thinking, 'This can't be happening.' There's another one! And another rigor mortis half-frozen freaking octopus.
"Each specimen dropped to the sear floor to moments later be discovered by our hero, Torino.
"I'm no marine biologist, but I know dead octopus when I see one.
"Strangely everyone else seems to believe the hideous sham unfolding before our eyes, doing their best to ignore the blazingly obvious."
"Then, they gave up and just dumped the whole bag of dead fish into the sea.
"At this point I begin desperately looking for signs of life. Hoping one of them would become revived. Frantically swimming around the bottom for one that's still twitching, then turn to the camera and end this misery. But, no, my shame will be absolute.
"For some reason I feel something snap and I slide quickly into a near-hysterical depression.
"'Is this what it's come to?' I'm thinking, as another dead squid narrowly misses my head. Almost a decade later and I'm back in the same country staging fishing scenes?
"Complicit in a shameful shameful incident of fakery, but there I was bobbing listlessly in the water with dead sea life sinking to the bottom all around me. You've got to be pretty immune to the world to not see the obvious metaphor here.
"I've never had a nervous breakdown before, but I tell you from the bottom of my heart, something fell apart down there. And it took a long long time after this damn episode to recover.
"I'm sitting in a nearby café pounding one Negroni after another in a smoldering, miserable rage."
"By the time dinner rolls around, I'm ripped to the TV-bleep. Did I mention it's my birthday?
"I've had three hours of bobbing around on a pitching boat, a couple more hours getting looped, two more hours lying on the sidewalk outside while the crew hangs lights, so I'm gone, baby, gone. I don't remember any of this. Any of it.
"Apparently there were white olives from some tree only Torino knows about. Maybe next to his secret fishing hole.
"There was great Sicilian wine apparently. And, apparently, I drank a lot of it.
"I must have sulked back to bed somehow, collapsed into a sodden drunken heap of self loathing. I would have ordinarily turned on the porn channel and loaded up on prescription meds, but there's no TV at agriturismo."