Tuesday, June 11, 2013


[Posted 2013-06-19, backdated 2013-06-11. I have SO MANY POST that I have not been able to load due to insufficient Wi-Fi access...]

(I have something like a soundtrack to this blog post. Feel free to listen, I'll refer to it later. Good mood music for today's entry.)

I am off to see the Vatican today. Not exactly sure where I will go (the museum? St. Peter's? Who knows). 

Started off the day right with a visit to the local markets. Picked up white pizza and way too much fruit. The lady at the counter was very sweet and kept offering me samples. She has known my host for 20 years. 

Today I travel without my laptop. I feel naked without it. What will I do if I get tired and want to dink around on the Internet? No worries, life will go on and something will work out. 

The flow of traffic from the metro stop led me to St. Peter's Basilica, so I guess that is where I will be exploring.

I just can't get over how blue the sky is here… 

Entry to the basilica took about 30 minutes. No problem, I had my fine book of short fiction (Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2009) to keep me company. Definitely worth the wait: the interior was simply breathtaking.

There were far too many classical sculptures to capture them all. Instead, I tried to pick out some that really spoke to me.

This is a famous sculpture by Michaelangelo depicting Jesus and Mary, completed when he was 24 or so. One person commented in a thick Southern accent, "If he could finish that one by 24, I bet he had time to do ALL the sculptures in this place." The banal comment did not evoke a response from his wife and two daughters. I can be so entertained by the bizarre, stilted dialogues filled with dead-ends among families.

I had moments that tickled me. The first: even their speaker system comes with a marble paint job.

The second: apparently Gregorious the 14th was invisible.

The 3rd: all the cute flags that tour guides would carry. They bobbed and swayed above the crowd like pixies. This was my favorite.

While it may seem the church was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with sweaty tourists, it generally was not that bad. Apart from the occasional wade through an amorphous, ambling tourist group blob, I had enough personal space to feel comfortable and absorb the sights at my leisure. Watching the groups from the outside, I thanked myself for not signing up for a tour. Artist Andrew was most pleased.

Next it was off to the beautiful dome by way of 550 steps. Waving off the obligatory warnings about the infirm attempting such a feat, I began to ascend the steps. The first half of the path was mostly free of humans, giving me ample time to lose myself in the repetition. Step up, walk, walk, step up, walk, walk, step up… It went on for at least ten minutes. I was comforted by this spanse of time alone. In the second half I reached a bottleneck, which is to be expected given that there is very limited space at the top of the dome. Getting there got rather interesting.

The view from the summit, much like the process of getting there, was breathtaking.

I was disappointed to find an ample quantity of inane graffiti. What compels us to permanently record our names, inscribed in a heart, to prounounce to all the world of two anonymous lovers (who will statistically be likely to break up one day) will always baffle me. Particularly in a sacred place like this. It doesn't take being religious to have some respect.

Damn kids… My intolerance for their immaturity has amplified in the past couple weeks. I have encountered way too many groups of high school students who clearly don't want to be where they are and pass the experience by ruining it for the rest of us. (I'm exaggerating, of course -- I don't let them get under my skin too much. But I do go out of my way to avoid them.)

After the basilica and my tasty packed lunch enjoyed on the shaded riverfront, I made my way into the heart of south-central Rome, the home of way too many churches. 

Some had utterly unremarkable exteriors that did not reflect the treasures inside.

Most of them were densely adorned. The highlight was finding a tour group of priests. They even had the typical radio transmitters with earbuds for each member so the leader would not have to speak loudly. It never occurred to me that even priests would want to get together for a tour.

After a spontaneous bus ride (with everyone squished in so tightly you could probably relax your legs and not fall down), I worked my way along the crowded, sun-scorched streets to the Pantheon. 

Inside, I was treated to a rare surprise. Choirs from all over Europe were doing a special performance inside the Pantheon. I sat there for nearly an hour. The music I linked to at the top of the post is my poor-man's job at recording it. Everyone was beautifully dressed. Halfway through the hour, a man came out and proposed to one of the performers. There was much cheering and a lot of tears.

I was deeply moved by this time spent in the Pantheon. It was bordering on a religious experience -- the angelic voices, the unusual acoustics, the dramatic setting. I felt my spirit lifted into the sky at times, ascending through the opening in the ceiling.

I left the Pantheon shortly before the conclusion of the event, staggered by the emotional and spiritual experience. What could I possibly do next to let me down gently, return me to the land of reality, the land of Rome? The answer, of course, was gelato.

Among the many dates I will be taking myself on during the course of the week, I have committed to eating gelato at least once a day. I even accounted for it in my budget.

During my many travels on the streets of Rome, I was often treated to the delicate and warming fragrance of jasmine in full bloom. It is one of my two favorite scents (the other one being wisteria), and it gave me such pleasure every time I walked by a walk shrouded in its vines.

Reflecting upon the day, it is hard to believe I ever worried about being bored without my computer. It will take some getting used to being out and about from 8am to 7pm each day, doing sightseeing and adventures with no opportunity for a return to home base. As it happened, I had to force myself to return by 7:30pm, not wanting to be late for dinner. There was still so much to be seen, but tomorrow was yet a new day.

That night, it was time to change locations yet again. I am next off to stay with a CouchSurfing host -- the only one I successfully found for my 10 day stay in Italy. I say goodbye to Bob and his wonderful family. Thank you for all the food, the stories, the music, and the perfectly warm welcome to Roma. (And thank you to Karissa, whom introduced me to this kind and faceted gentleman.)

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