Jakarta, Indonesia, Bali is atwitter: The movie version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Play, Love starring Julia Roberts opens August 13th. On the cover of the paperback version is a quote from Julia which reads, “It’s what I’m giving all my girlfriends.” I wonder is she said that before or after she was offered the part?
I recently enjoyed a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity. The lecture was interesting and, as a writer, reassuring, because it is always nice, especially when one is in a slump (as I am), to learn that other writers battle a fear of failure. On another level, it was especially fun to get to see Ms. Gilbert in action, to watch her speak and move, study her physicality and ask “can I see Julia Roberts playing her?”
In honor of the movie premiere, I’m reissuing a blog posting from 2008, when my friends Russell and Jeff were visiting and Russell and I visited the 9th Generation Medicine Man Elizabeth Gilbert immortalized:
There's a book out, a New York Times bestseller entitled EAT, PRAY, LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert. Russell gave me a copy last winter. In true retired English teacher style, he instructed me to read it before our trip to Bali this April. The book is about a woman, Liz, who, after a horrid divorce and failed affair decides to take a year off and do what she wants--which is learn Italian, learn to pray at an Ashram in India, and find balance in Bali while learning from an old medicine man she'd met a few years before.
The old medicine man, Ketut Liyer, is really the driving force behind her year of self-realization. In the book, she meets him while on assignment in Bali doing a travel article on Yoga. The book is fiction, right, we thought. Or I thought when Prof. Russell assigned it. After all, I read children's books. I was technically cheating by sneaking this adult title in when I had a month's worth of picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels that needed reading.
One of the wonderful things about our hotel in Ubud, Tegal Sari—which was luxurious, wonderful, delightful in it's own right with tree house-style rooms perched over the rice paddies--is free transportation. All a guest need do is give a whistle--Handphone call--and minutes later a car will pick you up. Sometimes, four times, we had to share the ride with other guests. On two of these occasions, sharing was a silent event because the French trio riding with us refused to acknowledge our presence—even to bother with a nod in response to our greeting. We showered, really! On two occasions however, we shared the transport with a youngish couple from Utah—honeymooners—glowing. On the first ride we learned that they'd just had a Balinese-style wedding complete with flowered crowns, sarongs, gamelan music and blessings. The second time we met, they said they'd just come from having their palms read. My ears cranked forward and open--as did Russell's.
"His mother gave us this book," the woman began.
"Eat, Pray, Love?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "Yes! You know it?" she held up a tattered copy.
"I'm reading it right now," I told her.
"Well, I didn't read the whole thing," she confessed. "I read the beginning and the Italian part and just skipped to Bali."
"Me, too," I effused (feeling Russell shooting "cheating student" daggers into my back). In my defense, I am not usually a skip-around reader. I was reading this book that way because I needed to get through my assignment—and to the good parts—while not taking too much time from my children's books.
"We had our palms read by the old medicine man from the book," Newbie bride continued.
“Ketut Liyer?" Russell asked.
"Yes, yes," the newly weds nodded in sync and gave us a point by point recap of their readings, smiling all the while. Their smiles were a mix of he's incredible and maybe he's a fake.
Turns out they'd asked at the front desk and some of the guys who work at the hotel—all of whom are native to the Ubud area—know Ketut Liyer.
Turns out, too, that our driver knew exactly where the old medicine man lived and was happy to take Russell and me to meet him. Who cared if it was drizzling rain and Jeff had a cold? We dropped him and Curtis off at the market--with instruction to "beli, beli," buy, buy, and drove away.
The drive ended about 20 minutes later outside a wall on a narrow road. We stepped up and over the threshold and into the pages of the book. The Medicine Man's home is a traditional Balinese house, comprised of many open-sided buildings, some with rooms in the back, some without, and a temple area with at least of dozen black-grass thatched temple houses in one corner. We tentatively stepped down and into the compound.
A wrinkled, brown-faced woman flashed us a red, beetle-nut stained smile. In the book, Liz had noticed a similar brown-faced woman so we knew this was the Ketut Liyer's wife. (She had frowned at the book author, so our encounter seemed promising so far.) Ketut appeared as shrunken as described. His teeth were just as broken and yellowed, with a few snagglers as described, and his smile was as wide and inviting as expected. He welcomed up onto the concrete, roofed platform that was his living area.
The back portion was walled and windowed. Ketut cautioned us not to sit on what looked like a low bench but was actually his writing table, and motioned for his son to bring us chairs. His son (know clue how we knew this--must have been in the book, too) hoisted the red brocade living room chairs from another of the open-sided buildings and carried them over. We sat and the book pages fluttered open in our minds as Ketut repeated the text almost verbatim.
Hearing Ketut explain how he became a medicine man after being badly burned on his arm by lamp oil and going to medicine men to be healed, was like having subtitles read aloud, almost, but not quite the same. I tried peeking inside the house. (I already knew the story, so I didn't need to pay much attention. Besides Russell was nodding and listening really well.) I couldn't get a good look because every time I'd peer in I'd see the old wife, peering back. She was just inside the partially-open door, watching and listening to every word. She'd smile, I'd smile, then I'd scratch my head or shift, acting as if I hadn't meant to peek and look away.
It felt as if we were in the middle of the movie being made of the book. We both had our palms read. At the end of his readings, Ketut Liyer said "See you later alligator," just the way he had in the book. And I recited the female-lead's part: "After while crocodile."
Move over Elizabeth, stand aside Julia, when it's remake time, I'm ready!