Rome X: Saltwater

4:30am last Wednesday, I was dragged out of bed by the promise of an island, thronged with the other sleepwalkers onto a charter bus and slowly pulleyed away from Rome. Morning bus rides have been one of my favorite things here – everyone is so quiet and sleepy, it has the peace of night with the light of day. It also has rest stop cappuccinos, which never hurt, although they are not quite as effective in providing energy as a good gaze into the seafoam from a ferry deck, which is where we eventually ended up. So does the effectiveness of a cappuccino even matter? In this case, I guess, it does not.

We were headed to Ponza, a white-and-pastel island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, her cliffs and grottos knee-deep in the bluest water I’d ever seen (I’ve now seen bluer… but that’s beside the point). Because of this, there was sort of a collective gasp as we pulled into the main harbor. Just a slight change of scenery, little different than Rome. Karly and I shared a hotel room with a balcony overlooking that harbor, that harbor being a spectacular stage on which the sunset glowed. I don’t think a Fairfield Inn in central Washington is going to cut it anymore. Take note. I’ve been spoiled. In addition to the balcony, the woman who worked in the little breakfast nook is also to blame – she gave me coffee and chocolate croissants. And a hug when I left. Everyone stay at Hotel Mari!

Going out on boats played a large role in our time on Ponza, as is only appropriate. We rented giant bins of flippers, goggles, and snorkels (you never realize how ridiculous the words are until you type them in succession), donning them when the time was right and plummeting into the water. It was cold. It was also really salty, and I was a little shocked to find that no one else shared my enthusiasm for the taste of saltwater – you know, when you lick your lips, or chew on your hair or whatever. It’s good stuff. Plus, it makes styling my hair so much easier; post-snorkeling, had I wanted to mold my hair into the shape of Italy, I probably could have done so. The actual act of snorkeling is also good, of course. I’d never seen the bottom of the sea before, or swam into a cave, or experienced the tenfold-increased intensity of blue between above-water and below-water. I remember reading a book in a poetry class a couple years ago – it was the only book I liked that quarter – about the color blue. Bluets, by Maggie Nelson. I was introduced to ultramarine, the richest and bluest of blues, but I didn’t actually feel it until Ponza. It just kind of engulfs you, and ten minutes later you can’t remember it. I think blue is my favorite color.

IMG_1478

I’ll remember Ponza for the seafood dinners where I didn’t eat seafood, instead opting for half a basket of bread and bouts of laughter which actually made me feel like maybe I was going to die, like my eyes would literally pop out of my head and my abs would catch fire. Not altogether unpleasant, although a little concerning. I’ll remember sitting at breakfast for two hours, and standing in the tide as the sand was swept from under my feet, and finding a cactus that mysteriously captured the same movement of Bernini’s Apollo, and perching myself at the front of various boats, hardly dreading the inevitable struggle of brushing my hair later. A song for Ponza? “Crawled Out of the Sea,” Laura Marling. And as for poems, it will always be “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World,” as discussed in that cave-like room that smelled of pastries. Next?

Capri. Getting there from Ponza was a jaunt – ferry, train, cab, ferry – and for a few hours there were doubts that we would even make it. With our time constraints, it felt like the Amazing Race. I mean, I’ve never watched the Amazing Race, but a girl can imagine. The eleven of us sat at the Formia train station plotting out the journey: who was going in what cab, who was buying ferry tickets, who was standing off to the side pretending to be an Italian stranger in case our airbnb guy figured out we had an extra person… the list goes on. But we made our train to Naples, and our taxi drivers were quick to get us to the ferry terminal, and no one had to pretend to be anyone else. It was beautiful. And it got more beautiful.

The boat took us across the water, past Mt. Vesuvius, not cutting the waves but rollicking with them. With the salty wind accosting our hair, we stumbled around the rocking ship like drunks, laughing at the bigger waves and trying to capture the sunset on our phones. I tried jumping in one of the aisles to see if the boat would move under me – it did. Not recommended. We were on the boat for about an hour, meaning the last light in the sky was just leaving when Capri started growing on the horizon. Uh HOLY SHIT. This is the kind of stunned-breathless you only feel a few times in your life. We pulled into the harbor sideways, and I could feel the winding cliff-lights reflecting off my glasses just like the myriad lanterns on the docks stretched out and shone on the water. Like damn. Just because I know I can’t carry on this description without swearing myself into oblivion, I will show you a picture:

UGH

UGH

Starry-eyed (at least in my case), we walked off the boat and routed ourselves to our villa. On a cliff. Overlooking the sea. HOW IS THIS MY LIFE? Anyway, supposedly this journey involved upwards of 35 flights of stairs, and although I did not count, it wouldn’t surprise me. It was a hike. But we got there, and it was incredible. The house slept eleven people very comfortably, there was a garden, plenty of flat rooftop space for sitting and/or passing out from the beauty beheld by your eyes. We didn’t really know how phenomenal our view was until the next morning when we woke up, though – the sea and the valley between the two hills, a cliff behind us, trees too, and an unbelievable number of seagulls swooping over the land below us. I think we were all pretty confused: on the one hand, we are college students, and on the other, we were people staying at this villa. It just didn’t make sense.

The view, with a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

The view, with a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

Our first morning, we went on an Unintentional Hike Through the Wilderness. We were trying to get to Anacapri by following spray-painted red dots on boulders, but the spray-painted red dots on boulders led us up treacherous paths, narrow and winding, slippery and riddled with metal rods protruding from the ground. Eventually we came to a a giant rock which the spray-painted red dots wanted us to climb – like, vertically – and since none of us had climbing gear/experience, and a few of our band were in flats, we decided to trek back down the mountain and take the less forest-y stairs. Probably a good decision.

A decision which ultimately led us to ritzy shopping districts and quiet beach grottos – no complaints. I remember climbing back to the villa that night, dusk time, and finding my travel mates scattered around the yard, some on rooftops, a few on the patio, others wrapped in blankets on the grass. We were clustered in various places, with our potato chips and bottles of wine, but all were looking in the same direction. And, like that, we watched night settle in over Capri and her salt-spray sky.

IMG_1630

Capri Day Two began with a start: I was the first “chairlift to the sky” customer of the day, which meant I was first in line on the loading dock, which meant I had no idea that “loading” consisted of standing on a mat confusedly for a few seconds until a gruff man shoved you backwards into a moving chair and – poof – you were in the air. No warning. I busted out laughing and looked back to see my friends’ faces, still on the ground, all of them equally shocked with jaws dropped ever so slightly. On the way up, I swung my legs and appreciated the invention of chairlifts because, as we all know, this girl loves an aerial view. The view from the top of the mountain was even more stunning, but I’ve probably given you your fill of flowery cliffside descriptions, eh? There were seagulls and, as was pointed out at the time, it kind of looked like Jurassic Park. So there you go.

We also visited a small museum (as we do) and took a lengthy boat tour around the island, which included a pit stop at THE blue grotto. Blue Grotto? It should probably be capitalized. When I offhandedly mentioned a bluer blue than Ponza’s earlier, this is what I was talking about. It’s an odd experience, being pulled from one boat into a much smaller one, practically lying on top of your friends, and being serenaded in the cheesiest way by a man called “Antonio Casanova.” For some reason I was expecting a grotto detached from the mainland, like a giant rock in the sea with a gaping mouth through which these small rowboats could bob, but that’s not what it was at all. To enter the Blue Grotto, which is attached to the mainland of Capri, passengers crouch as the boat magically slicks through the tiniest opening in a rockface. It’s a little unbelievable. And once inside, it is an echoing darkness of black and blue, except in the opposite order you would expect: top half is black, bottom half the most vibrant ultramarine. If you stick your hand in the water, it adopts a similar hue.

Disclaimer: pictures never do anything justice

Disclaimer: pictures never do anything justice

Like anything wonderful and fleeting, you leave with the fear of forgetting it. And so I did.

Monday morning, the last on Capri, I woke up and went into the yard to clip my nails. While certainly not being the worst activity, clipping my nails has never been in the running as a personal favorite – it’s pretty mundane. But if I could clip my nails in the yard of a Capri villa for the rest of my life, I would not hesitate to do precisely that. This is what I was thinking as I reluctantly walked through the gate, down the countless stairs, all the way to the ferry port. Back to Rome we came.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I really love islands, although I’m not surprised by this. Humans need water for a reason, not just to drink it but to see it too. And while I found certain things in Capri problematic (you know something is up when there is literally a store called “Snobberie”), my island days here in Italy have been some of the most beautiful of my life, and that probably won’t change. Visiting Ponza and Capri never crossed my mind when I’d dream up travel plans in years past. But I think that makes the fact that I did get to visit them doubly special. It’s like surprise! beauty is in the places you don’t even know exist.

And now I’m down to nearly four days left, which is exciting and heartbreaking all at once. I will try to post again before I leave, but if I get too busy beaching and going on night walks –

This has been the best.

Advertisements

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:

Unf

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 –

IMG_0635

IMG_0712

IMG_0714


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.

spotify:track:4eyl6CaFdDW0jWAQiYyP6E

spotify:track:0E8ztdwAhGJ6KRdElKGQT4

spotify:track:78Bsr3lC1hJcavJNiEMC3Y

Two days from takeoff

Really all I do is listen to "Serial"

Really all I do is listen to “Serial”

I feel like the last few weeks of my life have been spent in some sort of delusional laughter. I’m imagining myself in the pouch of a slingshot, being pulled back, back, back, and it looks like everything is whirring past me when actually I’m the one who will soon be released with unprecedented speed and force, rocketing across the Atlantic. All of this to say, I have once again been brutally smacked in the face by time and I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.

In November, I learned that I would be spending spring quarter in Rome. Now, it’s basically spring quarter. I’ve had months to prepare, but somehow I’ve found myself scrambling to figure out the details of this trip literally days before I take flight. You must know this is bizarre – I am the girl who used to make extensive packing lists two weeks in advance for a 5-day trip to Montana. It was almost a hobby. Today, a narrow two days before this journey begins, I had a conversation with my parents that was along the lines of “Cierra, which suitcase do you want to take?” “Oh, I don’t care, just give me one and I’ll fit whatever I can fit.” Is this laziness, or have I just discovered the value in simple living? I honestly don’t know.

A lot of people have been asking the expected questions lately – are you scared, what are you most excited for, etc. – and I’ve had considerable difficulty answering them. Life has been very, very quick-paced since January, and I haven’t had ample (or even sufficient) time to sit down for a second and anticipate what the next few months will bring. I am oddly glad for this. It feels exciting and delightfully idiotic to jump into something without knowing what to expect, it’s definitely not something I would typically do. So I am sorry to those who’ve not been wholly satisfied with my ill-formed, uninspired answers, but stick with me and maybe some cool stuff will happen. Yes, I plan to keep blogging while I am in Italy. Also I will be spending many hours in various European airports in the coming days. Prime blogging time.

Unsurprisingly, the one way in which I am very prepared for this trip involves a playlist. Approximately 19 hours long. I am most excited about Laura Marling’s new album, Short Movie, which I told myself for the longest time I would not listen to until I sat down on the airplane… obviously I have no self-control and listened to it all the way through at the first opportunity, but I’m still psyched about it. That woman understands me.

Anyway, next time you hear from me I will very likely be jetlagged and sleep-deprived. I guess only one of those is abnormal. So actually you might not even notice any difference. Ciao!

A list & a playlist

nov20

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):

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: