Arrivederci & hello again

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A few nights before I left Rome, I took a last stroll along the Tiber. My friend was trying to catch a nutria and I was “helping her,” which actually meant I had just invited myself along so I could distract her with irrelevant conversation and convince her to let me shoot Crocodile Hunter-style videos of her talking about ducklings in an Australian accent. She did not catch a nutria. I am not helpful. Don’t take me places.

But anyway this walk along the Tiber, however unsuccessful it may have been as a hunt for large rodents, was such a fantastic way to say goodbye to the city I’d fallen in love with ten weeks prior. Three hours spent meandering past suitcases full of moss and beached tires, gaggles of drunk tourists, barefoot, sitting on the banks and belting out pop ballads, the cheerful slur of “WE’RE GERMAN!” echoing downstream when they noticed us snickering past them. As is only appropriate, the Ponte Sant’Angelo guitarist played “Hotel California” not once but twice as the sun set, bringing my final count to 10 (not as impressive as I’d hoped for, but still abnormally high). I can still kind of hear it, much like I can still kind of taste that stupid-delicious pizza marinara from Dar Poeta, which I ate later that evening. As for the nutella calzone… I am not yet emotionally ready to discuss my feelings.

Throughout my last week, I kept joking that it was a good thing I was leaving Rome. On that Saturday, Karly and I set out for the Corso to do some shopping – we walked from Trastevere to Campo, and from Campo we somehow ended up by Castel Sant’Angelo, which utterly perplexed us, and then suddenly we were at Largo Argentina, overrun with stray cats, and we were like… how did we get here? Then we were on a street I recognized, and I thought we were nearing the Piazza del Popolo, but out of nowhere popped the Altare della Patria, blearingly white and not where it was supposed to be. Do you remember back in April when I claimed to have a sense of direction? I’m now comfortable admitting I never had one at all, but I’m still inclined to believe I was living in a place which strove to deceive me. I always end up characterizing cities as teases. I guess when I can clearly see their cleverness trumps my own, there’s always something to chase. Rome is dangerously enigmatic, so I laughed as I claimed to be saving myself from a lifetime of lostness – even though I kind of wanted it.

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I wanted to come home, but I didn’t want to leave. Standing on the corner of Piazza San Cosimato and waiting for a taxi, morning, June 5, felt incredibly matter-of-fact, as did the stiffness of my back as I went into the sixth hour of trying to sleep on my transatlantic flight. There wasn’t really anything I could do about it, I was being pulled. And I was beyond happy as I jogged through baggage claim at Seatac into the arms of my mother, and I’m still very happy to be here in this PNW sunglow of a summer with family and a shower that doesn’t leak – but, as I expected, it feels like Rome is something I dreamt. I keep finding myself silently reciting “Ode on a Grecian Urn” while I do the dishes, just to prove to myself that I actually went to Rome and memorized poetry.

Well, it happened. I was happy there, and I’m happy here. Mostly, I’m grateful. Grateful for my professors, my friends, pizza, knock-off Birkenstocks, notebooks and noteworthy people, drinking fountains, and, it goes without saying, mosaics. I’m grateful that I can now take it easy on myself when my jogging endurance is abysmal, because I spent two months “eating carbs and staring at art.” But seriously where the hell is the gelato? Damn it, America.

Tomorrow, I get to see Sufjan Stevens, who basically propelled me through Italy with “Chicago.” It’s become like the cliche traveling hipster song, I know, but it will always, always remind me of shooting across the country by train and feeling impossibly young and ready.

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All things go, all things go.

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Rome V: predictably, mosaics

How about dem mosaics

As my mother so gently pointed out the other day, it has been over a week since I last posted. My b, mom. Rome is a very distracting place to live. Distractions:

  1. Gelato
  2. Literally underground dance clubs that look like fancy caves, where drunk people try to steal your hat off your head and think it’s hilarious
  3. Mosaics
  4. Access to parks that are probably exact replicas of the fields in Heaven
  5. Street musicians playing “Hotel California” because that’s apparently the only song American tourists could ever want to hear

Needless to say, it has been a very good, very full third week of living in Rome (sidenote: how have I already been here for three weeks). I’ve had even more opportunity to sharpen my museum-going skills, thanks to the Museo Capitolini and Palazzo Massimo, and I must say I’m getting pretty good at standing and staring at objects. I’m a little over vases, but bring on the mosaics. All the mosaics. HOT DAMN MOSAICS. I walked into S. Maria di Trastevere the other day and I think I almost exploded:

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Unf – wall-sprawling mosaic

My sandal tan is getting stronger every day, and my shoulders are beginning to collect freckles. I owe this to the ancient Roman Forum and Colosseum, which were immense, unbelievable, and forced me to be in the sun for an extended period of time. That was a good day.

Actually, every day here has been a good day. I’ve managed to meet some really kind, engaging, interesting people in the past few weeks, and we like wandering and eating food together. I think this is the magic recipe for happiness. I’m also feeling incredibly lucky to be studying something that constantly excites me: writing. Obviously I enjoyed writing before I came on this program, but I was, as many will remember, so uninspired it ached a little bit. Aside from some angst-driven poetic pursuits as a 19-year-old, I have been prose, prose, prose, all nonfiction as well, blogs and journal entries and essays. And having taken precisely zero creative writing classes and not putting in the effort on my own time, I was afraid to foray into the world of rhyme and broken lines. (also I thought it was pretentious). But now I’ve thrown myself into this head-first, no practice, just trying things out and seeing if I like them. I like them. Sometimes I stay up till 1am, meticulously stringing words together, because it is fun for me. And guys… this is my schoolwork. I am constantly reminding myself to savor this, because when will this ever happen again, being in the most beautiful city ever with writing as my sole responsibility? I generally like to be an optimist, but I think this is probably as good as it gets. Money well-spent, eh mom and dad?

Anyway, the love has not faded. And it is about to expand: tomorrow marks the beginning of a 5-day meandering through some north-of-Rome hilltowns, culminating in what I assume will be a wonderful Florentine weekend. I’ll leave you with some pictures and come back with some new stories –

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PS: I haven’t made any music recommendations lately, so even if they merely echo through the void and no one ever takes my advice, I will make my current recommendations.

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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!

Rome II: Pope Francis and the towel shortage

I’m taking a break from my snack break. Yes. That’s a thing.

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Generic brand nutella, shortbread cookies, and pictures of Boy George in the 80s…?

This weekend, my first weekend in Rome, has been full of mishaps and laughter. Our weekdays were filled with walking and eating and writing and learning – we visited the Pantheon, Sant’Ignazio Church, Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps, Keats’ House, and various lookout points, the names of which I honestly could not tell you. It certainly kept me busy and happy. I am a very, very contented explorer here, I love simply walking around and seeing what finds me – but after looking out on the Forum for a good hour and battling the Good Friday crowds at the Colosseum (people were leaning on me – I know the song, but the sentiment was not there), I was very ready to sleep. Until noon. Which is what I did.

Yes, I spent my first Saturday in Rome cozied up in my apartment with my two roommates, and I was only awake for 12 hours. I went outside once, for about thirty minutes, to get the aforementioned generic brand nutella and some $2 bottles of wine. I’m sure some people would consider this a grand waste of time. That’s understandable. But it was the perfect lazy Saturday, sitting around with these amazing girls and exchanging life stories, listening to music, eating a home-cooked meal (thank you, Maddy!). First of all, I feel pretty damn lucky to have been put with these marvelous young ladies – I’ve lived with them for under a week, and I already have a lot of love for them in this little heart of mine. Also, it is a huge privilege to even feel like I’m able to veg out on a Saturday while I’m here. I’m going to be here for two months, I am living in Rome. I have a lot of time to be out and about and adventuring. Therefore, it is acceptable for me to spend a couple weekends trying to open wine bottles:

One of my favorite pictures of myself, ever (thanks, Karly)

One of my favorite pictures of myself, ever (thanks, Karly)

Today, though, we went to the Vatican for Easter. The three of us whined and whined and whined as we walked out the door of our building, as we realized we would be standing outside, in the pouring rain for upwards of two hours – a couple of us were actually just getting ready to turn back, opting to watch the whole ordeal from the comfort of our loveseat in our pajamas, but eventually I was dragged down the street to a taxi stop, and at this moment there was no turning back. After a shockingly short ride, our driver dropped us off at the edge of St. Peter’s Square, which was positively teeming with people in an array of pastel-colored rain ponchos. In a few minutes’ time, we had hopped on this plastic-covered bandwagon, doling out five euro a piece to minimize our misery by like… 15%. While I was juggling my purse, umbrella, and jacket in the attempt to don this emerald green rain poncho, the endearingly goofy (and probably filthy rich after the downpour today) salesman skipped over and held up my umbrella to protect my hair, glasses, dignity, what have you, and I think we had a conversation about wrists? Funny guy. I was glad I bought the poncho.

Long story short, I was roughly seven feet away from the Pope today. It was cool. He has a very kind face. I’m still trying to make #moshpitforpapafrancesco a thing, but it’s not really catching on, do you guys want to help me out?

The rest of my Easter Sunday has been spent doing homework, taking snack breaks, and wondering if I can actually pull off this half-up, half-down bun thing. But before I sign off, there are just a few random things I would like to share (in no particular order):

  1. I was mistaken for a local my second day here. Two elderly Italians approached me on a bridge and asked, in Italian, if some dome in the distance was the Vatican. I had no idea. I looked at them sadly, shrugged my shoulders, and said “I do not know,” which was met with a “stop” and the appropriate hand signal from the man. They promptly walked away. I felt bad, but also flattered that I they thought I looked like I belong here?
  2. Back to the nutella. I never eat nutella when I’m in the States – it’s so sweet and peanut butter is far superior. But I had just a little bit yesterday, and it has been nutella on my mind, all the time, for the past 30 hours. I have no idea why this is happening, but I am letting it happen. Ya know. When in Rome [you have to have a spoonful of nutella everyday].
  3. I’ve been listening to Sufjan Stevens’ new album the past couple nights, and although I love it and I am inexpressably happy to hear him doing folk again, it has been giving me crazy weird dreams. His eccentricity is like seeping through my headphones or something. What powers do you possess, Sufjan!
  4. Champagne gelato tastes exactly like champagne. Also I am obsessed with champagne and other sparkling white wines, which has seemingly come out of nowhere.
  5. After having practically NO SENSE OF DIRECTION for my ENTIRE life, I am suddenly able to navigate a city I’ve never even been to before. I mean, my track record in Rome is not flawless, but for the most part I have this inexplicable sense of where I need to go in order to reach my apartment – I’m not talking about confidence in my understanding of the cardinal directions, not at all, but rather a “let’s go this way” and an oddly self-assured point down whichever street “feels” right to me. And this method has gotten me home, safe and sound and unrattled, probably a dozen times. I am completely mystified by this.
  6. Either our washing machine is broken or we are incompetent. Either way, we are fresh outta towels, folks. Why? We’ve been using them to mop up the leak from the tub whenever we take a shower, and for obvious reasons we are not going to use mop towels as body towels. So yesterday I used a washcloth, which I’m estimating is 17% of a normal bath towel. Step at me, Bear Grylls. I’m the new woman in town (or rather the wilderness).

And that is all I have the energy to type. More stories to come. In the meantime, here is the Forum (after two seagulls noisily desecrated one of its pillars with their lust for each other):

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