(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR and WNYC's hour of trivia, puzzles, and word games. I'm Ophira Eisenberg and please welcome our very important puzzler, author, Elizabeth Gilbert.
ELIZABETH GILBERT: Thank you. Thank you, thank you.
EISENBERG: Now you live in New Jersey.
GILBERT: I don't want to brag, but yes, I do.
GILBERT: Which is where you would if you could live anywhere in the entire world.
EISENBERG: If you could live anywhere, that's where you'd pick. But you grew up on a Christmas farm?
GILBERT: I did.
EISENBERG: A Christmas tree farm.
GILBERT: A Christmas tree farm.
EISENBERG: A Christmas farm.
EISENBERG: It's just Christmas every day.
GILBERT: There's elves.
EISENBERG: We grow Christmas, year-round.
GILBERT: The happiness farm. Let's go harvest some noel.
GILBERT: Yes. I grew up in a Christmas tree farm. I'm an elf, I guess in that regard.
EISENBERG: Now I and millions of people have read "Eat, Pray, Love" and obviously...
GILBERT: Oh, that old thing.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Blockbuster hit, becomes a movie for feature film, starring Julia Roberts. But I was interested to learn that this wasn't the first time something you wrote became a movie.
GILBERT: Oh, you've done your homework.
EISENBERG: So, the movie "Coyote Ugly" was based on an essay you wrote.
GILBERT: Yes. That is correct.
EISENBERG: OK. We have to hear about this.
GILBERT: Well, since we're in a bar, I could just act it out. But I think it would be...
GILBERT: I worked at the original Coyote Ugly bar when I was a young - well, I guess I wasn't unemployed because I was a bartender.
EISENBERG: It felt that way.
GILBERT: But I was certainly unpublished. I was a young unpublished writer. And then later when I became a writer, I wrote an article about it for "GQ." And then Disney read this article about this filthy, disgusting pit in the East Village, where we used to set the bar on fire to get customers away from us, and said, that's a great movie for kids. And they made the fantastic "Coyote Ugly"... movie...
GILBERT: ...now legendary.
EISENBERG: Two movies under your belt. Now this, you wrote that for "GQ."
GILBERT: Yes, I did.
EISENBERG: And early in your career as a journalist and a writer, you were writing for a lot of these guys' magazines, right?
EISENBERG: "GQ," "Esquire"...
GILBERT: Yup. I wrote for and about men. Which is why it's so ironic that now I am the uber chick lit author.
EISENBERG: Suppose that you even dressed in drag for a week to live as a guy?
GILBERT: I did. When I worked for "GQ," I spent a week living as a man. Which was actually, I'm sorry to say, embarrassingly easy for me to do. It took about...
GILBERT: They brought in a drag king as a consultant, and it took her about 10 minutes to make me into a very plausible dude.
GILBERT: A little, a little tiny goatee, and short hair: and there's Luke, right there.
EISENBERG: Was that your name, Luke?
GILBERT: That was my name. Yeah.
GILBERT: And I also got a - I don't know, can I say this on the radio? A condom full of birdseed to wear in my pants to just make - it was - you want to, you just want to feel real, you know?
GILBERT: You want to feel real.
EISENBERG: And what did you - you just walked around?
GILBERT: I just tried to do like the guy-est stuff that I could think. I went and tried to join the Air Force in the...
GILBERT: ...in Times Square. And I remember the takeaway from that is the Air Force recruiting saying, you want to punch holes in the sky, Luke? And I was like, yeah, I want to punch holes in the sky. I went to Shea Stadium and I used the men's room.
GILBERT: Terrifying. There was a sort of a moment in the movie "Witness" where the little boy is peering through the crack and sees everything. And there was this little kid kind of looking at me through a crack. And I was like, if you tell anyone what you've seen.
EISENBERG: You didn't just go, I'm a writer; I will come to your house and dress your mother like this?
GILBERT: No. It's like what is this thing, being a man?
EISENBERG: And the conclusion?
GILBERT: I wasn't into it.
EISENBERG: All right. That's good.
GILBERT: I wasn't into it.
EISENBERG: That's good.
GILBERT: I was happy to take those Ace bandages off and get rid of the birdseed.
EISENBERG: And move on.
GILBERT: Feed the birds and move on.
EISENBERG: Feed the birds.
EISENBERG: So, "Eat, Pray, Love," huge female readership. A lot of guys read it too. But I know that, I mean it changed women's lives.
EISENBERG: And I think that must've been a lot of responsibility for you to bear, that you're writing a memoir about your life, about some things that you decided to do, some choices you make...
EISENBERG: ...and all of a sudden you were like a self-help guru for these people that are using it as an instruction manual.
GILBERT: Well, I tried to tell them - first of all, I thank them.
GILBERT: I'm very glad that they're all using it as an instruction manual, in one regard. But I also do try to make clear to them, you know, this doesn't mean that everybody has to get divorced and move to India.
GILBERT: But if you want to, you go ahead and do it. But I, I mean in all seriousness, the thing that I do try to convey is, don't do what I did - but ask what I asked.
EISENBERG: And now you return to writing a novel. You've written novels before. This book, "The Signature of All Things," this is set in the 19th century.
EISENBERG: And we follow this woman, Alma, who is a botanist?
GILBERT: Yes. Birth to death story of a very passionate toweringly intellectual 19th century woman of science.
EISENBERG: And it's written in a language that really evokes the 19th century. How - did that come natural to you? I mean it's...
GILBERT: I told you about my upbringing, right?
EISENBERG: Oh, that's right. You're like...
GILBERT: I was essentially raised in the 19th century. And, but I did grow up reading, I'm a 21st century writer but I'm a 19th century reader. But mostly that I didn't get the language of my novel mostly from that. I got it from reading a lot of 19th century letters, because that's where you can hear people's speaking voices.
EISENBERG: Oh yeah. So you dove and you did like a huge amount of research?
GILBERT: Three years of research. Yeah. On botany and evolution and missionaries and abolition and 19th century erotica, t5hat was really fun to research.
EISENBERG: Oh yeah. So, right, because you have some steamy scenes.
GILBERT: Yeah. It's a little sex.
EISENBERG: So, yes...
GILBERT: There's a little heat.
EISENBERG: So yeah, where did you...
GILBERT: There's a little sizzle.
EISENBERG: Where did you go to read that? Or who do you check how that works?
GILBERT: It's funny, a lot of it...
EISENBERG: It was steamy. I got to say, it's...
GILBERT: Where do you check how that works...
GILBERT: ...is such a great question. You got to - a lot of it was really interestingly disguised in the 19thh century as medical journals, so it would sort of be in the voice of a learned doctor talking about somebody's pathologies, and then it would just get really detailed, and then it would get really sweaty. And then you're like, this isn't a doctor. And...
GILBERT: So I got to read a lot of that, which was great.
EISENBERG: Dr. Feel Good.
GILBERT: I - I would like to see a degree, mister - if you are a mister.
EISENBERG: Well, I think it's a fantastic book. And I think Oprah should start a mosque club to further support what you're doing.
Elizabeth Gilbert, would you like to play a little ASK ME ANOTHER challenge with us?
GILBERT: Would I?
EISENBERG: OK. Fantastic.
EISENBERG: Elizabeth Gilbert, everybody.
EISENBERG: So Elizabeth, we wanted to find you a worthy opponent. And I think we did very well.
EISENBERG: Please welcome Gabriel Hamilton.
EISENBERG: Now Gabriel has her own memoir, "Blood, Bones & Butter." So we know she was no stranger to the game of love. And she knows her way around the kitchen, because she has an amazing restaurant in New York called Prune.
This is a game called: Eat, Pray, Love. What we're going to do is name a few things and all you have to do is tell us, is it a food that you eat, A deity that you would pray to, or a famous person or a fictional character that you would love at least if you were that person's lover.
EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton and I are going to be alternating questions between you two, so there's no need to buzz in. You just tell us eat, pray or love.
EISENBERG: So we'll start with you, Gabriel. Cressida - would you like to know how that's spelled?
GILBERT: It's C-r-e-s-s-i-d-a?
GILBERT: OK. Well, I want to pray and love.
GILBERT: But can I pray?
EISENBERG: You can pray, but you might want to pray for an answer because it's not that one.
EISENBERG: That is love.
JONATHAN COULTON: All right, Liz. Banh mi.
GILBERT: One more time?
COULTON: Banh mi. B-a-n-h-m-i.
GILBERT: B-a-n-a - I think that's eat.
COULTON: It is. That's right.
COULTON: It's your classic Vietnamese baguette situation.
EISENBERG: This is for you, Gabrielle. Onigiri. Onigiri, there we go. This is - I mean to pronounce everything in nine ways. You choose which one you think is right.
GABRIELLE HAMILTON: Yeah, you're going to eat that.
EISENBERG: Yes. You are going to eat that.
COULTON: Ms. Gilbert, Minihaha.
GILBERT: Oh, Mini - Miniaha is goddess, right? Pray or is she a girlfriend?
EISENBERG: Lake Minihaha is in...
COULTON: Depends on who you ask, I suppose.
GILBERT: It's in Minnesota, isn't it? Is it a person? Is it a girlfriend? It's love. Let's go with love.
COULTON: You're just saying everything you can think of.
GILBERT: I'm just going say - do you eat it? I'm going to go with love.
COULTON: Love is correct. That's the lover of Hiawatha.
GILBERT: The lover of Hiawatha.
GILBERT: You pray to it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes.
EISENBERG: Not a soccer player, but a Polynesian god of volcanoes.
COULTON: Liz, Hathor.
COULTON: Hathor. H-a-t-h-o-r.
COULTON: Yeah. Very good.
COULTON: Egyptian goddess of beer.
GILBERT: Who knew?
COULTON: And fertility.
GILBERT: Ah. Yup, makes sense.
COULTON: Same thing, really. Yeah, kind of.
EISENBERG: Gabrielle Indira. I nailed the pronunciation of that, by the way.
ART CHUNG: You eat that.
EISENBERG: Yes, you do. Spongy...
GILBERT: In Ethiopia, I think. Yeah.
EISENBERG: Exactly. That spongy bread.
COULTON: Liz, Muntaz(ph) Mahal.
GILBERT: Muntaz Mahal?
COULTON: Sorry Mumtaz Mahal. M-u-m-t-a-z, new word, m-a-h-l
COULTON: No. I'm sorry.
COULTON: The wife for whom Shah Jahan built Taj Mahal.
(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE SIGHS)
CHUNG: It was Mumtaz Mahal.
EISENBERG: Is that why her name rhymes with it?
COULTON: I guess.
COULTON: Who knows how they do things? I don't know.
COULTON: If only you'd been to India.
GILBERT: If only I'd been to India.
COULTON: Oh, that was a good one.
GILBERT: Ooh. I actually was in Indiana in that section of the book and now we all know.
EISENBERG: Busted. This is your last set of clues. Fabulinus, that's the name.
EISENBERG: Fabulinus. Gabrielle, what is that, eat, pray or love?
HAMILTON: I'm going to pray to that.
EISENBERG: Yes. Exactly, you're going to pray to that.
EISENBERG: God of musical theater. No.
EISENBERG: A god in the popular religion of Ancient Rome. There you go. Fabulinus teaches children to speak and gets an offering when the child says its first words.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIGHS FROM THE AUDIENCE)
EISENBERG: So there you go. It's kind of like a tooth fairy but more expensive.
GILBERT: Can you spell it?
GILBERT: I mean could you spell it if you weren't looking at it?
COULTON: There's an h, and then there's an a, with a diacritical mark above it...
COULTON: ...and then a k, and then an a, and then and r, and then an l.
GILBERT: I'm going to pray to that.
COULTON: No, I'm sorry, that's something you would want to eat. It is fermented shark meat from Iceland.
GILBERT: Oh. Anthony Bourdain says it is terrible.
COULTON: So maybe you don't want to eat it after all.
GILBERT: It sounds absolutely terrible.
CHUNG: Yeah, it does sound awful.
EISENBERG: So eat is sort of like in brackets around that one.
COULTON: Technically, it may be eaten.
GREG PLISKA: The word for the end of this is: blood, bones, better.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)
PLISKA: Gabrielle, you are our winner.
EISENBERG: Well done. And this is how it works, Elizabeth, you and Gabrielle are both going to receive official ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)
EISENBERG: And we thank you so much for playing with us. Thank you so much, Gabrielle.
HAMILTON: Thank you.
EISENBERG: Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
COULTON: (singing) I can cook a little, but it's not a lot to shout about. It's kind of mean cuisine, so I eat out. Hey, they know me at the Greek, and the chicken, the Italian and the Indian too. They all say, here comes that sad American man again. What are we going to do?
(singing) Well, you can put me in the table, in the corner, in the back, unless you got one in a telephone booth. I'm here and I'm alone again. It's sad, but it's the truth. No, I'm not expecting anyone. Is that beyond belief? Give me a table. Take away the candle. Never mind the aperitif.
(singing) I can cook a little, but it's not a lot to shout about. It's kind of mean cuisine, so I eat out.
EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton.