My Dutch Eraser Thief

A junior reflects on a semester abroad in Rome.


This entry is part of a series reflecting on the study abroad experience, titled An Abroad Retrospective: Time is Out of Joint. Read the first and second entries.

Yesterday, I drew this tree by the fountain in the Piazza I always go to to sketch. It's become a bit of an inside joke for me whenever somebody sits nearby and watches me sketch from afar — there's something a little funny about the fact that somebody thinks an American tourist has anything fresh to say about Rome with an art pencil.

Sometimes they watch from not-so-afar. While I was sketching on the fountain steps yesterday, I noticed a man meandering around and grilling nearby strangers into conversation. Upon finding one stranger unwilling and uncomfortable, he would move to the next. Eventually he approached me, said something in broken Italian, and then, when I asked if he spoke English, spluttered "No. Parli Dutch?" When he began crooning over my lap to watch my pencil move and started mumbling about my "soft" eraser, I finally budged and awkwardly shifted to the side to indicate that I wasn't comfortable with what was happening. He instantly got the message, waved as if to apologize, and respectfully walked away. When he was gone, I realized my putty charcoal eraser was gone, too.

For the most part, I found it amusing. I finished the drawing fine without the charcoal eraser, and then bought myself a gelato milkshake. Later, I sent the finished product to my parents and told them about my mysterious eraser assailant (my text to them read: "a really strange and inexplicable crime to commit ?? But I guess he just really needed to erase something ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"). My mother praised the tree, talked about some of my other tree illustrations from the past, and then finished her text with a cryptic, but meaningful, piece of wisdom: "We all have many things we would like to erase, I think. Love you."

"'We all have many things we would like to erase, I think. Love you.' Don't we all indeed? The text buzzed around my head like a gnat for the rest of the night and the next day. There was a poetry hiding somewhere within it."   

Daniel Weiss '24

We all have many things we would like to erase, I think. Love you. Don't we all indeed? The text buzzed around my head like a gnat for the rest of the night and the next day. There was a poetry hiding somewhere within it. 

It's been disconcerting to come to Rome to find that all my problems sadly didn't view the Atlantic Ocean as much of an obstacle. I obviously didn't come to Rome to escape my problems, but I suspect I'm not alone in indulging in some tasteful naïveté by hoping against all odds that maybe some of them would take some time off when I traveled. At least a week or two, maybe?

I have had no such luck. The reality of studying in Rome, as is the reality of most study abroad experiences I suspect, often looks like sitting alone in your room watching Netflix and occasionally experiencing bouts of isolation that settle in your gut like a rock. It also looks like breathtaking visits to the Colosseum, gelato milkshakes, Chardonnay and cobblestone roads. The two coexist. We all contain multitudes.

When I got home later last night, I noticed that there were some branches higher up on my sketch of the tree that felt out of place, and the pencil marks in the paper were too deep to effectively erase them with a normal pencil eraser. Instead of erasing them, I drew some leaves around them until they no longer looked like stains on the page. My art teacher in Rome first explained our sketching assignments to us as observing the world, finding imperfections, then fixing them on the page. While there is something to be said for projecting beauty onto the world, I think it's also nice to sometimes just draw a few leaves around the weird branches until you can bear them a bit more when they escape erasure.

I'd like to imagine that I can send my mother's text to my tree. Or to my friends back home, or to the city of Rome: We all have many things we would like to erase, I think. Love you. There are so many things wrong with everything all the time. Love you. We're all pretty tired of living through "historic times," and sometimes we're kinda sucky about it. Love you. A couple of your branches are just super out of place, and it's driving me insane. Love you. Domestic problems don't mind crossing international waters, and there's nothing the Italian government can do to stop them, so I guess we'll just try to have some fun and drink some Chardonnay while we're here. Love you. We all have many things we would like to erase, I think. Love you. The implied word at the end of the sentence being the ever-powerful Anyway.

This one goes out to my cats, my dogs, my bed, and my home friends, and also to all the things we wish we could erase but we can't and so we draw some leaves and drink some wine about it. Until the next entry.

From Kenyon:

I don't know what else there is to say, to tell the honest truth. I look back at the tree sometimes. And up until now, in April 2023, as this is getting published — a good six months after it was written — I have been stealing occasional glances at this mini-essay and trying to figure out how we can start saying We all have things we would like to erase, I think. Love you (anyway) to ourselves in this exhausting global rough patch. In other words, how to give ourselves a break. Like I wrote in the post: "We're all pretty tired of living through 'historic times,' and sometimes we're kinda sucky about it." One of the only things I remember from my philosophy class last year was Aristotle's point about friendships and relationships: in order for any kind of relationship to work, love has got to move in every direction. What he points out, though, is that every direction doesn't just mean between the two parties involved. Every direction includes each party to themselves. In order to have a loving relationship with the world, there's gotta be some love going both, and every, direction — including to oneself.

Believe it or not, the tree was fictitious. I wasn't sketching something in front of me. Something in me just really wanted to draw a tree, based loosely off of the old American favorite, the hardy — and increasingly rare — elm tree, known for growing endlessly huge and lasting far beyond living memory. It is virtually unshakeable, and it is famously beautiful if you just give it a while.

Miss ya, Rome! Love you anyway.

Nice foliage, Kenyon! Love ya always!