“Eat, Pray, Love” … Get Real!

I recently watched … or rather, attempted to watch the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”, the movie adaptation of the memoir by American author Elizabeth Gilbert. It was one of the dozen choices on a flight from Germany. I had 12 hours to kill and had exhausted all of my options, and I was intrigued by its title and description. A woman traveling the world in search of herself, and “along the way, she meets a bevy of characters and her true love”. I could relate … or so I thought.

All I can say is that I lasted 30 minutes, 10 minutes of which I’d tolerated, and the rest, trying to convince myself that I should give it a chance, as after all, this was based on “the book”, which was on The New York Times Best Seller list for almost 200 weeks.

So, there I was, with nothing better to do … literally … I sat there trying to grasp the concept of the movie. Trying to understand why the hell the lead character was so unhappy with her life? Why did she think that traveling the world would provide her with a better understanding of life … although I still have hard time understanding how one can even say that they’ve traveled “the world” when they’ve been to only three countries … and ONLY after a year of traveling, she finds the answer or key to her happiness?!?

It was all so CONTRIVED. Watching “Eat, Pray, Love” and believing that Ms. Gilbert or the lead character had a truly life-altering experience in a year of travel is a bit like saying that I had a mind-blowing meal from Pizza Hut, which was delivered to my home in 30 minutes or less.

Of course, this is a Hollywood version after all, and seeing the endlessly grinning face of Julia Roberts didn’t help either. However, it still didn’t change the fact that the movie and the overall story was superfluous.

The reason being that as I have mentioned, I too am a woman who has traveled the world to better understand life, love and more importantly, myself. However, unlike Ms. Gilbert, I didn’t come to this knowledge after spending merely a year abroad. Heck, after a year, I was barely beginning to speak the local language and get the tenses straight. It’s an on-going, ever-evolving process that is continuing even after 15 years of traveling the world.

I guess, another big difference between Ms. Gilbert’s experience and mine is that I’m not looking for “an answer” or even presume to find one, and I tend to be skeptical of people, who think that going on a Yoga retreat, reciting chants for few months at an Ashram or talking to a medicine man for the first time in their lives will bring about a spiritual enlightenment … or better understanding of the world.

I was born in a country that practiced, and to this day still practices, Shamanism and medicine (wo)men, and living in California, I do not need to go half way around the world to find a great Yoga retreat, which in essence is an isolation from the outside (real) world.

I travel the world to experience (real) life, and to gain better understanding by interacting with the people, the locals. I found, and still find that the world is infinitely complex and complicated, and so are the people in it. There’s no easy answer or “enlightenment” in dealing with people … and more importantly, in finding love, and anyone who presumes to know or to have the answer is … well, perhaps the reason why this book was on The NYT Best Seller list.

People and love are infinitely mysterious, and there lies the beauty of life … and the world. You find the most wonderful experiences in the most unexpected places, and the most horrendous realities in places that are hyped up by Hollywood.

In the movie, there was no romanticism or idealization of hundreds of war refugees and asylum seekers being turned away by the Italian government and dying near the coast of Italy close to Napoli, which was so idyllically portrayed in the movie* because to Ms. Gilbert, the really enlightening thing about that experience was discovering gelato and that she didn’t care about gaining weight.

A movie … or a book like “Eat, Pray, Love” will never mention the joy of discovering a country like Vietnam, which is one of the most serenely beautiful places in the world, and the beauty of experiencing the graciousness of its people, their tremendous propensity for forgiveness, love and tenacity for survival. It’s truly inspiring … and I definitely wouldn’t mind gaining few pounds from eating all the delicious Pho.

What I found most annoying and frivolous about “Eat, Pray, Love” is that it was unoriginal and redundant. I mean, the author’s big enlightenment came from finding the joy of food in Italy, so-called spirituality at an Ashram in India, and “love” in Bali, which by the way, is perhaps one of the most tourist driven places in SE Asia only to be topped by Thailand.

It was all so predictable!

* http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/11/asylum-seekers-dead-mediterranean-italy, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/asylum-seekers-trying-to-reach-italy-threw-dead-into-the-sea-says-survivor/story-fnb64oi6-1226424276606

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About S. In

a cultural critic, an avid traveler and a purveyor of social justice and education equity View all posts by S. In

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