Inheritable traits & metaphors

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My sister and I, although adequately graceful in most areas of our lives, had the great misfortune of inheriting a particular trait from our father: our nose-blowing, individually but especially collectively, is a high decibel experience. On any given morning in our household, one can hear the demonstration of nasal power. And oh is it powerful. We always likened the noise to that of an elephant (whereas some people sneeze like mice – I do not trust these people). That is, until we were presented with an incredibly apt metaphor, much more accurate than our own:

“Cierra, you know what you sound like when you blow your nose? Like when you drag your suitcase across those metal things at the beginning and the end of escalators.”

Do you guys know what my 11-year-old cousin is talking about? Because she hit the nail right on the head. And instead of mourn my apparent lack of ladylikeness, I thought wow, METAPHORS! LANGUAGE! THIS STUFF IS AMAZING! An elementary schooler just brilliantly described a previously indescribable sound my nose has been making for my entire life.

And it’s just like that, whether it’s funny or gorgeous or melancholy as hell, words can not only envelop but become a feeling (or a noise, for that matter). I’ve found innumerable instances of this just in the past few days, in my second and much more successful attempt to read Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, with whom I proudly share a birthday. I started reading this book in high school and I was wildly unprepared, low in energy and consequently low in the amount of effort I put forth – I didn’t understand a thing and I was disappointed. Four years later, I’m underlining something on every page because these words give me feelings. “He would fall asleep with his heart at the foot of his bed, like some domesticated animal that was no part of him at all.” Excuse me, Jonathan, that is my heart you are breaking.

Not that I’m required to have one, but what is my point? Surprise, there are three.

  1. I think words are really cool and you should think so too.
  2. People say “the right person at the wrong time is the wrong person,” and I think I believe that. But the same cannot be said for books. I’m willing to lump music in there too. The right book or song at the wrong time could still be the right book or song at the right time. And, in all likelihood, the right time will come. Books have chapters and so does life.
  3. I’m not embarrassed about the way I blow my nose. I’m not embarrassed about the way I blow my nose. I’m not embarrassed about the way I blow my nose.

Also, I got blood drawn today and it took my perfectly competent nurse three painful tries to lure anything out of my itty-bitty, impossible-to-find veins. Even my bloodways are stubborn and somewhat elusive. Cheers to perfect consistency.

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Rome VII: stalking people and making friends

Rather than attempt a full-on recap, this week I’ll just be sketching out a couple stories. It’s not laziness – I’m keeping the format freeeesh.

Story #1: Stalking Rick Steves

On Monday, we visited the Vatican Museums – more overwhelmingly gigantic and significant than any other collection we’ve seen so far, like probably just a couple levels beneath the Louvre in terms of scale. Nonetheless, my usual “museuming” routine (cappuccino, picking a wing, finding a quirk in each painting I look at, etc.) got me through the first few galleries with no scratches and very little stress, carrying me to the courtyard which houses the “Laocoon.” I stood in front of that feat of twisted marble and listened to a couple classmates discuss its legendary origins, pretty distracted, a mental haze which I was promptly snapped out of with seven simple words: “hey, do you guys know Rick Steves?” I looked at the speaker, answering yes, WHY – “oh, he was just standing over there in the middle” – WHAT

I’ve never ditched a group of people faster. I’d spent my whole life wondering what my purpose could possibly be, and suddenly it was so clear: I had to find and follow Rick Steves, King of Travel, through the Vatican Museums. What was he doing there? Who was he with? Would he hire me as a television cohost/travel writer? I felt like Laocoon himself trying to disentangle myself from the crowd of camera-holding limbs surrounding me, finally reaching an open pocket and – hark! – there was the back of Rick Steves.

In the doorway, black backpack, blue jeans: Rick Steves, my friends

In the doorway, black backpack, blue jeans: Rick Steves, my friends

I stood there, quite unsure what to do with myself. Sometimes I have a difficult time acting normal around, like, normal people, but you throw me in the ring with a pretty famous person and I stoop to levels of awkwardness beyond the capability of most humans. I am painfully aware of this aspect of my personality. So obviously the best option in this situation is to wordlessly hover around Rick Steves and his tour guide for a solid 45 minutes, all the while failing miserably to make this seem unintentional. Rick, if you ever read this: I was not very interested in that tapestry depicting Julius Caesar’s assassination, I was just waiting for you to catch the f up.

So yes, I spent a good amount of my time in the Vatican Museums following Rick Steves around and mooching off his private tour. Did I introduce myself? No, I just let him eye me suspiciously as I trailed through the map gallery and Raphael rooms. Did I learn a lot? Yes, I would highly recommend “tour stealing,” as it is very easy and very informative and less embarrassing than an audio guide. Did I brush Rick Steves’ shoulder and thus gain his travel wisdom? I did indeed brush the shoulder of this legend of a man, but as for the transfer of power, only time will tell. Cross your fingers. Also I got two other pictures of the back of his head #score

Story #2: My First Italian Friend

There is a restaurant near our apartment whose sole commodity is french fries – the place is called “FRIES: delicious potatoes.” It is great, we need more things like this in the States. Karly and I decided FRIES was a necessary pit stop today (on our way to gelato, no less), and so we went, got our FRIES, and sat in the square. We were picking through the last remnants when we were approached by a spunky little girl on her bike, brown hair in a ponytail and inquisitive look on her face. “Patatine?” she asked, gesturing to our nearly empty cones of fries, and I answered “si.” One point for me. I know the word for french fries. But then she started speaking quickly in Italian, and that one point disappeared and I quickly plummeted into the negatives. In gruesomely butchered Italian, I asked if she spoke any English – haha nope. This girl was like seven, maybe eight. She shook her head. “Italiano.” For some reason or another she decided to stick around after this linguistic chasm was revealed, probably either to laugh at us or pilfer fries. Regardless, I was determined to converse with this little girl despite my tiny, tiny bank of Italian words and phrases. I told her I was American, following that with an “e tu?”, which I’m not even sure is a thing in this language. She looked confused. I pointed at her, “Italiana?” “Si, Italiana di Roma.” She then asked where in America we were from, and I answered Seattle, not expecting her to recognize the name. “Oh!” her face brightened, “iCarly!” A resounding “si” from Karly and me, along with some laughter. So cute.

It did not take us long to exhaust that line of conversation, so we moved on to names. She didn’t like the English pronunciation of my name, as evidenced by a grimace when I presented my ugly, un-rolled “r,” but she accepted once I tweaked it a bit. She didn’t like Maddy’s name either, so we opted for some variant of Madelena. Caitlin was changed to Catalina. Following introductions, one of my friends tried to ask “how are you” and was promptly corrected by our new friend, Adelai, with a head-shake of disbelief and the correct pronunciation. This girl’s sass game was admirably strong. And after establishing that we were “tutto inglese,” she peaced out and rolled away on her little bike. There’s only so much you can say with such a huge language barrier. But I was very impressed with Adelai’s dauntlessness in carrying on a conversation with us, and I liked her spunk. A lot. The other girls got the impression that she hated us, but I think she found us endearingly clueless. I’m fine with that.


I won’t go in-depth (I’m tired and coming down with a cold, my bed is calling very loudly), but I can’t post this without mentioning our visit to Tivoli today. The Renaissance gardens at Villa D’Este are beyond any words I could put here, so I’ll show you some pictures. Maybe you remember a certain movie from the early 2000’s with a scene shot here? No? Hilary Duff???

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And here is the back of me (s/o to Karly for accurately capturing my spirit)

And here is the back of me (s/o to Karly for accurately capturing my spirit)

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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The Places Where Language Falls Short

Trees, a bench, and a glowing streetlamp - what more does a girl need?

Trees, a bench, and a glowing streetlamp – what more does a girl need?

Hello all, and happy autumn! I hope everyone is enjoying the pumpkin-flavored everything and all of the crunchy leaves on the sidewalk. Pro tip: go out of your way to step on them. Very satisfying.

Fall quarter is in full swing, and this lady is gearing up to declare her major in the next few months – predictably, English. As a result, my classes have been full-to-bursting with books and lectures about critical theory, which I had very little knowledge of until recently. Basically, these authors think it’s their purpose in life to point out our stupidity and ignorance in the way we read and understand things; evidently I’ve been doing everything wrong for my entire literate life. So I mostly oscillate between wanting to melt into the floor, and wanting to kick over a giant pile of copies of Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson in a very violent fashion. My mantra has consequently become “CHILL THE F OUT,” and I silently repeat this to myself for roughly two minutes every hour.

But sometimes I luck out and the things I’m studying inspire me.  For example, we’ve been talking about mimesis a lot lately, or art that portrays the real world. I’ve been told it’s impossible for a piece of writing to be truly mimetic, and I believe it – language is imperfect, therefore it isn’t plausible to have a perfect, language-based representation of my universe or yours. It makes sense. However, I don’t think flawed language is a problem. Quite the opposite, actually.

Maybe we can’t perfectly articulate how the universe feels, or how it hurts to be rejected, or how some melodies seem to soar through the space between our ears. But if we could accurately convey both the beauty and the horror of real life, what would be the point of writing? No one would want to put the world into words if it was a simple process, it wouldn’t be anything special. For me, it can be difficult to describe things. But when I find the right word or the right sound for something, no feeling can match it. And when someone miraculously articulates precisely what I’m feeling, it’s just that: miraculous. There is a moment of perfection, and though it is fleeting, it feels like an infinity. Elusive reality has been captured for just a split second, translated into something we can understand: language. And when I think about this, I wonder if beautiful things would really be as beautiful if perfect words for them existed in our vocabularies, if we could simply describe them. I would argue no, because I don’t believe beauty is simple. Sometimes, the places where language falls short are the most brilliant.

I was sitting in my favorite area on campus last night, pictured above, when all of this was somersaulting around my brain. It was quiet and chilly and completely deserted, just the way I like it. Everything feels right when you’re in a place that feels like it belongs to you.

This has been yet another example of me rambling incessantly about the beauty of the world. You’re welcome. I grew up on Anne of Green Gables if that explains anything.