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KLMNO In the ‘Eat Pray Love’ movie, Bali is no mere paradise

morethought,morefeeling,more real pain and more challenge. If Roberts cannot always capture the razor-sharp journalist in Gil- bert (a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award before she wrote “Eat Pray Love”), she captures her woundedness so well that it hurts. And if the film decides to concentrate on the romantic arc of Gilbert’s Balinese sojourn, it still catches the tex- tures, the colors, the backdrop of the place and, most important, the narrator’s voice, with its rare blend of wonder and irreverence. Besides, destinations are the

least important aspect of Gil- bert’s journey; it’s the people she meets who push and teach her. Travel and exoticism don’t trans- form us, she’s always sensible enough to suggest; our thoughts and actions do. Gilbert’s Bali is human and imperfect in part because she is; anyone can live in paradise, as she implies through- out, but it takes shrewdness, re- silience and honest self-question- ing to live in the real world. Will Bali be spoilednowby the


Kuta Beach, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bali, reinforces the island’s image as a tropical paradise. bali from F1

“Eat Pray Love” is not about

realizing fantasies, but, if any- thing, about seeing through them to harder and in fact more liber- ating truths. To call Bali a para- dise, Gilbert writes with typically unobtrusive wisdom, “is a bit insulting to reality.” Hollywood is the spiritual


Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert looks beyond Bali’s surface in “Eat Pray Love.” She enjoys human connections more than scenery.

home of make-believe, though, so I had assumed that much would get lost in the translation to the screen of Gilbert’s shaded Bali. Yet lo and behold, the movie does show that her twinkling local sage is “mostly toothless.” It does, in passing, acknowledge that

many on the island are still trau- matized by the recent terrorist bombing there. And, on the last stop on her itinerary, it does present Julia Roberts looking as washed-out and drawn as the woman the Balinese chide for being in “some broken T-shirt, some broken jeans.” If the silver- haired, balding Brazilian of the book is played by Javier Bardem . . . well, that’sHollywood for you. The Balinese section of Gil-

bert’s book was always going to be the hardest to make fresh, if only because it is about not the complications of searching but the sweetness of finding. And the womanwhoplays Gilbert’s healer

friend,Wayan, looks nothing like any Balinese woman I’ve ever seen. (I wish someone had told the filmmakers that the name is pronounced “Why-ahn.”) Indeed, in the necessary shortcuts the film takes in simplifying the ac- tion, it glosses over what is to me the most impressive moment in the book: when Gilbert is at once generous enough to raise money for her Balinese friend and hon- est enough to admit that she has very likely been taken. Yet when I think of this sum-

mer’s other fantasy worlds — in “Salt,” “Inception,” “Knight and Day” and “IronMan 2”—it’s hard to deny that “EatPrayLove” offers

millions of Americanwomenwho may flock there in search of Javier Bardem? Somehow, I don’t think so. “ ‘Isn’t Bali spoiled?’ is invari- ably the question that greets the returned traveler,” the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias once wrote. That was in 1937. By then, seven years had passed since filmmaker Andre Roosevelt had written, “This nation of artists is faced with a Western invasion, and I cannot stand idly by and watch its destruction.” In the 26 years that I’ve been

regularly returning to the island, rumors of its imminent demise have been as regular — and as long-lasting — as the full moon. The best thing that could come out of the movie “Eat Pray Love” is that more people might ques- tion the sleepwalking that is so often our daily lives—andreturn, perhaps, to the subtler, richer and even more unflinching book.

Iyer is the author of numerous travel books, including “Video Night in Kathmandu,” about Bali and nine other Asian nations.


India inspires from outside the ashram india from F1

there is also somuchmore. Looking for inner tranquillity?

Settle into a shikara, a flat-bot- tomed wooden boat, and drift through the enchanted floating island forests of Dal Lake in India’s northern state of Kash- mir, serenaded by the melodic calls of cuckoo birds in the tree- tops and entertained by minia- ture neon-blue kingfishers that hover above thewaterwaiting for minnows. Want to find yourself? Sit on a

terrace at the restored five-centu- ry-old Neemrana Fort-Palace ho- tel overlooking the Rajasthan desert at sunset, listening to the evening calls of peacocks and the muffled sounds of village life at the foot of the hill. Seeking a spiritual experi-

ence? Stroll New Delhi’s verdant Lodi Gardens, where you can explore 550-year-old Mogul

tombs populated by squawking green parrots and feistymonkeys and join the scores of local resi- dents meditating or practicing yoga in the shade of mammoth trees. Fortunately, the producers of

the movie version of “Eat Pray Love” allowed actress Roberts to escape occasionally from the cloistered caves of her ashram and its like-minded foreign tour- ists.

One of the most touching

scenes in the movie is Roberts- Gilbert’s participation in the wedding of 17-year-old Tulsi, whomshemeets scrubbing floors at the ashram.Tulsiwants to go to college and become a psycholo- gist. Instead, she is forced to marry a geeky-looking guy froma rich Delhi family chosen by her parents in an arranged marriage —still the standard formofmar- riage in India. After a sumptuous ceremony,

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FRANÇOIS DUHAMEL Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) chats with “Richard from Texas” (Richard Jenkins), a man she meets while staying at an ashramin India.

bride and groomstandmiserably on the dance floor in their bril- liant marital attire as dozens of laughing family members dance and swirl around them, joyously waving colorful scarves. Rob- erts’s Gilbert, outfitted in a green and gold sari, looks on, sadly empathetic, thinking of the di- vorce that drove her to India in the first place. This is real India, with all its outward beauty and internal messy social complica- tions. If I were advising Gilbert (or

any other traveler seeking a spiri- tual India), I would order them out of the confining ashrams and into the streets and neighbor- hoods of India’s feast of religious festivals. That iswhere you’ll find the true soul of the country. Diwali, the fall Festival of

Lights, transforms even themost impoverished villages into magi- cal fairylands with hundreds of candles, lanterns and fireworks. During the springholiday ofHoli, markets are filled with moun- tains of powdered dyes used to pelt one andall ina visual simula- tionofmanandnature casting off the gloom of winter and exulting in the colors and new life of spring.

One religious event Gilbert

may not have appreciated, how- ever, is the Festival of Karva Chauth, when married women fast all day to show devotion to theirhusbands.Atdark, they race to their rooftops and balconies and wait breathlessly with rum- bling stomachs for themoonrise. As soon as the orb climbs into the sky, vast platters of food are shared with families and neigh- bors. Back on the set at “Eat Pray

Love,” both movie and book cap- tured almost perfectly one of the great Indian experiences: A tour- ist’s first sip of the favorite na- tional soft drink brand, Thums Up. Roberts describes it as “sort of like Coca-Cola, but with about nine times the corn syrup and triple the caffeine.” But ask any Indian the great-

est attribute of Thums Up, and they’ll tell you it’s “the burp factor.” The bigger the burp, the better the soda.

Moore, a formerWashington Post reporter, is senior vice president of Sanderson Strategies Group, a Washingtonmedia consulting firm.


Spiritual seekers can venture beyond ashrams and discover sites such as the Bhagawan Nityananda temple in Ganeshpuri, India.

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