The Road to Italy

I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. I have heard so much about this book and when I learned there was a section on Italy, I decided to give it a try. Following a protracted and devastating divorce and then a volatile romance, Gilbert decides to spend a year trying to bring some balance to her life and overcome the depression that has settled upon her. She plans first to travel to Italy for pleasure, then India for meditation and finally Indonesia (Bali) to seek some balance between the two.

Ah, Italy. She says she was drawn to the idea of living for a while in a culture where pleasure and beauty are revered. She describes it perfectly--the beauty of the land, the cities, the people and the language.

She reports: In a world of disorder and disease and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted.

And oh, yes, the food. She eats the same way she lives, with gusto and unbounded restraint. Soon she gains 25 pounds and must look for new clothes. But she also loves just as much the language.

Italian—a language I find more beautiful than roses—

Every word was a singing sparrow, a magic trick, a truffle for me.

…we all want to speak Italian because we love the way it makes us feel.

In all the years I have visited Italy I never felt the need to learn Italian. I liked the mystery of those unknown words and the lyrical music of the speech. I loved the sound of the Italian language. As I listened, I began to understand why Italians are so musical for it is the essence of their language. When Italians speak to one another, they virtually sing with a rhythm and lyric that is slightly operatic.

I don’t think it would be difficult to learn Italian, as it was not long before I found myself quite unexpectedly speaking an Italian word or phrase that from all I could tell must have been appropriate. When most Italians talk, they also gesture vigorously with their hands, as if they were conducing an orchestra. I suspect that if you tied a rope around their hands, they would not be able to utter a single word.

However, Gilbert is more dedicated than I ever was. She enrolls in an Italian language class, finds a fellow student to help learn the ins and outs of its subtleties over countless meals, and does her best to speak it as she explores the Italian peninsula from Venice to Sicily. She spends days walking the streets of Rome. However, she does not visit a single museum during the entire time (four months) she was in Italy.

Gilbert is charming, she is zesty, she is hilarious and occasionally she is wise.

In desperate love, we always invent the characters of our partners, demanding that they be what we need of them, and then feeling devastated when they refuse to perform the role we created in the first place.

What a large number of factors constitute a single human being! How very many layers we operate on, and how very many influences we receive from our minds, our bodies, our histories, our families, our cities, our souls and our lunches!

That’s the thing about a human life—there’s no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed.

Still for all that Italy means to her she is often lonely and depressed. She is desperate for love. Pure pleasure, she writes, is not my “cultural paradigm.” So after four months of mostly “pure pleasure,” she heads off to India. Will I travel with her? At this point, I remain uncertain.


Gillian said...

Did you?

Richard Katzev said...

I confess, I didn't. And I really don't want to see the film either. Did you continue with the book and have you seen the film?

Gillian said...

Yes, I continued with the book. I really liked the India section partly because it showed her capacity to engage with a demanding discipline. Her straightforward tone and humility helped me engage.

Plus, I have a fascination for India, its culture, art and spiritual traditions.

I think I will see the film with the expectation of a pleasant piece of light entertainment. I don't expect it to be much like the book. Film is a different form.

Although I know men who have enjoyed the book, I think it has special appeal to women, because it tells a woman's story. Like much women's writing, it is relationship-centred. [I almost duck for cover when I make a statement like that! But there is a certain truth to it.]

Richard Katzev said...

I am encouraged by your comment to read the India section. Thank you. I did read the Italy section because it is my real home.

If you have a moment, I would also appreciate learning how you liked the film.


Gillian said...

Hi Richard,

I saw the film, 'Eat, Love, Pray', last Saturday, and enjoyed it.

It avoided the deeper, spiritual aspects of the book and stayed more with the outer journey. So, it was pleasant but not profound.

I remember the scene in 'American Beauty' where the camera followed a floating plastic bag for minutes and kept the whole audience fully engaged in this existential, contemplative experience. Risky film-making that pulled it off.

ELP didn't take any risks, more's the pity. So, I enjoyed it for the settings, scenery, and likeablility of Julia and Javier.

I've just read 'Committed' and see that I could become a Gilbert fan. We have a lot in common as our life stories mirror/parallel each other in so many ways that I read her from the pov of an insider. It will be interesting to read her non-autobiographical work and see where that takes me.


Richard Katzev said...

Hi Gillian:

What a nice review. Thank you. I will try to see the film in light of your comments. I may have to wait for the DVD as I don't think the film is in the theaters here now.

If you like Gilbert you can see and hear her talk at http://www.ted.com/talks I think she has presented a couple of lectures there.