Sean dragged me out of bed at an ungodly hour of 7 am, made me gulp down my coffee and croissant and pushed me out of the door to go stand in line at the Vatican Museum while he went to work. I arrived at Musei Vaticani at 8:30 in the morning and stood in line in a very foul mood. It takes me a while to wake up and I can’t stand any chirpiness in the morning. Anyway, the museum opened at 9:00 am. I stood in line listening to the cacophony of traffic and various world languages, suddenly feeling very included in the huge mass of humanity and not so grumpy anymore. A guide from Kerala (India) tried to play the India card to get employed as my guide. It didn’t work since I like to do my own touring with a book in hand. I felt very inadequate to truly appreciate the beauty of the objects displayed there. So I won’t even attempt to go into explanations. Here are some pictures instead.
I did pay my homage to the Sistine chapel but I had to contain the memory of it in my head and in my heart since photography was prohibited. Upon entering the museum I followed the signs to Sistine Chapel and arrived there first to avoid the crowd. I found a place to sit and wonder for a while. What I really wanted to do was lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling all day. There are so many stories up there, mere half an hour is simply not enough. In the chapel, there was a low hum of conversation in different languages. When people got a bit too exuberant in their emotions at the sight of the masterpiece, the custodians of the chapel raised their voices ‘Silence please’! The people quieted down, and the custodians resumed their loud conversation amongst themselves in Italian. I smiled at the paradox! They also lazily turned around, once in a while, to warn people against taking pictures. The people who were clicking pretended not to hear, took the picture anyway, and then, when reprimanded again, said, ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you!’ The prohibition of photography wasn’t implemented strictly, I must say. Yet, I didn’t take any pictures. That conscience, I tell you!!! Anyway, read this little piece of information which made Michelangelo very real for me – ‘When Julius II abandoned his project for a funerary sculpture, Michelangelo returned unhappily to Florence. In 1508, he was recalled to Rome by the pope, who asked him to paint the Twelve Apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He had barely started, when he realised the work was going badly. The pope then gave him a free hand and instead of the blue star-spangled vault, he created a masterpiece filled with powerful movement. Julius II came regularly to ask Michelangelo when he would finish. From atop the scaffolding came the regular reply “when I can.” ‘
After being completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the museum, saturated by the grandeur of the Sistine Chapel, the statues, frescoes and painting by the masters of all times, I came out of the museum groggy eyed, somewhat disoriented and bone weary. The four hours I spent there had transported me to the world of Egyptian pharaohs, Roman Emperors, Christ and his disciples, popes and cardinals; so the sounds and sights of the traffic, beggars, hawkers, tour guides right outside the museum was a rude awakening to my world, the real world, and the long hike back to my hotel.
My camera bag and pocket-book were seriously getting heavier with each step I took, so I decided to pay a visit to my favorite woman The Pieta at the Basilica of St. Peter’s. I wanted to sit in the Basilica and surround myself with more objects of splendor and beauty before I trudged back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the pope was giving a Papal audience to the faithful at the courtyard, and the line to see ‘the papa’ was serpentine. Instead, I sat on one of the marble benches in Via Concilliazone and stared at the Basilica longingly. Rested my weary legs, at the same time, and again, listened to different languages all around me.
After a lunch of panini with mozzarella cheese and prosciutto, I took a well deserved Italian siesta for a couple of hours. Around six in the evening, I got my funky spring coat on to go back to the Trevi fountain for pictures and then go further to see the Spanish steps. The Piazza de Spagna is always vibrant and lively! Different languages, lot of laughter, lot of smoking, lot of loving and lot of panting as people climbed the steps to go to the top. Since my community work during the vacation had been pouncing on couples, mother/daughter, families etc, to ask if they wanted me to take any pictures of them so they all could be in it, I took quite a few pictures of happy strangers (with their own camera, of course)! Almost all families graciously (sometimes giddily) accepted my offer with profuse words of thanks. However, one family of four refused me with a pretty smile thinking I was one of those annoying professional photographers, who pester people to take their pictures. I don’t blame them, with my own camera around my neck and camera bag on my side, I looked the part. Language could have been an issue too.
The piazza Spagna around the Spanish steps are surrounded by ritzy stores – Dior, Dolce & Gabanna, Prada, Guess. I walked around window shopping. As I crossed an alleyway, I peeked in only to spot a gorgeous, majestic looking church with a decorated marble facade. Churches are like magnets for me, I feel a compulsive need to look into the most obscure church that one can find in Italy. But fortunately, I am yet to find an obscure, ordinary, plain-looking church in Rome. I am sure there are some, just not in my eye.
I digressed from my chalked out path and walked towards the white marble facade of the chiesa. I have already mentioned earlier that I am terrible at reading maps and even worse at directions. So when I go to a place I remember landmarks. Hansel and Gretel used rocks to find their way back to their mean parents’ house, I use Burger King, the mask store, the clock store, the gelataria to get back to where I came from.
So when I digressed from my path, I was apprehensive that I might get lost. But I looked at one end of the street and discovered to my joy the Victor Emanuele II building, standing white and tall in all its glory in the setting sunlight. I had that ‘once was lost, now I am found’ kind of feeling since my hotel was very near that building. Bolstered by my new-found confidence, I did a lot of window shopping on Via del Corsa which is probably comparable to the Fifth Avenue in New York City.
From Via del Corsa, I took the narrow alleyway towards Piazza Novona in search of a little pizzeria for dinner. Bought a pizza amatriciana (yes, more bacon) and headed towards the Pantheon to eat my dinner on the steps of the fountain at Piazza Della Rotonda. My interest was really the gelato store at one end of the piazza. I tried the cassatta flavor today, so far, that was my favorite.
Since I was walking at least one hundred miles (well, it felt that way with my heavy bags) each day, I made an executive decision to eat a different kind of gelato each day during my stay in Rome, and also try a different type of pizza. I ended up getting the particular kind which had the fattiest bacon on it. Anyway, I took my gelato and walked on to the crowded Piazza Novona to do some people watching and to look at the really good art work of the local artists.
Very content after my cassatta flavored gelato, I decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel when it happened again – I spotted the gorgeous Chiesa del Jesu, the Church of Jesus. And it beckoned me to go in. Inside, I saw a flurry of activities, a bunch of college kids in tux and black dresses where doing vocal drills to get ready for a choir singing. These were the same kids who sat next to Sean and I on the plane as we flew into Rome. They were Chamber singers from Virginia Tech who had come to sing in three different cities in Italy! Their band master came over to me to say hello. I assured him I wasn’t really stalking him or following him around, since I had bumped into him at the Vatican museum as well. With a promise to come back to see them perform, I rushed back to the hotel to write in my journal and also to write a note to my husband where I would be. Poor Sean was in a meeting all day, which was to culminate in a working dinner. I didn’t want him to come back to the hotel and find his wife missing. When the show ended at 10 pm, and I turned around to leave, I saw my husband coming in to walk me back!
Another very full day came to an end and I loved every minute of it. I didn’t realize I could completely check out from my real life, I could completely let go. But I did it. I didn’t have my cell phone, my computer or my iPad. I was totally untraceable and unreachable. I was not connected to the internet and did not have the desire to be connected either. All I wanted to do was to connect with the vibrant, modern and ancient vibes of the beautiful city of Rome. I truly disconnected to connect with my spouse, myself and my surroundings. I was experiencing, thinking and ‘looking’. I felt I hadn’t done that for a while. Maybe, because it was only for a few days, I was so content being away from it all. Sean commented he had not seen me so carefree for a long time.
One of my friends had suggested I see the Basilica of San Clemente. The plan for day four is to go see this very ancient church and check out the original chains that bound St. Peters in San Pietro in Vincoli.