Safely out of Rome tonight. It was about what I expected. I had set my sights low for the day saying to myself, “If I just get out of Rome that will good enough.” The part that I thought would be the worst was actually the part I enjoyed the most (except for getting to the coast, of course). The traffic in Rome is crazy by American standards. But, I did learn that there is a method to their madness and as long as one plays by their rules it actually seems reasonably safe.
I had about a 30 minute trek through the inner sanctum of Rome with buses, mopeds, taxis, and cars weaving their way on major thoroughfares as well as what we would call back alleys, but are actually the heart of the local culture. I finally realized that I had to act on the bike the same way they did—that I had just as much right to the road and, as long as I claimed my space with authority they respectfully found their way around me. What confuses the Italian drivers is hesitance and uncertainty. That’s a sure way to create havoc among this ever flowing, fluid movement that is very much like watching a school of tuna fish move in rhythm despite what appears like random chaos.
I am safely on the coast of Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea in the little town of Lido Dei Pini. But, first a little peak at yesterday’s final visit to the Vatican. The only must see that I still had on my agenda before leaving Rome was to visit the Vatican Museums and the Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. No doubt because most of what I saw was advertised as a museum and thousands of people were filing through it like cows heading to feed, I wasn’t expecting it to be something it was not.
I had two reactions to the sheer volume of paintings, sculptures, and hieroglyphics. The first is that I wanted to spend thirty minutes, sixty minutes or more at many of the displays. So much of the art tells stories and I wanted to take the time to exegete the art in the same way that one pulls a scripture apart before preaching. One could literally spend a lifetime in the Vatican Museums and still barely scratch the surface of the history. Which leads to my second reaction—there is so much there that it becomes completely overwhelming. Half way through the mandatory line that one gets pulled along by I simply quit taking pictures of it all. I would come across a completely stunning set of statues and walk by because I hardly could be awed anymore. If you’ve seen one pyramid you’ve seen them all, right? How much can one take in?
I made my way through dozens of rooms that I thought might just be the Sistene Chapel. These rooms, one after another, were completely painted floor to ceiling with the unfolding Biblical story and the history of the Roman Catholic Church. I was prepared to be let down by the time the line finally entered into the womb of the Sistene Chapel. It lives up to its reputation. It is difficult for me to grasp that this is the idea and the work of one person, Michelangelo. Each group was only allowed about ten or so minutes and once again, it needed one full year of a person’s life to fully grasp and digest.
If I could have changed any part of the experience I would have counseled the security guards on a way to invite the hundreds of visitors who were stuffed into the sacred space. On three occasions one of the guards used the microphone to scold the group saying in his most authoritative tone, “ATTENION. SILENCE!” It reminded me of the reputation that Catholic nuns have gotten in parochial school. It also occurred to me that maybe his tone was a reflection of the ongoing authority of the Church and a theology of authoritarian God who demands obedience.
I looked for an occasion to talk to a guard, but then thought better of it. It really was not my place. But, if I had stepped forward I would have suggested that the guards first ask that we enter in silence, as they did. But, keeping a few hundred people, including the tour guides who continued to instruct their groups, quiet is near impossibility. I would have suggested that once every one settled in that the guard replace his scolding with an invitation along the lines of, “This is a sacred space and we want you to experience the power of it. I am going to count to ten and then I am going to ask that all of us fall completely silent for two minutes. You’ll be amazed by the energy and spirit in this room.” If only I were the pope! What an ego I have.
I have a few technical issues to take care of so I am hoping to arrive in Naples on Thursday where I will take whatever time I need. I discovered today that the cord to my bicycle computer was severed during the series of flights and abuse that it might have endured between Portland and Rome. The phone situation is still confusing. I have now paid for an international plan with my American carrier and a European plan for the countries of Italy and Greece and, at least for the moment, I have no phone service at all.
Glad to be out of the city of Rome and on the bike now. It was great to feel the ocean air massaging me as I made me way down the coast. More of that tomorrow, I hope.