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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Rome IV: hazelnut spread and the unfathomable

After four days of mooching off other people’s wifi, internet has finally been restored to the Temple of Nutella.

Our apartment is rightly named.

Our apartment is rightly named.

We are all very happy, and so are our mothers. Huge shout-out to all of the friends who let us steal their signals, wifi hotspots, etc., and to those who kept us company when we were totally, shamelessly abusing the free internet in our university’s common areas. And a little bit of a thank you to the person who eventually fixed the problem here… after four days.

The time which has elapsed since I last wrote has been positively lovely, for a number of reasons. We visited some ancient Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri and Tarquinia, which I never thought I would do. Cerveteri was basically unreal – we could roam wherever we wanted, crawling into tombs, scaling walls, climbing over mounds and squeezing between walls. There was moss EVERYWHERE, so much greenness, broken up by asphodels and the accompanying bumblebees. I got to whip out my flashlight in some burial chambers, its beam falling on ancient rock and the occasional crab-sized white spider (not my favorite). It’s one of those places that manages to be a playground and an unfathomable thing at the same time – we were running around, adventurous and slightly creeped out, all the while unsuccessfully trying to comprehend the fact that these dark, musty chambers held people and their worldly possessions over a thousand years ago. How can you even begin to understand that, to make it real in your head? It’s insane to think about. On numerous occasions here I’ve felt the need to repeatedly whack myself on the back of the head, chanting “UNDERSTAND THIS! UNDERSTAND THIS! UNDERSTAND THIS!” but, alas, I cannot understand it. History is cool.

Tomb sweet tomb

Tomb sweet tomb

Another great part of this little trek to the Etruscan towns was the drive itself, with the Mediterranean coast on one side and the rolling Italian countryside on the other. Damn it, Italy, you are a stunner. I do truly love the city, but there is something to be said for quaintness. There is also just something to be said for the Mediterranean Sea. You can’t look away.

The rest of my week/weekend consisted of eating food and drinking drinks with genuinely cool people, so no complaints there. We had a girls’ dinner on Friday night, with makeshift gyros and fries – although we didn’t follow my original plan of lamb-napping our gyro meat from a rural town on our way back from Tarquinia, it was some damn good food. Also a damn good vehicle for feta cheese, which was my craving of the week. It was great. I still have a block of feta in my fridge and oh shoot I want to crumble it up and eat it right nooow.

As could only be expected, my cronies and I consumed a lot of gelato. You know, sober gelato, tipsy gelato, chocolate-dipped gelato, NUTELLA gelato. I am never going to be content with American frozen treats ever again. Ever. Even the crappy gelato here is better than the results of a late-night Dairy Queen run in the Ville. Should I go home to my family in June, or eat really amazing gelato every day for the rest of my life…? Hard decisions on my mind.

Today we went to see the Baths of Caracalla, the ruins of which are enormous and magnificent and equally impossible to fathom. Many witnessed me crumble in the shadow of the massive structure, frustratedly groaning “HOW MANY BRICKS” – this was my catchphrase of the day. But seriously, how many bricks? All of them were cut by somebody, transported by somebody, stacked by somebody. These somebodies had homes, and children, and individual life stories. Some of them probably died creating this building which became a social center in one of the largest cities in the world. Like Cerveteri, it is challenging to think about and also quite humbling.

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On the docket for the rest of the week: writing, reading, wining, dining, exploring the Forum and Colosseum… and if I’m being realistic, there will also be a fair amount of watching Catfish reruns on MTV (our only channel in English) and saying ridiculous things to Queen Bae/OG Bae/bromantic interest, Karly, just to get a rise out of her. And maybe I’ll buy a floppy felt hat. That would be nice.

Happy Monday!