Eat, Pray, Live.
WE ARE SITTING in a hole-in-the-wall bagel and coffee shop in Frenchtown, 16 miles upriver from Lambertville, and Liz Gilbert is talking. Liz loves to talk. She keeps pulling her hands inside her gray turtleneck, hugging herself — Liz is always cold — and it makes her head seem disembodied, all blue eyes and mess of blond. What she’s saying is serious stuff, zeroing in on her connection to the people she writes about, what she has to know: “Who are you really, and how does this link us?”
Suddenly she’s gazing past me, over my shoulder. “Can I just tell you, this is my favorite kid,” she says. “Look at this kid, if you get the chance. He’s my favorite kid in the whole town.”
I turn. There’s a boy at the counter. He’s, maybe, 11. He’s skinny as a stick, wearing a sweatshirt that swallows him. His face is dominated by long hair, like one of Robert Kennedy’s brood from the ’70s.
And now Liz really lights up, barely out of earshot of this urchin. “I just love him,” she says, leaning in toward me but never taking her eyes off him. “I met him last summer. There’s a swimming hole here, a culvert, under the bridge. I just went one day. He was there with his buddies, the littlest one of his gang, but the most friendly and authentic. And he told me where the rope swing was, and here I’m this 40-year-old lady, asking him all these questions. And he’s all skinny ribs and knees, and had to be wearing his brother’s swim trunks that came down to mid-ankle on him. I don’t even know his name, but I have a little crush on him. I love him. He’s fantastic!”
Liz Gilbert has plenty of time to enthuse over boys at swimming holes these days. She’s the author of Eat, Pray, Love, a memoir that’s sold six million copies (and counting) and details her year-long trek around the world trying to rediscover just who she was in the aftermath of a horrendous divorce. It’s made her rich and famous, and the mother hen of a cult following of female acolytes (read: Oprah, Hillary), not only because she charged off into the world alone to repair the hole in her heart, but because of the way she reported back to us from Italy, India and Bali so directly, with such startling charm. Like a 40-year-old woman (okay, 39) who gets googly-eyed over an 11-year-old swimming-hole buddy. “Look at him,” Liz insists. “At that age, I would have towered over him, and been totally … ” As her young friend slips out into the winter afternoon, she gazes after him fondly, and of course Liz is just fooling around about a crush, but she’s also letting you in, to see the way she was, as a girl, as a young woman. Not just about boys — in fact, boys aren’t really the point at all. It’s her take on the wider world, on how jazzed she was to get out and about, on her need to take in as much as one person can. “There was nothing else I wanted to do,” she says, shifting back to her thirst for writing, for traveling all over the world tracking down stories, for adventure, for more. “Why wouldn’t you want to go wherever you can, see everything, do everything, meet everybody, try everything? Who wouldn’t want to?”