Eat, Pray Love in Rome with Luca Spaghetti

Eat, Pray, Love in Rome

Un Amico Italiano named Luca Spaghetti

By Mariel Kennison

Luca Spaghetti and Elizabeth Gilbert.
Luca Spaghetti and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Even if you’ve never read the book or seen the movie starring Julia Roberts, everyone has heard of Elizabeth Gilbert’s soul-searching journey in

Eat, Pray, Love. The story of her life, literally, became a sensation in many countries nearly overnight, captivating millions of readers (and later viewers) with the tangled, heart-breaking, but often comical adventures that took her through three countries and a wide range of emotional well-being.

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All of the “characters” in her book are actually real people and many of
them remained good friends with her even after her life-altering year abroad came to an end. She made one such friend on the first leg of her adventure in Rome, an Italian man named Luca Spaghetti. And yes, that is his real name and he has years of teasing to prove it.

As Penguin publishing described it, “Luca became a tour guide/guardian angel to Liz, determined that he—and his city—would help his new friend out of her funk.” The two new friends ended up helping each other practice their English and Italian, eating their way through Roman cuisine as they talked about life and its complications.

We all know what happens in Liz’s story, but what becomes of Luca after she leaves Rome? His fantastic name and special friendship with Liz made him a prominent character in the ‘eat’ portion of the book, but when Liz sets off to pray in India, we lose track of Mr. Spaghetti. Un Amico Italiano is Luca’s story, including his first trip to America, his time with Liz, and his life and dreams in Rome.

In his book, Luca shows us why Rome is his favorite city on earth through his upbringing and adulthood in this magical place. Not only is Rome the ‘cradle of life’, but it’s much, much more. It’s where children learn to play soccer after church, where families are as close as they come, and where the second religion is cooking and eating classic Roman dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara.

After eating some of the world’s best pizza, “flat and crunchy” as Luca describes it, or some of the heavier pasta dishes, it’s easy to walk it all off along the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways that make up the city. At night especially the eternal city comes alive with everyone heading to one of the many piazzas, or squares, where it’s customary to hang out with friends while eating a delicious gelato.

As devoted as the Romans are to their pasta and pizza, there’s another part of their hearts dedicated entirely to soccer. Many non-Italians may not understand the passion they have for this sport, but it’s a serious game and the rivalries are nearly live or die by. Whether you are a team Roma fan or root for Lazio like Luca, attending the games and wearing their colors are a huge part of the Roman culture.

Un Amico Italiano, Eat Pray Love in Rome
Un Amico Italiano, Eat Pray Love in Rome

Unusual to all but the locals, Rome is still made up of mostly ancient streets and buildings that have survived for centuries. There are countless churches, (really, no one has ever been able to count!), masterpieces by famous artists nearly everywhere you turn, and spectacular architecture that does not exist anywhere else in the world.

It’s home to the largest Catholic church on earth, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the legendary Colosseum, and Piazza Santa Maria in Travestere, a piazza famous for its romantic beauty. As a Roman, Luca is used to seeing all these world treasures, but you can almost hear him laughing as he describes what it’s like to suddenly remember that you are drinking an espresso just next to the Pantheon. Keep reading to discover more about Luca’s “la dolce vita” or sweet life in Rome!

Here is an excerpt of Un Amico Italiano:

Believe It or Not

“ Among all the nominees on my Potential New Italian Friends List, I am most intrigued to meet a fellow named… brace yourself… Luca Spaghetti. And that is honestly his name, I swear to God, I’m not making it up. It’s too crazy. I mean—just think of it. Anyhow, I plan to get in touch with Luca Spaghetti just as soon as possible.”

Writing in 2003, Elizabeth Gilbert, the journalist and author, used those words to introduce one of the characters of her new book, Eat, Pray, Love, the true story of her yearlong journey of rebirth across Italy, India, and Indonesia, in search of herself and true love. That young man—whose name seemed like something out of a tourist brochure about Italy, who had driven her around Rome on the back of his beat-up scooter, dragged her to the stadium to watch Sunday soccer matches, and had taken her out to sample dishes that only a real Roman could love and appreciate—was me.

And, yes—since you ask—I really do exist, and my last name really is Spaghetti. Born and raised in Rome, a self-taught guitarist, a devoted soccer fan, and a lover of good cooking. Until seven years ago, I had no idea of the adventure that lay before me. Because no one, much less me, could have imagined that Eat, Pray, Love would be translated into practically every language on earth, enchanting an incredible number of readers everywhere with its candor and irony and becoming a phenomenal international bestseller, with millions and millions of copies sold.

But for me, Liz’s book was simply the true—and therefore all the more remarkable—story of what happened when a blond American girl, pretty but unhappy, full of curiosity and love of life, came to Rome. I met her one September day, through a mutual friend, but in a short time she became one of the most important people in my life. A real friend, a friend I’ll never forget.

Watching Liz on Oprah

How could I ever have imagined that, in any country I visited around the world, I’d find copies of Liz’s books at the airport, or that my face would wind up on one of the most popular television shows in the United

States, the Oprah Winfrey Show, where Liz would show the viewers a photograph of the two of us together in Rome? Who would have thought that readers from every walk of life and from around the world would ask me, curiously: Are you the Luca Spaghetti? And last of all, who would have ever thought that the story would be made into a movie, with Julia Roberts playing my friend Liz? Or that I myself would be portrayed in that movie, played by a likable and jovial Italian actor?

Life is odd and full of surprises: Liz taught me that. And she taught me the value of true friendship, the kind of friendship that neither time nor distance can undermine. Friendship, as she and I have said to each other many times, is almost a different kind of love.

In this book, I’ve tried to tell my part of the story: my life, my dreams, my passions, my unexpected and extraordinary friendship with Liz, and the joys of my beloved birthplace, Rome. The Rome that I have known my whole life, since I was a child playing soccer in the courtyard, being made fun of for a surname that smacks of red checkered tablecloths and tomato sauce; the Rome that I explored inch by inch with Liz, sharing with her my loves and my memories—sharing my whole self, because that is how true friends are made—and in turn learning from her a valuable lesson about life and starting over, how you can always find the strength inside yourself to search, search, search, until you find what you’re really looking for.

And most important of all, I discovered that happiness can be hiding where you least expect it: in a plate of pasta with fresh tomatoes, in a goal scored by your beloved soccer team, in a glass of ice-cold wine in the Campo de’ Fiori, in the excitement of learning a brand-new word in a language you’re just beginning to know.

Because, as the great Roman poet Trilussa once wrote, in a poem entitled Felicità, “When you add it all up, happiness is a small thing.”

Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from UN AMICO ITALIANO Copyright © RCS Libri S.p.A., Milan, 2010. Translation Copyright © Anthony Shugaar, 2011


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