When Elizabeth Gilbert’s self-indulgent turned feel-good Julia Roberts story Eat, Pray, Love hit the theaters in Europe, it was a few months behind, and I’d just moved to Ljubljana. Fresh off of break-ups, my new roommate and I were coping with things quite well, actually. She was seeing someone, taking emotional risks and moving forward in a healthy way, while keeping some perspective and staying grounded. And I was studying. Hard. I had been placed in a Slovenian language class with a group of Slavic language speakers. I had a lot of catching up to do.
I took issue with the book/movie, mostly because the narrator seemed really selfish. It was also because I couldn’t imagine ever leaving someone who loved you because I’d never left anyone–though I’d watched someone leave me–and in my early 20s, was still trying to unravel a pattern or a formula that would reveal to me the alchemy of love.
“I don’t get it,” one of the Serbian girls in my Slovenian class said one day, in reference to the movie. “She seemed really happy in Italy. Why didn’t she just stay in Italy?”
Italy was the “eat” part of the movie. The part where Julia Roberts feels sad but finds friends, lets loose, eats a lot of pasta and pizza, gains 15 pounds, and learns how to smile again. The part before the part where she goes to Asia, prays and finds balance and solace, and then moves on to find love again.
My roommate and I, consciously or unconsciously, took my classmate’s words to heart.
“It’s like, Eat, Eat, Eat,” we said more than once, in reference to our own situation. Disillusioned with prayer and skeptical of love, we stayed in that Italy phase for quite a while.
With an open market down the street, a small refrigerator, relatively little access to processed foods, and too much time on our hands, one or both of us would end up buying groceries every day and baking hours-long meals. She perfected baklava. I brought home a whole chicken and cooked it with lemon and cinnamon. She went to the Mlekomat to get raw milk. I bought red peppers while wearing a red shirt and was called a communist for my alleged red obsession by a homeless man. We laughed. We ate. I walked five kilometers to buy imported British cheddar cheese. She bought a bike with a basket and got around a lot quicker than I did. She did yoga down the street. I took pilates with a French woman from my class. We found a pizza we could split at a restaurant on the river. She told me not to order another glass of wine at the wine bar just because it came with a plate of cubed cheese. She promised she would cube the imported British cheese when we got home. We went out. We stayed in. We discovered Glee. When summer came, we talked outside in the dark under our tree and reached the weighted down branches and picked the cherries till juice ran down our hands.
She found new relationships that year and learned from them. I, two years older, felt slightly more disillusioned. Just as there was no clear way to fall into love, there was no clear way to fall out of it. But between the open market and pilates, the pizza place on the river and those British cubes of cheese, I gave up on the pattern-hunting. The search for meaning that only existed insofar as I needed it to, wanted it to. Self-indulgent? I became guilty of being that, too. But, I realize now, that’s what healing looks like to me. It looks like bicycles with baskets and cherry trees and friendship.
Anything else is just superfluous.