Editor’s Note — Watch the series finale of ‘Parts Unknown’ Sunday at 9 PM ET/PT on CNN.
(CNN) — Like Anthony Bourdain, artist John Lurie was familiar with the Lower East Side of a different, arguably dangerous era.
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In the “Parts Unknown” LES episode, the final episode of the series, Bourdain goes back to the changed neighborhood, seeking out people who lived there before gentrification, before Whole Foods arrived and before it became almost unrecognizable. Few, if any, aspiring musicians or artists can afford the steep rent and the upscale restaurants that define the area now.
Having lived in the rough-and-tumble downtown neighborhood when rents were cheap and heroin was on every corner, Lurie says he “liked the Lower East Side when it was dangerous.”
Eventually the area did change, and today Tompkins Square Park includes a green market on Sundays, a dog run and people sitting on park benches sipping lattes.
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Lurie’s not so much a fan of the area now — shiny and sceney– explaining “There was a time that to be there meant you were tough and had come for a reason. Now it is something quite different, it feels like a lot of entitlement walking around on cell phones.”
It no longer looks like the place where Bourdain went to buy dope or where walking too far east was asking for trouble.
But Lurie left before the LES cleaned up its act. Lurie describes the LES as “nuts” but also “colorful and remarkably peaceful,” though he recalls things taking on a different, darker tone when men from Rikers Island were released because of overcrowding. Luries says the Rikers men “literally started beating and even killing all the bums.” This is around the time when he left, following an incident where someone smashed a beer bottle on his head.
Following is a condensed and edited version of CNN Travel’s conversation with Lurie:
You are in the LES episode with Anthony Bourdain. How did this come to fruition? Why do you think the team and Tony reached out to you?
We were aware of each other for quite a while. Kind of fellow travelers, and it is odd that we had never met before.
We started following each other on Twitter and sent private messages back and forth.
But I will tell you the weirdest thing — I was sleeping in the afternoon and had a vivid dream about Anthony and I being on the radio, talking to people about how to curb their Twitter addictions.
I stumbled downstairs and there was an email from him asking me to be on the show, which must have been written at the exact moment the dream was happening.
This is a true story. I don’t know what it means, if it means anything at all, but it is a true story.
Were you a “Parts Unknown” fan prior to filming with Tony?
I loved what he was doing. I think America has very little idea about the rest of the world, which leads to massive xenophobia, and he brought the rest of the world into people’s homes.
Had you read any of Tony’s books and followed his career up to this point?
I read “Kitchen Confidential” when it came out.
What was your first impression of Tony? Can you describe that first meeting?
The first time I met him was when he came to my place in New York to shoot the segment. The crew was already there, and they were surprisingly pleasant and respectful to have in my place, which is something that can often irritate the hell out of me. Then he walks in and has zero pretension, is almost devoid of ego. I kind of loved him immediately.
Then he has a glass of apple juice and though he has his crew there and I have an assistant, he goes to wash the glass himself when he was finished. I thought, “Oh good, a human being.”
After drinking a glass of apple juice in John Lurie’s LES apartment, Bourdain washed the galss himself, something which endeared him to Lurie.
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What do you remember most from working with Tony? What stands out to you above all else? Or, if there are a few things, please feel free to share those.
He was courageous and fought for, what I think are, the right things, yet was gentle.
In the LES episode, you cook Tony a boiled egg. This struck me as such an odd yet interesting choice and scene. Can you share any of the background?
He went around the world eating exquisite and exotic meals. He would eat a bug’s brains and say it was delicious. I wanted to see if he would say my boiled egg was delicious. I was just being silly in a way I thought he would appreciate.
And did he appreciate the silly gesture?
I certainly hope so.