We’re Up early to leave for tour today. We are seeing the Vatican today. Nicole, me, mom and Dad. And the two boys are alone for the morning. I’m guessing they are going to rub each other’s backs and enjoy a few wine moments together in Club Muppetto. But not us. Off to get a cab to the travel agency that will begin our tour. We easily get a cab and our driver is a woman-and she’s incredible. I am always in awe in these big cities when we get a female driver-and hey are always better! Calm cool collected. And we pack better-so of course we would be able to fit in and out of traffic better. She is truly a fan of the cat mentality-I fits I sits. She is in and out of traffic openings like it’s o big deal-while Mom and Dad, Nic and I pray silently.
We arrive at the travel agency- I swear 10 minutes before we left Home- so we are plenty early. We slip into a little restaurant and have a breakfast. We order coffees (Italy most DEFINITELY has the best coffee. Move over Paris) and Dad orders an omelette. But everything comes with a pastry. Cream filled butter pastry’s-which Dad starts to devour and proclaims that this is the greatest omelette he’s ever tasted. And then we explain that that was the pastry. He is delighted when he finds out he still has another course coming! I think he may not come home.
We finish breakfast and board our bus for the tour. As mentioned, nicole and I have been here before so we know the drill. The Vatican has rules of dress. No shorts. No uncovered shoulders. And no super short skirts. So Nicole and I both have on the Drover sister costume of choice. Sweater, scarf and shirt skirt. We’re only talking a few inches above the knee. And there are many others on our tour with the same length skirt. But Nicole gets singled out and the attendant basically screams “SHAME! SHAME! WHORE COMIN THROUGH!” And demands that she cover up her legs. Declaring that her skirt is too short. But as I said, we are women. Problem solvers. Nicole quickly asks for my scarf, and wraps it around herself. They look disappointed-and that’s when we realize. There are men standing around selling scarfs just for this reason-and the attendant is clearly a friend of theirs. SHe was trying to get them a sale. But not Tah-day buddy. We got this. We smile and walk on. Me and the whore.
The Vatican is so strange. There is such a crazy mixture of the so called “holy” and the “unholy”. You see the ones who have made pilgrimage to this place-to be made whole spiritually just by being there-and the others-the history savages like us-who want to feel the thrill of time travel-to see the very things the people we’ve read about our whole lives saw. To think my eyes lit on the same structure that Michelangelo’s and the apostle Peter’s did is a special kind of humbling. One that makes you feel more alive and less important all at the same time. It’s dizzying.
The Sistine Chapel took my breath away when I saw it the first time. Tears. And not because I particularly love Michelangelo’s paintings-or any Italian Renaissance art for that matter. I appreciate it as any artist would-but I don’t feel akin to him as I do to Monet. My breath was taken by the history of it all. And by The way you can see his joy in painting at the far end of the chapel ceiling-he still believed in what he was doing, and who he was doing it for-having been commissioned by the church. And then the way you can see his distain and loathing for those same men and what they represented by the time he painted the other end of the chapel. I feel deeply the way he presented his heart in those paintings. He was brave. And he used his paintings to convey his love or disgust about what happened around him. It was his own private Twitter.
For example: on the fresco that covers the alter wall he depicts heaven and earth. Jesus on one side with his face downtrodden looking at those being sent to hell and beaten before the board the ship that brings them there. Mary on the other, much less populated side-watching those accepted to heaven. Well, a torrent of complaints were made by critics about the works’ rampant, joyful nudity Which was criticized as pornography, Michelangelo painted one of the more vocal of critics, very accurately it is said, holding a human carcass skin, and he put his own face, smiling, on the dead skinned man. Basically saying: hey I know your going to skin me alive because I didn’t listen to you and kept all the peter pasta in here….. But I. Don’t. Care.
Another example: The Papal Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, deemed that the fresco of nude heathens and Angela alike was pornographic. Michelangelo responded by making Minos, at the entrance of hell, resemble that very master of ceremonies . It’s an extremely unflattering portrait; He was given the ears of donkey and very prominently has a snake biting his genitals. When Cesena complained to the pro-Michelangelo Pope, the Pope reportedly said that his authority did not extend to hell. The painting remained unchanged.
It took him only 4 years to paint the chapel ceiling. From 33-37 years of age. All on his back, nearly made blind with candle wax that dropped into his eyes while he painted. Sometimes I have a hissy fit if my paint brush loses a hair while I paint.
When mom and Dad see it I can tell it has some of the same effect. What makes it feel even more ominous is that there is to be no talking in the chapel. They strictly forbid pictures, talking or slovenly dress in the chapel. So there you stand-forced to feel it without picture proof-and without talking. This is very difficult for a Drover. So I talk in moms ear the entire time-explaining the paintings-and pointing out the “Creation of Adam” panel. And then I covertly take out my phone and get a few pics. Listen, last time we were here we had beer in the courtyard. So if this is the thing that makes lightening strike……
We go to the Raphael rooms. The apartment of the pope back in the day. Again-the history get me in the stomach. You can still see the metal rod ends in the walls where lighting would have been attached-rod iron holders with candles, and eventually lit oil filled canisters.
I’m in the back and the shameless skin peddler is in the front. The Vatican is CROWDED. Shoulder to shoulder in some places. And Mom is convinced that Dad is going to get lost. Or she’s going to get lost. Or we’re going to lose them on purpose and leave the country. I’m not sure which-but Mom is following Nicole so closely that at one point nicole stopped suddenly, and Mom face plants into her back. And then Dad plows into Mom. And then I almost kill them all by falling on them. I’m sure we look comical-nicole in her shame scarf looking like a homeless gypsy, me mostly watching mom and dads feet, periodically looking up to cry, and Mom and Dad holding on to each other for dear life, banging into each other every time Scarlett letter up front pauses even briefly.
As we make our way into St. Peter’s basilica there is a gift shop area manned by a young priest (or some kind of priest? He’s all suited up anyway). He’s in his phone swiping back and forth and I think….I wonder…… so I pretend to drop something and duck behind him so I can see his screen. Yup. Tinder. Guess who’s having another beer in the plaza when we leave?
The highlights of the Basilica: there are no paintings in St. Peter’s. You look all around you and see beautiful art renditions of biblical scenes or angels-and as hard as it is to convince yourself-they are all mosaics!! Not one ounce of artists paint! All small tile work. Absolutely incredible. The other highlight is the sculpture of Mary and Jesus. Now as much as I may not be a huge appreciater of renaissance painting-i am a lover of sculpture. And this one by Michelangelo is almost as tingling as David. He depicts many as a young woman-something he was heavily criticized for (the reaction almost ended his religious career), holding her dead son. Marble blood dripping from his hands and feet. Her look of quiet devastation-“I knew this would happen, but I loved him deeply anyway”-gave me a lump in my throat the first time, second time, and almost everytime I think of it. She is so quietly sad. And soft as Cotten even though made of marble. He depicts her young because he felt that it conveyed a deeper message. That no matter how old we are, if we bury our babes-the pain of good bye is as deep as the joy when we say hello. And it works. I’ve never given birth truly-but looking at this sculpture finds me searching to remember a feeling That would parallel that sadness-and I come up short. How can you depict all that feeling in a stone statue. It gives me all the feels.
After the basilica we leave and are taken to the marble covered oval where the view of the basilica is best, and where the pope greets his patrons on Wednesdays and special occasions.
Nicole and I have been serious for too long and explode into chatter and giggles. At one point I see a monk digging in his backpack by the fountain. And he hauls out a bag of chips. To which I say, “OMG. It’s a chip monk.” And we’re back to familiar territory-nicole whipping away all her eye makeup while we cry laughing-crossing our legs.
We meet the boys and walk for the afternoon. Stopping for pizza and beer and a sit in the bank of the Tiber.
We shop and shop and gelato and beer our way though the rest of the city. Piazza Navona (Nicole’s favorite) is a highlight. Fountains and sculpture surrounded by people and musicians and artists. A true Roman Square. I decide to buy a large leather duffel for traveling. I’ve always wanted one-and came prepared this time with a fold up duffel I was using as my carry on. We source a few of my favorites and I narrow it down to one in particular. And find 2 stores that are selling them. One is a little nicer then the other quality wise-so I decide to see how much I can dicker the price down. Cocky and sure of myself, the older store minder at one of the shops quickly drops from $200 to 160 to 120. I offer 70. He says “get out. And don’t come back.” No joke. So we go to the next store-and I get the nicer bag. And pay more. And now we’re not allowed on that street anymore.
And it’s not a true nick and Karen vacations unless we have to buy a checked bag to bring back all the stuff we bought. So yes, we end up adding to our already unmanageable load. By one 50 lb checked back. I swear there’s still leather left in Italy-but you may want to hurry.
I decide I need some food therapy tonight-and I would love to cook for everyone. They may be putting me on-but they all jump at the idea-claiming they would love to have some homemade Aribiatta-and I’m more then happy to oblige. We stop at the grocery and buy everything We need including a basil plant. Home for Wine and cooking. Roma. You complete me.
Mom and Dad to bed and the OM’s up to Club Muppetto. Rum flows and our day is rehashed with the boys. We find out that all they did in our absence is sleep in and go to macdonalds. It’s mine and Nicole’s turn tomorrow-the boys and rents are touring the coliseum and area- and Nicole and I are planning and epic day-but trying to play it off like we are not looking forward to it at all. When in reality we’re probably not going to sleep tonight. So exciting!!!!!