Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir is not only a story of finding self, God, and happiness in the world it is also a story about finding humor and good humored people in very dark times. I can think of few ways more effective at cheering someone up than making them laugh or feel contented; which is why I believe that Gilbert’s journey for bodily pleasures and happiness in Italy was the most pivotal of her three journeys and set her on the path to finding true happiness and God. That is not to say that the bodily pleasures she experienced in Italy were more remarkable than her spiritual transformation in India or Bali; rather, without the carnal pleasures she used to overcome her initial depression, Gilbert never would have been able to reach spiritual enlightenment.
Perhaps the most humorous moment in Part I, or the moment that struck closest to home, was Gilbert’s description of going to a soccer match with Luca Spaghetti. Being from Philadelphia, a city whose fans are often considered the most unruly in the country (they once actually booed Santa Clause), I felt a particular resonance with this chapter. As Luca describes to Gilbert, “’We can change our wives,’ he said, ‘We can change our jobs, our nationalities and even our religions, but we can never change our team.’” (Gilbert 68). This statement raises both confusion and hilarity. How can someone not switch allegiance between sports teams, something that is seemingly so marginal or ultimately pointless to our lives? However, at least from a male perspective, I know exactly what Luca is talking about. This kind of obsession with sports seems crazy and as Gilbert points out, “the word for ‘fan’ in Italian if tifoso. Derived from the word for typhus. In other words – one who is mightily fevered.” (68). Gilbert then proceeds to translate a slew of obscenities and laments from an old man behind her, which is also quite hilarious. The passage in its entirety is hysterical but it also raises an interesting point about acceptable social roles and behavior. We often laugh at the absurdity in the way people act at sports games. In no other place is it socially acceptable to berate or denigrate a group of people, especially people you technically do not even know. You may know a player’s name, number, and statistics but you know absolutely nothing about him or her as person unless it’s been plastered all over the news. For some reason however, it is not only acceptable but somewhat expected for people to cheer for the home team and boo the away team. Perhaps this is a different form of release theory. By feeling animosity towards a team, and directing it towards the mascot or the idea of the team as a whole, people may be able to relieve built up tension or aggression. However, I believe that this form of release is nowhere near as effective as humor because it is done in a negative fashion and it can become quite easy to get out of control and become personal and harmful.
Another interesting aspect of rooting for a team is what the team says about an individual’s identity. As Luca Spaghetti says, you can change many things but you can never change the team you cheer for. He believes that love, nationality, and religion are all fluid; people can change their allegiance at any moment and they should have the right to do so. However, in some weird way, the team that a person roots for is concrete and unchanging. It is a part of their identity, which often they have no part in choosing, and that cannot be changed. The team someone cheers for reveals where they are from and what their family is like; two choices, that not a single person has control over. In a way, Gilbert through Luca, reveals that our identities are always inextricably geographically tied somewhere. It is fitting then that the second part of her book is focused on removing her spirit from the physical world and experiencing the world as a whole, spiritually. Perhaps, by walking the same meditative path as Gilbert, people can shake the physical bounds of their identity and discover who they truly are spiritually.