I wish Giovanni would kiss me.
Oh, but there are so many reasons why this would be a terrible idea. To
begin with, Giovanni is ten years younger than I am, and-like most
Italian guys in their twenties-he still lives with his mother. These
facts alone make him an unlikely romantic partner for me, given that I
am a professional American woman in my mid-thirties, who has just come
through a failed marriage and a devastating, interminable divorce,
followed immediately by a passionate love affair that ended in sickening
heartbreak. This loss upon loss has left me feeling sad and brittle and
about seven thousand years old. Purely as a matter of principle I
wouldn't inflict my sorry, busted-up old self on the lovely, unsullied
Giovanni. Not to mention that I have finally arrived at that age where a
woman starts to question whether the wisest way to get over the loss of
one beautiful brown-eyed young man is indeed to promptly invite another
one into her bed. This is why I have been alone for many months now.
This is why, in fact, I have decided to spend this entire year in
To which the savvy observer might inquire: "Then why did you come to
To which I can only reply-especially when looking across the table at
handsome Giovanni-"Excellent question."
Giovanni is my Tandem Exchange Partner. That sounds like an innuendo,
but unfortunately it's not. All it really means is that we meet a few
evenings a week here in Rome to practice each other's languages. We
speak first in Italian, and he is patient with me; then we speak in
English, and I am patient with him. I discovered Giovanni a few weeks
after I'd arrived in Rome, thanks to that big Internet cafe at the
Piazza Barbarini, across the street from that fountain with the
sculpture of that sexy merman blowing into his conch shell. He
(Giovanni, that is-not the merman) had posted a flier on the bulletin
board explaining that a native Italian speaker was seeking a native
English speaker for conversational language practice. Right beside his
appeal was another flier with the same request, word-for-word identical
in every way, right down to the typeface. The only difference was the
contact information. One flier listed an e-mail address for somebody
named Giovanni; the other introduced somebody named Dario. But even the
home phone number was the same.
Using my keen intuitive powers, I e-mailed both men at the same time,
asking in Italian, "Are you perhaps brothers?"
It was Giovanni who wrote back this very provocativo message: "Even
Yes-much better. Tall, dark and handsome identical twenty-five-year-old
twins, as it turned out, with those giant brown liquid-center Italian
eyes that just unstitch me. After meeting the boys in person, I began to
wonder if perhaps I should adjust my rule somewhat about remaining
celibate this year. For instance, perhaps I could remain totally
celibate except for keeping a pair of handsome twenty-five-year-old
Italian twin brothers as lovers. Which was slightly reminiscent of a
friend of mine who is vegetarian except for bacon, but nonetheless ... I
was already composing my letter to Penthouse:
In the flickering, candlelit shadows of the Roman cafe, it was
impossible to tell whose hands were caress-But, no.
No and no.
I chopped the fantasy off in mid-word. This was not my moment to be
seeking romance and (as day follows night) to further complicate my
already knotty life. This was my moment to look for the kind of healing
and peace that can only come from solitude.
Anyway, by now, by the middle of November, the shy, studious Giovanni
and I have become dear buddies. As for Dario-the more razzle-dazzle
swinger brother of the two-I have introduced him to my adorable little
Swedish friend Sofie, and how they've been sharing their evenings in
Rome is another kind of Tandem Exchange altogether. But Giovanni and I,
we only talk. Well, we eat and we talk. We have been eating and talking
for many pleasant weeks now, sharing pizzas and gentle grammatical
corrections, and tonight has been no exception. A lovely evening of new
idioms and fresh mozzarella.
Now it is midnight and foggy, and Giovanni is walking me home to my
apartment through these back streets of Rome, which meander organically
around the ancient buildings like bayou streams snaking around shadowy
clumps of cypress groves. Now we are at my door. We face each other. He
gives me a warm hug. This is an improvement; for the first few weeks, he
would only shake my hand. I think if I were to stay in Italy for another
three years, he might actually get up the juice to kiss me. On the other
hand, he might just kiss me right now, tonight, right here by my door
... there's still a chance ... I mean we're pressed up against each
other's bodies beneath this moonlight ... and of course it would be a
terrible mistake ... but it's still such a wonderful possibility that he
might actually do it right now ... that he might just bend down ... and
... and ... Nope.
He separates himself from the embrace.
"Good night, my dear Liz," he says.
"Buona notte, caro mio," I reply.
I walk up the stairs to my fourth-floor apartment, all alone. I let
myself into my tiny little studio, all alone. I shut the door behind me.
Another solitary bedtime in Rome. Another long night's sleep ahead of
me, with nobody and nothing in my bed except a pile of Italian
phrasebooks and dictionaries.
I am alone, I am all alone, I am completely alone.
Grasping this reality, I let go of my bag, drop to my knees and press my
forehead against the floor. There, I offer up to the universe a fervent
prayer of thanks.
First in English.
Then in Italian.
And then-just to get the point across-in Sanskrit.
And since I am already down there in supplication on the floor, let me
hold that position as I reach back in time three years earlier to the
moment when this entire story began-a moment which also found me in this
exact same posture: on my knees, on a floor, praying.
Everything else about the three-years-ago scene was different, though.
That time, I was not in Rome but in the upstairs bathroom of the big
house in the suburbs of New York which I'd recently purchased with my
husband. It was a cold November, around three o'clock in the morning. My
husband was sleeping in our bed. I was hiding in the bathroom for
something like the forty-seventh consecutive night, and-just as during
all those nights before-I was sobbing. Sobbing so hard, in fact, that a
great lake of tears and snot was spreading before me on the bathroom
tiles, a veritable Lake Inferior (if you will) of all my shame and fear
and confusion and grief.
I don't want to be married anymore.
I was trying so hard not to know this, but the truth kept insisting
itself to me.
I don't want to be married anymore. I don't want to live in this big
house. I don't want to have a baby.
But I was supposed to want to have a baby. I was thirty-one years old.
My husband and I-who had been together for eight years, married for
six-had built our entire life around the common expectation that, after
passing the doddering old age of thirty, I would want to settle down and
have children. By then, we mutually anticipated, I would have grown
weary of traveling and would be happy to live in a big, busy household
full of children and homemade quilts, with a garden in the backyard and
a cozy stew bubbling on the stovetop. (The fact that this was a fairly
accurate portrait of my own mother is a quick indicator of how difficult
it once was for me to tell the difference between myself and the
powerful woman who had raised me.) But I didn't-as I was appalled to be
finding out-want any of these things. Instead, as my twenties had come
to a close, that deadline of THIRTY had loomed over me like a death
sentence, and I discovered that I did not want to be pregnant. I kept
waiting to want to have a baby, but it didn't happen. And I know what it
feels like to want something, believe me. I well know what desire feels
like. But it wasn't there. Moreover, I couldn't stop thinking about what
my sister had said to me once, as she was breast-feeding her firstborn:
"Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to
be certain it's what you want before you commit."
How could I turn back now, though? Everything was in place. This was
supposed to be the year. In fact, we'd been trying to get pregnant for a
few months already. But nothing had happened (aside from the fact
that-in an almost sarcastic mockery of pregnancy-I was experiencing
psychosomatic morning sickness, nervously throwing up my breakfast every
day). And every month when I got my period I would find myself
whispering furtively in the bathroom: Thank you, thank you, thank you,
thank you for giving me one more month to live ... I'd been attempting
to convince myself that this was normal. All women must feel this way
when they're trying to get pregnant, I'd decided. ("Ambivalent" was the
word I used, avoiding the much more accurate description: "utterly
consumed with dread".) I was trying to convince myself that my feelings
were customary, despite all evidence to the contrary-such as the
acquaintance I'd run into last week who'd just discovered that she was
pregnant for the first time, after spending two years and a king's
ransom in fertility treatments. She was ecstatic. She had wanted to be a
mother forever, she told me. She admitted she'd been secretly buying
baby clothes for years and hiding them under the bed, where her husband
wouldn't find them. I saw the joy in her face and I recognized it. This
was the exact joy my own face had radiated last spring, the day I
discovered that the magazine I worked for was going to send me on
assignment to New Zealand, to write an article about the search for
giant squid. And I thought, "Until I can feel as ecstatic about having a
baby as I felt about going to New Zealand to search for a giant squid, I
cannot have a baby"
I don't want to be married anymore.
In daylight hours, I refused that thought, but at night it would consume
me. What a catastrophe. How could I be such a criminal jerk as to
proceed this deep into a marriage, only to leave it? We'd only just
bought this house a year ago. Hadn't I wanted this nice house? Hadn't I
loved it? So why was I haunting its halls every night now, howling like
Medea? Wasn't I proud of all we'd accumulated-the prestigious home in
the Hudson Valley, the apartment in Manhattan, the eight phone lines,
the friends and the picnics and the parties, the weekends spent roaming
the aisles of some box-shaped superstore of our choice, buying ever more
appliances on credit? I had actively participated in every moment of the
creation of this life-so why did I feel like none of it resembled me?
Why did I feel so overwhelmed with duty, tired of being the primary
breadwinner and the housekeeper and the social coordinator and the
dog-walker and the wife and the soon-to-be mother, and-somewhere in my
stolen moments-a writer ...?
I don't want to be married anymore.
My husband was sleeping in the other room, in our bed. I equal parts
loved him and could not stand him. I couldn't wake him to share in my
distress-what would be the point? He'd already been watching me fall
apart for months now, watching me behave like a madwoman (we both agreed
on that word), and I only exhausted him. We both knew there was
something wrong with me, and he'd been losing patience with it. We'd
been fighting and crying, and we were weary in that way that only a
couple whose marriage is collapsing can be weary. We had the eyes of
The many reasons I didn't want to be this man's wife anymore are too
personal and too sad to share here. Much of it had to do with my
problems, but a good portion of our troubles were related to his issues,
as well. That's only natural; there are always two figures in a
marriage, after all-two votes, two opinions, two conflicting sets of
decisions, desires and limitations. But I don't think it's appropriate
for me to discuss his issues in my book. Nor would I ask anyone to
believe that I am capable of reporting an unbiased version of our story,
and therefore the chronicle of our marriage's failure will remain untold
here. I also will not discuss here all the reasons why I did still want
to be his wife, or all his wonderfulness, or why I loved him and why I
had married him and why I was unable to imagine life without him. I
won't open any of that. Let it be sufficient to say that, on this night,
he was still my lighthouse and my albatross in equal measure. The only
thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more
impossible than staying was leaving. I didn't want to destroy anything
or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without
causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I
This part of my story is not a happy one, I know. But I share it here
because something was about to occur on that bathroom floor that would
change forever the progression of my life-almost like one of those crazy
astronomical super-events when a planet flips over in outer space for no
reason whatsoever, and its molten core shifts, relocating its poles and
altering its shape radically, such that the whole mass of the planet
suddenly becomes oblong instead of spherical. Something like that.
What happened was that I started to pray.
You know-like, to God.
Now, this was a first for me. And since this is the first time I have
introduced that loaded word-GOD-into my book, and since this is a word
which will appear many times again throughout these pages, it seems only
fair that I pause here for a moment to explain exactly what I mean when
I say that word, just so people can decide right away how offended they
need to get.
Saving for later the argument about whether God exists at all (no-here's
a better idea: let's skip that argument completely), let me first
explain why I use the word God, when I could just as easily use the
words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus. Alternatively, I
could call God "That", which is how the ancient Sanskrit scriptures say
it, and which I think comes close to the all-inclusive and unspeakable
entity I have sometimes experienced. But that "That" feels impersonal to
me-a thing, not a being-and I myself cannot pray to a That. I need a
proper name, in order to fully sense a personal attendance. For this
same reason, when I pray, I do not address my prayers to The Universe,
The Great Void, The Force, The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The
Light, The Higher Power, or even the most poetic manifestation of God's
name, taken, I believe, from the Gnostic gospels: "The Shadow of the
I have nothing against any of these terms. I feel they are all equal
because they are all equally adequate and inadequate descriptions of the
indescribable. But we each do need a functional name for this
indescribability, and "God" is the name that feels the most warm to me,
so that's what I use. I should also confess that I generally refer to
God as "Him", which doesn't bother me because, to my mind, it's just a
convenient personalizing pronoun, not a precise anatomical description
or a cause for revolution. Of course, I don't mind if people call God
"Her", and I understand the urge to do so. Again-to me, these are both
equal terms, equally adequate and inadequate. Though I do think the
capitalization of either pronoun is a nice touch, a small politeness in
the presence of the divine.
Culturally, though not theologically, I'm a Christian. I was born a
Protestant of the white Anglo-Saxon persuasion. And while I do love that
great teacher of peace who was called Jesus, and while I do reserve the
right to ask myself in certain trying situations what indeed He would
do, I can't swallow that one fixed rule of Christianity insisting that
Christ is the only path to God. Strictly speaking, then, I cannot call
myself a Christian. Most of the Christians I know accept my feelings on
this with grace and open-mindedness. Then again, most of the Christians
I know don't speak very strictly. To those who do speak (and think)
strictly, all I can do here is offer my regrets for any hurt feelings
and now excuse myself from their business.
Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all
religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone
who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a
distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us
indeed-much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own
hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the
center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a
report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love. In
every religious tradition on earth, there have always been mystical
saints and transcendents who report exactly this experience.
Unfortunately many of them have ended up arrested and killed. Still, I
think very highly of them.
Excerpted from "Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Gilbert. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.