In the book, and now movie, “Eat Pray Love,” author Elizabeth Gilbert eschews the trappings of her everyday life to pursue pleasure, devotion and balance in Italy, India and Bali.
Sounds invigorating. And totally impossible for most of us.
So how do you embark on your own sabbatical of self-discovery when you haven’t the time, money or freedom to fly to the other side of the world?
Here’s how to eat, pray and love in (or near) the East Valley.
The concept of turning over a table quickly is almost nonexistent at this modern European bistro and wine bar headed by Serbian-born chef Luka Muslin. Muslin created the eatery as a place where you can linger, European style, over apéritifs, appetizers, more drinks, dinner, drinks again, and finally dessert and coffee. The menu features nosh plates and Nutella-filled crepes, and it’s earned mostly high marks from local critics and customer review sites Yelp and Urban Spoon.
Details: 1935 S. Val Vista Drive, Mesa. (480) 926-3354 or www.pastisaz.com.
This Mesa shop run by Italian-born Walter Bergamaschi and his wife, Marti Printy — who both trained to make gelato near Bologna, Italy — is home to mounds of dense homemade gelato so pretty it’s almost satisfying enough just to gaze upon them. But order a scoop, and you’ll be in the kind of heaven that made author Gilbert eat gelato three times in one day. Plenty of traditional (and delicious) flavors are available, but the couple’s innovative concoctions are especially mouthwatering: chocolate habanero, salted caramel, lemongrass-cilantro, gorgonzola and walnut, and kiwi-chardonnay to name a few. They also serve coffee drinks and make gelato cakes to order. A second location just opened at Gilbert’s San Tan Village, where you can bring your “Eat Pray Love” ticket stub to get buy-one, get-one-free gelato.
Details: 5251 E. Brown Road, Mesa, (480) 329-2143, or 2743 S. Market Street, Suite 105, Gilbert, (480) 218-0225. www.gelatodolcevita.com.
If you’re in need of a quiet, somewhat otherworldly setting to nourish your spirit or simply turn inward for a few hours, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence may be the place to start. The cloister accepts day visitors and overnight guests, provided you’re respectful of their customs and rules. The code of conduct may seem strict, but resorting to basics — from attire to words spoken aloud — provides a rare chance to immerse yourself in the kind of tranquil contemplation and reflection hard to come by in our overstimulated world.
Details: 4748 N. St. Joseph’s Way, Florence. (520) 868-3188. www.stanthonysmonastery.org.
Southern Arizona’s missions
Gilbert traveled to India to absorb age-old spiritual wisdom and traditions. Lucky for us, centuries of spiritual inspiration are less than 200 miles away, and getting there is much cheaper than a plane ticket to Asia. Four Jesuit and Franciscan missions dating back as far as 1691 still stand in the desert near Tucson: Mission San Xavier del Bac, San José de Tumacácori, Los Santos Angeles de Guevavi and San Cayetano de Calabazas. The adobe churches are serene remnants of a more turbulent period, an identity a person on a healing journey may aspire to herself.
Mission San Xavier del Bac: 1950 W. San Xavier Road, Tucson. Free, but donations are appreciated. (520) 294-2624. www.sanxaviermission.org.
Tumacácori National Historical Park (home to Tumacácori, Guevavi and Calabazas missions): 1895 E. Frontage Road, Tumacácori. $3 per person age 16 or older, valid for seven days. (520) 398-2341. www.nps.gov/tuma
Red Rock vortices
An easy day trip will put you squarely amid the swirling centers of subtle natural energy that give Sedona its reputation as a spiritual power center. There are seven prominent vortices, or places where energy is said to emanate from the earth, in and around the town, and you can drive or walk directly to a vortex without the expense of a guide. Whether you buy the idea of an invisible current spiraling up out of the rocks or not, their mountaintop and canyonland locations make them prime places to sit a spell, letting go of day-to-day worries, clearing your head and opening yourself to things that are bigger than yourself — like the wilderness stretching out all around you.
Give to yourself
Gilbert’s journey, more than anything, boiled down to learning to love herself. Begin to appreciate your own inner awesomeness by spending time with you, taking risks and learning your capabilities and limitations. Your approach needn’t be as lofty or far-flung as hers. Try sky-diving in Eloy or Coolidge, a mosaic class at Art Rocks Studio in Chandler, the Arizona Wildlife Federation’s “Becoming an Outdoorswoman” camp, or Mesa’s city kickball league. The East Valley even has a cake decorating club for sugar art enthusiasts — the Arizona Confection Connection. To find opportunities, start with your city’s park district catalog or website.
For Gilbert, love equaled balance. Even out all that giving to yourself by volunteering. Hands On Phoenix makes it easy to link up with a nearby project that suits your interests and benefits others. Find a cause you feel passionate about by calling (602) 973-2212 or visiting http://handsonphoenix.org. You can also visit with the group in person 6 p.m. Aug. 16 and 17 at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe.