Friday, November 02, 2007

Well read, well fed (installment 11) The Last Summer Reading Update

The last book I managed to read before the summer ended (yes, it's been awhile since I finished it...summer's been over for like a month and a half...I'm just a slacker about posting it) was “>Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's not so much a food-centric book like most of my other summer reads. It's a memoir centering around Elizabeth's travels and adventures in her quest to "find herself" and come to terms with an ugly divorce. In short, it's part travelogue, part self-help, part religious journey, part comedy, and part human study. At times I got a little sick of how much Elizabeth talks about herself, but then again, it's her dang memoir, huh? I liked the book overall. Although it bored me at times, at other times the writing was inspiring and the subject matter very intriguing. Much of it was thought provoking and there were moments of "wow!" I'd recommend it to people interested in spirituality and meditation, also those interested in travel.

The premise is that Elizabeth gets the opportunity to travel to 3 places for 4 months each; Italy, India and Indonesia. In order to learn about herself and cope with her divorce, her plan is “to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India, and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.” The subject of food is pretty much limited to the Italy portion of her travels. In Italy she spoils herself with leisure and good food. She learns to enjoy pleasure without guilt:

"Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that’s not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment … Americans don’t really know how to do nothing. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype — the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.

For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American, too — the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness. Planet Advertising in American orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat."

Now the book is one of Oprah’s Book Club books. The good news about this is that the Oprah people have compiled a list of food moments from the book, complete with recipes!

And here are some excerpts from the book that are food-related:

"I am a bit ashamed to admit this, but I did not visit a single museum during my entire four months in Italy. (Oh man, it’s even worse than that. I have to confess that I did go to one museum: the National Museum of Pasta, in Rome.) I found that all I really wanted was to eat beautiful food and to speak as much beautiful Italian as possible."

Giovanni was a friend she met in Italy, who became her language-learning partner. Although she was single, and found Giovanni gorgeous, she had vowed celibacy while she was there…

"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."

On the health/spiritual benefits of eating lavishly in Italy:

"I have been known to eat organic goat’s milk yoghurt sprinkled with wheat germ for breakfast. My real-life days are long gone. Back in America, my friend Susan is telling people I’m on a ‘No Carb Left Behind’ tour. Still, when I look at myself in the mirror of the best pizzeria in Naples, I see a bright-eyed, clear-skinned, happy and healthy face. I haven’t seen a face like that on me for a long time.”

On Naples, home of the best pizza in the world:

"The dough, it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tried. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we only had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust – thin and crispy, or thick and doughy. How was I to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thick and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise."


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