One woman’s search for everything across India, Iran, and Iceland… excerpts from my extraordinary upcoming novel of self-discovery:
It was fall in Como, Italy. The leaves were changing. The peasants smelled of freshly baked bread. The spaghetti was in season. I was married to a handsome and generous man whose salt and pepper chest hair reminded me of salt and pepper. Every evening he would take me walking by the pond he had filled with geese for me because the Canadian goose is my spirit animal. He was kind, and tall and very good at riding motorcycles and acting. And I was miserable.
And so I found myself night after night lying on the expensive marble floors of the villa we occupied, weeping into a towel made of imported orphan-baby hair that we had, years before, lovingly registered for in a secret section of Bloomingdales where you can still get Nazi gold and dodo birds.
See, the thing was this: I did not want to be married anymore.
The realization had come to me months before when I was on assignment in Oaxaca for Blimp magazine, exploring the primitive dirigibles of the Mayans. Before I had left, something happened that made me think that my husband wanted us to have a child and that I was not ready. He said:
“I want to put a baby inside of you.”
And then I threw up on his face.
I told a wise man in Oaxaca what happened, and he said to me:
“You are not meant to have a baby with this man. Instead, you will go on a journey around the world for free, and then write about it.”
His words came back to me as I lay on the bathroom floor. Sure, he was a stranger, and probably the drunkest person I had ever met. But still, he had told me what I wanted to hear, and who was I not to listen?
And so I called the maid to lift me up off the bathroom floor and then, with my own feet, I walked all the way down the hall to the bedroom I shared with my husband. I walked past the portrait of us in Richard Branson’s invisible space yacht. I walked past the monkey butler. I walked past the robot that does my hair.
I pushed open the platinum doors to our bedchamber and grabbed the porcelain waking stick. I poked my husband gently in his perfect buttocks and I said to him:
“George. George Clooney. I want a divorce.”
Part One: An Idea
If you have been married to George Clooney, you know what he can be like. Very petty and jealous and conniving. He tried everything to stop me from leaving. He cried. He pleaded. He trapped me in an electrical cage. He put a snake in my wig. As our divorce dragged on, and I became more devastated, my friends noticed my decline. They all had ideas about why I was depressed. They advised me to see a therapist, to become a vegan, to “just shut the fuck up.” But nothing could stir me from my funk.
I realized I needed to go away. I remembered what the drunken man in Oaxaca had told me, that I was meant to go around the world. I thought to myself, that man was probably born onto Earth for the sole purpose of telling me how not to be depressed about George Clooney anymore, and so that’s what I did.
I went to my book editor, who is the most powerful book editor in the world, a woman who could have Jonathan Franzen killed with a snap of the manicured fingers on her metallic hand, and I pitched her an idea:
For one year I would travel the world and do the things I had wanted to do my entire life, things that the little voices inside of my head had stopped me from doing.
See, I had always loved to brag. Even when I was little, I loved to go around telling people awesome stuff about myself. But somewhere along the way, I had lost it. My boasts had fallen away like pebbles out of a hole in my pocket. Where had it gone, the courage to tell complete strangers about my preternaturally fast metabolism, my ability to put my feet behind my head, my fuckswing? And so the first part of my journey would take me to India to brag. To brag as freely as I wished in the marketplaces and hovels and temples. To shout of my own virtues upon the banks of the Pangiswani river, which isn’t even a real river, but a river that I made up because I am incredible at making up names of rivers. See what I mean?
And then, from India, I would go to Iran. Not to delve into politics or foment revolution, no, to do something I had always dreamed of doing. To take part in something at once large and microscopic: to build nuclear weapons.
And finally to Iceland, because it starts with “I,” where I would wear a banana costume for four months. Because I have a banana costume and I want to go to Iceland for free.
So that was the plan. Brag. Build. Banana.
And listening to the bragging, handling the plutonium, or inside of the costume, perhaps I could find a way to leave the nightmare of my marriage and divorce to George Clooney, star of such films as Michael Clayton and Ocean’s Eleven, and the hit TV show Emergency Room, behind me, because as Gandhi once said:
“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
By the way, I think Gandhi would have found me very attractive.
Part Two: Brag
Have you ever been to India? I mean, have you ever really been? Have you seen the beautiful eyes of the children as they carry your bags? Have you ever eaten a curry in an outdoor toilet while working at a call center? These are the things you can do in India, if you are alive and awake to possibility.
And I was. I took the morning train to Agra from Delhi. They served me an omelet as bright as the sun and a cup of tea as sweet as a pearl button. As I stepped down from the train, a young man with two different-length legs appeared with his bicycle rickshaw and took me to see the Taj Mahal. The whole way there, I bragged to the young man about my accurate spelling, my ability to cornrow almost anyone’s hair, and my tendency to look good in bathrobes. He listened to my bragging very intently as he cycled along, rolling his eyes in agreement. And then there it was.
The Taj Mahal. A startling mausoleum of white marble, built as a tribute of love from man to wife. And there we all were, ordinary tourists, pilgrims resting for a moment in the shade of a literal monument to the endurance of love.
And I remembered why I was there. Why I had come to India. And so I drew in a breath, taking in all the wonder and love in the air around me, and then said as loudly as I could:
“Attention everyone! I am naturally thin.”
Part Three: Build
Iran. What can I say about going to build nuclear weapons in Iran? Mainly I can say that you will have to go to jail, and that there will be a lengthy extradition process.
Part Four: Banana
There is ash falling all around me in Iceland.
I am not speaking metaphorically. The volcano Eyjafjallajökull was erupting as my KLM jetliner descended into Reykjavik. It seems only appropriate. My life was on fire and now, in special greeting to me, the sky itself seems to be on fire. I have bragged in India, I have briefly built nuclear weapons in Iran before my unfortunate arrest and subsequent imprisonment, and now I am here in Iceland. Here to don a banana costume and walk the streets for four months.
I take an enormous hotel suite off the Ingólfstorg, or main square. I learn the language within moments of arriving, and so am able to get around easily. Also, I once played Annie in a school play even though I am not a redhead. Isn’t that neat?
I rent a bicycle from a charming bicycle shop and, in my yellow tights and banana outfit, set off along a bike path down by the water.
A charming old man with no teeth stops me when I run him over. He asks:
“Why are you wearing a banana costume?”
I spend several hours explaining to him the intricate tale of my marriage and divorce, and of the extraordinary journey of self discovery I am on now.
“But why Iceland,” he asks, “Why a banana costume? It seems like you just picked three random things to do.”
I try explaining it to him again, and he interrupts me, saying:
“Well, it seems to me like maybe you’re just kind of a dick.”
And it’s then, sitting near the water in my banana suit talking to this charming old man, that my heart finally opens. And I forgive myself for everything I’ve done. Like that time I didn’t buy myself a purse I wanted. And that other time I did.
I stand up and leave the injured old man then, hopping on my bicycle and pedaling away. I know that now I will be happy to be alone, without a man, not married to a person or an idea or an idea of a person. Just myself. In a banana suit. Independent and yellow and free.
That’s when I see, in the distance, what I at first think is an illusion: another person in a banana suit pedaling towards me. He gets closer, and I see who it is.
He smiles at me. I feel that he accepts me in spite of the fact that I have all the assets that usually make a person acceptable: blonde hair, natural thinness, self-confidence, money, and a high quality fruit disguise. He sees all of those things. And more good things too. And he loves me anyway.
“Let’s get married,” Matt Damon says.
And I say:
“Fuck yeah, Matt Damon. Holy shit. Yes. Let’s do this.”