Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 7: Across the Tibor ...

 The Tiber River, that's the Fiume Tevere to Romans 

There was one especially magical moment as we passed the Tiber river to get to Vatican city at about 7.30a ... the air was misty and golden and I thought of all the great Romans who had passed over this river: the emperors and empresses, the slaves and warriors, the great leaders of the Roman empire, the ambassadors from other states. When J did not want to do one of the tours I had to give her a pep talk. I said, this is the history of your people. You should know what great things the Romans accomplished, the art they produced, the inventions, the lands they conquered ... oh yeah, and remember, that they had to enslave half the world to do it. Gulp. What a bunch of glorious jerks they must have been.

Ai yi yi ... why did I agree to a tour of the Vatican which starts at 6.40a when we are picked up by a driver from our hotel? The spouse and the kid are shooting evils my way ... can't back out now, we are going with another family and they have two kids. It wouldn't be fair to back out - the family honor is on the line. 

Each morning we wake to a musical alarm of Claudio Villa, one of my mother's favourite singers, now one of R's. The driver who takes us to the tour bus is cranky; he obviously hates tourists. Well ... join the club buddy, so do I, especially the hundreds of people touring through the Vatican with us.

The outside of the Vatican is literally a brick fortress, likely to protect the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art encased within. We pass through a metal detector and follow a long serpentine line of gawkers through the Vatican galleries of which there are many ... there is a gallery of the maps of all the regions of Italy (where R snapped the photo of the island of Sicily below), ancient Roman sculpture, a hall of 400 year old tapestries.

Of course everyone is waiting for the big ones: the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo, La Pietà  sculpted by Michelangelo and now in St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square ....

In the Sistine Chapel (which we learned has been newly cleaned and which took fourteen years), the guards are unsmiling and strict. Women must cover their arms lest we offend God. They want us to keep relatively quiet and keep ssshhing us ... sssh, sssh, sssh they hiss as we peer up at the "The Last Judgment" and are judged by our captors the security guards. I did not know that it is within the chapel that the Cardinals vote on the next Pope and that the famous chimney which emits black or white smoke is here.

What is the word where a female artist feels emasculated by a male artist? That's how I feel when I see Michelangelo's work and the work of the great Italian artists who dedicated themselves to religious painting and sculpture here at the Vatican.

When some weary souls sit on the marble steps near the altar they are sternly told to get up. I get it, show some respect, it's not Disneyland although some of us are dressed as if it is. The Americans are the worst. They are mostly sloppy AND loud. Followed perhaps by the Australians and the Brits. I still recall two jerks smoking on the grounds of the Colosseum during the tour. We Canadians blend in so innocuously it's hard to tell who is one although one fellow Canadian guessed from my accent that I was not American and chatted me up about how miserable she was here in Rome.

I don't understand why the tour guides, many of them women, can navigate the Vatican in stylish heels, summer dresses and lovely chiffon scarves (or the male guides in dress slacks and shirts) in this 40 degree weather without breaking a sweat while the rest of us tourists schlep around in the shabbiest of clothing and footwear, looking like we are the last people trying to get of Saigon on the last helicopter - just absolutely desperate and bedraggled looking.

We enter the Tomb of the Popes between the floor level of the Constantinian Basilica and the nave of the modern Basilica where all the popes have been interred including St. Peter who is in a special section that is glassed off. We see all the chapels of St. Peter's Basilica which is the largest Christian church on the planet and cross St. Peter's Square at 11.00a which is, by now, blazing hot. Still it is a bit of thrill to see it in person - to stand where the throngs have stood and watched history happen.

At the base of St. Peter's Square we see two Romas begging (each separately): one very old, the other perhaps J's age. Their look is so distinctive: very dark skin although they are clearly Caucasian, long heavy skirts, head coverings or scarves and long hair. It's like something out of Prosper Merimee's Carmen.They look uncomfortable and unhappy and the large group of tourists are largely unresponsive to the begging.

Our guide Ray, or possibly Rey, an older, very well educated man insists on a meticulous explanation of all that we see; hence, the tour lasts almost four hours. We reach the Vatican gift shop at 11.05a and the bus returns for us at 12.15p. You never saw so many desperate people trying to catch that bus which couldn't accommodate all of us.

Crash at the hotel mid-afternoon ... R and J sleep, I write. I am desperate some days to record my thoughts and observations so this is a perfect time. R had a difficult day, his back was really bothering him but he soldiered on as did J albeit grudgingly and with some grumbling. Still, I appreciate the effort.

Last night in Rome ... we go for one last gelato at Blue Ice, a cheesy little gelateria on Via Sistina near our hotel - not the best we've had but we have never met a gelato we didn't like. 

Tomorrow we take a plane to Catania, Sicily and drive to Taormina!


Christine said...

It sounds like a beautiful family holiday.

Cheryl said...

Keep writing about your trip! I am enjoying every word!


p.s. You make me wish I was Italian!!!