"...the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one's humanity" (115).
I just finished the first part of EPL (literally thirty seconds ago). The last chapter of this section is all about Sicily, a.k.a. the land of my grandmother's heritage. Liz travels from town to town, enjoying the ecstasy that is the food while marveling at the poverty and corruption. Certainly, Sicily is the extreme example of the Italian heritage, or perhaps the living museum of Italy's history with their mafia-induced peasantry, and perhaps the majority of those amazing Italian artists, musicians, dancers, singers, etc. are/were not Sicilian (I actually don't know, but I would say it's a fair guess). Nonetheless, the disbelief in power structures that leads to only a belief in art and beauty** is epitomized in this island's lack of modernity.
The romantic in me would love to attribute my own desire to pursue beauty to the small part of me that comes from this culture. It's in my genes. It's in my blood. But it's not all of my blood. It continually fights against my northern European heritage that likes order, cleanliness, and potatoes. It also explains my "About Me" quote (see? it's over -->-^). My brain suffers, trying to find what it considers it's "correct" path, when perhaps there's more than one (multiple personalities, anyone?). Perhaps this is why the first part of Liz's journey is so appealing to me, along with those various characters I mentioned in my last EPL post. Perhaps, deep inside of me, there's a true Sicilian trying to fight her way to the surface.
The realist in me (darn those northern genes!) tells me that it has nothing to do with my Italian grandmother and everything to do with some blocked childhood memory that will only reveal itself after years and thousands of dollars of psychotherapy. Oh, well.
**Gilbert attributes these ideas to Luigi Barzini's 1964 work The Italians, mentioned on p. 114.
Aside complete. Now on to the official book club discussion questions.
Having finished Italy discuss what the first phase of the journey has been like. Something fun could be that in Chapter 33 while sitting in an outdoor café in Rome, Gilbert’s friend declares that every city—and every person—has a word. Rome’s is “sex,” the Vatican’s “power”; Gilbert declares New York’s to be “achieve,” but only later stumbles upon her own word, antevasin, Sanskrit for “one who lives at the border.” What is your word? Is it possible to choose a word that retains its truth for a lifetime?
The first thought that comes to mind for me is "Transience". In three decades, I have lived in nine cities. Add to that the four years that I moved between dorm rooms and my parents' house for the summer, and two different apartments in two different cities, and that leads to a total of fourteen homes—an average of one home for two years. There was even an apartment that my husband and I called home for only one month, but I'm not counting that apartment (or city) here. Come about year four in any given location, my foot starts to tap. I can feel the itch on the bottom of my feet. I need to move. I need a change of scene, new people to meet, new places to explore. We've lived in Indiana five years now, and the itch is borderline painful now. One more year here, and it will tie for the longest location of my life, along with where we lived when my father retired from USAF.
I also need vacations like some people need that first cup of coffee in the morning. It's refreshing. It helps get you moving again after eight hours of inactivity. It's the boost that makes you want to keep moving for the next sixteen. If I need to be stationary for long stretches, then I need to get out of Dodge periodically. I need the long car ride or the painful airline delays. I need the confusion of being lost while trying to find the hotel or the camping grounds (as long as we can find it within about 15 minutes). I need the excuse to do all the things that I don't do when I'm at home—like finding the pleasure in the food, the atmosphere, the people, going to museums and movies, walking on the beach, hiking in the mountains. I think it gives me "permission" to unveil my inner Sicilian :)
But it's not just physical transience. It's mental as well. I switch gears pretty quickly. For example, when I started grad, I wanted to be a language teacher—English, Polish, maybe Russian. I also really loved historical linguistics—how the language changes over time. Then I got more into theoretical linguistics, and I started working phonology (the study of sounds and how they go together). After about a year or two of that, I dropped phonology and moved into syntax (how the words go together). I'm still in this phase, and I love it. But I loved phonology, and before that I loved historical, and before that I loved teaching. This, mind, is just since 2005, and just in terms of my "job". It doesn't include discussion of hobbies or musical tastes or anything else.
Is it possible to choose a word that will retain its truth for a lifetime? I guess it would depend on the person, and maybe it would depend on whether that person was being honest with him/herself. For me, I have no doubt that this will be my word. While I can handle staying put for longer stretched, I complain about it. I remember asking my father when I was nine or ten when we would be moving again (this was already house number 4, mind you). Maybe when I'm older or have children I'll get tired of the move. Maybe as long as I have a good vacation every year, though—still ensuring my own personal transience—I'll be okay.
Thanks again to the Book Vixen for organizing this book club. I'm really enjoying reading EPL.
Please check out our other book club members (in no particular order): Charlie at Life Happens, Jen at Jen's Corner, Jamie at Three Cheers for Literacy!!, Nicole Rene at Home Grown Me, Erika Lynn at Kiss My Book, LilyofDarkness at Lilium's Realm, Jamie at the Book Junky's Bookshelf, and, of course, the lovely Book Vixen.