Anthony Bourdain once explained why he covered his bodies with tattoos. He said that despite the countries he’d traveled to, the sites he’d wondered at, and the people he’d dined with, he didn’t need a camera to document his life.
“There’s this realization that the lens is inadequate to capture the moment, so maybe I’m just looking to mark time in another way that’s very personal,” he said.
So he memorialized his adventures in ink etched onto his skin. It was his travel diary of sorts, and he let everyone in on its creation. You can watch Bourdain get a star tapped into his chest by mallet-wielding Iban tribesman in Borneo, just as you can watch Takashi Matsuba stick and poke a chrysanthemum—possibly the last tattoo he received—into his upper arm in Brooklyn.
And now, Bourdain’s mother Gladys Bourdain is getting her own tattoo, her first: “Tony” tattooed in tiny letters on the inside of her wrist to personally memorialize her son. Gladys, a former New York Times editor, told The Times that she would use his tattoo artist. She also said she had never been a fan of Bourdain’s tattoos before.
Bourdain himself didn’t exactly lavish praise on them, calling his body an old car and his tattoos dings in the metal: “It’s filled with dents. One more dent ain’t gonna make it any worse than this.”
Bourdain’s death by suicide meant a lot of things for a lot people. And for many, it reminded us that there’s a great big world out there to get to know, and with it a lot of tattoo artists ready to give us new dents.