Rome IX: mosquitoes in a graveyard

As I type this, Karly and I are sitting across from each other at our kitchen table. It’s a normal Friday evening – she has her headphones in and is catching up on TV shows (trying to conceal tears, occasionally), and I am wasting my life away in the Rewind section of Buzzfeed. But tonight, there is an unusual tenseness. Muscles a little rigid, pained posture, just hints of grimaces on our faces. Why? We are trying so damn hard to not itch our legs.

Karly, whose count seems to increase by the hour, has found 28 bug bites on her body as of this moment, and I have found 15 on my own. It’s like that episode of Friends when Phoebe’s boyfriend is in town for like a week and they both end up getting the chicken pox. WE FEEL LIKE WE HAVE THE CHICKEN POX. I am experiencing a tidal wave of intense empathy for red-speckled children everywhere. I only wish my mother were here to draw me an oatmeal bath. And clean it up afterward. I have no idea how that works.

Our faces say it all.

Our faces say it all (also we are aware our table is a mess)

See, our creative writing program has begun to blend with the study of natural history – in this case, we were paired up and sent a set of GPS coordinates, expected to trek to this very specific spot in Rome early in the morning and take detailed notes on the living things observed there. Karly and I, being almost embarrassingly excited about this assignment, got up at five and set off by six, winding past Tiber Island, the Altare della Patria, and the posh area surrounding Termini station in order to get to our designated coordinates. Let me just say, Rome is absolutely lovely at 6AM. Mild, quiet, and most importantly empty of human beings. We greatly enjoyed our walk. And eventually we arrived at our destination: Cimitero Monumentale del Verano.

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I find it delightfully ironic that we were sent to a cemetery to observe life. Some of the life (have I ever mentioned my hatred of mosquitoes?) tried to drain me of my blood and left me a hot mess, hands perpetually paralyzed in an almost-itch, but hey it was life nonetheless. In all seriousness, this was an incredible cemetery. Karly and I spent a couple hours just roaming the grounds after we’d finished recording our birds and whatnot, and we are seriously considering going back because we didn’t even cover half of the cemetery in the time we were there. It’s enormous, and elaborate, and a surprisingly good place to sit down and think. I haven’t been to enough cemeteries in any country to make generalizations or comparisons in an educated manner, but Verano felt like it had a lot of… dignity. For lack of a better word. More proud and less somber than any cemetery I’ve seen in the US. There are sculptures atop headstones, photos, real flowers, fake flowers, LED candles, full-on mausoleums with stained-glass windows and mosaics; families are buried together and the little mausoleums are organized into neighborhoods, with streets and cul-de-sacs, even small fountains. I’m not using “neighborhoods” in a loose way. Verano is literally full of mausoleum clusters that look like neighborhoods. I have complicated feelings about saying a cemetery is “cool,” but it’s hard to think of any other descriptor. And I could go into all of the things it made me think about, but that would make this post outrageously long and feelings-y. So I’ll spare you. You are welcome.

In addition to observing plant and animal species, we also had to “identify” them or, in other words, “google the recorded characteristics and see which wikipedia page pops up.” For the record: not a foolproof method. First of all, I am kind of horrendous at classifying things in the field – I called some mysterious trifoliate ground plant a clover without actually knowing it was a clover, I mistook ferns for reeds, I called a fly a moth because it was too bizarre-looking to possibly be a fly. I made things difficult for myself. I spent an inordinate amount of time searching for spiral-shaped seed pods, literally googling “what is a pinecone” because I “knew” these things served the same function but wasn’t sure how to phrase it. Turns out these snail-looking whirlygigs on the ground weren’t even seed pods. They were dead plant appendages. NATURE, EVERYONE.

The rest of my week has been pretty standard (not a bad thing): eating, walking a lot, churching, museuming, squinting in the sun, writing. If you want exciting news, though, here are a few tidbits:

  1. I am now the proud owner of an “Art Therapy Giordini in Fiore Colouring Book (Anti-Stress).” I bought it for 10 euros at a local indie bookshop, and it has proven to be a lovely addition to my life. I colored for 2 1/2 hours the other night, although Karly will argue it was 3 (it wasn’t).
  2. Our group walks to churches and museums have been reinvigorated thanks to a never-ending game of tag, as started by our professors’ young daughters. Honestly guys, I have missed kids so much. Like I used to hang out with an 8-, 6-, and 2-year-old at least once a week, and I have been around, pretty much exclusively, twentysomethings for the past month and a half. Don’t get me wrong, I like my peers. But every once in awhile, you need a little girl to run up behind you and slap you on the back, shouting “TAG YOU’RE IT NO TAGBACKS.” I’m happy.
  3. I went to the Borghese Gallery this week, which houses some of Bernini’s most famous sculptures and some of Caravaggio’s most famous paintings. I wanted to haul them home because they are so impossible to absorb in so little time. I really love Bernini. I really love Caravaggio.
  4. After a trip to H&M today, I’ve decided to make mismatched earrings my “thing.” Get ready to be inspired.

And with that, I sign off. I have exactly three weeks left in this city – there are many more stories to come.

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