Things I miss from Rome, in no particular order of importance:

1. Eating gelato on the fountain facing the Pantheon
2. Being able to walk anywhere I need to be in less than twenty minutes
3. The monks chanting on Sundays in the church connected to my apartment
4. The accordion boy
5. The sounds of street musicians wafting through open windows
6. Real pizza
7. Gelato of any flavor imaginable
8. Fresh mozzarella (it’s indescribably wonderful)
9. The ability to buy fresh market fruit every day but Sunday
10. Street vendors
11. The chatty waiters who try to get customers from those walking by on the street
12. Siestas
13. Strong mixed drinks, even though they taste like shit
14. Cobblestones, wobblestones
15. Pretending I’m a German or Canadian tourist when bitchy
16. Glaring at the asshole Americans who think I’m German and don’t know English
17. The game of finding working Bancomats (ATMs)
18. Trying to strut sexily and having no one laugh because they think it’s the cobblestones
19. Walking into traffic like a real Italian and having the tourists dumbly watch cars stop or swerve around me while not honking

I’ll return one day, but damn, I’m glad to be back in Seattle.

Invisible Fireworks

Today is the fourth of July, both at home and where I am now.

At home, it’s 5 A.M. At home, no one is there. Tyler, who lives with me at home, has taken my dog with him to visit his family. I hope he brought her special food with him. I hope he remembered to water my plants- or that it’s raining at home. I left home and came here to become a better writer. At home, I didn’t write enough. I procrastinated, even though I love writing, and would blame homework and working and the need to nap on my lack of writing. These are probably partly the reason, along with other things like not seeking inspiration and not feeling intelligent enough or talented enough or interesting enough for other people to want to read what I wrote. I don’t have to have an audience- I do write for myself- but I wanted to have an audience. I needed feedback, and compliments- things to fill the void of having grown up with a father who instilled a great sense of insecurity in me and of losing a mother who combated that insecurity every day by gracing me with genuine love and pride. I spent three years of my life seeking a surrogate father figure. Then one day, I realized that you can’t shop for a surrogate parental figure by wandering around and hoping to find a retail store specializing in your preference of personality. Now I’m in the market for self-infused security by improving a skill that I always fancied I had to some mild degree. But in order to know if that skill is improved, I needed an audience of some sort. I needed someone to show me what I did that was wrong and what I did that was wonderful. The audience I choose was a group of writers of all levels converging at a territory of amazing depth and layers; a place that will always retain a certain unfamiliarity no matter how many times one has visited it.

Here, it’s 2pm. Here, I am completely alone. Everyone I know, who came from Seattle to Rome, has gone to visit a famous beach. I hope they brought sunscreen with them. I hope they find cool things to buy and have lots of fun. I stayed here instead of going to the beach because I was tired and depressed and wanted to write. Instead of writing as much as I’d like to, I only get one day off a week- Sunday. The rest of the week is consumed with seeing monuments, museums, and churches, and having to learn the facts about all the monuments, the artwork in the museums, and the churches. After walking around for hours, I have a scant amount of time where I’m expected to write something brilliant to share in the evening. I’m tired of not being able to write anything, save for something brilliant that I am expected to write in two hours during the hottest part of the day where all I want is a cold shower followed by a long siesta. All of the brilliant stuff I write is starting to sound the same to me. Some people write brilliant poetry, others write brilliant snatches of a story. What I write is neither. I follow the daily writing assignment to some mild degree and write a descriptive piece about something abstract that is turned into something solid through so much description I doubt everyone else understands the words I read. I spend hours lingering over sounds and defining details in what turns out to be one small notebook page of writing. During the evening session, everyone stares blankly at their journals when I read. I have to announce when I’m finished, otherwise they would continue to stare downwards blankly and stale in the heat. Sometimes I receive a generic compliment before we move onto the next writer.

Right now, it’s probably cool and cloudy in Seattle. It might even be raining. It’s the Fourth of July, which means it will either rain or be overcast for most of the day. A lot of people hate it because the weather prevents firework displays from streaking across a cloudless sky and overpowering the cold pale stars. Here, it never rains. It’s dry, hot and humid, but there are never clouds in the sky and never cool droplets of water to wash away sweat and clean the air. The heat makes everything stale faster, especially energy and minds. There is no cool relief to wake the senses, to keep things from rotting. There is no water to quench dry skin and minds. The dirt is black here, and it creeps and snakes through angled alleyways and over faceless buildings on wisps of wind where it streaks across white linen or khaki cotton and mingles with the sweat dripping from foreheads.

To Capture the Moon

I often see the most beautiful and intriguing things while confined to a bus or car. It frustrates me because I want to sink a strong picture of what I see into my mind. I want to taste it, smell it, hold it, own it- to be able to call it up in all its sensory details at my whim. But there’s always a pane of glass between me and the object I want to possess- a reflection of yearning in my eyes and of the bus interior painted over the outside scene.

Earlier tonight, on a the grueling return bus ride from two short stops in Tuscany wine towns and one longer stop at a villa, I bent down to retrieve a pen I had dropped to the bus floor and on my rise upwards the moon captured my vision. It had been hidden behind plastic that was pulled down to shade the bus driver’s eyes from the white Tuscan sun. But there it was from my new point of view- a painted moon of brilliant golden pink. The moon possessed an inner brilliance I wanted to capture; an otherworldly sheen that I have only experienced when seeing the gilded halos of Fra Fillipo Lippi’s paintings. My hands automatically twitched towards my camera, but I quickly remembered that a pane of glass sheltered by a plastic blind was between me and my moon. Eagerly, I noticed that the road ahead curved slowly away from the moon, and I waited with head bent down and eyes locked on the moon until the bus began to curve and the moon appeared in my window. I scooted over to the window then, almost pressing my face up against streaks of sun lotion smudged against glass.

I wanted that moon. I wanted it’s colors on film, on paint, in whatever way possible. I didn’t care how I captured it, but I wanted it. I wanted to crush pearls and gold leaf together and mix them with pale pink pigments that I would swirl into a spiral-stroked circle on a canvas painted purple. I wanted the bus to stop, to run across the freeway and dive into the waist-high fields with a professional camera and tripod.

But when the moon passed over the Tuscany wheat fields and over barns and old villas painted with the dry earth tones of Italy, I knew that it would be just another flat paint on canvas; just another inspirational photograph hung in a dentist’s office with christian verse typed in fake calligraphic font below.


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.