Think Pieces: Italy
the distraught traveler
june 19. 2016. a day for distraught travelers. today. my grandfather passed away. I received the news just hours before my flight. to rome. and I felt extremely far away from my family. my dad in Cameroon. my mother and brother in Hyderabad. my extended family in Chandigarh. today. I have wanted nothing more but to be with them. to be closer. I don’t want to talk to them this way. over social media. I need to be with. them. not with them over facebook.
but we are all traveling from different parts of the world. some to come together. some to leave. and today. I’ve been stranded in Chicago airport for 7 hours. my final flight to Rome keeps getting delayed. and I have not slept in two days. and Rome feels like a destination so far away. and I can’t help but wonder why I am even going.
but the universe likes to do this thing. where it piles all the shit it owns on to you. at once. and then you find the strength within you to say. no. fuck you universe.
today. I am thinking about how amazing my grandfather was. a courageous, independent, self made man. and my father followed his footsteps. and now it’s my turn to follow theirs.
I will go to Rome. I will write poetry. I will find the strength to feel a sense of togetherness. I will not let the universe win. thank you dad for showing me I can do anything. anything. anything. I love you.
oh and I hear that it’s going to be thundering in Rome when I land. great. bring it.
riddle me rome
what is a day, of ninety one degrees?
what is, pizza for breakfast and lunch and dinner?
what is wine, at 5 euros a liter?
what is, glass in cobblestones, and cigarette butts on the roof, and the roof for a painting, and a painting for desert?
a riddle is no fun without resolution.
but the leap.
but the getting lost.
the going too far.
and going again.
hoping too far is not far enough.
is worth it.
what is, a signal to stretch? but be smooth. but strettttttch. stretch till it hurts good.
riddles. the theme for day 1.
we took to the Campo de’ Fiori market. we were to pick an object. to write a riddle. to reel you in with a leap.
1000 years of market stimuli. compact in my head. through a singular item of purchase. observe and symbolize. reflect. take a nap during siesta. observe and symbolize, again. I am wondering. will everyone write about fruits, cheese, or wine?
I am a cover, for their
character unique, but also the artificial,
and also the free.
Sleepy, bloodshot, lazy eye —
I am not the cure, but I am the disguise.
Queen of material things,
when my work is done, sweaty arms
and dusty shield —
then they finally
let me rest, atop
can you figure it out?
[psst, street-bought sunglasses are actually quite useless when you wear prescription glasses. but hey. its rome.]
crucify the city
south to north
Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Sant. Ignazio, Column of Marcus Aurelius, Trevi, Corso, Via del Babuino, Piazza del Popolo, Santa Maria Del Popolo, Flaminian Gate, Pincio
east to west
Piazza Farnese, Villa Guilia, St. Maria in Trastevere, Fontana Acqua Paolo, Janiculum Hill/Garibaldi, St. Peter’s
miles walked: 12
writing pitch: think of aperture, of openings, slight, or grand, literal, and metaphorical, and make a list.
include a sense of your personal saint: Saint Marina, patron of nursing mothers
include a sense of you personal verb: “introdurre” / to introduce
Lessons after childbirth
Arched is female,
is a belly,
is soft and more well-rounded than the triangular
He said: let us step into the light beam.
She flooded the colosseum. Oops.
Nine months for a dome?
He thought: the dome, ah, a crafty illusion.
But no, double the dome.
And the dome in the dark,
is a soft and well-rounded comfort,
concave to suckle, obelisk nipple
concave to rest, and dim, and smooth, and
concave just beside
dead romantic poets
we looked down at the piazza. at the Spanish steps. from the room where John Keats died.
we looked at urns. filled with fragments of Percy Shelley’s jaw bones.
we looked at romantic english writerly DNA. trapped in locks of hair.
we looked at tragic letters. we looked at domestic sketches. we looked at carnival masks.
we looked at the cracked. splintered. 3D esque. daisy-patterned ceiling.
that we will carry on postcards. on tea cloths. on notebooks. our own personal museum. commemorating today.
and as we were looking. as if Seattle had come to Rome with us. it rained.
Lessons on Passing Judgement
at the Keats-Shelly Memorial House
What is it, that brings
rain to the romantic city today —
Is it you, with the sour teeth
sighing at the sweltering clock.
You, with the pricks of yesterday
wrestling your morning face.
You, with the crucifix in your eye —
Why, are you rooted, here,
staring down at the consumption, of Piazza de Spagna,
reading about the consumption of great, fragile lungs —
The same great, and fragile, who felt:
“These men say things which make one start
without making one feel,
they are all alike.”
They are all alike.
Ad Fontes Aquarum.
Back to the source of water, and
the water, back to you,
and yet, you,
with your eyes closed —
Imagine the same, great
and fragile fingertips, 14 by 8, tucked into
your pocket. Imagine
ink bleeding through the pages, slight, but not
faint, like the unwelcome rain. Imagine
ink through the cobblestones,
ink down the Spanish steps,
ink between your toes —
Now open your eyes. Walk
on this side of the glass
is a replica,
except for you.
don’t lose your balance
an old man with a cane. walks into an Etruscan tomb in Cerveteri.
for bandages, against sticky mesh,
stick, un-stick, stick again,
follow the spider heart, with your
varicose veins and spindle —
This glass and this spider town is
not alone, in assisting the dead
you. You are not alone. You are a pool. Collect
the light form your pen, collect
the sweat droplets, collect
the strands of hair that stick, un-stick, stick again
to you, the dead, and attenzione —
be careful of falling, of the webbed words,
leading you to believe
this is air conditioning.
It is only the splinters
of today, luring you — the reincarnate,
through the cracks of rusty
june 25. the Etruscan museum at Villa Giulia.
pitch: two hours at the ancient party palace. pick three objects. make them converse.
In my green house
a nest of stone
rests just beside the pit.
Of hold – it is warm, and blooded,
Of gape – it is pitch tight, and black,
balance. On one side heavy,
follicular waste, on the other moot –
fragile egg shells for twenty-one days.
And these same shells, on
the twenty-second, from
my uterus, make
a turtle. She is soft
underbelly – cold, and blooded,
At midday, she is at her slowest,
bobbing slightly towards
the dying wave.
Her ribbed patterns a cage –
clay against the sun.
And this cage, is
Of a fish – paused by my mano,
towards hollow grain,
it is not warm, not cold, blooded
dry by my own.
My greenhouse flows
from stone, to dirt –
then not at all.
sunday more like sunburn-day
june 26. first sunday in rome.
do go to the beach.
don’t get off on the wrong station.
do apply sunscreen.
don’t walk 45 minutes in midday siesta heat.
do take a dip in the ocean. (no, it is the sea. no, it is the Atlantic. no, it is the Mediterranean?)
don’t get sand in your bathing suit.
do fall asleep in the sun.
don’t forget to reapply sunscreen.
do buy a mojito.
don’t bring your homework.
do find a rock that looks like a caramel that looks like a boat.
don’t lose rock when taking second dip in the ocean.
sketches and haikus
art at the Capitoline Museum.
pitch: to sketch artifacts/paintings. to write persona poems.
i chose to write a series of haikus.
Note: Constanine. available to the eye only with one head, one arm, one foot.
My head aches hollow,
my tin foot is caught in twos –
Ermenia Among the Shepherds
Note: Erminia, painted from the epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata by Italian painter Torquata Taso.
“Ermenia, daughter of Sarcacean King, believes her lover is wounded. Wearing an armour she looks for him, and eventually meets a shepherd who tells her the joy of a humble and pacific life.”
Tin armor you see,
shepherd I don’t want to be.
Humble joy, my ass.
Note: in the painting. light on Judith’s sword. light on Judith’s dress. light on the bicep of the man Judith has just slaughtered.
Shadows at my feet,
my tin sword is penis-proof,
place the light on me.
today the roman forum. palatine hill. colosseum.
today miles walked: 10
today ate a spicy salami pizza and crème de ragu gnocchi.
today sipped a cappuccino at the park.
today purchased pharmacy drugs (15 euro) for a sore throat.
today fought against very real gelato cravings because of said sore throat.
today very homesick. for India fam. and also for Seattle fam bam.
Writing pitch #1: use fragments from Sapho. write your own forum-inspired poem/s around these fragments.
A female burial is a treasure.
Tapestrial red-waters, and
Rumour spread thin, breaking half.
At the same time,
is the square is the circle is the arch is the ruin
she has lain.
My anxiety is cryptic
and professionally pickled under ground
like cobbled steps
in the heat.
But we will eat these shadows
daring to stand, alone.
Introvert in Rome
Is my heart alone?
be a miasma of delight.
Littleness would be for me
false to shine in answer.
But let’s face it.
I did not come this far,
to leave, having been stained
by the sweat of my
Writing pitch #2: a haiku. inspired by the colosseum.
The blood never lost,
it is here beneath my feet
still ripe under fun.
for the longest time. the romans wanted harmony in architecture. in politics. in history. in art.
an ancient roman proverb goes: “a hundred slaves a hundred enemies.”
there was no harmony. amongst man himself.
we visited a domus romana today. an ancient. preserved. typical. roman house.
it was incredible. beautifully preserved. and an extremely immersive experience.
we walked atop glass planes and looked down at centuries old strata. layers of rubble. collected through earthquakes. fires. the renaissance. delicate marble and mosaic. once hidden. now on display under our feet.
the voice narrating the tour. burst overdramatically. from the speakers overhead.
it spoke of grand roman kings. feats of architecture. feats of archaeological preservation.
it spoke of saunas. pools. baths.
it spoke of pillars. arches. royal balconies.
it spoke of delicate china. statues. wine. vanity.
it casually mentioned. that slaves were the blood of all this leisure.
writing pitch: write in the second perspective. write about hearth and homes. write as a guide for someone at this home.
you the lowest strata
you the domestic supply
you the mount on fragile display
you the façade at the enfilade of rooms
you the walls of the grand tepidarium
you the splendid african yellow on dented porcelain
you the furnace to his royal muscle
you the delicate mosaic under his feet
you the hamster to his massive pillar
you the bearer of 300-kilogram paving
you the window to his politics his art his history
you the concrete to this rubble
you the lonely woman
you the master’s puer
you the house holder
you are the hundredth slave, the eternal enemy.
sad to say. i think im all ruin-ed out.
rome is all ruins. its incredible.
but how many pillars can one see before a notebook is:
pillar like ancient tree stump ringed at jagged edges
pillar covered in moss as hair in giant nostril
pillar a forgotten log in the forum forest
ribbed pillar housing stale smoke
pillar looks like celery
pillar is tall
pillar is cool
this must stop. i need to take a walk. probably get gelato. start over.
that being said. today. june 30. we visited hadrian’s villa. and villa d’este. i am overwhelmed. by how splendid everything is. and even though lack of sleep. the heat. and overwhelmia. left my notes from today useless. today was still. one of the coolest days of the trip so far.
writing pitch: keats describes ethereal things in three ways – things real, things semi real, and no things. use these categories and your observations from today to direct your own writing.
(or alternatively, to honor Keats’ love for puns – Keatstroke)
Scratching into foam is easy. You dip your pinky into the white, twirl it, slightly, till you have forced it to follow pink fingernail in liquid algae.
A cloud is now resting in your palm.
You carry it to Diana, cupping your hand over it so it doesn’t storm away.
Under Diana’s leaky bosom, you join her children and add your foam cloud to the bowl of nipple juice. You dip your tongue in it.
Now you have friends, and are not as thirsty.
Now the sweat on your bare back has stopped collecting at lower arch, at this arch just earlier where a marble torso gleamed, ass first, in the cool morning breeze.
Now this same arch has become a boat of wrinkle bark where water rises in sheets. This boat is not moving. Not floating. It carries the body on it’s shoulders.
Now these shoulders retreat into canopy. White in shade, in shadow, in veil. White unlike you.
Now this white is a splash of icicle at your feet.
Now you can’t see your feet. And the foam at your mouth has been discovered. And you open your eyes, to us, emptying our water bottles on your face, slapping your cheeks.
a break from rome, in southern italy
mid program break.
sorrento. positano. amalfi. capri.
a college-style guide.
southern italy is just as vibrant. and refreshing. as the limoncello it is famous for.
sample all the limoncello at the little souvenir bars and shops. this is your pre-game.
long winding roads. from town to town. car sickness. packed buses that never show up on time.
all salvaged by the unbelievable view of the coast.
blue clear water from the postcards and movies.
it is true.
the best gelato at “antica gelateria sorrentina.” since 1860.
homemade waffle cones. the friendliest staff. flavors ferrero rocher. and cookies and cream. and salted caramel. and limoncello.
cranky in a big group of hungry students. and mid-summer heat.
climb up the rocks by the sea. try not to fall. try not to drop a birkenstock in between the rocks. try also not to drop a go-pro in between the rocks. feel very proud of self when you retrieve lost items. feel healed by the salty breeze.
find free public beaches. sandy spots. rock formations. a clear sight of the ocean floor from miles away.
get there early. before the tourists. makeshift changing room behind the rocks. dive.
someone always stay by the bags. don’t let a phone get stolen.
read ovid. beyond the assigned pages. memorize a poem. write about writing in italy.
find some lavender.
press it between the pages of your notebook.
let your back burn with an awkward bikini tan. let the mosquitoes bite. let the legs be hairy.
be okay with never having a plan. re-apply sunscreen.
feel tourist heavy with your beach towel. water bottle. trail mix. sun-hat.
feel heavy mostly. with overwhelmia. and notes.
nausea and ecstasy.
body odor and adrenaline.
return to rome at sunset. listen to “the balled of keenan milton” by devendra banhart on repeat.
ponder all along the 4-hour bus ride. about just how lucky you are.
writing pitch: layers. optional form: villanelle or pantoum
A short nap, at Basilica di San Clemente
To the ceiling
you are anchored
like the bluegold dusk
taped on your bedroom wall.
You are anchored
unlike the bedrooms below
taped wall to wall
during the war.
Unlike the bedrooms below
you are not claustrophobic
when the war comes.
You are steel.
You are not claustrophobic.
But you are. Are you? Are you dreaming?
The steel has welded your
You are dreaming!
Wake up to no air. Breathe. Now keep your
to the ceiling.
the crawling dot
morning: the vatican.
afternoon: testaccio, with katie parla.
writing pitch: the crawling dot. move along the spectrum of the infinitesimal to the infinite.
this morning. we trekked along the tiber. from our apartments in trastevere to vatican city. at 9:30 am our backs were already burning. but it was church day. we were all clad in covered shoulders and covered knees. ready to be enlightened. someone asked if we should have brought our passports. we were. indeed. stepping out of italy. ah, chuckles.
we were. indeed. stepping out of italy. and into a global pilgrimage. people standing sweaty elbow to sweatier neck. to experience st. peter’s basilica in all its glory. the churchiest of churches.
but some of these people. including us. twenty-five creative writing students from seattle. were at the vatican. not only for the basilica. but for the view of roma from the cupola. and the view of a roman necropolis. we were there for all 3 layers of the cake.
the very very very overwhelmingly grand church middle. check.
the literal breathtaking top. with a 20-minute hike up the 551 steps of the cupola inside walls that curve inwards and a spiral stairway that narrows to the size of your face and leaves you claustrophobic ready to pound at the sos button just before the city finally emerges and blinds you with it’s incredible oceanic size. check.
and the literal breathtaking bottom. with a tour of the scavi two layers underground where st. peter is supposedly buried by the living dead and roman husbands have complimented their wives with frescos and sarcophagus’ and the walls seem to be closing you into the tiny tomb shaped spaces. check.
sure. yes. claustrophobia was the theme of today. in many ways. but it was fitting with my entire trip to italy so far. because this surge of stimuli. is. leaving me claustrophobic. i must stop talking. i must listen. i must write.
part two of today included a chance to chat with katie parla. katie is a travel and food writer now based in rome. she has written a number of books and her writing has appeared in the new york times. katie took us on a tour of testaccio and ended the tour with a food tasting.
testaccio. was initially a working class neighborhood. with an enormous slaughterhouse. and is now a culture-spot trying to maneuver. around gentrification. with its murals and culinary treats.
we climbed up monte testaccio. an entirely man-made hill. back when rome was still outsourcing it’s olive oil. essentially a rubbish heap. perfectly layered with discarded terracotta olive-oil jugs. as we were walking up the hill. in the 3:00 pm delusional heat. the terracotta sounded like wind chimes under our feet. i thought i saw dried lavender growing between the shards through the grass. but then again. i was delusional.
katie later had us try the trapizzino. a fun mix between pizza and a hearty roman dish. like a pizza cone filled with meatballs. amazing. while we ate she talked to us about writing. travelling. journalism. blogging. i asked her how she moved to rome. she said she had wanted it. so she saved up for it. and did it. just did it.
on my way back home i saw her on her bike. headphones on. riding past me. immediately after that. (and after a cold shower and a power nap.) i sat down to write.
the crawling dot
a dawn on the
city like a crucifix
by the crucifix
of Vatican City
here an olive oiled terracotta jagged clunks by the cracks in my feet
a fountain of
gold and white
and white sheets
here my beer leaves a ring by the napkin in this napkin ring
a fresco of
here a fresh pomegranate juice handed to me for free
dirt now cobble
the full feat
here tripes for you and tongue for me
a carved pyramid
urn of pull
here a coned pizza with meat
for wine-soaked tombs
and dead bits
here a fried chicken leg
a narrowing passage
up 551 steps
just the size
of a neck
here a little sweat
still my eyes are open
the longest. hardest. day.
st. cecilia. my eyes hurt from staying up too late. here. cecilia. your eyes are covered. your throat is slit open. there your arms are raised and you are waiting for your wreath. there is music in you and your silence. i am not religious. but this is the first church. where i feel at peace. i can meditate. i think it is because. this is one of the only female saint churches we have visited. and you were an artist. and this church is large. and the light is arching perfectly at your slender center. and there are no people here. except for us – writing. oh, and the nuns.
writing pitch: pick one relic from the church. include music.
the nuns at st. cecilia
when you see my throat exposed
what do you whisper
i cannot hear you
you are photographing with
your knees and echoing these bells here
i cannot hear you
you are clinking needle to
yarn in and out and in out again
i cannot hear you
if this were always
this would be dew against the wall dripping
blood down my thighs dripping
tears from your eyes dripping
if this were always
i would not be scratching my feet
braiding my own hair
sweating my brown skin
i would not have this permanent line on my forehead
why don’t you look at it?
look at me!
with you stuck to my breast
i might as well have a veil on my face
you are going deeper in and deeper i am speedwalking out yet your skirts shuffle around me everywhere i go i cannot hear you
four hours later:
sistine chapel. this is a madhouse. this is a zoo. a circus. a dream. a nightmare. my eyes hurt because there is too much to take in. the ceilings are golden. our tour guide calls them romantic. really it just feels like im being thrown into a sweet artsy tube of the most beautiful vomit i’ve ever seen and then i’m being squeezed out of it. very very slowly. along with hundreds of other people. we stand in raphael’s rooms and are gazing at the intricacy of art and all these eyes over here. painted and un-painted. they are staring at me everywhere i go. i feel burdened by beauty. and history. and philosophy. i am having visions of floating up to the perfect brushed clouds and standing by the great pagans of all time and staring down at these little scattering zoo turtles staring up at me trying to find me midst the intellectuals. sometimes i catch glimpses of the setting sun out an open window at the vatican museum and breathe a little and i feel my feet again. everyone is complaining. i draw smiley faces on their hands. i don’t know if it helps.
writing pitch: note your 9 muses / 9 things you would have in your museum
a better eyeball
a brown something
a bottle of wine
a burnt scroll
a broken fountain
a broken key
a broken pillar
i am 21. now. in italy.
i spent these last few days in bomarzo. bagnorio. assisi. spoleto.
i was with friends. we wrote together. and laughed. and ate good food. and drank good wine.
i am very happy. ah happy birthday. ah happy happy birthday.
bomarzo / bagnorio
writing pitch: tarot cards.
my cards: 7 of swords. 3 of wands. 2 of cups.
7 of swords
this word is not crystal.
this has so many lines. you must read outside them.
this is a bare back peeking through the sunflowers now and then.
this is light through the cracks of a door long closed.
this is a spider web head never a perfect circle.
this is very hard to figure out.
this cannot wait till tomorrow.
3 of wands
flashing lights are but a sign. orange, even.
orange is always in love.
orange is gold.
orange is light glinting off a steel fence.
it is funny how your hold a pencil when you try.
2 of cups
you and me together, over here, one and one more.
i eat you slowly with kisses. you are okay.
you and me together, over here, and nowhere else tomorrow.
assisi / spoleto
writing pitch: an ode
ode to hangovers
prickly on my back. stars on the other side.
me as acid
me as acidic
me more by the day, bile
me more by the day stuck to this bathroom tile
no no no no no
salt under fingernails and a lost shirt
what is the scientific term for when fish throw up their stomach guts?
no no no no no
baby’s cheek is not mine, not today
but here is my cheek still stuck to tile
a pen prick, ink then, on the sheets
morning wood, lapping
cross? are you cross? with me?
no no no no no
why does my side hurt so un-tempurpedic
tongue to corn in teeth
now in front of me
every year. a student at this program decides to give their mandatory talk. on caravaggio. he is. after all. one of the greatest italian painters of all time. and also a bad boy. a rebellious genius. he once threw a tantrum at a restaurant because his artichokes arrived cooked in butter instead of olive oil. also he took live animals and whores and beggars up the spiral staircase to his 3rd floor apartment in order to paint them. so scandalous.
his works are on display at various roman churches. here visitors can enter for free and observe his famous chiaroscuro-ed masterpieces that later went on to formally influence italian baroque painting.
anyway. i did not give my talk on caravaggio. i decided to speak on artemisia gentileschi.
for so long. she was considered a curiosity. because. she was raped at 17. she participated in the prosecution of her rapist. she was tortured and put on trial herself. all novels and movies on gentileschi focus on this tragedy. not on her painting. in that sense. gentileschi is the sylvia plath of the post-renaissance painting era.
she was influenced by caravaggio. but she mostly painted awesome horrific scenes of women as victims, warriors, and survivors of tragedy. she used her trauma to guide her painting. after the conviction of her rapist she re-painted her famous “judith slaying holofernes” (now on display in florence, next to caravaggio’s early rendition of the same) to show judith as more violent and victorious than before. the duke who had commissioned the re-painting decided not to put it on display because of how horrific it was. classic.
she surpassed caravaggio’s painting with his passivity of judith’s face. the blood spilling out of holofernes in hers is more gory than before. judith is a boss. during the feminist uprising gentileschi’s paintings were discovered. her genius recognized beyond the judicial records of her rape. for the way she used chiaroscuro to focus on the faces and pain of women she painted. and focus on their strength.
today we mostly visited caravaggio’s works in rome. it is more widespread. there are. however. two of gentileschi’s famous works at the galleria at piazza di spada. “santa cecilia” and “madonna and child.” a must visit.
writing pitch: employ chiaroscuro in your piece
light – chiara – the known.
dark – scuro – the unknown.
i do not like this definition. i want to explain it differently.
when i frown into
a depth takes
on my forehead
inside there is a little white man
sitting straight working so hard
flipping through several pages
used unused these are records
of me fighting gravity like that
one time i didn’t kneel before
i could lay
over my head
the whites in
my eyes are very yellow
and the shadow of the obelisk is bent this way
i could grab that neck
twist it so
all the white drips
into my lap
like the sweat on my bare brown back
away from the mirror
there is no white
here and i
more than just b
bernini. borromini. church walk.
uve e uovo
grapes and eggs
similarity in shapes. but not.
similarity in sounds. but not.
symmetrical nothing. yes.
asymmetrical everything. no.
yes and no and yes. and nothing is anything. yes?
writing pitch: assonance – lead by vowels
grab it. grab tight,
but wide, wide, and winding
up – spot the light.
golden bowl. hold close.
hold, and don’t don’t let go,
hold me like gold, grab me.
point me. here. point me
to wine, to point, a joint effort,
this is a sign, golden me.
grab that golden wine
follow the light to me
find me holding this
sign my arms are wide
open now you can say
you love me.
i was big before i got this news now i am
reduced to a crawl trying to marvel up
the echoes flashing and choir belting
but i cannot find their source even
though all the circles here are
reduced to a point thanks
bormomini now how do
i fit inside this curved
ball there is no
point to this
you like the pinked cream golden pale
the marble blanks there and there and
everywhere like a rose and rice duality
you don’t like the rusty beige browning dust
the spokes pointed at our hearts for fast love
like an old cat a fat dog well what about me
an italian coffee guide for the seattle coffee drinker
we all know that seattle is america’s coffee city. apparently people in seattle consume more coffee than people in any other american city. seattle gave us starbucks. and it is also the mothership for a gazillian local coffee roasters. theres something and more for every coffee lover in seattle. as a student and coffee lover at the uw i take full advantage of this luxury.
american coffee at large is very different from italian coffee. more so that – in america the caffeine focus floats on drip coffee. whereas american espresso usually involves it being partnered with large portions of milk. in seattle i drink straight espresso. drip coffee. and italian macchiatos (you’ll see why in a second). i like my coffee strong. if i desire the full hot-beverage-in-my-hand-so-i -can-be-cozy experience i order the smallest latte or mocha. as a barista. i stopped drinking any drink larger than an 8 oz ever since i found out just how much milk and sugar was cutting into my total caffeine intake. no sir. not into that.
well. italy is the largest coffee consuming country in the world my friends. in italy there is no grande. no venti. no trenti. no maxi laxi nothing fancy. there are no ounces of milk larger than your traditional 8 oz cappuccino. and there are no strange syrups. don’t go to an italian café and order a skinny 20oz pumpkin spice vanilla latte. no.
starbucks is an italian coffee drinker’s worst nightmare. to my delicious valued surprise i saw not one when i was in italy. yes to this.
some american style cafés in italy might have these options for you. so if you really really really just need that large hot milk with a dash of coffee you might be able to find a café close to the most touristy attractions that caters to you. these are usually more expensive and carry a 12 oz cappuccino with possible syrups. italian caffes don’t usually carry lattes by that name. they don’t usally have lattes at all. if you want the milk you ask for a cappuccino. and there’s no black coffee either.
but you go to italy for the espresso! that’s eSpresso not eXpresso for the love of all that is good.
every morning you wake up and make a stove-top espresso in your traditional italian moka pot. and then during the day you buy quick espressos at the bar. the bar in italy is what a café is in america. here is where you get your coffee. and possibly a cornetto (a margarine based croissant style pastry) to make for you a classic Italian breakfast. a traditional italian bar is very crowded and whether you are tiny or large in size you will fight your way through to get that life-saving poison in your system. rarely will you see an italian savoring their coffee at a table for hours at end because renting a table makes your coffee double the price and tables are reserved for dining and wining.
here’s the traditional bar experience: you buy a ticket for your coffee at the register. it is under a euro because in italy drinking coffee at the bar is a 5 minute ordeal. take your ticket to the barista. wave your ticket at them till they pick you (score!) standing amongst a crowd of people trying to get their drink first. then you finally get a little ceramic plate plus a little spoon for sugar slammed in front of you on the bar and you are happy because you know a delicious cup of goodness will be quick to follow. you will smile. you will smile till your next espresso and then you will smile some more.
besides a traditional caffe (espresso) or cappuccino there are lots of other ways to order coffee at an italian bar. here are a few common items on the menus:
caffe macchiato – espresso with a dash of warm milk. a perfect combination of coffee and milk! in america this is called an italian macchiato. not to be confused with your crazy starbucks caramel macchiato.
caffe corretto – espresso with a dash of your favorite liquor. perfect for siesta. i pick baileys.
caffe con panna – espresso with a dollop of whipped cream. yummy.
caffe shakerato – sweetened cold espresso diluted with water and ice served in a martini glass.
caffe freddo – sweetened cold espresso served in a glass.
caffe marocchino – espresso with a dash of cacao.
caffe estio – espresso with a whole bunch of foam on top.
caffe con cioccolato – a cappuccino with chocolate shavings.
latte macchiato – a cup of steamed milk with a dash of espresso.
americano, or american coffee – espresso with hot water. the closest thing to a drip coffee.
caffe d’orzo – a substitute for coffee. this comes from barley. classy.
caffe ginseng – an instant coffee from a machine pre-blended with sugar, cream, and ginseng root. tastes strangely like caramel. the chai tea alternative when in italy (never my top choice).
these are usually single shots, so you can ask for a doppio if you want a double shot of espresso.
- the italian bar experience is thrilling and necessary for survival. in italy. espresso is more important than water. justifiably so.
- there are no to-go cups in italy. to-go cups are called american take away coffee and no one wants that. take your 5 minutes to enjoy your espresso at the bar.
- and don’t ever walk into a cafe past dinner. with your laptop. hoping to buy a coffee and sit at your table while you sip on it and work all night. everyone will think you are weird and the barista will ask you to leave.
in bocca al lupo!
i’ve been putting off my last writing pitch from rome. i don’t want to believe. that it’s over.
on our last day. we visited keats’ grave. “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” keats believed no one would ever remeber him. yet there we gathered. we meditated around him. recited our odes on a grecian urn. meditated some more.
no one wants to leave.
in reality. we left rome many days ago. and we brought rome with us. it’s not actually over. it never will be.
no one wants to leave.
last writing pitch: exile
Keats is dead, and I am closer
My hair sheds every where I go. All
I want to hold on to slips away
like it does with my DNA.
Once, a strand of my hair wrapped
round a yellow pettaled flower
that sat along the right side of
my leather shoe. I thought of the
daisy patterned stone up above
my balding head the permanent
sky that stops only when I shut
my eyes tight. Sometimes I wrap these
fingers around my neck just like
that and hope they notice something.
Something about love, or beauty,
or truth. Something about a life
of sensation rather than thought.
Something about a complex mind
writing here. Something about the
sun always setting me to rights.
Something is something more, and no
thing is anything. The stone on
my seedling heart cannot stop me.
There is no water here, but here
is my name, still, floating over
to them across such receding
hairlines. And then, less full my head
of hair, fuller the world of me.