Sunday, October 12, 2014

"Roots: Our Journeys Home" - Anthony Bourdain

So CNN decided to jump into the genealogy program pond also.  It began a theme week of programs featuring family history journeys, Roots:  Our Journeys Home, on October 12 with Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown.  The idea is that hosts of several of their regular programs will take some kind of genealogical journey and learn about their roots.  Instead of creating a stand-alone program, the family history apparently will be integrated into the existing programs.

If the genealogical search in Parts Unknown is comparable to what will happen in the other programs, I'd say there's not much worth watching.  The promo material from the CNN Web site said that we would see an "investigation into the puzzling history of the Bourdain’s great, great, great, grandfather, Paraguayan émigré Jean Bourdain" (let's ignore the poor editing, shall we?).  Unfortunately, the amount of time devoted to Bourdain's family history was less than ten minutes (and possibly as low as five minutes) of the one-hour episode.

Bourdain already knew that his great-great-great-grandfather, Jean Bourdain, had immigrated to South America from France sometime during the 1850's and had disappeared by the 1880's.  Jean went to Argentina first and then to Paraguay, and after that the family didn't know what had happened to him or when or how he died.  Bourdain said he really wanted to know how his third-great-grandfather had died and where he was buried.

We learned quite a bit about the history and food of Paraguay, which is what the program normally is about anyway.  (Because I'm a language geek, one of the most interesting factoids for me was that Paraguay is the only country in South America to have an indigenous language as an official language.)  But what did we learn about Jean Bourdain?

There was a French colony in the Paraguayan jungle called Nouveau Bordeaux.  Bourdain and a guide visited what is left of the colony, but they didn't actually say there was evidence that Jean Bourdain went there.  It seemed that only three documents were found that mentioned Jean Bourdain:

• something that appeared to be a letter that said Jean's son, also named Jean, had gone to Montevideo, Uruguay in 1860 to work with his uncle in the hat business
• information from somewhere that said Jean the elder had come with 200 boxes of "fireworks" (which generated a discussion of whether they really were fireworks, which the locals couldn't have afforded, or if the word was a euphemism for weapons and Jean was actually a gun-runner of some sort)
• an 1858 death record for Jean the elder that did not give a cause of death

The researchers were able to determine in which cemetery Jean was interred but could not find his grave.  Bourdain walked around the Recoleta Cemetery in Asunctión, found nothing, and looked disappointed.  The researcher told Bourdain that it was likely that something else had been built over whatever grave Jean Bourdain had.

And that was it.  Not a very impressive beginning, in my opinion.  And I'm left wondering why the family didn't know when Jean the elder had died, since Jean the younger didn't leave the area until two years later.

I'll still try to watch some of the programs scheduled for later in the week.  I am pretty sure I'll miss every episode of New Day; 6:00 a.m. makes it way too early for me, whether it's Eastern or Pacific Time.  It's a shame, because Chris Cuomo's story sounds interesting, and I'm wondering if the Spinozas from whom John Berman descended were Sephardic Jews.  But I've already put the programs that air later in the day on my schedule.  I am particularly looking forward to the journeys of Wolf Blitzer and Sanjay Gupta.  And maybe I can catch the others later On Demand.


  1. Some are better than others, but all that have aired so far are on the CNN website.

    1. Thanks for letting me know. The other night one of the episodes I wanted to see was apparently bounced on the West Coast due to the ebola crisis.

  2. I'm a regular watcher of Parts Unknown, so I saw the Paraguay episode when it aired recently. I agree the genealogical content was unsatisfactory for someone who tuned in just for that, but for the regular audience, it might have been an amusing side dish.

    Apparently CNN gathered up all the segments from the various episodes and broadcast them as a special on October 21st. I recorded it but I haven't watched it yet. The special Roots: Our Journeys Home can be viewed online at CNN's site:

    1. Jan,

      I'm sure that as an episode of "Parts Unknown" the trip to Paraguay was probably a good show. But as one of those who turned in for the genealogical content, based on the heavy promotions CNN did for the week, yes, it was disappointing. Ah, well, such is life.

      Thanks for the link to the collected material. I missed all the other pieces that I wanted to see that week because of time conflicts and special programming being bumped for the real news of the ebola situation. I think I might have time this weekend to sit and watch!


  3. I've been watching his shows and all of them are very good.

    1. Bourdain is a very interesting person. I saw him live when he came to Oakland.


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