Friday, October 26, 2007


13 Agosto

The brightness! It smells of China. It is that same musty smell, origin unknown, which always reminds me of a mixture. I would call it stale bamboo and sweat. The odor hit me the instant we stepped off the plane and ventured into the airport terminal. We escape the cocoon tunnel from the airplane to the gate, only to face an auditory assault. The airport is bustling with noise! Dozens of anxious people hold handwritten signs containing a name. They scan the crowd, desperately searching for the bearer of the name. We walk past them.

I pull out my itinerary; but where is Concorda? We discover the elusive airport shuttle service hiding behind a tiny desk. The lady at the desk is as curt as she is skinny. We are quickly given a “set price” and no option to disagree. Shrugging, we consent to wait for a shuttle. Beside us, a young child shouts in lively Italian; he is having a minor disagreement with his father. The child emphasizes each syllable in his cute, newly formed voice. Already, he has captured our hearts. I hold no malice against this tiny family, but I can’t help wishing they would continue arguing eternally.

We wait, and wait, and wait. We stare out the massive glass barriers separating us from the relaxed fields outside. A vast expanse of dried fields stretches across the vicinity, beyond the horizon. The clouds are a striking, pure white. They lie in stark contrast to the cheery blue background they lie against. Both clouds and sky smile down upon us. From inside the fish tank airport, we watch those on the outside enviously. I am bursting with energy despite the fourteen hours of air travel time. I am ready to leave the explosion of voices, chattering in languages both known and unknown to me. My ears shrink back from the English words everywhere. English is not the language of this city, this country. I am ready for Rome!

21 Settembre

As the van takes us toward the airport, we pass the Campidoglio, the Statue of Vittorio Emmanuele II, the Teatro di Marcello, and finally the endless walls of graffiti, which introduced me to Rome. So many people have expressed their desire to return home, but I am not even torn. I want to stay here for weeks longer, months even—maybe a year. We arrive at the colossal airport, which once looked so enthralling. Fiumicino: the gateway to Rome. Now, it is the gateway from Rome.

I stand in line with the other Americans. The English comforts them; they all chatter excitedly, relieved to hear a familiar language. I am melancholy. The sound of English is piercing to my ears. I long for the mysterious, beautiful Italian I have grown so accustomed to hearing. Even the blaring of airport loudspeaker announcements comforts me; they are in Italian. I try to pick out familiar words, a frustrating but rewarding task. I need more time to absorb the language, to be Italian. I am not ready to return to America, but Italy is throwing me out, and I must heed her orders.

Today, I return home, where stores will ungrudgingly give you exactly $43.27 in change if you hand them a fifty. Home, where stiletto heels never get stuck between cobblestones, asking for discounts is taboo, and the first floor is always numbered “one.” Home, where a building from a century ago is considered historical, and eighty degrees is scalding. Home, where they bag your groceries for free. Home.

26 Ottobre

Rome is not real; it is the world I enter when I lay my head down on my pillow, conjured by dreams of cocomero gelato and fresh pizza from Zazone. In my dreams, Rome overflows with pasta and art. Rome and Time are no longer on speaking terms. I try to place time stamps on my writing pieces and journal entries, but they struggle in defiance. They derive pleasure from remaining elusive, like the clever satyrs of Roman mythology. It has only been a month, but my memory is already crumbling. I desperately try to glue the pieces back together, spending my spare time rereading daily diary entries, using my photos to conjure memories, and obsessively organizing and reorganizing my online blog. At best, they are temporary solutions, delaying the inevitable, like medication for the terminally ill.

When I close my eyes, layers and layers of fresh, creamy, delicious Italian surround me. Words float through the air like happiness. Names end in a or o, and everyone is warm and lively. I swim through waves of buongiorno’s and pomodori. When the sun rises and the words scatter, I find myself sitting on the steps of the Pantheon as images flash by.

The inscription “M. Agrippa L. F. Cos tertium fecit” glimmers in the morning sunlight as Michelle leads an awed group of University students into the massive monument. It is our first week in Rome, and we are hungry for art and knowledge. As I watch, the students fade, and I find myself walking to Giolitti with a few friends, desperate for two delicious scoops of gelato con panna, to counteract the blistering afternoon sun. We pass the Pantheon on our right side, veering into a small alleyway. We are halfway through the program, and still we argue about directions. This time, we have no chance to find out who knows Rome best, for we never reach Giolitti. I turn back for a passing glimpse of the Pantheon, and suddenly it is past nightfall. Christina and Henry are hugging one of the gigantic ionic pillars under the inscription and smiling. They beckon me over. There is a space between them just wide enough for me to add my embrace. I dash over to join them; my last night in Rome would be incomplete without giving the Pantheon a farewell hug.

I stretch my arms out to hug the gentle marble. My fingertips desperately grip the stone pillar, but it is too smooth. I am Apollo and it is Dafne, slipping away from my longing grasp. Alas, Rome is fading away. I stare down at the steps I am seated upon. These are not the marble steps to the Pantheon; I am resting on the concrete staircase to my apartment building in the University district. The characteristic raindrops of Seattle pay a visit, washing away my dreams of a distant city. Sitting in the downpour, I do not despair, for I know that someday I will return to the land of my imagination. For now, I must be content to sift through photographs and journal entries, add slices of boiled egg to homemade pizzas, and invent new words by pluralizing with an Italian i ending instead of the American s. I know that one day, I will return to give the Pantheon another hug. When I do, I will not be merely another face in a crowd of touristi; I will be a member of the living, breathing citizeni of Rome.

Friday, September 21, 2007


A flash of orange brilliance lines the sunset, pushing the sky in a gradient of goldenrod, sea green, aquamarine, and violet, fiercely defying the falling darkness of night.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


My alarm reads

Fourteen hours of
meals that come in boxes
and plastic wrap,
sandpaper seats,
and broom-closet bathrooms.

We would brave far worse
for Rome!

Five minutes to landing.
Please do not leave your seats until the plane has come to a full stop.

Zoe laughs,

twig trees with cotton-ball foliage
red rooftops

pass beneath us.

The ant-people scurry

our glass prison.

They are pretend.

(We say, fee-oo-me-SEE-no).


Brisk pace.

Italy offers us


new languages.


Baby Italian.

We prefer
the latter.


“Chanel” purses
dieci euro.

We are lost


Zoe has one

to see all of

We hurry:

We break
only for sustenance.

Up early,
hugs goodbye,
she takes
a cab to Termini to Pisa.
Ciao, Zoe!

No time to mourn: my education as
a Roman
is just beginning.


Lisa is in

Aeneas fled Troy during the War of Helen, the woman promised by Venus to Paris.
Remus saw birds first; Romulus saw more birds. Cain and Abel; brother kills brother.
Rome is on the Palatine, one of seven hills! Murderers, outcasts, thieves, exiled, arrive.
Rape of the Sabines: Rome has women and women make peace, and babies; Rome grows.
Grows and grows and grows: Empire. Shrinks and shrinks and shrinks: City.

Déjà vu.

Like a short
History Channel bio.
Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, Titus Flavius Vespasianus Augustus, Titus Flavius Domitianus, Marcus Cocceius Nerva,
(if you have time even to say their full names)
in dieci minuti.

This morning is
my morning.

Il Colosseo.
I am the tour guide,
they trust

ItaliaIdea: no Inglese per favore!

Come ti chiami?
Mi chiamo Klaus
(we are all Klaus today: NO INGLESE! Oh… Come si dice “sorry”?).
Di dove sei?
Sono Americana.


We Americans have labels stapled to our foreheads: Butchers of Words and Languages.
I have always been resentful,
but this time

I must agree.

carries meaning, power, anger, life, passion, Medici!


Even the helicopter saints laugh at us.

Siena makes me sleepy,
like siesta.

Un cappuccino, per favore.
None for me, grazie.

My cappuccino-filled companions
sing songs we brought with us

in our suitcases,

as we skip down
the trodden brick pathway,
with rotten fruit
as mortar.

Lunch is six fragola gelato bars and a stracciatella yogurt.

Home is a distant city.

It is
Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, otto, nove,
hours away,

by telefono.


my fifteen minute walk
con iPod
to Balmer


un quindici minuti walk
con amici
a Giolitti.

Let’s go to Giolitti!
Mmm, gelato. I’ll have the usual!
Cocomero- but of course. E mela verde?

I lead.

Pass the Caffé Biscione on your right,
the ristorante with the American portions on your left,
down il Vittorio Emanuele.
Turn right, leaving the Piazza Navona behind you,
until you reach the Pantheon.

They follow me
down the alleyway,
right at the split,
to gelato heaven.

It is the flavor of
my new home.
They don’t serve

in Seattle.


Mindy says my word is stracciatella; Matt says it’s cosi cosi. Neither of their labels feels right. I have a hard time placing myself; I’d like to think as myself as fluid, too dynamic for a label. Perhaps that is only a wish. I speak with Joel- he tells me his word is acqua: water. Instantly, I know it’s not me; I plan too much, think too much. He finds his own path, flows through Rome like a river, constantly moving and too impatient to just wait sometimes.

I plop down into the cushy chair of our kitchen/living room, thinking, as the lazy Roman sunshine filters down through the massive windows. The breeze carries with it memories, words, suggestions. What have I been in the past? I think, during childhood, my word was caution. As I grew up and hormones began kicking wildly, it became infatuation. Slowly, it is becoming independence. But how would I capture this precise moment? What of my word when I’m in Rome, this towering city of constant movement and change? Rome is the city of recycling: not in the Seattleite environmentally conscious sense of the word, but in the dynamic sense. Everything is about reuse here. The ruins of the ancient Theatre of Marcello still house residents in top-story apartments. The Castel Sant’Angelo was a mausoleum, then a fortress, a palace, and a prison. Now, it is a museum. Nothing in Rome is static, so when I’m here, why should I be? Rome begs change, and I respond.

At home, I’m meticulous. I’m an accounting major. I plan my day out: wake up for class at 10, leave at 10:20, and arrive at precisely 10:30. I walk like a New Yorker, eat like a Portlander, and dress like a San Franciscan (the city, not the order of monks). Language is a requirement to fulfill, homework is a necessity rather than a desire, and plans are made to be kept. When I study for tests, I make lists with corresponding indentations and check boxes, and then I cross them off neatly each time I complete a task. Relaxation isn’t in my schedule, or even my vocabulary.

Here, things are different. Everything is an opportunity. Nothing is set. It rains; we dash to the Pantheon. Along the way, we discover the most delicious pizzeria in Rome. We walk to Trastevere for a casual evening dinner, and wind up in the night market below the Ponte Sisto. We seek a path home, get lost, and end up discovering a graffiti lover’s paradise under the bridges of the Tiber. We stay to take pictures for two hours. Everything here is about discovery; there is no place for the rigidity of my check boxes. I find that I enjoy it.

So what am I in Rome? Here, language is a desire rather than a requirement. I want to learn to speak beautifully like the Italians. I even try to speak Italian, the language I have studied for all of sixteen hours, to owners of panino shops; at home, I have trouble speaking Spanish aloud, the language I studied for five years, even when I’m alone. I try figs, a fruit I would find normally consider terrifying. I never mix fruits with meat; at the antipasto party, I try prosciutto e melone, and go back for seconds. I even manage to barter successfully!

I want to learn everything about Rome: her history, architecture, culture, and language. I want to know how she thinks. I want to soak up every bit of Rome that I can, and take a piece of her home with me. The word absorb flashes in my mind, but I dismiss it instantly. It is too passive; it implies that Rome comes to me. My word needs more action, more initiative, and more passion. My word must be alive! Experiment? But no, that sounds too identity-crisis for my tastes. My word is tantalizingly elusive. Despair, taking on that horrendous form of a cherub head with wings that lurks above so many paintings and church facades, flutters mockingly around me. It laughs a sinister giggle. You will never find it. I sink further into the frayed fabric of the seat.

But the cherub head is wrong. The brilliant Roman sun valiantly lends her hand; a single beam of healing light pushes through the glass, vanquishing Despair. I climb the beam of light, floating to the top, where the sun whispers a single word in my ear. It is my word. I hear it, and I know: this is the one. Embrace. I embrace everything about Rome: the food, the language, the people, and the experiences. My word even has an image, an action. If I could literally embrace Rome, I would. Instead, I spend every waking moment metaphysically embracing this beautiful, recycled city. It is my city for only six weeks, and I will soak up every moment of that time, for in Rome, that is what I do; I embrace.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Lullaby of Priests


The chant is serene and mostly monotone. The acoustics of the church are incredible: the lullaby of the voices in song carries through the marble hallway, pausing only to sweep in a circle around the cylindrical columns throughout the chapel. A mixture of complex and simplistic columns cut into the chapel space, forming retreating rows of gothic archways from my vantage point on the marble staircase.

It is a sweeping tide, the way things travel through crowds of humans. Disease, depression, piety, and love. A row in the bleachers stands up in respect; a row in the back follows suit. A few debate while one on the opposite side stands defiantly. Next to her, a man reluctantly rises, then a women a few seats down. Finally, a row stands. It is a wave, a disease of respect, with perhaps just a dash of piety thrown in for good measure.

The voices meet in unison, each leaping through the air to the conclave at the triangulation point. They reach their destination, forming a whole, and drift together in a hazy cloud.

Now, one voice is soft and broken. He wails in thinly veiled fear, suffering, and supplication. They are like a chorus. And then the rushing tide calms and the audience takes a seat for the main event. He preaches, while the others serve only as a background to enhance his words.

Friday, September 14, 2007



Someone once told me that acne was a smattering of angel kisses. I wonder if mosquito bites count. But what kind of a paradise would produce such strange angels? I look down at the swirls of mosquito bites; the red sprinkles whirl gently, forming patterns on my legs. They bravest ones journey down further; they are rewarded. Apparently, my left big toe is the tastiest; I did not know this, but the signature red swell of mosquito kisses is proof. Not one, nor two, but six marks decorate the tiny patch of skin below my nail. The persistent dots follow my veins back up the curve of my foot, up around my leg, and then they leap. They clutch the folds of my dress and invert: light skin with red dots undergoes a metamorphosis, becoming red cloth with pale dots. I match too perfectly; skin and dress in overwhelming harmony. If nothing else, one would think they would at least have the decency to give my disease a name. It looks like the measles and itches like chicken pox, but it has no label. Mosquito pox?

Red swirls of kisses
claw, dancing dangerously
across tortured skin


Mindy and I search for a shortcut; we are in a rush! Shall we move with the massive crowd, the tide of (mostly) tourists and (occasionally) natives, as they venture around the Vittorio Emmanuel II monument? The thought is distasteful to both of us. Instead, we dash up the massive staircase to the monument, in search of the golden staircase that might lead us down the other side of the Campidoglio. At the top of the steps, two dark doorways greet us. No time for labored decisions! We choose one and dash inside. It is dark; we read the word “musei”, but also “ingresso gratuito”. Free admission museum? We give it a chance. A dark stranger greets us from behind the desk; his hair is slick from grease and his eyes are greedy. We are about to dash past, but he halts us.

“Where are you from?”


“No… originally.” I wonder at this, but it seems simpler to answer than to question.

“China.” The man smiles excitedly.

“I just want you to know that you have beautiful eyes.” Hmm, a little strange, but I let it pass. Mindy and I make another attempt to leave.

“Wait!” he exclaims. By this time, both of us are fairly suspicious, but I worry that he has the power to prevent us from entering the museum, so I pause one last time. He sticks his hand out to shake mine. Politely, I reciprocate, but I quickly realize that his snake-like grasp could be eternal. I pull my hand back gently, and he clutches tighter. We are locked in an underhanded battle. Finally, I manage to wrench wrist back and reclaim my poor hand. Mindy and I smile weakly at the man, and this time he lets us leave.

When strangers greet you
with greasy grins, leering eyes,
keep hands and smiles closed


Before this trip, I didn’t know priests could giggle. But giggle they can, and giggle they do. An attractive, young priest strolls into the dull, grey courtyard. He looks like a character from an anime film, with his jet black, pointy hair, and his black tailored robes. His anxious companion, donning the same habit, chatters nervously; they are preparing for some event. My highly limited knowledge of Italian prevents me from eavesdropping effectively, but I gather that some sort of initiation ceremony must be lying in wait. A third, nerdy priest with wiry glasses joins them, and the three of them huddle together in a bent triangle, like schoolchildren at recess. The nervous one awkwardly hoists a white embroidered tunic that looks like my grandmother’s tablecloth turned into a maternity sundress over his shoulders, adding it to his ensemble. The effect of the oversized white tunic against the austere black robe forms a strange contrast, like the laughter of the priests against the monotonous concrete. None seem to notice anything irregular, though; they are too caught up in their jests and mirth. Today, the priests are merry.

Giggly priests infect
unpalatable courtyards,
make them vivacious


(CARAVAGGIO, 1604-1606)

I knew it was a Caravaggio! The darkness and the form of the figures and the use of the shadows to enhance the light are both clues to the master. Spotlights hidden behind the marble railings illuminate the entire area; push a button to light up Caravaggio’s masterpiece, specifically. Otherwise, the painting lies masked in the shadows. When illuminated, the light glows through the painting as if Caravaggio had used bioluminescent paint. The beam of light highlights the washcloth, the baby, and the mother’s sidelong glance. The Madonna and child might very well be earthly, but their expressions are heavenly. They bask in the light, glowing as if divine, while the figures kneeling in supplication are dirty with their rough clothing and dusty hands.

Caravaggio guides his viewers through the piece using the focus of light and the darkness of shadows. Immediately, my attention is drawn to the face of the Madonna. Her pupils are obscured by seemingly-closed eyelids, and her bent neck points in the direction of the child. He, in turn, looks down upon the two kneeling figures. Each of his outstretched legs point at one of the pilgrims below. Caravaggio has mastered direction; my gaze follows his brushstrokes naturally. The Madonna and the pillar she leans against both stand vertically. She leans slightly, as if to lend herself support and ensure the safety of the baby she carries in her arms, swaddled in a pure white blanket. She stands up, majestically, emphasizing her importance over the tattered visitors below.

Someone puts a coin in the offerte box, and lights up the painting. It is magical; the light actually travels up from the awed gaze of the pilgrims. Following its path with my eyes, I find that the light doesn’t end there; it rises up through the baby and mother, who are both bathed in golden sunshine. There is an effect even more drastic than the enhancement of the luminous paint; the glow of the paint forces the shadows to retreat even further into darkness. The dirt on the feet of the supplicants glimmers in the revealing beam. In the background, a previously invisible patch of torn bricks reveals itself by the glow of the light.

Everything about the Madonna is luminous, but her brightness and posture are the only direct clues to her divinity. Otherwise, she is barefoot and simple, in the plain robes of a commoner. Her halo is a wispy, nearly invisible circle above her head. Later, I learn that Caravaggio scandalized his audiences when he presented this common Madonna. They found her too plain, too earthly. They were unwilling to look beyond her external adornments and surroundings, or they would have discovered her radiance beneath. I wonder if any of Caravaggio’s critics ever took the time to examine the Madonna in the light.

The four figures are enclosed by a frame, which is deliberately and nearly symmetrically cracked near each of its upper corners. The frame’s strange intentional imperfections contribute to the murky effect of the shadows surrounding the Madonna and child. Everything is overcast; the darkness of the shadows, the dust on the palms of the supplicant pilgrims, the torn brick wall, and the broken frame all serve as a contrast to the two holy figures. Caravaggio knew that light and dark are far more effective in creating a masterpiece than any amount of gilding and ornate extravagance. He knew this and he applied this knowledge when he painted Madonna dei Pellegrini, for in this painting, he created a masterpiece.