It’s midnight and we’ve been out doing what the Romans do at such hours – drinking wine and eating pizza. We had big plans for the day that included visiting just about every stop on the tourist circuit. Instead we managed a roam through the Colloseum and on through the ruins of the ancient ones, colonized these days by cats, and a private tour of the marble backwoods and byways of the Vatican. All the colours of the Earth are in those marble floors. We kicked off the morning with a visit to the venerable and affable Dom Bruno at the Vatican . . . once we got past the Polizi gang lurking in the shadows and the Swiss guards in their billowing blue and orange silks topped with frilled neck lizard collars. We thought they took themselves a bit seriously considering the jester outfit.
Dom Bruno blessed us with the touch of St Peter and, farewelling us with the smile of the gentle, packed us off with a signed copy of a fat blue bible he bought especially for Ben at the Vatican bookshop. It’s not every day Rome receives pilgrims who’ve walked all the way from Canterbury. The Vatican is a parade of monks and nuns draped in fancy dress costumes from all over the world. Blacks, whites, greys and blues lined with crimsons and gold. Every nation has its Friar Tuck.
We queued for two hours and a good half kilometre to glimpse Michaelangelo’s iconic Cappella Sistina. Getting through the corridors to the great chapel was a pilgrimage in itself, past gigantic tapestries of the ages and the pope’s impressive collection of stone people and animals – for a moment there we thought we were in the castle grounds of Narnia’s Ice Queen! The mosaic marble centaurs on the floor didn’t help . . . although I’m sure the Ice Queen wouldn’t have bothered putting small cement leaves over certain parts of the male statues. Funny that the paintings high on the walls didn’t wear leaves . . . perhaps it’s because the statues are at eye level , , , ?
After the excitement of such a passing parade, we were in danger of missing the Sistine Chapel altogether. Now why did I think it was a thousand feet high and the really famous bit was an angel? That’s the downside of ignorance. The upside is that cities like Rome hold wonderful surprises. Like the colour of the sky above the Trevi Fountain at night – behold the blue of Michaelangelo’s ceiling! And the mid-afternoon sun blaring through the columns of the ancient city, daring us to naysay the Great Ones who built the old walls. And the Vatican itself, imposing and cold by day; majestic and bobbing about in the sky up there - backlit by a crisp silver-gold half moon - at night. If you plan to proclaim yourself God’s spokesman for all time, it’s a hard act to follow. What the medieval ones would have given for that lighting!
And now we prepare to walk into the dawn for the next 100 days. We thought a bloke who wandered past us as we shuffled along in the queue outside the Cappella Sistina summed up the road ahead with the perfect pilgrim t-shirt:
Free and Dirty.