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!

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The coffee conformist

photo (29)

Despite being a) an inhabitant of the Pacific Northwest, b) a college student / generally sleep-deprived person, and c) the daughter of a triple tall americano addict, I never really got into the whole coffee thing. Up until I graduated high school, I would order lemonade at Starbucks, and for another two years after I never strayed from iced, unsweetened green tea. I had not consumed a drink with coffee in it until roughly six months ago. Tall, iced, non-fat mocha. I was annoyed with the sheer number of words I had to rattle off in order to get said drink, but I remember enjoying the unfamiliar rush of caffeine, describing it as “fun” to anyone who would listen to my chatter.

The next day, I repeated the process. This time, however, I felt like I was experiencing the physical symptoms of a panic attack, having so much energy coursing through my body with practically no outlet (sitting in lecture doesn’t require much exertion). I decided, at this point, that I was not going to pay five dollars a day for something that made me feel like my brain was out-growing my head. And then a week later multiple passersby witnessed me exiting Starbucks with a tall, iced, non-fat, decaf mocha in hand.

Due to the suburban lack of cozy, indie coffeehouses and my own laziness in the area of drink-making, the coffee thing did not present much of a problem while I was living at home over the summer. Upon my return to the city, though, it became quite the opposite – a coffee shop about a block away from campus lured me in with the free wifi and enormous peanut butter cookies, and who was I to ignore my forgotten flame, the mocha? In an effort to seem more chill and less high-maintenance, I dropped the “iced” and “decaf,” even though I have never been a hot drink person and I know quite well by now what caffeine does to my… wellness. The power of conformity, guys, I’m telling you.

And – I say this quite mournfully – now the non-fat mocha has pretty much become a part of my daily life. It seems as if each one I get has less chocolate and more coffee (particularly the one I’m drinking right now, which I accidentally ordered as a double-shot… when the barista asks, just say yes to avoid any potential awkwardness), and by this time next week I very well may be drinking my coffee black. The funny thing is that I feel like this has just happened to me. Like it has been out of my control. It’s, like, 8:30 in the morning, and I’m in this coffee shop full of books, Ella Fitzgerald’s voice reverberating off the walls, and I don’t want to be that pansy who orders an iced tea. You know? Chunky cardigan, hipster glasses, laptop open to WordPress, steaming mug of coffee; it just makes sense.

I didn’t want this to happen. But I suppose I just have to live with it now. Sorry, body. Sorry, wallet. Sorry, baristas who have to deal with me on a daily basis. Actually though.


On a separate note, my recommended songs of the week:

Understanding the Internet (except not really)

I would like to start this post with a disclaimer: I am a reasonably intelligent person, but there are some things in this world I simply cannot understand. The internet is one of them.

internet

As I prepare for my quickly-approaching move back to campus, I have a few things to figure out. Obviously, building a vivid mental picture of the gallery wall in my new room is top priority, but I’ve been told by numerous adults that setting up accounts for water, electricity, cable, internet, etc. is also an important thing to do. Begrudgingly, I listen.

So the other day I was talking to my mother about setting up wifi in the new apartment, and she mentioned we have an unused router sitting around somewhere, collecting dust. “Cool, so I’m set,” I said, beginning to walk out of the room – “Well, no, you have to get internet from the cable company,” she replied. “Why would I pay for something that’s already there?” “The internet isn’t in the router, Cierra.” “Well yeah, you just plug it into the wall and it’s there.” “No…” “But last year we just had a router and we didn’t pay for internet.” “That’s because your router was hooked up to the apartment complex’s wifi.” “Why did we even have a router if there was already wifi?” It’s a wonder my mom isn’t stuck in a perpetual face-palm.

See, as kids, we are taught that intangible things are actually, in essence, everywhere – like God, or air, or the guy in that Michelle Branch song (you know the one) – so it just makes sense to a simpleton like me that the internet would fall into the same category… I mean, they even have SkyFi, you guys. On airplanes. I have enough trouble understanding the worldwide web circa 1998, when whatever internet is made of flowed from the wall, through a cable, to Meg Ryan’s dinosaur of a computer in You’ve Got Mail. But wifi? I find wifi completely unfathomable. I suppose it’s akin to cell phone signals, which I also don’t understand, so that actually doesn’t help me at all. All I can picture is the scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where little Mike TeaVee is magically (and horrifically) turned into millions of tiny particles which dance around the air. If Mike TeaVee is everywhere, how can he be password-protected and why do I have to pay for him? I’m really good with metaphors. I should send this to Comcast.

While I do have a far-fetched conspiracy theory involving corporations capitalizing on public ignorance (what’s new), I will not go into detail for fear of my privileges being suddenly revoked by the tyrannical Elders of the Internet. For now I will just say that I really, really, really do not understand this thing which is so present in my life. Dial-up, wifi… don’t even get me started on 3G and 4G. Like what even is that.

Here is video illustration of my current feelings:

Rant No. 2

You know what I really hate? The way crane flies buzz into my room and just die on the floor. But I’m not going to talk about that today.

A couple months ago, I was very passively involved in/eavesdropping on a conversation about the downfalls of social networks, Facebook in particular. These guys were complaining about the little “what’s on your mind?” box being a platform for people to exhaustively keystroke-vomit each unimportant detail of their lives onto every camp friend and coworker virtually residing on their respective friends lists. Am I right in thinking we all complain about this very thing at one time or another? I know I’m guilty of it. But while I was listening to these guys talk about their concerns, I realized a few of my own.

Not long after this, my mom sent me a NYT article (as she is wont to do) called “How Not to Be Alone” by Jonathan Safran Foer, an author whose brilliance both intrigues and frustrates me. I encourage you to read it, but I promise I won’t cry if you decide not to. Basically, Safran Foer discusses the ever-changing relationship between humanity and technology, and I believe it can be pretty accurately summed up in one sentence from the article: “technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat.” GENIUS. Thank you for that, Jonathan, thank you. (I’m actually not being sarcastic for once in my life, this is legit, guys)

Obviously, I don’t keep my love for the internet a secret. I love reading blogs, watching British people attempt American accents on YouTube, and seeing pictures of my friends on vacation. I try to maintain an aesthetically-pleasing Instagram account; sometimes I retweet Mindy Kaling. I definitely use texting to keep in touch with people, and you are dead-wrong if you think I don’t enjoy it. My point is I’m not anti-technology. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I’m not one of those people who’s always like “ah, the olden days…” No. I’m not like that. But occasionally I get a little freaked out when I realize how crazily intertwined we, the humans, are becoming with them, the computerthings.

A lot of people say our phones have become “extensions of our arms.” Although that’s poetic and eerie and I like it, I think it focuses too much on the physical aspect – we are always physically on our phones – and not enough on the mental aspect. I find it difficult to concentrate on the simplest things sometimes because I’m like, ooh, I wonder when so-and-so’s gonna text me back about this-or-that. Even when my phone or my computer or whatever is not in my hand, it is on my mind. Ew. I should be thinking of things much more important than a $200 rectangular chunk of glass.

As for the retreat part, oh my god. I mean, pretending to talk on the phone to avoid real conversation. Scrolling through Twitter or whatever to look busy. Plugging in the headphones to tune out all other human beings. Need I say more? That is passivity or retreat out in the real world. In the world where your entire person is condensed to just a string of weird computer coding, it’s a little bit different. Facebook, for example, makes it very possible to “know” someone without ever even speaking to them. You’re not actively getting to know that person by perusing their about page and their likes; there’s no exchange there. And although I can see the good things about texting and facebook statuses and tweets, I think it has become increasingly easy over the years to develop an internet alter ego. I’ve encountered people whose personalities flip a 360 when being conveyed by their thumbs instead of their mouths. Personally, I think that’s kind of a dangerous habit.

I’m definitely not one of those people who has “lost faith in humanity.” Those people are cynics, and if you want to find them, pay a visit to tumblr or something. I’m just… skeptical. I am conscious of the problems skipping hand-in-hand into our lives with the progression of technology, but I don’t think we’re too weak to resist them. Yeah, it’s easy to choose a bright and inviting iPhone screen over potentially awkward interactions with real people. I get it. But when we experience things in reality, in the physical, tangible, human world, those moments become more real, rewarding, and more embedded in our memories – not the memories of our SIM cards.

So. What’s all this mean? Well I, for one, am going to try to be more present. If you want to join me on this little quest, I’d love some company. Also, I would love for someone to come pick up these dead crane flies on my floor, please and thank you.