Archive for April, 2014

Coffee Culture

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

The clicking of coffee cups against porcelain plates, and the sound of raining falling on the cobblestone streets outside accompanies the soft chatter of conversations in languages ranging from Italian to German in a small coffee shop full of murals and books just a few winding alley ways away from Piazza Navona. The windows are foggy from the warmth of whispered words inside and the persistent downpour of rain outside on the window pane. Books splayed out before me on a table, a cappuccino in hand and a chocolate croissant waiting to be eaten. Oh how I have missed this.


Back in Berkeley I essentially lived in coffee shops, spending hours on end either studying, reading or writing in a corner of a caffe with coffee in hand and billion thoughts swirling around in my mind. Never, before I came to Rome, did I think I would not have access to the main aspect of all that is quotidian in my life back in California. All I hear about Italy is how good the coffee is, so never did I think that what I would come to miss the most was the culture of coffee in America.

Yes, there are a ridiculous amount of coffee shops in Rome with endless cups of hard shots of espresso and copious cappuccinos, but what they do not have is a coffee culture where coffee is the objective, not the means for something else. People here do not find a caffe and settle in for hours of studying or just reading a good book, there is hardly ever any sitting for even the smallest of moments.


The culture of coffee in Rome, what little I have come to understand about it, can be described as such. You enter a crowded caffe with people lined up standing at a bar. You nudge your way to the bar and ask for un caffe (a tiny shot of really strong espresso), un cappuccino, or maybe a caffe latte (a small version of what people in America deem a latte). But even in that simple event it is a very confusing process because from one caffe to another the order of events differs. In some places you must pay first and then go to the bar and show your receipt and then they make it for you. Or the other way, which is you order your coffee and drink it at the bar and when you are done you pay for it. So in every new coffee shop there is a moment of panic and confusion trying to deduce what type of caffe it is and taking the risk of looking stupid and foreign if you get it wrong.


Regardless of what you order or what order the events progress in, there is one general consensus: you drink your coffee quickly. There is nothing leisurely about this. The coffee is in small portions, and just warm enough to stay that way for maybe five minutes. You are meant to stand at the bar and down your little shot of coffee quickly, and then continue on your way to the rest of your day. Getting coffee is a pit stop, not a destination in Rome. It is done in a hurry between events and not an event in and of itself like it often is in America. Even though it is a hurried event, you never get coffee to go. You never see someone walking around drinking coffee, it is bizarre if you do and almost always an instant indicator of a tourist.

So you stand elbow to elbow at the bar and drink your coffee quickly. Some places do have seating, but you have to pay extra money to sit down and it is a whole different method of ordering. You just sit and they serve you at your seat instead of ordering at the bar and it costs quite a bit more.

So needless to say, for a girl who lives off of being able to go into a caffe and sit for hours on end slowly sipping coffee, this was a nightmarish realization and a long process in understanding how to navigate the coffee culture of Rome. It still is and will continue to be. I have been able to try some amazing cups of different coffee though ranging from chocolately to straight black coffee all over Rome. So far, I think Sant’Eustachio Cafe has been my favorite!



I have been desperately searching for a caffe where people don’t yell at you if you try to sit down and today I finally succeeded for the first time. I found a place near my university that actually seems to be okay with you sitting down for an extended period of time. Oh how I have missed this.


Red plush armchairs, books lining the walls covered in murals, and bottles of Italian wine being used as book ends; I like this place a lot, it almost feels like home, almost. I finally may have  found myself a home caffe.

IMG_7144 IMG_7139


Broken Nails

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

There is a readiness here, a warming wave of welcoming that simmers under the surface of many people here in Roma, and all that is needed to draw it out is a few words of kindness, a humble jumble of words in Italian spoken with respect if not correctness, or a smile as you walk through open doors. The people here have a kindness in the color of their eyes or the corners of their mouths that spills forth with only a few gentle prods, and for some people with no prodding at all.

I have had a lot of conversations with people here in Roma, total strangers, conversations I started or entirely unwarranted communication that fell into my lap like a small, but confusing present. I speak a little Italian, enough to get by, but no where near fluent, but I try. Trying, to try, provare, is key in Italy and I suppose any foreign country where you do not speak the language. But I am trying, every time I walk in a store, buy food at the market or in the grocery store, I try a little more. As my vocabulary and confidence increases so does my understanding of not only the language but the people.

I stood laughing in the rain today at the absurdity of the bounds of kindness that complete strangers will extend to me. It was nothing really big, and in large part I am sure it was just them doing their job, but still it was a strange moment born from kindness and the building of relationships between total strangers.

I am traveling to Budapest, Vienna and Prague in two weeks and so I have been desperately searching for a good pair of boots for the snow. However, this is a more difficult task than it appears for two reasons: One, everything in Italy is EXPENSIVE. Two, I have very small feet but very big calves so most boots will never fit me. So today a friend and I went out to wander Rome and find boots. I hopped from shop to shop, trying on a multitude of shoes, speaking broken Italian to try and ask for the smallest shoe size time and time again unsuccessfully. Finally I found my way to a small shoe store with three Italian women chatting at the counter and rows of nice Italian shoes lining the walls. I browsed the store and decided to try on some of the shoes and explained my plight to the woman working with me. She and I together found a pair of boots, but as always my calves were too big for them to fit properly, but the woman was bound and determined to help me.

She got on her hands and knees and tried to help me zip up the boots. When she failed, the other two women came over and asked what the problem was. Then they too joined the first women and all three Italian women worked together to make me fit into those boots. With a jumble of harsh Italian murmurings, a lot of effort, and four women working together, we got the shoe zipped up.

Sadly even though we got it zipped up, it didn’t quite fit right but still, when the battle was over the four of us sat in the store smiling and talking about the effort in Italian. The owner of the store held up her hand to me to show me she had broken a nail in the battle, the casualty of war. Even though she held the broken nail delicately in front of her face, a smile clung to her face and a brightness in the corners of her eyes that seemed to collect in the lines made by smiles both present and past. We all looked at her broken nail and in a mixture of laughter and apologies I thanked her and headed out of the store into the rainy cobblestone streets.

Standing in the streets with the rain coming down, thinking about the strange battle that had just occurred, my friend and I stood laughing in the rain. I couldn’t believe the effort and the dedication of total strangers to try and help me out when I was feeling desperate and hopeless. What a strange world, what a bizarre experience, and I am thanking for every moment of it. Thankful for every cobblestone in the street, every stranger that smiles or says hello to me, but most of all, thankful for all the broken nails that were lost in the battle to help me fit into a life that felt impossible to achieve.


Posted in Stories, Travel Updates |

Coffee in Cracked Tea Cups

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Life abroad, attempting to carve a niche into a foreign place, amidst foreign people is a difficult and ever exhausting task. Every day is a struggle, one of the best struggles I have ever been blessed enough to take part in, but still a struggle all the same. Every day is a battle, some more successful than others, but even the battles lost are they in themselves a victory. Making the leap over seas is a thousand steps forward, to lose a day is maybe ten steps back. No matter how many days don’t go my way, I am still over 6000 miles successfully out of my comfort zone. Every step I take treads new ground. I am stretching and growing and that can be a painful process, but one I gladly undergo knowing I will emerge a different person forged by fire.

Exhausted is a word I don’t think I have ever used as much as I have this last week. Mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. It is easy to say that, but hard to explain that I have probably never been happier. It is the exhaustion of a day well spent. Bone tired, fall into bed with your clothes still on exhausted, but all the while knowing, deeply satisfied in your heart that the exhaustion comes from not a second wasted. This is my everyday.

Today is the mark of my first week completed in Rome. Today was the third day of my intensive Italian Practicum class. Today was the first time I got to take a break. It has been raining almost all week and today I decided to just take a breather. Go home, make myself a cup of coffee and read Moby Dick while watching the rain fall outside. It was a glorious day.


It is so easy to forget to breathe when there is so much to do, so much to see, and so much homework waiting to be done. Sitting in my living room, in my apartment on Cola di Rienzo, leaning on the window sill looking down the street that I now call home with a cracked tea cup full of coffee, I am able to sit back and realize how great the exhaustion is. It has been hard at times to feel excited about being so drained, so tired at the end of everyday, fighting to stay awake and go out and explore. But running my finger across the coffee stained crack in my tea cup I began to understand. This mug was used before me by the previous owner of the apartment, Americans, Romans, I do not know. The remnant of their presence left in the few dishes they left behind, in the earthy colored crack that scarred the porcelain cup. It had seen hardship, it had been marked by whatever had made the crack, some experience unseen and unknown to me that I now saw the aftermath of in a slender mark. It was changed, altered, by what had occurred, but it did not break. It survived as I will survive, even when it gets tough and I feel like I am falling apart at the seams, I will be changed, but never ruined.

So it is with my coffee in hand and a week in Rome behind me that I continue forward excited and anticipatory for what is to come. For now the rain will fall and I will sit, taking in every raindrop as a token, a well appreciated gift.



The Crow that Cries to Me

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Ruffled feathers, folded wings tucked neatly away against a lithe black and grey body, a raven sits atop a wind bent tree. The long slender tree sways under the pressure of the coming storm looming in the distance, yet so close on the dark horizon. The raven sits unheeded, the sentry set to duty atop a watch tower made before the brick buildings and red thatched roofs knew their beginning.

It was a cry, a melancholy call that caught my attention. Pulling my gaze away from the landscape to the fellow watcher, the other who gazes beside me posted in his sentry tower like a soldier at hand to a distant calling war. I could barely make out his shape against the dark green of the tree he had made his home in, it was his call that rang clear like a gunshot across the sky. Head thrown forward to utter his wretched cry. But he had the same vantage point as I, as I leaned against the wrought iron railing of the Villa Borghese garden overlook. I had paused in my wanderings around the city of Rome, having traveled from Piazza Navona to the Spanish Steps, finally finding my way to Villa Borghese to stop and watch the sun be swallowed up by the returning storm at sunset.

IMG_6862Rome lay before me in all of its sprawling glory. It is hard to contemplate a scene such as that. A vast city full of endless wonders viewed from a single vantage point that is far removed from the hustle and bustle of every moment happening within that view. Every building, every street, every shop, every alleyway has a separate and entirely unique occurrence in that very moment that I looked upon all of the Historic City Center. Moments I will never see, never know, and never have the pleasure of understanding. All across this city lives are being led. Lives as equally important, if not more important than my own. Not lives like those depicted in movies or reality TV shows; just normal everyday lives like the one I am leading here. It is strange to stand at a viewpoint or an overlook because it is not just a view, and you cannot quite understand what it is you are overlooking. Yet I return to these overlooks all the same because somewhere inside you can feel the heartbeat of every single person in Rome if you just close your eyes and breathe in the breath of a city that seems to be ever exhaling.

It was this multitude of heartbeats that rang out in the cry of a crow. We shared that moment, an animal and I. Strange enough as it sounds, I could not help but look at it and wonder,

Do birds sit on treetops for the view? 

Every moment, for a bird like the one that cried to me, is constantly caught between living a life from the most pristine of vantage points to the squalor of the dirtiest streets, rushing back and forth between uncaring human feet. Did it appreciate the view? Did it see what I saw, did it know the magnitude of what lay before it? Did I?

IMG_6863Tourism is myopic, living is the widening of a vantage point to include the lives of all those around you. To consider the heartbeat of every stranger that may never know, nor care to know yours, in a city that pulses with movement like the pumping of blood through your veins. I keep climbing to the tops of mountains thinking the farther up I go the more I will understand about this labyrinthine city. But what I am beginning to understand is the vantage point of the crow that cries to me. The juxtaposition of the highest trees to the dirty streets, and living unperturbed by elements battering up against me.



Beheld in the Eyes of a Storm

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Yesterday was a magical day. It would be easy to say it was because we saw some incredible things. We saw the Coliseum, the Roman Forums, Circus Maximus, and the Pantheon in a single day, but that wasn’t even what began to make this day so special. It was a collection of small moments of awe filled wonder that took my breath away with their sheer magnitude, even though the moments themselves were fleeting and gone in a blink of an eye. It was the very thing that ruined many peoples’ day that for me was the source of true majestic wonder. That thing, the ruiner of a tourist’s day, but the maker of epic grandeur that can even surpass the majesty of epic timeless wonders of history, was the weather.

Yesterday I survived my first Italian storm. Twice in one day, the storm created an evanescent moment of beauty that took my breath away.

Two of my roommates and I voyaged far from our home in Prati yesterday to go to Circus Maximus where we went on a guided tour of Ancient Rome, graciously led by one of the professors at my new university, Professor Corrado. It was sprinkling the whole hour walk over there, and when the tour began the real storm rolled in behind us. The sky darkened and the wind blew clouds past us so quickly it was almost frightening. Then as we were hearing about the old chariot track that Circus Maximus used to be, the torrential downpour began out of nowhere. We all quickly continued walking, huddling under umbrellas attempting in vain to stay dry as it began to rain even harder. The walk between Circus Maximus and the Coliseum was a crazed rush of pounding rain and lightning. Lightning struck right near us and thundered deeply in addition to the rain as we hurried to the Coliseum. Many people abandoned ship and left the tour for drier and warm places, but we decided to hang in there and continue despite the storm. Many tourists had left the area because of the storm, but we stayed and listened to a talk about the Coliseum in a brief hiatus of rain.


We moved all around the ancient ruins, seeing one amazing monument or historical artifact after another that truly was impressive. But the moment that left me breathless came once the tour had finished, and we left behind the crowds for our walk home. Every day to get to class we not only pass the Vatican, we also must cross the Tiber River via a beautiful bridge that overlooks a grand castle. I say this casually, but the walk to and from school everyday is always a staggering event filled with amazing sights at every corner.

This day however, was a different day, this was the day of a storm. Just as we reached the bridge the storm broke for just a second overhead and sun shone through in the rain, creating a double rainbow perfectly arching from the river over the castle. With rain still falling and rippling the water of the great Tiber River below, but the sun shining brightly on the bridge and the castle beyond, it was astonishing. My housemate and I stopped in our tracks and just stared at it, not sure whether to take pictures or just bask in its beauty. We opted for photos so that we could prove that it had indeed happened since it was so magical.


I felt like crying it was so beautiful, so perfect, so pristine and even though it was fleeting and gone in a matter of a few short minutes, it was a moment I will never forget. Pictures cannot capture the actual bewildering beauty of the moment and just how special it felt, but they will have to make due.

IMG_8776 IMG_8773

The rainbows cut the sky in half, dividing into light and dark, the sky darkened with storm clouds, but the first rainbow seemed to cradle the castle below its multi-colored wing, covering it from the storm and casting light across it. Everything stood still in that moment, even the traffic had stopped because people had started stopping in the middle of the road to get out of their cars to take pictures of the beautiful scene.


But just like that, it was gone. Faded back into darkness, a moment of color and light swallowed back up into the very storm that allowed it to exist.


We continued on, shell shocked by how unbelievable the moment had been. We made our way to the Vatican after that because we had decided to attend 5:30 Holy Mass. Needless to say the Vatican was incredible, the marble exquisite and incredibly grand.


The service was very interesting because it was all in Italian and I actually managed to understand most of it.

Ecco, l’agnello di Dio.

At the end of the service, it was again the storm that was the added detail of the day that struck my heart. The bolts of lightning that flashed outside illuminated the windows of the Vatican from the inside and the thundering claps that followed them shuddered the Vatican. As we left after the service a bolt of lightning fractured and split like the branches of a tree across the sky of Saint Peter’s Square followed by a huge clap of thunder.


Humility; the subject of the sermon at the Vatican and subject of my day. I stood on the marbled steps of the Vatican, having just exited St. Peter’s Basilica and looked up at a sky lit up by electric fire. Nothing makes you feel small, humbled, and profound quite like lightning. Standing in a torrential downpour on the steps of the Vatican with our faces turned skyward beholding the natural wonders of a storm touching ground before a temple of God. Humble to my core. Being humbled by my experience in Italy, this amazing blessing I have been afforded. Being humbled by the amazing moments that I was lucky enough to have witnessed and been able to appreciate. Those precious fleeting moments that show the true Italy with the veil pulled back from its beautiful natural face even if it be the fierce face of a storm or the colors of a rainbow doubled in a dark sky. Bit by bit, I am beginning to know the face of Roma. Bella Roma, beheld in the eyes of a storm.

Posted in Photos, Stories, Travel Updates |

Blurred Details

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

For this semester I am studying abroad in Rome Italy. I am posting on another blog, Luminosity, for my time abroad. I will try to transfer some of the posts back to this blog as well. Here is the beginning

The beginning of my journey is entirely devoid of details due to illness. I have been at a loss of words, profound or simple, to begin my story because the truth is that the beginning was a blur. Moments blending into each other like a careless hand swept across a precious pastel painting. Time lost, spaces jumped, a chaotic tumble of goodbye, luggage, security, waiting, boarding, plane rides, airports, waiting, waiting, airplanes, taxis and the list of jumbled images could continue. I have combed this mess of memory for the details, anything to lend light to how I somehow ended up in Rome, Italy when just a few short days ago I was home being pampered by my wonderful mother while horrible ill back in Santa Cruz, California.

For the lack of details, I will tell you what I can of how I ended up Rome in an amazing apartment, starting an amazing and insanely different life in a foreign country as a student. Bear with me on this minimalist and slightly incoherent account of my journey, I promise my writing won’t always be like what follows.

It began with food poisoning. The night before I was set to depart on the greatest adventure of my life. I have never had food poisoning myself, but I have helped many others who have had it because that is what happens when you have food poisoning, you are helpless. With my bags only half packed, and the journey set to start the next afternoon, this was the worst case scenario. Literally, it was my worst case scenario, well maybe one step down from my actual worst case, that being getting the worst of the food poisoning while sitting on the 11 hour flight to Frankfurt.

Utterly helpless. My saint of a mother, who I already miss dearly, saved the day a thousand times over, and when I said goodbye the next morning I wasn’t even able to properly thank her for everything because I was so out of it still. I couldn’t keep any food or water down and even managed to pass out at one point trying not to throw up. So yah, it was a great last day in America.

The time at the airport is still a strange blur of talking to all of my friends in Berkeley on the phone before I boarded, and how great it was to hear them all laughing, but how much I was going to miss them while I was gone. The plane ride was 11 hours of desperately trying to sleep since I had no energy, and no sleep the entire last day and managing to not really get any rest. I even managed to pass out on the airplane once since I hadn’t eaten any food in over 30 hours. Then Frankfurt, Germany, hello goodbye, danke bitte, board the plane in the freezing cold, almost there, almost there.

Then suddenly, we were there, waiting for luggage as I was dying in a chair, going on almost 40hrs without having eaten any food besides a few saltine crackers. In a blur of smoke we left the airport into the taxi area where I was slightly and deliriously convinced we were going to be kidnapped by an unmarked taxi cab. I then forgot how to speak English when trying to get a cab. But from then on there the taxi took us into Rome and it began to dawn on me that this was real and my first thought was, what have I gotten myself into? But then we reached the Centro Storico, or Historical Center of Rome and suddenly it was like all the post cards and travel book pictures of Rome. Then our taxi driver kicked us out on the curb, told me my bag was too heavy, and pointed us down a slightly sketchy looking alley way. My travel companion and future Rome roommate Elena and I were confused, exhausted but also excited. Dragging our exorbitantly large bags across cobblestones, which is extremely difficult to do, we found our study center where we will be taking our classes for the rest of the semester. They kindly gave us our keys and directions to our apartment. Let me just say, I had horrible images of worst case scenarios of dark, cramped, dank apartment buildings full of angry Italians and my gosh was I pleasantly proven wrong. Our apartment (aside from a few maintenance issues in the works) is amazing. We are in Prati, maybe five blocks away from the Vatican on the main street of Cola di Rienzo where there is a ton of upscale shopping.

I cannot begin to explain with what relief I crawled into my stiff ikea bed. That is, after Elena and I nearly slept walked down the street to a random supermarket to buy food in hopes of eating, which ultimately failed, only to return home with still empty bellies. I had never been so exhausted in my life. Empty of calories, no sleep, travel on travel on travel, and so much overwhelming chaos as well as amazingness was almost too much. I was blissfully happy, but deeply and thoroughly exhausted.

That is as detailed as I can manage on my travel to Rome. My arrival and adventure to get here in all of its delirious blurred glory. Only now am I starting to really regain clarity in the things I do. I can eat normally now, but am still easily exhausted and overwhelmed but so excited for what is to come. Ready to embrace this experience in all of its splendor and discover Rome as it truly is, not just as a postcard or a checklist of places to go and see. As I settle in more and experience life in Rome, I will be posting more and more of my first couple of days and everything that is to come.