A lot of people have ventured to Paraguay over the years in search of some sort of a dream. My great-great-grandfather, Jean Bourdain, was one of them.
I’ve looked for this mysterious ancestor before—in Uruguay with my younger brother, Chris. We were disappointed when our trail ran cold. We were left with a cryptic reference to the news that Jean had died in Asunción, Paraguay, which begged the question: What the hell was he doing in Paraguay? And Where is Paraguay anyway?
It’s certainly a country few of us know much about. Landlocked by its better-known neighbors, Paraguay is probably best known for being a hideout for escaped Nazis and for a succession of truly spectacularly lurid out-of-a-comic-book dictatorships—the last being the administration of General Alfredo Stroessner. When I first looked at the possibility of making a television show there many years ago, descriptions of the country by visitors were not promising: crime, corruption, counterfeiters, failed institutions, looted banks—in short, a backwater.
I thought I’d use the dubious quest for “the Missing Bourdain” as the spine of a show, a framework to investigate one of the least-known nations in the Americas. My crew, looking at various storytelling structures, settled on the terrific film The Limey as a rough template. In that film Terence Stamp, playing a just-out-of-prison career criminal, voyages to Los Angeles in search of answers after the death of his daughter. In this Parts Unknown episode I explore Paraguay and my family’s past in similar nonlinear fashion. It’s an amazing-looking show. Everybody who worked on it—handcrafted it—is convinced it’s some of their best work.
What I found out about Paraguay—about my family—surprised me. I hope it entertains you.
This field note is excerpted from Bourdain’s Tumblr.