24 May 2013

European Vacation Ten - Chilling With the Pope and Company in the Vatican

Rafael's School of Athens
My neck hurts from looking up. The Sistine Chapel alone requires a lot of neck craning. For that matter just walking the streets of Rome sends one begging for a masseuse if not a chiropractor. With each turn of a corner one expects to see yet another ancient edifice towering skyward. And one normally does. We walked into one church at random a Jesuit church called Chiesa del Gesù and it was as awe inspiring as anything we saw earlier in the day in the Vatican. Literally awe was inspired.

Catholics have made incalculable contributions to the world of art through iconography painting sculptures frescoes statues and more. (There is much more to outweigh their impact on the world on the debit side. I'm talking about you inquisition crusades repressive attitudes towards sex and sexuality -- you want I should go on?)

All the art here is overwhelming and to try to take in so much in a matter of days is nonsense. It can become a bit of a blur -- particularly when you are mixing in so many different epochs styles and sensibilities not too mention artists. Some things stand out for different reasons. I was struck by Rafael's School of Athens in part because I had a poster of it on the wall of my classroom for so many years when I corrupted young minds as a middle school teacher. To see the real deal in the Vatican museum after all these years was a treat. I was also impressed by the walls of original maps because I've long been a map aficionado. But there were of course many things that ooh and aahed me based on their artistic merits. Not surprisingly the works of the aforementioned Rafael and that Michelangelo chap but so too people I'd never heard of and can't know recall.

Not sure what this is but I liked it.
As a strict non believer I had to put my lack of religious convictions aside as we took in the Vatican. This to me was a place to take in great art and marvel at the people who made it. It was also a golden opportunity to make papal jokes (spoken softly too the missus) and recall the many horrors the Catholic church has visited on the world (yes they are to be commended for many charitable works but too often those come along with the usual proselytizing).

There were many many many many many many others making their way through the Vatican today of all nationalities. Many were part of tours. Tours are where someone gives you bit-size morsels of information -- that you'll soon forget -- to help it seem like you're expanding your intellect. "This piece was commissioned..." "The artist died immediately after completing..." "This painting depicts the battle between..." Disposable trivia as soon forgotten as heard.

Another thing about the Vatican is that you can't walk ten feet without coming across a souvenir stand or gift shop. Once back outside said stands and shops are only every 25 feet. Mostly they sell the same crap -- I mean stuff. Being in the Sistine Chapel is like being in a middle school classroom during an exam. People are constantly and I mean constantly being shushed en masse and people are constantly going on with their whispering or out right yammering. Super annoying.

One problem with traveling somewhere for the first time is the compulsion to take a photo of everything whether you know what the hell it is or not. This is particularly acute with the advent of digital photography and smart phones. I always reckon that if it's not a good picture or nothing worth saving I can decide that later and delete it. Back when you were dealing with film you had to be a lot more careful about what you were shooting.

Chiesa del Gesù
There is also the impulse to "see everything." This is silly. Unless you are staying in a place like Paris or Rome for month or more its impossible to "see everything" anyway. See what you want. I know I know you'll later get a comment from Gladys in accounting like this: "you mean to see you went all the way to Palookaville and didn't visit the crescent wrench museum?" Don't travel for anyone else. See what interests you not what you think is de rigueur. 

We continue to enjoy culinary delights and I have a particular fondness for gelato and the espresso they serve in small cups. I do like sitting and brooding over a large cup of coffee but this is a case of being in Rome and doing as the Romans do. The weather has been perfect. I can't imagine coming here in the Summer when it's hot. We were quite warm in the Vatican museum and it was mild outside. It must be unbearable in July unless they have a doozy of an air conditioning system.

(By the way the pope rushed by as we were walking through the museum. He stopped and said: "hey folks how are ya? Nice to see ya. Sorry I can't stop but I'm on my way to meeting with the board of directors. You know how that goes. Enjoy your visit and remember -- keep it real! Oh by the way blessings." What a guy!)


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