Let us rejoice in today, March 32nd!
I am indeed back after a lovely vacation hanging out with my sister and our parents! And, let me tell you: not only do I love traveling, but I also love travel memoirs! Since I discovered the genre of travel memoir in college it has been a genre I’ve always been happy to come back to. So, it might surprise you to know that until this month I hadn’t read Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, I saw all the hype when the book came out and then when the book was optioned and made into a movie. I avoided it because it seemed like a travel memoir that was going to make me angry. I thought it was going to make me angry because here’s this woman who is making a good living and has a good job and a husband who loves her and she just throws it away and travels the world. I thought she’d make me angry or worse, that she wouldn’t be sympathetic at all and I’d be reading an entire memoir where I don’t care about the person at the center of the story. (Yes, that’s right, not being relatable is a bigger problem than making me angry.) On top of that, traveling and exploring other cultures while either talking about how cheap everything is or glossing over the problems and idealizing the not-problems really bothers me. I was concerned that Elizabeth Gilbert was going to go to an ashram in India and talk about how deep and spiritual all Indians are and not put this ashram in the context of a country with large populations of people who have different religions which are antagonistic to each other. Or, worse, I was worried her biggest concern would be about the dogs. (Note: I’m happy when people are worried about animal welfare. I’m not happy when they’re so worried about animal welfare that it affects how they feel about seeing poverty-stricken people. This is especially troubling when you also think those poverty-stricken people have the most beautiful culture. Anyway, that’s probably a hypocritical rant for another day.) So, I didn’t read the book when it came out. Or, when it was made into a movie. Plus, I didn’t see the movie. I picked it up hoping that I would hate it and that would make me feel vindicated for avoiding it up until now.
No such luck. (Spoilers behind the cut).
The story starts with Elizabeth Gilbert coming to the realization that the children she and her husband assumed she would eventually want just aren’t going to magically appear. This was clearly a terrible revelation and it took a lot for the author to come to terms with. It ended her marriage and sent her off into the world and eventually on the journey that the bulk of this book describes. As a woman, I can tell you that I have been told a thousand times that one day I will want children. (You should have children or one day you’ll regret it!) I could immediately relate to her and this struggle to do what feels right for you but also to live up to who you (and the people in your life) like to think you are.
So, in the midst of this divorce, Gilbert goes to Bali to write about yoga vacations for a magazine. There she meets a holy man who reads her palm and tells her that she’ll lose all her money but get it back almost immediately, that she’ll go on a journey and that she’ll one day come back to Bali and help him learn better English. And, that basically happens. She loses a lot of her assets in her divorce. But, she then decides, what the hell? She’s recently single. She’s free. She wants to visit her guru’s ashram (she comes to have a guru by dating some dude who is kind of terrible for her after she breaks up with her husband. Dude had a guru, she felt called to go to some meetings. It came her thing, too.) and she wants to learn Italian and she wants to go back to the Bali to see the holy man, so, why shouldn’t she do all these things? She sells the idea of a travel memoir to a publisher, gets a book advance, and then heads out into the world. Italy is her first stop. She finds a place to stay in Rome, she eats a ton of delicious Italian food. There could have been more descriptions of Italian food. She takes part in a language exchange with an attractive Italian man and takes some language classes. One day she realizes that she’s speaking Italian with people on the street. Victory is hers!
The best part of this section was the idea that a friend of hers puts forward: each city and each person in the world has a word. And, you know when you’ve found your ideal place to live when your word and the city’s word match. Her friend suggests that Rome’s word is “Sex”. Gilbert has decided to spend this year of travel celibate so she knows her word isn’t “Sex”. As lovely as Rome is, when her time is up, she packs up her things and heads on to her next destination. I enjoyed this section and the people that she met in Italy. I didn’t feel any of the self-indulgent rage at her writing that I thought I would.
In next section is the prayer section. The guru wasn’t in residence when she was there but that was okay. The point is to focus on your spiritual journey and sometimes having your spiritual leader present can actually hinder your progress. You pay for your stay by working at the ashram. So, Gilbert spent a lot of time scrubbing floors in between meditating and singing a very long spiritual song. This was a surprisingly touching part of the book because she does a lot of healing and letting go while she’s at the ashram. Yes, there were things about it that annoyed me. And, yes, they were the exact things that I thought would annoy me.
In the final section, she goes to Bali and to love. She revisits the holy man that read her palm. At first she isn’t recognized. But, eventually she develops a relationship with him and some other people in the community. She helps a woman by a house. And, she meets a beautiful Brazilian man and they fall in love. Well, in lust and then in love. The negotiation between the two of them as they enter the relationship is pretty great. (And, it was wonderful to see a model of a healthy relationship after some of the other things I’ve read recently. And, she gave us some context of the history and culture of Bali which was nice.
So, I wanted to hate this book and I didn’t. I liked it a lot. And, I would recommend it. She didn’t go into the history and culture of the places she visited like I would have liked but she told a great story about letting go when we no longer fit into something, healing after heartache, and about finding new relationships. This was a really great read. And, it hurts me a little to say that.