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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Temporary Girlfriend

Children are a delight, if you were not aware.


The other night I sat across from my favorite eight-year-old, two half-eaten Trader Joe’s Deep Dish pizzas between us, and I asked him a question – the question.

“So. Dude. How are the ladies?”

“Huh?” Perplexion. I needed to be more specific.

“Got a girlfriend yet?”

“Oh. Yeah.” And now complete and total nonchalance, possibly even a casual hair flip, from the young boy.

“You do?”

“Yeah,” (pause), “but she doesn’t know it yet.”

“She doesn’t know she’s your girlfriend?”

“I just haven’t told her.”

“Does she WANT to be your girlfriend?”

“I don’t know…” (to be honest, he did not seem too concerned about this)

“Well, what’s she like?”

All I receive is a mumble or two.

“What’s her name?”

“I don’t know it yet.”

“You don’t know her name and she’s your girlfriend?”

This is met with a shrug of his little shoulders, and more mumbling, each word indistinguishable from the next – except one.

“Did you just say ‘temporary?'”

“Mhmm. She’s just my temporary girlfriend.” Shrug. Shrug. Hair flip.

“… what?” A lecture on the importance of little girls’ feelings started materializing on the tip of my tongue, as you can imagine. Of this he was unaware.

“You know, temporary. In case she goes to college or something.” (relevant sidenote: the boys I babysit do not, at the moment, include college in their life plans because they don’t understand why someone would willingly move away from his or her family)

“So… temporary for like ten years? Until she goes to college?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay then.”

Best 10: Netflix Edition

#netflix

#netflix

Netflix: a beautiful and dangerous thing. So many movies. So many TV shows. So many options, what is one to do? You can waste half of your life just browsing. Well fret not, dear readers, I am here to help you. Without further delay, I proudly present to you my second annual “Best of Netflix” list, now including TV shows and documentaries:

1. An Idiot Abroad

Starring Karl Pilkington, Stephen Merchant, and Ricky Gervais' laugh

Starring Karl Pilkington, Stephen Merchant, and Ricky Gervais’ laugh.

Quick Summary: Karl is cranky and hates adventure – so naturally his friends, Ricky and Stephen, send him to exotic locations around the world to film a documentary travel series. From visiting the “Alright Wall of China” to a village of flatulent snakes in Thailand, Karl remains unimpressed and full of reasons to whine.

Without a doubt, this is one of the funniest series I’ve ever watched. It’s basically two grown men thinking up ways to bully their friend from thousands of miles away, and it is BRILLIANT. No matter what they arrange for him, whether it be dogsledding or climbing Mount Fuji, Karl’s reaction is priceless and usually makes me double over in laughter. It’s inappropriate, ridiculous, occasionally offensive, and his attitude is rotten, but apparently this all makes for phenomenal television. Six million stars for An Idiot Abroad.

2. Helvetica

Starring people who are obsessed with fonts.

Starring SO MUCH HELVETICA

Quick Summary: Fascinating interviews with prominent typographers and graphic designers are punctuated by montages of Helvetica-ridden city streets; seriously though, it’s everywhere.

This documentary is proof that any subject can be intriguing if only handled in the right way. It’s not just about the history or ubiquity of the font known as Helvetica, it’s an exploration of the links between culture and design in the past sixty-odd years, and it is really interesting. Type is something so present in our lives everyday, and we hardly ever give it a second thought (with the exception of Comic Sans, because everyone vehemently hates Comic Sans). This documentary will make you think. And it will also make you try to recognize things written in Helvetica wherever you go, which is kind of annoying and kind of fun.

3. Love Actually

Starring every actor in Britain.

Starring every actor in Britain.

Quick Summary: Somehow Hugh Grant has become Prime Minister, and his sister is Emma Thompson, who is married to Alan Rickman, who works with Laura Linney, who falls in love with the real-life version of Aladdin…?

As the cover claims, this actually is the ultimate romantic comedy. Very romantic, very comedy. Who even cares that it’s set during Christmastime, love is not seasonal!

4. Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

Starring, who else, Mike Birbiglia

Starring, who else, Mike Birbiglia

Quick Summary: Mike Birbiglia delivers a hilarious and sweet stand-up routine at Seattle’s Intiman Theater (woohoo Seattle).

I feel like usually stand-up comedy is just stand-up comedy. You know, a line of jokes delivered semi-obnoxiously, a comedian strutting around the stage, pulling faces and extracting raucous laughter. Maybe it’s just the subject matter of his performance, but Mike Birbiglia seems different to me. He’s not obnoxious at all, he’s endearing and honest, and his routine flows really well because it’s a story. Good writing, good delivery. GOOD MAN.

5. Say Anything…

Starring John Cusack and Ione Skye.

Starring John Cusack and Ione Skye.

Quick Summary: Classic (maybe the original?) underdog-falling-in-love-with-the-valedictorian story. So very 80’s. So very boombox.

First of all, John Cusack was precious in 1989. Second of all, Cameron Crowe directed this and Jerry Maguire, so two big points for Cameron Crowe. Also, up until this year, I thought “In Your Eyes” was sung by Phil Collins. Speaking of Phil Collins…

6. Tarzan

Starring cartoons.

Starring cartoons.

Quick Summary: A shipwrecked family builds a sweet treehouse (hm, Swiss Family Robinson?), but then a jaguar attacks the parents and the baby is kidnapped and raised by gorillas.

See, I thought every 90’s kid ever had seen this movie, but one of my best friends hadn’t watched it till I made her last summer – so despite it’s popularity, Tarzan still belongs on this list. If I had to pick my favorite Disney movie, this would probably be it. The music alone makes it worth watching. (but it’s also just really good and I love Minnie Driver’s voice)

7. Aerial America

Starring the United States of America.

Starring the United States of America.

Quick Summary: Sweeping aerial footage of the 50 states (although there are only 10 episodes on Netflix) is accompanied by educational commentary.

IT’S NOT AS BORING AS IT SOUNDS. In fact, this is the second time I’ve blogged about this show. If you’re interested in history, or geography, or even just roadtripping around the states, you should watch this. You can sit on your couch and eat a pint of ice cream and not feel bad about it because you’re technically “learning.” One downside to this show: it makes me want to go everywhere, and does not provide me with the means to do so. I guess you take the good with the bad?

8. How to Grow a Band

Starring the band Punch Brothers

Starring the band Punch Brothers.

Quick Summary: Cameras follow Chris Thile and his bandmates around on their first tour together.

I was really excited to see this pop up in my suggestions the other night, because a) I have been listening to this band a lot lately, and b) after watching the Swell Season last week, I am digging the films that document both music and the dynamics between the people playing it. How to Grow a Band showcases some really fantastic musicians, and it explores how they learn to create things together without falling apart. And I don’t mean to trivialize Thile’s talent by choosing to talk about how adorable his crooked teeth are, but really, his crooked teeth are pretty adorable.

9. D2: The Mighty Ducks

Starring Emilio Estevez.

Starring Emilio Estevez.

Quick Summary: The Ducks add a few members and become Team USA, competing in the Goodwill Games in LA – but will they have to sell out in order to win?! Will the Icelandic team kill them in their sleep?!

One of the best parts of babysitting three young boys? Movies like this suddenly resurface. I don’t care what anyone says, D2 is a forgotten classic. I’ll admit I am not a huge Emilio Estevez fangirl, and I don’t really like hockey either, but the kids in these movies are so perfect (comedically and athletically) and who doesn’t love a good team bonding scene? I only watched this a few days ago, so maybe that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about it, but I’m pretty sure this movie is actually gold.

10. Amelie

Starring Audrey Tatou.

Starring Audrey Tatou.

Quick Summary: French people speak French and everything is quirky and magical.

I don’t know why this is #10 on my list – it’s actually one of my favorite movies, ever – but I’m too lazy to switch things around. On a gloomy day, this will totally turn you around. Life is beautiful, people are funny, love is real. It’s overly optimistic and a little fantastical, yes, but we need stuff like this every once in awhile. Especially stuff that’s scored by Yann Tiersen. Anyway. Amelie is timeless and everyone should see it at least once, come on, humor me.

Montana, Part II: the Spa

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When I was a kid, I’d take my collection of nail polish up to the family cabin and charge all the adults (men included) 25 cents a piece for a pedicure. I thought I was pretty smart. I thought I was taking advantage of my meager but marketable skills. Not so. I was a failure in comparison to the younger generation.

I arrived at the cabin this year to find a gang of 6-12 year old girls (my cousins and the neighbors) undeniably infected with the entrepreneurial spirit – they had opened a very popular spa on the screen porch, complete with complimentary coffee, an extensive menu of services, and classical music playing in the background. I was quick to sit down and schedule an appointment the next morning for a 30-minute back massage and a “fishtale” braid. I was very lucky to get in when I did, really, since their schedule was full of “regulars” and their hours had recently been decreased due to “child labor laws” enforced by their parents. Apparently kids are supposed to have fun outside and not work all the time…?

I walked in the next day to find the spa in full swing. My great aunt was lying on a pool floatie on the ground, getting a hand massage from an 8-year-old. Various others were having their hair brushed or their nails painted. I politely turned down a cup of coffee and took my seat at the hairstyling table, where a bubbly 12-year-old braided my hair with ease and chatted me up about college life and boys. Next I was led to the makeshift massage table – the floatie – for my other appointment. My 11-year-old cousin gave me a marvelous 30-minute back massage, and when she was done and I felt as if my back was a giant knot that had been untied, I was asked if I would like to “pay now, or put it on the tab?” These kids legitimately had running tabs for every customer. One of them even came around on the last day, reminding all of the adults to “settle” their tabs with a suspiciously pleasant grin on her face. They expected hefty tips.

And rightly so: the aforementioned 30-minute back massage cost me three dollars. Three dollars. You could have a sweet, gentle 7-year-old brush your hair for several minutes and it would only cost you 50 cents (I love having my hair brushed – one of life’s simplest pleasures). Their prices were low, at first I thought they were too low… but then I found out they raked in $150+ over the week or so they were open. Not too shabby.

In addition to the constant exchange of services and money, the barter system also played a role this year at the cabin. After a brief and very, very simplified explanation of the system by yours truly, I had an 8-year-old boy attempting to trade a tortilla chip for my phone, an offer which I felt I had to decline. However, I soon struck up a deal with one of the girls: if I gave her piggyback rides, she would massage my shoulders. After years and years of hauling children around on my back with nothing to expect in return, the handshake that settled this deal was a moment of great joy.

Can’t wait for next year.

Hexagons In Your Eyes

There are certain combinations in this world which I believe to be wrong. You know – texting and driving, leggings and crop tops, mint chocolate chip ice cream and any type of fruity sorbet. The last one is especially unacceptable. You know who you are.

I took the three boys I babysit to the ice cream shop the other night, and while they were taste-testing and ordering, I was having a pretty lively conversation with the guy behind the counter about gross ice cream flavor combinations (apparently other people are passionate about this subject, who would have guessed). He had been incredibly kind to switch out the mysteriously melt-y tub of cookie dough ice cream for a more solid one, seemingly just for us, so maybe I was being particularly friendly for that reason. Or maybe the boys had just never seen me interact with someone my own age. Either way, after we left and I was buckling the youngest into his stroller, the 8-year-old with an attitude (and, I learned a couple weeks ago, three crushes) sidled up next to me and sang “you liiiiiiiike him” with exactly that many i’s.

ME: No…? I don’t even know him, silly.

8 Y.O.: Yeah, you guys are in looove.

ME: And what makes you so sure?

8 Y.O.: You had hexagons in your eyes.

ME: What?

Now, I have accumulated a lot of quotable quotes from these boys over the past nine or ten months (“This is a black hole. It tears apart you.” / “Speed it up, Lamby Sassypuss.” / “Your sister is HARDCORE.” / etc.), however this might take the cake. Maybe I’m missing something and this is a line from Phineas and Ferb or whatever, but I’m just going to attribute it to my little friend’s cleverness. Admittedly he is not so astute when it comes to detecting the blossom of true love, as I can say with confidence his accusations were poorly evidenced, but the kid can certainly make me laugh… aaaand give me funny things to blog about.

I hope all of you find (or have already found, if you’re lucky) that special person who puts hexagons in your eyes. Who needs stars or hearts? So mainstream.