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.


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.


Story, Goal, Song: part V

We certainly assign a lot of significance to the New Year, don’t we? I try to pretend I’m not a part of that, but then I catch myself frozen at my keyboard, blank-minded but determined to pull something really meaningful out of thin air. It’s my last post of 2014, I kind of want it to be good. I’d like to go out on a high note, thank you. But then the rebel in me snidely points out the arbitrariness of a calendar year. “365 days” wasn’t a thing until someone decided it was, and then the cast of RENT sang about it. Part of me thinks, “hm, maybe I’ll make it a point to really think about this in the coming year,” while another (bigger) part recognizes how enormously ironic that would be. Isn’t it fun when I talk about nonsense? Let’s do that more.

But before everyone cracks open the champagne and Jenny McCarthy kisses an unsuspecting stranger, let’s wrap up this series of stories, goals, and songs.

A story: One of the things which makes very little sense to me is how late most parties start. If I eat at six, I can easily be ready by seven – but then I have to sit around waiting for like three hours till it “starts,” and then another hour till it’s socially acceptable to show up. Is anyone really doing anything important between 7-10pm? No. So let’s start at seven and just get it over with, and I can go to bed at eleven.

Back in March, my friend Sav and I were gearing up to attend one of these functions. We were in that awkward post-dinner, pre-party time of day, didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. But lucky for me, Sav is an idea machine and soon we were in throwback city, playing a game from our freshman year of high school… Hangover.

“Hangover” is a simple but competitive game invented by our freshman lunch table, in which the plastic ring is removed from the neck of a Gatorade bottle and flicked back and forth between two players. It’s basically poor man’s ice hockey, except instead of flicking it off the table, the aim is to get it hanging juuust over the edge – hence the name “hangover.” Fourteen years old, and already inventing games and mastering wordplay. Get on our level.

Well, Sav and I did this for approximately two hours. Eventually we had been playing so long we started forgetting our scores, so we started keeping tally with crayons:

My "score" at the end of the game - I won.

My “score” at the end of the game – I won.

The soundtrack of this intense athletic event was, appropriately, a bunch of 80s pop. Heart, the Cars, Madonna. A little Tears for Fears. God I love 80s music…

Anyway, this was a great little 2014 moment I thought I’d remember (ya know, publicly).

A goal: Every so often, I read through the journals I’ve kept so far in my life (unshockingly numerous). Usually I stick with my more competent writing (10th grade onward), which means I tend to forget there is any valuable sentiment in, say, my 11-year-old musings. This is a shame, because when I was eleven, I wrote about how badly I wanted to go down and help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, something I was unable to do at such a young age. I resolved to give my hands to whatever cause I was passionate about, as soon as I was old enough to do it on my own. Well, friends, I am now old enough to do it on my own – I have been for a number of years. But I’m not fulfilling those charitable aspirations I had in my heart as a kid, even though they’re still there.

I realized this the other night, and to be honest I was pretty disappointed in myself. Here I am, privileged, acutely aware of the injustice and hurt all around, with a strong desire to do something about it… and yet I don’t do anything about it. It is very important to me that I change this. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, hey, that’s what the comment section is for – I’m not lying to myself, I know this will be the most challenging goal I’ve made, so any comments are more than welcome.

A song: I am ending this year with my favorite retro find of 2014: “Next to You” by the Police. In all the other Police songs I’ve heard, they lean toward a slower tempo and reggae vibe. Ska? I think they’re missing the horns. I don’t know my music genres. But this song is incredibly high-energy, so much so that its repetitiveness doesn’t bother me in the slightest.


Happy New Year, readers far and near. May 2015 be filled with friendship, pizza, great antique finds, good hair days, and lots of songs that make you think. I appreciate all of you.

Story, Goal, Song: part I

Here begins a series of posts I can really only describe as cliche (a label I am consistently trying not to care about). I know I’m not the only victim of the tidal wave of sentimentality that accompanies the last month of the year, so I’m deeming it okay to kind of give into the appeal of both reflecting and resolving – so that is what I shall do. I am going to tell a memorable story from 2014 (with a grainy iPhone photo, naturally), explain one of my goals for the coming year (unrelated to the story, because who has time for that kind of thinking?), and since it brings me great joy to incessantly barf music recommendations on everyone, I will include a song that has come to embody my year. Let’s go!

A story: In February, I took a little weekend trip to Oregon with my family. My little sister’s volleyball team was playing in a tournament at UO, aka the worst place in the world:

My father and I wondering what we are doing in the land of the Ducks.

My father and I wondering what we are doing in the land of the Ducks.

It was incredibly cold, so much so that inhaling felt like unwillingly swallowing a 10-gallon bucket of ice water (no exaggerations to be found here). Pretty much everyone was sick, the girls were losing their games, and the coaches were visibly grumpy. Also, as I said, we were in Eugene. Enough said? Enough said.

But despite all of this, I count that weekend among my favorites of this year. Everyone else was quite clearly miserable, but I was having a delightful time – I got to spend three straight days with my parents, eat nachos and experience a Seahawks victory in a local pub, watch episodes of Lost as I went to sleep at night… and to top it all off, my parents and I were the first to stay in a newly remodeled room at our hotel, meaning I was the first ever person to sleep on this pull-out bed mattress:

Am I weird for being excited about things like this?

Am I weird for being excited about things like this?

So, yes. Against my better judgment (being a natural-born rival), I made some fond memories at the University of Oregon. And on the drive home, we happened upon a Noodles & Co, which we had only ever seen in Denver – dreams do come true.

A goal: Apparently 2014-15 is the year of mass scattering for my close friend group – one of my best friends is on a multi-month whirlwind tour of Europe, another has been in Norway since August, and yet another will be in Scotland for the remainder of the academic year, while many others are in different corners of the state. Come April, I will actually be putting pen to paper in the sun-soaked streets of Rome, so I suppose I have jumped on the bandwagon as well. But as exciting as all of this is, it has been and probably will be problematic for me – I am not phenomenal at keeping in touch.

Although I’ve been lucky to have a lot of close friends who are persistent enough for the both of us, I’d really like to step up my game in the coming year and combat the whole “out of sight, out of mind” state of thinking (a state which is involuntary in my case, I assure you). It’s really a matter of re-prioritizing and being intentional, which, unsurprisingly, is an idea at the heart of most of my resolutions. To put it concisely: I want to get better at showing the people who are important to me that, even though I am far away, I still consider our friendship very valuable and something that is worth maintaining. (and I refuse to apologize for how cheesy this is)

A song: With a whopping 1,700+ tracks saved to my many spotify playlists this past year, picking out just four or five to include in this series of posts is SO HARD. So, to make things easier for myself, I am making the first one a very recent favorite (recent, like I discovered this song a week ago). It’s called “Even the Darkness Has Arms” by the Barr Brothers.

One of the many songs with lyrics I wish I had written, and one of the many songs that makes me really, really want to pick up a guitar and learn how to play it. I am seriously excited about the music this band is making, and I encourage you to listen to their newest album, Sleeping Operator – you can stream it on spotify, or just buy it (probably the better of the two options).

And with that, I will say “till next time.” I hope your day is lovely!

A list & a playlist


Is it just me, or does November have the prettiest name of all the months? Hi guys. I’m Cierra. I like words.

Tonight, I am thankful for:

  1. A schedule/workload which permits my laptop to be permanently stationed at my desk (as pictured above), rather than hopping between my backpack, coffee shop tables, and my bed. This means a) my back no longer has to support this dinosaur of an HP’s weight on a daily basis, and b) I am spending less time on my computer, which in turn means c) I am spending more time not developing carpal tunnel (and, you know, living in this beautiful world).
  2. Days like today, when I get free hot chocolate and find out I’ll very likely be spending spring quarter in Rome. Arrivaderci, punks.
  3. Skype, and seeing the face of a friend who has been shivering and drinking hot chocolate in Norway for 3 1/2 months.
  4. Past concerts and future concerts. I had the immense joy of seeing Relient k two weeks ago, all thanks to a scalper taking pity on a small 20-year-old girl who has no idea how to haggle. I’d like to say the high school freshman in me was in heaven that evening, but it was all of me. All of me. My voice was still crackly a week later because I spent two hours shouting “III’M STIIIILL WAAAITIIIING FOOOR YOUTOBETHEONEI’MWAITINGFORRR!” You know how it goes. Matt Thiessen, if you ever read this, I still love you and your lion-worthy mane. And as if that experience was not enough, I bought tickets last night to see Punch Brothers, which I am inexpressably psyched about. Music is good. I’ll talk more about it later.
  5. The glowing promise of Thanksgiving weekend, four days spent with the family I so love. Movies and sleeping in my own bed. The now-annual social media fast. Flag football and probably getting clotheslined by my own father… you can imagine for yourself my sentiments on that particular subject.

And, because I am establishing this as a tradition even if everyone hates it, here is what I have been listening to lately (but if you want a cohesive, mood/genre-specific playlist, look elsewhere):

Feelin’ optimistic


s/o to my mom for helping this vision come to life

s/o to my mom for helping me bring my vision to life

It’s the end of September, if you haven’t noticed, which means a lot of things:

  1. School is now a thing again.
  2. Going to bed at 1AM is no longer an acceptable habit.
  3. I need to re-learn the whole “feeding myself” thing.
  4. Time to establish a study/hangout spot at a local coffee shop.
  5. The temperature is dropping, meaning iced tea is becoming less and less practical.
  6. Lots of readjusting and settling in.
  7. I get to spend beautiful moments with the beautiful people in my life.

I feel very ready for this season and this school year. Good times are ahead.

Excuse me while I listen to Volcano Choir 24/7: