What You Cannot Unsee

A fictional conversation with Anthony Bourdain in a Moroccan hammam.

AB: "What are you doing here?"

LL: "... M-me?.... What am I doing here? I'm sorry. I didn't realize this part of the hammam was a private... or... reserved. My apologies."

"No. What are you doing here?"

"Oh, uh, trying to relax, I guess. I--"

"Jesus, kid. No. What the fuck are you doing in Morocco? You're, what? British? American? Are you from Florida or something?"

"Oh. Jeez. I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing. You're wrecking my post hammam high."

"I'm traveling for a year while working remotely. Left The States on May 18th. I've been in Morocco for a month now. Headed to Spain Sunday."

"How are you liking it?"

"Liking what? Being abroad? Or M--"

"Morocco. Here. Rabat. This place."

"It's a bit exhausting."

"First time in Africa?"


"First time in an Arab country?"

"Also yes."

"Sounds about right."

"Why are you here?"

"I don't know. I wanted a camel burger. Thought I'd give it another try and see if I liked it any better. I didn't. The crew is with me. Budget trip with high value imagery. It's exotic to the Westerners. Plus the whole fisherman's death protests are rather timely. Unfortunate, but some great coverage there. Should go find some swordfish dishes, I guess. Normally I'm a big fan of Branson's place in the High Atlas mountains, but there are some nice hotels here in the capital. Cheap. Cheaper, anyway. Food is... I don't know. I guess I'm bored. Post marriage blues or some shit."

"I'm sorry to hear th--"

"How old are you?"


"Plenty of time. I've tried it twice now. Weddings and whatnot. Once too early. Once too in denial of my life's work, whatever that bullshit phrase means. Don't stay away from home for too long. It's not good for you. Or your family. Especially your mother. Or just my mother. Most adults can't sustain life on the road. Real road life. It's like vacation. People fucking suck at vacationing."

"I miss my dog."

"They eat dog in eleven countries still."


"Live a little."

"My Dad graduated from the CIA five or six years before you, I think. Hyde Park. It made reading Kitchen Confidential ... better? I don't know. He has a similar attitude sometimes. He makes a mean brunch. And he's equally unapologetic -- Hey, can I call you Tony?"

"What's your favorite food?"


"Did you call me Tony?"

"Uh, I asked if I could."

"Pasta. You Italian?"

"Sicilian. And Irish and German."


"You're telling me."

"Do you like it here?"

"Rabat? Yes and no."

"Explain. I'm undecided on the Tony nickname."

"Long form or short form?"

"Long. I don't get to talk to Floridians much."

"I'm from Massachusetts."

"Even worse. Go on."

"I've been thinking--"

"Terrible way to start a long form story, kid."

"Lily. I'm Lily."

"Terrible way to start a long form story, Lola."

"Do you ever think about all the things you cannot unsee?"

"OK, ok. Better."

"Morocco is constant sensory overload. I live in the heart of the Old City. The Medina. In a Riad. Down a dead-end alley. On every block, at every hour, there’s a new scent, and not always a pleasant scent. It's musty. But then there's an inspiring piece of art, or an accidentally perfect color palate. You see an adorable stray kitten then a pitiful stray cat. The beggars... the beggars have no eyes! No eyes! And my mind reels about what they did or what they didn't do or how or why one's life comes to having one hand out and hungry, the other on a cane."

"It's probably less gruesome than you're imagining. The eyes part. It was likely a medical necessity in light of an infection years back. Though it's hard to say for certain." 

"My roommate Bryan, a few weeks back, in Essaouria... This beggar came up to him, hands raised. He looked better than most, honestly. The beggar. Bryan thought he wanted a cigarette, I guess, and so handed the man his fully-smoked cigarette. Just handed it to him. Shrugged. Passed it, filter forward, into the man's hand. It was so absurd... The look on the man's face. I'll never forget it."

"Desperate times."

"Maybe. Either way. Do you laugh or do you cry?"


"There are heaps of raw fish on the ground for sale. They stink. Flounder, mackerel, sardines, crab. Just lying right on the cement floor, goo and slime everywhere. I mean, I know fish and this is not my fish. This is so not my level of fish. But who am I? Some privileged Westerner? Am I a snob? Ugh... The guilt! ... And the flies. Oh. My. God! The flies. The ants! It's all so much to see and take in."

"Certainly a change of pace, huh?" 

"I can't stand it anymore, Tony. I can't take the critters. Or the mold. I feel like Lady MacBeth with her spot. I'm so crawly and itchy and squirmy. My respiratory system is on full strike. My allergies are on fire. It's like a physical rebellion to my holistically uncomfortable state."

"It's hard to stay healthy."

"I mean, yes. It is. And then there's the heart's reaction to the poverty and to the possibility here... It just, it leaves you tired. Tired with some complicated emotion set that vacillates endlessly between sorrow and empowerment and gratefulness and disgust and frustration and appreciation for this very absurd and beautiful thing called life. I guess feel alive here, maybe?"

"It's hard to stay healthy emotionally while traveling. That's important, too. You are alive, it seems. I'm not sure I'm the best sounding board for that, however..."

"You know... I've been drinking the tap water for five weeks now trying to get E.Coli. Not even in jest. Like. I wanted to fit into my jeans again by the time I left this country. No dice. All that tap water for nothing."

"Seriously? What is wrong with you?"

"I think I hate myself, Tony."


"You relax."

"The ants have gone to your brain."

"It's the mold spores, actually."

"Have you been to that place yet? Ya... Yam--"

"Yamal Acham?! Yes!"

"And where else have you been since you left The States?"

"Mm... Prague, Belgrade, London, and Lisbon... And Italy."

"Quite a trip."


"… Do you realize how lucky you are?"

"Some days."

"Try harder."


"Here's the thing, Lil. Here's my take: I do food. I do food and travel. Travel food. Travel moments. Culture and people and tradition and the sustenance and stories behind everything. I don't like cry babies much. I don't like vegetarians. Fuck vegans. I'm sorry, but really. I don't respect people who can't just sit down and shut up and take it all in for what it's worth: for something different and precious and authentic..."

"Right. I saw your latest PBS News Hour clip."

"Shh. Listen. You can go back home to Massachusetts or Florida or wherever you want. Literally. Tonight. Tomorrow. Tuesday. Whenever. You are privileged like that. Maybe someday you'll love yourself. Maybe you'll accept yourself. Or maybe you'll hate yourself still, or more, or definitively and will have to pay a therapist who I hope, for your sake, is in-network. Those bills. Christ, those bills..."

"I know."

"But, instead of therapy bills, you have an opportunity to relish freshly grilled Portuguese octopus or warm pastel de nata in Lisbon. To be disappointed endlessly by shitty fish and chips in the UK. To drown in Italian oils and cheeses and homemade pici pasta with wild boar ragu in Montepulciano." 

"Ugh! Montepulciano. Stole my heart..."

"What I mean is that the world of Czech chlebíčky or Serbian ćevapi... this world only gets plated and placed in front of you once in these untarnished moments away from home."

"Like Serbian ice cream."

"Sure. Like that, even... Whatever... I'm just saying. Ease up. You're at a hammam in Rabat. There is no room for that self-loathing shit here."


“No one cares about your bullshit. Or about you."

"I know.....Yesterday, this man was carrying a large, rectangular mirror back and forth on the medina’s streets. At first, I thought he was just picking it up to bring it elsewhere. But after seeing him two or three times, I started to wonder if it was art. I started to think about what he might be asking people to reflect on in a philosophical, moral, ethical, spiritual sense." 

"I’m sure it was just a guy carrying some mirrors around."

"Right, OK. Fine. But also, that’s what travel has done to me: among these offbeat places and uncomfortable scenarios, all the things I thought I knew about myself, everything I thought I was over or past or had conquered... They're being called back up to the table. I'm having to answer and re-answer and answer again things like: 'How do I manage stress, what calms me down truly and deeply, what do I need daily, what frustrates me, what do I think is total BS-bullshit, what do I believe is precious?'"

"Right. Yeah. OK. I mean, I guess the mirror thing makes a little more sense now."

"I like installation art. Or experiential art."

"I don't."

"Oh. Anyway. The baseline stress is more than I imagined it would be, I guess… I saw my first dead person here in Rabat. A few weeks back. A young man thrown from a scooter. Head on collision with a sedan. It looked like he was sleeping on the pavement. There was so much chaos, but... No one was helping him."

"They hate helmets abroad, don't they? And the traffic is pretty wild in a place like Morocco. Unnerving, at times, yes."

"And then there was a knife fight as I walked to get a taxi one morning. A bald man wearing a wife beater -- go figure, right? -- wielding a large kitchen knife, going after this other man. I tried to blend in to the very sparse crowd. I don't think it worked, but it didn't matter. It wasn't about me."

"Disputes are global. Male and female. Even among animals. Which, of course, we are. Sometimes it gets ugly."

"One of my peers got robbed at machete point for his phone."

"I hope he gave up his phone quickly."

"He did."

"They shot Homeland in the Medina right outside our alleyway, though."

"That's nice."

"... Yeah. Sorry to unload. A lot of how I’m feeling is rooted in fear and guilt. Fear that I’m making a mistake, that I’m a secret failure. Guilty about my lack of adaptability in a foreign culture, about my being homesick, about how bad I am at sexting, about not being able to access some divine perspective and to simply put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it like Missy Elliott and just be like HASHTAG MUTHA FUCKIN KANYE BLESSED. Cause, I mean, I do feel that way... I very much feel that way."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yeah. I don't either..."

"Kid. It's tough out here sometimes. More often than not. It's also beautiful. It's delicious. It'll break your heart every day if you look long or hard enough or if you know the language well enough."


"But it's important. It's a lesson in context and grace and in the infinite dichotomy that is this living thing: the good and the bad, the pretty and the perverse, the having to buying new jeans, but trusting that the inches were filled with stories and feelings and maybe, sometimes, but only if you're lucky, food that was made with love."

"Very eloquent, Tony."

"The things you've witnessed here. Maybe elsewhere, too. Even home. They'll stay with you. The dead man and the way a knife looks upheld in anger in the morning sun. Whatever you've found inspiring. The mirror. Take everything with you from everywhere. Collect your moments. Improve yourself with their sum. Be thankful. You are richer for what you cannot unsee."

"Right... Like how I started."

"I like that. The unseeables. Maybe it's why I have so many wrinkles. Or white hair. Physical reminder of it all."

"Could be the sun. You're pretty tan right now."

"I gotta jet. Catch you around, Lola."

"It's Lily."

"See you in Florida, kid"

"Au reviour, Tony."

"Be well."