Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Jason Robards Helps Me Smuggle - Italy II

Click on any image in this post to see an enlargement.

Early the next morning, Dr. D and I met in the lobby and decided to cross the street to the local coffee bar for some cappuccino and fresh baked biscotti.

We ordered, “Due cappuccinos Signore.”

They repeated, “Due cappuccinos!” They bustled about getting our coffees ready. First they made the espressos and then they swirled the foam on top while we paid. They were presented without flourish.

“Grazie!” we declared in our nonexistent Italian.

Standing there in a coffee bar in Rome, it was the absolute best cappuccino I have ever had in my life. I wanted to savor the moment, but we had to hurry to make all of our commitments today. We rushed outside to grab a cab to the Sistine Chapel.

When we got there at 7:45, there was a line just forming for the 8:00 opening. What a pristine and beautiful morning it was. It promised to be a hot and sunny day. Then the line began to move.

First we entered the Map Room. We were told that no photos were allowed in the Sistine Chapel or museum. So what does Dr. D do? He whips out the camera and starts to take a picture! I couldn’t believe his chutzpah! At least he only snuck in the one. No one noticed. Anyway, here is one from google that looks very similar to the one he took. I did not remember the Map Room from my first trip so I enjoyed it.

Then it was on into the chapel itself. This I had seen before. I remembered it as a graying series of ceiling paintings. But now, holy cow! The difference was as if lightning had struck. The images were so bright and new looking as if they were completed yesterday. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I stood stunned gazing upwards at Michelangelo’s devastating work. The scope of it was awe inspiring. I just wanted to lie flat on my back and study it all day. The crowd was silent as we all looked: stunned and amazed.

Next we went to the gift shop. There were many Saint Medallions and rosaries blessed by the Pope. I was supposed to buy a Saint Teresa for my friend Terry back home, but somehow I wasn’t in the mood to spend money after seeing the Sistine Chapel and I knew I would have other opportunities. Plus, I didn’t see anything I liked and it was crowded. We wandered out onto the roof of the chapel where there were views of the Pope’s residence. I was very thirsty and drank from a fountain, worrying that I would get sick, but I never did. It was pretty up there and we took pictures of each other.

Then we came out and walked to Saint Peter’s Square. The scale and hugeness of this space is impossible to imagine. It was every bit as big as I remembered it as a little girl. There are a few places on earth where a design has power you can feel. This is one of them. The power is crushing like a hand of the size and importance of this space. The 85 feet tall center Egyptian obelisk was first constructed in 13 BC and brought to Rome in 32 AD. It was moved to its current site in 1586. The obelisk is the foci of the oval which is outlined by four rows of Doric colonnades, each 60 feet tall. It was designed to accommodate 300,000 people to receive blessings from the Pope. The oval is 650 feet across the long axis and the area enclosed is about 12 football fields. The plaza was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, completed in 1656, and can be seen below as it looked in 1909.

Next, we walked up the steps to enter the church (um, you know, Saint Peter’s Basilica). Even though it was hot, I put my jacket on to cover my shoulders as required by the quiet and solemn Vatican Guards. We had to be really quick to make our appointment with our Roman colleague. Only a quick glimpse and we were out of there. We literally ran up, respectfully of course, to look down on Saint Peter’s tomb beneath the spectacular black marble spiral columns of the altar (also designed by Bernini) and we had to take off.

We had no time to admire the many other great works of art within the Basilica. Each nook and cranny, or in this case, nave and apse, is literally crammed with masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Pieta. I knew, because I had seen them the last time I was there. It was a sin to leave so soon. Sigh.

We got outside the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Square and hailed a cab. Off we went at a run. I really must say, that guerilla tactics are not the way to tour a city in Europe. Stay tuned…

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