In Rome the past and the present exist side-by-side, so it isn’t difficult to see why it’s called the Eternal City. Watching people talking on cell phones while strolling past the ancient Coliseum is surreal, yet it somehow makes sense. It’s a fascinating, beautiful city and it’s easy to wander the streets with mouth agape, absorbing the visual feast.
This would be unwise, of course, as Roman drivers seem to have some kind of a point system for pedestrians. It’s best to cross the street with nuns, who are impervious to automobiles because clearly you’d be safer hitting a bridge abutment. The drivers also apparently view traffic laws as charming suggestions. The lines painted on the streets must be there to make everyone look slimmer because they certainly aren’t keeping cars in safe and orderly rows. I once remarked to a taxi driver that he was a brave man, and he chuckled as he drove through a gap between two buses that was one centimeter wider than our car. I was just glad he had set down his cell phone for this maneuver.
Thankfully there’s the incredible Roman Metro system to get people around. There are only two lines, the A (east/west) and the B (north/south). It’s a quick and easy way to cross the city in mere minutes (keeping an eye out for pickpockets), and many of the stops are located near the major sights. I hear the bus system is also easy to use, but I haven’t tried it yet. I’m afraid of hopping on the bus in Rome and stumbling off in Bologna two days later.
Rome’s Vatican Museum is so massive it would take a lifetime to explore it all. Room after room is filled with priceless and breathtaking art, each more amazing than the last. Everything within view is significant and interesting, including the floors and ceilings. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the beauty, and many people just head straight to the Sistine Chapel located at the farthest end of the Vatican. There are many signs pointing the way, each one warning that there is no photography or video allowed in the Chapel. I scoffed at these signs, figuring I’m sly and clever enough to bypass the rule. As we approached the Chapel, I turned on my video camera, held it at my waist and pointed it at the ceiling, marveling at how sneaky I was. I had no sooner stepped into the room when one of God’s Cops (a Vatican policeman) stomped up to me and loudy asked what I thought I was doing. The room, filled with several hundred people, got very quiet and God’s Cop yelled at me to turn off my camera and put it away. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me, and if I hadn’t just arrived there I would have crawled away in shame. I have literally never been so embarrassed in my life and every single person had the same look of “Boy, I’m glad that wasn’t me.” My face outshined the bright colors of the ceiling’s restoration. Interestingly, when I reviewed the video later, that entire section was blank. I’m assuming my camera was temporarily struck blind for my sin.
My profound embarrassment aside, I was in awe of the Sistine Chapel. It’s smaller than I’d imagined, and far more beautiful. It’s an amazing spectacle of color and movement and emotion, and it’s wonderful to hear visitors gasp as they enter the room. It’s hard not to have goosebumps, but perhaps mine were caused by God’s Cop who was scowling at me the whole time.
Leaving the Sistine Chapel takes you directly to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. It’s difficult to convey its sheer size because while you’re essentially inside one huge room, it feels more like you’re an ant standing at the edge of a vast plain with a ceiling. The scale is powerful. Michelangelo’s magnificent “Pieta” is to the right as you enter the basilica, behind bulletproof glass. I’m sad this is necessary, but I’d rather this masterpiece survive a thousand years than yet another madman attack her with a hammer. Or have a tourist spill diet Coke on her, which isn’t hard to imagine.
I hope you’ll join me for Rome Part II…
Matt Grigsby is a Redding native who has learned how to tell the difference between fresh gelato and machine-made. He owns a beautiful imaginary six room villa in the hills above Florence as well as a very real cottage on the West Side of town. By day he’s a computer analyst toiling for the public good and he dreams of one day owning a robot servant. Matt only uses the fancy ketchup.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.