The things I miss from home, in no particular order of importance:

1. My boyfriend and my dog
2. My soft, noiseless bed
3. Trees
4. Rain
5. Beans and burritos
6. Broccoli
7. Cheddar cheese
8. Being a native, not a tourist
9. Speaking without wild hand motions when trying to buy something
10. Indian food
11. Thai food
12. Grass (never thought I’d miss something like a lawn)
13. The delicate twitter of birds
14. Frogs croaking in the evening dew
15. Mixed drinks
16. The Irish Emigrant’s nachos
17. Juice
18. Watching Orion twist in the sky as I walk home
19. Being able to buy clothes in any store
20. Milk
21. Not hearing the Can-Can twenty times every day
22. A working oven
23. A working shower
24. A toilet that flushes when I want it to
25. Laundry machines that don’t cost 2 euro per a use
26. Carpeted floors
27. Floors I can walk bare-foot on without my feet turning black

Holy Blunder

It was a holiday in Rome today. I’m not sure what the holiday was, other than it had something to do with the Catholic religion and that everything was closed save for restaurants and churches. For some reason, this was also the day that our two official instructors decided to have a group excursion to three medieval churches located in Trastevere- just over the Tiber River that runs through Rome. We learned lots of fascinating facts about medieval churches in Rome, such as they were built on the other side of the Tiber so they were out of the technical city limits per a prior Roman law. I learned a lot of facts that I already knew from my torturous seminar in art history that started at early-Christian art and ended at the Baroque period, and I also learned a lot of stuff that I don’t remember.

The most memorable church we visited was Santa Crisanono. I believe. However, unlike Santa Maria or Santa Cecilia, I’m not entirely certain on the name since this church is not important enough for my worthless guidebook to include. When the 30-something of us entered noisily, some taking pictures with the flash on, others talking with one another and giggling, we found the first half of the front pews in the church to be occupied and contained locals intently listening to a man dressed in black robes speaking in a helium-induced voice. As visiting the church was part of our assignment for the day, and neither of the instructors made motions for us to leave, most of us decided to sit down on the pews at the back and watch the service and take notes on the church interior discreetly. A handful of students didn’t understand that a service was taking place, and wandered down the sides of the church, pops of light erratically highlighting side chapels as they took pictures, others’ giggles reverberated throughout the church. The church attendees ignored us with a grace not found in the US, and remained intent on the speaker with the helium voice. They gave us no scathing glances, made no hushing sounds, and didn’t so much as twitch. Soon, I began to wonder from where I sat in the back if they were even alive, or if they were perhaps life-like mannequins staring lifelessly at the man speaking who happened to be a priest in training. But just as I started to entertain that thought further, the black-robed, helium-voiced man raised his hands upwards. In unison, everyone gracefully in the front half of the church rose fluidly as if they were controlled by a puppeteer and began to recite scripture in Italian. I turned around to look at my fellow students who sat behind me, and saw a look of horror frozen on every one of their faces. The horror we all shared was the type that twisted time into a never-ending vortex where minutes become indecipherable and meaningless units of measurement. Time meant nothing as all our minds raced for what we should do next. Some students decided to stand in silence, attempting to blend in with the church attendees- perhaps thinking that despite the chasm of empty pews between the locals and us, they would be unnoticed. The rest of us fled as swiftly as we could trying to make very little sound, and the students who had attempted to blend in abandoning all plans and rushing towards the light of freedom right behind us. A dull roar of shuffling feet and quickly fleeing American students echoed throughout the church, but the locals continued to recite their scripture, not a single one so much as looking back at us with annoyance or curiosity.

Not to self: never wander in churches during a holiday.

Star Struck

I stood at the metal barrier with three others from my University trip- perplexed by the crowd of people on the Pantheon steps and pushed up against metal barriers that bordered the Pantheon square, blocking it completely. Resting my hands on the warmed metal in front of me, I leaned forward, my torso crossing over the boundary. People in back pants and long-sleeved shirts stood in clusters around the fountain facing the Pantheon that I had sat on the night before while eating gelato. One of the people in black held a headset in a slackened hand and dabbed at the sheen of sweat on his forehead with a handkerchief. The rest were ruddy-faced from the sticky hear, but seemed too intent on speaking with one another and appearing important to the crowd.

“What’s going on?” one of my tripmates asked, his gelato forgotten, purple and green trails of melted ice cream streaming down his cone and towards his unsuspecting hand.

“They’re probably filming a scene for Ocean’s Tweleve,” another of my tripmates, a drama major with long wavy hair informed us. “Man! This is my job! I wanna be in there!” she added, wistfully looking at the inactive movie set.

“They’re making a sequel to that movie?” the other asked. His gelato had dripped around his thumb and was working its way down his wrist.

Just then, a man in black with a headset encircling his neck moved to stand in front of me and agitatedly yelled in Italian, waving his hands about. He clearly wanted me off the metal barrier, so I complied. With a scathing glare, he crossed his arms over his chest and stood statically in front of us. I looked past him, intrigued by the activity- or lack of activity- in the cordoned off square. I had never seen a movie set before, and desperately wanted to see someone famous in the process of acting. However, given that there were a bunch of sethands dressed in black dabbing sweat from their foreheads and appearing extremely bored, it quickly became obvious not much was going to happen within the next few hours.

“Have you seen anything interesting?” one of the tripmates asked a frumpy middled-aged tourist.

“No,” she answered in an American accent. “All I saw was some guy that someone said was George Clooney. And then there was supposed to be someone named Brad Something behind him.”

“You mean you saw BRAD PITT?!?!” all three of my companions cried at different volumes.

“Yeah, I guess so. Why? Is he famous, or something?” the middle-aged American asked us.

Disgusted, no one answered and a silence befell our group as we continued to stare at the set, willing something exciting to happen.

“Well guys, the store we want to go to is over that way,” I said, pointing across the forbidden square to the other side of the Pantheon. “I guess we should go behind the Pantheon to get there.” Clearly no longer interested in the stationary store we had originally sought, my fellow tripmates gazed longingly at the minimal activity around the barred fountain, sharing my hope to see something interesting.

Reluctantly, they started to follow me towards the Pantheon when the crowd began to buzz excitedly around us. Sensing something interesting might happen, we all stopped in our tracks and looked at the forbidden square. The sethands continued to lounge around, and I realized that the source of excitement was two large men in suits leaving a trail cleared of people as they stormed right towards us. All around, people began to yell and scream indecipherable words and cameras held high by stiff arms shot up in the air in unison, all snapping pictures blindly. The men in suits pushed through my group, forcing a gap of space between us. Behind them and flanked by two more men in black suits was an elegant woman dressed in a long black evening dress with her hair piled loosely atop her head.

“It’s Catherine Zeta-Jones!” someone exclaimed loudly. And my god, it was Catherine Zeta-Jones and she walked right past me and was whisked into a expensive-looking hotel, led by two body guards and flanked by two more.

Testimony from a Cockroach I Tried to Kill

Today, I flew through an opened window and danced on sun rays piercing a dark hallway. I spun on air, I flittered, I fluttered, waltzing to my own beat. I hummed a song of ripe summer fruits and hot silver nights to all who would listen. I whispered of an earth abandoned for me and my brethren- an earth without shoes that slice through thick air and poisonous mists that burn and choke. But then a scream broke my song and a shoe broke my dance, spurning the insight that I offered. But I survived, for I am Horus’ blood-winged scarab who dances in Apollo’s sun.

A Death Mask

The Keats and Shelly House is located in an unremarkable former boarding house next to what later became the Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps. The rooms dedicated to Keats were the very rooms where he took his last wheezing, blood garbled breaths in the company of his friend, Joseph Severn.

I sat in what would have been a parlor situated between the rooms of Keats and Severn and those of their landlady. I listened to the young british woman recount Keats life story with sympathy while I stared in awe at the collection of encased books wallpapering the large room. During the course of a slowly passing hour, she told us that Keats was born in 1795, that he was the eldest of six, that his father died, that his mother died, that some of his siblings died, that he took care of those siblings who didn’t die, and then that he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25.

I leaned forwards in my upright chair. I slouched backwards. I took notes and I tried to listen. I wanted to listen. His life seemed interesting, even delivered in a logical ordering of hard facts softened by a tone of sympathy. Yet, I wasn’t captivated. It was merely the life of some man in an unreal past who had died. It was tragic, yet I felt no tragedy even though I knew I sat mere feet away from the room he died in. And although I sympathized with his struggle to become a recognized poet, and admired that he choose that path after being trained as a surgeon, and could even know the slow pain of dying after watching my mother die of cancer, I wasn’t captivated or intrigued or even saddened by what I heard.

When the woman had finished telling her logical version of Keats’ life, I stood up and stretched my stiffened limbs. The students in the room with me all did the same before heading towards rooms dedicated to Shelly and Byron. “Keats had an interesting life and all, but I don’t feel anything from his poetry,” one of my fellow tripmates said to another as they slipped through the doorway together. Sometimes I feel the same way when reading all of the “thees” and “thous” and “thys” in his words, but our class was there to learn about Keats and we had had an assignment due that afternoon, so I entered the empty rooms opposite from Shelly and Byron. The museum had two small rooms dedicated to Keats, and so pictures, scraps of his handwriting and first editions of his poetry collections were hung in cases on the walls or displayed in one small double-sided case in the center. There was just enough space for one person to walk around the center case in the first room and not touch those hung on the walls. The next room had been his bedroom, and had a bit more space to move around in. It also had a center case and things crammed on the walls, but the difference from the previous room in which Jospeh Severn had slept in, was that this one had a bed that was “a style typical of the period”. On the bed were bright silk sheets that “were also typical of the period.”

Even though the bed had a “Do Not Touch” sign above it, there was a sign near it that explained how the bed was a reproduction and not the one that belonged to Keats as that had been burned after his death in an effort to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. Taking this as an invitation, I laid down on the bed, my feet hanging off the foot of it, and stared up at the daisy square motifs on the ceiling that was said to be the only thing left of the rooms he stayed in. This ceiling was the very one that he stared at every day while he died, and so I stared at it, trying to feel something other than a placid interest. The story goes, that when Keats was dying in Rome, Severn found and paid for his grave plot. Keats asked him what it was like there, and Severn described the peaceful meadows around and how the plot was covered in wildflowers. “I can feel the wildflowers already growing above me,” Keats told his friend as he stared up at the ceiling with daisy motifs, I stared at the flowers, thinking of this, and they seemed to stare back at me in the unsettling way that cherubs decorating church ceilings stare with smiles at those standing below.

I got off the bed and then moved about the room, examining the various artifacts on display. Eventually, I came to a single case hanging off the wall near the bed that I had overlooked while gazing at the ceiling. In that case was a white plaster mold of Keats’ face with the label “Keats’ Death Mask” below it. I stared at it, examining how the impression of his lips were slightly parted and appeared to form a half smile, as if the timeless pain in his chest had stopped and he could finally inhale deeply for the first that time he could remember. His eyes were shut and his face relaxed into a serene bliss. I stared with a numbed mind for some unknown amount of time before asking myself: did someone mold his face into that shape of peace or did it naturally happen when he died? I continued to stare at the plaster face, engrossed, examining how one eye had been slightly opened when the mold was made which meant there was probably traces of plaster on his eye when he was buried before he began to decompose under the wildflowers. I remembered how four years ago I had sat in a waiting room full of flowers and inspirational pictures with footprints and forests, and how a cheerful secretary explained to me that when a body is cremated the bones don’t really burn so they have to crush them and so not to be shocked when chunks of bones fall out as I throw the ashes. I remember wanting to throw up, tears streaming down my face as I imagined my mother’s body being burned and crushed into black dust. A drop of water then landed above that unclosed plaster eye, and I wiped it off with my finger before realizing that I was crying.


“Bella! Bella! Europa!”

I was so used to being an “Americana” or a “Bella! Bella!” that I didn’t realize he was calling out to me. I didn’t realize until I sensed that I was the only one on the tenuous street, other than him- the older Italian gentleman. I turned to see him kissing his hands before flourishing them towards me. Once I looked, He proceeded to instruct me in Italian on the art of properly crossing streets and then demonstrated by waltzing through an enjambed trio of cars that I had darted around before he called to me. Illustrating his instructions, he made fluid sweeping motions at the cars, towards himself, towards me, from one side of the street to the other.

“Grazie,” I called out, using the only Italian word I know.

Equational Men

Last night, I learned that there’s a direct relation between the number of drinks a girl has had during the course of one night and how many guys hit on her. A mathematical equation for this might go something like: [(drink strength) x (number of drinks)] = # of men.

I can’t remember how many drinks I had last night, I can’t remember the exact number of guys who hit on me, and I can’t remember the names of any of the guys who I do remember hitting on me. All I can say with certainty is that telling various people at my friends’ party “I have a boyfriend” abruptly in the middle of a conversation became my motto for the night.

I’m leaving for Rome in two days and I don’t know a word of Italian. Given the rumors I’ve heard from reliable people such as former study-abroad students and family members closely related to me, I have suspicions that my above mathematical equation will involve a higher ratio of men hitting on a girl per the number of drinks she’s had. I can’t lay claim to any sort of mathematical ability, but I think the equation would look like: [(drink strength) x (number of drinks)] = men². At this rate, the first Italian words I’m going to learn are “I have a boyfriend.” I heard the Italians cuss a lot as well, so I’m sure I’ll pick up a couple of other words to pepper my motto with.

Lio-rat Demon Dog

I have the misfortune of owning a fur-ball dog known as a Westie. Of course, some owners of fur-ball dogs would consider owning a Westie fortunate as they have some odd genetic defect which prevents them from shedding like all normal dogs. To compensate for this defect, they have about three different layers of fur (thick fuzz, normal hair, wire-o-doom) that make it impossible to run a brush through them. If the thick fuzz layer doesn’t mangel the brush, the wire-o-doom layer will make sure to not only destroy the brush, but also to make your hand look like it accidently got between two wild cats who happen to be fighting over a plastic grocery bag with some meat juice in the bottom.

Because I had had such an impossibly horrid week by the time my birthday rolled around, I decided I was going to treat myself to a birthday present and have Mary, my dog, groomed at Petco. Remembering that the place takes “walk-ins”, I was positive they would be able to schedule an appointment for that day. Instead, I was laughingly informed that they were booked through Sunday. I decided my dog really needed a haircut before I left for Rome, so I set an appointment for today.

After the events of this weekend made the earlier horrors of the week seem like lounging on the couch with a popsicle on a “hot” Seattle summer day, I determined that nothing was going to ruin the start of this week. Nothing. Things started out well- I got to leave work early, despite not knowing that the office would be closed before I showed up. I even finished some internship paper that I thought was due today (even though it’s really due in three days). But then I made the mistake of deciding mere feet away from Petco that my Oldsmobile could take on a Grand Wagoneer piloted by a sorority girl (though, definitely the nicest one I’ve met yet). Even though that’s another story, the Grand Wagoneer suffered only a broken tail light and half-an-inch long smudge of my white paint. No dents. No cracks. Nothing. My car, on the other hand, has now become a one-sided gimp, complete with a long dented streak across both passenger side doors and some blue paint to remember the Grand Wagoneer by.

After swapping insurance information, taking some pictures of the “damage” on the Grand Wagoneer, and apologizing profusely for being such a fucking idiot, I walked the soon-to-be-sheered dog to the grooming section of Petco. I wrote down my phone number and signed a waiver form. I then handed the leash to a grimacing woman with hair that was supposed to be blue, but much in the way of Dawn liquid soap in a sink full of water and dirty dishes, it was actually a dingy gray-blue-brown. “My dog is nervous when on the table, and she doesn’t like her toenails fussed with, but she should be well-behaved if you’re sensitive and nice to her,” I cautioned.

“It’ll be no problem,” the woman assured me. “The person who groomed her here before wrote that she’s a bit skittery on the table, but is really nice and calm otherwise.”

I watched as she tried to coax my dog away from a spot on the floor she was rapidly sniffing, and then left feeling an overwhelming amount of stress because of my car and all of the other things that have piled up during the course of the week.

Two and a half hours later found me sitting on the couch with my iBook watching a movie when the phone rang. A quiet voice on the other end informed me that it was the groomer at Petco calling. “Wow, that’s early,” I said.

“Yeah, well, your dog is the worst dog I’ve ever had to groom. It took three of us to hold her down and she was struggling so much that we shaved a funny line down her back. We didn’t even get to her head. I personally think you are the cruelest owner to do this to your dog. What the hell is wrong with you? You shouldn’t put a dog her age under so much stress! We’re so stressed out, and she’s so stressed out that this can’t continue. I want you to pick up this demon hellhound of yours right now and never bring her back here. Don’t ever come back- we don’t want to ever see you or your dog again!”

“Um… I’m really sorry.” Why was I apologizing to the groomer when she was being so mean? “I’m so sorry, she’s usually not that bad. She’s a bit nervous, especially when you cut her toenails, but I’ve never had this type of problem before.”

“Yeah, well I find that hard to believe,” the groomer snapped back. “What the hell’s wrong with her? You abuse her or something?”

“No, I don’t ‘abuse or something’ my dog. Though thanks for your polite concern. She doesn’t like some people- you have to be nice and patient with her. If you aren’t, she tends to act up. But I’ve never had this problem before, so I’m terribly sorry.”

“Yeah, well just get her outta here. We won’t charge you, but I don’t wanna fuckin’ look at that damn dog any longer.”

“I’ll be over as soon as I can,” I told her. With that, the phone on the other end slammed down, fumbling for a split second as it searched for the cradle.

Tears filled my eyes. “What a horrible day”, I intoned over and over again as I blindly searched for my phone book. As soon as I found the phone book, I called the house of some friends and asked with tears flowing down my cheeks if one of them could pick me up and take me to Petco. “Sure, we’ll be there right away,” my friend told me. I waited on the sidewalk for them, eating a mostly ripe pear.

When they brought me to Petco, I ran inside and found a different woman at the counter. “I’m here to pick up the ‘demon hellhound’ I told her.” She looked at me blankly. I guess a lot of demon hellhounds end up there. “She’s a white dog.” Recognition crossed her face, she nodded and went into the back to inform the woman with gray-blue-brown hair that the abusive owner of the demon hellhound was here.

When Graybluebrown brought out my Cerberus, she threw the demonic hellhound as if she was a skipping stone so that Mary skimmed over the surface of the countertop and landed in my arms. She then threw Mary’s collar and leash at me and ran into the back room without a word. Oblivious regarding the supposed stress she caused the groomers, but happy to see me, Mary sat in my arms calmly as I fastened her collar and leash. When I brought her out to my friends’ car, they were too sensitive to laugh at the state of her.

“She looks dumb,” I told them, my mouth trying to simultaneously smile and frown. Her entire body was shaved closely save for her head, which was an untouched mass of fur that veiled her ears and eyes. In fact, her body had been shaved so closely, it was unproportionately smaller than the spray of fur that made up her head. Even her tail had been shaved down to the bone, making it look like a scrawny wagging tree branch.

The Lio-rat

“She looks like the bastard-child of a lion and a rat,” my friend told me from the front passenger seat.

“She’s a Lio-rat,” I said. The three of us stared forward, not laughing.

Fifteen minutes later, we reached my apartment and I got out of the car and saw that her rear had been shaved so closely it was bald. “My dog has a bare ass!” I screamed in a mix of genuine terror and mock horror. My friends both started laughing from the car, laughing about her bare “baboon” ass and laughing about how funny her knobby legs looked when she squatted to pee on the grass.

“You poor thing, you look so stupid,” I told her as my friends drove away. “They certainly did a bad job shaving you down.” I looked down at her as she wiggled in circular patterns and delightedly sniffed around the grass, and wondered how anything pathetic enough to earn the name “Lio-rat” could really be a hellhound straight from the demonic nether-world depths of evil.

Birthday Loot

  1. $230 In Checks
  2. Great Drinkers Shot Glasses
  3. shot glasses

    Twyla bought these shot glasses in Ireland even though they’re from an American company. Hmmm… But hey, two of my most favorite writers are included (Hemingway and Faulkner), complete with a quote about drinking on the back of each glass.

  4. The American Bar
  5. The American Bar bartending guide

    Another something that Twyla bought for me and mailed with the glasses. It’s so cool to get a package from Ireland for my birthday a whole month early. Disclaimer: In no way did I open the contents of said package before June 3rd (birthday), nor did I happen to use any of the shot glasses at any date prior to June 3rd. Drinking while driving is not recommended, nor is it recommended while pregnant or while operating other forms of heavy machinery where impairment may be hazardous to your health or the health of others.

  6. Harry and David Tower of Goodness
  7. Goodies from Harry and David

    I opened up my apartment mail box and found a nifty package box key in it. This is the first time I have ever been given the nifty package key rather than a note telling me to go to the office. I was so happy that I got to save myself the whole extra ten minutes of trekking to the office on my birthday. I even opened the bottom box to find two juciy pears and a package of mixed nuts (and I mean mixed, not just some cashews and peanuts). The other boxes had a cake (which I have yet to try) and some assorted candies that I assume are meant to decorate the cake. This present reinforces the fact that my aunt and uncle are very cool.

  8. Breadman “Panini Maker” (that’s “Panini Grill” for the sophisticated)
  9. Panini Maker

    And the best present of all would be the very panini grill that I’ve been drooling over for about a year now. Ever since my last birthday when I discovered that toasted sandwiches didn’t have to contain just cheddar cheese, I’ve tried many failed attempts at grilling artisan bread stuffed to thrice the height with tasty items on a small George Forman Grill. Unfortunately, the good ‘ol George Forman has a nasty talent for squeezing the fillings out all over the counter and floor. Now that parts of the non-stick coating comes off with each washing, I think it’s time to chuck the grill.

  10. One Duncan Hines Supreme Moist Chocolate Cake with Homemade Frosting
  11. Duncan Hines Supreme Moist Cake with homemade frosting

    Tyler made me a cake. My one wish for my birthday was that I get a homemade cake because I hate bakery cakes- they never taste quite right, even when compared to a cake mix. Tyler also made his mother’s frosting recipe which has got to be the best frosting I have ever had. It was a very tasty cake and I’m so happy that I only have to share with one other person. My dog even seemed enthused about the few crumbs she managed to scavenge from the floor after barking at Tyler for singing “Happy Birthday” to me.

  12. The Last Day of Classes
  13. The last day of my classes was on my birthday. And to think, if I was graduating on time, it would have been the last day of my classes as an undergrad! I’m also done with my finals as all my profs seem to want to get an extra week of vacation in. They claim it’s because they need extra time to read all of those papers which they spend more time reading than other professors spend on grading exams. I’ve been around for four years now so they can’t fool me, especially when they do things like read the midterm papers in a matter of days. Those shifty English and Comparative Literature professors outta be ashamed of themselves for lying to us innocent and gullible students.