Rome, Part 1: When God’s Cop Speaks, Listen

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Matt Grigsby
Matt Grigsby was born and raised in Redding but has often felt he should have been born in Italy. By day he's a computer analyst toiling for the public good and by night he searches airline websites for great travel deals. His interests include books, movies, prowling thrift shops for treasure and tricking his friends into cooking for him. One day he hopes to complete his quest in finding the best gelato shop in Italy.
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16 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    You have a great gift for perfectly describing the chaos and beauty that is Rome. This was awesome. More!

  2. Avatar Loretta Carrico-Russ says:

    Once again another excellent article. When I lived in Italy we were told to never make eye contact with drivers because if you do then if you get hit by one it's your fault because you should have gotten out of the way. I rode the bus once in Roma and this old man ended up rubbing himself up against me. I was so young and stupid that I thought it was the bumpy roads before I realized what was going on! Great job!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      That made me laugh out loud. When I ride the bus for the first time in Rome, I'll watch out for more than pickpockets.

  3. Avatar Sunny says:

    Beautifully written…I felt as though I was there! However, you are not fair to the reader!!! FIRST I wanted to go to Florence, sure that my life wouldn't be complete if I didn't book the first flight and go…THEN, you taunted me with yet another Italian love letter about Venice!…..NOW, I must go to Rome, if only to see the 'amazing spectacle of color and movement and emotion', of the Sistene chapel. So, how long do we have to wait for your next installment, as I notice that it says "part 1", I want to read more, more, more!!!…and can you be my tour guide when I go?! I'm ready to leave it all and go now!

  4. Avatar Brian says:

    Wow–having been there myself, its as if you watched my every step. You have a great gift of writing…keep it up! I am excited to see the next part of your trip in part II!

  5. Avatar Sheila Barnes says:

    Matt, I am enjoying reading your tour of Italy and look forward to the next installment. My husband and I traveled to Rome last summer. We went on a "skip the line" tour of the Vatican. Our guide also cautioned us NOT to take pictures or video or talk. However, when we walked into the crowded chapel, people were taking pictures, video and talking. Not in loud voices, but still talking. Before entering the chapel, I had put my camera away, respecting the wishes of our guide. Upon seeing everyone else, snapping away, I am afraid I threw away my resolve and joined the frenzy of picture taking. I am not sure why on this particular day, the rule about no photography was thrown to the wind, but I ended up with some amazing photos. I am not a religious person at all, but Michelangelo's masterpiece as I looked up at this amazing ceiling, was both beautiful and humbling.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I saw people sneaking picture of the Chapel too, but I suspect God's Cop has to make an example of at least one person per day and apparently I was the perfect choice. I'm glad you were able to get away with taking some pictures!

  6. Avatar Sandy Tincher says:

    Wow, have you ever turned into a fantastic writer. I loved areading about Rome. You should get a job traveling and discribing places–everyone would want to go there. Keep up the good work.

  7. Avatar Glenda (runawaytroll says:

    I’m afraid of hopping on the bus in Rome and stumbling off in Bologna two days later.… my friend and I got on a train which we thought was going to Naples but we ended up in Rome! not that it mattered at the time as we were young and didn't mind where we ended up. Looking forward to Roma Part 2.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I can absolutely see that happening to me. Traveling makes everything a little hazy and confusing and it's easy to get mixed up!

  8. Avatar Cindy says:

    Great article, can't wait for part II! I laughed when you were confronted by God's Cop for trying to sneak video 🙂

  9. Avatar Debbie says:

    I spent one perfect day in Rome. Circumstances beyond my control allowede only 12 hours in the eternal city. As everyone know, this is entirely NOT enough time to visit this city. I hounded my travel mates to walk faster and view the 2000 year old masterpieces quickly because I had to see THE Sistine Chaple before the day closed on my opportunity. When I finally experienced the indescribable masterpiece, I cried from relief that my family and I had this gift. I also goosebumped from the history and beauty.

  10. Avatar Shirley Barone says:

    Matt,
    I loved your article on Rome Part I, I thought I was there for a moment, of course my favorite part was the…..video camera incident………hehehehehe. Can't wait to read part two.