Anthony Bourdain’s latest Parts Unknown trip took a turn towards the personal on Sunday as he and the Zero Point Zero crew travel through Paraguay in search of his great-great-great grandfather’s story and grave.
The episode and Bourdain’s search is part of CNN’s weeklong Roots programming during which other CNN hosts and anchors will also trace their family’s history.
Although the storyline was more intimate than most, Bourdain still weaves the sad history of the landlocked South American country and profiles of its present-day residents throughout the hour.
Bourdain meets with several investigators and historians throughout the episode in hopes of finding out more details about his ancestor’s life. His great-great-great grandfather would have come from France; however, many Germans and ex-Nazis also immigrated to Paraguay both to escape their fates at home as well as in search of a utopian future.
For example, Bourdain meets with a man who has lived in Paraguay for 22 years after leaving east Berlin when the wall came tumbling.
He describes the country’s harsh lineage of dictators who have hurt more than helped their people.
“Paraguayans are very easy to influence,” he explains. “They are now becoming more educated, they are learning to say now.”
Paraguay also stands apart from its Latin American neighbors. The Spanish came, as they did to all South American countries, but quickly left after finding none of the silver they had hoped for. As a result, Paraguay is the only country where the indigenous language, Guarani, is the official language and residents’ heritage is a more consistent mix of European and indigenous ancestors.
Although Paraguay has had a rough history, several of the residents that Bourdain speaks to see a transition taking place. Even more important that an improving economy, is the shifting mindsets of its locals who are opening up their minds to a more robust future.
Throughout Bourdain’s meetings and quest for his great-great-great grandfather’s past, he fills up on — what else — beef. Paraguay is the eighth largest exporter of beef and anyone who has been to South America knows it’s the only thing that makes sense to eat.
Meals throughout the episode include a plate of rice with beef and a fried egg on top, beef empanadas, soup with a catfish, and a street snack that includes a fried egg and thinly cut beef on a hamburger role.
— ZPZ Production (@ZPZProduction) October 13, 2014
As usual, the videography is what truly ties a Parts Unknown episode together. These edits were somewhat haunting making the episode an almost eery passage back in time to when Bourdain’s ancestor might have walked the streets.
Understanding Paraguay’s history is also key to understanding its present. One particularly neat edit overlays the ruined buildings of its present with images of its previous grandeur.
It'll take another viewing to fully appreciate editing for Paraguay. Subtle, not so subtle jumps through time, memory-like, mysterious.
— Zach Zamboni (@zachzamboni) October 13, 2014