Meeting Wayan From Elizabeth Gilbert’s "Eat, Pray, Love"

The book Eat, Pray, Love, topped the New York Times best seller list for a year. Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her quest to ‘find herself’ after a devastating divorce. She spends four months in Italy eating fabulous food, four months in India meditating in an ashram and four months in Bali finding love and contentment. I read Eat, Pray, Love just before my trip to Bali.

Wayan was my favorite character in the book. She’s the proprietor of a small healing shop and restaurant in the city of Ubud. Elizabeth Gilbert is riding her bicycle in Ubud and falls injuring her knee. She goes to the shop for some ointment to heal her wound and ends up making friends with Wayan and her cute, irrepressible daughter, Tutti. Wayan has left an abusive husband and is having difficulty surviving on her own, since in Balinese culture divorce carries such a strong stigma. Wayan is often forced to move her business from one rental site to another and so has trouble holding onto enough established clients to be financially successful. Elizabeth Gilbert puts out an appeal to American friends to donate money to buy Wayan her own shop. It doesn’t take Gilbert long to collect $18,000. Before she leaves Bali, Gilbert sees Wayan established in a mortgage free two-storey building.

It isn’t hard to find Wayan’s shop. Gilbert’s book says it is a few doors up the road from the Ubud post office and that is exactly where my friend Kathy and I found it. The hand painted sign out front invited us in to have a massage, learn Balinese dance, buy medicinal plants, eat a healthy Vitamin Lunch or be healed of whatever ailed us. Huge pots on the shop’s front patio contained various herbs like ginseng, jasmine and aloe vera. Each pot had a sign that told you what illnesses that particular plant could help to cure.

We wandered inside. The restaurant had three tables. Wayan met us and after escorting us to the one table available asked if we had come to eat or be healed. We told her we were hungry after a morning of wandering the shops and galleries of Ubud and so she and her assistant began bringing food to our table. They grated tumeric and mixed it with ginger, honey and water to make a delicious juice. They brought us three kinds of seaweed, each flavored in a different way. We ate uniquely spiced melon and tomato served on banana leaves. We had rice and salad. As each dish came to the table Wayan told us whether it was good for our stomach, kidneys, hearts or love lives.

Wayan said for only a small, added cost we could have a healthy body check at the end of the meal, but she was very busy when we finished eating doing body checks for a group of French women sitting at another table. I noted one of them had a French copy of Eat, Pray, Love tucked into her bag. The book has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Since Kathy and I knew our husbands would already be waiting for us back at our hotel we decided to leave. We bid Wayan farewell.

One of the things I like to do whenever I travel is read a book set in the country I’m visiting. It makes the place come alive for me. I don’t always get a chance to actually step into the pages of the books and meet one of the characters I’ve read about. Happily I was able to do that in Bali.

Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma by Tilar Mazzeo

“Be careful going in search of adventure – it’s ridiculously easy to find” – William Least Heat Moon

Tilar Mazzeo’s new book – the charming Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma – has made your wine adventures that much easier. This book simply whets one’s appetite for wine travels along the backroads of Sonoma County in search of hard to find, and, yes, adventurous wineries.

The layout of Mazzeo’s Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma is straightforward and easy-to-use. It is divided into five sections (six if you count the Intro/How to Use section) highlighting Sonoma County’s revered wine regions: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Healdsburg, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley and Carneros. The wines that are written about in this smart little travelogue are the remarkable hand-crafted wines that herald from family-run operations and that, with few exceptions, see only local distribution. (Mazzeo doesn’t spend any time writing about the big dogs of Sonoma). For each chapter, Mazzeo throws in favorite restaurants, cafes, and picnic spots.

It’s not only lesser-known winemakers and wineries represented here. Some wines see a broader distribution than others. Iron Hill, Unti, Robert Young, and Dutton Goldfield, for instance. But keep in mind that these wineries are producing less than 35,000 cases a year. And though it seems a big number, consider that the output of commercial operations is closer to 5 million cases a year.

Most of the wineries presented in Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma produce less than 10,000 cases yearly. Some less than 1000. Most of these wines can only be found and purchased locally. Take Bacar Vineyards in Healdsburg. “One-man wonder” Trace Nunes produces only one wine, a Burgundy-style Pinot Noir that retails for $100. He fairly eschews advertising his wine, favoring working the fields instead. His is an appointment only operation, and Mazzeo makes it clear that it is worth one’s time to make said appointment, as Nunes’ wines are little known and worth the while.

And then there is Nalle Winery, where the Nalle family has been producing small-lot wines in the Dry Creek Valley since the 1980s. It is easy to become enchanted by this family of winemakers who believe that ‘wine makes you smart’ and whose approach to wine is described as “laidback and fun-loving”.

With just over 65 wineries included, Mazzeo’s guide is chockfull of similarly tempting anecdotes, so one must not forget to give certain props where props are due. For how else could one learn of some of these lesser-known wineries – and the producers so single-mindedly passionate about wine – without Ms. Mazzeo’s having travelled these backroads, explored the wineries, and written this book.

Tilar Mazzeo is a cultural historian, biographer, and assistant professor of English at Colby College. This may well explain her depth as a curious human being: in Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma she not only seeks out world class wines, she also seek out the people behind the wines, the stories behind the people. And in her conversational manner, she conveys her considerable wine knowledge. It is like listening to one’s best friend, home from a wine holiday, still giddy with excitement, still full of all those sights and tastes.

With over 7 million tourists – connoisseurs and beginning enthusiasts alike – visiting Sonoma Wine Country annually, it’s not such a bad idea to take to the back roads and experience a wine tasting or two from these smaller wineries. Not to mention, meeting the producers themselves. Most certainly don’t forget to pack Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma. This little gem of a guide, thanks to Tilar Mazzeo, just made your Sonoma adventure ridiculously easier. And remarkably tastier, at that.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Back Lane Wineries of Napa by Tilar Mazzeo, coming 2010.

Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma by Tilar Mazzeo

published by The Little Bookroom 2009

Books Set in France – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

So you are about to set off on the trip of a lifetime to one of the most-loved countries in the world — France! You have been practicing your ‘bonjours‘ and your ‘mercis‘, and studying maps of Paris to work out how to get around, but there is one more thing you can do to make sure your trip is extra special. And that is to immerse yourself in French life by reading some books set in France.

Reading novels set in Paris or the French countryside will give you an insight into the country which is impossible to get from the guide books. As the characters walk along the Seine or drink their coffee at a table on the Parisian pavement, it will fill you with anticipation to do the same — making the experience so much sweeter when you finally get to do it yourself. If the novel is set in the past, you will have more appreciation for France’s history, bringing many of the places and old buildings alive when you visit them on your trip. And if the novel is set in the present day, there’s nothing more fun than trying to find the streets, bars and restaurants that might be mentioned in the story.

So what books should you read? Here is a selection of five novels which do a great job in bringing France to life, even before you set foot on that plane.

‘Foreign Tongue’ by Vanina Marsot

Nursing a broken heart, Anna moves to Paris from Los Angeles. She begins working as the translator of a cryptic erotic novel and of course, finds herself some romance. The book is a love-letter to the city, with plenty of wanderings through the streets as well as descriptions of French life, food and cafes.

‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott

History, mystery, romance and intrigue intertwine in this novel set in post-Napoleonic Paris. It is 1815 and a young Englishman travels to Paris to take up a position at the renowned Jardin des Plantes. But when the collection of rare coral specimens he is carrying is stolen by a beautiful woman, he is drawn into a plot involving revolutionaries, spies and the intelligentsia. Victorian Paris comes alive in this novel, which will surely enhance any present day visit to the Jardin des Plantes, France’s main botanical garden.

‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Susan Vreeland

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ is a famous painting depicting a group of Parisians enjoying lunch on the terrace of a restaurant on the Seine. In this novel Vreeland tells the story of those in the painting and how they came to be there. It is a glorious look at Paris at the time of the Impressionists, and you can still eat at the restaurant itself today.

‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ by Joanne Harris

Now we move out of Paris and into the Loire Valley with this novel by Harris that takes us to a village occupied by the Germans in WWII. The book moves between WWII and the present day, giving us an insight into the long-term effects the Nazi occupation had on the French people. And as it is a book by Joanne Harris, there is a of course lots of time spent exploring French food!

‘The Matchmaker of Perigord’ by Julia Stuart

We finish up with something fun and quirky, in a fictional village in France’s south-west. Amour-Sur-Belle might not be a real place, but it gives a taste of some of the declining villages of rural France. Here, the town barber decides to reinvent himself as a match-maker, quite a task when there are only 33 residents to match up. Filled with delightful characters and semi-ridiculous situations, this novel should just leave you giggling and enjoying the French temperament.

So if you have your tickets booked for Charles de Gaulle airport or you just WISH you had a holiday planned for France, try the books above to immerse yourself in a bit of French life and culture. And if you find yourself enjoying them…well, there’s plenty more to explore…Bon Voyage!