Elizabeth Gilbert  –  Eat, Pray, Love

Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love

I remember something that my friend Maria’s
husband, Giulio, said to me once. We were sitting in an outdoor cafe, having
our conversation practice, and he asked me what I thought of Rome. I told him I really loved the place, of course,
but somehow knew it was not my city, not where I’d end up living for the rest of my life. There was something about Rome that didn’t
belong to me, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Just as we were talking, a helpful visual
aid walked by. It was the quintessential Roman woman-a fantastically
maintained, jewelry-sodden forty-something dame wearing four-inch heels, a tight skirt
with a slit as long as your arm, and those sunglasses that look like race cars (and probably
cost as much). She was walking her little fancy dog on a
gem-studded leash, and the fur collar on her tight jacket looked as if it had been made
out of the pelt of her former little fancy dog. She was exuding an unbelievably glamorous
air of: “You will look at me, but I will refuse to look at you.” It was hard to imagine she had ever, even
for ten minutes of her life, not worn mascara. This woman was in every way the opposite of
me, who dresses in a style my sister refers to as “Stevie Nicks Goes to Yoga Class in
Her Pajamas.” I pointed that woman out to Giulio, and I
said, “See, Giulio-that is a Roman woman. Rome cannot be her city and my city, too. Only one of us really belongs here. And I think we both know which one.” Giulio said, “Maybe you and Rome just have
different words.” “What do you mean?” He said, “Don’t you know that the secret to
understanding a city and its people is to learn-what is the word of the street?” Then he went on to explain, in a mixture of
English, Italian and hand gestures, that every city has a single word that defines it, that
identifies most people who live there. If you could read people’s thoughts as they
were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them
are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be-that
is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the
word of the city, then you don’t really belong there. “What’s Rome’s word?” I asked. “SEX,” he announced. “But isn’t that a stereotype about Rome?” “No.” “But surely there are some people in Rome
thinking about other things than sex?” Giulio insisted: “No. All of them, all day, all they are thinking
about is SEX.” “Even over at the Vatican?” “That’s different. The Vatican isn’t part of Rome. They have a different word over there. Their word is POWER.” “You’d think it would be FAITH.” “It’s POWER,” he repeated. “Trust me. But the word in Rome-it’s SEX.” Now if you are to believe Giulio, that little
word-SEX-cobbles the streets beneath your feet in Rome, runs through the fountains here,
fills the air like traffic noise. Thinking about it, dressing for it, seeking
it, considering it, refusing it, making a sport and game out of it-that’s all anybody
is doing. Which would make a bit of sense as to why,
for all its gorgeousness, Rome doesn’t quite feel like my hometown. Not at this moment in my life. Because SEX isn’t my word right now. It has been at other times of my life, but
it isn’t right now. Therefore, Rome’s word, as it spins through
the streets, just bumps up against me and tumbles off, leaving no impact. I’m not participating in the word, so I’m
not fully living here. It’s a kooky theory, impossible to prove,
but I sort of like it. Giulio asked, “What’s the word in New York
City?” I thought about this for a moment, then decided. “It’s a verb, of course. I think it’s ACHIEVE.” (Which is subtly but significantly different
from the word in Los Angeles, I believe, which is also a verb: SUCCEED. Later, I will share this whole theory with
my Swedish friend Sofie, and she will offer her opinion that the word on the streets of
Stockholm is CONFORM, which depresses both of us.) I asked Giulio, “What’s the word in Naples?” He knows the south of Italy well. “FIGHT,” he decides. “What was the word in your family when you
were growing up?” That one was difficult. I was trying to think of a single word that
somehow combines both FRUGAL and IRREVERENT. But Giulio was already on to the next and
most obvious question: “What’s your word?” Now that, I definitely could not answer. And still, after a few weeks of thinking about
it, I can’t answer it any better now. I know some words that it definitely isn’t. It’s not MARRIAGE, that’s evident. It’s not FAMILY (though this was the word
of the town I’d lived in for a few years with my husband, and since I did not fit with that
word, this was a big cause of my suffering). It’s not DEPRESSION anymore, thank heavens. I’m not concerned that I share Stockholm’s
word of CONFORM. But I don’t feel that I’m entirely inhabiting
New York City’s ACHIEVE anymore, either, though that had indeed been my word all throughout
my twenties. My word might be SEEK. (Then again, let’s be honest-it might just
as easily be HIDE.) Over the last months in Italy, my word has
largely been PLEASURE, but that word doesn’t match every single part of me, or I wouldn’t
be so eager to get myself to India. My word might be DEVOTION, though this makes
me sound like more of a goody-goody than I am and doesn’t take into account how much
wine I’ve been drinking. I don’t know the answer, and I suppose that’s
what this year of journeying is about. Finding my word. But one thing I can say
with all assurance-it ain’t SEX.

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